The prepositioning of military supplies is a key component of the overall strategic planning of the Department of Defense. It allows the Defense Department to outfit combat-ready forces in days rather than the weeks it would take if the forces and necessary equipment and supplies had to be shipped from the United States to the site of the conflict. The military uses prepositioning programs to store combat and support equipment near areas with a high probability for conflict and to increase response times. Although the Navy has little supply programs the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps are all required to stock significant supplies.
To complicate the shortages, the report noted that significant supply stocks of the Army have deteriorated. At a large prepositioning supply base in South Korea the GAO found that the Army 's prepositioned stocks were in poor condition and that much of the equipment was overdue for scheduled maintenance. Army officials in South Korea admitted that regular maintenance had not been performed in years. The GAO found that equipment was being stored outside and had corroded, reducing the ability to use this equipment in the event of a conflict.
The Marine Corps has exhausted 75 percent of its supplies on one-third of its prepositioning ships owing to the war in Iraq. It has also depleted considerable equipment from a major supply site in Norway, resulting in a 29 percent shortage. And Marine officials told the GAO that they were unsure when and if they would return the supplies, because they are keeping them in Iraq to serve Marine rotations.
Likewise, the Air Force has used significant portions of its prepositioned equipment and supplies to support combat operations in Iraq. As a result, its supply programs are dangerously low. As much as 43 percent of the Air Force 's prepositioned supplies have been depleted. The GAO acknowledged, "If a conflict arises in the near term, these stocks would not be available for use as it is unclear when these stocks will be refilled. " It 's difficult, if not downright impossible, to understand how the military can be "as capable as it has ever been " considering the shortages.
The report also confirmed that the military faced critical shortages before it ever went to war. The Army had a significant shortage of supplies prior to deployment to Iraq. Initially, the Army attempted to obscure this shortage by requiring units deployed to Iraq to bring their own supplies. But the report noted that even after entering Iraq "the Army had shortages including food, water, fuel, construction materials, and ammunition. "
The available stocks of these supplies were inadequate and it took the Army months to make up for the shortages. And in some cases, they still haven 't. As late as March 2005 the Army had a 79 percent shortage of repair parts. It doesn 't take a military expert to understand that the Army can 't possibly be "better equipped than ever before " when its troops don 't even have enough food or bullets.
The GAO warned, "Should a new conflict arise in the near term, [military] commanders would likely face even more difficult operational challenges. " This is strikingly different from President Bush 's favorite mantra that the military is "the best trained and best equipped in the world. " Practically any speech he gives on the military or Iraq contains this cliche'. It 's increasingly obvious that the Bush administration is increasingly out of touch with reality.