The Navy's top admiral sent out an SOS yesterday, warning that Congress should either increase defense spending or cut some of the nation's military missions.
"I think it is time . . . to say there is not enough money to do everything [we] need to do," Adm. Jeremy Boorda, chief of Naval Operations, said in Annapolis. He added: "I need more [money], or I need relief from some of the things" the Navy has been ordered to do.
Admiral Boorda's comments, delivered at a Naval Institute seminar, marked the first time a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has declared so bluntly that, after years of budget and manpower cuts, the Pentagon's funds should be increased or its responsibilities reduced.
The admiral will deliver his warning directly to the Senate Armed Services Committee today, when he testifies on military readiness with the other service chiefs -- Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogelman and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Carl Mundy Jr.
"I think we make a terrible mistake when military people become political animals and give the answer which is desired instead [of the answer] we should give," Admiral Boorda told the Naval Institute, an international association that focuses on sea power.
Since the end of the Cold War five years ago, the emphasis of policy-makers has been on defense downsizing, with Pentagon funds pared back 25 per cent and troop levels down by about a third.
"Before, we were talking about how small could we get . . . [now] we are talking 'Are we too low?'. . . We have to find a balance between today's needs, uncertain as they may be, and tomorrow's violence. It is that violence we are struggling with."
Admiral Boorda noted that the Navy does not currently have an aircraft carrier available to patrol the Mediterranean. In the late 1980s, there were regularly two carriers in the Mediterranean region.
Navy officials said the Mediterranean was now routinely "covered" by a carrier only 75 percent of the time because the Clinton administration reduced the number of carriers from 15 to 12.
"I think we need 15 carriers," Admiral Boorda said in response to a question yesterday. "If I said I am satisfied with our forces or if I gave you that impression, I didn't say it right."
Admiral Boorda, who has a reputation for being outspoken, said: "We have gotten as small as we ought to be. The 'Bottom Up Review' [the administration's blueprint for the size and missions of the military] is, in fact, the bottom, and we should not be lower than that."
The Navy and Marine Corps, he said, were "sized about right," but if there was not enough money to fulfill their missions, "We should not lower the bar in order to jump over it." Instead, he said, the services should make the best possible case for more money.
A Navy official, familiar with the testimony Admiral Boorda will give to Congress today, said: "He will certainly be carrying that message to the Hill."