SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, ILL., JAN. 29 -- The United States already has sent 16 tons of weaponry and supplies for every one of its troops in Saudi Arabia but should consider opening additional production lines before a ground war starts, the two directors of the massive deployment to the Persian Gulf said yesterday.
Air Force Gen. Hansford T. Johnson and Vice Adm. Paul D. Butcher, commander and deputy commander, respectively, of the U.S. Transportation Command here, stressed in interviews that they were not predicting the kind of widespread shortages in tanks and aircraft that plagued Israel during its desert war of 1973.
But Johnson said "selectively" broadening the industrial base may be in order.
Butcher, who did much of the early contingency planning for a Persian Gulf conflict, said it is difficult to predict how much ammunition the war effort would consume. "Who would have thought we would have used as many Patriot missiles as we have? I never envisioned that usage in all the planning that I've done.
"We have to go back to World War II for a good scenario for sand warfare and, quite frankly, we don't have very good records for that," Butcher continued. Although the United States already has piled up enough weapons and supplies in Saudi Arabia to last 60 days and could replenish stocks while a land war raged, Butcher said, "What bothers me is, what is available back here?"
The country will have to consider opening production lines "if we're going to be prudent and say, 'We don't know how long the war is going to last and we've got to prepare for the worst case.' "
The immediate challenge is to determine which, if any, production lines should be opened to support a long land war. The larger concern is avoiding a repeat of times in the 1970s when many ships and planes could not operate for want of spare parts.
Pentagon leaders acknowledge that to support the Persian Gulf War they have drawn down the stockpiles of war supplies in the United States and Europe bought during the Reagan defense buildup in the 1980s.
These carefully worded cautions of Johnson and Butcher are expressed more bluntly by military planners not speaking for attribution. They warn that a high-consumption land war with Iraq lasting several months is likely to leave military forces short of such highly specialized weapons as the Patriot anti-Scud missile, the most modern anti-radar missiles needed to keep ahead of Iraq's repair campaign and "smart" laser- and optically guided missiles and bombs.
"Some nights we use up a full day's production of Patriot missiles on one Scud," lamented one planner. The Pentagon says Patriot production figures are secret but manufacturers declare they are increasing output. One high-ranking military official said rushing Patriots to Israel and Riyadh left 8,000 tons of other cargo destined for the gulf stranded.
To make up for this lost delivery time, military planners proposed enlisting more civilian cargo planes in the gulf airlift. But the Bush administration rejected this plan for fear of further hurting the domestic economy.
The Transportation Command now has 77 U.S. commercial airliners hauling cargo to the gulf and 17 foreign carriers, Johnson said. Johnson said advancing to the next stage of civilian employment would bring 61 more U.S. cargo planes into the military airlift effort. More foreign cargo planes will be employed to speed deliveries, according to Pentagon officials.
From the start of Operation Desert Shield in August through yesterday, the Transportation Command sent 6.7 million tons of war cargo by ship and 405,000 tons by plane to the 430,000 service men and women in the Arabian Penisula, according to statisticians here.
How long can the Transportation Command keep the troops in beans and bullets? "We can keeping doing as long as necessary to handle Iraq," Johnson, the nation's head dispatcher of war goods, replied.