The Leaky-Roof Brigade

Director Pedro Almodovar, and actress Penelope Cruz arrive for the premiere of their new movie "Volver" at the 44th New York Film Festival, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2006, in New York. Almodovar said he would like to make a movie in English, but is scared of losing his independence in Hollywood. AP Photo/Louis Lanzano

When the skies opened over Langley Air Force Base this week, the heavy rain allowed an eye-opening look at the state of America's military.

In the 50 buildings on base with leaky roofs, the water wreaked havoc. Floors flooded. Officers had to move their desks onto platforms to avoid rising water. A fighter wing had to stand down for a couple of days.

As CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports, the leaks at Langley are part of a widespread and growing problem in the military, one of deteriorating facilities and equipment.

While there are many ways to measure what has happened to the military during the Clinton years, one statistic sets off alarms: At the start of the Clinton administration, 85 percent of all combat units in the Air Force were rated ready to go to war. By the start of this year, that number had declined to just 65 percent.

Military brass says it's an issue of resources.

General John Jumper, who heads the Air Combat Command that controls virtually all the warplanes in the United States, said, "We do not have enough money today to run Air Combat Command."

"The budget I just sent in was a broken budget," he said. "I cannot operate myself with the money that we have."

There's still enough money to fly to the planes, Thumper said, but just about everything else that needs fixing has to wait.

They're waiting at Langley, where it takes two men to open the ancient door to one leaky ammo bunker.

Asked why the doors haven't been fixed, Chief Master Sgt. Paul Stuffel said, "It's a money issue"—one he's been dealing with "for years."

Another problem the men at Langley face is the water, and not just during downpours.

"A lot of these offices flood out," explained Stuffel. "A lot of our carpet gets wet and it comes right down the inside of the walls."

Technical Sgt. Jim Beaver, who has to work on a raised platform to stay dry, agreed.

"Some days you don't know whether you're going to sink or swim when you walk in the office in here," he said. "We've seen a lot of the facilities that used to be decent facilities, they're just falling apart."

The rain last week brought Col. Steve Goldfein's fighter wing to a standstill, and while the wing was flying again in two days, one-third of its F-15s were down for repairs.

"We're in a tug of war and we're very slowly losing," Goldfein explained. "We're very slowly being pulled towards the mud pit."

In order to get the planes flying again, the mechanics often have to take parts out of one F-15 to repair another.

"We take a perfectly good airplane and put it into a hanger and we take whatever parts we need," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Zimmerman.

Air Force officials explain that while the fighter wing could still go to war tomorrow if it had to, it would do so at the expense of the rest of the Air Force.

"You don't fix your roofs, you do't fix your air conditioning, you don't fix your heating—it's those kinds of things that you stop doing so that you can divert monies to spare parts to fly the airplanes," said Jumper.

Concerns about supplies, repairs and readiness touch other branches of the service as well.

In a 1999 report, the General Accounting Office found that "a high percentage of active duty Army units have the major equipment items they need to do their wartime jobs" and "units are maintaining the bulk of their equipment in a fully mission-capable condition."

However, the GAO also concluded that "there is a significant shortage of maintenance personnel with the right skills and tenure" and that Army brass was concerned about possible "shortages of war reserve repair parts."

Until increasing slightly for fiscal years 2000 and 2001, U.S. defense spending was cut for 14 straight years.

In 1994, the Clinton administration brought it down below the $300 billion mark, which every budget since 1983 had exceeded.

However, some of Clinton's spending decisions were dictated by the Balanced Budget Amendment, which set specific caps for defense.

President Clinton's Fiscal Year 2001 defense budget called for $277.5 billion in outlays for the Department of Defense, an increase of 1 percent over the previous year, according to the Defense Department. Congress passed a $288 billion plan.

According to the Center for Defense Information, a private think-tank, America's share of global military spending increased from 30 percent to 33 percent from 1985-1996, even though total worldwide spending on defense dropped from $1.6 trillion to $797 billion in that time.

Critics say that the military's overall budget would be adequate if the money were spent correctly. They say the military is misled by its self-imposed—and some say unwarranted—requirement that it be equipped for simultaneously "fighting and winning two major theater wars."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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