Despite Its $168 Billion Budget, The Army Faces A Cash Crunch




 
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Boots
 
December 11th, 2006  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Despite Its $168 Billion Budget, The Army Faces A Cash Crunch


Wall Street Journal
December 11, 2006
Pg. 1

After Years of Gearing Up For High-Tech Warfare, Service Is Short on Basics; Humvees Rise to $225,000
By Greg Jaffe
FORT STEWART, Ga. -- With just six weeks before they leave for Iraq, the 3,500 soldiers from the Third Infantry Division's First Brigade should be learning about Ramadi, the insurgent stronghold where they will spend a year.
Many of the troops don't even know the basic ethnic makeup of the largely Sunni city. "We haven't spent as much time as I would like on learning the local culture, language, and politics -- all the stuff that takes a while to really get good at," says Lt. Col. Clifford Wheeler, who commands one of the brigade's 800-soldier units.
Instead, the troops are learning to use equipment that commanders say they should ideally have been training with since the spring. Many soldiers only recently received their new M-4 rifles and rifle sights, which are in short supply because of an Army-wide cash crunch. Some still lack their machine guns or long-range surveillance systems, which are used to spot insurgents laying down roadside bombs. They've been told they'll pick up most of that when they get to Iraq.
The strains here at Fort Stewart -- one of the busiest posts in the U.S. military -- are apparent throughout the Army. They spotlight a historic predicament: The Iraq war has exposed more than a decade's worth of mistakes and miscalculations that are now seriously undermining the world's mightiest military force.
In the 15 years after the Cold War, senior military planners and civilian-defense officials didn't build a force geared to fighting long, grinding guerrilla wars, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead they banked on fighting quick wars, dominated by high-tech weapons systems.
The result: At a time when the war in Iraq is deepening, and debate over pulling out the troops is intensifying, the rising cost of waging the fight is outpacing even the Army's huge budget. The financial squeeze is leaving the Army short of equipment and key personnel.
The situation has the Army seeking billions more for next year, even as younger officers, frustrated with the pace of change, say that any improvements depend more on how the money is spent than on how much is spent.
From 1990 to 2005, the military lavished money on billion-dollar destroyers, fighter jets and missile-defense systems. Defenders of such programs say the U.S. faces a broad array of threats and must be prepared for all of them. High-tech weaponry contributed to the swift toppling of the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has been of little help in the more difficult task of stabilizing the two countries.
Of the $1.9 trillion the U.S. spent on weaponry in that period, adjusted for inflation, the Air Force received 36% and the Navy got 33%. The Army took in 16%, it says. Despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both dominated by ground forces, the ratio hasn't changed significantly.
Overly optimistic predictions by the Bush administration -- and the Army -- have made the Army's budget crunch worse. Both assumed troop numbers in Iraq would drop significantly by 2006 and the Army wouldn't need as much money as it initially requested. Instead, costs have soared, forcing front-line commanders and Pentagon generals to try to meet an ever-growing list of demands with insufficient resources.
"Our ground forces have been stretched nearly to the breaking point," warned the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in its recent report. "The defense budget as a whole is in danger of disarray."
It may seem hard to believe that a country which allocated $168 billion to the Army this year -- more than twice the 2000 budget -- can't cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the two pillars of the Army, personnel and equipment -- both built to wage high-tech, firepower-intensive wars -- are under enormous stress:
The cost of basic equipment that soldiers carry into battle -- helmets, rifles, body armor -- has more than tripled to $25,000 from $7,000 in 1999.
The cost of a Humvee, with all the added armor, guns, electronic jammers and satellite-navigational systems, has grown seven-fold to about $225,000 a vehicle from $32,000 in 2001.
The cost of paying and training troops has grown 60% to about $120,000 per soldier, up from $75,000 in 2001. On the reserve side, such costs have doubled since 2001, to about $34,000 per soldier.
At Fort Knox, Ky., the cash crunch got so bad this summer that the Army ran out of money to pay janitors who clean the classrooms where captains are taught to be commanders. So the officers, who will soon be leading 100-soldier units, clean the office toilets themselves.
"The cost of the Army is being driven up by [Iraq and Afghanistan]. That's the fundamental story here," says Brig. Gen. Andrew Twomey, a senior official on the Army staff in the Pentagon. The increased costs are "not from some wild weapons system that is off in the future. These are costs associated with current demands."
Senior Army officials concede they mistakenly assumed prior to the Iraq war that if they built a force capable of winning big conventional battles, everything else -- from counterinsurgency to peacekeeping -- would be relatively easy. "We argued in those days that if we could do the top-end skills, we could do all of the other ones," says Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the deputy commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. Iraq has proven that guerrilla fights demand different equipment and skills. "I have had to eat a little crow," says Gen. Metz.
Army officials say they are doing their best to ensure that Iraq and Afghanistan-bound brigades have all the equipment they need when they arrive in the war zone. But to do this, they have had to take equipment from units training back home, which are now short of even the most basic gear, such as body armor and rifles.
The equipment shortages explain why Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East, recently told lawmakers that the U.S. couldn't maintain even a relatively small increase of 20,000 soldiers in Iraq for more than a few months. "The ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now," he testified in November.
The other big strain on the Army is a shortage of people. The Army has made much of the fact that it met its recruiting goals for 2006, bringing in 80,000 soldiers. But meeting those goals has come at a heavy cost. The Army spent about $735 million on retention bonuses in 2006 to keep battle-weary troops in the service, up from about $85 million in 2003. And it had to pay about $300 million more on recruiting this year compared to the year before.
The extra cash didn't stop the Army from having to lower standards. Although the quality of the force is still considered good, 8,500 recruits in 2006 required "moral waivers" for criminal misconduct or past drug use -- more than triple the 2,260 waivers the Army issued 10 years ago. The Army also took in more troops who scored in the bottom third on its aptitude test.
As it has brought in more borderline recruits, the Army has found itself short of officers and sergeants. Today, it is down about 3,000 active-duty officers, a deficiency that it says will grow to about 3,700 in 2008. It is short more than 7,500 reserve and National Guard officers, according to internal Army documents.
One of the most pressing personnel problems is the lack of sergeants, the enlisted leaders who do most of the day-to-day supervising of the rank-and-file soldiers.
At Fort Hood, Texas, the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which returned from Iraq in March, has about 75% of the soldiers it needs to fill its ranks, but only about half of its sergeants. The 5,000-soldier unit likely will go back to Iraq in the fall of next year, and leaders in the regiment say they will get more sergeants before they deploy, but not as many as they would like.
"The sergeant is the one that the soldiers take after," says First Sgt. James Adcock, who oversees about 130 of the unit's soldiers. "He can make or break how effective the privates are."
The large number of young soldiers in the unit combined with the shortage of sergeants has led to problems, say the regiment's leaders. Some also blame the Army's decision to scale back recruiting standards and push more troops through basic training. In May 2005, about 18% of Army's recruits were asked to leave before completing initial training. Today, only about 6% of recruits fail to make it through.
The troops who a year ago might have flunked out of basic training seem to stick with their units, according to Army statistics. But some sergeants say they also seem to cause more problems. Sgt. First Class Rajesh Harripersad, who oversees a 30-soldier platoon, says two of his soldiers were caught using marijuana and methamphetamines. Other leaders have seen an increase in accidents on and off the base. "Discipline has been worse for me this time," says Sgt. Harripersad.
Once units deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army-wide shortage of officers and sergeants is felt even more acutely. Teams focused on key jobs, such as reconstruction and Iraq governance, are "woefully undermanned," Col. Bill Hix, a senior Pentagon strategist, recently wrote in the Hoover Digest, a Stanford University policy journal. Multiple internal Army studies have concluded that the military advisory teams, charged with developing Iraqi Army forces so U.S. troops can go home, need to be doubled or tripled in size.
Often, the soldiers who serve on these undermanned teams finish their year-long deployments wondering what they have accomplished. "I would say we're an effective force for good, but we're struggling in a sea of meaningless slaughter -- along with everyone else with a job to do here," says Sgt. Mastin Greene, who serves on a reconstruction team in Baghdad.
 


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