Archive for Tuesday, December 14, 2004

War costs skyrocket as supplies fall behind

Pentagon to seek $100 billion for emergency spending plan

December 14, 2004


— In muddy gravel lots, along weedy railroad tracks and in grassy fields, the flotsam of war is washing up at a sprawling Army-run repair post: 5- and 10-ton trucks, road graders, coils of tank track, and Humvees by the score, doors pocked with shrapnel scars, windows riddled with bullet holes or frosted white by explosive heat, their fenders gashed by rocket-propelled grenades, their crews' names still etched on the windshields.

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was confronted by a soldier in Kuwait recently about why troops in Iraq had to scrounge for parts, he might have pointed to the Red River Army Depot on the outskirts of Texarkana for the answer. Here, in unadorned open-air factories, bustling hives of workers struggle through budget limits and a burgeoning repair load to keep the troops equipped.

Twenty-one months after U.S. forces entered Iraq, the Defense Department is only now coming to terms with the equipment shortages caused by prolonged fighting there. The Pentagon has prepared an unprecedented emergency spending plan totaling nearly $100 billion -- as much as $30 billion more than expected as recently as October -- say senior defense officials and congressional budget aides. About $14 billion of that would go to repairing, replacing and upgrading an increasingly frayed arsenal.

"There's no lack of work and only more on the horizon," sighed Dennis Lewis, chief of the business office at the 29-square-mile depot. "There's no end in sight."

Coming into focus

To critics of the Pentagon leadership, the ongoing scramble at the Army's five repair depots speaks volumes about poor war planning, and about Rumsfeld's stubborn determination to transform the military rather than focus on the more prosaic task of rebuilding what the defense chief last week called "the Army you have ... not the Army you might want."

"We need to modernize; we need to do things in better ways," retired Gen. Wayne Downing, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But the world has changed, and you can't make the world into what you want it to be. You've got to accept the world for what it is."

The full implications and costs of the original plan are starting to come into focus at such places as Red River. Expectations for a short, easy war -- a conflict from which the Army's supply systems could have easily rebounded -- have given way to the reality of hundreds of battered Humvees cast aside here for want of money and time to repair them.

Rumsfeld's intended transformation of the Army into a quick, mobile force, meanwhile, has started to rub against the daily demands of patching enough tanks and trucks together to keep fighting the war. Instead of concentrating on building the faster-traveling "modular" Army of the future, workers and planners here also must focus on maintaining the lumbering Bradley Fighting Vehicles and behemoth tractor-trailers needed to sustain the current force.

$100 billionTotal cost for Pentagon's emergency spending plan$14 billionAmount that would go to repairing, replacing and upgrading equipment138,000U.S. troops in Iraq20,000Troops pre-war plans expected would be in Iraq at this point809Average miles per year accumulated on an Army M1 Abrams tank3,600Average miles per year tanks in Iraq are accumulating2,640Average miles per year accumulated on an Army Humvee7,400Average miles per year Humvees in Iraq are accumulating

'Reset the force'

As the conflict continues, the country's battered war materiel is making its way back for repair -- and so is the bill. The emergency spending request that President Bush will send to Congress early next year will include billions of dollars to "reset the force," in military parlance. The Army alone has requested $9.2 billion to repair, replace and upgrade equipment, congressional and Pentagon officials said. The Marine Corps may seek as much as $5 billion more.

Those figures dwarf the "reset" requests in two previous war supplemental spending bills. In fiscal 2004, which ended Sept. 30, the military spent $2.2 billion to repair tanks, trucks and other equipment for land forces.

"This year, they're finally starting to realize they can't get by with some minimal amount of money," said Jack Reed, D-R.I., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "My biggest criticism is that the administration is not standing up and clearly saying, 'Listen, this is what this is going to cost.'"

"The higher the number, the better," agreed Kevin Roper, Republican staff chief of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, "because at some point soon, this is going to catch up to the nation."

Earlier requests for force reset funding were so small because the military had planned for a shorter war, said Col. Curtis McCoy, the Army budget officer in charge of planning for equipment repair and replacement. By now, the Army expected to have fewer than 20,000 troops in Iraq, not the 138,000 currently there, he said.

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