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Military Budget Grows, but Troops Shrink
Associated Press  |  February 07, 2006
WASHINGTON - Its wartime budget is getting bigger, yet the U.S. military is aiming to get smaller.

That apparent disconnect is explained by what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld considers a key to modernizing the military: investing in technological advances to do more with fewer people.

His approach, which is opposed by many Democrats in Congress who believe the Army in particular is being stretched too thin and needs to get far bigger, is reflected in the 2007 budget proposal the administration sent to Congress on Monday.

The budget also shows that war costs are escalating, from a monthly average of $6.8 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in the budget year ended last Sept. 30 to a White House-projected average of about $10 billion a month this year.

The rising costs reflect in part the Army's effort to replace large numbers of vehicles that are wearing out or have been destroyed. The budget includes $583 million to buy more Humvee multipurpose vehicles with extra armor, and the overall budget for Army combat and support vehicles is $3.8 billion - almost double the 2006 sum.

"Our equipment is wearing out at a significant pace," Tina Jonas, the Pentagon's budget chief, told a news conference.

The Pentagon also is proposing to spend a lot more on protecting troops in Iraq from roadside bombs, which are the biggest killer. The budget earmarks $3.3 billion for this problem - on top of the $2 billion that has been spent for it so far in the war.

The overall defense budget request is for $439 billion, a 7 percent increase over 2006, not counting war costs that are estimated at $125 billion this year and at least $50 billion next year. The regular budget total would pay for an active-duty military of just over 1.3 million troops, or 29,600 fewer than this year. It covers a reserve force of 825,700 people, a drop of 22,800. The Army National Guard accounts for most of that reduction, although officials have said they will pay for more Guardsmen than are in the budget if recruiting picks up.

The Air Force plans to cut 40,000 people over the next several years.

Within those overall reductions, some segments of the military will expand, particularly the special operations forces, like the Army's Green Berets. Rumsfeld foresees a growing role for forces that can operate in small units, sometimes clandestinely, to hunt down and kill terrorists and to work with friendly foreign forces.

Overall, the special operations budget in 2007 will be $5.1 billion, which is $1 billion more than this year and double the amount in 2001, Jonas said.

The special operations force would grow from about 50,000 today to about 64,000 by 2011.

Although the 2007 budget pays for an active-duty Army of 482,400 - the same as this year's total - the Army actually has 492,000 soldiers in uniform now and is aiming to reach 512,000 in a few years. Everything above 482,000 is being paid for with emergency funds rather than the regular budget and is supposed to be a temporary increase. Once the Army has reorganized itself it hopes to slide back down to a troop total of 482,000.

One example of why the Army argues that it does not always take an increase in troops to attain an increase in firepower is a new 155mm artillery weapon. It is not yet ready for fielding, but as designed it would take three times fewer people to operate than the old version, with the same firepower as six older 155mm cannons. Thus two soldiers operating one of the new weapons could achieve on the battlefield what it took 36 to do with the old weapons, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the top Army officer, said in an interview last week.

In similar ways, the Navy is moving toward ships with smaller crews. The Air Force is fielding missiles and bombs that can hit more targets with greater precision, thus requiring fewer airplanes to accomplish the mission.

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