You'd think it'd be a top priority for the Army, outfitting troops with new body armor, helmets, and communications gear. But the Pentagon can't seem to find the cash in its $420 billion budget to pay for the equipment.Instead, the Army is relying on a supplemental spending bill -- one that's meant to fund the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq -- to cover the costs."I always tell people, thank God for the supplemental. We would not be able to do anything without them," Defense News quotes Lt. Gen. Joseph Yakovac, the Armys top uniformed acquisition official, as telling an Association of the United States Army conference. "If those dont happen, were in a world of hurt."Now, last year, the Pentagon used an $87 billion emergency spending measure to buy body armor, among other things. At the time, that made some sense the war had dragged on longer, and was of a different type, than Rumsfeld & Co. had predicted.But this year is something different. When the Pentagon was drafting its latest budget, it knew damn well there was going to be a need to get body armor into the field. So what's going on here?This is another case of Rumsfeld refusing to make a choice between the military's current needs and its future, of trying to have it both ways. He needs to get gear to the troops in Iraq. But he doesn't want to sacrifice any of the military's big ticket items in order to do it. So he pulls a little trick on Congress. First, Rumsfeld sends lawmakers his main Pentagon budget, which has lots of line items for projects like the hulking, $117 billion Future Combat Systems. And then, crying poverty, Rumsfeld asks for body armor money which there's no chance in hell that Congress will deny.It's a very, very slick Washington maneuver one you'd be tempted to call a form of blackmail. Because G.I.s is the field are now counting on that supplemental to keep them safe, Defense News says.
The supplemental will fund much of the work being done by the Armys two-year-old Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI), whose goal is to equip all deploying units and, by 2007, all active and reserve units with 76 items, including the Advanced Combat Helmet, body armor, desert boots and moisture-wicking T-shirts. Yakovac said the program could cost $5 billion.Were hoping on supplementals to do that, he added.Roughly 150,000 soldiers will receive the RFI kits by the end of this year, with another 250,000 troops equipped in 2005, said Brig. Gen. James Moran, the Armys soldier program executive officer.