For nearly forty years, Fred Kaplan notes, "the Army, Air Force, and Navy... have abided by an informal agreement that gives each of them a roughly equal share of the total military budget... In this way, the chiefs have avoided the interservice rivalries that tore the military establishments apart throughout the 1940s and '50s."But that was before the war in Iraq pushed a slimmed-down Army to the brink, with gear wearing out fast, and units who can't properly prep for combat. "The Army is clearly in need of a higher share of the budget now. It is the service that's dominating the fighting, losing most of its troops, and getting most of its equipment chewed up," Kaplan adds.
There are ways to treat the Army's ailments without opening the purse strings. [It could stop stuffing R&D projects into its Iraq war budget. -- ed] For instance, [Army chief of staff Gen. Peter] Schoomaker could cancel or postpone the Army's Future Combat Systems, a $200 billion confabulation that may be way overdesigned for any realistic scenario of future combat. But the FCS is the Army's only big-ticket weapon system, and the procurement commanders wouldn't surrender it unless the Air Force and Navy chiefs junked their big fighter planes and submarines, which isn't about to happen, either.Early on in his regime, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might have had the clout to force such a bargain, but no longer. He has already abdicated his authority, allowing Schoomaker to appeal directly for more money to the White House's Office of Management and Budget. (According to Army Times, this is another unprecedented move: No service secretary has ever dealt directly with the OMB all such appeals are supposed to be made through the secretary of defense.)This bureaucratic turbulence only reflects a broader dilemma that higher political authorities will soon have to address, whether they'd like to or not. Schoomaker's central complaint is that he doesn't have the money to maintain the Army's global missions. The president and the Congress can pony up the money (a lot more money) or scale back the missions. To do otherwise to stay the course with inadequate resources is to invite defeats and disasters.UPDATE 11:44 AM: One more quick point on this. Traditionally, the Army has been thought of as the low-tech, low-cost service. That's no longer so. Back in the day, you could send an infantryman into battle with just a rifle and a helmet. Now, he takes all kind of gear -- body armor, night vision goggles, you name it. Equipment costs, per man, have gone from something like $2,000 a soldier during Vietnam to around $25,000 today. It's another reason why doling out the Army's traditional slice of the budget pie ain't gonna work this time around.