Behind the Army's Cash Crunch

Our Army gets $168 billion a year to train and fight. So why do its chiefs keep complaining about a cash crunch? The Wall Street Journal's Greg Jaffe explains, in maybe the best article on the subject to date.hummer_n_troops.jpg

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...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...The Humvee stands as a metaphor for the problems the Army faces. First fielded in the early 1980s, it was designed to ferry soldiers around behind the front lines of a conventional war. In recent years, the vehicle, which troops drive on the streets of Iraq, has been modified countless times. The Army has bolted layers of armor onto it to protect troops from roadside bombs. It has added sophisticated electronic jammers, rotating turrets, bigger machine guns, satellite navigational systems and better radios.The result is a Humvee that is much better than the version the Army took to Iraq in 2003. But the add-ons have driven up its cost. The modified vehicle is top heavy and tends to tip over at high speeds. Army officials say they can't add more weight without overwhelming the engine or breaking the axle."The Army recognizes that the Humvee has reached a limit of our ability to improve it for the current fight," Gen. Speakes says.What the Army says it really needs is an all-new vehicle, designed to better withstand roadside bombs that have become part of life in Iraq. But such a vehicle likely won't be ready until 2010 or 2012, Army officials say. In the interim, the Army wants to buy something on the commercial market -- South Africa, Turkey and Australia all make alternatives. Yet it's not clear whether the Army, which is struggling to equip the current force, has the money.
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