- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

We believe the time has come to properly refurbish the military at whatever cost it takes, irrespective of whether we are in or out of Iraq and Afghanistan in one year or five years or longer. Independent analyses, such as those conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional Budget Office, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Defense Department’s Inspector General and various congressional committees, have revealed this: There seems to be no agreement from one year to the next what those costs are (even within a broad range) and how severe the problem is. One thing is certain: It is vital that the administration cooperate with Congress in determining what these costs are, including costs for both the active-duty forces and the National Guard and Reserves.

For years now, the military has encountered major equipment problems as it conducts the Bush administration’s global war on terror. In testimony last month before the House Armed Services Committee, outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker declared that the Army had inherited a $100 billion shortfall at the beginning of the war as a result of equipment underfunding during prior years. In December 2004, four years into his second tour of duty as secretary of defense and more than three years after military operations commenced in Afghanistan following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld encountered a group of American soldiers in Kuwait complaining about the “hillbilly armor” they were assembling before they entered the Iraq war zone. “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” Mr. Rumsfeld replied.

Matters apparently have not improved much since then. Last fall, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin recalled on Tuesday, his committee was “told that [equipment] reset requirements for fiscal year 2007 would reach about $23 billion, including a significant one-time catch-up for costs the Army was not able to get the administration to request in 2006. But we were told that recurring costs would be lower after that.” The Army defines “reset” as “a series of actions to restore a unit to a desired level of combat capability commensurate with future missions. There are three components: repair, replace and recapitalization.”

Mr. Levin made those comments at Tuesday’s hearing reviewing the administration’s latest defense-budget request. On Monday, the White House released its fiscal 2008 budget, which sought $481.4 billion in budget authority for national defense in 2008, excluding Global War on Terror costs. That so-called base budget for fiscal 2008 included $101.7 billion in weapons procurement, a level that will be more than 25 percent higher than procurement in 2007. Today, more than six years after the Bush administration inherited a $100 billion Army equipment shortage, Gen. Schoomaker recently told Congress that a $56 billion shortage remains.

Accompanying the base budget were war-related supplemental spending requests of $141.7 billion in budget authority for 2008 and an additional $93.4 billion for 2007 (bringing that year’s war total to $163.4 billion). Contrary to what the Armed Services Committee was led to believe last fall, the president’s 2008 budget explained that these war-related supplementals included “programs to replace or refurbish military equipment lost or damaged in combat or through wear and tear. In addition to the $23.6 billion already provided in the 2007 Defense Appropriations Act for these programs” — that’s the money Mr. Levin said he was led to believe would be the equipment-reset peak — “the request includes $13.9 billion for 2007 and an estimated $37.6 billion for 2008.” So much for “recurring costs” that were promised to be “lower.” In fact, they may well be higher than projected.

In truth, probably nobody knows how bad the military-equipment situation truly is today. William Solis, the director of Defense Capabilities and Management at the GAO, testified Jan. 31 before the House Armed Services subcommittees on readiness and air and land forces that the Army “is unable to confirm that the $38.6 billion that Congress has appropriated to the Army since fiscal year 2002 for equipment reset has been obligated and expended for reset.” He added that “the Army cannot be assured that its reset programs will provide sufficient equipment to train and equip deploying units for ongoing and future requirements for [GWOT].” At that same hearing, freshman Rep. Joe Sestak, who retired as a Navy vice admiral in 2005 after a 31-year military career, asked the director of force development for the Army what the percentages would be if the Army’s 42 combat brigade teams were manned and equipped equally, and, conversely, how many of the Army’s 42 teams could be manned and equipped at 100 percent today. He was told the answers could be provided only in “a classified setting.”

On Jan. 25, the Defense Department’s IG released a report, “Equipment Status of Deployed Forces within the U.S. Central Command,” which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. “Based on responses from approximately 1,100 service members,” the IG reported, “they experienced shortages of force-protection equipment, such as up-armored vehicles [and] electronic countermeasure devices” to thwart the increasingly lethal improvised explosive devices.

At Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he had recently “heard plenty both in Iraq and in Afghanistan about the need for” more Hellfire missile-equipped Predators (unmanned air vehicles). He acknowledged that “there has been a reluctance — not knowing how long this war was going to go on — a reluctance to expand capacity at the factory.” That seems to be the common denominator underlying the ongoing equipment crisis. Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the nonpartisan Lexington Institute, recently explained to the Baltimore Sun one key reason (besides the lack of money) why, four years into the war in Iraq, there is a shortage of vehicles that can more effectively survive an IED. “At each step along the way for the past four years, the key policymakers have assumed we were just months away from beginning to withdraw” from Iraq, Mr. Thompson explained. “As a result, they never made long-term plans for occupying the country effectively.”

Even at this stage, it is not too late for Congress to exercise responsible oversight, especially given the size of recent spending requests, which may have to be raised to adequately address a problem that has been allowed to fester far too long. If America’s military forces are to meet the challenges that confront them, it is imperative that Congress find out what the facts are and then move to equip the military adequately.

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