As Iraq war costs approach the $300 billion mark, the Defense Department’s
increasing reliance on emergency appropriations to pay for military
equipment is stirring controversy on Capitol Hill.
Several lawmakers, in recent weeks, have accused the Pentagon of
taking advantage of emergency funding requests to hide the costs
of personnel, weapons and vehicles that typically would be included
in the Defense Department’s yearly budget proposal. A case
in point is an estimated $69 billion effort to transform the traditional
division-based structure of the U.S. Army into a brigade-centered
The Pentagon has given the Army the green light to move forward
with its plan to create 77 “brigade combat teams,” 43
of which will be active duty and 34 National Guard. Unlike current
brigades, these units will be “modular,” meaning that
they will be independently capable of deploying and engaging in
combat without relying on a division headquarters. The intent is
to make the Army more agile, quicker to respond, and to create a
more predictable deployment cycle that will ease the stress on soldiers.
After the restructuring is complete in about six years, the active-duty
force, which now has 33 brigades, would grow to 43. The Guard would
downsize slightly, from 36 to 34 brigades. About 200,000 Army reservists
also would be reorganized into “expeditionary” units.
A significant amount of new equipment will be needed to supply the
modular force, officials said.
Critics contend that much of that spending is predictable and should
be part of the Pentagon’s regular budget request sent to Congress
each year, rather than be labeled an emergency expense.
Since 2003, the Pentagon has requested more than $270 billion in
supplemental war funds: $78 billion in 2003, $88 billion in 2004,
$25 billion so far approved for 2005, with another $80 billion expected
in the coming months.
Adding to the Army’s enormous war bills are the costs to
repair and replace equipment damaged and destroyed in combat. In
2005 alone, the Army is about $7 billion short of what it needs
to fix ground vehicles and helicopters, according to a Senate Armed
Services Committee estimate.
As these bills accumulate and the Army continues on the path to
restructure into a modular force, members of Congress charge that
the Pentagon is not clearly communicating the Army’s requirements
in its budget requests.
Lawmakers generally abide by the doctrine of “no surprises,”
said Daniel J. Cox, professional staff member of the Senate Armed
Services Committee. In remarks to a defense industry conference
in Monterey, Calif., Cox said Congress would support the Army’s
needs, but that it’s important for the Pentagon to “keep
us informed, and push information.” Some lawmakers, he said,
are “frustrated because they are not being told what’s
in the supplemental requests.”
During recent SASC hearings, Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and
Carl Levin, D-Mich., both expressed unease about the Pentagon’s
budgeting practices. Cox suggested that his committee will ask the
Defense Department to be more straightforward about the costs of
equipping the modular Army. “There is an interest in seeing
modularity requests go into the regular budget,” he said.
At a Pentagon news conference coinciding with the release of the
administration’s proposed fiscal year 2006 budget, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld backed the decision to bundle Army equipment
costs with emergency supplemental funding requests. “The only
way you can look at this budget is to look at the supplementals
with it,” he told reporters.
Army officials, meanwhile, contend that the cost of “modularity”
is a legitimate war expense. “I would argue that modularity
is directly related to the needs of war. That’s the whole
reason we are creating these brigades, so we can prosecute the global
war on terror,” said Lt. Gen. David F. Melcher, Army deputy
chief of staff for programs and resources. “In the end, money
is money,” he said. But, by including these costs in supplemental
requests, the Army feels more reassured it will get the funds it
needs. “The good thing about it is that Congress acts more
expeditiously in pushing it through,” he said. “I suspect
that in fiscal year 2006, modularity still will be tied to supplemental
Speaking at the industry conference in Monterey, Melcher explained
that the Army finds itself in a financial bind not only as a result
of war demands and a simultaneous reorganization, but also because
it is still making up for cutbacks that started in the early 1990s.
“We are digging out of a $10 billion procurement hole,”
Melcher said. The National Guard alone has $15 billion in equipment
The cost of modularity currently is estimated at $69 billion during
the next six years, he said. That includes $35 billion for procurement
of weapons and vehicles, $21 billion for personnel and $13 billion
for other restructuring costs, such as migrating what traditionally
have been division and corps assets down to the brigade level. These
include, for example, military intelligence, artillery, engineering
and signal units.
The Army already has included $48 billion of those costs into its
regular budget for the next six years, requesting $8 billion each
The new combat brigades will be organized into three types: infantry,
heavy and Stryker. The Stryker brigades are named after the light
armored vehicles. The Army also is standardizing the units that
would operate outside the brigade, such as aviation, military police
Under the new setup, brigades will have more predicable deployment
Active-duty soldiers would be deployed for one year, and spend
two years at home station. The National Guard would deploy one year
and be home for five years, while the Reserves would be away one
year, and four at home.
That cycle would result in 20 combat-ready brigades being available
to deploy each year, Melcher said. “We think 20 is about the
right number.” By comparison, today, the Army has 26 brigades
engaged in operations around the world, but the service is having
a tough time keeping those units properly staffed and equipped.
The upshot of the modular approach is a significant change in the
“readiness” model that the Army has employed in the
past, he added. “We are not going to be at the same readiness
standards throughout the Army. We’ve always said all of our
units are ready to deploy any time. It probably never was true.
The current model is killing us in terms of supporting current operations.”
The new approach takes stress from soldiers’ lives, Melcher
said. “We have many patriotic soldiers. When we ask them to
deploy for a year with only one year in between deployments, we
are taxing that patriotism and asking too much.”