Lawmakers see funding shortfalls for military equipment, repairs

By Amy Klamper, CongressDaily

As the Army burns through $4.7 billion each month for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, its ability to repair and replace equipment is falling short.

While the Bush administration is expected to ask for as much as $70 billion in wartime supplemental appropriations next year, lawmakers are concerned those funds will not address shortfalls in Army and Marine Corps equipment and personnel needs.

Recent figures indicate the Army has lost several billion dollars worth of equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that by fiscal 2007, the Army's cumulative equipment repair and replacement needs will total $29 billion, of which only $12 billion will have been funded.

Lawmakers say despite supplemental appropriations, the Pentagon has not included the cost of these losses in supplemental spending packages.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said Wednesday the military is reeling from a "procurement holiday" -- the post-Cold War period of waning defense and weapons investment -- even as the pace of wartime operations eats up equipment.

"The simple fact is that our peacetime budget doesn't properly take into account the shortened operational lifetimes of major systems," Hunter said at a committee hearing Wednesday.

The situation is so dire the Army and Air Force are cannibalizing National Guard units for equipment and personnel to support mobilized forces. This has led to equipment and manpower shortages for units that could be deployed overseas as well as those with homeland security missions in the United States, according to a Government Accountability Office study released Wednesday.

The findings suggested the problem leaves U.S. policymakers poorly positioned "to manage the risks to the nation's homeland security," the report said.

In a statement after the hearing, Armed Services ranking member Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., called on the military to budget for their needs in the annual appropriations request to Congress, rather than through supplemental funds.

"We hope their budgets will properly reflect the needs created by the ongoing conflict in Iraq," he said.

Skelton also took issue with personnel levels, noting that the Pentagon's current efforts -- issuing stop-loss orders to keep troops from leaving the military, tapping retirees from the Individual Ready Reserve and bringing enlistees into the force earlier than planned -- are all tactics used to keep recruitment and retention figures on track.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said the Army has not had problems adding soldiers. "We've grown the Army by 15,000 soldiers last year, and we'll continue to grow to about 30,000 more," he told the panel. "This is real growth, exclusive of stop-loss, through increased recruitment and retention."

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee said the Marines intend to use the additional 3,000 forces provided in the recently enacted fiscal 2005 defense authorization act, though it was unclear whether the extra personnel cost would be paid for in the forthcoming supplemental. Hagee said the Marines will need up to $10 billion in supplemental funding in fiscal 2005 -- above and beyond the $25 billion in "bridge funds" approved by appropriators this year.