Army, Marines Need Funds to Fix Worn Equipment, Generals Say
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 28, 2006 To successfully prosecute the war against terrorism, the U.S. military needs additional funds to maintain its equipment, the Army chief of staff told Congress yesterday.
"To prevail in the long struggle we are now engaged, we must maintain our readiness by resetting those who have deployed through a disciplined, orderly reconstitution of combat power," Army Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said before the House Armed Services Committee. "Our soldiers' effectiveness depends upon a national commitment to recruit, train, equip and support them properly."
Equipment "reset" actions include repair and replacement of worn hardware. "In simplest terms, our reset program is designed to reverse the effects of combat stress on equipment," Schoomaker said.
The high demand of fighting the war on terror has put a major strain on Army equipment, Schoomaker said, and he pointed to the harsh operating environments in Iraq and Afghanistan as taking a heavy toll on equipment.
In Iraq, crews are driving tanks more than 4,000 miles per year, five times more than the expected annual usage of 800 miles, he said.
Army helicopters are experiencing usage rates about three times higher than the programmed rate, and trucks are operating five to six times their programmed rate, he said.
"This extreme wear is further exacerbated by the addition of heavy armor kits and other force protection initiatives," he said. "The compounding effect of increasing tempo and severe operating conditions in combat is decreasing the life of our equipment."
Schoomaker said that since Sept. 11, 2001, the Army has reset 1,900 aircraft, more than 14,000 track vehicles, almost 110,000 wheeled vehicles, and thousands of other items. By the end of fiscal 2006 in three months, the Army will have placed 290,000 major items into reset.
About 280,000 major pieces of equipment will remain in theater and will not be reset until a troop drawdown is implemented, he added.
Schoomaker said the Army has been historically under-resourced. "There were about $56 billion in equipment shortages at the opening of the ground campaign in Iraq in the spring of 2003," he said.
At the height of World War II, defense expenditures exceeded 38 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Today defense expenditures account for about 3.8 percent of the GDP, and are projected to shrink, he said.
"We are going in the direction of our NATO allies," Schoomaker said.
He stressed that this trend must be reversed, and the Army's plan to reset its equipment falls in line with its strategy to transform and modernize.
"Reset is a cost of war that must not be borne at the expense of our modernization efforts," he said. "We must not mortgage the future readiness of the force by focusing our resources solely on the current challenges."
The Army's requirement for reset in fiscal 2007 is $17.1 billion. This includes the $4.9 billion that was deferred from the Army request for fiscal 2006.
In accordance with the White House's Office of Management and Budget and Defense Department policy, the Army relies on supplemental funds to pay for its reset program. This is because current reset costs are directly tied to damage and wear from contingency operations. But these funds do not cover general reset costs.
"There is an invalid belief on the part of some that the Army is getting well on supplemental funding," Schoomaker said. "That is an incorrect statement. Supplemental funding is paying for the costs of the war. It is not correcting the hole in the force that existed at the start of the war. That must be paid for under our base program."
The Army expects the requirement beyond fiscal 2007 to be about $13 billion per year, Schoomaker said, and emphasized that whatever goes unfunded in one year carries over to the following year, which increases that year's requirement, "and thus reducing readiness of the force."
Also testifying yesterday was Marine Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, who also emphasized the need for more money to fix worn equipment.
"We need to provide proper resources for these great young men and women (in uniform) that we have out there, and ensure we maintain the best fighting force the world has seen," Hagee said.
As of Oct. 1, 2005, the Marine Corps estimate to reset its equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan was $11.7 billion, he said.
Though $5.1 billion was approved in this year's supplemental budget, the Marine Corps still needs the rest of the money, he said.
"Our top line for FY 07 is $18.2 billion," Hagee said. "Obviously, there is no way that we could absorb the reset costs in our top line."