Monday, September 25, 2006

Long War Strains: Army, Pentagon Debating Choices

Everyone one knows having a Ministry of Defense including armed forces is expensive. But in all likelihood, the new strategic realities makes defense and especially Army budgets even more strained -- rather than less, which was the Rumsfeldian transformation dream just three years ago. Just take this piece from the LA Times, "Army Warns Rumsfeld it's Billions Short":
WASHINGTON — The Army's top officer withheld a required 2008 budget plan from Pentagon leaders last month after protesting to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the service could not maintain its current level of activity in Iraq plus its other global commitments without billions in additional funding. The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials. (...)

According to a senior Army official involved in budget talks, Schoomaker is now seeking $138.8 billion in 2008, nearly $25 billion above budget limits originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army's budget this year is $98.2 billion, making Schoomaker's request a 41% increase over current levels. (...) Most funding for the fighting in Iraq has come from annual emergency spending bills, with the regular defense budget going to normal personnel, procurement and operational expenses, such as salaries and new weapons systems. About $400 billion has been appropriated for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through emergency funding measures since Sept. 11, 2001, with the money divided among military branches and government agencies. But in recent budget negotiations, Army officials argued that the service's expanding global role in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism — outlined in strategic plans issued this year — as well as fast-growing personnel and equipment costs tied to the Iraq war, have put intense pressure on its normal budget. (...)

After Schoomaker confronted Rumsfeld with the Army's own estimates for maintaining the current size and commitments — and the steps that would have to be taken to meet the lower figure, which included cutting four combat brigades and an entire division headquarters unit — Rumsfeld agreed to set up a task force to investigate Army funding. Although no formal notification is required, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, who has backed Schoomaker in his push for additional funding, wrote to Rumsfeld early last month to inform him that the Army would miss the Aug. 15 deadline for its budget plan. Harvey said the delay in submitting the plan, formally called a Program Objective Memorandum, was the result of the extended review by the task force. The study group — which included three-star officers from the Army and Rumsfeld's office — has since agreed with the Army's initial assessment. Officials say negotiations have moved to higher levels of the Bush administration, involving top aides to Rumsfeld and White House Budget Director Rob Portman. "Now the discussion is: Where are we going to go? Do we lower our strategy or do we raise our resources?" said the senior Pentagon official. "That's where we're at." (...)

In recent weeks, however, Schoomaker has become more publicly emphatic about budget shortfalls, saying funding is not enough to pay for Army commitments to the Iraq war and the global strategy outlined by the Pentagon. "There's no sense in us submitting a budget that we can't execute, a broken budget," Schoomaker said in a recent Washington address.

Military budget expert Steven M. Kosiak of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent Washington think tank, said that despite widespread recognition that the Army should be getting more resources because of war-related costs, its share of the Defense Department budget has been largely unchanged since the 2003 invasion. However, a good portion of the new money the Army seeks is not directly tied to the war, Kosiak cautioned, but rather to new weapons it wants — particularly the $200-billion Future Combat System, a family of armored vehicles that is eventually to replace nearly every tank and transporter the Army has. "This isn't a problem one can totally pass off on current military operations," Kosiak said. "The FCS program is very ambitious — some would say overly ambitious."
Withholding the budget is of course at least partially a political manoeuver: an unusual signal about an unusual signal, and at the same time a tactic get more money. However, Rumsfeld or the OSD seems to be agreeing: the Long War strategy does indeed put a greater weight on boots rather than planes or other very fancy equipment. But, the future of the FCS is prior to and so mostly independent of the Long War strategy. The FCS was Army's answer to Rumsfeld's transformation demands, which, especially in his conception became about efficiency in terms of cost/firepower and therefore the speedy adoption of technology in order to allow 'seamless' cooperation and modularity e.g. in the Army.

The Army is then caught between (known) running operational expenses, (expected) development costs for the FCS, and the (less determinable) costs of implementing the Long War strategy. The difference between the three in terms of immediate needs is obvious. Interestingly, the "Senior Pentagon Official" points to the possibility of cutting down ambition for the Long War.

But the difference between the Long War and the present running campaigns is not very big in terms of content (if probably in scope, the Long War being more directed towards SOF and internal advising ops). In both cases the central need is make a military address to a political problem -- of having a stable and just state that will not only be safe for terrorism, but also one that its citizens will opt in to. The difference between the present campaigns and the Long War is thus the implementation of the aggregate lessons learned: especially organizational, at both tactical and strategic levels. Cutting down on the Long War in the Army might then mean throwing out the very lessons the Pentagon has paid for since the invasion in Afghanistan.

Given that the amounts put aside for e.g. linguistic training were insignificant compared to the stable investment level for the ABM research these proposals are perhaps not surprising. In spite of the Long War prominance in the QDR, the cold worriers are still waiting to seize the agenda.

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