WASHINGTON – The Army, bearing most of the cost for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Thursday its money crunch has gotten so bad it is clamping down on spending for travel, civilian hiring and other expenses not essential to the war mission.
A statement outlining the cutbacks did not say how much money the Army expects to save, but senior officials have said the cost of replacing worn equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is rising at a quickening pace.
Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, said last week that in 2004 it cost $4 billion to repair or replace war equipment, but now it has reached $12 billion to $13 billion. "And in my view, we will continue to see this escalate," he said, adding that the Army is using up equipment at four times the rate for which it was designed.
Schoomaker traced the problem's origin to entering the Iraq war in 2003 with a $56 billion shortfall in equipment. The Army managed the situation by rotating in fresh units while keeping the same equipment in Iraq. Over time, he said, the equipment has worn out without sufficient investment in replacements.
The Army chief said there is too little money available to keep up with equipment repairs. He said the Army's five major repair depots are operating at only 50 percent of capacity, resulting in a backlog of 1,000 Humvee utility vehicles awaiting attention at the Red River Army Depot in Texas and 500 tanks at a depot in Alabama.
The Army's 2006 budget is $98.2 billion, and the 2007 budget request not yet approved by Congress seeks $111 billion for the Army.
About 100,000 of the approximately 127,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are Army. Most of the rest are Marines.
When Congress took longer than the Pentagon expected to approve an emergency spending bill for war costs last spring, the Army imposed temporary spending cutbacks that it expected to lift once the extra money was approved.
In its announcement Thursday, the Army said it has decided to extend most of those cutbacks until the end of the budget year on Sept. 30. Among the reasons cited: the high costs of war and an expectation that Congress may approve less money for the Army in the 2007 budget than the White House requested.
The Army said it will limit its purchase of supplies to those that are deemed critical to war requirements; cancel or postpone all nonessential travel; stop the shipment of goods unless they are needed for deployed or deploying troops; freeze the hiring of new civilians; restrict use of government credit cards; freeze all new contract awards, and release temporary employees and some service-contract workers.
Meanwhile, Army officials traveled to Capitol Hill this week to urge members of Congress not to slash funding for aircraft programs.
Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Mundt told reporters that congressional plans to cut about $90 million from the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program and eliminate all $109 million for the development of a new cargo aircraft would trigger as much as a two-year delay and increase the overall cost of both programs.
Military analyst Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute said cutting nearly a third of the $275 million requested for the helicopter is unwarranted because it is a low-risk program that will provide a much-needed replacement for the Army's aging fleet of Kiowa Warriors.
"It makes no sense to delay this program," Goure said. "It is a risk to the soldiers, and it poses additional costs on the Army at a time when it's already struggling."
The cargo plane, said Mundt, would be able to take off and land on much smaller runways, and would give the Army and Air Force access to thousands of airfields around the world that existing cargo aircraft cannot use. They include almost 30 additional airfields in Iraq, and 10 more in Afghanistan, he said.