Wars: Surprisingly Unaffordable

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The freshly renamed Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the costs of our military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq are getting out of hand. From the Washington Post, via MSNBC.

The U.S. military has spent most of the $65 billion that Congress approved for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is scrambling to find $12.3 billion more from within the Defense Department to finance the wars through the end of the fiscal year….

Already, the GAO said, the services have deferred the repair of equipment used in Iraq, grounded some Air Force and Navy pilots, canceled training exercises, and delayed facility-restoration projects. The Air Force is straining to cover the cost of body armor for airmen in combat areas, night-vision gear and surveillance equipment, according to the report.

The Army, which is overspending its budget by $10.2 billion for operations and maintenance, is asking the Marines and the Air Force to help cover the escalating costs of its logistics contract with Halliburton Co. But the Air Force is also exceeding its budget by $1.4 billion, while the Marines are coming up $500 million short. The Army is even having trouble paying the contractors guarding its garrisons outside the war zones, the report said.
….
The GAO report detailed just why a $65 billion emergency appropriation has proved to be insufficient. When Bush requested that money, the Pentagon assumed that troop levels in Iraq would decline from 130,000 to 99,000 by Sept. 30, that a more peaceful Iraq would allow the use of more cost-effective but slower sea lifts to transport troops and equipment, and that troops rotating in would need fewer armored vehicles than the service members they replace.

Instead, troop levels will remain at 138,000 for the foreseeable future, the military is heavily dependent on costly airlifts and the Army's force has actually become more dependent on heavily armored vehicles. The weight of those vehicles, in turn, has contributed to higher-than-anticipated repair and maintenance costs. Higher troop levels have also pushed up the cost of the Pentagon's massive logistical contract with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root.

More expensive details in the full story. The GAO report is here.

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  1. The key problem here is a misprioritization of funds away from force sustainment, training and essential personal gear. Instead of funding these important areas, a large percentage of our budget goes towards expensive and unnecessary new weapons systems (usually aircraft and ships), refurbishing old equipment (usually pork by congress) and unnecessary military bases. This is why Rumsfeld’s initiative to close 25%+ of our military bases is so essential. The military budget is bloated, rising above Cold War levels; however, with reductions in unnecessary spending on facilities, increased training, sustainment and quality of life funding, and targeted spending on modernizing weapons systems, the military can both cost less and be more effective in the defense of the U.S. and its interests. The American taxpayer should demand from its representatives the most effective and cost-efficient military possible.

  2. A mismatch between the wars the White House wants to fight and those it actually ends up fighting contributes to the problem.

    I think George Bush meant what he said in the debates about nation building, “world’s policeman,” etc. As his, Cheney’s, and Rumsfeld’s pre-war comments demonstrate, they really thought they were going to be able to win a quick, high tech war and then leave fast.

  3. Can you imagine the flak anyone would get for even hinting at cutting the military budget? Lately I’ve been hearing some sounds of newfound fiscal prudence. That prudence, guaranteed, will not apply to the military and their contracting buddies.

  4. Nick really nails it on the weapons systems. The submarine, carrier and strategic bomber mafias (term borrowed from G2Mil, which is a *pro-military* publication) continue to push their pet projects at the expense of overall preparedness. There’s more than a passing similarity with the pre-WW II Soviet military in that regard: Completed planes and tanks looked a lot more exciting than bolts, tread links, etc., so the Soviet Union in 1940 had both the largest airforce and largest tankforce in the world, but the majority of the vehicles were inoperable for lack of spare parts.

  5. Nick,
    I’m with you on everything but the base closures. In the near term (less than 20 years) simply leaving them open but manned by a skeleton crew is more cost effective. Ridiculous environmental regulations among other factors have made actually “closing” a base nearly impossible.

    Canabalising aircraft for spare parts is a way of life and has been for years. What the military needs is more troops, more body and humvee armor, and guns that don’t jam. Fewer high tech missile/helicopters/mech artillery/stealth bombers that we can’t maintain. Volunteers anyone, or are you waiting for the draft?

  6. I’m an officer cadet for the U.S. Army and will be commissioned in 2 years and my father is a senior, career Air Force officer, so no waiting for the draft for me. I do believe that our military budget is too large and that the american taxpayer is not getting a good value for that massive budget. While I agree that closing a base can be difficult and expensive, there are many, mostly Air Force bases that can be closed cheaply, quickly and can be turned over to private enterprise. In addition, the Navy bases (Pascagoula, Everett) constructed under Reagan to devolve the fleet have few ships now and those that are left will retire soon. Those ports were constructed with state-of-the-art environmental techniques and would be easy to turn over to private corporations. Vance, Laughlin, Columbus, Cannon, and several other Air Force bases are underutilized with no operation mission other than training that can be done at a central location. These Air Fields are not significantly different than public airports can be closed with limited future expense. The closure of these bases has limited operational impact, will cost little and will significantly improve financial state of the military.

  7. “Some day we are going to be #2. I want that to happen in a world where it doesn’t matter. That is not today’s world.”

    M. Simon, I, too, want that to be in a world where it doesn’t matter. Is that world possible, though?

  8. Star Wars will take care of all those base closings. 😉

  9. Nick, I’m still not sure that that closing bases, even if it could be done cheaply would save us any money in a useful timeframe. The big ticket items are the killers, there is a threshold of materiality when you look at a budget as large as that of DoD. USAFA 98. Go AF Beat Army.

  10. Base closings have been going on for a long time, and are often repurposed for better things. Orlando International Airport used to be McCoy Airfied — it’s still listed as MCO if you look it up. They don’t even use all of the airfield, even with all those tourists. I guess nuclear bombers need a lot of runway.

  11. Nick,

    In biology you have ostentatious shows that have costs but no returns. These shows prove fitness.

    The same is true for our military budget. The fact that we can afford so much “waste” and it barely registers on our GDP has a deterrent effect.

    We have the problem now that all alpha males have. Any show of weakness invites attacks. Because #2 and #3 spend most of their effort going after #1.

    Some day we are going to be #2. I want that to happen in a world where it doesn’t matter. That is not today’s world.

  12. Andy,

    It will happen when we all (99.99+%) acknowledge the root of our problem (biology and the alpha male succession) and what to do about it. – Agreed methds of succession that to not involve murder i.e. democracy and elections.

    I do believe we are in the middle of that transition. It is not going to be done without a lot of pain because the old style alphas still want succession decided the old way. Blood feuds, murder, war. They need to be defeated and civilized.

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