Pentagon to seek $70B more to cover rising cost of war

The Defense Department expects to ask for $70 billion in its next wartime supplemental spending request, bringing the projected cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to $120 billion this fiscal year.

That represents a $20 billion increase over wartime supplemental funding appropriated in fiscal 2005, due in large part to the rising costs of maintaining and replacing vehicles and other gear worn out by the high pace of operations.

Office of Management and Budget and Defense Department officials acknowledged Thursday that the wear and tear on equipment -- particularly aging Army and Marine Corps vehicles that date back to the 1980s -- is driving up procurement costs in the supplemental.

But they would not quantify how much they will need to procure new operational equipment this year, stating that the military is still working out those numbers.

Nonetheless, it reflects a continuing upward trend in procurement costs as the current tempo of operations abroad continues to stress the military's equipment. Equipment procurement costs rose from $6.4 billion in fiscal 2004 to an estimated $19.1 billion in 2005, according to a Congressional Research Service analysis in October.

Despite the dramatic procurement cost increases, operational costs -- such as military pay and benefits, fuel, and spare parts -- continue to make up the largest chunk of the supplemental spending dollars, the officials said. They expect 2006 operational costs to roughly equal the amount spent on those recurring costs last year.

As it did a year ago, the Pentagon's operational estimate for the remainder of this fiscal year will accompany the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget request to Capitol Hill Monday. The actual supplemental request, expected in the next several weeks, may be "slightly higher or slightly lower" than that projected figure, said Joel Kaplan, OMB deputy director.

In addition to projecting operational spending for the remainder of this fiscal year, the Defense Department will, for the first time, attach a $50 billion "bridge" fund to its 2007 budget request to cover the cost of operations for the beginning of that year. Appropriators included a $50 billion bridge fund into the FY06 Defense spending bill enacted in late December, but did so without the request of the Pentagon.

The Pentagon opted to act ahead of Congress this year to "balance the desire for transparency . . . with the unpredictable nature of war and events on the ground," Kaplan said. The Pentagon will be in a "much better position" to project the 2007 cost of operations as the year unfolds, he added.

Including the $50 billion already appropriated for 2006, the Congressional Research Service estimates the total cost of the U.S. commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan to be more than $360 billion.

Aside from supplemental dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration is also expected to request $18 billion for hurricane relief, and another $2.3 billion to combat avian flu.

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