Funding shortfalls jeopardize Army operations, chief says

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker told congressional staffers last week he is worried that the Army cannot repair vital equipment fast enough because supplemental budget requests have been too little, too late.

During the last several years the military services have relied on supplemental appropriations to cover the costs of waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But perpetual uncertainties over such funding, which is not part of the regular budget cycle, have been especially hard on the Army since it has borne a disproportionate share of the burden in those wars.

The service has a backlog of thousands of pieces of equipment awaiting repair because there is not enough money to pay for the repairs more quickly, Schoomaker said. None of the Army's five major depots, where damaged and worn out equipment is refurbished, is operating above 50 percent capacity, he said. Schoomaker spoke at a Friday luncheon primarily attended by Capitol Hill staff members and sponsored by the Defense Forum Foundation, an organization that puts on bipartisan educational briefings related to national security.

At the Red River Army Depot in Texas, for example, nearly 1,500 humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and trucks await repairs; another 500 M1 tanks and hundreds of other tracked vehicles are in the backlog at Anniston Army Depot in northeastern Alabama.

The delays in repairs have had a cascading effect on the Army, Schoomaker said. Because many units rotating out of Iraq are leaving undamaged equipment there for the use of units replacing them on the battlefield, they are returning home with little equipment to use in training exercises. By the time the equipment is repaired or replaced, those soldiers have lost precious time in which to prepare for their next deployment.

The Army entered the Iraq war with what service leaders estimated was a $56 billion budget shortfall. In order to field the force that took Baghdad, Army leaders had to move troops and equipment from various units to cover the shortfalls. The ongoing rotations of troops in and out of Iraq, along with increased wear and tear of equipment has created what Schoomaker called "a slope of diminishing returns."

The Army estimates it will need $17.1 billion for equipment replacement and repairs in 2007, a figure that includes nearly $5 billion not covered in this year's budget.

"I've got great concerns about where we stand right now with the 2007 [budget]," Schoomaker said.

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