Budgetary Jugglers

For the Army, balance between transformation and war is increasingly costly.

Army officials are in the middle of a budgetary juggling act, trying to keep alive their expensive transformation program while at the same time paying for the urgent needs of deployed troops.

In addition to the mounting war bills that will keep budgets tight for years after the end of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is adding 65,000 soldiers to its active-duty ranks-to the tune of $76.3 billion by 2013, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

The balance between current and future is becoming increasingly precarious for the heavily deployed service, which is finding itself at odds with House members and other skeptics who do not view the service's $160 billion Future Combat Systems program as an affordable reality.

"FCS is in the bull's-eye," says Gordon Adams, the White House Office of Management and Budget associate director of national security programs during the Clinton administration. "And the problem is force expansion and contingency costs and disappearing supplementals."

The Army's problem will be most acute, Adams says, when the U.S. military presence in Iraq shrinks and the massive emergency wartime supplemental spending bills, which pay for many urgent equipment needs, dry up. And FCS, which takes up a major portion of the service's equipment accounts, will be the No. 1 target.

"The flying fickle finger of budgetary fate tends to point at procurement, especially in the Army," Adams says. The Army, more so than the technology-heavy Air Force and Navy, "is a force-structure-heavy capability."

A complex system of manned and un-manned air and land vehicles tied together by an intricate network, FCS is by far the most expensive and ambitious technological undertaking in the Army's history. For the service's leaders, the program means survival in the future against increasingly sophisticated and adaptable foes.

But the price tag for FCS has grown significantly over the years and now tops $160 billion-an unheard-of sum for a ground combat program. Its annual budget rivals those of the $250 billion Joint Strike Fighter and other air and sea platforms.

For some in Congress, that is simply too expensive at a time when deployed soldiers need new tactical vehicles, body armor and other equipment for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They view programs like the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, whose V-shaped hull better shields against roadside bombs, as bigger spending priorities.

Indeed, the House's version of the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill guts $867 million from the Army's $3.7 billion request for the program. In July, the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee trimmed $406 million from the program. At press time, the House was poised to send the defense appropriations bill to the floor.

Luckily, the Senate's authorization measure adds some funding to the program, and at press time, Senate appropriators were expected to at least approve the budget request. Still, that could mean a $400 million or more cut to the program in the final versions of the bill-an amount, Army officials have said, that would be difficult to swallow.

Despite the budgetary challenges, the Army continues to push hard for FCS, which they say will give troops a significant leg up in future operations. In a May letter to Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Army Chief of Staff George Casey warned that the House cuts would have severe ramifications for FCS and perhaps imperil future soldiers.

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