Shot to Hell

Army budget plans take a beating as the service grapples with a growing backlog of damaged equipment.

At the Anniston Army Depot in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northeast Alabama, 500 M1 Abrams tanks, another 500 combat vehicles and thousands of small arms sit waiting to be repaired. They're part of a massive backlog of equipment that needs to be fixed or overhauled after heavy use in Iraq.

The backlog is not the result of overwhelmed mechanics or inadequate facilities. Anniston is operating at less than 50 percent capacity. The backlog stems from the Army's cash-flow problems: It can't afford to repair the equipment any faster. As a result, soldiers who aren't already deployed to battle increasingly lack adequate equipment for training. It's a disaster in the making, say Army leaders, who worry that without more funding, the Army will break under the weight of its commitments in Iraq and elsewhere as the equipment backlog takes a toll on training and readiness.

The Army's annual budget is designed to cover general operating costs-things such as salaries, health care, training and the operations of facilities. The costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan are paid for with supplemental appropriations. But in deference to other budget priorities, including a plan to beef up security on the southwest U.S. border, Bush administration officials earlier this year cut $4.9 billion from the Army's supplemental funding request. (The Army's budget for 2006 is $98.2 billion-$2 billion less than the service requested.)

Now Army leaders say they will need a whopping $17.1 billion next year just to cover what the Army calls "reset" costs-the repair or replacement of equipment damaged in battle. The figure includes the $4.9 billion in deferred maintenance from this year.

The reset requirements come at a time when the Army already is strapped to meet other needs: It is undertaking the most far-reaching reorganization since World War II and pursuing the first significant modernization program, the Future Combat Systems, in 40 years.

In blunt testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on June 27, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said it is a myth "that the Army is getting well on supplemental funding." He estimates the service will need as much as $13 billion per year for the duration of the war, plus two or three years beyond, to pay for reset costs. "What goes unfunded in one year carries over to the following year, increasing that following year's requirement and thus reducing readiness of the force," he said.

The fiscal pinch is being felt throughout the Army. In June, it began implementing a series of spending restrictions across the force, eliminating nonessential travel and freezing contract awards and new task orders on existing contracts. In an e-mail to service leaders on June 26, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard A. Cody said, "The ripple effect on our spending caused by the supplemental's late arrival has been significant, and the delay has compounded already existing shortfalls and resource-requirement mismatches."

The e-mail, obtained by Government Executive, also stated, "The outlook for [fiscal year] 2007 is not promising."

Anniston is just one of five major depots that handle equipment repairs, but all have backlogs and none is operating above 50 percent capacity. At the Red River and Corpus Christi depots in Texas, hundreds of humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and trucks, as well as eight helicopters and 355 rotor blades, are backlogged; at the Letterkenny and Tobyhanna depots in Pennsylvania, more than 1,000 humvees, 40 Patriot missile launchers, 550 generators and more than 1,000 pieces of electronic gear await repair, Schoomaker said.

Even before the first shot was fired in Iraq, Army leaders estimated that they had an equipment shortfall totaling $56 billion.

Equipment shortages are creating a cascade of negative consequences. On June 28, the House Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee held a closed hearing about problems facing all the military services. A memo circulated to members prior to the hearing from Chairman Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., which was leaked to reporters, said, "Data suggests that overall readiness ratings of the Army are continuing to decline due to equipment shortages." The memo also states that "in many cases" units now deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan have readiness ratings lower than service leaders would have previously allowed.

Army readiness reports for nondeployed units, which are classified, show that "very few [units in the continental United States are] rated as fully mission capable," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., at the June 27 hearing. "Looking at these readiness rates, I truly wonder if these units will be able to answer if the call comes."

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