Monday, December 11, 2006

Army Cash Crunch

Today's Wall Street Journal features an outstanding page one article by Greg Jaffe about the cash crunch being suffered by the US Army (subscription may be required to view the whole article). Greg's right on the money about outfitting soldiers with increasingly expensive gear.

The cost of basic equipment that soldiers carry into battle -- helmets, rifles, body armor -- has more than tripled to $25,000 from $7,000 in 1999.

The cost of a Humvee, with all the added armor, guns, electronic jammers and satellite-navigational systems, has grown seven-fold to about $225,000 a vehicle from $32,000 in 2001.
The Army's budget is fairly fixed and increased per soldier costs translates into fewer soldiers with all the gear. Where the article falters is its comparisons with the other services.

From 1990 to 2005, the military lavished money on billion-dollar destroyers, fighter jets and missile-defense systems. Defenders of such programs say the U.S. faces a broad array of threats and must be prepared for all of them. High-tech weaponry contributed to the swift toppling of the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has been of little help in the more difficult task of stabilizing the two countries.

Of the $1.9 trillion the U.S. spent on weaponry in that period, adjusted for inflation, the Air Force received 36% and the Navy got 33%. The Army took in 16%, it says. Despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both dominated by ground forces, the ratio hasn't changed significantly.
"Lavished" is a poorly chosen word. Inexpensive jet fighters get shot down. Ships are just plain expensive.

The US military expects to fight its battles with total air superiority and that in the first few days. The Army doesn't spend a whole lot of money on anti-aircraft weapons systems because it already has one - the US Air Force. Further, military doctrine calls for the use of combined arms, where infantry can call in air strikes from waiting aircraft. All of the connectivity and interactions implied in this video are expensive.

Navy ships are big beasts. You simply cannot put one in the water for cheap. Again, the Army assumes their existence. The first force on the scene is almost always the US Navy. Enemies of the US are employing a variety of weapons systems to prevent US access to their countries from the sea. Mine sweeping is no joke and the weapons systems required to do it are very expensive. As the Chinese showed a short while ago, diesel electric submarines are sophisticated pieces of hardware and tracking them is very difficult. If you haven't cleared the area of mines and enemy submarines, then the Army had better start buying teleportation devices, otherwise they won't be going in.

And all of that air superiority they're expecting? A lot of the time it starts with the Navy. This is not cheap.

Greg captures the underlying philophical question in his article.

President Bush has said that the best way to protect the nation is to spread democracy. The experience in Iraq demonstrates that such a strategy requires a bigger Army that is more skilled in tasks such as building indigenous forces, fostering local government and economic development. "Revolutionary approaches require a lot of resources," says Conrad Crane, the lead author of the Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine.

A less-ambitious foreign policy that seeks to promote stability and preserve the status quo could reduce the pressure to build a bigger Army with a broader array of skills.
Fortress America is cheaper than a policy of preemption. Well, it's cheaper until the enemy shows up on your shores.

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1 comment:

The Ugly American said...

Great Post KT. Another important fact not mentioned is the amount of troops who in past wars would have been killed or seriously injured who are now walking away unharmed, or with minor injuries due to the modern equipment.

Now all that being said, I for one would gladly pay higher taxes if it was going to buying more modern gear for the soldiers and marines on the ground.