War May Require More Money Soon
The strains are beginning to show. Last month, all four military services began spending money halfway through the fiscal year that they were not supposed to touch until July, a senior GOP Armed Services Committee aide said. The military has asked Congress eight times in the past few months for permission to shift $619 million to urgent combat needs from less-pressing programs, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said.
Scrambling to fill its needs, the Pentagon last week diverted 120 armored Humvees purchased by the Israel Defense Forces to Iraq. Yesterday, the Army announced a $110 million contract for still more armored Humvees.
But even that will not be enough, said Robert F. Mecredy, president of the defense group at Armor Holdings. As the two-front uprising in Iraq began taking its toll last month, the company's O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Co. subsidiary cranked up its Ohio defense plant, turning out 214 heavily armored Humvees in March, revving up for 220 this month, even building its own bulletproof-glass operation to augment faltering suppliers.
But by September, Mecredy said, O'Gara's funding from the Army will be running out. Mecredy arrived in Washington yesterday for a week of intensive congressional lobbying. To keep Humvee production at the Army's requested rate, he said, Armor Holdings will need $354 million more by Oct. 1, the beginning of fiscal 2005.
The top officers of Army Materiel Command began a major resupply review at Fort McCoy, Wis., yesterday to determine how to maintain operations in Iraq under increasingly strained circumstances, said Gary Motsek, the command's deputy director for support operations. The Army has worked through a serious supply problem with body armor, he said. And by next month, the command believes, a lingering short-supply problem with the tanklike treads of Bradley Fighting Vehicles will have been resolved.
But that is putting a further strain on the budget. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is now churning out 50,000 steel "shoes" for Bradley treads a month, and will be up to 70,000 by June, Motsek said.
Other problems are being worked through. The backlog of rear rotor blades for Chinook transport helicopters has become serious, he said, with 24 Chinooks now grounded in Iraq. Pre-positioned military stockpiles in Kuwait are critically short.
"An alternative source of funding has to be identified," Motsek said. "We're going to have to be innovative, no doubt about it."
Bush administration officials have not wavered in their contention that money is actually plentiful. Dov S. Zakheim, who left his post as Pentagon comptroller last week, told reporters earlier this month that there may be a temporary spike in spending in the coming months but that costs would then steadily decline. By borrowing from military personnel, operations and maintenance accounts for the final half of 2005, the Pentagon may be able to bridge the gap, said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. But budget chicanery of that magnitude would be unprecedented, he added.
"Whether they can do that if the requirement is $50 [billion] or $60 billion remains to be seen," Spratt said. "It's no way to run a budget."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Mike Kohrs, left, and Amaah Smith work on an armored military Humvee at O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Co. in Fairfield, Ohio.
(Glenn Hartong -- Cincinnati Enquirer)