Unforeseen Spending on Materiel Pumps Up Iraq War Bill

Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker told Congress that the Pentagon did not
Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker told Congress that the Pentagon did not "have a good prediction about what our battle losses would be." (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 20, 2006

With the expected passage this spring of the largest emergency spending bill in history, annual war expenditures in Iraq will have nearly doubled since the U.S. invasion, as the military confronts the rapidly escalating cost of repairing, rebuilding and replacing equipment chewed up by three years of combat.

The cost of the war in U.S. fatalities has declined this year, but the cost in treasure continues to rise, from $48 billion in 2003 to $59 billion in 2004 to $81 billion in 2005 to an anticipated $94 billion in 2006, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The U.S. government is now spending nearly $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from $8.2 billion a year ago, a new Congressional Research Service report found.

Annual war costs in Iraq are easily outpacing the $61 billion a year that the United States spent in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972, in today's dollars. The invasion's "shock and awe" of high-tech laser-guided bombs, cruise missiles and stealth aircraft has long faded, but the costs of even those early months are just coming into view as the military confronts equipment repair and rebuilding costs it has avoided and procurement costs it never expected.

"We did not predict early on that we would have the number of electronic jammers that we've got. We did not predict we'd have as many [heavily] armored vehicles that we have, nor did we have a good prediction about what our battle losses would be," Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Steven M. Kosiak, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments' director of budget studies, said, "If you look at the earlier estimates of anticipated costs, this war is a lot more expensive than it should be, based on past conflicts."

The issue will be hotly debated next week when the Senate takes up a record $106.5 billion emergency spending bill that includes $72.4 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House passed a $92 billion version of the bill last month that included $68 billion in war funding. That funding comes on top of $50 billion already allocated for the war this fiscal year.

The bill is the fifth emergency defense request since the Iraq invasion in March 2003. Senate Democrats say that, in the end, they will vote for the measure, which congressional leaders plan to deliver to President Bush by Memorial Day. But the upcoming debate will offer opponents of the war ample opportunity to question the Bush administration's funding priorities.

Defense officials and budget analysts point to a simple, unavoidable driver of the escalating costs. The cost of repairing and replacing equipment and developing new war-fighting materiel has exploded. In the first year of the invasion, such costs totaled $2.4 billion, then rose to $5.2 billion in 2004. This year, they will hit $26 billion, and could go as high as $30 billion, Kosiak said. On the other hand, at about $15 billion, personnel costs will drop 14 percent this year.

Total operations and maintenance budgets will rise 33 percent this year, while investment in new technologies will climb 25 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The helicopters, tanks, personnel carriers and even small arms "have required more maintenance than we planned for," said Gary Motsek, director of support operations at the Army Materiel Command. "We're working them to death."

In the first years of the war, Army and Marine units rotating out of Iraq left behind usable equipment for the next units rolling in. But even the working equipment is now being shipped back to the Army's five depots to be refurbished and upgraded.

Last year, the depots repaired and upgraded 600 helicopter engines. This year, they will see 700, Motsek said. A total of 318 Bradley Fighting Vehicles went through the depots in 2005; 600 will be cycled through in 2006.


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