The first month of U.S. military support activity involving escorts of reflagged Kuwaiti tankers through the Persian Gulf has cost more than $30 million in extra operating expenses, administration sources said yesterday.
The bill of almost $1 million a day includes extra steaming time for ships and flight time for aircraft, as well as greater demands for spare parts, expanded maintenance requirements and airlifts of personnel and equipment to the region, sources said.
That price tag covers only costs above normal operating expenses of the naval ships, aircraft and personnel, sources said. It does not include extra costs of Air Force and Army operations in the region, sources said.
Also excluded are contributions from the Kuwaiti government, which is providing some fuel for U.S. ships involved in the convoys.
"For the people who say this isn't costing anything extra, we're at $30 million and counting," one administration official said. "And that's incremental to what we'd be spending on those ships anyway."
Navy officials have estimated that the routine cost of operating an aircraft-carrier group is about $1.2 million a day for equipment and payroll.
The Defense Department has ordered almost 40 ships and smaller surface craft to the region, including a carrier group in the nearby Northern Arabian Sea.
In addition, the Pentagon has sent a large contingent of mine-sweeping helicopters and several special-operations units specializing in counterterrorism and other services.
The Navy ordered six ocean mine-sweeping ships to the gulf this week. They are to be towed to the region by amphibious transport ships, approximately a seven-week voyage, Pentagon sources said.
A proposal under consideration by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to award "imminent danger pay" of $110 a month to military personnel serving in some parts of the gulf region could cost an additional $1 million per month, administration officials say.
Although the Defense Department maintains a contingency budget to cover such special operations as the gulf escort missions, Pentagon officials have said that continued intensive involvement in the region could require the military to seek additional money from Congress.
Pentagon officials said yesterday that the large sums of money being funneled into the gulf operations may force the Navy to curtail exercises and activities elsewhere in the world and could "wreak havoc" on deployment schedules of ships and sailors throughout the Navy.
Pentagon officials say the gulf operation is hard on personnel and equipment. They said equipment requires extra maintenance because of the hot, dusty environment.
They said morale of those serving there is affected dramatically by a combination of the stressful operations -- crews are ordered to full battle stations while moving through the Strait of Hormuz -- and cancellation of routine port calls.
In addition to massive financial commitments to the operation, the Pentagon announced yesterday that it has created a new joint task force command to take direct control of the "increased presence and activities of U.S. forces in the area."
Rear Adm. Dennis Brooks will head the new command based on an aircraft carrier assigned to the Northern Arabian Sea, Pentagon officials said. Brooks will have authority over the one-star admiral currently in charge of the Middle East Task Force and will report directly to the Central Command based in Tampa, Fla.
Weinberger approved the command-structure change after an internal feud between naval officials and the Central Command, a joint service group that has been directing gulf operations.
"The change will strengthen command and control arrangements," the Defense Department said in a statement yesterday.