If lawmakers and citizens wonder how much of the Iraq war's eventual cost will be covered by President Bush's $87 billion emergency spending request, they need look no further than a Bradley Fighting Vehicle's track.
Normally, a Bradley gets new treads just once a year, after about 800 miles. But for the U.S. Army, these are anything but normal times, and the 600-odd Bradleys in Iraq are trudging 1,200 miles a month, running security escorts the military never imagined would be needed so long after "major combat operations" had ended.
The result is that Bradleys in Iraq need new tracks every 60 days, at $22,576 per vehicle. As many as a third of the Bradleys patrolling the dangerous "Sunni Triangle" are out of commission. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is ramping up production for new tracks, while the Army is running three shifts a day, seven days a week, rebuilding old tracks at the Red River Army Depot in Texas, but workers are still three months behind the Army's demands. Tracks are being flown to Baghdad as fast as they can be made, then apportioned to the units that need them most.
The tracks this fiscal year will have cost $230 million, nearly triple the $78 million the Army spent on track repair and replacement in 2002.
Those worn-down strips of rubber and steel attest to a far broader problem, defense officials and military analysts say: The punishing and dangerous terrain of Iraq and the unanticipated intensity of combat, or "operational tempo," are driving up military costs as significantly as they are raising the danger to the troops.
The toll the war is taking on the Army's troops and equipment will lock in much higher military spending for years to come, regardless of how the occupation goes from here, defense experts say.
"This $87 billion is really just a down payment," said Scott Lilly, the Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee and a military procurement expert.
It is a point that military officials emphasize.
"We assumed that operations would cease a lot earlier than they have," said an Army official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They haven't ceased. The planning process was always to downsize, for the operational tempo to drop dramatically by now. The surprise is, we continue to operate at a very, very high op tempo with a very, very large force."
Army officials say they will need more than $16 billion to repair and replace worn and expended military hardware and reconstitute a force that has been exhausted by simultaneous operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The "reset" involves more than 50,000 wheeled and tracked vehicles, every aviation system deployed in the Middle East and 300 different computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
"The dollar cost still slaps you in the eye," the Army official said.
Of the president's $86.6 billion request for the coming fiscal year, only $3.3 billion is earmarked for that "reset," congressional sources said, meaning that the expenditures will be stretched out for years to come.
That $3.3 billion is a small part of the $65.5 billion that would go to the Defense Department; the other $21.1 billion would go for reconstruction. Almost half of the defense money, $32.3 billion, would be used for fuel, food and other costs of combat and occupation, while $18.5 billion is being requested for reserve and National Guard salaries and other personnel costs.
The escalation has infuriated some members of Congress and their staffs, who say that many of the costs should have been anticipated. Even now, they say, bureaucratic bottlenecks are raising costs and slowing the flow of supplies to Iraq. Beyond the Bradley treads, defense officials say, troops have had problems with battery supplies and engine parts, and logistics officers are bracing for a feared shortage of helicopter blades.
"There's widespread concern that the Department of Defense just hadn't thought through this thing adequately," said James W. Dyer, the Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, who attributed supply problems to "very poor planning."
Military officials are also becoming more open about the problems, especially the shortage of Bradley tracks.
"We've consumed everything," Gen. Paul J. Kern, commander of the Army Materiel Command, said three weeks ago. Army resupply, he said, is costing "in clearly the millions of dollars per day."
In documents released to Congress, the administration says it will need $1.9 billion for emergency procurement. Of that, $143 million would buy 595 heavily armored Humvees. Including sophisticated computer tracking systems and other advanced equipment, the Humvee costs could be nearly $250,000 each, an Army official said. The White House also wants $300 million for about 60,000 three-piece body-armor suits, so Army commanders can issue flak jackets to virtually every soldier in Iraq.
"Here's a blinding flash of the obvious," one Army official said. "There is no front line out there."
Beyond those costs are the mounting toll that Iraqi operations are taking on military equipment designed -- and in most cases, built -- in the 1980s to confront Soviet armies in Central Europe.
"Part of the problem here is the age of the equipment," said Loren B. Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute. "The Army has been under-investing in modernization for years."
The turbine engines of the Army's M1-A1 Abrams tank are being mangled by Iraqi sand, as are the engines and rotor blades of helicopters. One rebuilt helicopter engine can cough up enough sand to fill a 55-gallon drum, Lilly said.
"The 101st Airborne Division's helicopters are just sucking down money," said retired Gen. Bill Nash, who commanded an armored brigade in the Persian Gulf War.
Army logistical units have already had to provide $1.3 billion in spare parts for Apache attack helicopters and other aircraft, Army officials say. That is more than three times as much as the Army normally spends on aviation spare parts.
Operating helicopters in the sands of Iraq "is like rubbing the blades against sandpaper," said Wimpy D. Pybus, a Pentagon logistics official.
Army depots in the United States will have to roughly double their normal annual spending of $1.6 billion to repair and rebuild aircraft, missile systems, land vehicles and communications equipment in the coming months.
The cost of tires alone soared to $236 million for the fiscal year that ends this month, up from $80 million in 2002.
New helicopter rotor blades have cost the Army more than $200 million this fiscal year, quadruple the usual cost.
"And we're not finished yet," the Army official said. "We are flying the hell and driving the hell out of our vehicles."
Escalating costs are not confined to weapons systems. The Army is trucking 552,000 bottles of spring water a day to thirsty troops from supply depots in Kuwait and Turkey.
One supply unit out of Fort Riley, Kan., runs 30 convoys a day from Kuwait into Iraq, with as many as 30 trucks in a convoy.
Army radios are designed to work over dozens of miles, not the hundreds of miles separating roving motorized patrols in Iraq. To maintain contact, the military has had to spend tens of millions of dollars on new satellite communications systems and millions more to purchase commercial bandwidth channels.
The Satellite Industry Association said the military spent $300 million to $400 million on commercial satellite capacity during the major phase of the conflict -- and those costs are continuing.
Even cost-saving efforts of the 1990s have come back to bite. Because the Army shed many of its supply and support battalions, it is paying the salaries of 6,000 civilian contractors, along with tens of thousands of dollars in added insurance costs, for services as mundane as maintaining portable toilets, delivering ice and disposing of trash. Most of that money is to pay contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root Inc., a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., formerly headed by Vice President Cheney.
On Friday, Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) and John D. Dingell (Mich.) asked White House Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten why the president had requested $2.1 billion more to rebuild Iraq's oil fields, mostly for Halliburton, when in July the Army Corps of Engineers said the job would cost $1.1 billion. Of that, Halliburton has already received $948 million.
White House budget office spokesman Trent Duffy said the administration will provide a detailed explanation when the president formally requests the emergency spending.
The nation's defense contractors actually may be hurt by the ongoing costs of the war. Large defense contractors such as Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. of Chicago derive their real profits from large weapons such as fighter jets, not spare parts or ammunition, industry officials said. "It is not going to move the needle for the industry," said Byron Callan, defense industry analyst for Merrill Lynch & Co.
If the Pentagon is forced to shift money from expensive development projects to offset the cost of war, it could take a toll on the defense giants, industry officials said.