Friday, March 21, 2008

$40 billion per year

The widget on top of the right-hand panel shows the cost of the war in Iraq. The numbers include ongoing costs that are directly attributable to the war. They include combat pay, but not regular pay of armed forces. They don't include the cost of interest on the federal deficit that the war makes necessary. They include some replacement of equipment as it wears out in the field. But they do not include the cost of rebuilding military armament as equipment ages throughout the armed forces.

This article in the National Journal explains this last set of costs:
On the sea and in the air, military bills come due, by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. National Journal March 20, 2008.


On the sea and in the air, America has coasted for two decades on investments made in the 1980s.

Now, after a generation of heavy use around the globe, from Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s to Afghanistan and Iraq today, hardware bought during the Reagan buildup is simply wearing out.

The chief of the Air Force has said publicly that he needs an extra $20 billion -- per year -- beyond the administration's requested budget to restock his arsenal. Outside analysts suggest that the less-outspoken Navy needs about the same amount. But the services are laying that $40 billion charge for future weapons on a country that is increasingly chafing under the costs of the current war.

With the end of the Cold War, defense spending dropped by $42 billion between 1990 and 1994. Some $39 billion of that came out of the research, development, and procurement budget. So, while the military's expenditures for operations, maintenance, and personnel stayed about level, even as the size of the armed forces shrank, the Pentagon had only about half as much to spend on new equipment.

The services weathered this "procurement holiday" in different ways. The average age of the Air Force's fighter fleet doubled, from less than 10 years old in 1991 to more than 20 today. The Navy made ends meet by retiring older, expensive-to-maintain vessels ahead of schedule, keeping the fleet relatively young at the price of halving its size.

The bottom line for both services was the same: Major new purchases were delayed, stretched out, or cut. This was a stopgap, not a solution. Throughout the 1990s, a growing chorus of defense analysts warned of a coming train wreck, when all of the deferred modernization bills would arrive at once. What they did not expect was that those bills would come due during America's biggest and most expensive war since Vietnam.

It is hard for Defense officials to make a case for supersonic stealth fighters and warships bristling with missiles when policy makers are grilling them about body armor and mine-resistant trucks for troops in battle every day.

The air and sea services certainly make the case for their own relevance. Whether these long-term arguments will shake an extra $40 billion out of Congress is an open question. And whether the services' planned purchases are the right investments for the future is another question altogether.

{Image source: wikimedia}

This article explains military spending estimates in the President's proposed budget for fiscal year 2009: Feeding the military monster warps our spending priorities. It says:
Studies agree that the U.S. spends more on our military than the rest of the world combined. Our Fiscal Year 2008 military budget of some $623 billion is well above the entire rest of the world, which will spend about $500 billion in FY 2008.

For FY 2009, President George W. Bush proposed a military budget of $515 billion, plus $70 billion — at least — for Iraq and Afghanistan; total: at least $585 billion. But even before the ink was dry on the FY 2009 budget, Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted the total would be closer to $685 billion. What's a hundred billion between friends?

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