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U.S. ARMY SAVED FROM PENTAGON CUTS

07 Feb 05. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reported today that, the White House will unveil today a 4.8% increase in the defense spending for 2006 that keeps the Army’s budget flat, despite ground forces bearing the brunt of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Bush administration already is preparing tens of billions of dollars in additional spending requests to cover not only wartime costs, but also to kick-start the Army’s modernization.

The $419.3bn Defense Department budget includes an 8.2% boost for the Air Force and 5.4% more for the Navy over levels in the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30, according to government documents and lawmakers. But it doesn’t show the full picture of how the fighting in Iraq has helped persuade the Pentagon to request significantly larger increases to reshape the Army — a process that otherwise threatened to bog down because of competing budget demands.

In an effort to show its determination to control spending, the administration is holding overall weapons procurement steady at $78bn next year. However, despite much-publicized proposals for cutting outlays for some high-profile aircraft and ship programs over six years, total weapons purchases nonetheless are slated to increase sharply during that period, the documents show.

Amid such budget maneuvers, it is unclear how much the Pentagon, the largest federal department, will help President Bush’s bid to rein in the government deficit. Moreover, the White House’s reliance on unusually large supplemental spending bills for the military this year and in 2006 masks the true growth of Pentagon spending.

For 2006, the White House is budgeting $100bn for the Army, down slightly from the $100.3bn approved for this year. Actual spending for 2005 will be significantly higher, because the Army received most of a $25bn supplemental budget approved by Congress and is bound to get the lion’s share of a further $80bn to be requested as early as this week. Some $75bn of those funds will go to the Pentagon.

Furthermore, the Pentagon is adding at least $35bn to previous estimates of Army spending through 2011 to expand and restructure ground forces into smaller units better suited for fighting guerrilla insurgencies and other potential challenges in the war on terrorism. These funds will be used for buying and upgrading equipment such as troop carriers, advanced communications networks and unmanned reconnaissance vehicles.

Funding for this Army overhaul will start to take off in supplemental budgets for this year and 2006. Typically, these additional budgets are used to pay for unanticipated, short-term military operations. Yet reflecting the lessons learned in Iraq and the extreme wear and tear on equipment, the Pentagon has seized on supplemental budgets as a way of financing the modernization of forces. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the Army some $5 billion a month. The 30,000 troops that the Pentagon plans to add to standing forces also will be funded through the supplemental requests.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s top uniformed officer, has said that supplemental budgets are essential to protect existing forces as well as support “an army that we’re building for the future.” There is a political calculation as well: Supplemental budgets tend to be approved by Congress faster and receive less scrutiny than annual Pentagon spending bills, though some Democrats last year groused that they didn’t have enough time to analyze the extra war funds.

The use of supplemental budgets also will enhance the Army’s ability to increase salaries and other incentives in order to attract and retain personnel, as well as to finance its marquee weapons development program called Future Combat Systems. Led by Boeing Co., FCS is a multiyear, $100bn program to develop an array of new weapons and technologies, some of which will be phased in to deployed forces.

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