July 18, 2002 | Commentary on Middle East
But federal lawmakers have only recently begun to respond to a
request the Bush administration made March 21 for $14 billion to
help the Defense Department wage war on terrorism. It passed a
House-Senate conference committee on July 18, and Pentagon
officials say they're confident Congress will try to work out any
problems it has with the request before the August recess. But time
is short, and it's downright scary to think what could happen if
this supplemental budget request does not move forward before
The Defense Department has asked for $7.2 billion basically to
deploy forces and equipment and rotate new soldiers to the front.
It's asked for $4.1 billion to pay the 82,000 reservists and
National Guard members called to active duty since Sept. 11. The
rest would go for the Air Force to pay people it prevented from
retiring in the wake of Sept. 11, munitions and what the Pentagon
calls "coalition support" -- helping Pakistan, mainly, allay the
expense of helping us fight the war.
For weeks, the Defense Department has been meeting today's
expenses with money allocated for the fourth quarter of the fiscal
year. This arrangement works nicely until the fourth quarter
arrives on Aug. 30, and the military has no money left.
Then, we get to find out what actually happens if Congress
doesn't solve this before the recess. Planning for this has begun.
The EA-6B, an airplane that jams enemy radars to protect troops and
other American planes, falls into what's called the HD-LD
category-high-demand, low-density. In short, we need it a lot, and
we don't have many. If funds don't arrive soon for maintenance,
planes will be pulled out of service so they can be used as "hangar
queens" -- cannibalized for spare parts for other planes. Same goes
for combat aircraft, such as the F-18.
And by the middle of August, absent the supplemental, the Air
Force will cease many training flights. Oh, those guys all know how
to fly already, some say. Well, how long can they fly high-speed,
high-stress missions without making mistakes that cost lives? And
is it worth it to find out they can't? No training means no relief
for people who work under incredibly demanding circumstances for
dangerously long periods.
By the end of August -- that is, before Congress could return
from the recess and rectify things -- payrolls also would go unmet.
The Defense Department has said it would have to furlough up to
35,000 civilians who staff its bases and facilities.
Navy ships would have to cut back on operations and eventually
be forced to return to port absent the funding. The supply line
that keeps our military going extends more than halfway around the
world. The Army would have to cancel three training events -- two
battalions visiting the National Training Center at Fort Irwin,
Calif., and one brigade going through an entire training
And that's not to mention the security measures that will be
postponed. Most bases are constructing "lay-by" lanes to inspect
all trucks that make deliveries; will the trucks simply not be
inspected? Then there's the calamity for families of service men
and women who could find themselves calling off planned moves,
scrambling to pay rent, and struggling to get their kids in
So it's a fair question: Why the delay? More than 3,000 of our
fellow citizens died in the Sept. 11 attacks, and a dark force
inimical to our way of life and committed to training its full
intellectual, financial and war-making capabilities on us lurks.
The Taliban may be gone from Afghanistan, but al Qaeda continues to
operate, and our costs in weapons, systems and personnel figure to
escalate -- from $2 billion per month now to $2.5 billion -- as the
war moves to its next stage.
If Congress doesn't act before the recess, Pentagon officials
say it will set back purchasing, deployment, maintenance and
training at least 10 weeks. And that's provided the issues get
resolved immediately upon Congress' return.
Given that superior training accounts for much of America's
military advantage over its opponents, skimping there does not
serve us well. Given that the dependence on National Guard and
reserve units has reached the point where active units find it
nearly impossible to deploy without reserve support, training
becomes even more critical.
As for spare parts, we can either buy those or skimp now on
parts and find ourselves buying entire planes in the near future.
It's penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Jack Spencer is a defense policy analyst in the Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.