$2.6 Bn in Last-Minute Cuts to US Army’s Heavy Forces Biting Deep
InsideDefense.com describes the ripple effect spreading outward from eleventh hour cuts to the Army’s portion of the FY 2006 supplemental spending request, which stripped more than $2.6 billion for key improvements to Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and other armored vehicle programs. It notes that these cuts will have significant effects, depriving the Army of key urban survival kits for its tanks, slowing modernization of the fleet and of a number of units, and driving up the price paid in the end while seriously disrupting production lines in the short term.
These effects also highlight some of the points that Straus Military Reform Project head Winslow Wheeler recently made about the budgetary process.
According to Inside Defense, cuts included $588 million to produce 120 M1A2 SEP tanks for two enhanced brigade combat teams; $504 million for 210 refurbished M1A1 AIM tanks for three brigade combat teams in the National Guard; and $155 million for the Tank Urban Survivability Kit that was to be purchased this year and fielded to units in Iraq next year.
The Bradley M2A3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle program also took a $1 billion hit in the cuts, and programs re: the Army’s M88A2 Hercules tank recovery/tow vehicle and M113 Armored Personnel Carriers were cut to the tune of about $400 million.
This cut would delay fielding modernized tanks to both the active component and National Guard and push off the TUSK improvements specifically slated for Iraqi urban operations. The Bradley funding removal will delay fielding the most advanced M2A3 versions of the armored personnel carriers to three heavy brigade combat teams in the 1st Armed Division that are being transformed into modular units, and to “a key experimental Army unit.” The other armored vehicle cuts, meanwhile, will affect units at Fort Bills and 3 National Guard BCTs.
In addition, some reports estimate that these cuts may lead to an eight-month production break in the Abrams tank industrial base and cause severe disruptions in the Bradley line, driving up costs for the armored personnel carriers by as much as 50%.
Read the entire Inside Defense article for a complete report on the armored vehicle cuts and their effects. Inside Defense also has an itemization of many of the other expenditures in the upcoming FY 2006 supplemental request.
DID Analysis/ Op-Ed:
These delays must also be looked at in a time context. As the US Army’s $120+ billion Future Combat Systems program advances and begins to require more and more funding in order to procure and field its components, the effect will be to suck most of the fiscal air out of the Army’s procurement budget. See Ann Roosevelt’s report re: the lessons of Iraq and Army modernization timelines for more. As such, delays in modernization of the Army’s existing force run the serious risk of putting the US Army on the horns of the bull in future years.
Option one would be to fully fund FCS despite unaddressed commitments in the existing force, forcing cuts or even the abandonment of modernization efforts. This will compromise the heavy forces that are still critically important in urban warfare scenarios, which seem to be a major future trend in warfare.
Option two would be to prioritize existing modernizations and force delays in the FCS program and its spinouts. Though the slow progress of key network elements like JTRS and possible delays in WIN-T tactical network could make that necessary anyway, delays in FCS will erode political support.
Option three would be some mix of both that addresses neither priority very well, and therefore keeps things moving forward on all fronts but exacts the greatest “bang for the buck” penalty.
In a recent DID article, we linked to Winslow Wheeler’s explanations of the FY 2006 defense budget and some of the moves to watch out for. One was supplemental wartime funding vs. regular budget allocations – and other than the TUSK kits, there’s a very strong argument to be made that many of the armored vehicle programs cut were closer to regular budgetary items than emergency wartime supplementals.
The accountability issues presented by confusion of the two are obvious. Inside Defense’s description of the ripple effects from these last-minute cuts, on the other hand, highlight a very real consequence that is less obvious. The process of putting together a budget that makes military tradeoffs is slow, but it is designed to force consideration of the whole, and to contemplate longer-term impacts in the context of overall multi-year procurement plans. It’s a long way short of perfect, of course, but it does that job a lot better than last-minute supplemental funding decisions.
Confuse regular appropriation items with supplemental emergency items, and the highly unstable nature of supplemental funding requests could leave one without the time to highlight the consequences of specific cuts, and make intelligent tradeoffs. The resulting wounds may be deep – but they’re also self-inflicted.
UPDATE: Winslow Wheeler emails to say:
“The action on the M-1 and M-2 mods looks to me like a standard Washington Monument Drill: DoD taking the money out knowing Sen. Levin and others will rush to put it back in. Whether the money was excluded from the supplemental request seems irrelevant; although Congress will almost certainly add it back in in the supplemental, not the base bill, so that they can deem the money “emergency” so it will not count against the budget resolution’s spending “caps.”