U.S. Army shrinks despite $500B Bush boost

By WINSLOW WHEELER, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Sept. 24, 2008 at 3:39 PM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Since early 2001 the U.S. Army has received $191 billion more than was anticipated for the period 2001-2009.

This "plus-up," which does not include the additional $387 billion the Army also received to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has not reversed significant long-term reductions in the size of the Army's major combat units, has not reversed the aging, shrinking nature of the Army's inventory of ground combat vehicles, and has not helped Army readiness to fight on key measures.

Given the serious problems the U.S. Army today faces as a result of the stress on personnel and equipment from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is remarkable how, as in the other military services, more money continues to enable a worsening of negative trends.

In early 2001 the U.S. Department of Defense anticipated an approximate budget of $719 billion for the Army for the period 2001 to 2009. Not counting $387 billion subsequently appropriated for Army participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army's "base" -- non-war -- budget was increased by $191 billion to $911 billion.

How did this additional $191 billion affect the U.S. Army on key measures of force structure, major equipment and readiness? As with U.S. Air Force aircraft and U.S. Navy ships, is the Army smaller, older and less ready, despite major increases in "base" budget funding?

In fact, the Army's "division equivalents" have declined over time from a series of declining peaks in the 1950s -- peaking at 27-plus divisions -- late 1960s -- peaking at 22 divisions -- and the late 1980s -- peaking at 20-plus divisions -- to a post-World War II low in the 21st century at about 11 divisions.

The U.S. Army's budget shows the same story as for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force: As forces have shrunk, budgets have climbed. Today, Army funding is as high as it has ever been since the end of World War II; at this peak level of spending, the force structure is smaller than it has ever been.

Using a different measure, active duty personnel, we find the same contradictory trends over time: More money coincides with fewer personnel -- the prime basis for the Army's fighting forces.

Notable here is the surge in active duty personnel for the Korean and Vietnam wars and the absence of such for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. Army has a current plan to increase active duty personnel up to 547,000. But in reality, this goal is an extremely limited one relative to other wars, despite a dramatic spike in spending.

Furthermore, the major equipment inventory of the U.S. Army, specifically ground combat vehicles, continues to age while it also shrinks.

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(Part 2: The U.S. Army's growing problems with readiness)

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(Winslow T. Wheeler is director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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