September 18, 2003

Pentagon: We can't afford a bigger military

By Rick Maze
Times staff writer

While conceding that active and reserve forces are straining to meet the potentially lengthy U.S. commitment in Iraq, the Pentagon still strongly opposes attempts to increase the number of people in uniform.

As usual, it boils down to money. Even as many analysts predict U.S. forces will be in Iraq for years, defense officials are looking beyond that mission and don't want to be stuck with post-Iraq costs of a larger force.

Pressed about troop levels both in Iraq and around the world at a Sept. 9 congressional hearing, senior defense officials said the stress on service members today particularly the burden on reserve forces mobilized for extended periods are a short-term problem. But, they said, increasing troop levels would be a long-term problem because there isn't enough money to pay for larger forces.

An increase of 30,000 active-duty personnel the number needed to fulfill frequently discussed plans to add two Army divisions to the force structure would raise defense costs by at least $1.8 billion a year. An increase of 50,000 people spread across all services, an idea being discussed by the House Armed Services Committee, would cost a minimum of $3 billion a year.

Those estimates cover just payroll, housing and fringe benefits and don't include the costs to train and equip the new troops.

"There isn't any money to pay for extra people and as long as the administration doesn't think that extra people are needed, I don't see how we can get the money," said a House Armed Services Committee source who has been negotiating with the Senate Armed Services Committee over the 2004 defense authorization bill.

"A lot of us feel the Pentagon is dead wrong here," the source said. "A lot of us feel the heavy reliance on the reserves, in particular, is pushing the force to the breaking point. But if there isn't any money, there won't be any extra people, as bad as that might be."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said they do not support a personnel increase because combatant commanders haven't asked for it.

That didn't sit well with lawmakers who have been pushing for troop increases. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he believes extra troops in Iraq would be helpful.

"When we have to extend the Guard and reserve on active duty, when we have to ask for international forces, when we have to do the things we are doing, it's clear ... that we need additional troops," McCain said.

Wolfowitz acknowledged that extended deployments will intensify the sacrifices of troops in Iraq but still insisted more are not needed. In the short term, he said, the United States needs international troops to help stabilize Iraq and reduce the notion that this is a "U.S.-only occupation," he said.

In the long term, Wolfowitz said the military would do fine if allowed to convert military jobs into civilian jobs, alter the skills mix in active and reserve forces to cut reliance on reserve call-ups and reduce unnecessary overseas commitments that are tying up forces.

He also noted there isn't really anything to be done now in terms of force size that would help the current situation.

"It takes time to recruit and train people, and any increase we put into effect now would have no appreciable effect for some time to come," he said.