Don't skimp on cost of repairs, generals tell panel

Money to repair Army equipment worn out in fighting two wars in six years should not come at the expense of the service’s coveted modernization programs, the Army’s chief of staff urged lawmakers.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Peter Schoomaker said the Army has not had a major modernization in four decades. Its Future Combat Systems has been a target for congressional criticism and cuts.

“Reset is a cost of war. That must not be borne at the expense of our modernization efforts,” Schoomaker said in his testimony. “We must not mortgage the future readiness of the force by focusing our resources solely on current challenges.”

The Army’s requirement for “reset” of equipment for 2007 is $17.1 billion, which includes $4.9 billion deferred from fiscal 2006, Schoomaker said.

“In accordance with Office of Management and Budget and the policy of the Defense Department, we rely on supplemental funds to pay for our reset program because reset costs are directly tied to damage and wear resulting from contingency operations.”

He added that future reset costs would depend on the Army’s level of activity. The Army expects to need $12 billion-$13 billion each year of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan after 2007, for a minimum of two to three years, Schoomaker said. “Only through a fully funded reset program can we extend the life of the operational fleet and remain ready for protracted conflicts,” he said.

In a prepared opening statement, Rep, Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee, said it is essential to discuss funding and monitor the cost of repairing and refurbishing worn-out equipment.

“Without this, it is impossible to create and adhere to an effective reset strategy,” Hunter said. “The committee believes that the services must give sufficient priority and resources to reset, despite budgetary pressures and ongoing requirements.”

Meanwhile, Gen. Michael Hagee, Marine Corps commandant, argued that supplemental funding would continue to be need by his service to reset equipment. “While funding current GWOT [global war on terrorism] operations is our highest priority, any reduction in supplementals without an offsetting increase in our top line would result in an unacceptable degradation of our investment and modernization accounts,” Hagee said in his testimony.

The Senate recently voted on an amendment sponsored by Sen. John McCain, vice chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that would force the Pentagon to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the regular budget rather than supplementals.

The amendment, adopted on the Senate’s 2007 defense authorization bill, allows the Pentagon to ask for emergency funding only for unforeseen expenses.