Gen. Raymond Odierno, U.S. Army chief of staff, right, and Secretary of the Army John McHugh speak before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 23 in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Top US Army leadership told lawmakers Tuesday that they’ll need three more years of supplemental war funding after the final US troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan to pay for massive postwar equipment reset activities.
Of course, we don’t know how much the Pentagon will receive in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding next year, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said it should be close to the $88 billion it received in 2013.
With the majority of the remaining 60,000 US troops set to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, however, it remains to be seen how much stomach Congress and the White House will have to spend billions more once the shooting stops.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee that it will take three more years of supplemental funding requests due to “the load we have in our organic industrial base,” which can only handle so much work at any given time.
“If it does not get funded,” he continued, “that means it comes out of our base budget, which it has not been budgeted for, and it’ll take money away from the daily readiness that we need in order to be prepared to meet any operational missions that we have.”
As Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh made their plea, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., issued the service a friendly warning about the political mood on the increasingly cash-strapped Hill.
“Everyone around this place seems to have their eyes on OCO funding for some other purpose,” she said. But Ayotte, a member of the pro-defense Three Amigos along with fellow Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, added “I think it’s very important for people to understand that if we don’t [continue to fund the Army] we’ll have a hollow Army and we won’t be able to reset.”
Odierno said that while the Army has already done the math on how much money it will need to ship $21 billion worth of equipment out of Afghanistan, he wasn’t prepared to share it with the Senate panel. While sure to be steep, he assured Congress that bringing the gear home and repairing would cost “far less than the cost of new equipment.”
The number should be available later this week, an Army spokesperson told Defense News.
Even with the $88 billion earmarked for the war effort this year, sequestration cuts along with the higher-than-expected costs of bringing troops and their equipment home will cause the service to run as much as $7.8 billion short of what it needs to operate in Afghanistan this year, Odierno said.
As part of its envisioned postwar realignment, McHugh said that the Army will release a blueprint for how it will manage the loss of 80,000 soldiers while shifting units between domestic installations this June, around the same time that a long-awaited Army ground vehicle industrial base report is briefed to service leadership.
The Army contracted with AT Kearney to do the study in 2012, and leadership hopes that it will help shed more light on which defense companies are most at risk from the coming reductions in available work.
“What we owe to the country, to our industry and to the Army is to really analyze inside our systems where we think we have vulnerabilities,” Scott Davis, program executive officer for the Army’s Ground Combat Systems, told Defense News last fall. The Army is undertaking the study “to understand where [industry’s] challenges are and what it would take for them to make a decision to leave the military vehicle sector,” he said.