Hill Support Grows for More Troops
But Weapon Funding May Suffer
Senior lawmakers from both sides of the aisle plan
to back Marine Corps and Army efforts to permanently boost the size of their forces — even if that
comes at the expense of the services’ long-term technology transformation efforts.
Many lawmakers, including the chairmen of key
congressional committees, said in recent weeks they are
concerned about the effect a buildup of ground forces
could have on the four services’ procurement accounts.
Substantial increases in troop strength would take
years to accomplish and the long-term need is seen by
many on Capitol Hill as an issue separate from the Jan.
10 call by President George W. Bush to quickly deploy
an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.
For the longer term, the Army will need an additional
65,000 troops and the Marine Corps 27,000, according to
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The increases would
bring the end-strength of the Marine Corps to 202,000,
and the Army to 547,000.
But the issue of building a force of soldiers and Marines
capable of meeting ongoing and future operational
demands takes priority over buying weapons systems that
will not be in the field for years to come, lawmakers said.
Indeed, several members have been pushing permanent increases for years, and say they wish the Defense
Department had embarked on a widespread initiative
to grow the Army and Marine Corps half a decade ago.
“It is time to [build up the Army and Marine Corps],
and it will be expensive,” warned House Budget
Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C.
U.S. MARINE CORPS
Sgt. Patrick M. Hakola, squad leader for 2nd Squad, 2nd
Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment,
listens on his radio during a patrol through Ar Ramadi,
Iraq. Congressional lawmakers have expressed support
for calls to bolster Marine Corps and Army end-strengths.
The issue began to percolate late
last year, when outgoing Army Chief
of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who
once bucked calls for permanent
end-strength increases, announced
that the service needs to augment its
force by several thousand troops
each year to meet continued operational demands.
The Army spends $1.2 billion in
personnel costs for every 10,000
soldiers, not including unit training and equipping costs.
Spratt, a respected voice on
defense issues and the vice chairman of the House Armed Services
Committee, said he is worried
about the second-degree budget
effects the troop increase will have
on weapons systems, many of
which he expects could be delayed
or otherwise changed to restrain
But “when you have scarce
resources, you have to prioritize what
you do,” he added. “Looking after
ground forces is a critical priority.”