|Fighting, In Dollars And Cents
High-Tech Weaponry Is Small Part of Iraq Expenses
By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 12, 2003
Anyone still troubled by the high cost of international air travel hasn't crossed the globe in a B-1 bomber. A one-way trip from the bomber's home at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota to the Persian Gulf costs the government roughly $52,700 -- more than 12 times the price of a ticket for a similar route on a commercial airliner.
With President Bush seeking $62.6 billion in supplemental funding for the war in Iraq, U.S. taxpayers are getting a glimpse of just how expensive it is to wage large-scale, high-tech war. Although the wizardry of precision-guided bombs and sleek jet fighters gets most of the media attention, the price of that hardware pales in comparison with the cost of the more mundane requirements of paying and outfitting the troops and moving tons of ammunition and fighting vehicles to the battlefield. Replenishing the weapons of war -- ammunition, lost aircraft and tanks, missiles -- also drives up costs.
The White House has asked for the supplemental package because the Defense Department's $364 billion budget for 2003 does not account for actually fighting a war.
"I think a lot of people don't realize that the [$364 billion] we spend on the military a year is just a retainer," said Brett Lambert, a defense analyst at research firm DFI International. "If you want to use the armed forces, you have to pay even more."
Of the additional funding Bush has requested, about 60 percent, or $37.8 billion, would go for day-to-day operations of the war. The rest would be used to increase soldiers' pay, transport them overseas and replace lost equipment.
"Running a war is not inexpensive," said Gus Pagonis, a retired three-star Army general who directed logistics in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
This time, the United States cannot rely on allies to help offset the costs of the current conflict, industry analysts said. Allies paid $48 billion of the $62 billion spent on the 1991 war, according to the Office of Management and Budget. That included more than $6 billion pledged by Germany, which opposes the current conflict in Iraq. In the first Gulf War, allies even provided $826,000 worth of free laundry and dry cleaning services, the General Accounting Office reported.
"This is something we will have to pay for ourselves," said Robin Laird, a defense industry analyst.
Moreover, attempts by the United States to use profits from Iraq's oil fields to pay for the conflict would encounter stiff resistance, Laird said.
The supplemental spending package estimates that $15.6 billion, or 25 percent of the request, will go to paying, insuring, outfitting and vaccinating the troops. Transporting soldiers and equipment to and from Iraq will run $7.1 billion. On any given day, more than 120 U.S. ships packed with supplies are on the seas, according to the U.S. Transportation Command, which coordinates troop and cargo movements. The United States has sent more than 145 million pounds of cargo and supplies to the Persian Gulf by plane since January. An additional 1.1 billion pounds have arrived by sea.
"There is enormous cost associated with moving hundreds of thousands of people and many, many tons of supplies to a region like this," said Sherman E. Katz of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Preparing the staging ground isn't cheap. About $2.5 billion was spent on military infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, including construction of barracks and communication systems, and the hiring of janitorial services.
Other costs accumulate quickly. Precision-guided Tomahawk Block III cruise missiles run $600,000 each, and so far the United States has dropped 750 of them on Iraq, according to a recent J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. report. That works out to about $450 million. Other precision-guided bombs come much more cheaply. A kit called the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, fitted onto a "dumb" bomb to make it precision-guided costs $25,000. A U.S. Central Command spokeswoman said there is no tally on how many precision-guided missiles have been used in Iraq, though by the end of the war they are expected to comprise 90 percent of the total missiles launched. Bush's proposed supplemental funding sets aside $3 billion to replace what is depleted from the arsenal.
Keeping aloft the aircraft that drop the bombs also eats up a good portion of the war budget. The B-1 bomber costs $2,638 for every hour it spends in the air, while F-16 fighter jets run at $898 an hour, and the A-10s eat up $522 an hour.
Jet fuel and gasoline costs are likely to run into the billions of dollars. For years, the Defense Energy Support Center has bought fuel from foreign sources and stored it in 22 "defense fuel support systems," essentially gas stations, throughout the Middle East. Since the beginning of the war, the number of fueling stations has jumped to 45, according to a support center spokeswoman.
At the outset of the conflict, U.S. troops began their trek from the south of Iraq toward Baghdad in lines of tanks and other vehicles that get barely a mile to a gallon. The Defense Energy Support Center sells the fuel to the armed services for 84 to 86 cents a gallon, the spokeswoman said. While the diesel-hybrid fuel is relatively cheap, tanks guzzle it. The M1 Abrams tank, for example, gets just 0.66 miles per gallon, according to the Army's program executive office for ground combat systems.
During the first Gulf War, more than 1.9 billion gallons of fuel were consumed, costing about $2.2 billion, according to the Defense Energy Support Center. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman provided 93 percent of that fuel free, leaving the United States with a $150 million bill. This time, it is unclear what level of support Arab countries will provide, industry experts said.
The U.S. Transportation Command has coordinated the movement of 150,000 troops to the Persian Gulf. Additional troops are arriving daily. A soldier's monthly salary, which can range from $1,150 to $2,343 after four years of service, is part of the Pentagon's normal budget. But the pay increases during war. Soldiers who encounter hostile fire get an extra $150 a month, while those separated from their families for more than 30 days get an additional $100 a month, according to the Pentagon.
Adding further strain to the war budget are the thousands of reservists called up, said Christopher Hellman, a senior research analyst at the Center for Defense Information. The reservists' pay is bumped up from a small monthly stipend to a full-time salary, he said. "People are very expensive, particularly when you call up 100,000 reservists," Hellman said.
Even providing enough food and water for the troops is a costly and complicated task. Already, 48 million prepackaged, "ready to eat" meals, which cost about $6.60 each, have been shipped to the combat zone, according to the Defense Logistics Agency. The total cost of feeding the troops will depend on the length of the war. The meatless meals for the troops during the Gulf War cost $529 million, according to the GAO.
The U.S. Central Command initially provided the troops bottled water, but it recently asked the Defense Logistics Agency to augment its supply. Looking to avoid high shipping costs, the agency is buying water for 25 to 30 cents a liter from providers in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Greece.
"You can buy bottled water anywhere in the world, [so] why pay the shipping costs?" said Jack Hooper, an agency spokesman.