With military costs since Sept. 11, 2001, now expected to exceed $300 billion, the Pentagon is spending more per soldier to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere than it did during earlier conflicts.
High technology, the costs of paying and protecting a modern soldier, and the worldwide nature of the war on terrorism are all possible reasons, experts say.
“Every facet of military expenditure has skyrocketed since the Gulf War,” said Loren B. Thompson, a military expert with the Lexington Institute. “The biggest reason why is because the military is more and more a microcosm of the broader economy.”
The all-volunteer force, put in place by President Nixon in 1973 to replace the draft, has forced the military to compete with the private sector for soldiers, and offer better pay and benefits, he said. Sending those soldiers to war costs still more.
“The bottom-line problem with the all-volunteer force is you have to convince middle-class people to risk their lives for middle-class pay, so of course the price for each soldier keeps going up,” he said.
$4.3 billion spent on Iraq war each month
According to government figures, the war in Iraq costs about $4.3 billion a month, and the war in Afghanistan runs another $800 million. That money goes for a variety of things, including fuel, ammunition, hazard pay for the soldiers and repair and replacement of weapons and vehicles.
On average, the government spent a similar amount monthly on the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1975, according to figures, adjusted for inflation, from the Congressional Research Service.
However, that figure is somewhat skewed, as the Vietnam War was far more costly at its height early in the war, from 1967 to 1970, than it was in the later years, when the U.S. presence was reduced. The Bush administration similarly hopes it can reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq in the coming year or two, if Iraqi security forces become more able to handle the insurgency.
The United States spent $623 billion on the Vietnam conflict, according to the service, using figures adjusted for inflation. If President Bush’s new $81.9 billion emergency request is implemented, U.S. war costs since the Sept. 11 attacks will approach half that.
Still, the United States has 170,000 troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but that will drop to 155,000 or fewer in the coming weeks due to a small post-election drawdown in Iraq. During the height of the Vietnam War, more than half a million U.S. soldiers were stationed in Southeast Asia.
Reasons for higher costs
Experts offered several reasons why post-Sept. 11 warfare has provided much more expensive per soldier than earlier conflicts:
- The U.S. military is more professional and capable than it was 30 years ago, when a significant portion of the soldiers in Vietnam were draftees. Now, it includes far more highly trained technicians running expensive computers and other gear. They are better paid, better trained, better equipped than their predecessors.
“We have a much better military than we had back then. We spend more on some kinds of support functions than we did back then,” said Steven M. Kosiak at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
- The military is relying much more on Guard and Reserves than it has in the past during extended conflicts. Their pay comes from the emergency war spending measures, rather than the regular defense budget.
- The desert conditions of Iraq are wearing on vehicles at a much greater rate than expected, forcing more spending on repairs and replacements.
- Combat deaths are down compared to previous conflicts, owing to better training, better body and vehicle armor and quick access to emergency medical care, all of which are expensive investments. The U.S. military is also using automated systems in dangerous jobs that people once performed.
- The global war on terror and the war in Iraq — lumped together by the Bush administration but not by those who opposed the Iraqi invasion — are far-flung ventures that involve protracted deployments to many countries, requiring lots of transport, logistics and communications to many places. U.S. troops have also been sent in smaller numbers to Georgia, Djibouti and the Philippines, among others, to oppose Islamic extremist groups.
- The Bush administration has been financing the wars through a series of emergency spending measures, all paid for with borrowed money. Including reconstruction spending, those have totaled $228 billion in approved spending.
- The latest emergency proposal, $81.9 billion, includes $74.9 billion for the Defense Department. It includes some $12 billion that was requested to replace or repair worn-out and damaged equipment, including $3.3 billion for extra armor for trucks and other protective gear — underscoring a sensitivity to earlier complaints by troops.
- The total request exceeds the annual defense budget of every other country in the world, according to figures supplied by the Center for Defense Information. The organization says Russia, with the second-largest military budget, spends $65 billion a year.