Leadership: Air Force Losing Money to the Army


February 17, 2006: The U.S. Department of Defense is getting another $28.5 billion to spend next year (Fiscal 2007, which begins in October, 2006), for a total of $439.3 billion.. The biggest chunk of that (35 percent) goes to "Operations & Maintenance" (O&M). This is a key ingredient in making the American armed forces so effective, because it's about $100,000 for every trooper on active duty, and pays for what a business would call "operating expenses" (less payroll). The payroll (pay and some of the benefits) comes to 25 percent of the budget. Military pay is competitive with civilian jobs, although the troops work longer hours, and put themselves at more risk. The third largest spending area is Procurement (of new weapons and equipment), which accounts of 19 percent. Closely related is RDT&E (Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation), which accounts for 17 percent. The rest is mostly construction (of facilities and family housing.)

The O&M pays for training, which many nations shortchange. Training is expensive, and difficult to "see." But since World War II, the United States has been relatively generous with O&M funding, and this has paid off. That, and the high pay, has attracted high quality personnel to the armed forces. All this, not the nifty weapons and equipment, are the main reasons why U.S. troops are so effective. Military professionals all over the world understand this very well, and are much in envy of the American forces.

Because of the war in Iraq, the army is getting a higher portion of the budget than has historically been the case. In 2007, the army will get 25 percent of the money ($111.8 billion, a 13 percent increase over this year.). The air force, usually the recipient of the largest chunk of the pie, does get 30 percent of the money, but that is only getting five percent more. The Department of the Navy contains the navy and marines, and gets only four percent more (and 29 percent of the total, although the marines get about a quarter of that, depending on how to allocate certain assets).

The air force is hot happy at how it is losing ground to the army. But at the moment, the ground troops are doing most of the work in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and doing it well. All the air force can do is wait for better days, which may take a while. The immediate future appears to hold more work for the army than for anyone else.


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