COSTS OF MAJOR U.S. WARS COMPARED
More than a trillion dollars has been appropriated since September 11, 2001 for U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This makes the “war on terrorism” the most costly of any military engagement in U.S. history in absolute terms or, if correcting for inflation, the second most expensive U.S. military action after World War II.
A newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service estimated the financial costs of major U.S. wars from the American Revolution ($2.4 billion in FY 2011 dollars) to World War I ($334 billion) to World War II ($4.1 trillion) to the second Iraq war ($784 billion) and the war in Afghanistan ($321 billion). CRS provided its estimates in current year dollars (i.e. the year they were spent) and in constant year dollars (adjusted for inflation), and as a percentage of gross domestic product. Many caveats apply to these figures, which are spelled out in the CRS report.
In constant dollars, World War II is still the most expensive of all U.S. wars, having consumed a massive 35.8% of GDP at its height and having cost $4.1 trillion in FY2011 dollars. See “Costs of Major U.S. Wars,” June 29, 2010.
MILITARY CONTRACTORS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
The Department of Defense has more contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan than it has uniformed military personnel, another newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service reminds us.
“The Department of Defense increasingly relies upon contractors to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has resulted in a DOD workforce that has 19% more contractor personnel (207,600) than uniformed personnel (175,000),” said the CRS report — which forms a timely counterpoint to this week's Washington Post “Top Secret America” series on the tremendous expansion of the intelligence bureaucracy, including the increased and often unchecked reliance on contractors.
The explosive growth in reliance on contractors naturally entails new difficulties in management and oversight. “Some analysts believe that poor contract management has also played a role in abuses and crimes committed by certain contractors against local nationals, which may have undermined U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the CRS said. See “Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and Analysis,” July 2, 2010.
And see, relatedly, “U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress,” July 16, 2010.
UNMANNED AERIAL SYSTEMS AND HOMELAND SECURITY
The potential benefits and limitations of using unmanned aerial vehicles for homeland security applications were considered by the Congressional Research Service in yet another updated report. See “Homeland Security: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Border Surveillance,” July 8, 2010.
The same set of issues was examined in a newly published master's thesis on “Integrating Department of Defense Unmanned Aerial Systems into the National Airspace Structure” by Major Scott W. Walker.
Another new master's thesis looked at the comparatively high accident rate of unmanned systems and their susceptibility to attack or disruption. See “The Vulnerabilities of Unmanned Aircraft System Common Data Links to Electronic Attack” by Major Jaysen A. Yochim.
The “secret history” of unmanned aircraft was recounted in an informative new study published by the Air Force Association. See “Air Force UAVs: The Secret History” by Thomas P. Ehrhard, July 2010.
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.