[NDIA] Joint Logistics Panelists Agree to Shed Weight
Ed. note: we continue our coverage of last week’s NDIA’s National Logistics Forum.
Lt. Gen. Brooks L. Bash, Director for Logistics at the Joint Staff, centered his presentation on the constraints that logistics has and will always impose on warfighting. From that perspective, for the US to pivot to the Pacific only makes things harder with the huge distances involved. New threats to the US supply routes, which by and large have not been challenged since WWII, come in varied shapes from missile profileration to swarms of small ships. From a broader macro perspective, logistical chokepoints such as the straits of Hormuz or Malacca could severely damage the economy if they become hotspots.
Bash made a compelling case for the ability to break self-reinforcing patterns that lead to hard-to-sustain situations. Insurgents use IEDs, you develop MRAPs in response, insurgents use bigger IEDs, you build heavier MRAPs, rinse and repeat. Keep doing this and you’re facing a logistics and maintenance nightmare. Case in point: fuel use is currently at about 23 gallons/soldier/day in Afghanistan. How about using motorcycles? They don’t trigger newer IEDs set to blow only under heavy loads, can go offroad, and are agile and fast.
We asked Lt. Gen. Bash whether he thought recent logistics innovations such as K-Max unmanned helicopters or JPADS – as great as they are – weren’t taylored to fight an insurgency and might fare poorly against a future peer competitor. Bash disagrees that any potential adversary is really on track to be a peer competitor from a technological perspective, and restated his case for agility in the Pacific, involving less fuel, less weight, and fast technology iteration.
Dancing with the Stars Panel Wants to Get Slim
Brooks Bash’s point happened to be a good segue into the following “fireside chat” from the entire military logistics community: the Joint Staff, DLA, TRANSCOM, and each of the 4 services. Panelists agreed that quality of life expectations had grown significantly. The words “frugal” and even “spartan” came up several times. Of course it’s easy to say from the comfort and safety of a conference hall in Crystal City, but both past US operations, and the current state of allied resources, do show much more sparse deployments than what US troops are currently experiencing in Afghanistan.
MajGen Michael Dana from the Marine Corps in particular was lively and engaged in his advocacy of a lighter, truly expeditionary Corps whose purpose is “get there first and kick butt.” In order to do that, the Marines need to “lighten up” (literally, not as a figure of speech). As Bash noted, with 60+% of convoys in Afghanistan carrying fuel, and most of that fuel being used on generators, the gyms, bars, and other quality-of-life facilities add up and have a real impact on the overall logistical footprint. Suddenly repealing the Big Flat TVs Everywhere Act sounds like the right thing to do.
US Army Lt. General Raymond Mason violently agreed with Dana, then exposed the rationale for a retrograde (as opposed to abandoning/gifting a lot of gear in Afghanistan). Out of $25B worth of USA materiel there, he estimated at $19B the part that is needed back. That tends to be the “latest and greatest” equipment too. Compare these $19B to $3-$5B to ship the equipment back plus a $9B reset, and you’re still in the black by billions of dollars. Besides, would procurement funding (under a “different color of money”) be available to buy that stuff anew? Not to speak of lead time issues.
Here are some of the other takeaways:
- In its dialogue with the COCOMs and services, TRANSCOM tries to offer a choice of parameters to work out the best time/cost trade-off: is a or 2-day delay acceptable to the mission if it can lead to big savings?
- DLA realizes that fuel infrastructure needs improvements. As the USAF is trying to transition away from JP8 towards commercial fuel, an opportunity will open up to phase out WWII-era milspec fuel storage infrastructure, whose maintenance costs go in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
- With the number of existing Army depots and arsenals, there is not only the room but the need for a BRAC process because of significant overcapacity. More generally, marginal improvements can always be done, but big savings cannot be achieved without a BRAC. The panelists where acutely aware of resistance on the Hill to base closures, a subject broached in more detail in subsequent sessions.
- As the panel with the heaviest military/civilian ratio, words of caution on efficiency pushed too far abounded. Mason phrased it thus: if being efficient is “killing the last guy with the last bullet… what if you miss?” There is a level of inventory slack and “inefficiency” inherent to effective military operations.
- The mandated 50/50 split between government and the private sector in maintenance depots seems to be universally reviled. “Wrench turning is not an inherently governmental function.” The lack of competition between the government and contractors to see who will be most cost-effective also was thought as infuriating. “The rulesets are counter-intuitive and counter-capitalistic” got a fair amount of applause.
- Combat configured loads (CCLs) assembled before shipping could see more use.
- US military logistics tend to be better at getting in than out.