High Afghan Exit Costs Force US Military to Contemplate End of Era
In July 2012, after protracted bargaining over American aid money, Pakistan reopened its roads – the so-called PAKGLOC in military lingo – to NATO traffic in and out of Afghanistan after their closure at the end of 2011. That is the theory at least, but the practice has left much to be desired. Pakistani customs routinely slow traffic to a crawl with clearance paperwork. Add threats of violence from local tribal strongmen, when it’s not customs on the Afghan side suddenly claiming a right to exit taxes, and you end with near-gridlock. Security concerns have led the Pentagon to stop using PAKGLOCs for outgoing traffic as of December 3/13 for an indefinite period. This has forced continued use of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), at a much greater cost.
Faced with these prohibitive outgoing logistics, the US military has a big incentive to think hard about what it really needs to bring back for future use.
Beyond COIN: Unplanned Obsolescence
MRAPs are as iconic as UAVs as symbols of how the United States reacted to the evolving theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were first developed and procured in a hurry to minimize casualties to IEDs, then had to evolve for the rougher Afghan terrain. Some early generation MRAPs shipped from Iraq were probably never used in Afghanistan. But even the lighter M-ATVs weight more than 12 tons, and the added weight coming with protection is also a liability, especially because of their limited mobility, speed and firepower. They also roll over easily, and their dimensions don’t make them well suited for urban combat. The fact alone that these vehicles are customized for counter-insurgency rather than traditional state vs. state warfare would be enough to give planners pause. Prohibitive shipping costs further press the issue of what to do with them, as logisticians execute the retrograde back to the US and the redeployment away from the CENTOM area of responsibility into the much bigger PACOM AOR.
Thus, after a 1-year test, the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) stationed in South Korea decided not to use MRAPs that were previously used in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead 2ID is getting Assault Breacher Vehicles (ABVs). Still, the Army intends to keep about 8,000 MRAPs.
The Marines on the other hand, are eager to go back to their amphibious, lightweight, expeditionary roots. From the 4,000 MRAPs they had in Afghanistan, they’ll keep less than 1,500 and would be happy to hand over the rest to whomever will take them. This is proving easier said than done. Such donations are managed by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) via a program called Excess Defense Articles (EDA). Past EDA grants were made to countries all over the world. But the problem is that nations likely to ask for a materiel donation probably don’t have the money to pay for the transportation out of a remote, landlocked country.
There’s also a mix of bureaucracy and diplomacy at work. At WBR’s 2013 Defense Logistics conference, Lieutenant General William Faulkner, the USMC’s Deputy Commandant, Installations and Logistics, took a very long pause before finally qualifying that process as “slow”, in part because it involves a State Department review based on the country of destination.
Afghanistan itself may look like a natural candidate. After all, in recent years the US allocated billions of dollars to the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) to pay for a mix of infrastructure, equipment, training, and sustainment. Most of the equipment money was allocated to the Afghan Air Force, but between the delayed Light Air Support competition and parked C-27A transport aircraft, things went from bad to worse. Then President Karzai is stalling the signature of a security agreement with the US, which must not be helping any other pending negotiations. There are also concerns that Afghanistan would not be able to sustain MRAPs if they were given to them, though that didn’t stop the Pentagon from buying Mobile Strike Force Vehicles on behalf of the Afghan National Army (ANA).
In the end, Lt Gal Faulkner admits that the vehicles still in Afghanistan next year may well end up scrapped.
It would be easy to snicker and denounce waste with the benefit of hindsight. And it is spiteful to nickel and dime when the lives of the troops are at stake. But one thing is sure, it has proven remarkably expensive to fight an enemy equipped with donkeys and Toyota pickup trucks. At least the US military is not falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy, or, in plain speak, the act of throwing good money after bad. If MRAPs have met their goals and are just too costly to ship back to the US or to friendly nations, then scrapping them might well be the only rational thing left to do.
- Defense News (Dec. 2013) – US Looking to Sell Portion of Afghan MRAP Fleet
- SDDC (Sept. 2013) – CENTCOM required documentation for OEF Redeployment and Retrograde Cargo. There is significant paperwork involved.
- Marine Times (Aug. 2013) – Most MRAPs Won’t Be Coming Home from Afghanistan
- Washington Post (June 2013) – Scrapping equipment key to Afghan drawdown
- Bloomberg (May 2013) – Leaving Afghanistan Is a $7 Billion Moving Task for U.S.
- DoD Comptroller (May 2013) – ASFF FY14 budget [PDF]
- SDDC (Feb. 2013) – PAKGLOC is officially reopened for new transportation shipments [PDF]
- SDDC (Feb. 2013) – Velocity-Volume Distribution Retrograde Approach [PDF]
- SDDC (Jan. 2013) – NDN Update.
- National Defense (Oct. 2012) – The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?
- The Express Tribune (July 2012) – After US says ‘sorry’ for Salala attack, Pakistan reopens GLOCs
- Army Sustainment (Sept. 2011) – Finding the MRAP’s Future Role [PDF]
- NDIA – DLA Disposition Services [PDF]
- DID – US Defense Logistics by the Numbers
- DID – MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles