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Army Allots Additional Funds To Fix, Modernize Truck Fleet 


by Sandra I. Erwin 

Military trucks once were the redheaded stepchildren of the defense budget, but are no longer so. They serve as workhorses in the occupation and counterinsurgency war in Iraq, while also bearing the brunt of enemy attacks.

Although Army logistics officials for years had complained that the service was not providing enough funds to maintain its nearly 210,000 tactical trucks, it wasn’t until mid-2003 that senior leaders decided to take a serious look at the state of the fleet.

About a year ago, the Army unveiled a so-called “tactical wheeled vehicle strategy” that is intended to correct the shortages of trucks, which had existed for some time. “Tactical wheeled vehicles were under-funded for many years,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. John S. Caldwell, former chief military deputy for acquisition, technology and logistics.

The strategy was designed to set priorities for funding near and far-term needs through 2030. The 2003 analysis concluded what was already painfully obvious: the fleet was aging at an accelerated pace due to higher than expected use and inadequate funding. During the past decade, Army spending on truck modernization has averaged less than a billion dollars a year, a pittance in the context of a $60 billion to $70 billion annual defense procurement budget.

“Last year, we spent a lot of time and effort literally trying to figure out the state of the fleet,” said Maj. Gen. Brian I. Geehan, commandant of the U.S. Army Transportation Center and School at Fort Eustis, Va.

Based on that analysis, the Army decided to add $2.1 billion to the 2006-2011 budget, Geehan said in an interview.

The additional funds will be parsed across the fleet, 50 percent of which is composed of light trucks, mostly Humvees. Forty percent are medium trucks, and 10 percent are heavy haul movers. Nearly 40,000 of the Army’s trucks are in Iraq.

A senior level panel, known as the tactical wheeled vehicles board of directors, meets monthly to discuss the state of the fleet, Geehan said. The board includes the program executive officer, the commandant of the transportation school, and the Army’s three-star deputy chiefs of staff for force development, programs and logistics.

“We are monitoring the health of the fleet, programming resources and adjusting,” based on developments in Iraq, he added. The board also has authority to approve purchases of new technologies, if useful products emerge in commercial industry. “We can make management decisions on a monthly basis,” Geehan said.

Purchases of new trucks also are planned. More vehicles are needed not only to replace those destroyed and worn out in combat, but also to satisfy the expected growth in the number of trucks in the Army’s new brigade structure. Under an ongoing reorganization, each of the Army’s 10 divisions will be made up of modular brigades. The idea is for each brigade to be able to operate more independently from the division than is now possible. The upshot will be a surge in the number of logistics companies assigned to each brigade.

“We will put more drivers into our Army formations at the battalion and brigade levels,” Geehan said. “As we move to a modular force structure, we are going to embed the brigade support battalion in most combat battalions. They’ll all have transportation platoons.”

In essence, he noted, trucks that normally would be held back at the division level are being pushed down into the brigade.

The $2.1 billion increase should cover the additional trucks needed for the modular brigades, said Army Col. Robert Groller, program manager for tactical wheeled vehicles. “Modularity calls for a lot more trucks per unit,” he told National Defense. Some units will get 80 additional heavy cargo trucks, and most units will get more Humvees.

Meanwhile, officials expect that the Army’s tactical wheeled vehicle strategy will be adjusted, as soldiers in Iraq develop new tactics for running convoys, and new techniques for protecting vehicles from roadside bombs and rocket attacks.

“The strategy will evolve,” said Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, Army deputy chief of staff for logistics. “I’m hoping that, by the spring, we’ll have a very clear picture on tactical wheeled vehicles on exactly what our mix will be,” he told reporters.

He predicts that, for example, the tactical wheeled vehicle fleet will see the addition of new types of trucks that soldiers are testing in Iraq. “We now have vehicles in Iraq that are not in the inventory,” Christianson said.

During the next several years, the Army will be evaluating new truck designs under a project called FTTS, for future tactical truck system. Truck manufacturers, such as Stewart & Stevenson, Oshkosh and AM General, already have received contract awards for concept designs.

The next phase of the program, to begin in about a year, will involve real prototypes, which will be tested in June 2006, said Groller. The technical specifications for FTTS will evolve over time, he said, as officials gain an understanding of “what’s technically possible and affordable.”

Cost is a major concern, because the Army wants these future trucks to have advanced technologies, such as stealth coatings, lightweight armor and hybrid-electric engines. The additional bells and whistles could result in half-million dollar trucks, which the Army could not afford, he stressed.

Geehan said a key feature in FTTS would be the truck’s ability to rapidly move supplies in a combat zone. Trucks also need communications devices, similar to those found today on combat vehicles, and sensors that allow commanders to monitor convoys en route. “That’s the next real revolution,” Geehan said. “It drives us to trucks with movement-tracking systems, smart cab technologies that replicate what UPS and FedEx drivers have … They know where all the other vehicles are.”

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