Despite a supplemental appropriation approved by Congress last month for operations
in Iraq, the Army is having a tough time meeting escalating demands for spare
parts, vehicle components and repairs.
A decade of downsizing left the Army’s depots and suppliers unprepared
for the rapid surge in requirements resulting from Operation Iraqi Freedom and
the rebuilding efforts in Iraq, said Maj. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III, commander
of the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command.
TACOM’s business has skyrocketed, from $6.5 billion worth of contracts
in 2002, to $9.4 billion expected in 2004.
The budget process, however, poses a significant hurdle for TACOM, because
the money does not flow down fast enough to meet pressing requests from the
field for items such as vehicle tracks, suspensions and engines, among other
things. “It’s a real challenge for us when we have an increase in
demand, to be able to respond as quickly as we need to respond,” Thompson
said at an industry conference sponsored by TACOM, in Dearborn, Mich.
“Our resource processes are very, very constraining, and are not responsive
and agile enough to allow us to deal with changes,” said Thompson.
In fiscal year 2003, TACOM was short $1.2 billion in its working capital fund,
a revolving account used to pay suppliers. That meant Thompson had to issue
orders to depots and arsenals, as well as to commercial suppliers, without necessarily
knowing where the money would come from. The funds eventually will be repaid,
as part of the $87 billion supplemental appropriation approved for the Defense
Department, but the process is highly inefficient, Thompson said. “It’s
no wonder that we had some major issues trying to provide components, the right
components in the quantities that we needed. ... We do tremendous amounts of
workarounds, trying to make things happen.”
TACOM estimates it will need $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2004 to repair equipment
coming back from Iraq. That money is not currently in the Army budget, because
the ‘04 spending plan was built two years ago, before the war.
This $1.2 billion “unfunded requirement” likely is included in
the supplemental appropriation, Thompson said, but it will take a long time
for TACOM to get the money. “I have promissory notes to the tune of millions
and millions of dollars to get started on contracts to buy items on long lead
and short lead, to be able to support the Army. I can’t wait for the budget
to catch up. ... It’s not just promissory notes to depots and arsenals,
but also commercial firms.”
Thompson said he wished the Army were able to get funds “obligated”
in advance, like the Defense Logistics Agency got before the war. In August
2002, DLA obtained permission to issue nearly a billion dollars worth of contracts,
in anticipation of the war in Iraq. “We weren’t successful in doing
that,” Thompson said. “When requests came and demand went up, we
were always reacting and not being proactive. It caused problems in meeting
Vehicle components have been in such high demand that Thompson personally called
company executives to ask them to ramp up production for things like Humvee
starters, suspensions and engines. He also leaned on the depots and arsenals
to set up 24-hour a day assembly lines.
The rise in equipment requisitions has been staggering. Before the war, the
Army would produce about 67,000 Bradley tracks annually. This year, it will
need more than 480,000 to meet the war needs. Humvee engine requests have gone
from 6,000 to 12,000, tank engines from 410 to 816. Humvee tire orders have
increased from 48,000 to 204,000, heavy truck tires from 5,800 to 88,000. Tank
transmission requests went from 393 to 543, and Bradley transmissions from 651
Although much of the demand for equipment repair results from the beating that
vehicles take in the desert, Thompson said he was disappointed to see that,
in many units, soldiers don’t perform adequate maintenance.
“Our soldiers’ ability to take care of the equipment is an issue,”
he said. “It’s not just in wartime. The skills for taking care of
the equipment have deteriorated a bit.”
An Army Forces Command inspector general investigation nearly two years ago
revealed that many units were reporting that the readiness status of their equipment
was 50 percent higher than what it was in reality, Thompson said. “That
is pretty significant.”
Sloppy maintenance is unacceptable, he said. “When I came into the Army
[to the 82nd Airborne Division], you had division and corps maintenance inspections.
As a company commander, if you didn’t do well in one of those, your career
was over. We don’t have that same level of emphasis today.”
A certain amount of basic maintenance in the field is needed, he said. “I
can’t do it all from TACOM, with contractor support. I need everyone who
touches that piece of equipment to take care of it, love it, treat it like it’s
their own, follow the technical manual. ... It’s not a soldier issue.
It’s a leadership issue.”
The Army also should do a better job supporting contractors in the battlefield,
he said. In Iraq, contractors in some cases ended up becoming a “burden”
to the units, because they had not been equipped with basic necessities, such
as vehicles, communications devices and body armor. That will change, he said.
The Army, however, increasingly may use fewer contractors for logistics support,
because they are too expensive, said Thompson.
“We do due diligence on everything we put out on contract,” he
said. “Some things I can do a heck of a lot cheaper ourselves, and better.”
In one case, he estimated that it would cost $110,000 to send a government logistics
specialist (GS12 average) to Iraq for one year, while a contractor would cost
two to three times that. The reason is that large contractors add a significant
markup for overhead costs, he noted.