Scrambling to meet a colossal surge in demand for armored vehicle track in
Iraq, the Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command says it will complete
a crash program to expand production capacity by March 2004.
“The trends are positive,” said Jack Dugan, acting director of
TACOM’s Integrated Logistics and Support Center in Warren, Mich. “With
a push by the leadership of the Army, we got some supplemental dollars, we got
a cash infusion in June and we were able to start buying some significant quantities.
Based on lead times, we are starting to see the stuff come in.”
Track usage in Iraq has been staggering, as armored vehicles—especially
Bradley fighting vehicles—have been crunching sand and asphalt on continuous
patrols and convoy escorts. “In some cases, we were having a year’s
worth of op tempo in a week or a month,” according to Dugan.
The numbers speak volumes. Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, average peacetime
demand for Bradley track was 7,500 track shoes per month. Demand soared nearly
1,300 percent, to an average of more than 100,000 shoes per month from March
to October 2003. In Operation Desert Storm, track usage was—adjusted for
the lesser durability of older track—the equivalent of 50,000 shoes per
month in February 1991.
Abrams track usage multiplied nearly tenfold, from an average 8,500 shoes per
month to 79,500 per month from March to October 2003. Equivalent demand in February
1991 was 41,500 shoes. And the surge in track usage in Desert Storm lasted for
a much shorter period, noted Dugan.
Dugan said he did not know of any missions that were hampered by track shortages.
“Some readiness rates were bad, but nothing that stopped a commander from
doing his mission,” he added. While the readiness goal is 90 percent vehicle
availability, in some cases it was 60 or 70 percent in Iraq. However, Dugan
emphasized that track durability depends on numerous suspension-related items
such as road wheels, as well as terrain, temperature and vehicle weight.
The track breakdown does not appear to be a design flaw. “I talked to
a soldier in the 3rd Infantry Division,” Dugan said. “He said the
track held up well. They just wore it out.” In a test environment, Abrams
track lasts 2,100 miles, while Bradley track is good for 2,400 miles.
TACOM had stockpiled track for Operation Iraqi Freedom, but was not prepared
for the protracted fighting, which has forced logisticians and procurement managers
Dugan partly blames the peacetime budget process. “In fiscal year 2003,
funding for spare parts came down in increments and was consistently less than
the requirement. We began the year with a pre-Iraqi Freedom requirement of $1.35
billion and an initial funding increment of $885 million. As the year progressed
and Operation Iraqi Freedom evolved, the requirement for spares grew to $2.72
billion by the end of the fiscal year.”
TACOM received another $929 million between June and September, but that still
left a shortfall, said Dugan.
Had the Iraq campaign occurred during the Cold War, there would have been an
“iron mountain” of stockpiled track to draw upon. “Now, except
for a war reserve requirement and a very minimal safety level, it’s supposed
to be a just-in-time delivery system,” Dugan said. TACOM maintains limited
war reserve stocks of track—enough for one-and-a-half months of consumption.
The surge in demand has strained track manufacturing capacity. TACOM procures
track from just two sources: a Goodyear plant in St. Mary’s, Ohio, and
lesser quantities from Belgian manufacturer VAREC.
TACOM also uses rebuilt track from the Red River Army depot, in Texas, which
produced more than 300,000 shoes in fiscal year 2003. While Abrams track cannot
be rebuilt, 129,000 Bradley shoes have been refurbished.
Dugan said the contractors are meeting the demand, but it is not easy. “People
look at track and say, ‘oh, it’s just a block of metal.’ But
there are castings and forgings involved.”
There is now sufficient track manufacturing capacity to cope with additional
demands, said Dugan. “If we have the funding to respond accordingly, we
would be in good shape. We have the production base ramped up.”
The Iraq war comes at a particularly awkward time for the Army, as it seeks
to transition from tracked to wheeled vehicles. Even though track demand has
soared, the Army is switching to wheeled vehicles such as the Stryker, which
eventually will sharply decrease demand for track. “We anticipate a decline
due to both the fleet density changes and the cooler operating temperatures
[after the Iraq campaign is over],” Dugan said.
How manufacturers will be affected by this boom-and-bust is unclear. “Product
demands shift continuously in all areas,” said Goodyear spokeswoman Susan
Deckard. “That also is true for military sales, and we deal with that
all the time. How we manage such shifts is a matter we will not discuss.”
“We’re managing that transition,” said Dugan. “It’s
ramp up and ramp down. We don’t want to over-ramp. We want to hit the
apex of the curve and then ramp down smartly.”