Repairs of worn-out and war-damaged Army equipment are certain to remain a $13 billion to $15 billion-a-year business — if not higher — for the foreseeable future.
In 2007 alone, the Army will repair an unprecedented one million pieces of combat hardware – including combat vehicles, aircraft, trucks, missiles, communications gear, electronics, artillery, small arms and assorted support equipment, according to estimates provided by the Army.
Of the one million pieces of equipment, the largest share is made up of combat vehicles and vehicular components (267,000), communications and electronics equipment (360,000) and logistics support gear for ground forces (172,000).
A single combat brigade on average operates 320,000 different pieces of equipment.
Most of the repair work, or about 90 percent, is done by the Army’s own maintenance units in forward-deployed installations and bases stateside. The other 10 percent is performed at Army depots and at contractors’ facilities.
The amount of work is likely to continue for at least two years after Army troops withdraw from Iraq, officials said.
Managing the repair workload has proved more difficult than anyone in the Army had expected when the war began in 2003. Units rotate in and out of combat zones and leave their equipment behind, for the most part, which complicates efforts to keep track of it and to determine what needs to be fixed or replaced. Additionally, those units that return to their home bases need training equipment so they can be ready to go back to Iraq as soon as one year later. To further complicate matters, the Army has several types of units, and each has unique hardware requirements.
It all adds up to a huge coordination and management challenge, said Col. Carl J. Cartwright, deputy for field support at the Army Sustainment Command, in Rock Island, Ill.
The command is responsible for the logistics support of combat units around the world. ASC has brigades stationed in Germany, Iraq, South Korea and Qatar, and in the United States at Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Lewis, Wash. More than 60 battalions are dispersed to various combat zones to better grasp the needs of the tactical commanders, Cartwright said in an interview.
“Our focus is combat brigades,” he said. But the ASC also must support those specialized units that typically are not assigned to a brigade, such as quartermaster, medical and maintenance companies. “Our field reps visit commanders weekly.”
Ensuring that every unit has the equipment it needs is a “big challenge because every unit is different,” Cartwright said. “Each one has different kinds of equipment.” Their schedules are diverse too. “We have to understand their timeline. Some units are told to plan differently, not under the 180-day or 360-day model.” The Army usually takes 180 days to reset an active-duty brigade, and 360 days for reserve units.
Stryker brigades, for example, operate distinct equipment. The most difficult units to equip are the so-called sustainment brigades, which provide maintenance and supplies.
The hardware that returns from combat is either sent to “field level maintenance” at Army bases or to “national level” depot maintenance.
“We try to use government facilities first … and then we go to contractors,” said Cartwright.
The ASC, however, is not responsible for the repairs of National Guard equipment. “They run their own programs for the most part,” said Cartwright. “As a rule, I have a National Guard officer on our staff and they talk to the National Guard Bureau. They have their own plan for resetting their equipment.”
Gregory Kee, deputy chief of staff at the Army Materiel Command, in Fort Belvoir, Va., said the process of rebuilding units has to be managed much like a construction project.
“The Army Sustainment Command [which reports to AMC] is focused on rebuilding the brigade. It’s like your general contractor building a house.”
Heavy armor high-tech vehicles such as the M1 Abrams tank and the Bradley armored personnel carrier are repaired by their original manufacturers, General Dynamics Land Systems and BAE Systems, respectively.
To meet the Army’s tight schedules, contractors have to plan ahead, so they can order enough components and spare parts before the vehicles arrive, although that is not always possible, said Raj Rajagopal, vice president and general manager of BAE’s ground systems division in York, Pa. “We want to be able to anticipate when the vehicles will arrive, the condition of the vehicles. You don’t know the extent of the damage,” he said. “One of the biggest hang-ups is to translate requirements into orders for suppliers.”
R. Andrew Hove, director of Bradley combat systems at BAE, said that 10 percent of the Army’s fleet of more than 3,000 Bradleys is undergoing some form of repair or upgrade. In peacetime, the vehicle has an eight to 10-year life. In combat, that operational life is reduced to two or three years. It costs the Army $2.5 million to upgrade a Bradley to its most advanced “digital” configuration. A basic refurbishment costs about $1 million per vehicle.
Repairing trucks is less expensive, but the schedule is no less demanding.
Humvees on average cost $14,000 to restore to working order after they return from war. Medium and heavy trucks cost up to $17,000 each to repair.
At Fort Bragg, N.C., Army humvees go through a Nascar-style “pit stop” process that turns vehicles around in 45 to 90 days, depending on the extent of the damage. That turnaround is considered fast by Army standards, said André Benoit, program manager at ITT Corporation, Systems Division. The company repairs humvees and other military vehicles at Fort Bragg, under an Army contract it has had since 2001.
During the past two years, ITT has restored 4,800 vehicles, including humvees, medium and heavy trucks owned by the Army 18th Airborne Corps, National Guard and reserves, said Frederique Favreau, maintenance manager. “When the vehicle comes into the shop, it’s brought into the pit stop — at that point 85 to 90 percent of the parts have been ordered and delivered,” he said. “We are not at the mercy of the supply system to turn vehicles around.”
A humvee spends five days in the pit stop, although the entire reconstitution takes at least 45 days. After the pit stop, it goes to body repair and paint.
Before the company instituted the pit stop process, said Benoit, “we were doing 38 to 40 vehicles a month. We increased to 50 by July 2004. By November we were up to 150 vehicles per month. At one point, we were as high as 225.”
ITT’s contract will be up for competition in 2007. If the company wins an extension, it expects its workload to grow, Favreau said. “I think we’ll get a lot of work in the near future. There are a lot of vehicles over in theater sitting right now. They’ll have to realize it’ll cost less money if they ship them back to facilities that have a reset program like ours.”
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