Military Weighed Down by Heavy Equipment, Excess Infrastructure
Today’s military is too dependent on heavy equipment, consumes too much fuel and is weighed down by an industrial-age infrastructure that costs too much to maintain.
That reality needs to change, military officials said. Combat forces in the future will need to deploy quickly, in small units, with relatively light equipment and require little logistics support. War planners believe the Pentagon has to invest in new technology and develop fresh ideas to prepare U.S. forces to fight enemies who will be adept at disrupting supply lines and choking off access to ports and airfields.
“We need innovative, low cost, small footprint approaches” to prepare the military for future wars, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Brooks Bash, director of logistics on the Joint Staff.
The Pentagon’s much-lauded logistics machine has excelled in every war thus far, but it is showing signs of age. Bash said he worries that U.S. logistics operations are not positioned for the realities of combat in the 21st century.
In many ways, the military organizations that provide logistics support — transportation, fuel and supplies — are still organized to fight World War III, officials said last week at the National Defense Industrial Association’s logistics symposium in Arlington, Va.
Changing that will require sweeping reforms in the way the military does business, they said, and also congressional approval to shed billions of dollars worth of unneeded facilities and inventories.
The Defense Logistics Agency, for instance, has $14 billion worth of inventory, but only half of that is usable, said Navy Vice Adm. Mark D. Harnitchek, director of DLA. “We have way too much inventory,” he said. Excess supplies are costly to store and keep DLA from shedding unneeded infrastructure. “We have to get rid of the hoarding mentality,” said Harnitchek. Billions of dollars are tied up in aging stocks and facilities that could be spent on modern equipment. “We have vintage World War II infrastructure to store fuel,” he said. DLA currently must keep large quantities of military-unique fuel, called JP-8, which requires specialized storage units. If the Air Force and Navy were able to use commercial jet fuel in their airplanes, it would save lots of money and simplify the services’ logistics support operations, Harnitchek said. He noted that both the Air Force and the Navy would like to move in that direction.
The military also needs to find ways to consume less fuel, Bash said. Planning for any war will become exceedingly difficult, as enemies have figured out that fuel dependence makes U.S. forces vulnerable. “Operational energy is a huge challenge,” Bash said. Each U.S. soldier in Afghanistan on average requires 23 gallons of fuel per day.
Vice Adm. Phil Cullom, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, said reducing fuel demands is a major focus of his efforts. The U.S. logistics system is not geared for wars where enemies will seek to deny access, he said. “We need the right logistics support for ‘anti-access, area denial’” scenarios, Cullom said. “We need resilient networks.”
Another headache for logisticians is the enormous weight and bulk of the equipment that U.S. forces take to war. The Pentagon needs to rethink how it will equip ground forces in the future, Bash said. The most visible illustration of this problem is the heavily armored mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) truck that is now ubiquitous in war zones. “The vehicles saved many lives,” he said. “But MRAP is slow, heavy and logistics maintenance nightmare.” Enemies are just going to keep making bigger bombs to outmatch U.S. vehicles, he said. “Can we keep building a bigger MRAP?”
Bash mentioned the Lithuanian Special Forces’ use of motorcycles in Afghanistan as an example of how to think differently about the problem. Troops can move faster on motorcycles, and they are light enough that they do not set off pressure-activated buried bombs, he said. “And you can buy 1,000 Kawasaki KLS motorcycles for the price of one MRAP.” This is not just about new technology, he said, but also using existing equipment in a new way.
The Marine Corps also struggles with the logistics burdens of heavy equipment, said Maj. Gen. Michael Dana, assistant deputy command for installations and logistics. “We have gotten too heavy,” he said. U.S. forces must become more “expeditionary” and more agile, he said. That cannot be achieved with current equipment, Dana asserted. Not only is gear too heavy but also energy intensive. A tank company today requires three trucks’ worth of gear and lots of power generators, he said.
Also weighing heavy on the military services are unwanted facilities. The cost of maintaining too many bases and depots is one reason why the Air Force has been unable to modernize its equipment, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Judith Fedder, deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support.
Congress over the past two years has blocked every attempt by the Defense Department to close unneeded bases. “Without being able to shut down installations, the best we can do work on the margins,” Fedder said. The military services have maintenance depots that do not operate at full capacity. Consolidating these facilities is worth considering, she said. “I think this is probably an untapped area.” As with base closures, he said, “There are lots of restrictions on what we can do to draw down capability.”
The Air Force is under pressure to modernize its equipment, and with the Pentagon’s budget on a downward slope, the only way to do that is by shedding overhead, Fedder said. “Just opening a gate is expensive.” Efficiencies such as “green” buildings that demand less energy are useful, but the monetary savings are negligible, she said. “It’s the cost of opening the gate, of sustaining an installation is absolutely not sustainable into the future,” she said. “We have to continue to reduce force structure just to keep the gates open.”
The Army is in a similar predicament. It has five major maintenance depots and three arsenals, and that is more than is needed, said Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, Army deputy chief of staff for logistics.
“We are probably over capacity inside ourorganic industrial base,” he said. Base closure authority would help make these operations more efficient, he added. As workload declines, the cost of fixing equipment at depots will rise, while the Army’s budget keeps coming down. None of these trends bode well for the future, Mason said.