Magazine article National Defense

Army Switches from Vehicle Procurement to Sustainment Mode

Magazine article National Defense

Army Switches from Vehicle Procurement to Sustainment Mode

Article excerpt

For 13 years, the Army has binged on billion-dollar procurement budgets and assembled the largest and newest wheeled vehicle fleet in its history.

Now military commanders and the companies that built thousands of vehicles in support of two wars are preparing for the inevitable withdrawal symptoms resulting from reduced budgets and requirements after more than a decade of combat.

The Army and industry must find a path of transition from a wartime footing where funding for vehicles was almost unlimited, to one based on sustaining those vehicles over the remainder of their service lives, said Gen. Dennis Via, chief of Army Materiel Command.

"It goes without saying that we have a challenging fiscal environment going forward," Via said. "I think why it is so challenging for us this time is because we've been at war for so long. We've become accustomed to multi-billion dollar budgets and acquisitions. We're drawing clown on that."

Somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of a platform's lifecycle cost is in sustainment, he said. With nearly 300,000 tactical wheeled vehicles -- some of which are still being reset from the now-ended Iraq War -- the task of bringing those trucks home and fixing them up is no small task, he said.

"It's going to become complex, because ... as I talk to lieutenant colonels, they don't remember the Army that I came into. They only know this Army where we've been primarily at war and have been resourced adequately to support our missions and rightfully so. But now we have this transition to sustain our equipment for the out years," he said at the National Defense Industrial Association Tactical Wheeled Vehicle conference.

The Army has more than the 240,000 vehicles its published requirements prescribe for fiscal year 2014, said Don Tison, assistant deputy chief of staff for Army G-8. The service's truck fleet is both large enough and new enough to sustain the Army for the foreseeable future, especially with the joint light tactical vehicle, which will replace the Humvee after 2015, funded and on schedule, he said.

JLTV will begin low-rate initial production in 2015. Still, Humvees will be a part of the Army inventory for several years, Tison said. A sustainment plan should be in place by 2018 that includes integrating up-to-date communications equipment and modular armor packages.

The Army's truck fleets number about 278,000 total vehicles, and now average just two to three years old -- the youngest fleet in modern Army history.

"From a numbers standpoint, we're fine," he said. "These years of large procurement accounts have helped us fill out the fleet. Modernization and obsolescence are another matter."

Now the fleets need to be progressively updated, Tison said.

When the Army went to war in 2001, 85 percent of its vehicles needed depot maintenance, said Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, deputy chief of staff, Army G-4. After 13 years of war, the equation is reversed and only 15 percent of the fleet requires maintenance thanks to billions of dollars invested in reset and recapitalization, Mason said.

The main challenge is bringing existing vehicles up to the technological standards that troops became accustomed to during recent operations. Many front-line trucks like Humvees and MRAPs were retrofitted with state-of-the-art communications and command-and-control 'systems and are heavily armored.

"In 1999, a company commander might have a radio in his Humvee," but "that's the vehicle we've been fighting in for the last decade, with all that stuff in it," Mason said, pointing to a picture of a Humvee cabin populated with all manner of electronic communications gear.

"Can we afford for every vehicle in the Army to look like that? The answer is obviously right in front of us: 'No.' So ... which ones should have this and which ones shouldn't? There's a leadership challenge because once these soldiers have seen the lights of Paris, how do you get them hack on the farm? …

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