Magazine article National Defense

Battery Supplies Ran Dangerously Low in Iraq

Magazine article National Defense

Battery Supplies Ran Dangerously Low in Iraq

Article excerpt

Manufacturers worked around-the-clock to replenish depleted stocks

The scramble to find batteries and get them to troops fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom is leading to a policy review of non-rechargeable batteries, as well as an examination of alternative power sources, such as fuel cells and solar panels.

Inadequate inventories of military batteries almost led U.S. forces to cease operations or alter tactics during Operation Iraqi Freedom. But several U.S. manufacturers helped avert a potential crisis by slowly replenishing stocks of the non-rechargeable BA 5990 battery, said a Navy official.

Navy Capt. Clark Driscoll, the Defense Contract Management Agency liaison to the Joint Staff, said lack of funding had left the inventory of BA 5590s in "bad shape for a long time."

The BA 5590 is the military's most widely used portable power source, operating a variety of communications devices.

"We literally [came] within days of running out of these batteries-where major combat operations would either have ceased or changed in their character because of the lack of battery support," Driscoll said in remarks to the Tri-Service Power Expo, in Norfolk, Va.

The challenge is for the military to increase funding for batteries and do better planning, Driscoll said.

"Given the near-term disaster on batteries, [we are] now in a formal battery requirement determination process to validate future requirements," he said. "The lessons of the past are far too painful to repeat."

Driscoll would also like to see the Department of Defense give the same attention to batteries as it does to guided munitions.

Tom Nycz, from the Army Communications and Electronics Command, said that lack of funding has led to the battery shortage. "[We've] been shorted for so long, because budgets are so constrained," he said in an interview.

"[We were] given money to buy [batteries based] on historical usage," Nycz said.

What kept the military from running out of batteries and from having to change battle plans were a quick war, conservation measures and dedication from battery manufacturers, Driscoll said.

The shortage first surfaced when Central Command's maintenance branch began packing supplies for an anticipated war with Iraq. Because it initially appeared the war wouldn't start for a few weeks, batteries were sent by ship, from Charleston, S.C., through the Suez Canal, past the Horn of Africa and up the Persian Gulf to Kuwait. More vital cargo, such as fuel, was sent by Air Force cargo planes, said Lt. Cmdr. John LaTulip, of the U.S. Central Command's maintenance branch.

"[The] problem was we didn't think we'd go into combat that quickly, so we initially put that stuff on the boats," LaTulip said. "After one to two shipments from [the] depot, [we] realized we could not make it."

Eventually, batteries were loaded onto Air Force cargo planes. Each day, one planeload of BA 5590s would leave Charleston for Kuwait. Those flights were expected to end in mid-July, LaTulip said. Then, batteries once again, were to be shipped across the ocean to Iraq.

Even with planeloads of batteries making their way to Kuwait, the shortage remained severe. In fact, only units engaged in direct combat could get batteries, LaTulip said.

"It was a difficult time for us. ... [It was] probably one of the most difficult times for us with any commodity," he said.

LaTulip, stationed in Kuwait, was responsible for battery allocation and distribution to all the services.

Compounding the problem was that no one knew exactly how many Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS) radios, Javelins, or nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) alarms were in theater.

"We went into this [bind] in about early April," LaTulip told industry and military officials at the Power Expo.

Everything the BA 5590 powers is "systems critical in the battlefield," LaTulip said. …

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