Posted: Mar. 19, 2003 Pay as you go
The U.S. military's unorthodox supply strategy
BY JULIAN E. BARNES Julian E. Barnes, a U.S. News senior editor, is reporting from Camp Arifjan, the Army's logistical hub, where thousands of reservists and active-duty soldiers provide support for combat troops in the field.
CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAITInvading armies have lived off the fruits of conquered lands since warfare existed. Genghis Khan fed his Mongol horde by pillaging villages as he advanced across Asian steppes. European crusaders ordered their knights to sustain themselves by raiding Muslim homes as they advanced toward the Middle East. If, as expected, the tanks of the 3rd Infantry Division roll across the Iraqi border, American generals in Kuwait will put in place a plan to do the same thing, with a modern, humanitarian twist.
The logistic experts here believe they can shorten the supply lines from Kuwait to Baghdad by utilizing Iraqi water, oil, and construction materials to sustain the march forward. Though the American plan borrows from the great invasions of ancient history, generals say they will be rebuilding Iraq even as they use the country's natural resources to support the advancing and occupying military force. Soldiers will not pillage, planners insist, instead they will arrive armed with cash. "We have field ordering officers who will go forward with bags of money," said Col. Billy Pratt, a logistics expert with Army Central Command in Kuwait. "Take a look at the battlefield calculus. If I can get the same stuff there as I can get here, it will get there a lot quicker and the same time we are infusing money into their economy."
Petroleum engineers assigned to supply companies will test Iraq fuel for purity then pay for the gasoline and diesel the Army uses. The Army will quickly try to rebuild refineries and pipelines. Other engineering teams will purchase water and create purification facilities. Then the Army will move it forward for troops to use. Navy Seabees will begin building roads that can be used by supply convoys, occupying forces, and ordinary Iraqis. "Water and fuel purchased and produced locally will really lessen the burden on us back here," said Maj. Gen. Claude Christianson. "It accomplishes the strategic objective to make sure that when this is over, Iraq is a viable economic entity and it can survive on its own."
The plan has many potential pitfalls. Troops loyal to Saddam Hussein may follow the strategy that defenders have long used against invaders: destroying their own land. Russians scorched the earth as they retreated from Napoleon, forcing the French to rely on overstretched supply lines that eventually broke down in the face of extreme weather. Destruction of the Iraqi oil wells has been a top fear of the Pentagon and securing them an overriding priority.
Even if American troops can prevent widespread sabotage and secure resources for the United States Army, living off the land may not be as good for the Iraqi people as planners hope. Thuggish Saddam Hussein loyalists control many of the critical resources like water and oil. American troops throwing around wads of cash to buy oil could end up building up the economic power of the regime that the invasion has set out to destroy. It is also possible that American money could trigger hyperinflation. People who sell supplies to Americans may gain instant wealth while their neighbors remain destitute.
The commanders of the logistics war say they have taken both those concerns into account. Army officials say they will not knowingly do business with potential war criminals and will put an end to contracts if they learn they are dealing with Saddam loyalists. American soldiers will also pay local prices for water and fuel, in an attempt not to destroy the economy they are trying to save. "We don't want to throw out a bunch of dollars and cause inflation," Pratt says.
The military plan to rebuild southern Iraqeven as fighting continues in the northis being called "Phase Four." Christianson says he hopes that the plan not only helps supply armies in the north but also creates a reservoir of goodwill for occupying American forces. "If it goes very fast, in the southern part of Iraq, if there is no one fighting there, it doesn't make any sense to do anything but rebuild," he said. "We want to become a partner, the last thing we want to do is go in there and alienate people immediately."
The plan began kicking into place even before the start of the war. Last Wednesday, the 416th Engineer Command moved to the border of Iraq to begin extending the pipeline they have built from Kuwait into Iraq. The pipeline will first serve to supply petroleum to the Army and may later be used to distribute and sell Iraqi oil to the world. And a little less than 24 hours before President Bush gave his ultimatium to Saddam Hussein, Lt. Pilar Delima of the 96th Transportation Company arose from her tent in Camp Arlington and assembled a convoy of 48-wheel heavy equipment transports to pick up four massive bulldozers at a Marine camp and bring them forward, 30 miles from the border.
The three 83,000 pound D8 bulldozers and even larger D9 that Delima picked up will clear Iraq roads for supply convoys following troops toward Baghdad. "Our principal mission is to keep supply routes open," said Chief Robert Burroughs of the Seabees. But the roads the Seabees will build are not just for American convoys but also for Iraqis, Burroughs said as he loaded the bulldozers on the trucks. "After we get in, the bulldozers will be used for the humanitarian mission," he said. "We are not here to destroy; we are here to build. We will be building schools and hospitals."
The logistics of this war are being shaped by the mistakes of the previous Persian Gulf war as well as the overall Pentagon strategy that calls for a quick strike into the heart of Iraq. Before the first Gulf War, Lt. Gen. Gus Pagonis, the Army's master logistician, brought enough ammunition to fight a 60- to 100-day war. When the ground offensive was over in 100 hours, the Army had piles of ammunition that they had to load back on ships. After the Gulf War, Pagonis wrote a book about the effort to prepare and supply the coalition force called "Moving Mountains." But the logistics planners of this conflict are proudly rejecting that strategy. "I am not moving mountains," said Pratt.
Planners have accumulated far fewer supplies at the logistic bases and forward positions than they did before the last Gulf War. Today, commanders say, precision is replacing overwhelming supply. The ability to track materiel and direct it to its destination quickly means the Army can deal with less, "We still have Murphy's Law, but we do not have to build the big backup because we know where things are," said Col. Gary Engel, a staff officer with the 377th Theater Support Command.
When an Army pre-positioned ammunition ship, the Motor Vessel Carter, arrived off the coast of Kuwait, military leaders decided not to unload the entire ship, said Brig.Gen. Vincent Boles. Instead, the military took off 850 containers of ammunition. The remainder of the rounds were left in place and the ship sent back out to sea, to be unloaded only if hostilities drag on much longer than predicted. Boles insists the army is not taking risk in the name of efficiency or cost savings. "I couldn't sleep at night if I thought the soldiers needed ammunition," he said. "This is not a time to nickel and dime soldiers."
Boles and the other generals keep track of materiel inside Arifjan's logistics war room. There an amphitheater of military planners sit in front of a bank of video screens. Maps projected on the wall show movements of convoys across the region. The most crucial convoys are tracked mile by mile with Mobile Tracking Systems, satellite communicators affixed to the roof of humvees, transports, and tankers. But the generals gathered in the center of the amphitheater can also track the movement of individual containers of parts, ammunition, or other supplies. The metal containers are fixed with radio frequency tags. The tags identify the contents, and when they pass by certain control points, electronic sensors register their movement.
This, says Gen. David Kratzer, allows the Army a level of precision control that it has been unable to achieve before. The precision means the Army can function more efficiently. The challenge throughout the conflict and occupation will be getting re-supplies to moving divisions of combat troops. The 377th Theater Support Command, which oversees many of the logistic functions, has studied the practices of companies like Fed Ex, Wal-Mart, and Procter & Gamble. Those companies specialize in moving goods quickly and cheaply to their destination. But Fed Ex packages and Pampers Diapers travel to a set location. Army convoys sent to deliver fuel to a tank unit may find their destination changes in the middle of the journey.
All of the changes are necessitated in part by the Pentagon plan to move soldiers as quickly as they can to Baghdad. A fast-moving force must be light. And a supply line that may quickly stretch from the Kuwait ports to Baghdad presents its own challenges.
That puts a special burden on the Army's companies of truckers. No matter how sophisticated weaponry gets, winning a war depends on logisticsand logistics depends on convoys. Returning from Camp 93 near the Iraq border after dropping off the load of bulldozers, Lt. Delima leaned back in her humvee seat, her Kevlar helmet on her head, her rifle resting against her leg, her eyes scanning the desertscape beyond the convoy. "We are soldiers first," she says. "We train to fight. This is our job."