Sunday, February 12, 2006

Nearly 1,000 Aircraft, Vehicles Destroyed in Iraq in Two Years

U.S. Army 'Reset' Bills Hit $9B
By Greg Grant
Defense News
February 13, 2006

Combat and the grinding pace of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are fast wearing down the U.S. Army’s aircraft and vehicles.

The Army is asking for $9 billion this year to “reset” its war-depleted stocks — the vast bulk to replace and repair tanks, helicopters, and vehicles, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said in a Feb. 7 interview. That money will come from the regular 2007 budget and from emergency wartime supplementals.

Since the Iraq insurgency heated up in fall 2003, the Army’s combat losses include about 20 M1 Abrams tanks, 50 Bradley fighting vehicles, 20 Stryker wheeled combat vehicles, 20 M113 armored personnel carriers and 250 Humvees, service sources said. The exact numbers are classified.

The number of vehicles lost in battle comes to nearly 1,000 after adding in heavy and medium trucks and trailers, mine clearing vehicles, and Fox wheeled reconnaissance vehicles. Nearly all these losses were caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq.

Aircraft losses have also been heavy since fighting began in Afghanistan in 2001. The Army has lost 85 helicopters there and in Iraq: 27 Apaches, 21 Black Hawks, 14 CH-47s, and 23 Kiowas, Army sources said.

Hostile fire downed 17 of these; the rest, destroyed in accidents in the war zone, are also reckoned combat losses, Army officials said.

The Army counts these 85 aircraft and nearly-1,000 vehicles as “total losses.”

“They have to basically burn down to the ground for us to declare them a total loss,” said Gary Motsek, Army Materiel Command’s (AMC’s) deputy for support operations.

The replacement bill for total-loss equipment is expected to climb. Aircraft and vehicle battle losses were heavier in 2005 than 2004; in particular, more Humvees were destroyed by IEDs, Army sources said. The losses have forced the Army to order 19 extra Stryker wheeled vehicles as replacements, Harvey said.

To replace tracked vehicles that are no longer in production, such as the M1 Abrams, Bradleys and M113s, the Army pulls vehicles out of mothballs and upgrades their equipment to the latest standards.

Many more vehicles and aircraft are damaged enough to knock them temporarily out of service — combat losses, the Army calls them. These are fixed at AMC repair shops or by private contractors and returned to service.

Far more are simply being worn out by a pace of operations about five times greater than that experienced during peacetime.

In 2005, AMC and its contractors repaired and overhauled 230 M1 Abrams tanks; this year, that number will top 700. Bradleys will go from 318 last year to more than 600; M113s from 219 to 614; Humvees, from 5,000 to almost 9,000; and aircraft from 44 to 85.

“Those are the dogs, the ones that really require major overhaul and repair,” Motsek said.

So the Army’s repair bill is climbing as well, he said. In 2004, the service requested $1.2 billion in the emergency supplemental for shop work to repair war-related damage; in 2005, the figure was $2.9 billion. This year, the Army has asked for $3.2 billion for repair work to be funded in the supplementals, the AMC deputy said. This money is in addition to the depot funding in the regular budget.

The repair and replacement bill for Army helicopters has totaled $2.6 billion since fighting began in Afghanistan, said Maj. Gen. James Pillsbury, commander Army Aviation and Missile Command, in a Jan. 12 press briefing.

The Army has ordered 16 new Apaches and five new Black Hawks as replacements through emergency supplemental appropriations from Congress. But the Army has been unable to replace the 27 Kiowas that have been destroyed because the Kiowa production line is no longer open.

In addition, there are thousands of small arms, radios and generators that require major repair and overhaul. The repair backlog includes almost every major equipment item, from .50-caliber machine guns to hundreds of thousands of pads for tank tracks.

Traditionally, Army units returning from deployment bring their equipment home with them. That hasn’t been the case in Iraq because of equipment shortages.

The intense danger from roadside bombs, combined with the limited supply of heavily armored Humvees and specialized mine-clearing vehicles such as the Buffalo, means that more than 30,000 of these vital vehicles remain in Iraq, where they are handed from unit to unit as the war goes on.

“Fully up-armored Humvees don’t come back until the war is over,” Motsek said. Even smaller items such as body armor and M4 carbines are being passed along.

The Army acknowledges that a mountain of war-worn equipment is accumulating in Iraq.

“If victory was declared tomorrow in Iraq,” Motsek said, “there is still two years of work to repair tanks, Bradleys, M113s, wheeled vehicles, and everything else we’ve left behind.”

He said 30,000 Humvees remain in Iraq, 6,000 of which will be washed out when they return, and the rest repaired and upgraded.

The Army’s official position is that it will need supplemental funding for at least two years after the war ends to repair that equipment backlog. But the Army is concerned that once a drawdown begins in Iraq, Congress will begin to pare back the supplementals, just as the most battered equipment returns home.

There also is growing frustration among lawmakers that the Army is using the supplemental money, intended strictly for emergency wartime repairs, to pay for upgrades that should be funded in the regular budget, said Andrew Feickert, an Army analyst with the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. Harvey acknowledged that what is and what is not war related in terms of reset funding is open to interpretation.

There is no dispute that the battered tanks and Humvees that enter the depot system emerge upgraded to the latest model. Harvey said all vehicles are refurbished to a “zero mile” condition, which requires stripping them down to the frame and rebuilding the vehicle. Each M1 Abrams tank that enters the shop, for example, comes out as an M1A2 Systems Enhancement Package (SEP), at a conversion cost of $7 million.

But Army officials say they are just trying to save money, spare parts and time. The upgrades will reduce the number of M1 Abrams versions from five to two: the M1A1 AIM and the M1A2 SEP. The Bradley also will be reduced to two versions.

“Part of the reset process is to look at the end state and say, ‘What do we want the Army to look like in 2010 or 2014?’ Then we go through the reset process and take those systems to that end state,” Gen. Benjamin Griffin, AMC’s commander, said.

The Army builds its reset plan to re-equip each active-duty brigade-sized unit within six months of its return from the battlefield. Reserve units are slated for reset within one year.

“That reset process begins before the unit ever leaves Iraq,” Griffin said. “We try to determine before a tank leaves Iraq to which depot it needs to go, we look at the unit’s entire holding of equipment and precisely identify when we can get that equipment back to them.”

To keep pace with that aggressive plan, the Army’s workshops have cranked up capacity, hitting 20 million direct labor hours in 2005, compared with 11 million in 2002, the year before the Army spearheaded the invasion of Iraq. And that is just half the total; by rule, AMC sends half its repair work to private-sector firms.

But the reset effort has become more challenging, in part because the supplemental money is coming later each year, Motsek said.

AMC has yet to receive money from the $50 billion supplemental passed in January that was supposed to have come at the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. AMC is forced to dip into the regular budget money to keep the shops working, and then replace those funds with the supplemental dollars once they come through.

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