Defense Media Network

Intensive Operations, Intensive Management

USASAC’s CENTCOM Regional Operations Directorate

The U.S. Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC) has been a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command since 1975, leading AMC’s Security Assistance Enterprise, developing and managing security assistance programs and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases, and strengthening U.S. global partnerships through support for regional combatant commands (COCOM) around the globe. That effort is focused through regional directorates aligned with the COCOMs.

During a decade of war in Southwest Asia, the most active of those has been the CENTCOM (Central Command) Regional Operations (RO) group – working with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other countries in the CENTCOM area of responsibility – and, in adapting to the unique demands of FMS support in countries where the United States had forces in combat, standing up an Intensive Management Office (IMO).

“When our IMO first stood up, it focused on FMS in support of Iraq and Afghanistan, later expanding to Pakistan. Last year, we transitioned Iraq back to CENTCOM RO as the withdrawal of U.S. forces began. So now, the IMO focuses solely on Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher Tucker, USASAC’s commanding general, adding the past decade has marked an evolution in security assistance.

“The best way to develop partnerships and strategic relationships with other countries is to be engaged with those countries in efforts to counter threats against our way of life and against their way of life,” he said.

USASAC’s global mission can be divided into three main goals, he added – build partner capacity; support the COCOMs’ engagement strategies; and improve U.S. strategic partnerships. Accomplishing that falls to four regional directorates – one responsible for the European Command and newly created African Command, one for the Pacific Command and Southern Command, a third for CENTCOM, and fourth, the Southwest Asia-focused IMO. While lessons learned from the IMO will be held ready for any future need, Tucker considers it unique to the current fight.

“Our regional directorates are doing an excellent job of coordinating FMS in support of the other regions around the world, so I don’t see the likelihood of standing up an IMO anywhere else at this time,” he said.

In Iraq, the CENTCOM RO Directorate works in conjunction with U.S. Forces-Iraq, Advise and Train (USF-I A&T), to support the training and equipping of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), developing and executing FMS cases designed to increase ISF capacity and capability, with an ultimate goal of ISF self-sufficiency.

In addition to a wide range of new and left-behind equipment, CENTCOM RO has had to deal with Iraq’s long history of using equipment – and training – from the former Soviet Union. And, in some cases, even expanding on their inventory of Russian materiel.

“There are all kinds of equipment managed by the Army we are helping to deliver into Iraq, including M1 tanks, HMMWVs, helicopters, radios, radars, night vision goggles, ammunition, small arms, howitzers – pretty much anything the U.S. Army has,” noted CENTCOM Deputy Director for Regional Operations Philip Roman. “Helicopters are a mix, depending on whether it is for the Ministry of Defense or Interior. The Bell 407 Combat Scout is a big effort, for example.

“We’re also helping them procure Mi-171s [a Russian multi-role helicopter also known as the Mi-17]. It has been a challenge to overlay American standards on logistics and get releases to allow our troops to work on those. But we have identified a number of non-standard and standard helicopters to cover the full range we believe they need, although that does not include Black Hawks or Apaches [the U.S. Army’s most advanced combat rotorcraft].”

Sgt. Jasen Sumner, a tank crewman assigned to Company D, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, explains a preventive maintenance and services check on the M1A1 Abram’s Tank during a U.S. forces-led joint in-depth tank refresher course, being taught at Joint Security Station Al Rashid. Iraqi army soldiers Sgt. Hussein Falh (left) and Capt. Muhned Khlid Ahmed participate in the training. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger

Executing FMS cases and providing equipment maintenance and sustainment, as required, is the basic mission of USASAC and CENTCOM RO. That primarily involves new equipment, although they also may be asked by USF-I or the Iraqi government to support elements of the United States Equipment Transfer To Iraq (USETTI) program – under which equipment originally sent to Iraq for use by U.S. forces is being transferred to the Iraqis rather than being returned to the United States or Europe – to reset for use in Afghanistan, or to rebuild prepositioned weapons stocks in the region, etc.

“We have a couple of those, but not many because USETTI has only just begun, so our major effort involves working with the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior on FMS equipment coming from excess defense articles or new production, supporting ISF capability development,” Tucker said. “For example, the U.S. is selling Iraq 140 M1A1 tanks; part of that FMS package is a sustainment case for additional logistics support and new equipment training from the prime contractor, to help them understand how to employ and maintain this equipment.

“The challenges with providing FMS to Iraq is the fact Iraq is a relatively new FMS customer. So CENTCOM RO, our case operations office at New Cumberland Army Depot [Pa.], and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency have conducted training with the Iraqi government the past few years on the process, procedures, and timing required to buy equipment from the U.S. Army. Their ability to complete that process has matured significantly, but, like anything you start new, there remain some challenges.”

The challenge in Iraq has now transitioned from providing FMS to a nation in which U.S. forces are engaged in combat to issues related to the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, beginning with combat troops – completed in August 2010 – and eventually including some 50,000 USF-I personnel currently scheduled to remain only through the end of December 2011.

“Following the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, the challenge will be establishing good coordination with the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC) that is stood up by the State Department to coordinate training and equipping of Iraqi forces beyond January 2012,” Tucker explained. “We have a USASAC liaison officer [LNO] embedded within USF-I A&T who will continue in that role until USF-I withdraws next year. We expect to work closely with the OSC once established.”

For CENTCOM RO, the job in Iraq will continue essentially as before, but with new challenges.

“We are adjusting to the impact of U.S. combat troop withdrawal,” Roman said. “Part of that is protection for contractor personnel and trainers we may have in Iraq. We’re still supporting materiel that has long been out of the U.S. Army inventory because anytime we sell something, we are committed to supporting it as long as necessary, largely through the contractor community. We also must consider the substantial number of U.S. forces still in Iraq, even after the combat forces have left.

“Almost everything we provide comes with an assurance of training, both operations and maintenance. TRADOC [Training & Doctrine Command] is a big player in what we are doing in Iraq as the Army executive agency for security assistance training. They are responsible for a number of training programs, either in conjunction with us or in stand-alone, such as International Military Education and Training [IMET] that provides either technical or professional military training, such as  the Army War College, typically done in the U.S.”

IMET is considered essential to helping Iraq emerge from thousands of years of monarchies and dictatorships to become a modern democracy. The training involves not only military issues, such as equipment operations and maintenance, but also an introduction to U.S. regard for democratic values, respect for individual and human rights, belief in the rule of law, and how the U.S. military functions under civilian control.

According to its mission statement, the overall objectives of the IMET program are “to further the goal of regional stability through effective, mutually beneficial military-to-military relations which culminate in increased understanding and defense cooperation between the United States and foreign countries and to increase the ability of foreign national military and civilian personnel to absorb and maintain basic democratic values and protect internationally recognized human rights.”

But Iraq’s political history is not the only problem CENTCOM RO faces.

“One of the greater difficulties we have is we conduct our training in English, so we first have to get some of our customers up to a certain level in English. So they spend a lot of money going to the Defense Language Institute before going to Fort Rucker [Ala.], for example, for helicopter training. But that also applies to customers elsewhere, such as the Far East,” Roman said, but added the top challenges remain the volume of work and the unrelenting operations tempo.

“There is a lot going on, a lot of needs and requirements. There’s not really anything we can’t do, but it’s hard to do everything at the same time. If you are focusing your energies in one area, you may not be doing all you should in another. Basically, everything we touch over there is important and we probably could do better if we had more resources, but it takes time to get that up to speed. We get a lot of support from DoD, [the Department of Defense]and the Army in helping us manage our programs, but looming deadlines on withdrawal and knowing how important it is to have a self-sufficient Iraq is a constant challenge.”

From the first Gulf War in 1991 to the past decade of combat and nation-building and now continued support after the withdrawal of U.S. forces has been a long road of change, not only for Iraq, but for U.S. security assistance efforts. In Roman’s view, however, that journey should not end in January 2012.

“I would hope we are in this for the long run. If you look at the surrounding countries and what we have done in FMS support to them, our military and security forces are hard at work. In Saudi, for example, we have a 30-year program to help the Saudi national guard stand up as a fully modernized force. The Saudi Facilities Security Force has only been under way there for a year and it will no doubt take a long time to help the Saudis upgrade and defend their infrastructure,” he said.


An Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) MI-17 helicopter lands to pick up commandos during a training mission in Khanjarkhel, Parwan province, Afghanistan, March 10, 2010. The ANSF commandos were attending the ANSF Air Assault Academy at Bagram Air Field. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Horace Murray

“And I can see similar things happening in Iraq, where they have a lot of important infrastructure – military and civilian – that needs to be modernized and protected. So I can see us remaining engaged with them for the next 10 years or more, helping them sustain and modernize.”

For both the short and long terms, CENTCOM RO’s focus will be on its role in building a security assistance organization responsible for executing whatever programs the United States now has or may have in Iraq.

“In Europe, those are called offices of defense cooperation and tend to be the face of DoD to the defense establishments in those countries. We don’t really have that built yet in Iraq, so that is the next stage, working together with the Iraqi government to move toward a mature, established security systems organization,” Roman continued. “That organization will be up and running in Iraq shortly, but building the relationship and feeling our way through the learning curve will take time, not only in Iraq, but in the U.S., to grow the experts we need to man these organizations.

“It is a very robust structure within DoD that handles security assistance, with thousands of people spread throughout the world. And whenever you stand up a new structure, as we did in Eastern Europe and are now doing in Iraq, it takes time to get all the pieces in place. And the Iraqis need to attend training courses in the U.S., such as IMET, to learn all they need to do, as well. We will help them develop that training package and they will send military officers and civilians to take that training and form whatever structure they think they need within their MoD to coordinate and work with our security assistance organization.”

Whatever the future for CENTCOM RO in Iraq, the experience already has had a major impact on adapting to the demands of FMS in a wartime environment. Among those was the creation of an Equipment Distribution Review Board, co-chaired by the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and the commanding general of AMC, with support from the Army staff.

“That board reviews the most critical FMS cases for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and our coalition partners fighting alongside us, and has been extremely helpful in supporting FMS execution for all those,” Tucker said. “Another thing we have done is hold weekly meetings with our teammates in the Army Security Assistance Enterprise, focused on key FMS cases and topics around the world. One of those sessions each month is focused either on Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan.”

Roman added that the Review Board has become a major contributor to identifying and resolving problems CENTCOM RO has encountered in Iraq.

“If we are having issues with contracting, for example, we now have thousands of people outside CENTCOM helping determine what can we do to provide more resources to expedite contract award,” he said, adding there have been a lot of successes as the process has evolved.

“For example, we normally take about 120 days to process FMS cases; for Iraq, we have a self-imposed 65-day limit. That’s our benchmark and we don’t always get there, but we do the best we can given all the things we don’t control. We handle everything for Iraq on a priority basis and have delivered a lot of equipment in a very short timeframe.”

Unlike previous wars, however, USASAC and others do not have the luxury of time to evaluate lessons learned in Iraq – all such now must be tailored for the ongoing war zone effort in Afghanistan.

“The parallel I see between Iraq and Afghanistan is basic force structure. They relied on the Soviet model, where officers did everything; we’re helping them build an NCO corps, which is the strength of our military,” Roman said. “But helping them professionalize their military obviously will take awhile. You have to change the culture, the mentality, put incentives into the structure, often go back into the legislative body and create laws to help establish that.

“So it isn’t just something done within DoD. It’s an entire infrastructure that is needed to allow that to take place, rather than just having conscripts come in for a year or two and then they’re gone and have to be replaced.”

Funding, personnel, and experience within CENTCOM RO also are critical to the USASAC mission – and all will be undergoing significant changes in the next few years.

“The people I’ve come in contact with working the Iraq program are under a lot of pressure, but it’s amazing what they’ve been able to do. They are all professionals who know how important this effort is and I know they spend a lot more time making this work than they are being paid to do,” Roman said.

“As time passes, however, the money for USF-I will dry up, as will supplemental funding Iraq and Afghanistan have been receiving from Congress. That means we will have to rely more on Iraqi national funds. So while overall program values may go down somewhat now, in the long run they may increase as Iraq builds its infrastructure and they get their oil industry back on line, for example.”

For Afghanistan, a more stable environment may enable them to exploit newly discovered large deposits of high value minerals. Unlike Iraq’s oil industry, however, Afghanistan has no legacy mining capability, so building the required infrastructure and industrial and business expertise to properly exploit that potential will take many years, even under the best of circumstances.

Meanwhile, USASAC will continue evolving its security assistance structure to deal with future requirements from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nations within CENTCOM and the other regional COCOMs.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons in security assistance and cooperation over the past few years with Iraq, in terms of organization, procedures, and resources. And we intend to apply those lessons, not only in Afghanistan, but as we work with other nations around the world,” Tucker concluded. “That includes being proactive when the supported nation has a tight timeline for capability development, looking for ways to expedite the FMS process, which is sometimes considered to be lengthy and cumbersome, and, in terms of organization, making sure we have the right folks overseeing case preparation and execution in support of that nation.

“The last lesson is teamwork – the Army Security Assistance Enterprise is a team of teams, first within AMC, between USASAC and the Life Cycle Management Commands, but also working closely with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Defense Exports and Cooperation and the contracting offices within Army Contracting Command. That team has come together to provide capabilities in Iraq and has made us successful in providing FMS support to Iraq. We’re now doing the same in Afghanistan and taking those lessons to our work with other nations around the world.”

This article was first published in U.S. Army Materiel Command: The Army’s Premier Provider of Materiel Readiness, 2010-2011 Edition.


J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...