While not quite meeting the full criteria for classification as “unintended consequences,” the urgency and alacrity surrounding the acquisition and fielding of the U.S. military’s joint Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle fleet has provided some unique logistics challenges. Program representatives recently provided an update on some of these challenges, together with multiple related logistics support actions now unfolding around the world.
Speaking to the recent 2010 Tactical Wheeled Vehicles Conference, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association and held in Monterey, Calif., Paul Mann, MRAP program manager, observed that MRAP “is not just one program. It’s very unique.” To prove at least one unique aspect, he asked “all of the program managers [in the audience] managing $40 billion in three years to raise their hand.”
“So we are in a very unique situation,” he said. “It’s never been done before – at least we’ve never done it before – and it has some very unique challenges about it.
“By the end of this year, we will have built and fielded nearly 26,000 vehicles,” Mann said, crediting the strength of the government team and industry support for program success to date.
“What about this [MRAP] requirement?” he posed. “That’s the great question everybody always asks. And industry always says to me, ‘We can do this. Can you just tell us how many you want and when?’ And here’s the answer: No. We won’t tell you until we absolutely, positively need it tomorrow, because we are at war and that’s how this process works. That’s not to say that there isn’t work being done on the strategic end. I know that’s going on and we are rolling it into the strategy. But the truth of the matter is that the war is changing rapidly and these MRAPs were not part of anybody’s plan three years ago. They just weren’t. And 26,000 of them were absolutely not part of anyone’s strategy three years ago.
“In January 2008, we needed 588 RG-31s to do MRAP stuff in Afghanistan,” he said. “By the end of this year, our family of vehicles, with [Program Manager] Route Clearance and [Program Manager] Assured Mobility, we are talking 12,000 mine-resistant vehicles there. And the requirement keeps changing every day.”
Mann pointed to challenges further exacerbated by U.S. desires and efforts to support coalition fighters, adding, “We already have nearly a dozen cases, not in large quantities, but we are fielding to 10 other countries simultaneously with our own forces.”
Emphasizing that the MRAP fleet represents “a family of vehicles,” Mann alluded to references he has heard involving “dozens of configurations” within the fleet.
“The truth of the matter is that we have prototyped more than 500 combinations of GFE [government furnished equipment] integrated with MRAP variants,” he said. “And the number of permutations keeps changing. We think that’s just the way it is. Technology and warfighters keep thinking up what they need and industry keeps delivering.”
Offering a summary of “what is rocking our world on MRAP,” Mann said, “We’re still fielding. We are building 1,000 a month of the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles [M-ATV], which we consider to be just another MRAP. So we are fielding those at a rapid rate and we are also trying to convert any vehicle that’s in Afghanistan … with independent suspension systems [ISSs]. And we are looking for ways to increase survivability by increasing the mobility of the MRAP vehicles. And industry figured it out. We’re buying [the ISS upgrade] and we are going to keep converting as fast as we can. But the bottom line is that we have got a lot of vehicles that may get into that theater [Afghanistan] before they are upgraded. It’s a little difficult but we have got a lot of work to do in theater.”
In terms of readiness, he cautioned, “If you delivered it, it’s got to be available. It’s not good enough to just hurry up, build it, integrate it, ship it, transport it, turn it over, and then have it fail immediately. So we worry about readiness every day. In a year or two, we will be worrying about the cost metrics of it but right now we are doing whatever we need to keep that [readiness] metric high across the fleet, with an extreme focus across the fleet of readiness drivers. It’s greater than 95 percent in Afghanistan, which took a huge nosedive initially, but is coming back to life because of your support of the readiness drivers.”
To elaborate on the work being done in theater and elsewhere, Mann turned the podium over to Col. Kevin Peterson, military deputy program manager for MRAP.
Peterson emphasized the high priority that the MRAP places on the rapid fielding of survivable vehicles, but also acknowledged the criticality of underlying logistics issues.
“Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates gets a weekly update that is focused on three major areas of the MRAP program,” he began. “One is M-ATV production. Another is independent suspension system upgrades on MRAP vehicles. And the third is ‘readiness.’”
Characterizing the MRAP program as “a global enterprise,” Peterson then proceeded to offer “a walk around the world MRAP” with special emphasis on some of the logistics activities taking place.
“I believe that this is the busiest we have ever been,” he said. “And the reason why is the complexity of what we are doing now and the simultaneous nature of where it is going on in multiple locations.
“I talk about MRAP as ‘the ultimate team sport,’” he added. “That begins with a robust ‘PM Forward’ operation. The key to this operation is our Joint Logistics Integrator [JLI] – SAIC [Science Applications International Corporation] – who we brought on early. And the reason I highlight this fact is that with all of our sites in Iraq, we have our JLI representatives there; the same with Kuwait; and the same in Afghanistan.”
On June 24, 2009, SAIC announced its receipt of the “prime single award blanket purchase agreement (BPA) by the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) to support the Joint Program Office (JPO) … MRAP vehicle by providing MRAP … JLI and Operational Readiness Services. The first task order under the BPA has a one-year base period of performance, one 12-month option, and one six-month option, and is valued at more than $357 million if the options are exercised. Work on the task order will be performed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and at locations throughout the U.S. as required.”
“Another one of the things across this enterprise that has been key involves LNOs [liaison officers],” Peterson continued. “We actually put people on the ground. We have an LNO with U.S. Forces Iraq in Baghdad. We have an LNO with U.S. Forces Afghanistan in Kabul. We have an LNO with ARCENT – Army Central – in Kuwait. And we even have an LNO with SDDC [Surface Deployment and Distribution Command] for transport. And that’s kind of the glue that keeps us going. For our current footprint right now we have just under 2,000 people in forward operations and some folks are also back in our ‘virtual ops cell’ in CONUS [continental United States], within SAIC.”
Shifting to “downrange” activities, Peterson noted that he had recently taken a team to Iraq, adding, “We only made it to Balad this time, but the biggest thing that hit me in the face was that clearly we are ramping down, but there is still a lot of activity in Iraq. And what we told the team there was that since the center of gravity has shifted to Afghanistan, make sure you scream loud and hard when you need capability. We are cascading a lot of combat power out of Iraq. We are [transferring] quite a bit to Afghanistan and originally a lot of those vehicles were heading back to CONUS for home station training.”
Peterson acknowledged that remaining functions include both battle damage repair and sustainment maintenance. Moreover, with the Marine Corps leaving Anbar province, there are currently less than 200 MRAPs in Multinational Forces-West with those vehicles soon to cascade through Kuwait for ISS upgrades prior to re-fielding to Afghanistan.
“But the thought I’d like to leave you with here in Iraq is that the mission is far from done,” he said. “There is still capability that is going in. It is well-coordinated as we go forward but it is ramping down.”
The “hub” of MRAP forward logistics operations is in Kuwait, where activities range from MRAP training of troops prior to combat deployment to
the new MRAP Sustainment Facility (MSF).
“When we first started this program, we needed a facility in Kuwait – in the vicinity of the port and the airport – such that we could de-process vehicles and put them either on aircraft to go up into Iraq or Afghanistan, or to put them into convoys,” Peterson said. “Little did we know that new missions would continue to pop up. The first new mission involved the RG-31s that came out of South Africa and we needed the capability to do the SPAWAR [Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command] [electronic integration] – forward work. So we expanded what was then the MDF [MRAP De-processing Facility] to address that mission. We later went into an MRAP armor program. Long story short: The MSF has grown into much more than a de-processing type of capability, to provide us with flexibility in that region of the world for anticipating actions for the MRAP program.”
He continued, “Currently, as we are talking, with the buildup in Afghanistan, the MSF has become critical to CENTCOM [Central Command] to ‘re-mission’ vehicles coming out of Iraq and on their way to Afghanistan. The other major operation going on there is the ‘Cougar’ ISS upgrade. And it is setting up for putting the independent suspension systems on the SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command] vehicles and continue to go from there. It’s a great capability that we have there. We also have a Route Clearance Modernization Facility in that same park there as we also off-ramp our route clearance equipment from Afghanistan to Iraq.”
A recent weekly MSF inventory reflected the successful “re-missioning” of 40 MaxxPros, installation of ISS on 45 Cougar vehicles, and suspension enhancement of six Caimans.
Echoing the criticality of the MSF efforts, Mann interjected that the program was still being pressured “even when we deliver 100 vehicles per week out of that facility. This facility didn’t even have a requirement before. And now we aren’t going fast enough. So it’s ‘the MRAP way’ that no matter what you do it isn’t fast enough, even when it’s faster than it has ever been done on planet Earth. Isn’t that inspirational? So, to Col. Peterson’s point, just like production here, the ‘re-missioning’ there is a very dynamic requirement and we are trying to keep up with it. But it is very, very challenging.”
Shifting to Afghanistan, Peterson observed that his most recent trip highlighted the fact that “everybody is focused on getting capability over there quickly with the surge.”
“We are operating out of five sites currently,” he said. “Fortunately, around last fall, as we started towards M-ATV and the simultaneity of the mission going on, Paul [Mann] and I sat down and decided that we were going to need more help in Afghanistan. And OSD [Office of Secretary of Defense], fortunately, helped us by giving us five commissioned officers that we have in each one of the RSAs [regional support activities] out there. Our country lead, for example, is an Air Force lieutenant colonel in Bagram. We have a Navy lieutenant commander out in Jalalabad. And we have a Marine captain at another site. And it’s critical that we did that. The mission here is growing by leaps and bounds. We are currently ramping to field up to 500 M-ATVs a month and now we are re-missioning MaxxPros over there as well as route clearance vehicles. It’s just amazing what’s going on in there right now.
“Through the partnership with the 401st AFSB [Army Field Support Brigade], we are conducting sustainment and battle damage repair with a current forward footprint of about 600 folks right now,” he added. “Our pacing items are, in fact, facilities and infrastructure. I raise that because one of the things we are really trying to synchronize right now – and having a difficult time – is that the customer in theater has an attention span of about 180 days. If you cannot effect change on his systems and platforms in about 180 days, he is lifting and shifting towards the next thing that’s going on. What we know internally – our OEM [original equipment manufacturer] partners and within the project office and test community – is that suspension systems are going to be a pacing item in Afghanistan.”
Peterson was quick to correct “the myth that ISS is a Marine Corps program,” stating, “It is, in fact, a joint program. It is a key capability that we are looking at across all of our vehicles focused on going into Afghanistan. We have prioritized suspension systems based on readiness. The Cougar platform in that environment was having the most impact with axle breakages and suspension failures. And that’s why we addressed the Cougar first. As you look at the joint program, the Marine Corps is almost pure-fleeted with Cougars. Therefore, when readiness dipped due to the suspension items, that’s why we rallied around to hit that vehicle first.
“A little known fact is how MRAP vehicles get passed around the joint battlespace,” he said. “The Army, in fact, is operating 515 Cougars in Afghanistan. We are trying to synchronize and figure out how to put the suspension upgrades on those vehicles. The TAK-4 suspension systems have been procured. But the challenge is how to implement them and do it forward.
“The next variants in the hopper are with our special operators over there,” he added. “We are currently integrated on the RG-33 and RG-31 that they use. That’s how we’ve selected that next variant to go. And now the Navistar family is going to grow to a significant density in Afghanistan as well. So they will be the next in the hopper. So there is ‘method to the madness’ of fleet management in terms of how we are doing this.
“Where’s the commonality? It’s M-ATV. It has the independent suspension system as well, with a lot of NSN [National Stock Number] parts commonality as well for the sustainment part, which rocks my world on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Peterson summarized, “That’s all kind of what’s working in the background right now that we are trying to synchronize with a customer who has a very near-term kind of mission – and rightly so. But that’s some of the ‘why’ behind what you are hearing out there with where we are going.
“The last point on Afghanistan, for the logisticians here, involves the establishment of a Joint Solutions Support Center [JSSC]. And what the JSSC is all about is that, while ‘walking the ground’ in Afghanistan, we ran into an issue with MRAP parts. If you think about the force structure and types of units that we put into that theater, for the most part, they were light infantry. If you go back to a TO&E [Table of Organization and Equipment], a light infantry unit has, organically, about a dozen Humvees. And then they have the mechanics and all of the other enablers.”
Noting the explosive growth in MRAP requirements in Afghanistan, Peterson said that the critical enablers did not grow at the same rate.
“Also, one of the secrets to success with MRAP, with the help of DLA [Defense Logistics Agency] and many others, was that we did a lot of ‘Type 2’ NSN and rapid procurement of parts at the assembly level,” he said. “What got us with that was the footprint. We loaded the SSAs [Supply Support Activity] down with a lot of parts that they couldn’t manage. So the JSSC was, one, a total package fielding warehouse for the PM, so we could package PLLs [prescribed load lists] and parts to support fielding. But secondly, it gave us a dedicated group of folks who were watching MRAP parts that industry provided.”
And just as the growing expertise of that dedicated group became an unanticipated benefit, it is exactly the type of expanding logistics foundation that will become increasingly critical when, as Mann projected, emphasis starts shifting toward the cost metrics of the vehicle family.
Meanwhile, against this background, senior Army service planners are working to refine a future Tactical Wheeled Vehicle strategy that addresses the need to integrate the MRAP family of vehicles back into future fleet structures, with at least one recent estimate projecting the integration of 12,291 MRAPs and 3,391 M-ATVs into future Army roles and missions.
Regardless of the final fleet numbers, it’s clear that program representatives will continue to build upon lessons learned today to meet the logistics challenges of tomorrow.
This article was first published in the 2010 Defense Logistics: Supporting the Warfighter supplement to The Year in Defense.