Washington: The Army’s strategy to close long-term readiness gaps stemming from its rush to rebuild war-torn equipment is falling woefully short of expectations, leaving service units to come up with their own solutions.
The Army’s R3 initiative has been the blueprint for how the service plans to reset, retrograde and redistribute weapons, vehicles and equipment coming back from Southwest Asia since 2009, Col. Gregg Skibicki, chief of the current equipment operations division in the Army’s resourcing directorate, told me today. His office is spearheading the initiative.
It’s a “living document” the Army updates monthly to keep pace with troop rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. R3 synchronizes “all the [equipment reset] activities from the headquarters all the way through the supply chain” down to the “field level” where the actual repair and reset work takes place, he said. R3 priorities are vetted by all the major combat commands and Army component commands to make sure Army units get what they need, when they need it.
The problem is R3 never coordinated the list of what it needed to fix from the wars in Southwest Asia and what it needs to get ready for the next fight, a yet-to-be released Government Accountability Report claims. “The Army lacks an explicit reset strategy that coordinates equipment requirements with warfighter needs,” according to the report. “There is no metric reported that measures the [need for] long-term reset.” With American troops now coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army simply doesn’t have enough vehicles or gear to support them stateside, GAO says. “The need for equipment will increase as [those] units move into the train [and] ready phase,” according to the report.
GAO analysts acknowledge R3 is a good strategy. But like many things in the Army, the initiative continues to be caught in service red tape. The latest iteration of R3 has yet to be formally approved. And like many things in the Army, individual units are doing what they can to get what they need until the initiative is approved.
Army units rotating back to bases in the United States are “relying on other sourcing methods to fill equipment shortages,” the GAO says. “Units will have to continue to remedy readiness deficiencies through other means and may not have assurance that reset can serve as a reliable source of needed equipment,” according to the report. These ad-hoc fixes will get those units by in the near term, government auditors claim. However they’re only masking the “systematic problems” that lie in the service’s postwar reset plans.
Skibicki dismissed the idea the Army’s overall reset plan is plagued by systematic problems and mired in service bureaucracy as alleged in the GAO report. “There has not been an issue where [R3] has been stuck” in the service’s chain of command, he added. He also dismissed the notion that Army units had to scrounge around for necessary equipment once they were stateside. However he did admit the Army had to push through some growing pains to make the R3 plan work.
At first the Army tried to put all of their reset priorities onto a single to-do list. Service officials eventually realized key reset requirements were being missed because they could not all be covered on one list. “We didn’t realize that for the first six months,” Skibicki said. The R3 plan in place now is broken into two lists. The first list covers the equipment reset needs of units preparing to go into theater. The second list details the reset needs of units who scheduled to come back stateside but have not yet returned. This way Army officials can address unit reset requirements for training and non-combat missions before they come home. They can also make sure a unit has everything they need before they step off, he said. This bookend approach ensures equipment reset needs are known and met before a unit sets one boot onto the battlefield.
The GAO also criticized the Army’s ballooning cost estimates for equipment reset and its apparent lack of oversight of those dollars. Beginning in 2007, the Army received over $32 billion from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill to buy and restore vehicles and equipment lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, “reports do not show whether the Army’s reset execution is consistent with [its] annual planning and budgeting process for reset,” GAO auditors write. Army reports on reset spending do “not distinguish between planned and unplanned reset,” they claim. The Army also has yet to report what its “total reset liability” — or the total cost to rebuild equipment lost in combat – to Congress.
To that point, Skibicki noted the Army provides estimates to the White House and Capitol Hill equipment reset costs 18 months before actually spending the money. “What we have to do is bank on the fact that our estimates on what’s coming out of theater is correct,” he explained. “What we found was we had some things we had not accounted for.” Things like the troop surges in Iraq in 2007 and in Afghanistan in 2009 threw off those estimates dramatically. “We explained it to [the White House and the Hill] they were like ‘yeah, we understand this is what happened’ and that is where the requirement changed.”