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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Meanwhile, at Anniston Army Depot

On the home page of tomorrow's WaPo, I see a link reading "Military Equipment Wearing Out," and my first reaction is: "Well, duh!"

But it's actually a very good story, written about some very dedicated people in uniform who are very much "behind the scene," and a serious problem they're confronting to the best of their abilities.  This article reminds me of historical accounts I've read recently (sorry, I can't readily lay hands on a link to a source) which emphasized that besides the simple numerical superiority the U.S. had in World War II with, for example, our ubiquitous (if individually inferior) Sherman tanks, another little known advantage we had over the German army was our ability to to pull wrecked tanks off the front lines, refurbish them, and put them back into combat. (The German Tiger and King Tiger tanks, by contrast, were extremely difficult to recover, and once one was knocked out, it was probably lost forever to the German war effort, whereas three or four of the half-dozen Shermans it might take to knock out that Tiger would eventually be put back into service.)

John Milton wrote that "They also serve who only stand and wait," but the modern-day corollary to that might be, "They also serve who may be behind the front lines, but who bust their butts doing maintenance and upkeep and logistical support." Particularly in conflicts like those in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the "front lines" are fluid if nonexistent, some corporal in northeastern Alabama who's repairing and updating a Bradley Fighting Vehicle is contributing very, very directly to the war effort.

Surely we owe them, and the troops they're supporting, enough of our tax dollars so that their lives and their mission aren't compromised through lack of repairs, replacements, and upkeep.

Posted by Beldar at 01:15 AM in Global War on Terror | Permalink


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(1) Stephen made the following comment | Dec 5, 2006 8:33:18 AM | Permalink

Well, you have to remember that for many of the WaPo folks Alabama is like a foreign country, a military function there doubly so.

I don't know if one of the writers has a summer place or perhaps a Grandparent there, but they periodically have a feature piece about people who live in Southwestern Virginia, and they occasionally read a bit like an account of a 19th Century general interest magazine writer's time among the Tierra del Fuegans. ("People ... assembling sheet metal ductwork ... for eight dollars an hour? ... 'Swounds!")

(2) craig mclaughlin made the following comment | Dec 5, 2006 12:52:05 PM | Permalink

Besides the difficulty you mention in tank recovery, the German army also had insufficient spares--Albert Speer talks at some length in his memoir about how crippling that was to the German war effort; Hitler insisted upon boosting tank production at the expense of spare parts, and ultimately at the expense of overall combat effectiveness.

The U.S. military then and now has one of the highest 'tooth to tail' ratios among armies. This is usually reported as, and sometimes is, a bad thing-- God knows there is plenty of waste and inefficiency. But often it is good. One thing we've learned that many of our adversaries (and allies) haven't is that 10,000 well supplied and equipped soldiers can generate and sustain more combat power than 30,000 poorly supplied and equipped ones. As the old saw goes: amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk strategy and real professionals talk logistics.

(3) DRJ made the following comment | Dec 5, 2006 10:22:05 PM | Permalink

I agree with Craig. Logistics is the key to winning or losing a war, especially a prolonged war.

(4) Gayle Miller made the following comment | Dec 6, 2006 10:20:39 AM | Permalink

Unfortunately, the amateurs will soon be in charge of the funding in the House of Representatives!

Thanks you folks who sat on your hands and didn't vote to "teach a lesson" - jerks!

(5) ajacksonian made the following comment | Dec 6, 2006 11:46:27 AM | Permalink

I think this is the first time in military history that we have *not* heard about delivery SNAFUs... in point of fact I am hard pressed to think of a war in which a side that has advanced and is not being pressed in its homeland has actually run out of stores due to lack of production capacity. The military has transformed in more than one way and logistics is the amazing part of it. The problem with getting HMMV armor out was *not* trasport/shipment or inability of the stores system or delivery system, but production. Same with bullets in 2004-5... the US had to buy ammo from other countries because our production wasn't high enough. Batteries face a similar problem. The logistics side has advanced far enough so that it even feeds INTEL. Amazing and little looked at...

(6) El Jefe Maximo made the following comment | Dec 7, 2006 8:14:48 AM | Permalink

I'm at work and away from sources, but other points bearing on the German Army's somewhat deficient service capabilities are (1) by the time we were in the ground war in a big way, the Germans were mostly losing their damaged and broken-down equipment -- they were generally retreating; and, (2) the German Army, which had a less capable logistical apparatus to begin with -- only got worse in this area as the war went on, both because of losses to these support formations (particularly in the East -- this is where encirclements and defeats like Stalingrad and Operation Bagration came in); and because the front line troops got calls on the best replacements. In any case, rear echelon formations were being constantly combed for people to put in the infantry.

The German spare-parts/repair situation was made worse by the plethora of models of equipment -- including lots of captured foreign material.

The American logistical achievement is all the greater when you consider that everything had to be shipped across the ocean; and that we were building and producing for the allies as well -- plus running two separate wars. These issues, particularly transport, imposed some constraints - the Sherman is one such -- potentially heavier replacements (with wider tread width) in development would have adversely affected the sea transport picture.

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