Logistics: The Perfect Target

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January12, 2007: Since September 11, 2001, some $20 billion has been spent on civilian firms providing logistical support to American military operations in the United States and ten foreign countries. While this money went to over 34,000 contractors, most of it was controlled by a few larger firms, like Halliburton (and its subsidiary, Brown and Root). That caused some stink in the media, because all that money being managed by one firm provided enough scary stories of things gone wrong, to attract lots of journalists. The reality is rather different. But no one has come up with a better way to get this work done. Using military resources won't work, because those resources don't exist.

The military, of all nations, have been using civilian contractors for logistics and combat support, since ancient times. The reason is simple, the civilian economy usually has more resources than the military, and can mobilize these resources more quickly. There were some exceptions to this in the 20th century. During World War II, the fighting in the Pacific was often in such remote areas, and the American economy was to totally mobilized for a major war, that is was easier for the military to bring in its own construction, logistics and maintenance people. Even then, most of the shipping was run by civilian crews, and, where available (as in Australia), civilian firms were hired to build and maintain bases, and provide other support services. Then, at the end of World War II, billions of dollars in assets were basically dumped in the ocean or abandoned on Pacific islands. Most of the half million or so sailors and soldiers who manned this operation disappeared in a few months, as they returned to civilian life. It just wasn't worth it to try and salvage much of the infrastructure built on those Pacific islands, or even ship it back home.

When the Korean war came along, most of the logistical support was provided for by Japanese, South Korean and American contractors. In Vietnam, civilians again took the lead in building and maintaining the logistical support system. In the aftermath of Vietnam, the U.S. Army took a close look at its logistical arrangements and decided to organize the process of mobilizing civilian firms for wartime support operations. The army could also see domestic disaster relief situations, where the army is called in, as also in need of some systematic planning. So in 1985, the LOGCAP (Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program) was formed. LOGCAP was used in the 1990 Gulf War, Balkans peacekeeping, several other operations in the 1990s, and throughout the war on terror.

The biggest problem LOGCAP runs into is when combat commanders demand that certain things be done quickly, regardless of cost, and those things are done. Auditors and reporters come in the wake of this sort of thing, finding plenty of excess costs and fraud. But therein lies the problem. If you want it done with minimal waste and fraud, it's going to take a lot longer. If you want it done right away, it's going to cost you. It is possible to reduce the waste and fraud, but that means training military personnel who can oversee the LOGCAP contracts, catch the waste and fraud, but not get in the way of accomplishing the work on time. The military has not been able to attract a sufficient number of people to this "oversight" job. The military doesn't pay enough, and these people would spend most of their time doing nothing (except getting ready for the next emergency, and trying to look busy.) Currently, it's considered more practical to just take the hits from headline hungry Congressmen and journalists, and get on with the job.

 


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