Procurement: February 24, 2005

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During the 1960s, the U.S. Army lost a decade of procurement and development of new weapons and equipment in order to pay for the Vietnam war. It wasnt until the 1980s that the army recovered. Determined not to make the same mistake twice, the army is including, in the budget for war on terror operations, money for its transformation projects. The army was just getting started with a similar transformation in the early 1960s, when it was sidetracked to send, over a decade, several million troops to Vietnam (hundreds of thousands of them more than once.) Back then, the new technologies were a new generation of helicopters (especially the UH-1 Huey), new weapons and equipment for the infantry and new tactics. A new tank was in development, as were many other weapons and radical electronic gadgets. 

Sounds familiar? Well, todays transformation may be dealing with the same issues, but this time the army has convinced Congress that the new items are essential for fighting the war on terror. So the army is getting $12 billion a year just for the transformation items. In addition, a lot of the money used to buy weapons and equipment for Iraq and Afghanistan operations, ends up buying newly designed gear. For example, the widespread use of roadside bombs in Iraq has led to the development of new detection devices, and more vehicles that can handle clearing the bombs, and land mines. The many convoy attacks led to the development of many types of add-on armor for trucks. Many more UAVs and UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles) were developed to deal with security needs in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The army got some new equipment out of Vietnam. Night vision devices and remote sensors were two. And helicopter technology advanced even faster than the army had hoped. But this came at the expense of the larger number of army units that did not go to Vietnam. Today, entire units are sent over to Iraq and Afghanistan. During the 1960s, units were sent to Vietnam, and kept there for years, as the troops were replaced piecemeal. The current situation is very different, with entire units being sent overseas, and then replaced as a unit. One new angle to this unit replacement approach is that units often leave most of their major equipment behind, especially when they are being replaced by a unit of the same type. But one bad side effect of the Vietnam era has survived. Back then, and now, units not headed for a combat zone often lost some essential equipment so that those in harms way were as well equipped as possible. This process also included taking people as well. As a result, during the 1960s, units not in Vietnam were often understrength in terms of troops and equipment. This hurt the readiness (for combat) of these units, and hampered their training as well. This time around, with most army units either in Iraq, just back from Iraq, or getting ready to go to Iraq, no one is really getting shortchanged. The rule remains the same; everything must be done to make sure units headed for a combat zone have all their equipment, and training. 

Another lesson the army learned, and applied, was not to lose the combat experience gained. After the Vietnam war was over, the army shrank, losing over a third of its strength. Worse yet, many of the World War II and Korea war veterans reached twenty years of service during the 1960s and early 1970s, and many retired. At the same time, the draft was ended, cutting off a supply of high quality troops. The first few years worth of volunteers were not nearly as good. Through the 1970s, the army had a rough time with discipline and training. These were seen as a very dark period. Many current generals entered the army at that time, and dont want it to happen again. Apparently, a lot of the moves made by the army leadership are to insure that it doesnt.

 


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