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Ret. Col. Mike Sweeney: Fix the military supply chain to reduce US casualties and save taxpayer money

Lance Cpl. Luis Duran, squad automatic weapon gunner with Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, carries water jugs during a resupply mission to the town here, June 30, 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan Wright/Released)
July 19, 2019

We prepare for the ensuing danger while our troops are on the frontline. Yet, 52 percent of casualties come not from combat, but from resupplying those troops. A little more than half of the approximately 36,000 U.S. casualties that happened over a nine-year period during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom occurred from hostile attacks during land transport missions, mainly associated with resupplying fuel and water.

Reducing the dependence on supply chain challenges, which the military refers to as “the tail” would serve not only our service members well but would also reduce the burden to the taxpayer.

As an example, Camp Leatherneck, in Helmand Province Afghanistan, was home to more than 19,000 residents when I commanded Task Force Belleau Wood in 2011 and 2012, which in addition to conducting counterinsurgency operations, was responsible for the operations, safety and security of the largest base in Helmand Province.

On any given day, hundreds of vehicles required entry to the facility to support the food, fuel and supply requirements needed to keep the people and installation operating at optimal capacity. Some were military convoys, others were contracted vehicles often operated by locals. All were exposed to risk while traveling well-recognized corridors to support U.S. and Coalition Operations. It was not hard for our adversaries to figure out and implement means to hamper logistical support. The next war or conflict may not require the need for such an installation but reducing the logistical requirements in any endeavor saves lives. Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “An army marches on its stomach.” Today’s tactician knows that an army depends on fuel and water first.

Emerging technologies are making the U.S. military more lethal on the battlefield.  We should also capitalize on the improvements and technologies on the logistical side, which reduce risk without reducing capacity and capability.  By reducing fuel and water requirements, the U.S. military becomes a more lethal and capable force.  Traditionally, the U.S. military uses more than 100 million barrels of oil every year to house, fuel, feed, and sustain operations.  We can do better, by reducing logistical requirements while reducing the logistical “tail” needed to sustain operations.

One area that can assist is the use of available efficient and lightweight housing structures that reduce logistical support requirements. An increase in energy efficiency, integrated technology and reduced water consumption due to enhanced technologies equate to a reduced logistics tail, which improves safety and security. Fewer trucks on the road and less exposure to threats equals fewer vulnerabilities and a more effective fighting force.

Investment in structures that can be deployed, constructed and de-constructed by fewer people – using hand tools rather than cranes, heavy equipment and welding machinery – is crucial. We’re not only minimizing manpower and construction time, we’re also reducing the warfighter’s risk of injury from working with heavy machinery and exposure to military threats during construction.

I used the word “investment” above because these improvements are an investment up front for our military. Reducing the time, money and workers needed for base camp construction is key to ensuring our military’s forward operating bases run more efficiently – but all military spending needs to be justifiable. The Fiscal Year 2020 Budget requested $750 billion for national security, $718.3 billion of which is for the Department of Defense (DoD). This base budget is partially used to strengthen our armed forces. Strengthening our military bases is a strong case for the spending. Studies show that while base camps constructed with current expeditionary structures typically cost less to acquire than insulated rigid structures, the ROI on a more efficient military camp produces between $27 million and $49 million in fuel savings and maintenance over the span of 15 years.

And still, these figures do not take into consideration the benefit to the morale and welfare of troops living in better, quieter and safer environments. Replacing standard housing options (cloth and metal shipping containers) with more eco-friendly structures allows money to be reallocated towards greater defense technology. The study also proves the more technologically-advanced structures are able to run completely on solar, allowing for up to 8.7 hours of silent operations. The numbers speak for themselves – it’s about time we invest in an upgrade.

Mike Sweeney is a retired Colonel from the U.S. Marine Corps who served in a number of command and staff positions. In his spare time, Mike works with World Housing Solution to help create portable housing solutions for the military.

All opinion articles are the opinion of the author and not necessarily of American Military News. If you are interested in submitting an Op-Ed, please email [email protected].