WASHINGTON -- History teaches us that victorious armies owe much of their success to their ability to provide effective and timely sustainment to their forces. Whether it be food, uniforms, fuel, munitions or major pieces of equipment, the effective and efficient provision, maintenance and distribution of all of these requirements are absolutely essential to the success of the warfighter.

The current state of materiel readiness in the Afghan National Army (ANA) is dire with regard to vehicle fleets and weapon serviceability. With no break in fighting on the horizon, the reset of equipment in preparation for the 2016 spring-summer campaign must take place in very short order.

Yet systemic problems continue to plague ANA supply-chain and maintenance-production capabilities. A deeper analysis of the multitude of challenges that ANA faces quickly reveals that there is no single quick fix for the current situation; instead, it calls for a system-of-systems approach to correct inherent structural flaws in established support processes and systems that are preventing the ANA from reaching adequate equipment readiness.


Identifying the primary issues is the first essential step. Through a methodical and deliberate review of the ANA end-to-end sustainment process, the following major systemic problems become quite clear:

-- Ineffective life-cycle management: Little to no requirements validation, analysis, prioritization, accounting, demand planning, forecasting, etc.

-- Oversized, aging fleets: Vehicle fleets have reached end-of-life dates, and life-cycle replacements have not been planned, programmed and purchased with the requisite lead time.

-- Vehicle-to-maintainer ratio is out of balance: The numbers of Afghan regional maintainers and armorers at the corps level are insufficient.

Over time, these factors have resulted in a steady decline in equipment readiness rates and an erosion of ANA combat power. Arresting the decline to get back on a path to improvement requires immediate action. The following solution set of programs and process changes are necessary to develop a sustainable, affordable and feasible means to improve the operational readiness of ANA's combat power.


First is the need to firmly establish a sustainable Afghan life-cycle management program. As many people with experience in Afghanistan will attest, the concept of time--specifically projecting into the future, at least from a Westerner's perspective--can be quite difficult to relay to our Afghan partners. We routinely plan out activities into the future, at least five years at a time. Our entire Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution system is based on this, with overarching strategy documents reaching far beyond that. Life-cycle management of a weapon system is quite similar in this regard, in that it is foremost a planning activity on which to base prudent, informed resourcing decisions.

This can be quite challenging to overlay onto the Afghan psyche, processes and systems, which focus primarily on the immediate to near-term future. Complicating the issue even further has been the coalition's focus over the past several years on the tactical fight and on equipping the nascent ANA at all costs, from year to year, using varying sustainment strategies and philosophies as coalition personnel have changed out annually. The result has been a ragtag fleet of aging vehicles in varying states of disrepair with no coherent plan for sustaining them effectively and affordably into the future--a future with much tighter fiscal constraints than during the height of the 2009-12 surge.

While the challenges are significant, the coalition has achieved recent progress in taking a more holistic approach to the primary combat power and enabler fleets, establishing a baseline for fleet requirements and a plan to standardize models while also setting realistic recapitalization targets based upon end-of-life projections that are specific to the operational conditions of Afghanistan.

In fall 2015, the Resolute Support life-cycle management team set about the task of performing an analysis on one of the fleets with fewer vehicles to establish a framework from which to conduct other analyses. This trailblazing initial effort leveraged the team's expertise in maintenance, acquisition, supply chain and transportation to deconstruct the fleet, and set conditions-based planning factors for how long the ANA could expect to maintain vehicles economically while achieving at least 85 percent equipment readiness.

From these analyses, the Essential Function 5 (EF5) life-cycle management team formed and presented courses of action that, for the first time, established a deliberate life-cycle management plan five years forward that identifies and codifies predictable recapitalization points in a lasting, living document. More importantly, the plan has become a tool from which to train, advise and assist the newly established ANA Logistics and Materiel Readiness Office based on the coalition's concept of "what right looks like."

This methodology is now being applied systematically to each of the major vehicle fleets and has become the standard for making life-cycle planning decisions. While not an earth-shattering achievement from the standpoint of modern defense logistics, it was a milestone achievement, changing how we think about applying life-cycle management principles within the context of a fledgling logistics planning capacity.


While effective life-cycle management is a primary requirement, overall fleet sizing follows closely behind. Fleet sizes grew unconstrained as the ANA developed in size and capabilities with equipment provided by the coalition. Missing from this growth was an assessment of requisite operational needs (troop-to-task), life-cycle costs and affordability. One of the first "aha" moments from the life-cycle fleet analysis was that the fleets need to be right-sized to essential levels necessary to maintain full operational capability.

As an example, the existing ANA High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) fleet consists of 9,860 vehicles on hand in four major armored models and four unarmored models. The majority of the armored fleets were delivered between 2008 and 2011, with the last deliveries in 2012.

The armored HMMWV has a life cycle of 7.5 years in Afghanistan under current conditions. These vehicles, while robust, have begun to exhibit systemic and repetitive faults, which have increased the cost and frequency of repair after the vehicles reach the end of their life cycle. Without intervention, vehicles will continue a debilitating cycle of recurring fault and repair, culminating in catastrophic failure of a key component.

The current status of the HMMWV fleet life cycle is critical; 56 percent of the fleet, or 5,544 vehicles, is beyond its 7.5-year life. These vehicles must be either replaced or reset to zero miles in order to refill to current required and approved fleet capacities. Furthermore, the total cost to replace the out-of-life-cycle armored HMMWVs with new factory replacements is roughly $1.65 billion. This includes associated costs such as shipping, without the weapons, electronic countermeasures and communications systems that would be necessary.

In years past, the coalition has purchased new vehicles for life-cycle replacement as the vehicles aged out. This is expensive and incurs not only vehicle cost but also high transportation cost to deliver the vehicle to theater. If the coalition continued to replace HMMWVs with the current methodology at the authorized fleet size levels, we would replace 14,903 systems at a cost of roughly $3.9 billion over the next decade. That is clearly unaffordable given future programmed resource levels.

Thus, right-sizing the primary fleets, especially noncombat power fleets such as the Light Tactical Vehicle, is necessary and must be programmed into future Tashkil authorizations. (For more on the Tashkil change process, see "Bringing Afghan Defense Forces Under Budget,") This will be no easy task, as Afghan cultural norms dictate that more is better, regardless of readiness and affordability. Yet ANA leaders are beginning to understand that in a resource-constrained environment, higher readiness at the price of fewer systems--especially those that do not contribute directly to combat power--is a prudent and necessary trade-off that preserves warfighting capability.

Closely linked to the fleet sizing issue is the imbalanced maintainer-to-vehicle ratio as a result of systemic shortages in maintenance personnel. In many corps, maintainers are not serving as mechanics in their positions. Rather, they are consistently assigned to other duties and spend little time actually performing maintenance functions. This lowers readiness and keeps maintainers from learning and mastering their trade. By comparison, the U.S. Army standard for the appropriate ratio of wheeled vehicle mechanics to vehicle systems is 1 maintainer for 15.6 vehicles.

The current inventory of trained ANA mechanics assigned to a Tashkil position is estimated at 2,800. Of these, it is unknown how many are actually working within their established maintenance positions. Based on fleet density, the ANA requires 3,527 mechanics capable of operator- and unit-level maintenance (10/20 levels); that means the ANA would be more than 600 mechanics short if it were at full strength. As an example of an effective sustainer-to-readiness ratio, the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle fleet of 600 vehicles has more than 2,000 10/20-level ANA mechanics trained and certified by the original equipment manufacturer. This fleet's readiness rate is steady at over 85 percent. This exemplifies the benefit of getting the right ratio of maintainers to vehicles.


A number of discrete actions, inextricably linked and mutually supportive, are necessary to remove the most significant barriers to improving the current deplorable state of materiel readiness plaguing the ANA and adversely affecting combat effectiveness.

Taking all of these actions in a holistic, methodical approach will strengthen each link of the ANA supply chain, and individual members will more clearly understand the importance of their contributions to the overall system. We can no longer tolerate the status quo; we must demand process improvement at all levels. Such an approach will improve processes without breaking the system, collectively building workable Afghan solution sets to fix problems and create pride in ownership.

For more information, call Headquarters, Resolute Support, EF5 Afghan Defense and Security Forces Capabilities and Performance (ANDSF Sustainment) at DSN: 318-449-7847.

This article was originally published in the April - June 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.