WASHINGTON — The US Army plans to expand prepositioned equipment next year for Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America, as it has in Europe — including gear for disaster relief and the special operations community, officials said.
The Army, which sees itself as stretched to respond to unforeseen global crises on a tight budget, would use the equipment to save the time and cost of shipping materiel when it deploys to hot spots.
"Prepositioning stocks is extending our capability to potential areas where they would be required for use, so the closer we can extend it to the tip of the spear, the easier it is for us to react as the president directs," said Lt. Gen. Gustave Perna, the Army's deputy chief of staff for logistics. "The whole globe is our responsibility, frankly, and we have to be globally responsive."
The plan began with the Army's ongoing placement of a full brigade's worth of heavy equipment, including tanks and other armored vehicles, in Germany. This European "activity set" is meant to be used by troops rotating into the region from the US, part of US efforts to reassure European allies with a series of exercises in the wake of Russian aggression
The president's proposed 2016 budget includes $51 million for the vehicle maintenance facility at Grafenwoehr Training Area.
The Army's prepositioned stocks are not new. Army Materiel Command (AMC) manages sites around the globe — in the US, Europe, Southwest Asia, Northeast Asia, and afloat in the Indian and Pacific oceans — with a coming addition in the US Southern Command area of operations.
Activity sets are generally smaller, scalable, unit-sized caches supporting theater-shaping and deterrence activities, operations, exercises, and regionally aligned forces. Draft plans have called for equipment to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, as well as heavy armored vehicles.
To move a heavy force by air can take more than 20 days, but prepositioning sets of equipment can significantly reduce that time, said Maj. Gen. Steve Lyons, commander of Army Combined Arms Support Command and the sustainment school at Fort Lee, Virginia. The concept also acknowledges that geopolitics may not always support the kind of access it takes to move such a force.
"If I have to move the equipment, obviously, it's going to take a lot longer to generate combat capacity," Lyons said. "And if you're already there, you don't have to work through so many anti-access/area-denial issues. That's the whole purpose of positioning."
Army officials at a sustainment conference hosted by the Association of the US Army on Wednesday provided few specifics of the plan, as exact locations and timelines are still in talks, but confirmed Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno had recently approved the expansion in concept. In the process, the Defense Department's geographic combatant commands and Joint Staffs will have discretion over final plans.
AMC's deputy commanding general, Lt. Gen. Larry Wyche presented some details of the plan. Activity sets are being considered for Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Bangladesh. South Korea would receive a route clearance package of equipment, US Southern Command will get humanitarian assistance and disaster relief sets, and additional resources would go to US Central Command, where Army logistics officials say they found Iraqi sustainment capacity much diminished since the 2007 US withdrawal.
For Pacific Command, an area of operations that covers half the globe, locations, costs and contents have been proposed, with a timeline of 2016 for the first fielding and 2017 for the second, according to Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman, commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. Part of the effort involves carving out access agreements with host nations.
"[Odierno] has recognized that the types of capabilities we're looking at, for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief or port opening, are capabilities that can help in any kind of response, whether a natural disaster or contingency operations," Dorman said. "Now it's just a question of where we source it from, line it up with the money.