WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is looking into expanding to expand the prepositioning of gear around the world over the next year, as it attempts to counter both a proliferation of challenges worldwide and a smaller-than-expected budget.
In a Dec. 18 interview, Maj. Gen. John Broadmeadow, Vvice Ddirector for Llogistics (J4), told Defense News that he expects to see the use of prepositioned assets to grow in the near future — but emphasized that every decision on whether to preposition capabilities needs to be carefully weighed.
"I'm a big believer in prepositioning done right, with the right amount of mental rigor and resourcing that goes into maintaining the gear in the right conditions and right place, gains you not just great effectiveness but also good efficiencies in using your gear," Broadmeadow said. But, "there are a couple downsides to that, particularly with land-based prepositioning."
He pointsed to two main downsides to prepositioned gear. The first, he saysid, is that leaving gear in one spot means that an enemy could react and try to bring that location under threat. For instance, if a significant amount of gear was stored on the border with Russia, the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin could move some of its S-400 anti-aircraft systems nearby, suddenly putting that location under what Broadmeadow called the "threat ring."
The other problem, he pointed out, is the sheer cost of maintaining the gear.
"You can't look at prepositioning as just warehousing. If all you're thinking of doing is warehousing a bunch of equipment, you've made a mistake, because what is going to happen is the gear is not going to be in combat-ready condition," he explained. "You've got to put the maintenance effort into it. You've got to put the money to maintain that gear in combat-ready condition."
That upkeep includes making sure software is updated and hardware is kept in such a state "when a force does fall in on them and hits the start switch, it actually does start and doesn't start leaking," he noted.
He also noted that thinking through potential prepositioning of equipment is key with the amount of excess gear the Pentagon plans to shed in the coming years.
"We'll divest what we're supposed to divest — it doesn't make economic sense to hold onto all that gear — but it doesn't make economic sense to divest ourselves of all of that excess gear," he said. "If we're going to store it, let's do it the right way, and that's that balance — how much of it should we put into expensive, forward-based prepositioning? Some of it needs to go out there."
The concept of prepositioning is not new, but it has received a boost in attention over the last year.
In June, the Pentagon announced it would be placing 250 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers throughout six countries that are close to Russia under the aegis of the "European Activity Set." The funding for such gear in Europe will see a boost in the FY 2017 budget request, according to Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord.
The Army, in particular, has expressed interest in increasing the amount of gear stored around the world. With officials announcing in June that the service intends to have prepositioned sets in the Pacific by 2016.
Speaking to Defense News in October, Gen. Dennis Via, head of Army Materiel Command, indicated he was considering more prepositioning options. Army leaders, including former Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, have stated that the Army has to keep positioned assets forward in order to speed up response times to crisis, both military and humanitarian.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general of US Army Europe, told reporters earlier this month that he wants to see the National Guard joining in on the European Activity Set prepositioned mission.
"Well what I have offered to the Guard for example, if the gGuard wants to put equipment in Europe, which I would love, we could add that to the [European Activity Set] sites — so take advantage of that — or it may go into Germany for example if the gGuard chooses to do that, but I don't see additional EAS locations," Hodges said. "Certainly we are always looking for the possibility if the Army is going to put more equipment in Army prepositioned Stocks — APS — for deterrence. We are looking at places for that too but I don't have a formal decision on that."
Broadmeadow, too, called out the APS program as one that could be expanded, but noted that prepositioned gear of all kinds, including humanitarian sets, are something worth looking at.
"You're seeing this all over. We see [humanitarian disaster, humanitarian relief] sets, we see operational sets, really starting to play a much more important role. And it think you'll begin to see that" expanded, he said.
Jen Judson in Washington contributed to this report
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.