The US Army political machine is fighting to retain ten active duty divisions.  The key factor is that American strategic lift can only deploy five army divisions within 120 days.  Since reserve divisions can be mobilized and ready for war within 120 days, what is the point spending billions of dollars each year to keep extra divisions on active duty?  The other challenge for Army Generals is getting "their share" of each year's defense budget when the Army has a surplus of the most modern equipment in the world.  The Army's solution is to form "light armor" brigades, which require less strategic lift and thousands of new vehicles.  While the media is fascinated by Army Chief of Staff General  Eric Shinseki’s beret blunders, they ignore his scam to waste $7 billion dollars to buy thousands of wheeled Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs).

      Two years ago, General Shinseki presented a plan to form several medium-weight brigades to be airlifted overseas and into combat within 96 hours; "fort to foxhole" was the sales pitch, along with a "goal" of landing an entire medium division within 5 days.  Realistically, it would prove difficult to round up and move a light armor brigade to a nearby Air Force base within 4 days, without advance warning.  In addition, the Air Force could only have two dozen transports ready on the flight line within 4 days, only a tenth of what a medium weight brigade requires.  The Army claims that an LAV brigade can deploy in 217 C-17 transport sorties, but ignores the fact that only 120 C-17s are in service worldwide, and most of them are needed to support Air Force and Marine Corps deployments.  Finally, the big problem of logistical support by airlift is evaded by planning for units to deploy with only three days of supplies.

      This concept implies that units will fly from the USA directly to forward airbases, even though C-130s haven't the range when fully loaded.  As a result, the Air Force must provide large C-17s or C-5s to fly these brigades overseas to huge airbases far from dangerous combat zones.  This means that dozens of C-130s must be gathered overseas at the large airbase to shuttle LAVs and troops to an airfield near the battlefield.  In reality, it will take at least 96 hours and all available transports for the Air Force to fly over extra ground crews and their equipment to coordinate and support this movement, and all this assumes there is plenty of fuel, water, food and shelter at these airfields to accommodate this intense activity.

     Aside from the unrealistic assumptions about rapid air transport, this plan raises many more questions.  If these new light armor brigades will be “first to fight”, what is planned for the 82nd and 101st Divisions, the Army current rapid deployment units?   If these two airmobile divisions need light armor firepower, why not convert some of their brigades?   What’s the plan for the Army’s armor brigade pre-positioned overseas on ships?  It requires far less airlift to fly soldiers overseas to link up with their heavy tanks and 30 days of supplies.  Will they wait for weeks while entire light units deploy by air?  The Marines have a division of material pre-positioned on ships overseas; will they wait too?  Will scarce airlift be devoted to flying water, ammo, fuel, food, and light armor overseas while dozens of ships loaded for heavy combat wait in nearby ports for their soldiers and marines to arrive by air?  

      While these questions remain unanswered, Shinseki impressed his fellow Generals by getting an extra billion dollars from Congress to test two "interim" brigades at Fort Lewis, starting what Armed Forces Journal referred to as, more momentum for more money.  Nobody explained why "two" brigades were needed for this test, or why any tests were needed.  The U.S. Marine Corps and Canada already operate LAV battalions, so why waste a billion dollars to prove something General Shinseki had already announced the Army would do?  

        Further controversy arose by Shinseki's insistence on new wheeled vehicles, like the General Motors LAV already used by the Marine Corps.  His predecessor, General Dennis Reimer, had converted a heavy armor brigade, the 2nd ACR in Louisiana, into a motorized brigade based on the $60,000 HMMWV light truck.  LAVs cost many times more to buy and much more to operate.  While their armor is bullet proof, it offers no protection against heavier infantry  weapons, which is why the Marine Corps limits them to reconnaissance units.  Many soldiers argued that the Army should simply upgrade thousands of its surplus tracked M113 armored personnel carriers.  To counter this criticism, Shinseki arranged for testing alternative platforms, which proved the LAV  is less mobile off-road than the M113, and too heavy for helicopter transport or C-130 transport to dirt airfields.  However, the $880,000 General Motors LAV used by the Marine Corps won anyway.  Later that year, the Army deemed it inadequate, and announced that a new LAV-III designed by General Dynamics was needed, which will cost an astounding $2,800,000 each.  This high price includes  "development" costs, despite of General Shinseki's guidance for an off-the-shelf platform.

       The Army has yet to outfit its first two LAV-III brigades at Fort Lewis, but has just announced a plan to “transform” four more brigades: a light infantry brigade in Hawaii, a light infantry brigade in Alaska, the HMMWV brigade in Louisiana, and a National Guard brigade in Pennsylvania.  This announcement has caused even more confusion.  Why spend a billion dollars to transform a National Guard brigade for rapid deployment?  Can these reservists achieve such a high level of readiness that they can deploy into combat with 96 hours, the Army's stated goal?  (Of course not; this is a political game to garner support from certain congressmen.)  Second, Hawaii is a terrible location to base an LAV brigade because vehicle maneuver areas on Oahu are non-existent, and the only large caliber firing range has been closed because of a legal dispute.  Third, despite the myth that the Army plans to "lighten up", the three active light brigades will add LAVs and “heavy-up” to become medium-weight brigades.

       Meanwhile, the Army has no plans for its four heavy armor brigades in expensive Germany, who have no role at all.  When the Army attempted to move one of them to Kosovo, it discovered that there was no overland route through the Alps because several bridges were too weak for 70-ton tanks and several rail tunnels too small, so it took weeks to shuttle them by river barge.  As a result, the 3rd Mech Division in Georgia can deploy tanks by ship anywhere in the Mediterranean faster than the brigades trapped in Germany.  Since the Army already spends billions of dollars each year to keep brigades in peaceful Germany, doesn't it make sense to organize one for rapid deployment by air?  Shinseki  failed to address this issue, but claims his LAV plan will improve forces in the Pacific, but he will move no units.  

     The degree of incompetence in these decisions makes the world wonder if outside influences are at work.  For example, the Army brags that no M1A1 tanks were lost during the 1991 Persian Gulf war because they proved invulnerable to top Soviet tanks, but in 1996 it awarded a $1.3 billion dollar contract to General Dynamics to upgrade 580 surplus tanks to an M1A2 configuration.  These $2.2 million upgrades made the tanks heavier and cost as much as the tanks themselves.  Soon after the first M1A2s were delivered to the 1st "Armored" Cavalry division, the assistant division commander publicly declared them "a piece of crap", due to their delicate and ultra-expensive electronics.  The Army now plans to fix the M1A2 flaws by spending millions to modify them with a "system enhancement package", and wants to expand the M1A2 extra-heavy tank program.  Meanwhile, the Army canceled plans for the airmobile M8 17-ton light tank, claiming it lacked funds.

       Unfortunately, this scandal was ignored and the director of the Army's Program Analysis and Evaluation, Major General David K. Heebner, was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1997 and became the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.  In 1999, just one month after General Shinseki announced a newly created requirement for billions of dollars of LAVs, General Dynamics announced hiring General Heebner to a newly created vice president position.  The amount of his pay was not disclosed, but it was negotiated while he was on active duty.  However, an SEC insider trading report shows that Heebner acquired $300,000 worth of General Dynamics stock within a year of leaving the Army.  General Heebner didn't slide out the back gate to join General Dynamics.  The Army proudly hosted a large retirement party at Fort Myer, complete with Congressmen, the US Army band, and marching soldiers to celebrate Heebner's success.  

       One year later, a lucrative $4 billion LAV contract was awarded to a General Dynamics/General Motors partnership, prompting Harry J. Pearce, Vice Chairman, of General Motors to proclaim "On behalf of General Motors and our defense unit, I’d like to commend General Shinseki, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, for his vision to transform the army for the 21st century into a more agile force through the use of wheeled vehicles".  Mr. Pearce was thrilled since the Army chose to pay more than twice as much as the current LAV price, three times more than it would have cost to upgrade  Army M113s for the role, and forty times more than General Reimer's idea to use HMMWV light trucks.  During the Pentagon briefing to announce the contract, Lieutenant General Paul Kern anticipated reporter questions and proclaimed: "I will not discuss source selection. You probably would all like to go into that part of the process, but that is protected by the federal acquisition regulations, so we will not go into that part of it, other than to tell you that this has been a very exciting time..."

     While the Army pretends to "lighten up", it still devotes half of its operations and maintenance budget for ground equipment to keep its fleet of 5000 General Dynamics M1A1 tanks combat ready for World War III.  The Army deployed fewer than 2000 M1A1 tanks to Saudi Arabia for the 1991 Iraq war, but only a few hundred saw any action.  Heavy tanks are vital, but are expensive to maintain and difficult to move.  Unfortunately, Shinseki has done nothing to shed expensive surplus tanks, and has presented no plans to lighten or move any of the Army's six heavy divisions.  In contrast, Shinseki's primary goal is to buy thousands of expensive General Dynamics armored cars to "heavy up" light infantry brigades.  The US Congress and the American media were shocked that General Eric Shinseki wasted millions of dollars to outfit the Army with new hats.  They should not be surprised that he plans to squander billions of dollars implementing a growth strategy for General Dynamics to make the US Army more costly and less mobile.  

                                                                                  Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com 


September 2001 Articles 

Letters - comments from G2mil readers

Demobilize the US Army - too much money is wasted on active duty manpower

21st Century Battleships - the U.S. Navy's greatest need

Air Burst Bombs - revolutionize air combat

Ballistic Protective Blankets - something grunts need

Volatile Aluminum Armor - aluminum is dangerous when hit

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