Afghanistan now stands as the longest war in U.S. history. Between Iraq and Afghanistan the U.S. Army has been fully committed for more than eight years. As a result, it has had to address the problem of maintaining an adequate forward deployed force while providing a rotational system to ensure units can be adequately trained and equipped for deployment and then, once they return to home base, reset for the next deployment. In response to the need for continuous deployment of forces, the Army created a transformational force generation model, termed ARFORGEN. As described by the Army, ARFORGEN “is the structured progression of increased unit readiness over time, resulting in recurring periods of availability of trained, ready, and cohesive active, Army National Guard, and U.S. Army Reserve units prepared for operational deployment.” For ARFORGEN to be successful all elements of the force generation process, including the provision of adequate soldier clothing and operational equipment, must be synchronized in order to ensure the continuous and predictable availability of forces.
Providing sufficient forces on a continuing basis to meet the demands of protracted conflicts is only one of the Army’s challenges. Another is to ensure that those forces were properly equipped. This includes everything from vehicles protected against the threat of IEDs to the clothing and equipment for individual soldiers. As it sought to meet the demands of protracted dismounted combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army discovered that in many ways its soldiers were poorly equipped. Soldiers were writing to their families asking for commercially available clothing and equipment, including boots, night vision goggles and even body armor.
In response to this problem, the Army established the Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI). The RFI expedites acquiring and fielding up-to-date clothing, boots, helmets, body armor, night vision gear, tool kits and administrative supplies for deploying units. The RFI manages 64 items as its standard list of soldier equipment and clothing. The goal of the RFI is to ensure that Army units never again deploy for combat inadequately equipped. As technology evolves or the battlefield changes, so too will the RFI’s list.
But now that defense budgets are under pressure there is the danger that the Army will revert to its prior approach of underfunding soldier clothing and individual equipment. In order to guarantee a high level of operational readiness for units preparing to deploy, the Army must tie the RFI function directly to the ARFORGEN process. The RFI equipment list can evolve over time as part of the Army’s biennial cycle for altering ARFORGEN. Thus, as units prepare for deployment, the nation can be assured that there will not be a repetition of the early experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If RFI equipment is tied to ARFORGEN, then the Army must also establish a line item in the base Army budget to support RFI and ensure that the equipment on the RFI list is provided to all units preparing for deployment. In order to respond to ARFORGEN, a stable level of support for existing RFI items must be maintained even in an era of tightening defense budgets. The Army needs to establish a program of record for the RFI equipment and ensure funding in the base budget.
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