The recent surge of forces in Iraq has proven so successful that the Army may soon begin revisiting prewar plans for the rationalization of its domestic logistics network. Supply centers and repair depots are once again reflecting on what their long-term roles should be, and in the process showing a good deal of imagination.
The Sierra Army Depot is about an hour north of Reno, Nevada in the California desert. It is a huge place with a motivated management and labor force, and is well-positioned for west coast/Pacific theater military contingencies. The depot’s specialty is low-priced storage and supply-chain management, with some repair work on the side. Sierra also has a 10,000 foot runway that can handle C-5s and C-17s, and is the Army industrial base’s IT infrastructure test-bed.
But unlike most other Army depots, Sierra has a miniscule private presence inside its gate, and is far away from the center of the Army industrial base, where the big maintenance and repair facilities reign supreme.
Sierra is driving itself to bring more private companies inside its government fence, and the clear business and political benefits that come with partnering. Candidates include container specialists like Maersk Line, global supply-chain managers like FedEx and UPS, and vehicle makers like BAE Systems and AM General.
Sierra already gets good assistance from its high-powered Senators from California and Nevada, especially Senators Reid and Feinstein, but in the competitive Army depot world with big gorillas like the Anniston and Red River depots and the Defense Logistics Agency always breathing down your neck, new muscle and ideas are always necessary.
Sierra has thousands of military vehicles stored in the desert, which is the perfect environment for preserving metal assets from capricious weather. These include hundreds of tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and howitzers. Hundreds of additional tanks and other vehicles are expected to be delivered to Sierra in 2008, and it is a logical place to store and even help repair the huge MRAPs after the war.
Policy-makers will need to figure out what is going to happen to all the heavy armor in Iraq and Afghanistan, including thousands of uparmored Humvees, in the war’s aftermath. Will the next contingency require as much force protection as Iraq and Afghanistan, or will it be lighter and more mobile? What should be done with all the extra armor being fastened onto vehicles at a time when our industrial base is stretched to the breaking point? The new administration on the way in the door next year will have to deal with these questions at a time when the Army is faced with huge new personnel, repair, and modernization bills.
Sierra may afford the Army with the space, labor and climate to deal with some of these difficult supply-chain and fiscal challenges. And that depot may also be an opportunity for defense companies looking for new business in the post-supplemental, post-Bush defense arena.
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