Article Published in Defense News
On September 10th, 2001, our military, industrial, and intelligence apparatuses were not well configured for the terror war. Yet they have responded with impressive speed and success. America has sliced up Al Qaeda, overthrown two terror regimes on the other side of the world, realigned a third, and surrounded a fourth and a fifth. Not only are Syria and Iran completely surrounded by American allies and troops, but four of the five immediate neighbors of Syria are now democracies.
Few would have predicted that on September 12th. Nor would they have predicted America would go four and a half years without another attack on CONUS. The “away game” launched by the American military-industrial-intelligence complex has thus far kept our families and cities safe for 53 months from further attack.
Back in the defense aerospace recession of the 1990s, you never would have guessed that within a few years our defense industrial sector—both public and private—could have handled an operation that includes a big NATO mission in land-locked central Asia, the pressed withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and American Marines crossing the Iraq-Syrian border searching for and killing terrorists…600 miles from their sea-bases. But American weapons, logistics, and technology have once again delivered for a global operation that is so ambitious even Napoleon would blush.
In the 1990s public and private sector defense players were fighting over scraps from multiple BRAC rounds, while the public sector depots were being sealed off from private competition by a Congress controlled by supposedly conservative Republicans. Giant defense companies were dabbling in unlikely business ventures like cruise ships and the internet. But as “the long war” unfolded this decade, public-private partnerships emerged at the heart of the defense industrial base and logistics chain, and they are working.
Commercial companies like UPS are flying regular sorties into seven airfields in Iraq, and flying broken parts back to America for repair. Gold-plated industrial giants like Honeywell and Caterpillar are conducting repairs and managing supply-chains for the Army and Navy. And Halliburton’s government services sector, KBR, has emerged as the private sector equivalent of the Defense Logistics Agency. That company is so deep into the anti-terror fight it has now lost 84 dead and 255 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the publicly-owned but privately managed ammunition plant in Lake City, Missouri, the Army and Alliant Techsystems surged from producing 300 million rounds of small caliber ammo to one billion rounds in one year. The surge has been so huge the Army decided it better establish a second source of supply if for any reason this single critical source was disrupted.
The US Navy is driving its Performance Based Logistics contracts from 20% to 50% of the total value of their maintenance budgets, while the Army has thrown open its public sector depot gates to private contractors. The Army Materiel Command’s Anniston, Alabama depot may be the most impressive operation of all. Its civilian government leadership has pioneered public-private cooperation and co-production, starting well before 9-11. General Dynamics manages its M1 Abrams tank lines there, while also doing final assembly of all its Stryker armored vehicle variants at the depot.
At Red River Army Depot in northern Texas, the Army and BAE Systems are also resetting and upgrading Bradley Fighting Vehicles, again as a public-private partnership.
At the Army’s major helicopter repair depot in Corpus Christi, Texas, General Electric has brought LEAN management practices inside the gate and helped the government drive down the engine overhaul time of sand-eaten, weather-beaten choppers by 80%.
In two government shipyards General Dynamics is managing the conversion of four nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines into cruise missile and SEAL platforms, while GD also performs repairs and maintenance on attack submarines at her own Groton, Connecticut shipyard.
At the realigned and privatized Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, Boeing and Lockheed Martin now manage an aircraft logistics center that Air Force logisticians consider an asset as valued as one of their own public depots. There are more people working at Kelly now than before it was BRACed eleven years ago.
What is most remarkable about these initiatives is that military and public sector leaders are more often than not the real drivers behind the partnerships. They recognized that if they didn’t become more efficient they might not be able to deliver supplies and weapons to the warfighter on time. And since they also had to answer to the taxpayer, they might be out of a job. There is no doubt the military services would be doing even more with the private sector if they were not constrained by Congressionally-mandated rules and regulations.
Congress should consider giving the military even more flexibility to use the private sector, perhaps by modifying the 50-50 rule which often restricts the use of private contractors inside the government depot gates. Legislative relief that would allow Performance Based Logistics providers to make necessary and relevant modifications to long-term contracts would also be timely and helpful. Even something as simple as a Sense of the Congress resolution noting the great progress being made on public-private partnerships would help signal the end of Congressional hostility to these useful reforms.
When the airplanes hit on September 11th the US was already in the midst of a recession and stock market crash. But the recession ended the next quarter, and the economy has been growing ever since. Among other marvels of American fortitude and creativity, it turned out we could once again count on our industrial base—both public and private–to deliver, on short notice and at pitched levels totally unexpected by any planners, the hardware and supplies to defeat the enemies of our democratic civilization. As Grover Dunn, a top Air Force logistician told me, “no one ever expects the industrial base to come through. But it always does.”
By Merrick “Mac” Carey, chief executive of the Lexington Institute, and a former senior aide on Capitol Hill
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