By C. Todd Lopez
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Feb. 22, 2013) -- The reset of equipment returning from Afghanistan may be affected by sequestration, said the commander of U.S. Army Materiel Command.
The cancellation of reset would affect post-combat repair for about 1,000 vehicles, 14,000 communications devices and 17,000 weapons, Gen. Dennis L. Via, commander of U.S. Army Materiel Command, or AMC, told an audience of about 500 Thursday at the Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare Symposium.
Retrograde of equipment from Afghanistan is now underway, Via said. About $22 billion worth of military hardware, weapons, vehicles and goods will move out of the country back to the United States. Some of that will be put back into the force, while some will first be reset in Army depots, made like new, before being sent back to a unit.
Army Materiel Command is largely responsible for that retrograde.
FISCAL UNCERTAINTY AND RESET
Via said in fiscal year 2012, AMC depots reset 24 brigade combat team-equivalents worth of equipment. But sequestration will affect what AMC is able to do in the way of reset during fiscal year 2013.
Sequestration, he said, will affect every AMC command and organic industrial base facility, with the exception of those in direct support of combat operations and units that are deployed and preparing to deploy. It will also result in cancellation of depot maintenance during the 3rd and 4th quarter.
"The challenge that we have in FY 2013, with the planned cancellation of new work orders for the 3rd and 4th quarter, is that is going to impact on six Army divisions of equipment," Via explained.
Sequestration may also bring furloughs to Via's civilian workforce across the 20 depots and arsenals that make up the Army's "organic industrial base."
"The greatest risk to me, as commander, is losing this critical workforce that we have developed over the last 12 years," Via said. That workforce includes uniquely skilled mechanics, machinists, engineers, artisans, scientists and contracting professionals.
RETROGRADE UNDER CONTACT
Even thought equipment is already returning from Afghanistan, Via said commanders there are still in "a very tough fight" as they work to transition the mission to the Afghan National Army.
"So it's retrograding while in contact, and I don't think there could be any more complex mission than what we face there in theater there today," he said.
Still, Via said commanders in Afghanistan are on board with the retrograde process, and are working with AMC to make it happen.
"They have fully embraced retrograde as an operational mission," he said. "By embracing retrograde as an operational mission they will help us as we prioritize equipment to leave the theater. They will prioritize non-mission-essential equipment that we can remove from the theater, and we've got processes in place to be able to do that."
Lessons learned from the retrograde out of Iraq, a process that is still ongoing, have helped inform the retrograde process in Afghanistan, Via said. During a trip to Afghanistan in January 2012, he learned it took about 90 days to ship a vehicle out of country after it had arrived in the Redistribution Property Assistance Team, or RPAT, yard. Now, he said, that process is down to fewer than 12 days. That, he said, is due to lessons learned from the Operation New Dawn retrograde.
But unlike the initial retrograde from Iraq, where some equipment could be shipped to Afghanistan for use there, the retrograde out of Afghanistan, Via said, must be back to the United States.
PAKISTAN ROUTE REOPENS
Getting that equipment out of Afghanistan has been helped by a recent "thawing" on the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication, or PAKGLOC, the route to move supplies south out of Afghanistan through Pakistan. That route has been closed to traffic for some time.
But to date, Via said, movement on the PAKGLOC is "not to the levels we need, of course, and not to the levels we previously enjoyed over a year ago. But we began to see some movement there."
Via said there is also a northern route out of Afghanistan, through India, called the Northern Distribution Network. Moving equipment that way is more expensive than through Pakistan.
Via told an audience of about 500 that he thought retrograde from Afghanistan would be on target if adequate funding is provided to make it happen.
"We think we will be able to meet what the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army have laid out, the priorities of the equipment to come out," he said, adding that there is a challenge still with sequestration and fiscal uncertainty.
The goal is to get the equipment out of country by the end of December 2014, but as equipment starts to surge out of Afghanistan, there will be a cost increase, just as there was a cost increase with the surge for that equipment going into theater.
"That's a challenge we face going forward," Via said.