Official: Sustainment Skills Key in Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2011 — As the Unit­ed States wraps up oper­a­tions in Iraq and looks to scal­ing back its force in Afghanistan, a senior defense offi­cial empha­sized the impor­tance of ensur­ing that Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s nation­al secu­ri­ty forces have the main­te­nance and logis­tics capa­bil­i­ties they’ll need.

The U.S. goal is to leave Iraqi and Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces able to con­trol activ­i­ty along and with­in their bor­ders, John B. Johns, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for main­te­nance pol­i­cy and pro­grams, said last week at this year’s defense logis­tics con­fer­ence.

A huge part of that effort, Johns empha­sized, is mak­ing sure the two nations are able to main­tain equip­ment the Unit­ed States and oth­er coali­tion part­ners have sold or pro­vid­ed them.

“If we don’t teach them how to oper­ate it and sus­tain it and what an insti­tu­tion­al logis­tics sys­tem looks like that will enable them to con­tin­ue to gen­er­ate and sus­tain readi­ness, then we will have failed,” Johns told the audi­ence.

“All the years we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan will be wast­ed,” he said, “because we failed to train and advise them on how to sus­tain their mil­i­tary and police forces.”

Johns not­ed, for exam­ple, that 140 M1 Abrams tanks are to remain in Iraq when U.S. troops depart. Although the Iraqis have a long his­to­ry of tank main­te­nance, nev­er before have these tanks been equipped with a jet-like tur­bine engine.

“We all know … how jet engines sur­vive in the mid­dle of the desert — or don’t sur­vive, depend­ing on how you main­tain them,” he said.

Long-term main­te­nance con­tracts aren’t the answer, Johns said, due to the high cost of pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty for those con­trac­tors.

“It’s more expen­sive than the actu­al main­te­nance and sup­ply oper­a­tions,” he said. “They can’t afford it. They don’t want to afford it.”

This under­scores the point that capa­bil­i­ty isn’t based sole­ly on what the Unit­ed States gives or sells to the Iraqis or Afghans, he said. “It’s gen­er­at­ed by how we train them to oper­ate and main­tain,” he said. “And if we miss this point, … we will have made a seri­ous mis­take.”

Johns said the train­ing mod­els estab­lished in Iraq and Afghanistan are like­ly to set the stage for future U.S. engage­ments. Deployed U.S. main­tain­ers and logis­ti­cians have split their focus, sup­port­ing U.S. warfight­ers, but also advis­ing and train­ing host-nation nation­al secu­ri­ty forces in these skill sets.

This dual-focus mis­sion “won’t be the last,” Johns pre­dict­ed, empha­siz­ing that the Unit­ed States must con­tin­ue to train its own forces to con­duct both mis­sions suc­cess­ful­ly.

“At this point, the skill sets and demands required for our main­tain­ers and logis­ti­cians to engage this way with for­eign mil­i­taries is crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant,” he said, not­ing this involves more than just an abil­i­ty to “move stuff in the­ater in sup­port of U.S. oper­a­tions.”

Also essen­tial is an abil­i­ty to “see cul­tures in a dif­fer­ent way, [and to] step out­side what we have been doing in the past and rec­og­nize what might work for a for­eign police force or mil­i­tary,” he added.

“These skill sets don’t just hap­pen,” he said. “And we can’t for­get this.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)