After more than a decade of war under some of the harshest conditions and most demanding operational tempos, the U.S. Army and are shipping most of their worn-out combat and utility ground vehicles back home for repair, or “reset.”
Yet, with tightened budgets planned over the next 10 years and election-year politics threatening even more severe spending cuts if Congress cannot agree on a deficit-reduction plan to avoid the Budget Control Act, there will not be much money for big-ticket sales of new equipment.
In turn, the Marines have already evolved a complex game plan—known as the Marine Corps OEF Ground Equipment Reset Strategy—to evaluate what is fixed, replaced or discarded between now and when most U.S. forces depart Afghanistan in 2014.
While the Marines still intend to buy 300 heavy trucks under a 2006 plan, most of the fleet will be repaired and overhauled, Bryan Prosser, program manager at the Program Executive Office for Land Systems, told a ground vehicles conference here recently.
Except for the planned Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) to replace the 1970s-era Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program with the Army to replace most of their Humvees, the Marines have no plans for a wide-scale replacement of ground vehicles worn down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Instead, existing vehicles will be repaired to a serviceable condition to have their usable lives extended by as much as two decades. Both the Army and Marines want to do most of the fixing themselves, at their depots. For the Marines, that means Barstow, Calif., and Albany, Ga.
Thus, while there will not be much of a post-conflict boom for large defense manufacturers, in the secondary market suppliers and refurbishing shops could see a bonanza—maybe.
“You're going to get a lot of the reset at the depots,” says Michael Micucci, vice president for Expeditionary Programs atMarine and Land Systems. “But you're going to get some of the resets within industry also. It just depends on what the military wants [competition in] and [where they] do not want to compete. And it comes down to budgets,” adds Micucci, a retired Marine colonel and former manager of the Marines' Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) program.
But whether reset means restoring a vehicle to its state when manufactured—sometimes decades ago—or upgraded with the latest armor, sensor or fuel economy technology remains an unanswered question.
“Reset is big. That's all we hear,” says Taylor Hayley, director of sales for Skydex, a Colorado-based manufacturer of vehicle floor mats and protective padding for helmets and knee- and elbow pads. “A lot of people are waiting because it's an election year. There's a lot of uncertainty,” he says.
The Marines estimate their reset will cost more than $3 billion, Navy and Marine officials told the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee in April. The Marines also are seeking $1.3 billion in reset funding for ongoing overseas operations, mostly in Afghanistan.
For example, the LAV, mainstay of the Marines' reconnaissance operations, originally was to be replaced in 2015 but now has to be refurbished to continue in service until 2035. “We need to reduce our total full-ownership costs across the fleet,” said James Streberger, Survivability III team leader in the LAV program. “I know that our defense budgets are going to be shrinking beginning this year. We know we're going to take hits,” he told the conference.
“We don't like sole-source contracting. We don't like having to be dependent on one or two individual [companies] to provide us with what we need,” said Streberger. “We need to spread the wealth. We need to spread the capabilities within industry so we have many sources to turn to for help.”
Several exhibitors at the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement conference said they believed few, if any, decisions on contracts and programs would be made until after the November election in the U.S., and were uncertain whether additional budget cuts will kick in due to the budget law's automatic cuts.
“It's taking them longer to release [requests for proposals]. It's taking them longer to award contracts, and I think that may be what's to come and there's just a lot of uncertainty,” said Micucci, adding: “Every government official I've heard talks about sequestration, and they don't know what the outcome is going to be. But it's going to be pretty big.”