Two Years in Iraq: Meeting Needs of Changing Battle Space
By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 21, 2005 On the second anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom's "shock and awe" attacks on Baghdad, the Army's senior logistician today described the challenges and changes involved in keeping today's forces equipped and on the move, compared to past conflicts. Three primary differences distinguish the war on terror from wars of the past, Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
The first is the enemy itself. "Today we face an enemy unlike any we have ever seen before," he said. The second is the physical geography. This is the first war in which U.S. forces do not "own all the land" he said, referring to the noncontiguous nature of the battle space. There are "little islands that are relatively secure," he said, "but they are not well-connected."
This poses all kinds of problems, Christianson said. "You have to be able to secure very long lines of communication -- routes that can stretch up to 400 miles from the source of supply to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that need those supplies."
The third major difference, he said, is complexity -- dealing with joint forces and coalition partners as well as contractors, other nations and nongovernment organizations, all providing support. "That's much different from even five years ago," Christianson said. To make it easier to provide logistical support to the battlefield, Christianson said, the Army focused on four major areas. First was the need to connect all the logisticians so they could "understand and sense what was going on all across battlefield," he said.
"Where before you could run up and down secure roads to get what you need," he said, "today moving even 30 to 40 miles can be very dangerous. So, connectivity is critical to success." Christianson said the answer to the problem is "non-line-of-sight communications" -- satellites -- that link the battle space to providers, whether forward-based or back in the United States. The satellites enable suppliers to understand what is happening on the battle space and respond to it.
He said satellites have cut response time dramatically, enabling requests for equipment and supplies to be fulfilled in hours, rather than a week.
The second area of focus was to put in place a distribution system that could respond once the logistical requirements were known. The third, Christianson said, was an ability to rapidly get forces off ships and planes and into the operating area.
Finally, he said, the supply chain itself must be integrated from end to end - "from the foxhole to the factory."
One good example of this -- and also an example of the differences between the war on terror and past wars, Christianson said -- was the urgent need for armor protection for both individuals and vehicles.
At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he said, the initial requirement for armored Humvees was very small -- about 250. The requirement today is up over 10,000. At the start of OIF, the national production capacity was 15 per month. Today it's more than 500 per month.
The same is true of individual body armor, Christianson said. "When OIF started, we all had the older Kevlar armor. The new armor, just developed, was designated primarily for Special Forces. However, "once the war started," he said, "we immediately wanted to provide that higher level of protection for everybody."
It was impossible to deliver tens of thousands of sets, so the armor was prioritized for those considered most at risk, such as infantry. "In this war, however, some of the people most at risk are not infantry," he said, citing truck drivers as an example. The total Army requirement for body armor today is just over 840,000 sets, and "we'll reach that this year," he said. "We've been able to outfit everyone going into the operational area for just over a year now, and every soldier going into Iraq has the newest body armor."
Christian said the biggest challenge of the war in Iraq is fuel. U.S. and coalition forces use 800,000 to 1 million gallons of fuel every day. Most comes from Kuwait, Turkey and Jordan, he said, and the roads from there to Baghdad are very long.
The original objective was to, over time, buy fuel directly from Iraq, Christianson said, but the Iraqi oil infrastructure was badly neglected. The goal going forward, he said, is simple: to gain as much efficiency as possible.
Christianson called the men and women who work in the forward areas "absolutely incredible."
"In fact, if you wanted to list the No. 1 thing that went well from the very first day, and continues today, it has to be the performance of the individual," he said.
They have endured unbelievable hardships in delivering support, he said, especially knowing that they are the primary target for the enemy. "But they always deliver," he added.
"I continue to be impressed every day with the quality of our men and women. They share a common understanding of their purpose, they know their teammates depend on them, they are well trained, and they just perform marvelously every day," he said.