What Stays And What

By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2007-08-28 Print this article Print

What Stays And What Goes

The military cares about return on investment, too. But calculating which items to take home and which to leave behind involves more than just cost.

Even before they see official exit orders, military planners are weighing what to take. They must consider the time, manpower and risk of transporting each vehicle, piece of artillery and critical spare parts, as well as whether the item contains any technology the U.S. wouldn't want in enemy hands.

While U.S. troops might leave behind any number of supplies, from bags of concrete to used tents, some items would never be left in Iraq.

A tank, for example, would never remain, even it were beyond repair. To leave a disabled tank invites enemies to dissect it for clues about U.S. communications systems and weaponry, or about how effective their own bombs and firepower have been, according to Maj. Gen. Charles Fletcher, who directs operations and plans for the U.S. Transportation Command. "We would not want that vehicle carcass in the hands of someone in the business of attacking our vehicles," he says.

The question then becomes whether to haul the hulk to the U.S. or another American military base to be cannibalized for spare parts or, like 200,000 other items last year, be demilitarized, with the remains sold as scrap. This year, Middle Eastern companies have bought at least $11 million worth of iron, steel, copper, glass, plastic, rubber and other materials extracted from old U.S. military equipment. So far this year, more than 20 million pounds of scrap have been removed from Iraq, up from 3 million pounds in all of 2006.

Rules of thumb for when to scrap damaged equipment, according to the Defense Logistics Agency, include breaking down the item for its precious metals when it costs less than $15,000 to buy a new one, and turning it into scrap when the cost to replace is less than $25,000.

Each branch of the service decides about its own equipment and sends its disposition decisions to the Transportation Command. The command then costs out a mode or combination of modes of transport, considering the item's size, weight and classification, as well as where it is and where it needs to go. The command sends the options back to the service branch, which picks one so the command can begin to plan movement.

"We have rate structures not unlike FedEx," Fletcher explains. "If we know an awful lot is going to move, we muster resources and create volume efficiencies."—K.S.N.

Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.

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