Thursday, January 23, 2020

Logistics in the Iraq War: "A herculean feat"

“Good generals study tactics. Great generals study logistics”

"If there is an enduring image of this war, it may be that of the supply convoy, a parade of trucks and their protective Humvees rolling across the desert landscape."
Ron Jensen, Stars & Stripes

Two weeks after US and Allied forces crossed the line of departure from Kuwait into Iraq bound for Baghdad in the Iraq War of 2003,  Lieutenant General John P. Abizaid, USA, Deputy Commander (Forward) of the Combined Forces Command/U.S. Central Command, observed:

“I’m certain that when the history of this campaign is written, people will look at this move that the land forces have made in this amount of time as being not only a great military accomplishment, but an incredible logistics accomplishment.”

First Lieutenant Don Gomez was an infantry officer, a rifle platoon leader with the 82nd (Abn) Division in the war. He has written a good deal about the war. In one article,“The Battle of As Samawah,” he commented:

“We were out of MREs (meals ready to eat) and were told to conserve what we had, because we didn’t know when we would be resupplied. This was another one of those things that I didn’t think could happen in 2003 – no resupply?”

Good point. How does it all get there?

The short answer is logistics, an incredible logistics machine.

That is the focus of this story —- sustaining troops in combat, at war. This report looks at the 2003 US-British invasion of Iraq, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). This look is broad brush, and only covers the first couple weeks — the complexity of all this is mind-boggling.

Brigadier General Jack C. Stultz, USA, then commander, 143d Transportation Command (Forward) noted:

"With the combat troops of Iraqi Freedom moving at a faster pace than ever before, the ability of logisticians to keep them supplied was taxed but never in danger of breaking down.”

Lt. Colonel Wes Gillman, USA, commander 1-30 Infantry, 3 Bde, 3 Infantry Division, described it this way:

"We move fast. We use the night. We move with a small force forward and you are able to react to contact. You try to bring your logistics trail up."

The man or woman providing the logistics support had to overcome significant complications and obstructions to stay pace with the fighting force. That was the main challenge.

Next time you watch TV News and see our military forces responding to war or to rapidly evolving contingencies, I want you to think about how all that stuff was ready and available for them to fight. It is staggering and, I must say, stunning.

The Army's Field Support command wrote in a March 2005 study:

"The build up and use of prepositioned equipment started increasing after Operation Desert Shield/Storm (Free Kuwait, also known as the Gulf War). After the Gulf War there was a pressing motivation to reduce the time-frame it takes to deploy and equip soldiers on the battlefield.


Indeed for 12 years following Desert Shield the Army maintained a heavy brigade combat team set of equipment in Kuwait."

It was clear an armored blitzkrieg was the centerpiece of the OIF plan —- there would be a need for tactical surprise and a need for speed. There would be no strategic surprise. The emphasis was placed on tactical surprise — the tactical surprise would be a very rapid set of maneuvers calculated to get to Baghdad as quickly as possible.

To achieve tactical surprise, the combatants took a “running start.” Combat operations began before all hands, combat and support, were in place.

Additionally, for several reasons, the decision was made, nearly at the last moment, to start the ground offensive before the air offensive, to further the chance of tactical surprise. 

Diane K. Morales and Steve Geary, writing for the Harvard Business Review, said General Tommy Franks, the commander, CENTCOM "envisioned a swarming, rapid, responsive force capable of removing threats immediately: relying on speed more than mass.”

Paul Needham and Christopher Snyder, in their Case Study, "Speed and the Fog of War: Sense and Respond Logistics in Operation Iraqi Freedom-I," said,

"The concept of speed became the underlying theme throughout the war for all commanders."

The advance was to be rapid, very rapid, avoiding cities and towns to avoid getting bogged down in fighting. The objective was Baghdad and removal of the Iraqi government.

As one writer would say, "speed became a culture."

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) maintains sea-based ships around the world uploaded with prepositioned military equipment. MSC began off-roading prepositioning ships in Kuwait for Army exercises in the summer of 2002. Much of that equipment was retained in theater for future use.

Sealift began in a serious way in November 2002 and surged through the beginning of the war.

Assuring there was enough fuel available to propel the advancement for forces was arguably the highest logistics priority. 

Reserve component fuel truck companies were alerted for deployment. Fuel farms were set up in northern Kuwait and prepositioned stocks were moved from Qatar to Kuwait.

There was no opportunity to set up large supply points between Kuwait and Baghdad prior to the invasion. The Army employed what it called “Distribution Based Logistics," or DBL. Rand Corp. described this as meaning:

"Limited inventory to cover small disruptions in distribution flow and enough supply to cover consumption between replenishments. The primary reliance is placed on frequent, reliable distribution rather than on large forward stockpiles."

Once the first tanks breached the border, the logistics forces with their fuel tankers, water trucks and other support began their continuous chase back and forth to keep the front line supplied

They and other logistics activities set up Logistics Supply Areas (LSAs) by following behind the combat force — the combat forces secured the area enough for the logistics people to roll in and set up an LSA. They established forward LSAs about every 50 miles, stocked with some supplies and able to do some maintenance. On occasion, they were setting up the LSA while combat forces were still fighting on its outskirts to secure it completely.

Tom Bowman and Robert Little, reporting for The Baltimore Sun, said Pentagon officials knew the "re-supply operation taking place behind the troops advancing toward Baghdad was one of the most complicated and critical components of the invasion."

One Pentagon planner was quoted by Little saying: 

"This isn't just a refueling operation, it's a massive re-supply chain … We're talking about thousands of tanker trucks, container trucks filled with ammunition and supplies, medical equipment, spare parts, water, food - we're still trying to give them one or two hot meals a day."

The Army and Air Force wanted an airfield to bring in supplies by air and launch air attacks closer to the fighting. For example, Tallil Air Base., shown in this photo.

It first had to be captured and repaired. It was in desperate shape because the Allies had bombed it to smithereens during the first Iraq War and, frankly, it was a wasteland. Wasteland or not, capturing Tallil was a high priority. 

The Global Security organization described Tallil AB this way:

"Everything that does not move is covered in a grayish-brown, powdery dust. The heat is oppressive -- more than 120 degrees in the shade. Open fields and roads bear craters large enough to swallow small trucks. In March 2003, the area around Tallil Air Base looked more like the surface of the moon … After the base fell to coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the landscape was desolate, except for a few abandoned buildings, many of which still had extensive damage remaining from the first Gulf War.


Jim Gammon, reported for Air Force News, said:

"Tallil, the former Iraqi air force field, was a wreck. The Iraqis had built berms across the runways to stop U.S. airmen from using the facility. The buildings all were missing windows; there was no tank farm to refuel aircraft. In short, there was nothing that U.S. airmen could salvage to use … Fuel, ammunition, maintenance facilities, security forces, medical facilities -- they all had to be brought in to the field."

US forces captured the base. Logistics convoys from the south arrived shortly thereafter as did C-130 transports, flying in low and fast to avoid enemy ground fire.

The first A-10 Warthog air-to-ground fighter flew in a few days later. This was a huge advantage as the A-10s would be able to support the run against Baghdad directly from Tallil. This all went on while fighting continued about 10 miles away.

The advancing forces avoided towns and cities. That allowed the supply line to run through the desert areas.

Commanders took everything they could with them, which lengthened the convoy tails traveling with the combat force. Quite often the roads would get choked. Most of the time MPs were not with the forward forces and therefore were unavailable to clear up the choke points.

Projecting a unit's demands in battle is a far different challenge than projecting a unit's demands at home during exercises. 

The bottom line was the forces, combat and support, would have to make a great many adjustments on the run. And adjust they did. Once combat operations were underway, units were shifted around to meet battlefield needs, which affected how they would be supported.

For example, the 2nd Brigade 82nd Airborne was sitting in Kuwait when the order came through to get up and move. The men expected to jump in to Tallil. Instead they drove to the objective by truck.

Lt. Gomez said:

"(They were) old Army trucks that I had never seen before.”

He said they were utility trucks, uncovered, not combat vehicles. And apparently the men of the brigade would have to drive the trucks themselves in what was sarcastically called a "Ground Assault Convoy," an outrage for airborne forces trained to conduct airborne assaults!

 On their way, the Gomez said:

“(As we approached the objective area) I looked out at an endless sea of military equipment. There were trucks, tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, and steel containers for as far as I could see … The enormity of what we were doing started to hit me. We were only days into the war, and all of this equipment was here, ready to be switched to kill.”

In another instance, a US force was close to a cement factory. The troops "requisitioned" bulldozers and dump trucks from it, dug and transported clay to a location where engineers were constructing an airstrip, then combat support troops mixed the clay and the quick drying composite, laid it down in a 3,500 ft. runway, and stood ready to accept C-130 transports in and out. 

Then came a huge challenge. A hellacious sandstorm, known as the shamal, or to the troops, the "mother of all storms," blew through Iraq. It affected the progress of much of invasion force. Everything slowly turned a yellowish-orange color, decreasing visibility, dropping to 10 meters. Carl Drews wrote:

"Ochre dust and grit worked its way into every crevice of every weapon, garment, and vehicle."

Lt. General Wallace, USA, the Army’s V Corps commander, called the dust storm the “low point of the entire campaign for me.”

In an interview with PBS Frontline, he commented this way:

"The weather really sucked. It's hard to describe. ... You could literally not see more than about 30 or 40 feet with your naked eye. The whole area was engulfed by this orangish, reddish haze -- it looks like one of these old science fiction movies of folks walking around the surface of Mars. I mean, there's just red haze, and then it started raining. And because of all the particles suspended in the air, as the rain hit the ground it was actually a drop of mud, and it began to cake on the vehicles. ...

"… The sandstorm hit at the same time the logistics base was needing to be built, and the sandstorm ... slowed down our convoys. ... I remember vividly a supply convoy from the Corps Support Command that had two days of supply of water and food for the 3rd Infantry Division, but it took them four days to get there. ... So the sandstorm was a low point in that it slowed us down; it slowed down our momentum and it slowed down our ability to build our logistics."

General Tommy Franks, USA, the overall commander also commented on the storm:

"The big sandstorm was even worse than predicted. Reddish brown dust formed a high dome in the western desert and rolled over southern Iraq - and over 170,000 coalition troops. Visibility dropped to 10 meters or less. Rain pounded down through the red dust, turning the air to mud.

"Our long logistics convoys crawled ahead, however, eventually linking up with the armor and infantry units that were managing to creep forward during lulls in the sandstorm. And, as the troopers inched on, scouts and special forces reconnaissance teams infiltrated more Iraqi positions, identifying the precise GPS co-ordinates of enemy armor and artillery."

As the sandstorm rose in intensity, movement on the battlefield virtually stopped, including for the enemy. So USAF B52s, B-1s and a mix of fighter bombers flew above the dust storm and pummeled Republican Guard forces that were stalled in place.

Franks wrote:

"The Republican Guard units were hunkered down, and they were being destroyed piece by piece."

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) employed 167 ships, literally one ship every 72 miles from the US to Kuwait. Rear Admiral D.L. Brewer III, the MSC commander, shown here as a Vice Admiral, called this the "Steel Bridge of Democracy (carrying) the torch of freedom to the Iraqi people." Ready Reserve, commercial, Navy Fleet Auxiliary Force and Special Mission ships were used. Merchant ships were taken out of mothballs; the Coast Guard had to approve these ships as seaworthy, a major task. The Coast Guard's Atlantic area commander, Vice Admiral James D. Hull, USCG, commented:

"We had to take care of ships that had been sitting in Charleston. Ships that had been sitting there for years without smoke coming out of them, and all of a sudden now all the ships are starting to move from pier to pier. Things were happening."

 Look at the list of ports employed: Charleston, South Carolina; Beaumont, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Corpus Christi, Texas. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Norfolk, Virginia also supported some traffic.

Here you see loading military cargo aboard the USNS Pililaau at Beaumont. On the receiving end, naval and contract people offloaded the arriving ships 24/7. They found that often there were not enough transportation resources available to move the stuff off the piers, and security requirements were stringent. 

The Kuwaiti port at Ash Shuaibah was the main port used. It could handle only six ships at a time. Nonetheless, people at the port offloaded more than 150 MSC ships during the initial two month period. 

Global Security reported:

"Under the Guardian Mariner program, more than 1,300 Army reservists were activated to provide force protection and security aboard MSC ships sailing to and from Southwest Asia."

I mentioned earlier fuel was a number one priority. But there was a shortage of fuel trucks. The Army decided to distribute bulk fuel using a tactical pipeline known as the Inland Petroleum Distribution System (IPDS). The manner in which the Army did this, to me, is incredible.

As you can imagine, there was no such pipeline inside Iraq to support the invasion. The Army had to build one, and it did so in phases following right behind the combat force moving north.

This map provides an overview of the system. Overall, the objective was to build the pipeline from Camp Virginia through Camp Udairi to Breach Point West on the Iraq border, all in Kuwait, and then to CEDAR II at Tallil AB, Iraq. Then the fuel could be moved elsewhere by truck. The Mina Abdullah refinery in Kuwait already had a pipeline from there to Camp Virginia, so that part was easy. The work started on the rest before the war started. 

A Quartermaster platoon deployed to Kuwait in 2002 to build a tactical petroleum terminal (TPT) at Camp Virginia, such as the one shown here. Then a Quartermaster Battalion deployed to Kuwait to construct TPTs at the Mina Abdullah refinery, at Camp Udairi and at Breach Point West. An Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Heavy) was tasked to construct the pipeline. Oe company built 51 miles of IPDS from Camp Virginia through Camp Udairi to Breach Point West while another Company concentrated on building the TPTs. They would also build a secondary and parallel line over that same 51 mile route as projected daily fuel requirements increased with the war approaching. The units had to do this amidst maneuver units moving all round them, including the enemy.

Once the war started, units started digging and laying pipe while the combat forces moved ahead.

The combat force used more than 90 million gallons of fuel in the first three months of OIF, 60 million gallons of which were transported via IPDS. Tank divisions needed to refuel every four to six hours; the M1 Abrams tank ran at about two miles per gallon. Tallil would become a fuel center in the early days of the war. 

In addition to the IPDS, the "Fuel Masters" of Corps Support Command filled large bags of JP8 fuel, some as large as 210,000 gallons, and cradled them in sand berms, lining them up side by side for more than a football field. The fuel bladders shown in the example photo hold 50,000 gallons. 

Fuel farms were set up in northern Kuwait and pre-positioned stocks were moved from Qatar to Kuwait. Once the force launched off the mark these kinds of fuel farms were quickly placed in Iraq at those LSAs I introduced earlier. 

I should also say that Forward Area Refueling Points (FARP) were set up as the force moved north through Iraq. These were mostly for helicopters. They were often set up as stand alone entities, without any protection. Indeed the long fuel supply lines often went without protection.

A most glaring problem encountered at the outset for sure was the forces lacked truck capacity. The forces used bottled water instead of relying on bulk water production. That caused a major increase in truck demand, not to mention the breakage experienced along the way.

In addition to the bottled water, the "Water Dogs" of a Quartermaster Water Purification Co. began pumping nearly 6,000 gallons per day of portable water from three "reverse osmosis" purification pumps, and began providing water to combat forces coming through on their way north. This example shows a Marine Corps reverse-osmosis water purification system in Iraq, drawing water from a nearby river. 

Anthony Cordesman, whom I mentioned earlier, noted a most revealing point regarding the rapidly changing situation on the battlefield. He wrote that quite often the logistics units did not really know what was going on operationally —- they lacked “situational awareness.” So the logistics units could easily find themselves in a situation where they were not exactly sure where the maneuver unit was they needed to support. In addition, the dynamics of the battlefield required units to move to locations that were not in the plan, which demanded trucks to move them about, and as I have mentioned trucks were in short supply. Furthermore, the truck transportation units themselves were in need of a capacity to defend themselves, but they were not properly organized or equipped to do that.

General Stultz commented on this issue of situational awareness for the logistics people:

"It was not so much being able to supply them, but to locate where they were moving to. That tended to be a challenge for us as we moved out convoys across the desert.”

The general experience was that everything I’ve touched on thus far resulted in replenishment of food and water coming three days late. Supply units pushed as hard as they could to make this up, but remember these units too were exposed to battlefield demands and firefights.

I'll stop here.

Retired Col. Gregory Fontenot, USA wrote:

"An armored move of this scale and scope placed an almost overwhelming logistics burden on theater and corps logistics units supporting V Corps and the MEF … Truckers and logistics soldiers drove themselves to the point of exhaustion. They kept on driving and fighting to get supplies forward … For the American logistics and combat troops alike, were was no time-out. From their
perspective, the pace slowed from outrageous to merely brutal … Logistically, OIF tested the Army. The size of the theater, tempo of operations, complexity, distribution of forces, nature of the threat, terrain, strategic constraints, paucity of logistics forces, and requirements to support other services proved daunting. Despite these difficulties, Army (logistics) troops turned in a heroic performance by providing 'just enough' to sustain the fight.

"There are some good news logistics stories. Under incredibly difficult conditions, logistics troops made sure that food, fuel, and ammunition got forward. Logistics troops and their leaders literally fought their way forward to get the vital supplies in the hands of the combat soldiers. The scope and scale of their effort are hard to grasp, but it was truly monumental. Joint logistics functioned across 8,000 miles and met the theater’s needs without a long buildup of stocks. As one logistician put it, there were still some 'iron hills,' but there were no 'iron mountains.'

"General Dave McKiernan offered the best testimony to the logistics troops when he noted on 1 May 2003, 'the truth of the matter is we did not stop operational tempo because of any class of supply, and what was accomplished was never impeded by logistics, and I think that is a remarkable story.'"

Someone else called it "Herculean." I agree.

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