Moving U.S. Forces: Options for Strategic Mobility Section 6 of 12
February 1997

Chapter Four

Prepositioned Forces

As the Department of Defense learned during the war with Iraq, by placing equipment for certain units at key sites and then flying personnel and material from the United States to meet up with it, DoD can deploy heavy forces (armored or mechanized units) quickly and at relatively low cost. In the next few years, DoD plans to significantly boost the amount of equipment it has prepositioned in areas of potential conflict, particularly the Persian Gulf region and South Korea.



A Lesson from Desert Shield: Preposition Heavy Forces

Today's thinking about prepositioning has been heavily influenced by the U.S. experience in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Even the most direct routes to the Persian Gulf lie nearly 7,000 nautical miles by air or roughly 8,000 to 10,000 nautical miles by sea from the continental United States, making all deployments to the region difficult. One lesson of the Persian Gulf War was that in order to deliver heavy units over such distances very early in a major conflict, DoD needs to preposition much of the units' equipment.

Deploying Initial Ground Forces for the War

DoD had virtually no warning before it was called on to deploy troops for Operation Desert Shield. Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, and the United States began sending troops to the region five days later. On the heels of an eight-year war with Iran, Iraq's armed forces numbered about 1 million active-duty troops and were believed to be equipped with about 5,500 tanks, including 1,000 of the more modern T-72s. Although the United States immediately deployed light Army units to the region by airlift, DoD officials saw those forces as little more than a trip wire and a sign of U.S. resolve.

Among the first forces flown to the Persian Gulf were lightly armed units from the 82nd Airborne Division, who were intended to deter Iraq's armored forces from moving from Kuwait into Saudi Arabia. But other than conducting air and missile strikes, the United States had no way to blunt further armored assaults until 123 prepositioned M-60 tanks from the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and the 1st MEB arrived by ship from the Indian Ocean and Guam by August 25. Those forces were followed by the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, whose final units reached Saudi Arabia from the United States about a month later (September 23) with more capable M1A1 tanks and other fighting vehicles. Yet Iraq initially chose not to attack farther south, and instead replaced the Republican Guards who had led the invasion of Kuwait with infantry units, who dug in defensive positions along the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia border.(1)

Early on, U.S. military planners realized that they could not transport the entire set of combat units and


Figure 6.
Arrival Times of Army Combat Forces Deployed in the Persian Gulf War

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office based on data from the U.S. Transportation Command and Ronald Rost, John Addams, and John Nelson, Sealift in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 7 August 1990 to 17 February 1991, CRM91-109 (Alexandria, Va.: Center for Naval Analyses, May 1991).

NOTES: C-day was August 7, 1990. Phase I of U.S. deployments took place over the first 111 days. The ground war began on February 24, 1991 (C+201).

ACR = armored cavalry regiment; Mech. = mechanized infantry.


logistical support from the United States by their deadline of mid-November. Instead, they chose to give priority to Army combat and combat-support units at the expense of logistics and administrative units, relying on support from the host nation, Saudi Arabia, as much as possible.(2) It took 111 days to complete deliveries of all defensive Army forces to the region, although most were in place 80 days after deployments began (see Figure 6). Ultimately, the United States deployed seven and two-thirds Army divisions to the region. By the start of offensive operations against Iraq, the United States had six carrier battle groups in the region, nearly 1,300 combat and combat-support aircraft, and almost half of the Marine Corps's active-duty forces.

Evaluating the Gulf War Experience

Following the Gulf War, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff began assessing U.S. mobility forces to see how well they suited the requirements of a post-Cold War era. The Joint Chiefs concluded that "the Desert Shield deployment had been a success, but that limitations in mobility forces had imposed considerable risk."(3) In other words, they were troubled by the pace at which the United States was able to deploy heavy forces and logistical support. Many military analysts argue that if Iraq had continued its assault into Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf War would have been longer and far more arduous for the United States.

The Joint Chiefs called for new investments in strategic lift. They based that recommendation on the 1992 Mobility Requirements Study, which looked at what forces the United States would need to fight two major regional conflicts in quick succession. Besides new airlift and sealift forces, the Joint Chiefs recommended that the Army preposition sets of heavy equipment and combat-support units on board ships placed closer to DoD's key planning scenarios. That prepositioned equipment would allow the United States to deploy forces more quickly than it did during Operation Desert Shield.(4)

The idea for more afloat prepositioning was based partly on the example provided by the Marine Corps's Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF). The MPF program was created in the early 1980s as the Marine Corps's answer to calls for a rapid deployment force for the Middle East. MPF ships delivered the first tanks for the 7th MEB to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield.

At the same time the Joint Chiefs were conducting their review, the Army began drawing up its own vision of how to improve on its Gulf War experience. The result was a blueprint known as the Army Strategic Mobility Program (see Appendix A for details). It called for prepositioning equipment for one heavy Army brigade and combat-support and combat-service support units on board ships in the Indian Ocean, from where they could be delivered to either the Persian Gulf or the Korean Peninsula within 15 days. Surge sealift ships would then transport two heavy Army divisions from the United States to reinforce operations within 30 days. Ultimately, the Army would deploy a five-division corps with its accompanying support and sustainment within 75 days.

In October 1994, the Army tested the afloat prepositioning concept when Iraqi forces began massing near the Kuwaiti border. DoD responded with Operation Vigilant Warrior, in which prepositioning ships steamed to Saudi Arabia, unloaded their cargo, and met up with personnel from the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division. The first of those ships began unloading cargo 12 days after sailing from Diego Garcia. In addition, U.S. troops flew to Kuwait to meet up with tanks and other combat equipment already prepositioned there. (By comparison, it took about 20 days to deliver the first elements of the 24th Infantry Division from the United States during Operation Desert Shield.)(5) Altogether, DoD aircraft flew more than 21,000 personnel to the region during Vigilant Warrior, most within 25 days. If Iraq had not withdrawn its forces, the United States had planned for a far larger buildup.



Current Land- and Sea-Based Prepositioning

Many defense analysts consider the pace of deployment for Vigilant Warrior a strong improvement over Desert Shield. That experience reinforced DoD's efforts to preposition more equipment both on land and on ships that are closer to regions in which the United States may need to fight.

Equipment Prepositioned on Land

Prepositioning military equipment on land is a potent political signal. When DoD places equipment on an ally's territory, it sends a message that the United States is willing to use force to protect that region from aggressors. Similarly, when a host nation agrees to allow the United States to put equipment on its land, it signifies that U.S. forces would probably also be allowed to operate there. Because of the importance of those signals, military planners tend to preposition equipment in only a few key countries.(6)

Europe. Although all four services preposition equipment and supplies, the Army prepositions the most on land. At the height of the Cold War, it placed equipment for a number of heavy divisions and support units in Europe under a program known as Prepositioning of Overseas Materiel Configured to Unit Sets (POM-CUS). Recently, the Army has been drawing down the four sets of POMCUS gear in Belgium, the Nether-


Figure 7.
Current Sites of Prepositioned Equipment
 

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office.

NOTE: Benelux = Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg; POMCUS = Prepositioning of Overseas Materiel Configured to Unit Sets; MEB = Marine expeditionary brigade; MPS = Maritime Prepositioning Ships; DLA = Defense Logistics Agency.


lands, and Luxemburg to equip new prepositioning sites elsewhere. Ultimately, two brigade sets will remain in the Benelux region (see Figure 7). The Army has another heavy-brigade set in Italy.

The Marine Corps has equipment for a Marine expeditionary brigade prepositioned in Norway that was originally designed to reinforce Northern European countries against a Soviet invasion.(7) Today, the Marines keep howitzers, trucks, generators, and engineering equipment in Norway for use in cold-weather training exercises. The Army also maintains an artillery battalion in Norway.

The Korean Peninsula. The Army recently preposi-tioned stocks in South Korea in addition to the equipment and personnel permanently deployed there. (In military parlance, troops stationed abroad are "forward deployed." DoD prepositions sets of equipment and supplies, not people.) Two brigades and division-level units for the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Division are forward deployed in South Korea, along with other units such as aviation and military police brigades, combat-service-support units, a Patriot missile battalion, and two Air Force tactical fighter wings. In the fall of 1996, the Army completed most transfers of equipment from Europe to establish a prepositioned heavy-brigade set in Korea. That set includes 120 M1A1 tanks and 68 M2A2 Bradley and Bradley Stinger armored fighting vehicles; it would help round out a complete division quickly if conflict erupted on the peninsula.

The Persian Gulf Region. Because of the experience of the Gulf War and changes in U.S. national security strategy, the Army has expanded its land-based prepositioning in the region. Today, it keeps a heavy-brigade set in Kuwait, including 116 M1A1 tanks, 68 Bradley and Bradley Stinger fighting vehicles, 24 self-propelled howitzers, 30 armed multipurpose wheeled vehicles, and supplies to sustain the brigade for 15 days. In 1995, the Army added a multiple-launch rocket system battery to that set. Because of Kuwait's small size, the equipment is situated just a few tens of miles from the Iraqi border.(8)

In January 1996, the Army also placed 30 M1A1 Abrams tanks and 28 Bradley fighting vehicles in Qatar, which would support a heavy-battalion task force. Today, the combined equipment prepositioned on land in the Persian Gulf region would allow the Army to deploy 146 Abrams tanks and 96 Bradley fighting vehicles in less than a week.

For Operation Southern Watch, in which U.S. and other troops enforce the no-fly zone south of the 33rd parallel in Iraq, coalition forces have deployed hundreds of combat and combat-support aircraft to the region, mostly from the U.S. military. Even before the Gulf War, the Saudi government allowed the Air Force to preposition some equipment on its territory: seven Harvest Falcon sets that provided enough hard-wall shelters, tents, vehicles, power generators, and other "bare base" equipment to support at least five aircraft squadrons with a total of 10,800 people.(9) According to a 1994 press report, the Air Force expanded its equipment in Saudi Arabia so it could support at least 15 tactical and support squadrons of 24 aircraft each.(10) The Saudis have been more reluctant to allow new pre-positioning of Army equipment on their territory, although the United States does have a Patriot missile battalion forward deployed at the airfield in Riyadh.

The Air Force is expanding the amount of equipment it prepositions in the Gulf region. Under a concept called Air Expeditionary Forces, Bahrain, Jordan, and Qatar have signed agreements that would help the Air Force deploy its units more quickly if a conflict ignited. The Air Force is placing equipment at sites in those countries so troops could deploy from the United States and rapidly establish air traffic control, maintenance, intelligence, and mission-planning operations to support combat aircraft missions. Ultimately, the Air Force plans to have five bare bases in the region, possibly including sites in the United Arab Emirates and Oman as well.(11)

Equipment Prepositioned on Ships

The Joint Chiefs' plan to preposition equipment for a heavy Army brigade on ships is now known as the Army Prepositioned Afloat (APA) program. In 1993, the Army began placing enough equipment for a heavy brigade, support units, and 15 days of supplies on board seven roll-on/roll-off ships (borrowed from the Navy's Ready Reserve Force) at Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean. That equipment includes 123 M1A1 tanks and 126 Bradley and Bradley Stinger fighting vehicles and can be configured as an armored or a mechanized brigade. With additional aviation units flown in on airlift planes, the set might also be configured as an armored cavalry regiment. Two auxiliary ships with equipment that would set up unloading operations accompany the seven ROROs. Three vessels loaded with munitions and two containerships carrying 30 days' worth of essential supplies for a contingency force are based at Diego Garcia, Guam, and Saipan and would also deploy as part of the APA. That equipment would allow DoD to deploy a heavy brigade within 15 days.
 

 Box 6.
 Lessons Learned About Afloat Prepositioning
 from Operation Vigilant Warrior
In October 1994, Iraq built up its forces along the Kuwaiti border, prompting concern that it might try to seize Kuwaiti territory, as it did in August 1990.  In response, the United States steamed ships loaded with equipment for a heavy Army brigade from Diego Garcia and the Pacific to Ad Damman, Saudi Arabia, and flew units from the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, to meet up with the cargo.  By all accounts, the pace of the deployment reflected a marked improvement over Operation Desert Shield.  Although successful, Operation Vigilant Warrior did not go off without a hitch, and the Army took away some important lessons.  

 One major lesson was to not pack equipment too tightly inside prepositioning ships.  By using almost all of the available space for vehicles and equipment, the Army did not allow room for routine maintenance.  As a result, many of the vehicles had flat tires and dead batteries.  And because the interim Army Prepositioned Afloat program uses ships that have less elaborate climate control systems and worse ventilation than the large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ships that will ultimately house the equipment, crews are unable to start the vehicles as frequently as they would otherwise to keep those batteries charged.  

After it became clear that Iraq would not invade Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, the Army took the opportunity to rearrange each ship's configuration as it was reloaded.  Equipment to unload the ships is now situated closest to the exits so it can be taken off first.  Each ship now holds a battalion task-force set that can operate somewhat independently if need be.  Previously, similar equipment was loaded together for example, all artillery pieces on one ship with their ammunition in containers on another.  The new arrangement allows the Army to deploy just a few ships to a region to help conduct smaller operations or humanitarian missions. 

Among other lessons, the Army learned that sending extra maintenance-crew members with the preposi-tioning ships from Diego Garcia (a common Marine Corps procedure) can speed up deployment.  The Army did not do that during Vigilant Warrior, and in retrospect, maintenance personnel could have anticipated and begun to address many of the problems that awaited the unloading party in Saudi Arabia.  For the future, both the Army and Marines plan to use that approach.

 
Military planners anticipate that the Army's pre-positioning ships would provide equipment to a major regional contingency in either the Persian Gulf or South Korea. For that reason, the Army prepositions supplies and equipment that are common to several types of divisions, such as water trailers, barrier materials, forklifts, trucks, and heavy-equipment transports.(12) The best candidates for prepositioning are heavy or oversize pieces of equipment and cargo--such as tanks, engineering trucks, and artillery--that can weather long-term storage well.

The Army considers some equipment inappropriate for prepositioning because the supply is scarce, the equipment contains sensitive electronic components, or it is difficult to maintain on board ships. Helicopters are a prime example. Although they can be shrink-wrapped before being transported on ships to lessen their exposure to salt water, neither the Marine Corps nor the Army believes doing so provides a good means of long-term storage since there is no opportunity to run the aircrafts' engines or perform routine maintenance on them. In the event of a conflict, both services would transport helicopters on airlift planes.

In order to increase the Army's flexibility in how it can use the APA, it has loaded the ships with smaller configurations of forces in mind. For example, one LMSR and its auxiliary ships contain enough equipment to open up ports and airfields and initially supply a small humanitarian mission.(13) The Army has also re-configured the cargo loads on each ship so those vessels can deploy more effectively to major conflicts than they did to Operation Vigilant Warrior (see Box 6). However, the size and draft of LMSRs may keep DoD from using that equipment in some ports around the world.

The Marine Corps maintains 13 ships for its Maritime Prepositioning Force, which are organized into three squadrons situated in the Mediterranean, at Diego Garcia, and at Guam. Each squadron houses some of the ground equipment and 30 days of supplies for a brigade-size air/ground force. With a decade and a half of experience in operating the MPF program, the Marines have learned to keep to a minimum the amount of airlift needed to match up personnel and accompanying supplies with those prepositioned forces.

The Air Force's afloat prepositioning program is modest compared with those of the Army and Marine Corps. It consists of three ships that house munitions: one in the Mediterranean and two at Diego Garcia. Three fuel tankers owned by the Defense Logistics Agency are also situated in the Indian Ocean.



DoD's Plans to Expand Prepositioning

The Defense Department's plans to increase both land- and sea-based prepositioning focus on putting more U.S. equipment in or around the Persian Gulf region. Many military analysts believe that deploying heavy forces rapidly is the key to preventing Iraq from gaining territory if it undertakes future invasions.

Prepositioning More Equipment on Land

In the Persian Gulf region, the Army is expanding the amount of equipment prepositioned in Qatar (see Figure 8). Ultimately, it will place enough gear for a second heavy brigade in the region, including most of the same equipment that is already prepositioned in Kuwait. But in addition, the government of Qatar has agreed to allow prepositioning stocks for a division base set--equipment for divisional headquarters units. Both the brigade set and the equipment for the division base units are scheduled to be in place by about 2000.(14) DoD officials have been approaching other countries in the region to see if they would house equipment for a third brigade set on land.

Prepositioning More Equipment on Ships

The Army intends to more than double the square footage of cargo it prepositions afloat by the end of the de-cade. Following the 1992 recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Navy is buying eight large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off vessels to hold equipment for a heavy Army brigade. When those ships are in place by 2000, they will house 470,000 square feet of equipment for a heavy brigade and 1.53 million square feet of combat-support and combat-service- support equipment and supplies. The Army plans to begin moving cargo from interim ships to the first LMSR in February 1997. It is also considering placing other equipment on ships, but the service has not yet included such actions in its budget plans.

One problem with augmenting U.S. prepositioning ships is the limited number of places where DoD can put them. Much of today's current and planned fleet would be based at Diego Garcia. The number of unused anchorages there is dwindling, however, especially since ships that contain ammunition cannot be placed as closely together as other ships.

Steaming prepositioning ships between bases in the region is one way to reduce the need for anchorages. For example, the ships that house the APA might sail between Diego Garcia and Guam, which would keep them relatively close to either the Persian Gulf or the Korean Peninsula. But such a strategy might also add to the costs of operating and supporting those ships.

Another approach is to ask foreign governments for permission to place U.S. prepositioning ships in their harbors. As in the case of equipment prepositioned on land, such a decision can be politically controversial. For example, the United States recently asked the government of Thailand for permission to site preposi-tioning ships in its harbors, since that location is nearly


Figure 8.
Sites for Expanded Prepositioning Under the Administration's Plan

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office.

NOTE: MPS = Maritime Prepositioning Ships; APA = Army Prepositioned Afloat program.


equidistant between current prepositioning sites at Diego Garcia and Guam. Thailand refused. According to press reports, DoD has also asked Vietnam and the Philippines whether it might keep prepositioning ships at Cam Ranh Bay and Subic Bay.(15)

The Marine Corps plans to enhance its preposi-tioning program by adding one additional ship to each of its three squadrons. Those ships would hold equipment for an expeditionary airfield, a fleet hospital that would be set up on land, a Navy construction battalion, equipment for command headquarters, and sustainment supplies.

Although top military leaders have supported the Marine Corps's plan to enhance its Maritime Preposi-tioning Force, the Administration did not include funding for additional enhancement ships in its budget requests of recent years. DoD officials reportedly believed that completing the purchase of LMSRs and smaller ROROs for the Ready Reserve Force was a higher priority. But the Congress disagreed: over the 1995-1997 period, it appropriated $360 million to build or convert three used, foreign-built ships at U.S. shipyards for the Marine Corps's enhancement program.

Army Versus Marine Corps Prepositioning

Disagreements between the Congress and the Administration about funding are the latest manifestation of a debate over whether the United States should support Army or Marine Corps prepositioning programs, or both. The fact that both services plan to expand afloat prepositioning in the midst of declining defense budgets has led to questions about overlap between the two.

Some overlap appears obvious. Both services prepare to conduct operations in which the United States would need to forcibly insert military troops. Those troops would then need to be reinforced quickly with additional equipment from prepositioning ships. Since at least 1992, some Marine Corps officials have challenged the need for an Army brigade afloat. They argue that with some enhancements, the Marines could provide much the same capability but at a lower cost.

Yet the two programs have some important distinctions. Although Marine prepositioning squadrons may be effective for military operations near a coast, they have fewer tanks and armored fighting vehicles than an Army heavy brigade and lack the support equipment needed to conduct missions 200 to 300 kilometers inside a theater (see Table 5). However, unlike the Army



 
Table 5.
Comparison of Army and Marine Corps Afloat Prepositioning
Marine Squadron Set Army Brigade Set
M1A1 Tanks 30 (58 planned) a 123
Artillery (155 mm howitzers) 30 towed 24 self-propelled
Bradley Fighting Vehicles 0 126 with TOWs
Armored Personnel Carriers 109 100
Armed HMMWVs 129 (72 with TOWs) 40
Multiple-Launch Rocket System 0 9
Personnel to Marry Up with Each Set 17300 9,900 interim; 19,900 final
Aircraft to Marry Up with Each Set 73 fixed-wing, 75 rotary-wing 0
Strategic Airlift Sorties Required 249 (including sorties 101 interim; 152 final
carrying rotary-wing aircraft)
Sustainment 30 days 15 days for a heavy brigade;
30 days on separate
prepositioned containerships
SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office based on data from the Department of Defense and Lt. Col. Paul Wisniewski, USMC, "Dueling Prepo,"  
                Armed Forces Journal International (September 1994), p. 23.
NOTE: TOW = tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missile; HMMWV = high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle.
a. One Marine squadron already includes 58 M1A1 tanks, and the Marine Corps plans to increase the number in the other two squadrons by 1998.


program, Marine prepositioning provides support for both ground and air units. Because of differences in how each service trains, equips, and organizes its forces, some analysts contend that comparing the two prepositioning programs is inappropriate.

In principle, DoD has quelled the debate by supporting both. Two separate reviews of the roles and missions of the military services concluded that the pro-grams were complementary rather than duplicative.(16) But since the Administration has included funding only for the Army's program in its budget requests thus far, tension about which program should receive priority continues.



The Benefits and Risks of Prepositioning

As with airlift and sealift, DoD's efforts to preposition equipment overseas carry distinct risks and benefits. The main benefits are the ability to deliver heavy forces to a conflict more quickly and at a lower cost than by other modes of lift. Balanced against that are risks associated with having to plan for conflicts in advance: the risk that equipment will be put in the wrong place, that two conflicts will break out at the same time, or that DoD will need more flexibility than prepositioning allows. Other risks include that prepositioned equipment might prove a tempting target for enemies and that U.S. allies might have less incentive to provide for their own defense.

Quicker Delivery Time for Heavy Forces

The key benefit of prepositioning was demonstrated during Operation Desert Shield when ships from the Maritime Prepositioning Force completed deliveries of Marine tank units about a month before the first heavy Army units finished arriving by ship from the United States. Subsequently, the Army has demonstrated on three occasions that its equipment prepositioned on land would allow the United States to deploy a brigade-size or larger force in about four to six days. In situations in which the United States would need a significant number of heavy forces to halt an invasion, DoD could greatly reduce delivery time by prepositioning sets of equipment.

For example, assume the President decided to deploy a 4,700-person heavy armored cavalry regiment with equipment and supplies weighing more than 33,000 tons from the United States to the Persian Gulf. Since the regiment includes more than 200 main battle tanks and tracked fighting vehicles along with other pieces of large or heavy cargo, 72 C-17s assigned solely to move its equipment would take about 24 days to complete their deliveries. (The number of planes excludes additional aircraft that would be held in reserve or that would be undergoing maintenance and repairs.)

Two large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ships could move the regiment from the East Coast of the United States in roughly the same amount of time, approximately 24 days (see Figure 9). If those vessels were prepositioned in the Indian Ocean, however, delivery time could be halved. And if equipment for the armored cavalry regiment was prepositioned on land, the delivery time might be even smaller.

The quickness with which the United States can deploy heavy forces underscores another advantage of prepositioning: its deterrent effect. Indeed, advocates would contend that over the past 30 years, the United States has never faced a war in regions where DoD has placed forward-deployed troops or prepositioned equipment.

Relatively Low Cost

Using airlift to match the delivery time of prepositioned equipment would be prohibitively expensive. In the preceding example, if the Air Force devoted its entire planned fleet of 120 C-17s to moving the armored cavalry regiment (again, excluding backup planes), they could complete the job in about 14 to 15 days--just a little longer than two LMSRs from the Indian Ocean.


Figure 9.
Length of Time That Various Airlift and Sealift Forces Would Take to Complete Deliveries of an Armored Cavalry Regiment to the Persian Gulf (In days)

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office based on data from the Military Traffic Management Command.

NOTES: The figure assumes an armored cavalry regiment weighing 33,000 tons.

LMSRs = large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ships.


But doing so would require the Air Force to buy 72 C-17s (in addition to the 48 it has already begun procuring), at a total cost of $16.2 billion (in 1997 dollars).(17) By comparison, buying two LMSRs to preposition the equipment at Diego Garcia would cost about $600 million.

Prepositioning ships also cost considerably less to operate and support than airlift planes. The Navy expects its large prepositioning ships to cost about $10 million a year each to operate and support, compared with about $161 million a year (in 1997 dollars) to operate and support one active-duty squadron of C-17s. And an airlift squadron would carry far less cargo than one LMSR.

The cost of prepositioning equipment on land can be even lower than for afloat prepositioning if host nations pay to build the facilities that house the equipment and help cover the costs of maintaining it. For example, Kuwait has paid most of the costs of warehousing, maintaining, and exercising the Army's heavy-brigade set prepositioned there. The exact size of that contribution is unclear, but as an indication, the Army expects that operating and supporting a heavy-brigade and division base set in Qatar without host-nation support will cost roughly $70 million per year (in 1997 dollars) beginning in 1999.

As DoD increases the amount of materiel preposi-tioned overseas, it may need to buy extra sets of equipment to place at those sites. With the United States cutting the size of its forces in the aftermath of the Cold War, a surplus of combat equipment is available to preposition for the time being. But in the future, DoD may have to buy equipment in larger numbers to modernize prepositioned stocks. The cost could be relatively minimal if DoD prepositioned items such as engineering equipment, tents, forklifts, and the like. If it chose to preposition weapon systems such as Patriot missile batteries or multiple-launch rocket systems, however, the cost of modernizing that equipment would be substantially higher.

Risk of Planning for the Wrong Contingency

Perhaps the biggest hazard associated with preposition-ing is that, by poor intelligence or bad luck, military planners might place equipment at the wrong location. For example, if DoD prepositioned equipment on land in the Persian Gulf region and conflict broke out in Europe, the fastest sealift ships would take at least a month to steam from the continental United States to the Middle East, load the equipment, and then transport it to Europe.

That risk is smaller for equipment prepositioned on ships, since the vessels can steam to any place with a port. But since equipment prepositioned afloat needs to be useful in any number of situations, it may not be tailored for the specific contingency that erupts.

Risk That Two Conflicts Will Occur Nearly Simultaneously

One benefit of prepositioning heavy Army equipment on ships is that it can be used for either of DoD's major planning scenarios. Those forces would be an important means of stopping an enemy assault quickly. But what would DoD do if the two major conflicts broke out in quick succession? If the equipment was sent to a first contingency, it would not be available for the second.

To solve that problem, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that unless DoD withholds the equipment to use only in the second major conflict, the Army should plan to regenerate its afloat prepositioning package. In other words, after unloading cargo at a conflict, the prepositioning ships would steam to the United States and take on a second set of equipment, tailored for the next most likely conflict. The Army has been investigating whether it has enough stocks to regenerate the equipment or whether it needs to purchase more. Preliminary comments by Army officials suggest that because of the drawdown of U.S. forces in Europe, reserves of combat equipment are probably adequate. Equipment for combat-service-support units is in shorter supply, but the Army has no plans to purchase additional stocks. If a second major contingency erupted shortly after the equipment had been deployed to an earlier conflict, the Army might have to use equipment from reserve forces in the United States to regenerate its theater support units.

Risk of Reduced Flexibility

One reason military leaders might prefer to keep pre-positioning to a minimum is that it can complicate a deployment by breaking up military units. As the Army has begun prepositioning more equipment in the Persian Gulf, it has also been conducting training exercises in which troops learn how to "marry up" with those stocks. DoD will need to continue that sort of training to ensure that future deployments go smoothly.

Another risk associated with prepositioning is that military leaders would need to select which units they intended to deploy long before any sign of conflict. But if circumstances changed, a different mix of military units might better address the situation. For that reason, a deployment strategy that relies on prepositioning may not provide regional commanders with as much flexibility to meet changing needs as would deploying forces by sea and air from the United States.

A Potential Target for Enemies

Prepositioned stocks can also provide a vulnerable target for potential enemies. By seizing large concentrations of U.S. equipment and supplies, a foe could weaken DoD's ability to blunt attacks against other countries in a region or could possibly even use that equipment against U.S. forces.

Recent terrorist acts against U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia and unrest in other Persian Gulf nations underscore the political riskiness of prepositioning equipment on land. Such stocks could attract the attention not only of other nations in the region but also of extremist groups within a country. By virtue of keeping a sizable military presence in the Middle East, the United States runs the risk of inciting unrest or even an arms buildup by a potential aggressor. For example, some defense officials believe that Iraq moved forces toward the Kuwaiti border in October 1994 out of fear that allied air operations in the region signified imminent bombing.(18)

Discouraging Self-Defense

Another risk of prepositioning is that by signaling that it is willing to defend certain allies, the United States might lessen the incentives for those countries to provide for their own defense. That concern may be especially important in an era when the Congress and the Administration have devoted considerable attention to reducing the federal budget deficit and thus want U.S. allies to shoulder as much of their own defense burden as possible.


1. Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor, The Generals' War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf (Boston: Little, Brown, 1995), p. 65.

2. Lt. Col. F. Marion Cain III, "Building Desert Storm Force Structure," Military Review (July 1993), pp. 21-30; Department of Defense, Conduct of the Persian Gulf Conflict: An Interim Report to Congress (1991), p. 3-2.

3. Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mobility Requirements Study, vol. 1, Executive Summary (January 23, 1992), p. ES-4.

4. Ibid., p. ES-5.

5. Ronald Rost, John Addams, and John Nelson, Sealift in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 7 August 1990 to 17 February 1991, CRM91-109 (Alexandria, Va.: Center for Naval Analyses, May 1991), p. 19.

6. John M. Collins, Prepositioned Weapons, Equipment, and Supplies: Overviews and Evaluations, CRS Report for Congress 95-1073 S (Congressional Research Service, October 27, 1995).

7. A Marine expeditionary brigade is a notional structure that would support a 17,300-person Marine expeditionary force or smaller, tailored units.

8. David Kassing, Army and Marine Corps Prepositioning Programs: Size and Responsiveness Issues, PM-378-CRMAF (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, April 1995), p. 14.

9. Eliot Cohen and others, Gulf War Air Power Survey, vol. 3, Logistics and Support (Department of the Air Force, 1993), pp. 45-47.

10. David Morrison, "Gathering Storm," National Journal (August 20, 1994), p. 1963.

11. Tony Capaccio, "Five New Rapid Reaction Air Bases for Middle East Take Shape," Defense Week, June 10, 1996, pp. 1, 8.

12. Maj. Gen. Fred E. Elam and Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, "The Army's Strategic Mobility Plan," Army Logistician (May/June 1992), p. 4.

13. Department of the Army, Army Prepositioned Afloat, FM100-17-1 (June 1995), pp. B-3 and B-4.

14. William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to the President and the Congress (March 1996), p. 197.

15. William Matthews, "Sealift Command Eyes Vietnam for a Port," Navy Times, September 25, 1995, p. 22.

16. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Report on the Roles, Missions, and Functions of the Armed Forces of the United States (February 1993), pp. III-35 to III-37; Department of Defense, Commission on Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces, Directions for Defense (May 1995), pp. ES-5, 2-29. Also see Kassing, Army and Marine Corps Prepositioning Programs, which was written to support the latest Commission on Roles and Missions.

17. That figure assumes an average unit procurement cost of $225 million (in 1997 dollars), the Administration's December 1995 estimate of average costs for the last 80 C-17s (out of a total purchase of 120 planes) under a multiyear-procurement strategy.

18. David Fulghum, "Iraqi Invasion Threat Reassessed by Military," Aviation Week and Space Technology, November 14, 1994, p. 18.


Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page