Advantages of sharing resources during the Afghanistan redeployment
Major General Jeff Mason (Ret) Supreme Group's commercial director for Europe and Commonwealth, explains why a centralised mechanism offering redeployment capability, can reduce burdens on military forces.
The statistics supporting the size and scale of the task of redeploying forces and equipment out of Afghanistan are eye-watering. It is estimated that there are around 120,000 containers worth of equipment and more than 100,000 personnel that need repatriation; without even considering the requirements for remediation of bases and infrastructure.
However, what is not as widely reported is the fact that there is a similar, if not greater amount of contractor equipment and infrastructure in Afghanistan that must also be properly repatriated and managed.
Much of that contractor equipment and infrastructure has grown incrementally in-country; most of it brought in by military means and operated under a wide variety of operating models. These include 'contractor owned, government operated'; 'contractor owned, contractor operated' and 'government owned, contractor operated'. What is less clear now, however, is how this equipment will be recovered.
As nations determine the size and cost of their retrograde or redeployment requirements, it is becoming clear that there is unlikely to be the funding or the military lift capacity to support the redeployment of contractor equipment, unless it has enduring military value and is funded from within core equipment programmes. The majority of the equipment in Afghanistan will not fall under this umbrella. While many nations may have contractual and moral obligations to recover contractor personnel, the same is not necessarily true of equipment.
What this means is that potentially, if the task is left uncoordinated and unstructured, it could lead to commercial fratricide, with contractors entering into bidding wars to access the increasingly scarce movement assets.
Therefore, in order to avoid an unseemly and extremely costly ‘run for the door’, it is the right time for contractors to embrace the emerging doctrine of NATO’s military community. That is, in times of economic constraint, nations are being encouraged to pool and share capabilities in order to maximise efficiencies without breaking national budgets.
This same premise could be developed for contractor redeployment; whereby contractors can capitalise on existing capacities and capabilities that are already available in the market, but in a coordinated and structured manner. To do so, however, would require a centralised 'clearing house' where capacity and capability could be centrally offered for other contractors to buy-into.
This clearing house could be contractor-run, or facilitated by NATO or NSPA for instance, but its existence would provide a one-stop-shop for contractors to utilise existing assets, especially while we are still ahead of the redeployment surge. A centralised mechanism to advertise and offer redeployment capability will enable contractors to proactively assume responsibility for their own destinies and reduce administrative, planning and movement burdens on already overstretched military forces, still engaged in kinetic operations on a daily basis.
The reality is, if industry continues to approach the Afghanistan retrograde in a piece-meal and unstructured manner, the already scarce capacity will be underutilised and costs will balloon.
Another suggestion is for military organisations to extend specific contracts to commercial entities. For instance, if retrograde contracts were negotiated to include civilian and military equipment, we would all achieve better coordinated, pooled and shared capability. This would allow a degree of global oversight of the size and scale of the situation and provide invaluable planning and de-confliction data to ISAF. It would also reduce competition for resources, creating more cost efficiencies and better results.
Looking forward, military spending cuts at home and abroad mean that nations may not have their own contracted logistic support solutions in future. This means that nations will have to create more synergies in terms of sharing contracts and capabilities, and the time is right for that discussion to happen now as a precedent for future operations.