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Army’s Plans to Relocate Gear Offer Map to Future Roles
WASHINGTON — In a significant indication of where the Army anticipates it will be deployed over coming years, and what it will be doing there, the service is planning to relocate some of its vast overseas stores of combat equipment and alter the contents of other warehouse stocks to reflect the changing nature of the mission after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Large numbers of MRAPs, the armored troop carriers built to withstand the blast of improvised explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be stored in Italy, where they could be transported for contingencies across Africa. Those could include disaster relief in hostile environments, civilian evacuations or counterinsurgency assistance to local security forces.
In addition, MRAPs would be sent to warehouses in the western Pacific for potential use during a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, under current planning being included in Pentagon budgets now taking shape, even as significant numbers are stored in Southwest Asia and the Persian Gulf region.
Plans call for the brigade-size stock of armored fighting vehicles now stored in Europe to be brought home, although other infantry and support equipment would remain. A primary mission for the gear to be stored in Europe would be to supply multilateral training exercises among American and allied troops.
The Army wants to locate sets of equipment that could be pulled from storage for multilateral training exercises and other contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region, most likely aboard ships and perhaps in Australia, officials say. Other Army storage sites around the world may see an increase in gear designed for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The Army emptied many of its overseas weapons warehouses to fight the wars of the past decade and is using the end of combat in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan to analyze where the gear — officially called Army prepositioned stocks — should be located, and exactly what types of equipment should be included to carry out the shifting Army mission.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has set in motion the effort to “look for innovative approaches to align our forces to the global combatant commands and increase responsiveness and mobility,” said Peter B. Bechtel, the Army’s deputy director for plans and policy.
The challenge, Mr. Bechtel noted, is in choosing locations and organizing stockpiles for the global chain of storage sites, on land and afloat, that will let the Army remain ready for a major conflict but also accommodate a new era. The entire military is under orders to shrink the number of permanent bases abroad and work more closely with allies and partners in a shared effort to protect global security. At the same time, the military must broaden its readiness for noncombat missions.
In the past, most of the Army prepositioned stocks were intended for high-end combat operations, with a sense that the warehouses had invisible signs saying, “Break Glass in Case of the Big One,” Mr. Bechtel said. The new stores would be designed for smaller-scale conflict, as well as for training and advising missions, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and civilian evacuation operations.
Army officials acknowledge that, in decades past, they have allowed weapons prepositioned for combat to become badly outdated. For example, when the Third Infantry Division arrived in Kuwait as the vanguard for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the tanks and fighting vehicles it drew from warehouses were inferior to those it had trained on in the United States.
The division’s soldiers, in the words of one officer, were required to “train downward” to be effective on the older weapons. Mr. Bechtel and other Army officials said plans called for the Army’s warehouses to be refilled with newer weapons.
The final shape of the Army’s prepositioned stocks is dependent on Congressional funding and the agreement of host nations, officials noted.
Army officials said the current plans include maintaining two major sites in the United States, one on the Atlantic Coast and one on the Pacific, both of which would see increased stores of equipment necessary for disaster relief and consequence management in the United States and across the hemisphere.
While this gear might be useful after earthquakes and hurricanes, it would include protective equipment for first responders in a domestic emergency. The goal is to be able to equip 5,000 emergency workers within the first 96 hours of a catastrophe with gear like respirators, chemical protective suits, rescue equipment and mobile medical suites.
A storage site in Italy would be used for the MRAPs and other Army training, support and sustainment equipment. Warehouses in Japan and South Korea would store equipment for an entire heavy combat brigade whose troops might be flown to the region in an emergency, as well as for a support and sustainment brigade, to include MRAPs and field hospitals.
Warehouses in three nations of the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia would store enough equipment for a heavy brigade, an infantry brigade, an infantry battalion — all with additional MRAPs — as well as for sustainment and support units.
The Army is planning for a significant portion of the prepositioned stocks to be afloat, an effort that would include eight ships. Two vessels would be dedicated to munitions, with one assigned to the Pacific and one to the Middle East.
The other six ships, which could be sailed to conflict zones as required, would carry equipment for an infantry brigade with MRAPs, and a sustainment brigade. The vessels would carry equipment necessary for transforming a commercial port into a dock that could load and unload military equipment.