Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Logistics 101

When bad things like Hurricane Katrina happen, good people want solutions, now. The less thoughtful among them will sometimes insist that the absence of immediate solutions is always evidence of incompetence or ill will among government officials. But there's a little thing called logistical reality to contend with:

Suppose you got a brigade worth of troops (5,000 or so) available,. How are you going to support them? How will you transport them? Think organic trans is sufficient? Think again. Even at 100% operational readiness, a typical infantry battalion can only self transport perhaps a company at a time. And if every soldier is bringing a rucksack and a dufflebag, you're really talking about maybe two platoons. And unless you expect the unit to become a drain on local resources, every company is going to take a half truck or more of MREs and a half truck or more of bottled water, along with its own water trailers. I've seen it happen. I've done it. I've been a battalion S4 in combat, an HHC XO for dozens of major moves of a hundred miles or more, and an HHC company commander for six hurricane mobilizations.

Now, you can use busses. But only if you take busses away from the immediate mission of transporting people out of the most severely affected areas of New Orleans. Well, suppose a 44 passenger bus has a round trip of a half day between a National Guard armory in Texas. That bus can not even transport a platoon of soldiers in a single day (and will have to refuel somewhere.) But that same bus, if you keep it in New Orleans, can make as many as 8 or 10 trips back and forth, and evacuate maybe 600 to 800 people, assuming an hour round trip between an affected area and a safe area.

So which do you choose? My money's on the evac.

But suppose you stripped the evac effort dry and got enough busses to support a 5,000 man move. Well, a few hundred of them would show up driving the brigade's vehicles (armed with fuel cards to use at pumps that don't work, so the army would also have to transport in its own bulk fuel).

Well, in order to move 4,400 soldiers by bus in 48 hours, with a 1-day turnaround time, you would need 100 busses. Which is most of the FEMA effort right there. The available truck transportation would be hauling food, water, tents, portable kitchens, and other gear -- not troops.

Well, I think FEMA came up with 140 busses. You want to strip 70 percent of the FEMA effort to bring in National Guard? I didn't think so.

And then when the Brigade got there, it would take them nearly a day to set up. Where are you going to put them? You'd need an entire park or fairground, and you'd need to clear vagrants out of there. That's doable, but it takes time. And meanwhile, you've got 5,000 soldiers on the ground. Where are they going to crap, Ann? Did you consider that question?


So you'd have to contract with portalet providers -- competing for the vendors with bidders from the city, county, churches, and neighboring cities and counties. Portable shower and latrine facilities can be trucked in from all over the country. But that takes time as well. Oh, and you might have to contract with Brown and Root. I can imagine the screeching and howling already.

Trust me. Brown and Root is good at this. If we're not contracting with Brown and Root, we're fools. They're even better if they can hire all Palestinians, Bosnians, and Philippinas.

Well, suppose you've overcome all these hurdles. Congratulations. You've only made it into the BSA.

How are you going to get troops into the flooded areas? Well, most of your truck assets still are loaded with gear for the first two days. That's assuming you don't have to make return trips to go back and get things A pretty tall assumption. Well, last I checked, light infantry doesn't have any boats or rafts in the inventory. In fact, nobody does, except for a few selected engineer units, such as MRBCs. I know of one such company that served in Iraq with us. Great group of soldiers. Except they're in Wisconsin. These boats would have to be trucked in, and would take days to get there at best. (Their prime movers couldn't go much over 50 mph, and even then that's pushing it with a heavy load.)

Would it have been a good idea to keep a mobile bridge company in the Delta area? Sure, in hindsight. But it ain't there now, Ann. And even then, the number of pontoon boats that would be available is pitiful compared to the need.

It's about damned time someone who has some experience with this stuff chimed in. Link from the awesome Baldilocks.

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