While US military logisticians constantly work to ensure vital supplies reach the intended end-user, sometimes they are required to retrograde, or to get rid of, excess equipment. Some planners call this operation a war on the excess.
Where does all this extra material come from? Is it the by-product of poor logistics planning? And how does one gauge the volume and scope of such a war on excess?
First of all, it’s important to understand and realize that several factors play an important role in the accumulation of excess military equipment some of it planned and some of it consequential.
The downsizing or right-sizing of a unit’s mission may require less equipment to perform the mission.
A shift in mission focus from one area to another may play a role. And certainly, mission accomplishment may also lead to excess equipment that has served its useful purpose.
So why not just ship the equipment back to its point of origin? Well, several considerations come into play when determining the appropriate disposition of equipment that has been classified as excess.
One of the main considerations is whether it is cost-effective to ship the equipment back to its point of origin.
If, for example, a piece of equipment has reached, or is closely approaching, the end of its useful life-cycle it may not be cost-effective to retrograde the equipment simply to junk it once it reaches its destination.
For pieces of equipment that fall into the close to end of useful life-cycle category, the excess equipment may be scrapped on location or sold locally in accordance with military regulations.
Another consideration that leads to the build-up of excess equipment is a change in the unit mission. In this situation, logisticians may deem it cost-effective for the departing unit to leave their equipment in place and have the newly arriving unit it replaces fall-in on the equipment left by the departing unit.
However, the new unit’s mission may make at least a portion of the equipment left behind superfluous and not required to carry out its mission. Again, the end result is an accumulation of excess equipment.
A change in a unit’s authorized table of distribution and allowances (TDA) can instantly cause a huge amount of excess equipment. This typically occurs when a unit is restructured to perform a different mission than it was previously required to accomplish.
If more equipment is needed for the new mission, based upon an enhanced TDA, then logisticians work to fill the equipment void.
If the TDA requires less equipment for the unit to meet its objectives, then you’ve got another case of excess military equipment.
The closure of military base camps and accountability inventories associated with such events typically turns up huge quantities of military excess.
Base camp closures typically represent mission completion or downsizing and the need for the logistician to determine what will be done with excess equipment that is no longer needed.
Developing such plans presents a particular challenge to logisticians who, on the one hand, are asked to dispose of excess equipment and, on the other, to find a suitable use and cost-effective disposition of equipment to other users who have a bona fide need for the excess.
It’s a juggling challenge that can only be met by understanding the causes of military equipment excess, and also understanding the needs of the organization as a whole. This ensures that only the best disposition plans are developed and implemented.