Military News Highlights: December 3, 2010

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COIN standards for Afghanistan approved

Secretary Gates has approved a COIN skills list (COIN Qualification Standards) for troops in Afghanistan.  It is rather extraordinary for top civilian officials to approve pre-deployment tactical and operational training tasks.  Perhaps this is an effort for General Petreaus to dictate that a certain level of COIN proficiency is required prior to deployment.  Sounds reasonable, right?  But, why does this kind of guidance have to be rubber-stamped by Secretary Gates?  Can’t the uniformed service leaders and operational commanders work this out amongst themselves?  Unless of course, General Petreaus tried to work the COIN Qualification Standards through uniformed service leaders and operational commanders and they told him to get bent.   Seems that Petreaus’ brand of COIN is the only acceptable goblet at the table – all others don’t get served.  Won’t this stifle initiative and new ideas?   And what happens say, if you follow the list during pre-deployment training, and your unit deploys, and you put the task list into practice and your unit fails?  Then what?  Who then becomes accountable?

And one last thing, what the hell is “Develop a Learning Organization” as a task?

Cables Depict Heavy Afghan Graft, Starting at the Top

Are we at all surprised that the latest batch of Wikileak cables depicts unprecedented levels of graft, corruption, decadence, and lies coming out of Kabul and Afghanistan?  Are we really surprised by this?  Maybe it’s the scope and breadth of the corruption that is so startling.  Examples of a country where everything is for sale include:

  • The Transportation Ministry collects $200 million a year in trucking fees, but only $30 million is turned over to the government;
  • Bribes and profit-skimming in the organization of travel to Saudi Arabia for the hajj or pilgrimage;
  • a scheme to transfer money via cellphones;
  • in the purchase of wheat seed;
  • in the compilation of an official list of war criminals;
  • and in the voting in Parliament.

Quite staggering after all when you consider the fact that the US  military is stuck with the mission of reversing Afghanistan’s failed moral and cultural compass.

Army Working on Lightweight .50 cal

The XM806 is a new version of the M2 Heavy Machine Gun undergoing a “fundamental redesign” to cut its weight in half, increase its accuracy, and improve its tactical application.  The M2’s basic items of issue including the tripod will also be lightened.  The intent behind the program is to enhance the current stock of M2’s and not replace the M2.  Perhaps the programs efforts can share its results in future redesign of other critical equipment and armaments in order to improve tactical firepower and survivability.

Somber ritual as slain soldiers are returned to U.S.

Hopefully the VIPs (Pentagon and White House officials) that recently attended and observed the dignified transfer of remains recently at Dover Air Base will keep in mind the “human cost of a long-running, faraway war” as they deliberate over the next few weeks reviewing the Afghanistan policy.

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M2 “Ma Duce” gets overhaul

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According to press releases, the U.S. Army has awarded General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products a  $35 million order  to manufacture M2A1 quick change barrel (“QCB”) conversion kits.  According to the news release,  “the QCB conversion kits feature several direct-replacement parts to modify existing M2 heavy barrel (M2HB) machine guns to the M2A1 configuration.  Deliveries are scheduled to begin in January 2011 and will continue through December 2012. “

“‘With the QCB conversion kits, the U.S. warfighter can change the machine gun barrel in a few seconds.  The M2A1 features fixed headspace and timing, which eliminates the need to manually calibrate the weapon after each barrel change and reduces exposure time to enemy fire,'” said Mike O’Brien, vice president and general manager of gun systems for General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products.”

Since its introduction in 1921 –  Yep, 1921! –  the M2 Heavy Duty Machine Gun has been one of the most reliable weapons for US ground troops.   Earlier, Senior Editor, Roger Charles  had reported that the DoDIG had found serious deficiencies in the procurement of spare parts for the M2 in Afghanistan.  While hopeful that the logistical nightmare that plagued troops on the ground has now been remedied, we trust that the M2A1 will prove to be more effective than its predecessor.  Nevertheless, our troops deserve reliable weapons and an effective supply chain that guarantees them that the “right” parts will arrive at the “right” time.

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DOD Calls for Changes in Military Procurement Practices

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In a delightful article published by Huffington Post entitled “Pentagon’s New Contractor Policy Doesn’t Scare the Defense Industry At All,” Huffington’s editors sadly conclude that recently announced measures to improve the efficiency of the military’s procurement process are likely to produce little more than a yawn from contractors who have long thrived on the ineptitude of the Defense Department.

Ashton_CarterIn a June 28th Memorandum for Acquisition Professionals, Defense Department Acquisition Chief Ashton B. Carter,, calls for military suppliers to “. . . abandon inefficient practices accumulated in a period of budget growth and learn to manage defense dollars in a manner that is, to quote Secretary Gates . . .’is respectful of the American taxpayer at a time of economic and fiscal distress.'”   I  assume that most American taxpayers would be incensed to discover that military spending profligacy needs to be curtailed only during periods of “fiscal distress.”  This seems to be a damning indictment of the questionable and most likely corrupt procurement practices that are now so firmly entrenched at the Pentagon. 

Huffington Post goes on to say, “it’s a testament to how corrupt the now $400 billion a year contracting process has become that the changes outlined Monday seem in any way dramatic; they are, mostly, simple assertions of common sense. Among the new policies, as summarized by me (Huffington Post):

  •  Cut down on awarding contracts without genuine competition.
  • Cut down on contracts in which government pays for all or part of cost overruns.
  • Reward higher productivity, innovation and excellence, rather than other things.
  • Get credit for government’s generous cash-flow policies.
  • Eliminate valueless overhead and administrative fees; for instance, don’t pay contractors’ bidding and proposal expenses when there was no bidding.
  • Add more and better government acquisition workers.
  • Improve audits.
  • Let cost considerations shape requirements and design for new programs such as the presidential helicopter, the ground combat vehicle and the new nuclear submarine fleet.
  • Don’t allow contractors to reduce production rates without approval.”

Our troops in the field are painfully aware of the inadequacies of our military procurement process as evidenced by the improper testing of body armor, the recent recall of military helmets and ceramic plates, the inability of the Defense Department to supply replacement parts for the M2 heavy duty machine gun and the reported ineffectivness of the M4 in Afghanistan.   If the Defense Department really wanted to show the taxpayers and military contractors that they mean business, the should begin by firing government employees whose oversights and/or indiscretions are responsible for those failures and ban military suppliers from bidding on new contracts where neglect has been shown as reported by the DODIG or GAO. 

Mr. Carter’s soft memo to “Acquisition Professionals,” is the equivalent of giving prison inmates a copy of Emily Post’s book on Etiquette.  The military industrial complex is alive and well and thriving at taxpayer expense and in the blood of our young men and women serving in harm’s way.

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Flaws in M2 and M4 Expose Troops in Afghanistan

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Article first published as Deficient Guns Expose Troops in Afghanistan on Technorati.

On the heels of the General Accountability Office (“GAO”) report of the improper testing of body armor supplied to U.S. troops and the recall of 44,000 defective military helmets manufactured by Federal Prison Industries, comes equally discouraging news of serious deficiencies in the M4 carbine and M2 Heavy Machine Gun (“HMG”) supplied to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

In a report entitled “Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Take back the Infantry Half-Kilometer (11/09),” Army MAJ Thomas P. Ehrhart concludes that the M4 carbine as presently configured is not the proper weapon for the Afghan terrain. Bullets fired from M4s don’t retain enough velocity at distances greater than 1,000 feet to kill an adversary. In hilly regions of Afghanistan, NATO and insurgent forces are often at a distance of 2,000 to 2,500 feet.

Also discouraging is the alarming report from the Department of Defense (“DoD”) Inspector General (“IG”) that documents the blithering incompetence inside the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) is supplying spare parts for the M2 Heavy Machine Gun. The M2 .50-caliber HMG is better known as “Ma Duece” by those who rely upon it to reach out and “touch” Jihad Johnny in a memorable way.

Senior Investigative Reporter Roger Charles of Soldiers for the Truth (“SFTT”) reports that the “DLA did not have effective internal controls in place to ensure appropriate and effective contracting procedures related to contract quality assurance, product quality deficiency report processing, spare part kit assembly, and oversight of contractor deliveries.

Specifically, contractors provided at least 7,100 non-conforming parts on 24 contracts.

  • DLA did not adequately process 95 of 127 product quality deficiency reports.
  • DLA did not deliver 60 spare part kits on time to support a U.S. Army program to overhaul 2,600 M2 machine guns and provided non-conforming parts in kits
  • DLA did not pursue adequate compensation from contractors who were significantly late in providing critical parts on 49 contracts.

The DoD IG inquiry was sparked by troops who cited “slow to no response” in receiving spare parts for this critical weapon to engage the enemy at distances beyond the range of the M4.

The slew of reports detailing inadequacies in the military procurement process indicate that these problems are truly systemic and require a total overhaul.

It is absolutely unacceptable that our military and political leaders seem unable or unwilling to provide our men and women serving in harm’s way with the proper equipment to do their job and come home alive and in one piece. These alarming studies show that we have a serious problem in our military procurement system and unless Americans raise their voice and say “enough,” it is likely to continue that way.

Read more: http://technorati.com/politics/article/deficient-guns-expose-troops-in-afghanistan/#ixzz0q9M0kHwF

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M2 Heavy Machine Gun Fails Troops in Afghanistan: More on DoDIG Report

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As readers of SFTT News are aware, I had previously reported on the blithering incompetence demonstrated by the US Army and DoD in the procurement of spare parts for the M2 Heavy Machine Gun that is essential to the survival of our troops in Afghanistan.   “Blithering incompetence” are my words, but reading the Department of Defense Inspector General (“DoDIG”) on the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) handling of critical spare parts for the M2, my words seem mild compared to the outrageous and indefensible behavior of those entrusted to make sure that our frontline troops have the proper combat equipment and protective gear. 

The DoDIG essentially informs  the Secretary of Defense that after eight years of combat in Afghanistan and seven years of combat in Iraq, the bureaucrats in the DLA do not have a minimally-acceptable process that gets our frontline troops the right spare parts for their M2’s in a timely fashion.

In fact, the DoDIG tested 21 different spare parts and one 98-piece spare part kit, all of which are designated “critical application items,” which are defined thusly:  “A critical application item is one that is essential to the preservation of life in emergencies or essential to end-item or system performance, the failure of which would adversely affect the accomplishment of a military operation.”   Here is the “good” news from the DoDIG report:  “At least 7,100 items did not conform with quality standards for 24 of the 103 contracts, including parts that:

  •  contractors manufactured incorrectly,
  • did not meet specific quality standards, and
  • contained inadequate phosphate surface coating to prevent corrosion

Many readers will recall previous DoDIG and GAO reports documented how the Army acquisition bureaucrats had subverted the First Article Testing process to ensure substandard body armor was issued to our frontline troop, and these readers will not be surprised that in this investigation report, DODIG found the responsible DOD agency:   “. . . did not include a first article test requirement in 79 of the 103 contracts we reviewed. For 21 of the 79 contracts, contractors ultimately provided parts that did not conform to contract specifications. If [DoD] had included appropriate quality assurance provisions in these contracts, such as a first article testing requirement, it could have identified contractor deficiencies at an earlier date.”

The DoGIG also noted that a DLA office had “performed 20 product verification tests on items associated with the M2 contracts we sampled. Contractors failed 14 of the 20 tests . . .”  So, contractors failed 70% of tests of their “products,” products designated as “critical application items” essential to our frontline troops having fully functioning M2’s.  No one pays a penalty; contractors get paid for shoddy work; bureaucrats get paid for showing up. Business as usual in today’s Military Industrial Congressional Complex.

There’s a lot more to digest in this DODIG report, but let’s end with these two findings:

“. . . did not always use appropriate and effective contracting quality assurance procedures to ensure that contractors provided M2 machine gun parts that conformed to contract specifications. This increased the risk for the warfighter, who had to wait for critical M2 gun parts.” [Duh!!]

“. . .contracting officials were not holding contractors accountable for late deliveries of critical application M2 gun parts. Monetary compensation for nonperformance is a key element DSCC can use to hold contractors accountable for complying with contract delivery terms.”

If by chance, you share SFTT’s outrage at this egregious negligence and dereliction of duty on the part of those who sole responsibility is to support America’s great frontline troops, you might want to ask your elected representative how many thousands of dollars went to DLA last year for “superior performance” bonuses?  I recall the outrage at bonuses being awarded to executives of AIG and Merril Lynch after the bail-out.   Shame on the DLA and those officials who continue to condone this serial dereliction of duty and blind incompetence in our military procurement process.  Our troops deserve better. 

Last point, the Army shares in the “joy” of this report due to its documented failures in making DLA aware of this situation with sufficient “emphasis,” and for the flaws in both technical data packages and overhaul projects for the M2.  The sad truth is that no one involved demonstrated even a minimal concern about getting critical spare parts to those whose very survival might well depend on getting them in a timely manner, i.e., before their next firefight.

Roger Charlges

Senior Investigative Report and SFTT Editor

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44,000 Military Helmets Recalled

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Just when you thought it couldn’t get much worse, it has now been reported that the US Army has recalled 44,000 helmets which failed to meet US Army testing standards.  In an article reported in Yahoo news, helmets manufactured by ArmorSource in Hebron, Ohio currently issued to troops serving in Afghanistan were recalled following an investigation by the US Justice Department.

According to Brigadier General Pete Fuller, who is quoted in the article, the helmets were issued to American troops in 2007, including soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Says General Fuller, “We don’t know where they (helmets) are. So they could be on some soldier’s head in either Iraq or Afghanistan. They could also be anywhere else in the world.”

ArmorSource, claiming to have been surprised by the investigation, has issued a one-page statement on their website claiming they will cooperate with the investigation into the defective military helmets.

General Fuller indicated that  ArmorSource manufactured 102,000 helmets under a 2006 contract at a cost of $250 a piece. Of that number, 44,000 were distributed to troops and have been recalled, while 55,000 are still in storage and the military refused to accept the remaining 3,000.

In yet another glaring indictment of the DoD military procurement process, it is worth recapping the current ongoing investigations:

  • body armor currently worn by our frontline troops failed to meet minimum test protocols as reported by the GAO and IG and is currently being investigated by the Committee for Government Oversight and Reform;
  • the standard issue M4 carbine is not effective for combat in Afghanistan according to US Army sources;
  • the DoD Inspector General has reported on serious deficiencies in the supply of spare parts for the M2 heavy machine gun deemed essential for combat in Afghanistan.

As Roger Charles, Editor of SFTT, has reported “the shoddy procurement process within the DoD only confirms that the problems indentified by SFTT are truly systemic and not unique to body armor.”

If we would accord our brave heroes the same level of oversight that we pay to defective brake pedals, most of our troops would probably be in a stateside repair shop since the combat equipment we are providing them seems best suited for paintball warfare.  Where is the outrage?

Richard W. May

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DoD Waste and Incompetence Cited by IG in sourcing spare parts for M2 Heavy Machine Gun

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Thanks to Mother Jones writer Adam Weinstein who brought this item to our attention, SFTT has reviewed a recent DoDIG report  (Department of Defense Inspector General) that documents yet more absolutely blithering incompetence inside the multi-billion dollar DoD Procurement bureaucracy.  The issue in this case is spare parts for the M2 .50-caliber Heavy Machine Gun (“HMG”), better known as “Ma Duece” by those who rely upon it to reach out and “touch” Jihad Johnny in a memorable way.

M-2 Heavy Duty Machine Gun

 

This DoD IG investigation was kicked off by field reports of slow-to-no response for critical spare parts needed to keep their M2’s in “lethal” condition. When DoD IG inspectors looked into cited complaints, they found a level of incompetence that would be laughable were it not for the reality that these M2’s are life-saving to our troops and death-dealing to our enemy when they are fully functioning. But, when M2’s are sidelined for lack of spare parts, we all know who pays the price in blood and gore for not having their HMG to hammer through mudwalls or to nail some jihadii who is out of range of the pathetically under-powered M-4 carbine

Here’s what the DoDIG folks staked out as their objective on this investigation: “What We Did: We determined whether the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) used appropriate and effective contracting procedures to provide customers with critical application M2 machine gun parts.”  Now for the meat of their findings: 

DLA did not have effective internal controls in place to ensure appropriate and effective contracting procedures related to contract quality assurance, product quality deficiency report processing, spare part kit assembly, and oversight of contractor deliveries. Specifically,

  • Contractors provided at least 7,100 non-conforming parts on 24 contracts.
  • DLA did not adequately process 95 of 127 product quality deficiency reports.
  •  DLA did not deliver 60 spare part kits on time to support a U.S. Army program to overhaul 2,600 M2 machine guns and provided non-conforming parts in kits.
  • DLA did not pursue adequate compensation from contractors who were significantly late in providing critical parts on 49 contracts.

As a result,

  • Warfighters had to wait for critical M2 gun parts as DLA had backorders on 7,183 requisitions for 60,701 parts during a 12-month period. Priority group 1 comprised 4,097 of these requisitions for 40,333 parts.
  • A US Army program to overhaul M2 machine guns was negatively impacted.
  • DLA missed opportunities to identify contractors with performance problems and obtain adequate compensation.
  • Because of the quality problems, the Government spent at least $655,000 in funds that could have been put to better use.
  • DLA missed an opportunity to obtain approximately $405,000 in contractor compensation for late deliveries.
  • DLA has initiated several corrective actions to improve the quality of M2 machine gun parts.
  • Implementing our recommendations should improve DLA’s internal controls over contracting.

 Here’s the DoDIG “kicker” for DLA:  “. . . establish controls and implement measures to improve its contract quality assurance procedures, product quality deficiency report processing, spare part kit assembly, and contractor delivery oversight . . .”  This is equivalent to the DoDIG telling the Secretary of Defense that no such effective controls and measures are currently in place. That’s right, in 2010, after over eight years of combat in Afghanistan and seven years of combat in Iraq, the desk-jockeys of DLA do not have a minimally-acceptable process that gets our frontline troops the right spare parts for their M2’s in a timely fashion.

The sad truth is that no one involved demonstrated even a minimal concern about getting critical spare parts to those whose very survival might well depend on getting them in a timely manner, i.e., before their next firefight. 

There is more to this report that I will be covering in a subsequent article.  However, for those who have followed SFTT’s investigation of the mix of unexplainable behavior and incompetence that produced the Interceptor Body Armor fiasco, this report on the shoddy procurement process within the DoD only confirms that the problems indentified by SFTT are truly systemic and not unique to body armor. 

It is absolutely unacceptable that we seem unable or unwilling to provide our men and women serving in harm’s way the proper equipment to do their job and come home alive in one piece.  Folks, we have a serious problem in our military procurement system and unless  Americans raise their voice and say “enough,” it is likely to continue that way.  Find out what you can do to support SFTT’s mission by becoming a Member or by Volunteering your services to get the SFTT message across to our Congressional and military leaders. 

Roger Charles

Senior Investigative Reporter and Editor

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