What has eight wheels, weighs at least 19 tons and costs about $123,000 a year to keep on the road?
Any one of the roughly 1,000 Army Stryker infantry vehicles at Joint Base Lewis-McChord fits that bill, according to a new Defense Department Inspector General report that calls for changes in contract oversight for the Stryker’s logistics support program.
The report found that the Defense Department overemphasized one performance standard for contractor General Dynamics in the past five years of a $1.45 billion program: keeping the country’s fleet of 2,576 Strykers ready for combat on three continents.
That focus encouraged General Dynamics to stock up on unnecessary inventory at taxpayers’ expense to the tune of $335.9 million over five years, the auditors concluded. The auditors found the company had every incentive to spend its allotted amount each year – $317.5 million in 2012 – rather than defer spending on parts for replacements and upgrades.
As a result of the audit, the Inspector General said General Dynamics set aside $152.4 million worth of equipment to reduce costs on upcoming work:
“The sole focus on operational readiness created an incentive for the contractor to spend all available funds on Army inventory, valued by General Dynamics at about $676.2 million, resulting in little, if any, cost risk for the contractor or incentive to control cost.”
The high costs of logistics support for Strykers reflects in part the many revisions to the vehicle that have been installed since the start of the Iraq War.
General Dynamics manufactured the first one in 2001 on the eve of the country’s wars. There are now 17 Stryker variants, including the heavily armored, slanted-hull varieties that two Lewis-McChord infantry brigades are using today in Afghanistan. They can pack a big punch with mounted weapons and up to 11 soldiers in each vehicle.
General Dynamics consistently met performance targets of keeping more than 90 percent of each Stryker brigade’s vehicles ready to fight. A brigade usually has about 300 Strykers.
Some of the work keeping Strykers ready for combat takes place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which houses a Stryker processing center that employs about 120 civilian workers.
The Inspector General asked the Army’s Ground Combat Systems Office to consider more criteria in judging the costs of the contract, such as costs per mile. It also suggests the Army rethink what it considers to be the end of the contract, such as by requiring General Dynamics to deliver a specific product or by redefining the level of effort the military expects from the company.
As it was, the Inspector General found that the Ground Systems Office failed to “adequately define performance-based contract requirements in clear, specific, and objective terms with measurable outcomes.”
General Dynamics did not respond to written questions for this story and the Inspector General did not return a call for comment.
The Michigan-based Army Ground Combat Systems Office, which oversees the contract and works closely with General Dynamics to upgrade the vehicles, told the Inspector General it would incorporate the audit’s recommendations despite reservations about how the investigators reached their conclusions.
The Stryker management office rejected the Inspector’s General’s assertion that the Army was failing to control costs in sustaining the vehicles. It said the Stryker program provides weekly updates to a four-star general, holds monthly cost-management reviews and makes regular calls on its contract logistics hubs, including the one at Lewis-McChord.
It said the Inspector General was wrong when it wrote that the report spurred the Stryker office to redirect $152.4 million in equipment. Those savings, the Stryker office said, were attributed to a planned transition assigning more of the maintenance work to active-duty soldiers instead of civilian contractors.
“While the total savings of $152.4 million occurred during the time of this audit, there is no connection between the two events,” wrote Paul Rogers, the deputy director of the Ground Combat Systems Office.
The Inspector General studied Stryker costs by analyzing the total sum of each year’s spending and comparing the expenses to the number of vehicles in the fleet and the number of miles they drove.
For example, it calculated that the government spends $123,000 on each Stryker by dividing the number of vehicles against the $317.5 million General Dynamics is to receive this year for its logistics contract.
By the auditors’ calculations, taxpayers spend more money per mile supporting Strykers in garrisons than at war.
The Inspector General found that the General Dynamics contract costs about $45 per mile for support in the states against about $16 per mile for work in Afghanistan or Iraq. The difference likely is caused by fixed costs that are spread out across more miles in the combat zones, the Inspector General wrote.
In 2009-10 when all three Lewis-McChord Stryker brigades were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, Strykers drove 12.5 million miles at war and 1.6 million miles at home. The Army spent $203 million on the General Dynamics contract for work in combat zones that year versus $74.8 million for work at home.
In addition to revealing how the Pentagon pays for the upkeep of its Stryker fleet, the Inspector General report is full of information describing how soldiers have used the infantry vehicle over the past 10 years of war.
It shows that:
• 77 Strykers have been completely destroyed in combat. Those attacks include the most jarring casualty reports for the military community around Lewis-McChord, such as an October 2009 incident in which seven Stryker soldiers were killed in one blast while fighting in Afghanistan. Each vehicle costs about $4 million to manufacture, according to early audits of the program. Another 435 Strykers were damaged at war.
• Stryker brigades have deployed 16 times, mostly to Iraq, by the time of the audit. Auditors and General Dynamics did not answer questions from The News Tribune about when that period ended, meaning it’s not clear if the two Lewis-McChord Stryker brigades in Afghanistan count toward that total.
• Strykers clocked more than 40 million miles in combat theaters. That’s about 5 million miles farther than a one-way trip to Mars when Earth and Mars are closest to each other.
• Since 2005, General Dynamics fielded 320 retrofit kits to Strykers in combat theaters to improve survivability, such as by adding armor.
The Stryker’s history is tied closely to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It was conceived by retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, who called on the Army to develop a rapidly deployable, medium-weight infantry vehicle that would run on tires instead of tracks.
The first one rolled on to what was the Fort Lewis 10 years ago this June, and the South Sound has been its home base ever since. Three of the country’s eight Stryker brigades are stationed here.
One of them, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was the first Stryker brigade to go to war when it deployed to Iraq in November 2003. It’s in Afghanistan today on its fourth combat tour of this era’s wars.
President George W. Bush praised the vehicles as especially effective in Iraq, calling them “ghost riders” because of their speed and silence on that country’s battlegrounds.
They faced different challenges in Afghanistan, where the country’s few rugged roads initially made Strykers inviting targets for enemy bomb makers during the first deployment of a Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade there in 2009-10. The Army and General Dynamics adapted to those conditions by developing the 30-ton “double V” hull Stryker that is mostly used in Afghanistan today, and casualties inside Strykers have declined.
“The (Stryker program) is being executed in a dynamic environment from the moment the vehicles came off the production line,” Rogers email@example.com