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Equipment disposal a daunting job for military

Oct. 21, 2012 - 10:12AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 21, 2012 - 10:12AM  |  
A Marine at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, receives an M-ATV turned in for the reset process.
A Marine at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, receives an M-ATV turned in for the reset process. (Marine Corps Logistics Command)
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As the war in Afghanistan continues to wind down, millions of pounds of combat equipment are being received and disposed of each week, according to officials with the Defense Logistics Agency, Disposition Services.

In a single week in October, the agency received 4.7 million pounds of equipment too costly to repair or no longer needed by the services to conduct unit missions. That's the equivalent of more than 1,000 Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

The same week, the agency destroyed 3.5 million pounds of material in an ongoing disposal process expected to continue for the next two years — and perhaps beyond. While the amount fluctuates week to week, the agency is tasked with one of the most daunting and important jobs required for a successful transition out of Afghanistan by 2014: to dispose of equipment no longer needed by forces or send it out of theater if it can be reused.

Most recently, Disposition Service teams in Helmand province worked with the Marine Corps to destroy six AV-8B Harriers that were heavily damaged by rocket-propelled grenades during a Sept. 14 insurgent attack at Camp Bastion. Each Harrier is worth about $24 million.

"Thirty truckloads of AV-8B property were turned in [during] one day," according to a Disposition Services report provided to Marine Corps Times. "The Harriers were completely demilitarized within five days of receipt."

Equipment the agency is unable to reuse or that a service cannot repair can usually be demilitarized within 12 to 48 hours, officials said. A four-person team can typically demilitarize a fully stripped MRAP hull in eight hours.

"When we receive larger volumes of equipment, our goal is to ensure that a piece of equipment does not sit more than five to seven days before it is demilitarized," said Army Col. Richard Ellis, deputy director of Disposition Services.

Before equipment is handed over to Disposition Services, Marine Corps technicians must inspect it and report to Marine Corps Logistics Command for further instruction. Some equipment will get shipped back to its home station or a production plant for repair and refurbishment. The Marine Corps has estimated the ground reset process will cost the force $3.2 billion.

In most cases, when the cost of repair exceeds 65 percent of the overall dollar value, equipment is considered too costly to refurbish and will be turned over to Disposition Services. Sometimes, despite exceeding the 65 percent threshold, a service might decide to reset and refurbish equipment such as Light Armored Vehicles, artillery and radar sets because of how critical they are to combat capability.

Marine Corps teams are responsible for removing and disposing of classified material before the handoff. Disposition Services also ensures industrial-type, trade security or proprietary information is completely mutilated to safeguard information from falling into the wrong hands, Ellis said.

Radios, encryption devices, and individual and crew-served weapons are shipped back to the U.S. for disposal because of escalated security concerns.

Before equipment is processed, engines and generators must be drained and purged of hazardous liquids. Disposition Services uses three methods of destruction, depending on equipment type.

"To process heavier equipment, we utilize plasma cutters; for lighter equipment and metals, we use multi-fuel Petrogen cutting torches, and for light vehicles, we use large industrial scrap handlers with a shear assembly that cuts and crushes vehicles," Ellis said.

In some cases, despite a piece of equipment being in good operating condition, it may be too costly to send it through the transportation pipeline for reset.

In September, Maj. Gen. Charles Hudson, commanding general of Marine Corps Logistics Command, told Marine Corps Times that transporting equipment out of Afghanistan, a land-locked country, presents challenges.

"The fact that you've got to fly [equipment] out, that automatically decreases your volume of retrograde," Hudson said.

Ron Wilson, director of the Enterprise Asset Planning Division within the Weapons System Management Center, MCLC, echoed Hudson's concern and said sometimes it is more cost-effective to buy a new piece of gear than to transport it back.

"Trailers are a good example. It may cost you more to transport a particular trailer than it would to simply buy it new," Wilson said.

The Corps will also turn supplies over for disposal if a new variant of the equipment is being transitioned into the force.

"If we have an old variant of the Logistics Vehicle System still in theater, there would be no reason to bring [it] out [of Afghanistan] because we are fielding the new LVS-R," Wilson said.

With an ongoing challenge to manage and destroy equipment in a timely manner, Disposition Services officials said a new 22-acre site at Bagram Airfield to house more equipment prior to disposal is set to be fully capable by the end of October.

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