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Surplus surplus surplus, Sir!
June 21, 2013 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Military planners for the U.S. Army have decided not to ship back more than $7 billion of equipment — about 20 percent of what the Army brought into Afghanistan — because the shipping costs are too high and the need for the used equipment too low. Instead, the Army is destroying the equipment in-country: shredding it, crushing it and selling it on the Afghan scrap market for pennies a pound.
posted by infini (82 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seems like having cheap scrap metal around to forge into new stuff is way better than having a bunch of tanks laying around. Why burn the precious oil to ship these things back when they are useless to us?
posted by gjc at 7:50 AM on June 21, 2013


I bet you could make a cool RV out of an MRAP
posted by ian1977 at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2013


thats why they do it.
I would have guessed 35%.
posted by clavdivs at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2013


Where's Milo Minderbinder when you need him?
posted by dismas at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2013 [23 favorites]


Joe Dope would be real happy about this.
posted by clavdivs at 7:54 AM on June 21, 2013


Perhaps they will forge the scrap metal into ten thousand plowshares.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:54 AM on June 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


This is very common after a miltary pulls out of an area, or after a war ends. After WWII, the Navy announced plans to scrap every battleship except the South Dakota and Iowa classes. Congress screamed about how can you throw away nearly a billion dollars of ship?

The Navy said "Well, actually, the real value is about 3¢ per ton."

Every carriers that wasn't a Essex class was also consigned to the scrapyard. Well, except for Saratoga and Independence. They were nuked in Operation Crossroads.

The USAAC (about to become the USAF) left a few hundred tons of supplies -- and a few hundred running cars -- on Saipan after the pull out. For years, people would drive them, and when they stopped working, they'd just go get another one.

Lend Lease was weird too. After the war, the Brits had to either return, pay for, or write off as lost thousands of tanks and airplanes. The British Pacific Fleet's answer? They pushed the Corsairs. Avengers and Wildcats they'd gotten from the US over the side and wrote them off.

It cost a ton of money to get that stuff across the world. Unless you could really use it, and it was in good shape, once the conflict is over, you look at the cost of shipping in back, and you don't.
posted by eriko at 7:56 AM on June 21, 2013 [37 favorites]


Forgot my cites
"Dope’s area of inexpertness however was confined to the motor pool where he regularly forgot to keep the vehicles in his charge maintained, drove them too fast, and proved to be a notorious equipment hog.

Which is the reason he may have remained a privet from the Korean conflict all the way to the Viet Nam war."
posted by clavdivs at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is obvious waste, for a very good reason. A lesson we have already learned twice.

Leaving tons of military hardware in Afghanistan unattended, is just going to come back and bite us in the ass later.
posted by timsteil at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I agree that this seems like the most sensible option. If it's not worth the gas to fly these things home, then what are your other options? The fact that they're not just dynamiting all the equipment in the field is a good thing, I think. They could probably spin this as the largest concentrated metal recycling effort on the planet.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


“This is the largest retrograde mission in history.”

Bit late to be realising that, I feel.
posted by Segundus at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is like Oprah's Favorite Things. With gunpowder.

You get a tank, you get a tank, you get a tank ... Everybody gets a tank! Everybody gets a tank!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:58 AM on June 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


oh and
Get your Bikini
posted by clavdivs at 7:59 AM on June 21, 2013


Aren't we going to need that stuff in Syria in a couple of months?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:59 AM on June 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Why not just load all the equipment on to a couple of massive cargo ships at one of Afghanistan's many deep-water ports?
posted by miyabo at 7:59 AM on June 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


It cost a ton of money to get that stuff across the world. Unless you could really use it, and it was in good shape, once the conflict is over, you look at the cost of shipping in back, and you don't.

Look at all the trade conference attendees who ship booth material halfway across the world and then scrap it. Best time to snag some swag is right at the end of the conference, no one wants to haul that crap home.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:00 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd hope that they break it down enough so it's only suitable for civilian use. Last thing you want is the Taliban waging war on their own people again, but this time with armour plating.
posted by arcticseal at 8:00 AM on June 21, 2013


Why not just load all the equipment on to a couple of massive cargo ships at one of Afghanistan's many deep-water ports?

...because Afghanistan is land-locked?
posted by backseatpilot at 8:01 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think you're both aware of that, backseatpilot.

Probably totally impossible to get a ton of munitions to Syria from Afghanistan. Let's just roll it through Iran and Iraq, nbd.
posted by sibboleth at 8:04 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


...because Afghanistan is land-locked?

Indeed.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:06 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This has got to be a bent quartermaster's wet dream.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:06 AM on June 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Military planners have determined that they will not ship back more than $7 billion worth of equipment — about 20 percent of what the U.S. military has in Afghanistan — because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home.

And because the U.S. taxpayer will happily replace it with brand new stuff purchased from the same military contractors providing by way of lagniappe stimulus to the American economy.
posted by three blind mice at 8:07 AM on June 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Leaving tons of military hardware in Afghanistan unattended, is just going to come back and bite us in the ass later.

You get a tank, you get a tank, you get a tank ... Everybody gets a tank! Everybody gets a tank!

I'd hope that they break it down enough so it's only suitable for civilian use.

You don't even have to RTFA to learn that "...the Army is destroying the equipment in-country: shredding it, crushing it..." It's right up there at the top of this page!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:08 AM on June 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


In 10 years time I know the US wouldn't want footage of jihadis riding around in their old MRAPS , I get that. But I find it hard to accept that a desperately poor country can't be allowed access to reliable soft skin or converted vehicles and thousands of tons of spares, and manuals, and the specialist equipment and buildings required to maintain them.

And are we all really going to sit around and agree with the Pentagon that the Afghans can't maintain a humvee?
posted by fingerbang at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I did RTFA. Hence the use of "enough" in my sentence.
posted by arcticseal at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


but thats what they say
posted by clavdivs at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2013


What about allies in the Mid East or NATO? Would they not be willing to pick it for cheap & pay for shipping?
posted by asra at 8:11 AM on June 21, 2013


What sort of machine do you use to shred a tank? Because I want one! No, I want two - so I can get them to try to shred each other.
posted by vanar sena at 8:13 AM on June 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


Well, the entire invasion and occupation was money well-spent, so this is just in keeping with the overall high level of planning and fiscal prudence.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:13 AM on June 21, 2013 [25 favorites]


What sort of machine do you use to shred a tank?

Probably one of these.
posted by echo target at 8:16 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd hope that they break it down enough so it's only suitable for civilian use.

Yeah, about that.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:18 AM on June 21, 2013


I did RTFA. Hence the use of "enough" in my sentence.

You hope they're "destroying, shredding, and crushing" it enough to be "only suitable for civilian use", huh?
posted by ook at 8:19 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Congress keeps buying hundreds of millions of dollars of M1A1 tanks for the Army even though the Army itself insists it does not need any more tanks, and already has thousands of extra un-needed tanks in a giant desert parking lot.

So it doesn't surprise me that they are shredding equipment rather than ship it back.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:20 AM on June 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


WAR IS HELL...on the pocketbook.

The best way to avoid this in the future? Don't start a war. How many diplomats does $7 Billion buy?
posted by JJ86 at 8:21 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


WAR IS HELL...on the pocketbook.

Unfortunately, war is AWESOME on the pocketbooks of the people in power and their buddies.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:23 AM on June 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Every debit is a credit for someone.
posted by forgetful snow at 8:28 AM on June 21, 2013


Meanwhile, the Forest Service is forced to hire 500 fewer fire fighters for what is shaping up to be an unprecedented wildfire season due to sequester-caused budget cuts. This is such a despicable waste. As the man said, war is a racket.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:29 AM on June 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


This seems ridiculous. Why wouldn't they give this stuff to the Afghan army and let them decide if they want to destroy it?


there is concern that Afghanistan’s fledgling forces would be unable to maintain it.

So train them to maintain it. Aren't the Afghan's going to need MRAP's?
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:31 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


we will not need all that we bought for Iraq and Afghanistan in the future

You know the adage about how militaries train to fight the last war?
It looks like we're going to the war before that.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2013


Hey if it can still kill kids then it is more valuable than scrap metal.

On an unrelated note, those Toyota trucks from the 70s and 80s are amazing. Some of the oldest vehicles you will still see in use.
posted by Teakettle at 8:36 AM on June 21, 2013


What you paid for an item is not its value forever. Hell, it's usually not its value five minutes after purchase.
posted by Sequence at 8:38 AM on June 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yep, at the end of WWII -- especially in the Pacific -- plenty of stuff was pushed over the side of aircraft carriers or thrown into the sea. Wasteful? You bet! Did anyone at the time have a better solution? Not really.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:40 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems ridiculous. Why wouldn't they give this stuff to the Afghan army and let them decide if they want to destroy it?

It's quite likely that in true uniformed mafia style they would get driven in the front door and then sold out of the back to various warlords.
posted by jaduncan at 8:42 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Congress keeps buying hundreds of millions of dollars of M1A1 tanks for the Army even though the Army itself insists it does not need any more tanks, and already has thousands of extra un-needed tanks in a giant desert parking lot.


How much do you want to bet that the manufacturer of M1A1 tanks is based in a powerful congressional district?
posted by acb at 8:43 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


plenty of stuff was pushed over the side of aircraft carriers or thrown into the sea.

Yeah, this kind of thing is not a new innovation. I only hope that the solutions that they use to get rid of this surplus will be more environmentally friendly than dumping tons of metal and chemicals directly into the ocean.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:44 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


So they're literally turning weapons into ploughshares (and other stuff that can be built from the cheap scrap). And this is a bad thing?
posted by Authorized User at 8:48 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


These are a million a shot. Let's say the knocked-off-the-truck price is $100k for the local rich middlemen - at that price it's probably quite worth driving them to the Iranian or Turkmen border and selling them there.
posted by jaduncan at 8:49 AM on June 21, 2013


That is to say, verifiably crushing them is by far the better plan.
posted by jaduncan at 8:55 AM on June 21, 2013


They use bonded Nepali labor to break them down. And I think somewhere in the article it says that the reason they're not leaving the vehicles is that the roads are not good enough for them to be used. The article looks different today than it did yesterday when I first saw it. But what do I know, my eyes are probably playing tricks on me.
posted by infini at 8:59 AM on June 21, 2013


The roads are not good enough for them to be used..

I can't make this make sense. Sorry.
posted by fingerbang at 9:07 AM on June 21, 2013


It's quite likely that in true uniformed mafia style they would get driven in the front door and then sold out of the back to various warlords.

So we can't give the Afghan army any heavy equipment because they might sell it to warlords. Wow, I bet that's going to work out well. Welcome back, Taliban!

Afghan Army Seeks Better Equipment, But Lacks Basic Skills
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:11 AM on June 21, 2013


The roads are not good enough for them to be used..

I can't make this make sense. Sorry.


It's hard to take all the equipment down still terrible and IEDed roads with people at least occasionally shooting bullets and/or RPGs at you.
posted by jaduncan at 9:18 AM on June 21, 2013


They should give the privilege of destroying all that military hardware to the people of Afghanistan. It might be really cathartic for the locals if they got to help destroy all those big destructive machines themselves, clearly signalling an end to our occupation, and maybe giving some a sense of closure to this especially violent period in their recent history.

It's unrealistic and impractical, I know, but there'd be a certain poetry to a gesture like that.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:21 AM on June 21, 2013


“Frankly, in a lot of ways, the Afghan economy and military can’t absorb some of the things the Iraqis did,” said Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, the Army deputy chief of staff for logistics. “We don’t want to give [the Afghans] a lot of equipment that they can’t handle and could compound their challenges.”

Military officials said they have spent billions of dollars equipping and building up Afghanistan’s security forces over the past decade, outfitting them with lighter tactical vehicles that are a better fit for the country’s rudimentary road networks.

posted by infini at 9:21 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you really want a tank of your own, the UK is flogging some off. Auction's on Monday. (slyt).

And you know who else has a tank? Come to daddy...
posted by Devonian at 9:22 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Afghan Army Seeks Better Equipment, But Lacks Basic Skills

Yes, your link also says that they aren't good at working with high tech stuff and the Pentagon also thinks it'll get sold off. It's not like this story hasn't happened before there.
posted by jaduncan at 9:22 AM on June 21, 2013


especially violent period

The tragic thing is that it actually wasn't an especially violent period for Afghanistan.
posted by jaduncan at 9:23 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree that this seems like the most sensible option. If it's not worth the gas to fly these things home, then what are your other options?

Not to make or use the cursed weapons of war in the first place.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:25 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Afghanistan is also a focal point for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which is currently working in Jalalabad, Kabul, Herat and Kandahar. OLPC's Samuel Klein noted that locals are being introduced to Wikipedia for the first time, which resulted in an amazing image of an Afghan family viewing Wikipedia on OLPC laptops (right). Wikipedia has a robust Pashto-language version.

OMG! Its sentient!!

Oh and the main point of the article was that you can build cheap WiFi out of scrap, so hopefully all these trucks will now connect the locals directly to the NSA, much safer, no?
posted by infini at 9:26 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


What if they held a trade conference and no one came?
posted by goethean at 9:27 AM on June 21, 2013


>How much do you want to bet that the manufacturer of M1A1 tanks is based in a powerful congressional district?


That's small time. Usually for projects like these components are made in multiple states and final assembly is in another. This allows for multiple congressional sponsors. Something complex like fighter jets have components created in dozens of states.
posted by anti social order at 9:44 AM on June 21, 2013


components created in dozens of states.

Sometimes almost a Congressional majority of them, even...
posted by jaduncan at 9:46 AM on June 21, 2013


Makes me think of John Ringo's book The Last Centurion:
Bandit Six, the protagonist, discusses his adventures following a withdrawal from the Middle East by US Forces in a time of chaos and disease. He commands a Stryker company that is left behind in Iran to guard a U.S. military equipment depot after a worldwide outbreak of mutated bird flu. He and his company repeat the journey of the Ten Thousand to return home, where he assists in agricultural recovery efforts and leads a military operation to regain control of a major US city.
Good book, if you can ignore the politics. When it was written it was all but certain that Hillary was going to be President in '08, and there's a very-very-thinly veiled portrayal of her in the book that is not kind whatsoever.
posted by mrbill at 9:50 AM on June 21, 2013


After reading the second page of the article (red face) it makes a little more sense to me. But still, statements like “we don’t want to give [the Afghans] a lot of equipment that they can’t handle and could compound their challenges” bother me. Surely the ANA must have some competent administration of its own by this point in time that could decide for itself whether or not it could use any of the equipment and what challenges it faces, especially considering how hard it could be to support them if supply routes through Pakistan are shut down. The NPR article also mentions ANA selling their equipment to the Taliban. What a mess. I wonder what will happen after the U.S. pulls out.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:51 AM on June 21, 2013


Congress keeps buying hundreds of millions of dollars of M1A1 tanks for the Army even though the Army itself insists it does not need any more tanks, and already has thousands of extra un-needed tanks in a giant desert parking lot.

How much do you want to bet that the manufacturer of M1A1 tanks is based in a powerful congressional district?


Tanks are built all over the place, for just that reason -- DoD knows that pulling a weapons system away from one pair of grubby hands is one thing, but pulling it away from a dozen pairs of grubby hands is another entirely.

However, it is probably not a coincidence that the headquarters of Army tank development is in Warren, Michigan, which is represented by the longest serving member of Congress in history.
posted by Etrigan at 9:56 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


acb: "How much do you want to bet that the manufacturer of M1A1 tanks is based in a powerful congressional district?"

I'm assuming it's based in all of them.
posted by pwnguin at 9:57 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The M1A1 tank is built by General Dynamics and yes they are huge and, if not everywhere, certainly a major employer in several important districts. The army is actually considering temporary shutdown of the Lima Army Tank Plant (in Ohio) because they don't need more tanks right now but that depends on whether Congress allocates additional funding for the facility.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:38 AM on June 21, 2013


(in Ohio)

A swing state? Say it ain't so!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:42 AM on June 21, 2013


How about we have them build bulldozers. Sounds like they need roads in Afghanistan.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:48 AM on June 21, 2013


It's not like Afghanistan hasn't been there and done that.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:41 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is an actual non-cynical, non-political argument that can be made for keeping the GenDyn M1A2 production line open. The workers at that plant are the only people in the U.S. who know how to make tanks. We can't buy Chinese or Mexican main battle tanks and if we lose the only people in the country who actually know how to build the things we are up the creek if we ever decide to build the M1A3 or whatever the next tank is.
posted by Megafly at 4:41 PM on June 21, 2013


The most contentious and closely watched part of the effort involves the disposal of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, the hulking beige personnel carriers that the Pentagon raced to build starting in 2007 to counter the threat of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Most Badass Truck in the US Army Is Straight Out of Thunderdome
posted by homunculus at 5:33 PM on June 21, 2013


Yes, junking MRAPs is idiotic.
posted by jaduncan at 5:40 PM on June 21, 2013


Maybe we can use the scrap to build a new economy to replace the one we spent on the tanks?
posted by nowhere man at 6:29 AM on June 22, 2013


The MRAPs are already junk even if they're still driving around. there is a mish-mash of different versions due to the rush to get them made and deployed. They're terribly engineered because all of the early ones were built but lots of little outfits that didn't really know what they were doing. I suppose the one that International Trucks started building after a while was decent. They are also of almost no use in Afghanistan because, as was said above, the roads aren't good enough. They worked in Iraq because they were driving down paved roads and highways. Even then they don't fit down small streets. Which is a general problem with all of our vehicles. If we still had something like the m151 MUTT or the military land rovers it would be a different story.

In a side note I wish the military would stop trying to make 'Joint' vehicles (JSF, JLTV). They just end up being compromised and more expensive because they try really hard but still fail to make them not compromised.
posted by TheJoven at 9:11 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even with that, it would make sense to warehouse them for future use.
posted by jaduncan at 1:24 AM on June 24, 2013


The Tank Warehouse.
for all your taliban needs
posted by clavdivs at 7:05 AM on June 25, 2013


I'm talking about the mine clearance stuff.
posted by jaduncan at 8:42 AM on June 25, 2013


I'm talking about the mine clearance stuff.

What mine clearance stuff?
posted by Authorized User at 3:21 PM on June 25, 2013


The kind you find at Tank warehouse.
posted by clavdivs at 9:44 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Afghanistan Reconstruction Inspector General Report Warns Of Major Waste In Aircraft Purchase
posted by homunculus at 12:00 PM on June 29, 2013


A brand-new U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan. And nobody to use it.
posted by homunculus at 1:35 AM on July 11, 2013


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