The Logistical Cost of Being Deployed

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

The logistical cost of being deployed in Afghanistan is especially high due to the nature of providing land-locked troops with heavy equipment, weapons, ammunition and other necessary supplies (including fuel for machinery, from helicopters and other aircraft to generators).

Hence I was among the first to point out the Taliban strategy of interdiction of supplies through Khyber and Chamen (coming from the Pakistani port city of Karachi), and also among the first to weigh in against the daydream of Russia as a viable and reliable logistics route, recommending instead engaging the Caucasus for such needs.

There there are the local costs to consider after bulk supplies have been transported.  We don’t own the terrain because of lack of troops, and this lack of ownership is expensive.  How expensive?  From Thomas P.M. Barnett, courtesy of SWJ Blog:

“Rebalancing” has been the watchword of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy to date: rebalancing the global economy between East and West, rebalancing domestic needs and foreign responsibilities, and — soon enough — rebalancing the international security burden among the world’s great powers. One number explains why that last rebalancing is necessary: It costs the United States $1 million a year to keep a soldier inside a theater of operations such as Afghanistan. The math is easy enough: For every thousand troops, the price comes out to $1 billion a year.

Rob Thornton adds this WSJ source:

“In a speech in mid-October, Gen. Conway said military-grade fuel — which costs roughly $1 a gallon in the U.S. – can sometimes cost the Marine Corps about $400 per gallon once all the expenses of ferrying it into Afghanistan are factored in. The Marines operating in southern Afghanistan consume more than 88,000 gallons of the fuel per day, he said.

“Most all of that comes along this fairly tenuous supply line across Pakistan, where we’re paying large amounts of money to tribes so that they don’t fight each other and so that they don’t raid our supply lines,” Gen. Conway said at an energy conference in Virginia.

Pricey, no doubt, as we have pointed out for months and even years.  But Schmedlap points out the Tom Barnett has used a linear equation to figure the costs of larger units based on smaller units.  This doesn’t account for the difference between fixed and variable costs.  True enough, Schmedlap.  Good catch.

But I’ll go one step further.  While not claiming that the equation is linear, it (i.e., the costs per person) is more nearly inversely proportional than proportional.  At least, there is a turn-around where it becomes less expensive to deploy more troops.  No, not just on a per person basis, but in total.  I claim that it would be less expensive in the long run to deploy 100,000 troops than it would be to deploy 50,000.

Audacious claim, no?  But consider the cost of a gallon of gasoline in Helmand.  $400.  It costs this much because we cannot ensure security and don’t own the roads.  Even the Afghani contractors we hire attempt the transit of supplies by strap hanging.  The lack of security is why combat outposts and other far flung posts must be supplied entirely be helicopter.

Helicopters are of such importance at the moment that the campaign would fall apart without them.  If you own the terrain and can ensure relative security compared to what we have at the moment, the price of a gallon of gasoline would drop from $400.

With logistics being the main cost of the war, more troops doesn’t necessarily mean greater expense.



  • Paul G

    Does anyone know if this million per soldier number includes the cost of contractor personnel (e.g., KBR)?

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Great question Paul G. I don’t know (KBR and others), but I’ll add to this a bit. The Marine costs probably already have this built in. If you were to get an estimate from the Army, I don’t know. The Marines tend to use less civilian support than the Army, but then again, I think they have a higher ration of support to infantry (because they tend to do things in house – you know, the whole expeditionary concept).

    I do suspect that contractors (from KBR to Xe and Dyncorp doing security) are VERY expensive.

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  • Warfighter

    The Marines are light on contractor support, always have been if we are given the options as an institution. Most of that support is directly related to the Aviation Combat Element.

    The Tban have been fairly successful in disrupting and conducting interdiction of those supplies in those area’s.

    The heavy lift of the Air Force is key to force sustainment.


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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Logistics and was published December 2nd, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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