In June 2014, Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a global caliphate from its ruins. Behind an international coalition of 60 nations, led by the United States, and a fighting force numbering more than one hundred thousand, the Government of Iraq liberated Mosul approximately three years later in July 2017. The Battle of Mosul marked the effective end of ISIS’s caliphate and heralded the movement’s eventual defeat in Iraq.
It is axiomatic that the fight was won by the audacity and the bravery of the Warfighter, who closed with, and decisively defeated the enemy. However, victory on the battlefield was enabled and supported by several others, including the warranted contracting officer (KO). As the Army has outsourced its logistical tail, it has increasingly turned to a multitude of contractors to fulfill its sustainment requirements. Thus, with the recent end of major combat operations against ISIS in Iraq, it is an opportune moment to reflect upon the 408th Contracting Support Brigade’s (CSB) mission and its support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR).
The 408th CSB is regionally aligned with USCENTCOM and is one of six CSBs in the Army formation. It is missioned to provide operational contract support to USARCENT and serve as the Lead Contract Service throughout Southwest Asia. The brigade headquarters is split between Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, and Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. It has three Regional Contracting Centers (RCCs) (i.e., contract battalions) in Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar; Union III, Iraq; and Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. It also has KOs in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Jordan. The 408th CSB force structure is comprised of a mix of Army (both Active Duty and Army Reserve/National Guard), Air Force, and DA civilians. In addition to OIR, the 408th CSB supports contract requirements for Operation Spartan Shield, which is USARCENT’s steady state operation to build partner capacity in the Middle East. As part of its Afghan Reach Back Cell, it awards contracts for commodity buys (i.e., goods and supplies) for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
The 408th CSB’s three main lines of effort are base life support (BLS), transportation, and contingency contracting administration services (CCAS). Contingency contracting administration services relates to cradle-to-grave contracting where 408th CSB KOs administer massive contracts awarded by Army Contracting Command—Rock Island (ACC-RI), Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, such as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) and Army Prepositioned Stock-5 (APS-5).1 In FY17, the 408th CSB awarded approximately 2,500 contract actions with a value exceeding $614 million in support of operations across the CENTCOM area of responsibility. It also administered 197 contracts/task orders valued at nearly $21 billion as part of its CCAS mission.
During its support of the Battle of Mosul, and, more broadly, operations in Iraq, KOs encountered a number of contract challenges. The most notable involved the ground movement of equipment and supplies. Military logistical convoys, which were ubiquitous in past conflicts, and a lifeline to troops, were supplanted by contracted carriers in OIR. But KOs operating in Erbil, Iraq, could not award trucking contracts to Iraqi Arab companies because they could not get through Kurdish checkpoints. In some instances, KOs had to facilitate the release of Iraqi Arab truck drivers, who were detained at the border by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Peshmerga Armed Forces. Accordingly, for movements of materials which originated from outside of Northern Iraq, KOs arranged for the shipments to be downloaded and picked up by another carrier at the border, who could operate in the Kurdish-controlled region.
It was during the height of the 2017 ISIS counter-attacks in Mosul, though, that KOs faced their greatest challenge. KOs were pressed to keep pace with the momentum of operations on the battlefield. When the Warfighter needed transportation assets, it would send a transportation movement request (TMR) to an Army movement control team (MCT), who, in turn, forwarded the TMR to a KO to put on a contract. A contract was required every time a U.S. unit had to establish or augment a Tactical Assembly Area (TAA); move a team room; purchase Class IV material; resupply; etc. The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and the contracting process are predicated on promoting competition, and not necessarily designed with speed and agility in mind. Market research/acquisition strategy must be performed; solicitations are drafted; potential offerors are notified; bids/quotes/offers are submitted; evaluations are performed; and only then can contracts be awarded.
In an effort to accelerate the time from requirement validation to contract award, KOs increasingly turned to blanket purchase agreements (BPAs). Blanket purchase agreements are a simplified method of filling anticipated repetitive needs for supplies or services by establishing “charge accounts” with a pool of qualified sources (i.e., a sources list). Still, because each TMR was placed on an individual BPA call (i.e., contract), KOs were still overwhelmed by contract requirements. Ultimately, KOs coordinated with requiring activities to obtain bulk funding. The KOs would then award a single trucking contract for a month based on a forecasted need, i.e., how many TMRs, truck assets, and mileage would the battle space owner need and consume during the period of performance. At the end of the month, the KOs reconciled the actual usage against the forecasted amount and issued a contract modification for purposes of contractor payment.
Even with the end of major combat operations in Iraq, the 408th CSB will continue to support OIR requirements and operations in Syria. Operational commanders in Syria will be asked to forecast their requirements sooner than ever and move their requirements generation timeline to the left because of vendor vetting. As part of the FY2012 NDAA, the U.S. Government is prohibited from contracting with the enemy. Initially implemented only in Afghanistan through Task Force 2010, USCENTCOM intends to expand vendor vetting across the rest of the theater of operations. The 408th CSB has already been registering contractors in an online database, i.e., the Joint Contingency Contracting System (JCCS). However, vendor vetting will employ evidence and intelligence-based analysis to determine whether contractors constitute an unacceptable force protection risk.
It is anticipated that the vetting process will add five to seven weeks to the contract award process—though there is an expedited 45-day process for urgent requirements. To put this in perspective, during the Battle of Mosul, requiring activities sometimes asked KOs to award within 48 hours or less. With the use of simplified acquisition procedures, 408th CSB KOs can typically award a contract in two weeks. This highlights an incongruity in contingency contracting. It is easy to forecast requirements for regularly recurring needs, such as service contracts with defined periods of performance and IT life-cycle replacements. However, forecasting can devolve into speculation, when the unpredictability of the battlefield is injected into the validation process. During OIR, when success on the battlefield exceeded planners’ and Commanders’ expectations, tactical assembly area base life support contracts were frequently modified, terminated, and/or awarded unexpectedly as a result of ground yielded by ISIS.
Finally, KOs are attempting to register and stand-up a Syrian vendor pool that can be successfully vetted. Some Syrian companies are weary of registering for fear that the Syrian government will learn they are working with the U.S. Other Syrian companies simply do not have access to the internet, which makes on-line registration on JCCS impossible.
Regardless of past or future challenges, the 408th CSB and its KOs will continue to support the Warfighter and military operations in the CENTCOM AOR. TAL
1. As part of APS-5, the Pentagon maintains a mechanized division’s worth Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks in warehouses in Kuwait and Qatar. Although ACC-RI awarded the APS-5 service contract, the 408th CSB has been delegated administrative contracting officer (ACO) responsibilities and serves as “the eyes and the ears” of the primary contracting officer (PCO), who is back at Rock Island Arsenal.