Monday, May 16, 2011

Telecommuting to War?

I'll take the Captain Obvious Award for pointing this out, but the Obama Administration is under serious pressure to: (1) save money; and (2) bring down troop numbers in Afghanistan to show 'progress.'

One innovative way this is happening involves the movement of certain headquarters-y, administrative-ish units out of the theater. That simultaneously accomplishes the goals of reducing the BOG number (Boots on Ground) while saving on the tremendous costs associated with the logistical tail involved in supplying a landlocked country with 19th-century infrastructure.

If you can believe it, the "dumb math" shows the cost per soldier here is more than $1.1 million per year (I call that dumb math because it's a crude calculation of costs divided by soldiers, which involves a lot of fixed costs associated with equipment and infrastructure) depends who you ask but the marginal cost per soldier is closer to half a mil when you count base pay and bennies (with higher margins for Reservists and Guard, who wouldn't normally draw federal base pay from the Pentagon), incentive pays, food/fuel/water costs, other contracted administrative support, etc.

But anyway, if you put some of those headquarters folks in friendly Gulf countries, you still get the long deployment days out of 'em (they're pulled away from the distractions and creature comforts of home), but you save huge amounts of money by reducing that logistical tail. Because so much data can move so quickly and easily over e-mail, voice comms, and even video teleconferences, its effect on operational capabilities may be minimal or even nil.

Once you factor out the reduced force protection costs (somehow averaged out per soldier...let's just pretend there'd be a way to do this), the decreased logistical convoys, the ease of moving goods across water instead of land, etc. let's just be real fast and loose and say you'd chop the per-soldier per-year cost in half.

For a 200-person staff headquarters, you're now talking about $50 million. Multiply that once or twice over, and soon you're talking about real money!

It wouldn't work for our unit (we run the bases in Kabul, so a lot of it necessitates base-to-base movement and physical involvement in projects), but for certain other units it really makes sense. It could even work in the U.S., but the trick would be that you'd have to move people far enough away from their homes for the deployment rotation period to where they wouldn't constantly be distracted.

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