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“Sustainment surge” describes the increase in weapon systems repair activity brought on by the operational demands of wartime or contingency operations. In the mid-1980s, Congress began requiring the U.S. military to maintain a “core logistics capability” — skills to be retained at government-owned facilities — to prepare for surge demands, but implementing the requirement has been problematic. In the past 25 years, the Department of Defense has changed its force-planning construct from one that maintained a Cold War posture to one that maintained the ability to fight two simultaneous major theater wars, and recently to one that ensures the ability to respond to multiple but small contingencies.

In light of these changes, the authors of this report look at how the nature of surge has changed, whether legislation has hindered management in developing effective and efficient ways to manage surge, and whether the effectiveness and efficiency of surge planning can be improved. They use depot production and overtime data for operations such as Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom to argue that the nature of surge has indeed changed. They also examine how the nation’s three air logistics centers interpret legislative guidance as they manage surge requirements. The authors’ recommendations include continual development and assessment of metrics for surge operations, benchmarking internal operations with those of contractors, improving (and in some cases centralizing) data systems, and incorporating contractors into the surge planning process.

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The research reported here was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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