Commentary

Direct Support Plus in Korea

by Major Timothy A. McKernan

The Army is phasing out the Direct Support Plus maintenance program. The author argues that DS+ has been a valuable, cost-effective tool for maintaining readiness in Korea. The conversion to a new system must be managed carefully.

    "Ready to fight tonight!" In the 2d Infantry Division in South Korea, those words are not only a battle cry but also a state of mind—a warrior creed made real because of the threat posed by the North Korean Army arrayed along the division's front. In the 2d Infantry Division, maintaining maximum combat power is paramount to our continued success in deterring an invasion from the North. A large amount of the division's combat power lies in its almost 150 M1 Abrams main battle tanks.

    To most, a combat-effective armor unit is one that is fully manned, equipped, and proficient in shooting and maneuvering its Abrams tanks. However, it is just as important to combat power to have those tanks fully mission capable. Proper maintenance is imperative to continued high rates of readiness, and the Direct Support Plus (DS+) program provides the tools that help the 2d Infantry Division keep its wartime edge.

DS+ in the 2d Infantry Division

    DS+ is a maintenance repair and training program designed to reduce the turn-in of serviceable and unserviceable Abrams tank AGT 1500 turbine engines. The program provides exceptional training to forward support battalion (FSB) maintenance support teams (MSTs), organizational maintenance personnel, and key unit leaders. These key personnel ensure that M1 engine faults are properly diagnosed forward on the battlefield. The DS+ program also helps leaders improve M1 engine preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) and develop invaluable tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) on how to lengthen the life of M1 engines through proper operations and maintenance.

    DS+ is licensed and supported by the Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM). It is executed in the 2d Infantry Division in E Company (Heavy Maintenance) of the 702d Main Support Battalion (MSB). Under normal circumstances, unserviceable M1 engines requiring work on their forward and rear modules must be evacuated to a depot-level repair facility. However, under DS+, the DS+ shop can perform 22 depot-level repairs to M1 engines, including repairing modules; replacing bearings, seals, powershafts, and gears; and many other tasks.

    In the 2d Infantry Division, whenever an M1 engine fails diagnostic tests at the unit level, its supporting MST runs further diagnostic tests and either repairs the engine or turns it into the class IX supply support activity (SSA). The SSA then issues the unit an engine, and the unit can quickly bring their tank back to fully mission capable status. The SSA sends the unserviceable engine to the DS+ shop, where it is repaired or rebuilt. After DS+ personnel verify that the engine is serviceable, they repack it and return it to the SSA for subsequent issue to a unit. Thus, the SSA does not have to buy a new engine from the wholesale level each time one becomes unserviceable.

DS+ Saves Time and Money

    Without DS+, the 2d Infantry Division would have to evacuate every unserviceable M1 engine all the way back to the continental United States (CONUS) for repair. Evacuation of M1 engines to CONUS would greatly increase transportation costs. It also would increase the number of engines the division (and its supporting SSAs in Korea) would need to stock. Based on the current customer wait time from CONUS to Korea, the division estimates that the number of M1 engines it would need to stock without DS+ would have to be doubled from current levels. Without this increased number of engine stocks in Korea, units would be forced to wait 2 weeks or more for an engine to arrive from wholesale stocks in CONUS. Unit readiness undoubtedly would decline and thus affect the division's ability to conduct its wartime mission.

 
During frequent training sessions, DS+ personnel provide invaluable instruction on maintaining M1 tank engines to leaders from tank units and maintenance support teams. During frequent training sessions, DS+ personnel provide invaluable instruction on maintaining M1 tank engines to leaders from tank units and maintenance support teams.

    In an era of tight budgets, DS+ makes more sense now than ever. During fiscal year (FY) 2001, the net cost of buying an M1 engine (FEDLOG price minus unserviceable turn-in credit) was approximately $210,000. However, through DS+, the 2d Infantry Division was able to repair 112 engines at an average cost of less than $60,000. The division was able to realize a cost avoidance of almost $17 million dollars. Because this $17 million was not spent on new M1 engines, the division was able to use limited maintenance funds to purchase critically needed parts for other combat systems.

    Some would argue that DS+ serves as a "bandaid" approach to M1 engine repairs by claiming that it is more cost effective to retrograde all unserviceable engines to the depot level. At the depot, engines are returned to "zero hour" status (meaning they are restored to a "like new" condition). Opponents of DS+ state that the mean time between failure (MTBF) rates for engines repaired at the depot level are significantly greater than those repaired in DS+, where only unserviceable components are repaired. DS+, they argue, leads to engines that require repair much sooner than those repaired at the depot. However, the 702d Support Operations Office, using detailed data taken from DS+ job orders, has found that repairing engines through DS+ is indeed cost effective when compared to purchasing depot-repaired engines from the wholesale system.

    Engines repaired at the depot have a projected MTBF rate of approximately 750 hours. During FY 2001, the MTBF rate for M1 engines in the 2d Infantry Division was 250 hours. On the surface, DS+ opponents seem to be correct in their assessment. However, since it only cost $60,000 to repair each engine in the 2d Infantry Division, the division's DS+ shop was able to repair 3.5 engines for the same amount of money it would have cost to buy a single depot-repaired engine. (The 2d Infantry Division MTBF rate was computed as follows. The 821 miles driven per Abrams tank in FY 2001 was divided by the average speed of 4 miles per hour. This figure was multiplied by the 147 tanks in the division and divided by the 120 engine failures experienced in FY 2001. That produced the MTBF rate of 250 hours. The MTBF rate was multiplied by $210,000—the net cost of a new M1 engine—and that figure was divided by the $60,000 average cost of DS+ repair per engine. The result equaled 875 hours of operation per M1 tank engine for the same amount of money as buying an engine from the wholesale level.)

    So, although engines repaired under DS+ require repairs more often than those repaired at the depot level, the 2d Infantry Division could have operated its tanks for 875 hours (125 hours more than depot-repaired engines) for the same amount of money it would have cost to buy engines instead of repairing them. Clearly, DS+ is doing something right, and it all comes down to the least heralded but most important aspect of the DS+ program: training.

Train to Maintain

    Training is the cornerstone of the DS+ program. In the 2d Infantry Division, the DS+ shop operates a formal leader certification program designed to ensure that leaders from tank units and MSTs know how to maintain their Abrams tanks properly. Nowhere else is this training more important than in Korea, where there is an almost 100-percent rotation of leaders annually.

    At least quarterly, but normally on a monthly basis, DS+ personnel provide leaders formal training on tank engine maintenance. One key aspect of the training is prevention of foreign object damage, which accounted for over a third of the division's total engine failures during FY 2001. Leaders also see examples of various engine components rendered unserviceable because of either improper PMCS or improper operation (mainly during start up and cool down). After displaying the results of poor operations and maintenance, the DS+ personnel demonstrate TTPs that the leaders can use to prevent recurrence of the problems.

    According to James Terrell, the 2d Infantry Division's TACOM-funded Honeywell contractor, this increased training frequency provides a great benefit to the Army—

    Since 1999, the 2d Infantry Division's operational tempo [OPTEMPO] has increased dramatically, yet we have seen our average cost of repairing M1 engines shrink by almost 50 percent. We now see many more instances where an engine received in DS+ can be repaired cheaply and quickly. Before, we often had to replace entire engines or engine modules, which is an expensive endeavor. Clearly, operators and MST personnel take our training to heart and now recognize problems early enough to allow us to repair versus replace engines.

    Facts echo this opinion on the benefits of leader training in Korea. Between FY 2000 and FY 2001, the 2d Infantry Division's armored forces trained hard by driving an average of 821 miles on all assigned tanks. Because of this high OPTEMPO, the number of engines sent to DS+ for repair increased by 67 percent. However, the average cost to repair engines dropped 45 percent (from almost $110,000 in FY 2000 to under $60,000 during FY 2001).

    Through effective training, units recognize the symptoms of M1 engine failures earlier and thus turn engines into DS+ for repair before the engines incur a catastrophic failure. For example, if a failure is caught early enough, an engine can be returned to serviceable status by simply replacing a seal costing a few thousand dollars rather than paying over $200,000 for a new engine from the depot.

Future of the DS+ Program

    DS+ is currently in the process of being phased out throughout the Army. The Department of the Army G4 has developed an integrated process team that recommended converting Abrams tank sustainment maintenance from the current concept of modular-level repair at the direct support (DS) level to a two-level "repair through replacement" concept. Scheduled to begin with the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment in FY 2003, the conversion will be in place Army-wide by the end of FY 2005.

    Under the proposed conversion plan, DS+ personnel no longer will separate and replace modules or complete the 22 additional depot-level tasks currently authorized. Instead, divisional DS maintenance shops in the FSBs and MSB will be authorized only to separate and replace an engine's reduction gearbox and accessory gearbox. Engines requiring additional repairs will be turned in to the SSA. The SSA will issue a new engine, and the unserviceable engine will be evacuated to a depot-level maintenance facility.

    Migration of DS+ tasks back to the depot level will allow the 8 to 12 soldiers normally assigned to a DS+ shop to be used elsewhere. By consolidating repairs of all M1 tank engines in a single location, the Army quite possibly will realize substantial personnel savings. The Army also may realize lower costs by being able to reduce the number of tools and expensive test equipment used to repair tank engines.

    Complete loss of the DS+ program may pose serious consequences for the 2d Infantry Division's ability to maintain its currently high operational readiness rates. Training its leaders already has resulted in lower rates of expensive catastrophic engine failures. Having a TACOM-funded contractor working for the division also allows units to verify their engines as unserviceable before having to purchase new ones.

    Although the future of the DS+ program is in doubt, the benefits it provides to the 2d Infantry Division are not. From better readiness through improved maintenance operations at all levels, to reduced costs and increased MTBF, DS+ is a success story in Korea. The Army needs to ensure that adequate funding and engine stocks are in place to support the two-level Abrams tank engine program before ending DS+. TACOM also must continue to fund contractor or logistics assistance representative support so the division's proven leader certification program can be maintained.

    Smooth transition to the new maintenance program, continued training, and leader involvement on every level will allow the 2d Infantry Division to remain "Second to None!"

    Major Timothy A. McKernan is the S3 of the 43d Area Support Group at Fort Carson, Colorado. When he wrote this article, he was the support operations officer of the 702d Main Support Battalion, 2d Infantry Division, at Camp Casey in Korea, where his duties included managerial oversight of the division's DS+ program. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Army Logistics Management College's Logistics Executive Development Course, and the Army Command and General Staff Officer Course. He holds a B.S. degree in petroleum engineering from the Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology and an M.S degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology.