Interview Transport corps

Published on January 8th, 2016 | by admin

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Effective Mobility: Transport Corps At Home, Overseas

SIGNAL talks to the director of the Transport Corps, Colonel Sean O’Keeffe and he explains about the work that they do and the challenges ahead.

With a fleet of over 1,500 vehicles, and vehicle related accessories, the Transport Corps represents the Defence Forces most significant logistical capability. Whether fulfilling overseas or domestic roles, the Corps fulfil a range of capabilities, and are faced with constant challenges, in terms of delivering for the organisation, while facing the challenges of ageing vehicles and repairs.

The Defence Forces operate one of the largest and most varied transport fleets of any Public Service agency.
The fleet comprises a wide variety of what are deemed soft-skinned and armoured vehicles. Military vehicles are prepositioned at all Defence Forces locations and this includes deployed units in South Lebanon and Golan. In addition, the Defence Forces is capable of carrying out maintenance and repair work to ensure that the fleet remains operationally ready at all time. This is a significant asset and ensures that we have the expertise to provide service support backup when and where required. While it would be preferable to reduce the variety and makes of vehicles, the tendering process and the use of Office of Government Procurement contracting will inevitably mean that the range and origins of vehicles will remain diverse.

The Defence Forces has approximately 1,500 vehicles, ranging from armoured vehicles to lawn-mowers. The fleet
has sufficient lift capacity to move all DF personnel, albeit in a variety of vehicle types. However, we currently have sufficient domestic – based tactical lift to move the equivalent of one Brigade strength. Administrative moves comprise the bulk of our day-to-day activities, and we maintain sufficient capacity for this purpose.

Domestic demands & management challenges 

In principle, operational taskings and roles dictate the nature and makeup of the Defence Forces transport fleet. Over the years, the domestic fleet has largely supported internal security taskings that required high mobility, all terrain vehicles primarily for on-road use. In addition, the Defence Forces fleet has a duel-use purpose of facilitating national resilience during time of crisis, especially in Aid to the Civil Authorities as was demonstrated during the recent severe weather episodes. While the requirement for Defence Forces assistance in cash in transit escorts has diminished, our 4×4 utility fleet of Nissan Patrols and Mitsubishi Pajeros remains as the work horses of all on-island
military operations and training.
The management of the Defence Forces fleet is my responsibility. The nature and composition of the fleet
however is determined by operational necessity. Planning and coordination at the highest level is paramount to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the right equipment for all current tasks. Prudent planning ensures that the Defence Forces also make contingency plans for anticipated future operations. Our domestic and overseas operations naturally place varied demands on transport. As stated, this requires constant liaison with other Directorates and the General Staff to ensure that all operations both current and anticipated have the necessary
transport support.

How does the Corps manage the operation of the fleet?

As Director, my main priority is to ensure that the operational requirements and demands of the Defence Forces are matched by a capable and task-oriented transport fleet, which is efficient, effective and well maintained. However, I do not have day to day control over how the fleet is used. This is the responsibility of Unit commanders who have been allocated transport assets. Transport coordination is effected through the Brigade and Formation Transport Officers. I therefore work closely with the BTOs to ensure that transport policy and guidance formulated at DFHQ level is disseminated and implemented at unit level. This imposes significant responsibility on Transport Officers holding these crucial positions and since my appointment I have been very impressed by their quality of work, dedication and diligence in coordinating the outputs of such a large and diverse fleet of vehicles. Education and career development plays a crucial role in future-proofing the Transport Corps. While the Transport School remains a centre of excellence in this regard, there is a need to draw on higher level education and skills implemented
through making available third level course in such areas as Supply Chain Management.
In the case of procurement, how do you manageand balance the cost versus maintenance issue?
The Transport Corps has a policy of fleet renewal and disposal, introduced many years ago to address the problem of an ageing fleet. This policy demands that every vehicle has a notional effective life, after which it is taken out of service and listed for disposal by destruction. There is therefore a constant need for capital re- investment in ensuring that the Defence Forces retain a modern, efficient and effective transport fleet. In tandem, continuous review of capability requirements will determine the size and nature of the fleet, both for operational and administrative use. It is not simply replacing like with like. The dual use capability of certain vehicle types adds considerably to the Defence Forces ability to assist in national resilience as part of its Aid to the Civil Authorities role. However, the imperative to fulfil our primary operational tasks remains our key objective when it comes to fleet renewal.

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In terms of overseas operations, what are the prime logistical challenges and could you provide any examples of some of the most challenging operations the Corps has been involved in?

I once heard a wise old soldier say that ‘you should never join a mission in a country that doesn’t have a coastline’. While this may not always be possible or feasible, the re-supply and logistical support of any mission involving the Defence Forces is considerably enhanced by strategic points of access, particularly by sea. While logistical re-supply is the remit of the Director of Logistics (J4), nevertheless, the Transport Corps works closely with J4 to ensure that the deployed transport fleet remains operational at all times. This requires close cooperation between our maintenance teams on the ground and at home.

It is possible to pre-position essential spares in theatre, but the establishment of a logistical support system is crucial to operational effectiveness. The mission to Chad was no doubt one of the more difficult DF missions to sustain. However, every mission presents its own challenges and I have great admiration and respect for the efficiency and professionalism which the Defence Forces continues to sustain the Irish involvement in PSO missions throughout the world.

Fuel management

Considering the size and diverse nature of the transport fleet, it is not surprising that the fuel costs of the Defence Forces are considerable. While fuel usage can fluctuate due to a plethora of operational and training activities, the overall fuel costs are a source of concern and it is an issue that I have targeted to address. Fundamentally, what is needed is a fuel-efficiency outlook throughout the organisation. However, to make this work, we need more real-time data that can be analysed and in turn inform key decisions on the nature and use of the fleet. Our transport accountancy is still largely paper-based and does not easily facilitate the monitoring of fuel use. I intend to introduce a Fleet Management System shortly that will make it easier to monitor vehicle use, and ensure that decisions can be made that ensures more economical, practical and efficient fleet usage. Maintenance and management challenges The Defence Forces transport fleet is by its nature diverse and multi-faceted. Ideally, what we would like is a fleet of vehicles that have similar maintenance requirements. However, this is not possible as procurement is governed by the tendering system and many of our vehicles are now purchased through the Office of Government Procurement (OGP). The Transport Corps relies on the quality of our maintenance staffs to ensure
that the operational readiness states of the fleet remain high. In particular, civilian technicians provide considerable continuity and corporate knowledge in our Workshops. In addition, it is vital to retain close contact with manufacturers and suppliers to ensure that our maintenance teams have the right equipment, the necessary product support and the key parts to keep the fleet on the road. Despite this, there is a continuous requirement to keep maintenance and fitter numbers sufficient to meet the continuous demands of servicing and repair.

In an ideal world, I can envisage a situation where the Defence Forces operate and maintain a fleet consisting of sufficient numbers and varieties of vehicles both soft-skin and armour to achieve our operational taskings. However, we do not live in an ideal world, so the Defence Forces has to manage expectations with operational imperatives through the prudent investment of limited resources. The Defence Forces current ability to commit to PSO operations is largely dependent on existing capabilities. Building new capability requires coordinated planning and
investment, and this takes time and the long-term commitment of the necessary financial investment. What is required in my view is the constant examination and even questioning of the utility of our current fleet in order to shape the nature of the future fleet. In this regard I greatly value the contribution of members of the Transport Corps, particularly young officers and NCOs, who add considerable value through innovative and imaginative debate on the fleet of the future.

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What are the possible implications for the Corps resulting from the White Paper and will there be any considerable challenges/opportunities as a result?

The Capability Requirements chapter of the White Paper dealing with ‘Army’ focussed very pointedly at the primary issue of the armoured fleet, while re-emphasising the imperative to retain the all-arms conventional approach to military capabilities. The reference to the armoured fleet and armoured logistics vehicles for overseas missions points the way forward for the Transport Corps and places the emphasis on future fleet planning very much within a ‘force-protection’ focus. Our current experience in the Middle East reinforces this bias and so we have a definite
direction where we need to plan much of our future procurement requirements.




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