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Evolution of Petroleum Support in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility

Since the entry of U.S. forces into Afghanistan in 2001 and through the simultaneous support of two campaigns—Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF and OIF)—since 2003, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has expanded air, land, and maritime petroleum sustainment from 300,000 gallons per day to more than 5 million gallons per day. It has accomplished this expansion over contested and undeveloped ground lines of communication (GLOCs) and, in the case of Afghanistan, in a land-locked country with little modern infrastructure. U.S. forces have not faced such challenges since their support of the “Burma Road” of World War II.

OEF and OIF petroleum sustainment has relied on an intricate network of national and international petroleum, political, and policy stakeholders, including the Department of State, regional country partners, the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), CENTCOM, combined and joint commands, service component commands, and military services. This world-class petroleum operation has leveraged commercial energy markets and integrated commercial distribution networks to support the military’s “last tactical mile” hub-and-spoke distribution. In the process, it has developed historic capabilities and achieved historic results.

The Strategic Petroleum Challenge

The CENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR) is 131 percent of the size of the continental United States, encompassing 4.6 million square miles and 20 countries. By contrast, the continental United States consists of 3.5 million square miles. Afghanistan is larger than the state of Texas and has no organic petroleum refining capability, which means that all petroleum support must be imported from outside its landlocked territory.

On any given day in its AOR, CENTCOM receives more than 5 million gallons of fuel through a combined fleet of more than 2,000 contracted commercial fuel trucks and manages 200 million gallons of contracted petroleum storage spread across the AOR in support of land, air, and maritime forces. CENTCOM, in partnership with its strategic national partner, DESC, acquires 99 percent of its petroleum requirements from regional commercial suppliers and refineries in the Gulf and Central Asian States, Turkey, and Pakistan.

These regional commercial energy enterprises are either owned or controlled by host-nation governments. As a result, political-military engagement with those governments is needed for DESC petroleum regional acquisitions and for services (distribution) contracts in support of CENTCOM requirements. A prime example is the establishment and maturing of DESC contracts for CENTCOM forces in Iraq.

OIF Strategic Fuel Initiatives

At the onset of OIF in 2003, the only source of regional petroleum support was the post-Operation Desert Storm legacy arrangement with the Government of Kuwait. Under this system, DESC contracted with the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation to provide petroleum support to U.S. forces. The commercial movement of fuel did not extend beyond the Kuwait-Iraq border because of the security challenges posed by driving in Iraq. All internal distribution within Iraq was provided by organic military service capabilities, with U.S. Army Central having Title 10 inland petroleum distribution responsibilities for the Combined Joint Operations Area (CJOA).

By 2006 and 2007, the Iraq CJOA petroleum concept of support had evolved into three strategic petroleum GLOCs entering Iraq from Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait. DESC contracted commercial fuel trucks to deliver up to 2 million gallons of fuel per day into Iraq as far forward as military general support hubs.

To accomplish this same mission with Army units would have required 9,103 Soldiers assigned to at least one Army quartermaster group (petroleum and water) with 12 transportation (truck) battalions, one quartermaster battalion (petroleum supply), and 46 petroleum, oils, and lubricants truck companies to provide the needed theater-level fuel-handling and distribution capabilities. Put another way, it would have required 2,760 of the Army’s 7,500-gallon tankers—4 times the entire Army inventory.

The Iraq CJOA petroleum concept of support set the stage for success in the 2007 OIF surge and remains the baseline for adjusting enduring support during and after the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Contractor-Owned Base

One base in southwest Asia consumes, on average, more than 1 million gallons of fuel every day, supporting airlift, aerial refueling, reconnaissance, and strike missions throughout the CENTCOM AOR. Until 2006, all fuel handling at this base was provided by U.S. Air Forces Central (AFCENT) organic tactical capabilities (receipt, handling, and storage in fabric fuel bags).

In response to a CENTCOM-validated requirement, DESC in 2004 contracted for 8 million gallons of storage capacity at a commercial-standard Defense fuel supply point (DFSP) owned and operated by a contractor and located near the base. The DFSP began operations in 2006, and its success allowed the number of Airmen deployed to support AFCENT operations to be reduced.

In 2009, through a second contractor-owned and contractor-operated (COCO) initiative, DESC established a 22-mile petroleum pipeline to connect to the DFSP. The COCO DFSP receives aviation fuel delivered to the AOR by commercial tanker ships (the average tanker load is 12 million gallons) from regional world suppliers under DESC contracts. The pipeline increased daily receipt capability at the base from 1 million gallons (all delivered by truck) to more than 1.5 million gallons.

These two COCO initiatives enabled AFCENT to reduce the tactical fuel terminal’s size and associated manpower (approximately 65 personnel), increased the base’s receipt capability by 50 percent, and created a more dependable, dedicated pipeline operation. Several months of negotiations with government-owned or -affiliated energy companies were required to gain the permissions to pursue these strategic initiatives.

OEF—The Ultimate Challenge

Defense Logistics Agency personnel believe that Afghanistan is the most challenging CJOA to supply with fuel. Not only does Afghanistan have no organic oil production or refining capability, but it is a land-locked country with an austere distribution infrastructure. On average, the order-ship time for petroleum originating from Central Asian sources is 21 to 30 days.

Fuel enters Afghanistan by rail tank cars and is delivered to a terminal 6 kilometers inside the border; this is the terminus of the country’s only rail line. The fuel is then carried by commercial trucks over unimproved roads, where the trucks face exposure to bad weather (the Salang Pass is notorious for snow) and enemy attacks and must hurdle a shadow network of local and national customs and security requirements.

Since 2002, CENTCOM and its strategic petroleum support partners (DESC since 2002, NATO since 2007) have increased fuel storage capacity in Afghanistan from roughly 100,000 gallons to more than 30 million gallons (with up to 12 million of those gallons in contracted commercial steel-tank facilities) to meet a demand that has grown from 40,000 gallons per day in 2002 to more than 1.1 million gallons per day in 2009.

Partnering With DESC

Starting in 2007, CENTCOM partnered with DESC to shift most petroleum sustainment in Afghanistan away from the Southern GLOC, which enters Afghanistan from Pakistan, to what is known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which enters from the Central Asian States. This change increased the amount of petroleum entering by the NDN from 30 percent to 70 percent of all petroleum sustainment. Coupled with the shift to the NDN, DESC had the forethought to initiate a contract provision with its petroleum suppliers to hold up to 9 million gallons of contractor-owned fuel (as a “commercial reserve”) within Afghanistan to mitigate any ebb and flow in regional fuel distribution.

DESC also increased its Government-owned “strategic reserve” in and around Kabul from 2 to 5 million gallons. The strategic reserve and the commercial reserve together provide a shock absorber capable of withstanding major disruptions to petroleum sustainment.

DESC’s contractors established a commercial fuel terminal outside of Bagram Air Base in 2007 and built a 2-mile pipeline to streamline Bagram’s fuel resupply; this reduced fuel truck traffic coming onto the base. DESC has also initiated direct delivery to major direct support hubs at forward operating bases (FOBs) Fenty, Sharana, and Shank, thereby reducing hub-and-spoke fuel deliveries from Bagram to the other FOBs in Regional Command East.

Bagram is in the middle of an eight-phase petroleum master plan military construction effort to replace all tactical bag storage with an industry-standard steel-tank fuel facility. This effort, which began in 2007 and is scheduled to be completed in 2012, will provide Bagram with 12 million gallons of storage capacity and modern fuel facilities.

Finally, DESC is soliciting an additional 10 million gallons of contracted storage and enhanced delivery services for Regional Command East and for mutual support of other regional commands, based on a CENTCOM-validated 2009 to 2010 requirement. The combined effect of these actions will expand CJOA fuel storage and distribution capability while continuing to support current combat operations.

NATO Alliance Cooperation

The Afghanistan CJOA is a NATO-led operation under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This command structure requires a new level of strategic petroleum coordination and cooperation by CENTCOM and U.S. stakeholders with the alliance. CENTCOM, in coordination with DESC and CJOA stakeholders, has met the growing OEF fuel requirement since the first arrival of U.S. forces at Bagram Air Base.

In 2002, Bagram’s daily consumption was 40,000 gallons per day; today, Bagram accounts for approximately 500,000 gallons per day. To meet this growing demand in a multinational operating environment in one of the hardest geographical locations for importing fuel, CENTCOM, in cooperation with its strategic partners, has established an Afghanistan petroleum capabilities posture, mutually supported by the United States and NATO, to meet the sustainment requirements.

Partnering With JFC-Brunssum

In 2008, CENTCOM partnered with NATO’s Joint Forces Command-Brunssum (JFC−B) to leverage the NATO-contracted capability to support U.S. forces in Regional Commands South and West. ISAF, as a NATO command element, remains the senior operational command in Afghanistan. The country was then divided into five regional commands (North, South, East, West, and Capital/Center). [Regional Command South-West has since been added.]

When it established ISAF, NATO tasked JFC−B to establish a fuel support plan for NATO forces in Afghanistan. In support of the deployment of additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan in 2009, the CENTCOM director of logistics directed the use of the existing JFC−B contracts to support U.S. forces in Regional Commands South and West. This decision was based on several factors, including—

  • The need to demonstrate U.S. support of the alliance effort.
  • The need to provide flexibility in sustainment (employing multiple commercial suppliers).
  • The inclusion of contractor-provided storage in the JFC−B contract.
  • The pre-existing NATO contractor presence in Regional Commands South and West.
  • The offer of the NATO contractor to distribute to battalion FOBs, thereby reducing the requirement for military fuel trucks.

This alliance relationship ensured that the 300-percent increase in U.S. fuel requirements during 2008 and 2009 was met without affecting the very dynamic operational posture for Regional Commands South and West. CENTCOM’s mutually supporting CJOA petroleum arrangement with DESC (the U.S. national provider) and JFC−B (the NATO provider) combined the best of each agency’s capabilities to meet the ever-shifting petroleum requirements. This national and international strategic petroleum construct will continue to evolve and change over time to meet the U.S. and NATO/ISAF commanders’ strategic goals and posture.

CENTCOM will continue to seek additional semi-permanent and permanent U.S. and contracted fuel storage in order to mitigate risks from disruption of the distribution system and improve quality control of stored fuel. CENTCOM has begun this process with DESC and JFC−B and will continue to hone its battlefield support. As the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq continues, CENTCOM will capture lessons learned and apply best practices in fuel supply, storage, and distribution to ensure outstanding support to the Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen in Afghanistan.

Colonel Jeffrey B. Carra was the chief of the Joint Petroleum Office, J−4, U.S. Central Command, when he co-wrote this article. He is a graduate of the Army War College and holds a master’s degree in admiralty law from Tulane University.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Ray, USMC (Ret.), is the Defense Logistics Agency liaison to the U.S. Special Operations Command. He previously served as a Defense Energy Support Center planner and liaison assigned to the U.S. Central Command J−4 and the U.S. Pacific Command J−4.

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