UCLA Anderson “Coalition of the Unlikely” Goes To War – Sort Of

Wounded Afghan army soldiers will rely on the country's air force for evacuation. - Ethan Baron photo

A key job for Afghanistan’s air force will be evacuating wounded soldiers from the battlefield. – Ethan Baron photo

The sidesteps and ignorance of procurement protocols were leading to a “15% premium” on procurement spending for the training program, Smith says. Adds McKeever, a Navy F/A-18 pilot, “The guys who are putting the contract out, who are putting it together, need to be  . . . market experts. Guys need to get smart on, ‘Hey, what are the options, what should we put in this contract and what should we expect from the guys bidding on it?'”


With the existing training program “unsustainable” due to high costs, it would be irresponsible for the U.S. and NATO to leave the Afghan government with an air force they could never afford to keep up to speed, Smith says. “It’s like roaring up to your poor neighbor’s house in a Maserati and saying, ‘Hey, I bought you a new car,'” Smith says.

Many of the inefficiencies in the training program derived from the rotation of different military personnel through tours of duty, meaning newcomers had to pick up where predecessors left off. Or not.

“Nobody gets promoted by saying he steered the ship in the same direction,” says team member Andreas Neuman, a U.S. Air Force major.

Adding to the difficulty was the short transition between commands, Neuman says. “It’s hard to pass along that amount of knowledge in the one to two week handover period,” Neuman says.

While  military planning is different in many ways from that for business, the project forced the students to hone skills applicable to most business cases, says Terry Kramer, the team’s faculty adviser.


“It makes sure you’re really, really good at understanding the people that you’re working with and the environment,” Kramer says. “These guys had to sort of assess whether there were people that wanted to block this effort. There were people within the organization that for good or bad weren’t part of the solution.”

The military background of all the team but Dandapani – a product development engineer for Johnson & Johnson – helped them work within NATO and the U.S. defense department, Neuman says. “Understanding the culture was huge. If people start digging into things there’s a fear that they’re looking to blame, looking to scapegoat,” Neuman says. “We really were just there to help the situation and get a plan moving forward.”

Dandapani, Neuman says, provided an extremely useful non-military perspective, looking at the ways the program was run and constantly asking, “Why is it done that way?”

The NATO project required examination of best practices in procurement, and in training, along with analysis of what measures had succeeded and failed in the past, Kramer says. “All of that had to happen in a fairly compressed window.”

Afghan government soldiers such as these will rely on the Afghan Air Force for combat support. - Ethan Baron photo

Afghan government soldiers such as these will rely on the Afghan Air Force for combat support. – Ethan Baron photo

The team launched their project in February and wrapped up in early June. They found that military commanders’ lack of expertise in assessing contractors’ results hampered the training program, Neuman says. “They don’t know how to measure good performance accurately,” Neuman says. “They didn’t do a good job of detailing the work to date.”

Also reducing effectiveness were the absence of financial rewards for contractors meeting goals, and of penalties for failing, Neuman says.


Team members had meetings at the Pentagon, but their wish to look into the training operation from inside Afghanistan was not granted, Neuman says. “Both UCLA and the NATO organization were not as enthusiastic as we were,” Neuman says. “Both of them were like, ‘Yeah, that’s not going to happen.'”

Chief among the team’s recommendations was moving most of the training program out of Afghanistan to save some $50 million per year. That proposal dove-tailed with the position Michel was taking with military leadership. Eighty per cent of the Afghan Air Force’s training was taking place in Afghanistan, and Michel wanted much of removed to a country or countries where warfare didn’t add massive contracting costs, where trainees could be housed on a base and easily brought to training sessions, and where planes and choppers didn’t have to come out of the Afghan war-fighting pool.

Taking the program largely outside Afghanistan would solve many problems, Michel says. “It increased predictability of the product, it drove down the cost, and increased the sustainability,” Michel says. “What UCLA did was add a layer of credibility that was indisputable . . . that allowed us to literally take those numbers to the bank, and convince the leadership that this is the right model. We were able to, if you will, run over some of the naysayers.” Michel says the in-country/out-of-country proportions of the training program will be inverted, with 80 per cent of the training moved outside Afghanistan.

U.S. and NATO helicopter gunners are on the way out, Afghan gunners on the way in. - Ethan Baron photo

U.S. and NATO helicopter gunners are on the way out, Afghan gunners on the way in. – Ethan Baron photo

Neuman, however, wonders whether the change of command – Michel left Afghanistan in mid-August,  handing over the training program to a successor – could scuttle the plan, leading to a return of the “cost-ineffective way it’s always been done.” “We’re anxious to see whether our recommendations are going to go by the wayside,” Neuman says. Michel says the work of the five EMBA students  – who all graduated this year – demonstrates the need for military entities to look for outside expertise when confronting major challenges.


“We are a closed system. It’s smart for people to be able to apply a divergent way of thinking to a particular problem,” Michel says. “We can ill afford to continue to look at the world through our military lens.”

Funds for running the Afghan Air Force, including the training program, come out of an annual budget for Afghan security forces of $4.1 billion, about 60% of which is provided by the U.S. with the rest coming from NATO and other partners in the Afghanistan effort, Michel says. The Afghan Air Force at the time of the study was costing $700 million a year.

“Our efforts, of which UCLA was integral, helped reduce that cost down to $450 million,” Michel says. The UCLA project, Michel says, “is a small manifestation of what could be done on a system-wide level.”

With the U.S. and NATO withdrawing from Afghanistan, the future of the Afghan Air Force is uncertain. - Ethan Baron photo

With the U.S. and NATO withdrawing from Afghanistan, the future of the Afghan Air Force is uncertain. – Ethan Baron photo


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