The Pentagon has hired two giant cargo ships to carry armored vehicles and helicopters, among other war matériel, and eight additional cargo ships capable of carrying ammunition, tanks and ambulances.
The Air Force is stockpiling weapons, ammunition and spare parts, including airplane engines, at depots in the Persian Gulf region and in the United States. Arsenals of Air Force and Navy precision-guided weapons, which proved devastating in Afghanistan, should be fully replenished by autumn, military officials said.
Senior Pentagon officials say the logistical movements do not represent a stealth deployment and should not be interpreted as evidence that a campaign against Iraq is imminent, or even a certainty.
Indeed, some of the movements now under way were ordered months or even years ago. But taken together, the steps suggest that those responsible for arming America’s fighting forces in time of war are beginning serious planning.
“We don’t know when the next contingency might be, but we want to get this in the hands of the war fighters,” Gen. Lester L. Lyles, chief of the Air Force Matériel Command, said in an interview.
Of course, with the United States having just waged war in the region, a certain amount of replenishment is to be expected. But Defense Department and military officials who described the logistical plans indicated that a public discussion of the growing American arsenal confronting Mr. Hussein fit an emerging information strategy to unnerve Iraq ahead of possible combat and weaken it in case of war, as well as reassure skittish allies in the region.
The Pentagon is contracting for one ship to move troop-carrying combat vehicles from Europe and the United States to the Persian Gulf to join equipment for four armored brigades already stored there. Another will carry vehicles, helicopters and ammunition to a Red Sea port for a military exercise this year.
The Defense Department also has awarded a contract to Maersk Line to operate eight cargo ships capable of carrying ammunition and tanks. The ships will be positioned near the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, home of a British base used by the United States as a staging point.
Senior officials acknowledge that the shipments could support war options that Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the chief of the military’s Central Command, has recently presented to Mr. Bush.
Logistics planners are closely tracking the various war options, officials said. The mundane task of setting aside food, fuel and weaponry for troops is essential for sustaining any major military operation. It takes time, and to avoid tipping adversaries off about a military operation, Pentagon officials say, it is prudent to start the flow of supplies now, even without specific orders.
Indications of American resolve and advance placement of weapons are intended to reassure skittish gulf allies and Iraqi opposition groups, officials said, and to convince Iraqi officers and their troops that the Americans would win — especially the Iraqis responsible for weapons of mass destruction and the missiles or artillery to deliver them. American planners hope that Iraqi officers will not pull the trigger after calculating the punishment awaiting them if they unleash weapons on behalf of a crumbling government.
Military transportation planners say the magnitude of the air and sea lift of United States troops and equipment to the Middle East would be daunting: 7,000 miles by air and 12,000 by sea from the East Coast, and more from the West Coast.
“Logistically it won’t be a cakewalk,” said Gus Pagonis, a retired three-star Army general who was chief of logistics during the gulf war of 1991. “To feed, house, equip and medically support 250,000 troops is not an easy task, but it’s not insurmountable.”
Plans for positioning American military equipment in the gulf began just two months after the 1991 war ended, military officials noted.
Today, equipment for two reinforced Army armored brigades is on the ground in the region, and the 9,000 troops to use it could be airlifted and ready for action in 96 hours. The armaments are stored in 37 warehouses, each averaging 60,000 square feet, in Kuwait and Qatar.
Each of those countries holds in storage about 115 M-1A1 Abrams tanks, 60 M-2A2 Bradley fighting vehicles, 100 armored personnel carriers, 25 mortars and 20 155-millimeter howitzers, said a spokesman for Army forces assigned to the Central Command.
Ammunition is stored in both countries, with field artillery rounds in Kuwait. The Kuwait warehouses also hold 30 days’ worth of food and fuel.
Equipment for another armored brigade from the Army and one from the Marine Corps — another 9,000 troops — is afloat on ships in the region, officials said.
The Kuwait site has an 84-bed combat support hospital in storage, and Bahrain has a 500-bed field hospital and a 200-bed combat support hospital in storage, the spokesman said. Two Patriot antimissile batteries are in Kuwait and two more in Saudi Arabia.
The military would need substantially more equipment, though, to support the concepts for operations against Iraq that have been presented to Mr. Bush.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumseld inspected some of those locations himself this summer when he conferred with regional leaders and visited American forces in those states. In Qatar, where just over 3,300 American military personnel are based, Mr. Rumsfeld toured the sprawling air base at Al Udeid, a significant hub in the American-led campaign against terror.
Al Udeid has a fleet of Air Force KC-10 and KC-135 refueling tankers that kept attack jets and bombers, based elsewhere in the region, in the air as they carried out the campaign over Afghanistan. It also has Air Force construction engineers and a smattering of Army personnel. The base has runways long enough to handle any aircraft.
New hangars have been built into the chalk-colored desert, each disguised as a sand dune to blend in with the Qatari badlands and foil the radar of any adversary’s missile.
Mr. Rumsfeld also visited Bahrain, home to the the Fifth Fleet and about 4,200 American military personnel, and greeted troops at Camp Doha, an Army base in Kuwait about 35 miles from the Iraqi border.
In all, about 9,000 members of the American military are based in Kuwait, including crews for the planes that enforce the no-flight zone over southern Iraq. To support the more than 500,000 American troops in the gulf war, the military consumed 1.5 billion gallons of fuel. Troops and equipment consumed nine million gallons of water a day. The military shipped more than 112,000 tanks, trucks and other vehicles. American forces used 95,000 tons of bombs, missiles and other munitions.
Senior officers say the military has improved its logistics network in the decade since the war with Iraq. “We’ve fine-tuned that a lot,” said Vice Adm. Dennis V. McGinn, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare requirements and programs.