Army Logistics:

Container Handling Equipment Requirements, Contracts, and Inventory

GAO-13-719R: Published: Jul 31, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2013.

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Zina Dache Merritt
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What GAO Found

The Army’s requirements for container handling equipment have changed since 1998 from focusing on "break bulk" to focusing on containerized distribution, and the Army has awarded contracts and issued delivery orders to reflect those changing requirements.

  • The 1998 Operational Requirements Document indicated that cargo would be transported to secure locations in containers and then to troops in “break bulk,” without using containers. Capabilities that would later be filled by Container Handling Units (CHU)/Enhanced Container Handling Units (E-CHU) and Container Transfer Enhancements (CTE) were identified for the requirement to transport cargo in containers. The Container Roll-in/out Platform (CROP) was identified as a capability for the requirement to transport “break bulk” cargo without containers. Flatracks, the existing capability since 1994 to move both containerized and “break bulk” cargo, were no longer identified as a capability in the 1998 document. As a result, in a 2001 strategy, the Army eliminated the use of flatracks and transitioned funding to CROP procurement. The Army awarded a contract in December 2002 for up to 3,997 CROPs and awarded another contract in June 2006, from which it ordered 32,917 CROPs.
  • According to Army documentation, from 2008 through 2010, warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan identified an unanticipated and urgent need for flatracks to move cargo in containers to forward operating units, in order to better protect items being moved along hazardous routes. After the Army’s 2001 strategy eliminated the use of flatracks, Army officials stated that the ability to move containers to forward operating units was limited. Further, as of 2010, Army officials said that there was insufficient inventory of and training on CHUs/E-CHUs to meet the urgent needs for container distribution because the Army had not anticipated the need to move containers to forward operating units, and the CTE had not yet been fielded. As a result of the urgent need to move cargo in containers, the Army awarded a contract in August 2010 for 3,227 flatracks.
  • In February 2012, the Army issued the Distribution Enablers Study, which revisited the capabilities needed for “break bulk” and containerized cargo distribution. This study included the E-CHU in its analysis, because more E-CHUs had been fielded to units, and the CTE, which completed testing in 2011. The Distribution Enablers Study recommended using the E-CHU paired with the CTE, because this combination provides three times more capacity to distribute cargo than flatracks alone. As a result, in June 2012, the Army ordered 180 CTEs.
  • Requirements for container handling equipment are continuing to be updated and may change due to DOD's plans to reduce the size of the Army. A Capability Production Document—expected to be issued in late summer 2013 to update the 1998 Operational Requirements Document—is to provide updated requirements to include current technologies for CROPs, E-CHUs, and CTEs and is expected to add the flatrack capability for Army Corps of Engineers bridge units.Army officials said thatplans are also being completed for each piece of container handling equipment—based on the 2012 Distribution Enablers Study—that will identify the quantity and type of equipment to be sent to units.Additionally, Army officials said that the Army is conducting a tactical wheeled vehicle reduction study, due to be completed in late 2013 or early 2014 that could affect requirements for container handling equipment.

To increase its ability to move containerized cargo, the Army plans to increase its June 2013 inventory of 1,241 E-CHUs and no CTEs to a fiscal year 2018 inventory of 6,035 E-CHUs and 6,324 CTEs. To move “break bulk” cargo, the Army had 47,228 CROPs and 4,342 flatracks as of June 2013. There is no future funding programmed for CROPs or flatracks, but the inventory is expected to increase because some CROPs and flatracks have been procured but have not yet been provided to units. By fiscal year 2018, the Army expects to have 48,397 CROPs and 7,241 flatracks.

Why GAO Did This Study

Container handling equipment provides Army commanders with the flexibility to respond to rapidly shifting operations by supplying the capability to transport critical cargo. To support a versatile and expandable distribution system, the Army has five types of container handling equipment to carry both containerized and non-containerized (or "break bulk") cargo: flatracks, CROPs, CHUs, E-CHUs, and CTEs. Flatracks, which can carry both containerized and "break bulk" cargo, and CROPs, which can carry only "break bulk" cargo, are structural steel frames. CHUs and E-CHUs attach to the lifting arm of a truck and allow for upload and offload of containers. The CTE is a modification to a trailer which allows the container to roll onto the trailer while being pushed by the CHU/E-CHU.

GAO was mandated to provide a report to the congressional defense committees on the acquisition plan, requirement, and inventory for container handling equipment in the Army. Objectives for this report were to describe (1) how the requirements for container handling equipment have changed since 1998 and when the corresponding contracts were awarded or delivery orders issued and (2) the current and projected inventories of container handling equipment.

For more information contact Zina D. Merritt at (202) 512-5257 or

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