Logs & Sustainment

Although it is sexier to debate such things as lasers, space weapons than shipping container tracking and armored trucks, the US and allied militaries have been jolted back to an appreciation of the operational basics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon planners are now finding the stubborn reality of counter-terrorism, urban warfare and conventional engagements requires logistics to be placed at the core of military thinking.

In large part, the renewed attention to logistics has been rooted in the challenges faced in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The US Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) own review of OIF in March 2004 underscored that shortfalls occurred at every transaction point of the end-to-end supply chain – from strategic-level transportation to tactical-level distribution.

The General Accounting Office (GAO), the US government watchdog, in its yearly series on areas of high risk in federal government activity identified management of the DoD supply chain as a prime candidate. According to one such annual the report, “DoD’s supply chain management has experienced significant weaknesses in its ability to provide efficient and effective supply support to the warfighters.”

Many excellent briefing slides were presented by Pentagon briefers over the past decade to reveal a shift to new logistics management and better transparency in supply-chain linkages. But, as anyone who has been briefed into submission can attest, PowerPoint presentations do not a capability make. The trendy phrase to describe the transition is “focused logistics”, which is defined by the DoD as “the ability to provide the joint force the right personnel, equipment, and supplies in the right place, at the right time, and in the right quantity, across the full range of military operations.” But to those of us who try to use English as opposed to Pentagonese, this would seem to be the role of logistics, focused or not.

Nonetheless, there are a number of key elements of a real rethink underway. Notably, logistics is not simply the last item in providing for force structure capability, it is at the heart of any real force structure design.

There is however a wide gulf separating today’s realities and future plans. Senior DoD leaders have shifted requirements to encourage or force suppliers to provide tools for better asset visibility within the supply chain. Technology alone will not solve the problem, but where technology can help manage assets it should.

DoD is bringing logistics into the development process. In current major DoD projects, logistics are being designated as key program elements. The Joint Strike Fighter and Littoral Combat Systems to mention two programs are simply a few examples of the requirement to build in logistics provision from the beginning of development.

The changes to the US defense budget that have reprogrammed funds from big ticket programs conceived during the Cold War to meet current needs have the major suppliers to the Pentagon rethinking their approach to logistics.

Logistics is moving from the last thought to a front-burner issue in designing systems and providing for effects-based operations and security capabilities. Indeed, even doctrine governing deployment seems to be evolving.

The Obama administration is focusing on bringing back into government some of the tasks that have been outsourced to industry.  But the challenge will be to provide efficiencies in logs and sustainment which can leverage industrial core competencies.  Simply strengthening the government and its depot system will hardly be a prescription for innovation and efficiency in logistics management and execution.

This section of the website addresses the evolving re-think on logistics and sustainment. It is the major focus of the linked publications SLD and MLI.  Case studies or modules are being provided, which examine evolving business models, service approaches and re-thinking of the logistics and sustainment process. Sustainment needs to be built in from the beginning of any concept of operations, and manufacturing strategy. It is a crucial tissue enabling 21st century forces, and notably expeditionary ones.

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