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Battlefield logistics: color it 'purple'.

As pressure intensifies at the Defense Department to improve logistics support to U.S. troops in the field, decision makers within the military services, Joint staff and combatant commands are stepping up efforts to fix immediate problems and try to develop long-term solutions.

These are difficult problems, to say the least. During peacetime, the Defense Department measures the performance of its logistics system in "customer wait-time," a term that describes how long soldiers have to wait to receive parts or supplies they requested. When a shooting war is under way, however, customer wait-time is not necessarily relevant. As long as troops remain engaged in hotspots such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the challenge facing the Defense Department and the services is to make the system responsive to the needs of the forces in the field.

As I noted in a previous editorial, ("War Realities Call for New Approach to Logistics," April 2004), the fundamental challenge confronting logisticians and senior leaders is that the current logistics apparatus, designed for the battlefields of the Cold War, does not work as well in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan where there are no defined frontlines.

The "just in case" logistics practices, as seen in the first Gulf War, no longer are tolerable. Under that approach, supplies are ordered multiple times, just in case the previous orders got lost in the shuffle, or delayed in the transportation pipeline. When supplies arrive in theatre, a major effort is required to match the right supply with the right unit.

On the other hand, a more efficient "just in time logistics" may not be desirable during a war either, because our systems are not able to accurately predict consumption and respond to supply requests in real time.

At a recent Army-industry conference hosted by NDIA in Atlanta, top leaders from the Defense Department and the private sector agreed that the rules that govern logistics in peacetime and in commercial businesses do not apply when the customers are troops in combat.

Lt. Gen. Claude Christianson, the Army's deputy chief of staff for logistics, explained that the U.S. military has a very effective strategic distribution system, but does not understand theater distribution. In peacetime, he said, we try to make things as efficient as possible. In combat, what matters is effectiveness.

This level of effectiveness--good enough to respond to combat needs--only can be achieved if the services and defense agencies work jointly. No matter who is doing the fighting, logistics must be "purple," as was noted by Gen. Paul Kern, head of the Army Materiel Command. On this point, everyone agrees: Although the problems are service-unique, the solutions must be joint.

Purple logistics operations, however, are still a long way away. Standing in the way are disconnections between logistics systems, performance measurements and the actual requirements for critical equipment needed in the field.

A significant hurdle for logisticians, for example, is the lack of a central database that tracks consumption of materiel and that updates that information in real time, for all the services simultaneously. A "network-centric" logistics process would go a long way toward making the system more responsive.

The Joint Staff's vision--known as "focused logistics"--calls for a system that is as automated as UPS deliveries, but that also addresses the unique needs of war fighters. Leading that effort is Vice Adm. Gordon Holder, the director of logistics at the Joint Staff. In comments to the NDIA Atlanta conference, Holder said that the key to making progress in this area is to develop a joint strategy that will deliver focused logistics. Lots of people talk about focused logistics, he said, but there is yet no strategy for how to implement it.

During the past year, meanwhile, we have seen a number of initiatives that seek to move logistics down the right path. A case in point is the Pentagon's decision to make the U.S. Transportation Command the "distribution process owner" for all the military services, in charge of ensuring supplies get to the "last tactical mile."

To support the current Iraqi conflict, TRANSCOM and the Defense Logistics Agency set up a CENTCOM Deployment and Distribution Operations Center, focused on synchronizing efforts and eliminating the gaps between the strategic and operational levels, in order to ensure unimpeded throughput of forces and equipment.

The CDDOC is truly a joint undertaking that may serve as a model for how to manage theater logistics. Even if no one single regional commander owns all the pieces, there must be a centralized process to manage logistics in theater, noted Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gary H. Hughey, deputy commander of TRANSCOM.

Obviously, much has yet to be done before we have an entirely integrated logistics enterprise at the Defense Department. Increasingly, however, we are seeing recognition on the part of senior leaders that the solution to the problems our troops experience today has to be joint. Ongoing efforts by the Army, TRANSCOM, DLA and other organizations are moving us in the right direction, but given the complexity of logistics and the budgetary challenges facing the nation, the job ahead is tough indeed.

Please email me your comments to Lfarrell@ndia.org
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:President's Perspective
Author:Farell, Lawrence P., Jr.
Publication:National Defense
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:859
Previous Article:Chapter events.
Next Article:Fuel problems in the desert not new.


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