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Commanders ponder how best to mend battlefield logistics.

A team of about 100 logistics experts dispatched to Iraq earlier this year pinpointed serious problems in the distribution of military supplies in the war zone, and is taking steps to solve them.

The ad hoc group--known as the deployment and distribution operations center--assembled at the urgent request of top Pentagon officials to help meet immediate needs, such as ensuring that supplies arriving at seaports and airfields got rapidly unpacked and delivered to Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq.

The DDOC has been in operation under U.S. Central Command authority since January. By and large, it has made measurable improvements, but if the Defense Department is serious about fixing endemic flaws in battlefield logistics in the long term, it will need to consider creating a permanent command structure strictly focused on supply management and distribution, said Marine Lt. Gen. Gary H. Hughey, deputy chief of U.S. Transportation Command.

Both the Transportation Command and the Defense Logistics Agency teamed to create the DDOC, which also includes representatives from the military services and Joint Forces Command.

The failures of the logistics apparatus during military operations in Iraq have been documented in various reports and studies. Soldiers and Marines have complained about shortages of basic supplies and difficulties in obtaining spare parts far ground vehicles and aircraft, among other gripes. As to why logistics has been a tough nut to crack, the explanation is that the system works very well at the "strategic" level, but collapses once the containers get unloaded from ships and cargo aircraft. The DDOC was asked to figure out how to make sure that supplies get through to the "last tactical mile" of the logistics chain.

Designed for the Cold War, U.S. logistics systems can track all shipments and deliveries from the United States in overseas port of debarkation. But it lacks full "factory-to-foxhole" visibility of the supplies once they enter a theater of war. That visibility is essential in today's battlefields, Hughey said during an Association of the U.S. Army panel discussion.

"The point of failure is at the seam between the strategic and operational level," he said.

Since setting up shop in January, the DDOC has made tangible contributions, according to Hughey. It identified, for example, 2,500 containers of construction materials that were about to get shipped to Iraq, even though they were not needed. The DDOC turned down 1,700 containers.

The shortage of tracks for Abrams and Bradley vehicles was another source of angst for the Army. As inventories ran out, the Army Materiel Command started ordering track components directly from manufacturers and had them shipped by air to Iraq.

The DDOC, meanwhile, found out that the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment--on its way home from Iraq--had managed to accumulate 19 containers of track supplies, or the equivalent of five C-5 cargo aircraft loads. DDOC staff immediately ordered that the cargo be left in Iraq for use by other units. "It saved the cost of air shipping more track and the cost of shipping 19 containers back," said Hughey.

Another job has been to expedite shipments of broken down equipment back to the United States. In November and December, the Army shipped nine containers. After the DDOC arrived in January, the service sent back 79 containers.

Despite its successes, the DDOC is not the answer for the long term, Hughey said. "It's an ad hoc staff." A more permanent solution would be to appoint a joint theater logistics command, "with the force structure to ensure that the strategic improvements we are making don't stop at the port of debarkation."

Hughey said talks are under way to reorganize the logistics forces in all the services, to "provide the forces we would need to create a joint logistics command for the theater." The operation in Iraq offers a "unique opportunity" to bring about change, he said. "We have to get past the separate service's concerns that they are going to have to contribute more than they are going to get our of it."

Army Maj. Gen. Terry Juskowiak, commander of the Combined Arms Support Command, endorsed the notion of a joint commander for logistics. "Who in the theater now does logistics command and control for the combatant commander?" he asked. "It's done ad hoc.... We are advocating (along with the Transportation Command) that this ought to be more than just ad hoc."

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, when logistics become a sore topic of discussion at the Pentagon, one of the ideas kicked around was to create a four-star "Logistics Command" that would have merged the Transportation Command and the Defense Logistics Agency. Through the DDOC teaming arrangement, such a merger was averted. Nevertheless, there should be an ongoing debate about the need for a "single logistics system," said Lt. Gen. Richard A. Hack, deputy commander of AMC. "Do we need a joint four-star-like command? I think it needs to be explored," he said at the AUSA conference. "There are a lot of pros. Each service's unique logistics requirements adds complexity." The head of such organization would have to be a "trained logistician, the likes of which we haven't seen. I don't know how you would train someone to command that."

The Defense Logistics Agency, for its part, is moving rapidly to set up a supply depot in Kuwait that will be stocked with 40,000 "critical items" by the end of the year, said Army Maj. Gen. Daniel G. Mongeon, director of logistics operations at DLA. The depot will open for business this summer with a relatively small stock, and then gradually build up, Mongeon told reporters. The Kuwait depot is part of a broader DLA plan to set up facilities in "forward areas," designed to bring the equipment closer to the troops. Before the end of 2004, DLA will break ground on depots in Sigonella (Sicily), Guam and South Korea.
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Title Annotation:Up Front
Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:May 1, 2004
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