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Logistics superiority--improving a strong suit. (President's Perspective).

The U.S. edge in military operations rests on three traditional strengths: superior quality of the fighting forces, advanced systems and technology and superb training. Superior logistics is another strength to be added to the list, as a subset of advanced systems. Both government and industry always have gone the extra mile to make sure our forces get the supplies they need. Our prodigious production and distribution in World War II had a great deal to do with the final victory. And since we do it so well, it has not been unusual for allied nations to send their military officers to the United States to learn how we manage and implement logistics operations.

The massive military buildup we've witnessed in recent months in the Middle East once again proves that when it comes to logistics, the United States is on top of its game.

But like elsewhere in the defense business today, change is in the wind and logistics too is transforming, for a variety of reasons. Our traditional practices and techniques for supplying our forces, although effective, are not efficient. The "just in case" logistics practiced in the past featured a kind of brute-force push logistics. Lots of stuff is pushed to the theatre, tracking is poor and, more often than not, 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.

The new thinking at the Pentagon today is that, to win the wars of the 21st century, we must be able to conduct "effects-based operations," where the criteria for success will be operational effects, rather than traditional metrics, such as the number of targets or vehicles destroyed. In effects-based operations, usually the goal is to achieve strategic and political objectives, preferably without collateral damage. For logistics, this means new ways of doing business.

Specifically, the traditional measures of success--such as customer wait time and supply availability--may not be relevant in effects-based operations. This will require new metrics and new ways of thinking about how we support soldiers in a "non-contiguous" battlefield. Recall that the strategy of projecting expeditionary forces into anti-access environments--as outlined in the Quadrennial Defense Review--demands new methods of logistics and new criteria for logistic success.

To its credit, the Defense Department has been aggressive in pursuing logistics reform efforts, under the leadership of Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and Diane K. Morales, the deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics. The services and the Defense Logistics Agency all have, in one form or another, undertaken their own efforts to revamp their logistics practices. Each service has its own buzzwords: logistics transformation, agile logistics, focused logistics, precision logistics, just-in-time logistics, to name a few. But they all are in pursuit of the same goal: to align logistics processes with the operational demands at hand.

A more technical term used to describe the new paradigm sought in logistics is "end-to-end supply chain." The idea is to more closely integrate every step associated with supplying beans and bullets from the factory to the foxhole (or the flight line). Ideally, the inventory control, the storage, distribution and transportation of supplies would be seamless, and the processes would be monitored in real time via the Web. In a seamless supply chain, functional handoffs are smooth, and every piece of equipment in the logistics chain can be tracked and managed online.

This vision underlies an overarching effort by the Department of Defense, called Future Logistics Enterprise. This was one of the topics discussed last month at NDIA's Logistics Symposium, in New Orleans. The FLE is an integrated plan to accelerate logistics improvement, enhance support to the war fighter, and synchronize logistics processes with the operational demands of the 21st century. The goal is to ensure consistent, reliable support, including weapon systems support, end-to-end customer support and enterprise integration.

Another important issue is the linkage between the logistics enterprise and the financial management systems. This spring, the office of the comptroller at the Defense Department plans to introduce a new financial management architecture that will help consolidate some 1,800 different information systems that it now relies upon. Eventually, the logistics systems will have to merge with the financial systems, in order to create a true enterprise.

Other issues under discussion are the coordination and closer integration of supply and transportation functions. There are, of course, many inventory control points in the services and DLA, while most of the transportation functions are centrally managed in the U.S. Transportation Command. It will be interesting to watch developments in this arena, as the Defense Logistics Agency and the U.S. Transportation Command continue to seek closer collaboration.

Of great interest to attendees at the NDIA symposium were recent advances in "autonomic" logistics, a term used to describe technologies that predict failure in operating systems, monitor stockage levels in consumables, automatically report impending failures and order replacements without human intervention. These technologies could have huge payoffs in military logistics, possibly leading to the day when supplies automatically will flow to the war fighters before they run out.

There is no doubt that big things are in store for the logistics community. To be sure, business reform and greater use of automation has been talked about for years but little has materialized. This time, change appears to have a better chance.

If we have another major confrontation in the Persian Gulf, a key item for the "hot wash" will be the difference in logistics processes and performance between this operation and Desert Storm. There is much more to be said on this important issue.

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Author:Farrell, Lawrence P., Jr.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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