Military leaders are always accused of preparing to fight the last war. The same can be said (perhaps with greater accuracy) about logisticians. For Desert Storm, the military transferred mountains of supplies to the Middle East, so much that it took 13 months to bring the unused portion home. For Operation Iraqi Freedom, they dispensed with the mountains of supplies and introduced radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking of shipments into theater. But the 3rd Infantry Division ran short of critical items, shipments got lost once in theater and supply lines were subject to interdiction. Now the military is busy remedying the last war’s logistics problems, for example by connecting the logisticians and initiating a process for the rapid fielding of critical new items. These are good things to do, but it does not constitute a transformation of logistics.
While the military continues to look back, private industry continues to look forward. It has grounded the development of its current logistics processes on clear foundations that allow increased efficiency, effectiveness and broadened the scope of the process. From the Six Sigma approach of Jack Welch’s General Electric to Toyota’s notion of ‘just-in-time’ to the present successes in supply chain management (SCM) exemplified by UPS, the private sector seems light years ahead of the military. This is not because SCM in the civilian world is easier than it is for the military. It is because the private sector is serious about logistics and has spent the requisite time and resources to get it right.
The military says it wants its logistics system to be more like those in the private sector. Organizations such as Army Materiel Command, Defense Logistics Agency and Transportation Command are making major advances within their areas of responsibility. DoD and the Services have announced a number of campaigns and initiatives such as Sense and Respond Logistics, Focused Logistics and the Army’s Logistics Transformation Campaign. Yet, these efforts struggle because the foundation for solid supply chain operations does not exist. The resources, support and strategic vision from DoD are inadequate to ensure that new processes and organizations can operate effectively and efficiently in both peacetime and war.
The forthcoming Lexington Institute study, Implementing Transformation: A New Model for Military Logistics, found that investments in networks, software and RFID tags are fine as far as they go. But without taking steps to change the process of managing logistics, DoD’s logistics transformation efforts are likely to only make the military more capable of fighting the last war. DoD needs to do four things:
Clearly articulate a unified strategic vision for logistics that defines the interoperability and connectivity for all the Services.
Designate a single owner of the logistics process with authority to ensure compliance of agreed-upon concepts crucial to a successful transformation.
Ensure adequate resources are appropriated and authorized to complete the full range of logistics transformation efforts.
Expand partnerships with the private sector.
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