A blind pig eventually finds the acorn. The Department of Defense (DoD) usually discovers that the answer has been staring it in the face. What is this blinding revelation? That unity of command applies to the supply chain as much as it does to forces in combat. The great commercial supply chain carriers have practiced it for the last 20 years. In order to have a successful logistics system, one must have an end-to-end supply chain with someone in charge, i.e. someone with accountability and authority. As the Defense Science Board (DSB) recently concluded, the Department needs a single owner for logistics – a Joint Logistics Command.
The logistics system has been under constant transformation since the end of the Cold War. The hundreds of disparate initiatives ranging across the DoD and Services all claimed to have the magic solutions – usually in the form of an information technology system that in the end was not compatible or interoperable with other components of the supply chain. Without question, organizations such as the Army Materiel Command and TRANSCOM have made substantial improvements in their particular domains. However, for all these efforts the system as a whole is still too slow, costly and unresponsive to the warfighter’s needs.
The military has a lot to learn from private industry. Whether it is the Six Sigma approach of Jack Welch’s General Electric, Toyota’s notion of ‘just-in-time’ or the present successes in supply chain management exemplified by UPS, Maersk, Caterpillar and C.H. Robinson, the private sector seems light years ahead of the military. The great commercial logistics companies can offer world class support to the DoD enabling the military to obtain a unified, agile, responsive and effective logistics system that reaches globally from end-to-end of the supply chain. This is not because logistics 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 proper resources to get it right. In particular, both they and their customers have learned that an end-to-end supply chain must have a single manager.
Now is the time for the Secretary of Defense to listen to his advisors and implement the recommendations made by the DSB. The Secretary of Defense should create a Joint Logistics Command (LOGCOM) that is responsible for, in the DSB’s words, a “global end-to-end supply chain,” and subsumes the mission of TRANSCOM while incorporating the Services supplies organizations and DLA as component commands.
Most importantly, the commander of LOGCOM must be given the authority and accountability for the entire supply chain – including budgetary and programmatic oversight. This will give the commander the opportunity to create an integrated logistics information system in order to eliminate the need for multiple systems with multiple transactions across multiple seams that inevitably are detrimental to the warfighter. In addition, the LOGCOM should aggressively exploit the capabilities of private industry. Key private industry logistics players, such as Maersk, KBR and UPS, offer capabilities and a history of success to the warfighter ensuring that the material gets to them at the right place, at the right time and at the right quantity.
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