Report on Military Logistics Summit 2010

This was one of the few Washington DC events I have attended that fully lived up to its advanced publicity. The attendees, most of whom I found to be from their company’s upper leadership were treated to quite unique insights from an array of expert practitioners within the US military logistics establishment.

The summit was preceded by a day devoted to an interactive workshop on strategies for optimizing the military supply chain. Participants addressed topics such as; Service part Support Optimization, Supply Chain Design, Optimization & Management, Strategic Procurement, Segmented Supply, and Redeployment, and Overcoming Readability Issues with Auto-ID Technologies. These sessions were lead by a small cadre of outstanding supply chain researchers from such institutions as Cornell, MIT, U of Alabama, Penn State, and Michigan State. These sessions presented the latest supply chain methodologies, design features, and management innovations.

The first day of the summit began on Tuesday with an introduction by COL James Woodard, Chief of Operations, for USCENCOM J4. He gave a review of the dramatic transitions being undertaken by Operation “New Dawn” which required the ending of combat operations in Iraq, and the simultaneous movement of troops and equipment from Iraq to Afghanistan. He detailed the challenges of drawing down from 170,000 troops to 50,000 troops (from 20 countries) by August 21, 2010, and then a further reduction in Iraq of the 50,000 troops to zero by August 21, 2011. COL Woodard also presented an in depth look into the development of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) and how it has transitioned into a major supply corridor for CENTCOM operations.

Among the many interesting topics discussed during the two days of the Military Logistics Summit were the comments of USAF Brigadier General Michelle Johnson, Director for Strategy, Policy. She gave a guided tour of the roots of US warfighter support up to the present day. She highlighted the sometimes arduous efforts necessary to establish and maintain bilateral and multilateral agreements between the US and other countries in Central Europe through which additional material and supply shipments have increasingly been transported. Ongoing efforts of USTRANSCOM also include transition from 20ft containers to 40ft containers for improved economic value, and increased “in-transit” visibility of shipments to reduce container pilferage below the current 1% level. She concluded her presentation with comments on efforts by USTRANSCOM to investigate new means for improving warfighter support options. One of these assessments is the potential that lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicles could have in movement of supplies into very austere regions, whether for troop support or humanitarian aid to disaster areas.

Another standout session was the one hosted by Robert Lamanna, Logistics Management Specialist for CECOM LCMC. He addressed the very pertinent question of how the DoD reestablishes the ability to organically support the weapon systems they buy. To facilitate this the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) is pursuing its vision of procurement reform and is actively engaged in rewriting the 5002 acquisition policy document. The major changes will include support of contingency business operations, and major reform of the DoD’s acquisition and support processes. He emphasized the current conviction among DoD logistics planners that we must integrate lifecycle maintenance principals into the DoD and military maintenance and procurement picture.

The principal need and current challenge is for the DoD to adopt a “product support” business model. Most OEMs tend to focus on their manufacturing capabilities but neglect the up front planning and capability necessary for subsequent logistics support by the military customer. Instead the DoD ends up having to hire large contactor support at great expense to support the equipment they’ve purchased. The DoD is now designing a sort of “C4ISR” approach for sustainment, which includes manpower resources and response to warfighter needs. Mr. Lamanna said this development of new policy is happing very fast; in fact it’s the fastest rate of DoD procurement policy change he’s seen in 30 years. He strongly advised his audience to make the effort to stay tuned to this new policy shift if they expect to be able to keep up with it.

Overall the Military Logistics Summit was a very interesting experience which provided up to the moment insights into the dynamics of the DoD’s existing supply chain activities. But from each session and speaker a composite picture also emerged of the changes both methodical and rapid that are occurring within the DoD’s procurement and logistical support policy leaders. The next few years will indeed see rapid changes in the way the DoD procures, transports, and supports (more uniforms / less business suits) what it buys.

Ron Hochstetler

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