When the US Army deploys forward in what we would consider an expeditionary environment, generally speaking, the supporting infrastructure tends to be limited and rudimentary, which requires logistics organizations to establish a scalable logistics infrastructure. Military doctrine defines logistics as “the planning and executing the movement and support of forces. It includes those aspects of military operations that deal with: design and development, acquisition, storage, movement, distribution, maintenance, evacuation, and disposition of materiel; movement, evacuation, and hospitalization of personnel; acquisition or construction, maintenance, operation, and disposition of facilities; and acquisition or furnishing of services.”
One of the many tasks assigned a tactical level support unit is logistical analysis of capabilities and requirements. Expeditionary environments don’t tend to have the excess capacity necessary within their infrastructure to absorb hundreds of thousands of people and equipment consuming additional resources. This is where a combination of strategic and operational level support units extend regionally and back to industrial manufacturing bases to create an interconnected supply chain network.
Much like civilian supply chains, a key component to military logistics is having visibility of consumption rates and inventory levels throughout the supply chain. Through a robust and complex information system, logistics information systems feed data into operation centers to be analyzed and turned into actionable information. Predetermined information criteria in combination with standard procedures allow key decision makers to quickly filter details in the supply chain that are becoming critical and need to be addressed as soon as possible. The predetermined criteria is broken into two generic categories – internal and external information. Examples of internal information would include items such as volume of supply levels, critical items, and transportation fleet status. Examples of external information would include items such as route status, political events, and severe weather. Visibility of the supply chain in combination with systems and process ensures appropriate use of supply chain flexibility.
Several years ago there was an Army logistics unit preparing to deploy to Afghanistan going through a training simulation in which they were hit with several supply chain interruptions including but not limited to – an avalanche that closed a major supply route, a flood that washed out a village, road closures for political reasons, unforeseen changes in demand, and myriad other significant incidents. Half way through the simulation, the Commanding Officer requested a pause to the exercise where he discussed with the training staff the likelihood of this level, volume, and severity of incidents would actually happen to a logistics unit in Afghanistan. He was at the time, doubtful that a unit would have anywhere near this level of activity, but after a short discussion conceded to complete the training as templated. Six months into his yearlong deployment, the Commander called back to the training unit to report that as it turns out the training scenario had left out a few events and could have been a bit tougher to make it more realistic.
The Commander mentioned above was only able to deal supply chain interruptions in a very fluid environment, because his organization embraced systems and processes based on the military principals of logistics:
- Integration is joining all of the elements of sustainment (tasks, functions, systems, processes, and organizations) to operations assuring unity of purpose and effort.
- Anticipation is the ability to foresee events and requirements and initiate necessary actions that most appropriately satisfy a response.
- Responsiveness is the ability to meet changing requirements on short notice and to rapidly sustain efforts to meet changing circumstances over time. It is providing the right support in the right place at the right time.
- Simplicity strives to minimize the complexity of sustainment. Simplicity relates to processes and procedures.
- Economy means providing sustainment resources in an efficient manner to enable a commander to employ all assets to generate the greatest effect possible.
- Survivability is the ability to protect personnel, information, infrastructure, and assets from destruction or degradation.
- Continuity is the uninterrupted provision of sustainment across all levels achieved through a system of integrated and focused networks linking sustainment to operations.
- Improvisation is the ability to adapt sustainment operations to unexpected situations or circumstances affecting a mission.
By studying each and every link in the supply chain and understanding its interconnected relationship with every other link, key decision makers are better able to anticipate and mitigate supply chain interruptions.
LTC John “Eric” Richardson is a United States Army logistician with over twenty years of experience leading, training, and mentoring at all levels of Army command. Eric has held the following positions: Army staff, brigade chief of staff, battalion chief of staff, battalion support operations officer, deputy brigade support operations officer, petroleum and water branch chief, company command, assistant brigade supply officer, supply and services officer, platoon leader, and aircraft crew chief. As a logistics officer, Eric has managed all facets of end-to-end domestic and international logistical operations – and is responsible for the leading, planning, integration, and directing all facets of sustainment activities (supply and services, transportation, maintenance, human resources, financial management, health services support, and operational contracting support) at the tactical, operational, and strategic level.
“The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the author and are not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense. Names of commercial manufacturers or products included are incidental only and inclusion does not imply endorsement by the author, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.”