Architectures guide logistics overhaul

'The department has spent billions of dollars trying to improve the logistics systems since the first Persian Gulf War. Much has improved, but ... the services still have stovepiped systems,' said Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) at a hearing on military readiness.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Logistics hits and misses in Iraq

Military forces in Iraq are using 21st century systems for fighting, but have often found themselves operating in a mid-20th-century logistics structure.

Army Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, deputy chief of staff for logistics, said that during Operation Iraqi Freedom ground forces were constantly on the move, covering hundreds of miles of harsh territory. Logisticians, often using disparate supply chain systems, struggled to keep up.

Troops desperate for supplies used outdated logistics procedures and old equipment as they made their way across the country, Christianson said.

'Today, we fight on a battlefield that is characterized by widely dispersed operations'islands of combat separated by tenuous, unsecured lines of communications,' he said. 'Gone is a battlefield with clear lines of distinction between enemy and friendly territory or forces. Today's battlefield presents new and difficult challenges for logisticians.'

Military brass discussed logistics concerns recently at a hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

'The department has spent billions of dollars trying to improve the logistics systems since the first Persian Gulf War,' said Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), chairman of the subcommittee. 'Much has improved, but ... the services still have stovepiped systems.'

Christianson said the Army has faced a variety of problems in Iraq, such as:
  • A backlog of cargo pallets and shipping containers at points along the distribution system

  • A discrepancy of $1.2 billion in materiel shipped versus materiel acknowledged by Army logistics systems as received

  • Duplication of requisitions

  • Insufficient security for supplies.

Christianson said the Army addressed its problems last December in a white paper, 'Delivering Materiel Readiness to the Army.' The paper serves as the basis for efforts to fix the problems and will help officials prioritize resources.

Causes for logistics problems include:
  • Inadequate connectivity

  • A disjointed distribution system

  • Lack of organization in running distribution operations.

Stockpiling

Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, said he saw plenty of logistics successes in Iraq, which he credited to early planning, adopting lessons learned from previous conflicts and keeping a stockpile of high-demand items.

But, 'in some cases, actual demands for items exceeded projections,' he said.

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Edward G. Usher III, director of logistics plans, policies and strategic mobility, said the biggest challenge Marines faced was the inability to see what was in the logistics pipeline as supplies made their way to troops on the front lines.

Another challenge, Usher said, was incompatible supply and warehousing information systems.
Some units have begun using radio-frequency identification tags on items to give troops more visibility of supplies in distribution.

In addition to such basic efforts, the Defense Department is working on a high-level project to improve supply chain operations. The Office of Force Transformation is testing a logistics prototype aimed at better tracking the movement of supplies on the battlefield.

The Sense and Respond Logistics Concept is a framework being developed by OFT with lead contractor Synergy Corp. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that will involve sophisticated IT networks, sensors, automatic demand signals and policy changes.

DOD plans to test the system during military exercises later this year, said Navy Capt. Linda Lewandowski, a DOD transformation strategist.

Under the two-year, roughly $2 million contract, Synergy is building and testing the prototype using an Oracle database and middleware, and portal technology from Tibco Software Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif. The system will run under Microsoft Windows XP and Unix.

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