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 May 2007 

Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.Logistics Requires Teamwork, Solid Leadership

May 2007

By Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.

The business of supplying and sustaining a military force in combat often is overlooked and underappreciated. Currently, it is a $130 billion a year enterprise that employs 1.1 million people and has a network of more than 100,000 suppliers.

The good news for U.S. forces now deployed in combat is that the Defense Department has achieved measurable improvements in its ability to provide equipment and supplies in a timely manner. But as can be expected in an enterprise this large and complex, the challenges are many.

The effectiveness of the defense logistics enterprise not only is essential when it comes to supporting troops in the field but also during domestic emergencies. As we saw in the post-hurricane Katrina debacle almost two years ago, having material resources to help victims is not enough, if there is no cohesive planning from the top.

The notion that successful logistics efforts require seamless teamwork and thoughtful leadership was very much a dominant topic of discussion at the 23rd annual National Logistics Symposium, which NDIA hosted last month in Miami Beach, Fla.

Ralph Shrader, chairman and CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton, put it best when he characterized the environment we live in as a “liquid world” that requires solid leadership. To adapt to the uncertainty of this liquid world, the defense logistics enterprise must have leaders in government and industry who have a clear understanding of how to make coherent plans, and how to encourage the teamwork that will be needed to execute the mission. It is also important to understand the strengths of technology. In the logistics business, technology alone is only a small part of the equation, Shrader noted. Computer systems do a great job storing and retrieving data, but only the human mind can dream and design strategies for success.

Echoing this thinking, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Dail, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, made a case that the post-Katrina failures only reinforce the importance of having a solid plan of attack. Inadequate planning was a major factor in the Defense Department’s difficulties in delivering assistance. Planning shortfalls also were blamed for problems in the early phases of the Iraq war, when logistics and supply distribution operations had a tough time keeping up with the agile combat force. One lesson learned from these experiences, Dail said, is that “an ounce of command-and-control is worth a pound of labor.”

DLA, along with U.S. Transportation Command and the military services, has been at the forefront of revamping logistics efforts in Iraq to better support our forces. The bottom line to the reforms that have been pursued, Dail said, is satisfying customers on the front lines. His point is that measuring output at the wholesale level does not necessarily tell you what’s in the soldier’s bag.

An overarching message from Dail and other senior leaders in the logistics community is that there has to be a better relationship and partnership between government and industry. More transparency and trust are critical to making this work. One example is the growing requirement for data sharing and visibility across the supply chain. The Defense Department needs industry’s help and expertise to integrate data and make it available to key players in the logistics enterprise. Although industry representatives consistently have expressed their desire to contribute to this effort, they also have voiced concerns about the major investments they must make in new technology, without any assurances that they will be able to recoup that investment from future contracts. Many of these issues — including metrics and risk assessments — are being ironed out as part of the Defense Department’s push toward “performance based logistics.”

Army Lt. Gen. C.V. Christianson, director of logistics for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said industry support is needed to map out the joint logistics enterprise processes, and to find more effective ways to share resources and reduce costs.

As we move forward toward a more integrated and cohesive joint logistics enterprise, it is vital that we continue to emphasize the importance of teamwork and leadership — both in the military support arena and in disaster response efforts. Our military forces increasingly are becoming leaner and faster, and logistics must be up to speed. We need to collaborate better and ensure there is more transparency between government customers and suppliers of goods and services in the private sector.

The dialogue witnessed at the logistics symposium was an encouraging step in the right direction, but we must keep the exchange going as we adapt to the rapidly changing environment.

Please email your comments to LFarrell@ndia.org.

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