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. …