Army Trying to Expedite Flow of Supplies to Troops

By Kennedy, Harold | National Defense, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Army Trying to Expedite Flow of Supplies to Troops


Kennedy, Harold, National Defense


As part of the effort to transform itself into a lighter, more deployable force, the U.S. Army is struggling to streamline its unwieldy logistical system in order to do a better job of supplying soldiers with what they need to fight and win fast-breaking wars.

Logistics is moving from a "mass model" of dumping huge amounts of supplies into a combat theater to a "lean, agile delivery system focused on warfighter needs," James T. Eccleston, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for supply-chain integration, told the Quartermaster General's Symposium, in Richmond, Va. The symposium was hosted by the Association for Enterprise Integration and the National Defense Industrial Association, both headquartered in Arlington, Va.

Gen. John N. Abrams, commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, agreed. In future wars, "there'll be no more Long Binhs," he said. Long Binh was a major U.S. depot in Vietnam, famous for its huge "iron mountain" of military supplies, more than were ever needed.

Such depots don't fit it with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's goal of being able to place a combat brigade anywhere in the world within 96 hours, a division within 120 hours and five divisions within 30 days, officials agreed.

To achieve that goal, the Army is trying to reduce the "logistical footprint" of its combat units. In a traditional division, 80 to 90 percent of the soldiers, equipment and supplies are assigned to support and service elements, rather than combat organizations.

Shinseki wants to give Army units "more teeth and less tail."

In the new Interim Brigade Combat Teams taking shape at Fort Lewis, Wash., for example, logistics units will be small, according to the Army Quartermaster General, Maj. Gen. Hawthorne L. Proctor.

"Quartermaster units are being structured to deploy, not only as entire units, but also as tailored platoons or sections," Proctor said. Contractors and friendly local governments, in some cases, will provide fuel, water and soldier services.

In the emerging logistical system, deployed troops will keep a minimum of supplies on hand, said Lt. Gen. Charles S. Mahan Jr., Army deputy chief of staff for logistics. Combat commanders don't want to manage big stocks of supplies, he said. "I don't want to own all of that stuff, because--guess what--if I owned it, I'd have to pay for it. I only want to pay for stuffwhen I need it."

Instead, the Army is trying to improve its management of the entire supply chain--from the factory to the foxhole--in order to make sure that materiel gets where it is needed when it is needed.

"We have refined and improved the associated ordering, inventory management, acquisition, issue, material release, shipment, distribution, transportation and receiving segments which speed materiel to the combat soldier on the modern battlefield," said Gen. John G. Coburn, commander of the Army Materiel Command (AMC). The result, he said, has been a 51 percent reduction in order and shipment times inside the continental United States and a 53 percent reduction in overseas shipments.

The AMC is integrating retail and wholesale inventory management and financial accounting functions into a Single Stock Fund (SSF).

"The SSF will provide worldwide access to stock, integrate supply and financial processes, integrate logistics and financial automated-information systems," Coburn said. It also will "simplify processes by eliminating multiple ledgers, billings and multiple points of sale."

Information Management

Under the Wholesale Logistics Modernization Program, the AMC is seeking to modernize the Army's information-management system for its wholesale logistics, Coburn said. The command's entire wholesale-logistics software-support function is being outsourced.

The Army's efforts are a part of the Defense Department's move to modernize logistics for all services. …

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