As most professionals would agree, a cross pollination of ideas and best practices allow organizations to become stronger and more efficient. My intent in writing this short article is to summarize the military logistics/supply chain management best practice of systems and processes.
Logistics management to the military is similar to what supply chain management is to the civilian sector. 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.”
Theoretically, civilian and military supply chain management is very similar, however, in practice military and civilian supply chain management is very different. In my opinion, the biggest difference can be related to the focus and priorities of civilian and military supply chain management. For example, the military anticipates and in turn plans mitigation strategies for supply chain interruptions. Conversely, civilian organizations can assume a certain level of supply chain consistency that allows for a focus on reducing overhead and gained efficiencies.
Several years ago, I was having coffee with a General Officer from another country when during the conversation he made the comment, “Do you know what makes the US Military so great?” He answered by saying “Systems and processes. You see, quality systems and processes can make even a mediocre leader strong, and strong leader great, where as a great leader will always be great.” He went on to point out that different from the United States, most countries look to only their very best leaders to lead and consequently have much fewer quality leaders. I have often thought back on that conversation as I mentor junior military leaders and review the systems and processes within my organization.
A combination of policies and regulations along with clear organizational structures provide a foundation for military logistics systems and process. The systems and processes facilitate the synchronization of a very complex and diverse supply chain. There are eight principals that help the military shape each system and processes allowing leaders to continually evaluate, and when appropriate modify systems and processes in order to provide the best possible support.
- 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.
The military divides supply chain management into three levels of support – tactical, operational, and strategic. The tactical level is the lowest level closest to the level of consumption; in the civilian sector, this would be similar to the brick and mortar storefronts. The operational level bridges tactical and strategic levels; in the civilian sector, this would be most similar to regional distribution centers. The strategic level focuses at the global level reaching into the global industrial complex; in the civilian sector, this would be most similar to the corporate headquarters level. Support units at each level cross talk both vertically and horizontally creating a web of interconnected logistics nodes maximizing a responsive and flexible supply chain.
Operation centers at each level of support provide organizational commanders real-time supply chain visibility. Within hours of an interruption, commanders are provided predetermined information allowing critical decisions to be made in a very short period of time. Generally speaking, the predetermined information lays out resources and demands over time giving the commander the information they need in order to make appropriate decisions.
Similar to civilian supply chain management, military logistics is a blending of art and science. The science part is easy in the sense that we know how much one person will consume of any product on any given day. However, the art portion of the process becomes a bit more complex as you attempt to anticipate future demands and supply chain interruptions. The challenge for military Logisticians is to increase supply chain efficiencies in such a way the supply chain is not bloated with excess but can still absorb an unforeseen interruption.
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.”