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
stuff when 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."
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. Since 1997, the department
One reform–the use of credit cards–has gotten a little
out of hand, said Eccleston. "Credit-card use is good,"
he said. "But there’s too little paper–no address,
just a credit-card receipt with a woman’s signature. Who is
Claire, and where is she?"
Many logistics problems can be resolved, Eccleston said, by better
use of information technology. "We’re all making huge
investments in information technology–hundreds of billions
of dollars," he said. "We need to leverage each other,
and get more utility out of our investments."
Despite recent attempts to cut back, logistics programs and operations
still consume about one third of the nation’s defense budget,
which this year totals $296 billion. Nearly half of the department’s
2 million employees–including military personnel and civilians–work
in the field of logistics.
The science of moving, supplying and quartering troops, logistics
is as old as organized warfare itself. The title "quartermaster"
can be traced back to ancient Latin. George Washington appointed
the Army’s first quartermaster general in 1775. With virtually
no money or authority, he was forced to rely upon each of the 13
states to supply the Army.
During the Civil War, the Union’s quartermaster general,
Maj. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, created the Army’s first major
depot system and used the emerging railroad system to speed unprecedented
levels of supplies and personnel to battlefields.
A Quartermaster Corps
In 1912, Congress consolidated the Army’s logistics units
into a Quartermaster Corps, with its own officers, soldiers and
units trained to perform supply and service functions on the battlefield.
Many of those units soon saw combat on the Western Front of World
At the height of World War II, quartermaster units in Europe and
the Pacific provided more than 70,000 supply items and more than
24 million meals each day.
To coordinate the logistics needs of all of the services, Congress
in 1947 created the Munitions Board, which over the next 30 years,
evolved into the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).
During the Korean War, the Quartermaster Corps assumed a new mission–supply
by air. In December of 1950, Army quartermaster troops dropped a
20-ton airborne bridge by parachute into North Korea to help the
Marines escape entrapment by Chinese troops at the Chosin Reservoir.
President Johnson’s 1965 decision to commit U.S. combat forces
to Vietnam led to a massive logistics buildup. Supply depots like
Long Binh were singled out repeatedly for assault by Viet Cong and
North Vietnamese troops.
During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, quartermaster units provided
the supplies, munitions and other logistical support for the U.S.
and coalition force that quickly defeated Iraq. As in earlier conflicts,
however, logisticians remained vulnerable to enemy assault, even
though well behind the lines. In the single most devastating attack
on U.S. forces during that war, an Iraqi Scud missile hit the barracks
of an Army Reserve quartermaster detachment in Saudi Arabia, killing
Army leaders concluded that it took too long–120 days–to
assemble the Desert Storm force. Also, they noted, U.S. forces brought
too much with them.
"We took 680,000 tons of munitions to the Gulf War with us,"
said Abrams. "We brought back 420,000 tons."
The supply chain actually "is more like a cable," said
Rear Adm. Daniel H. Stone, director of logistics operations for
DLA. It is made up of major segments that are intertwined, he explained.
Perhaps with this in mind, the United States has employed a "team-of-teams"
approach to speed up the flow of supplies to the Balkans, said Maj.
Gen. Richard A. Hack, commander of the 21st Theater Support Command,
based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He gave the following examples:
To move its forces quickly into the Balkans, Hack explained, the
United States ran trains from 22 locations, primarily in Germany,
and ships from three ports–Germany’s Bremerhaven, Dutch
Rotterdam and Belgian Antwerp.
Kaiserslautern and surrounding U.S. facilities are "truly
the logistics center of gravity for Europe," Hack said. The
nearby Miesau depot has the largest U.S. ammunition storage area
outside the country. The forward call area at Ramstein Air Base
can hold 50 to 75 vehicles, including 10 Abrams tanks, at the same
time, Hack noted. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is a major
military hospital, averaging 350 operations per month.
The General Support Center-Europe (GPCE) is the U.S. Army’s
largest warehouse in Europe, Hack said. It can supply anything from
tents to chemical and biological protective equipment, he said.
One recent addition: a nail-less latrine that "can be put together
without carpenter skills and deployed anywhere."
Increasingly, items are ordered over the Internet and monitored
electronically, as they move through the system, explained Lt. Col.
James C. Bates, director of the Logistics Training Department at
the Army’s Quartermaster Center and School, at Fort Lee, Va.
"Whenever we can, we try to use logistics enablers,"
said Bates. As often as possible, materiel is tracked technologically
by robotic electronic interrogators, placed on loading docks to
record radio-frequency tags, or by soldiers using bar-code readers.
"As a last resort, we record by hand," he said.
Since 1995, 1.3 billion ton-miles of supplies have been shipped
from Germany into the Balkans, Hack said. One driver has completed
1.4 million miles "accident-free and still going," he
To get the materiel to its destination, U.S. military trucks and
trains explored routes previously unavailable to U.S. forces, through
Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Romania–all the way to the
Black Sea port of Burgas in Bulgaria.
Innovation was required. "M-1 tanks won’t fit into European
train tunnels, and 17 road bridges couldn’t support the weight,"
Hack said. To get around those obstacles, "we had to move the
tanks by barge." NATO subsequently agreed to reinforce all
17 bridges, he added.
In February of this year, U.S. ships began to unload military supplies
at Burgas. "Who would have thought," Hack asked, "that
the U.S. military ever would have access to a Black Sea port?"
The Albanian port of Durres proved to be too shallow for U.S. ships,
so the ancient Greek city of Thessaloniki, on the Aegean coast,
was chosen as the major entry point for Marines to make their way
first to Macedonia and then to Kosovo.
Thessaloniki is "a highly capable port," Hack said. "But
it’s wide open. Access control is kind of problematical."
Force protection is "an overarching requirement," he noted.
Peacekeeping in the Balkans is "very dangerous," he said.
Despite all of the recent changes, many attending the Richmond
symposium warned that it would not be easy for logistics units to
meet Shinseki’s goals.
"Talk is cheap," Antonio R. Rodriguez, president of Daniel
Penn Associates LLC, of Hartford, Conn., told National Defense.
"It’s going to take a long time to affect the kind of
change they’re talking about."
Mahan seemed to agree. "It’s a huge challenge,"
he said. "We’ve been asked to give more for less. Transformation
will not occur without significant upgrades in logistics."