A team of logistics experts from the U.S. Transportation Command and other
agencies will be heading to Iraq this month, in an attempt to break long-standing
logjams in the distribution of supplies to forward-deployed units.
The effort is part of a broader initiative by the Defense Department to improve
the delivery of combat gear and spare parts to Iraq, a highly fragmented process
that has been plagued by inefficiencies, officials said.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last fall directed Gen. John Handy, the
commander of TRANSCOM, and Michael Wynne, the undersecretary of defense for
acquisition, technology and logistics, to work together and fix the problem.
Wynne oversees the Defense Logistics Agency.
The team assigned to work in Iraq will set up a Deployment and Distribution
Operation Center, and will perform functions that TRANSCOM typically executes
from the continental United States, Handy said in a speech to the 2003 Defense
Logistics Conference, in Washington, D.C.
The DDOC will “arm the J-4 [logistics commander] in the theater with
the things he needs to get the job done,” Handy said. “This is not
going to be the 100 percent solution,” but it will be a step in the right
The long-term plan, meanwhile, is to fundamentally restructure the way supplies
are managed and transported, said Patricia M. Young, deputy director for strategies
and policy at TRANSCOM.
“We want to bring about changes in the distribution process ... bring
a little more authority and focus,” she told National Defense.
Rumsfeld made it clear that he wants “one single accountable person for
distribution issues,” she said.
Although DLA will continue to report to Wynne and will not be placed under
the TRANSCOM chain of command, Handy will supervise the execution of the supply
chain, said Young. He will be advised by representatives from DLA and the services,
but only Handy will be in charge of “orchestrating” the process,
The reforms that Rumsfeld mandated are “not necessarily through organizational
change, but through putting one person in charge.”
At the core of the logistics problems are the “seams and handoffs”
in the system, Young noted.
When supplies are shipped from the United States to Iraq, for example, they
arrive in Kuwait relatively quickly, but then sit in containers until they can
be sorted out and ground transportation to Iraq can be arranged. The delays
have undermined soldiers’ confidence in the system, forcing them to work
around the supply shortages often by obtaining equipment from local vendors
or cannibalizing parts from other vehicles.
Epitomizing the logistics woes experienced in Iraq are the Army aviation units,
which often cannot get spare parts to fix their helicopters, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey
Crabb, product manager for Army scout and attack helicopters. During a recent
visit to Iraq, the only complaints he heard from aviators concerned “logistics
and lack of spare parts,” he said at an industry conference hosted by
the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. “Every platform
over there is having those kinds of problems,” said Crabb. “We can
get the spare parts to Kuwait fast. The problem is moving them to the units.”
The fragmented nature of the supply chain is to blame for this, said Young.
TRANSCOM arranges for sea or air transportation to Kuwait, but once the supplies
arrive, the responsibility for theater distribution shifts to U.S. Central Command,
and TRANSCOM no longer has “visibility” of the location or status
of those supplies.
“Instead of everyone managing their little piece of the pie, the key
is to bring all the stakeholders together and determine what is the best way
to flow end on end,” said Young. “Maybe you need to hold the cargo
at the consolidation point longer and sort containers by units, instead of having
lots of destinations for one unit in one container.” Another option is
to “take readily identifiable packages that indicate what unit it goes
to,” and ship those first.
TRANSCOM’s job is to bring all the participants of the logistics supply
chain together and figure out how to improve the process, Young said. “People
are working hard enough. We have to work smarter.”
Another element of the logistics reform envisioned by Handy is to develop a
Web-based system that, like FedEx, would allow customers to track their packages.
“The technology is there,” said Young. The problem is the lack of
integration between the technologies from each agency.
“What we have seen over time is folks automating their piece of it,”
she said. “Now, we want to look across the end to end supply chain, integrate
the information so everyone operates off the same sheet of music.”