A team of about 100 logistics experts dispatched to Iraq earlier this year
pinpointed serious problems in the distribution of military supplies in the
war zone, and is taking steps to solve them.
The ad hoc group—known as the deployment and distribution operations
center—assembled at the urgent request of top Pentagon officials to help
meet immediate needs, such as ensuring that supplies arriving at seaports and
airfields got rapidly unpacked and delivered to Army and Marine Corps units
The DDOC has been in operation under U.S. Central Command authority since January.
By and large, it has made measurable improvements, but if the Defense Department
is serious about fixing endemic flaws in battlefield logistics in the long term,
it will need to consider creating a permanent command structure strictly focused
on supply management and distribution, said Marine Lt. Gen. Gary H. Hughey,
deputy chief of U.S. Transportation Command.
Both the Transportation Command and the Defense Logistics Agency teamed to
create the DDOC, which also includes representatives from the military services
and Joint Forces Command.
The failures of the logistics apparatus during military operations in Iraq
have been documented in various reports and studies. Soldiers and Marines have
complained about shortages of basic supplies and difficulties in obtaining spare
parts for ground vehicles and aircraft, among other gripes. As to why logistics
has been a tough nut to crack, the explanation is that the system works very
well at the “strategic” level, but collapses once the containers
get unloaded from ships and cargo aircraft. The DDOC was asked to figure out
how to make sure that supplies get through to the “last tactical mile”
of the logistics chain.
Designed for the Cold War, U.S. logistics systems can track all shipments and
deliveries from the United States to overseas port of debarkation. But it lacks
full “factory-to-foxhole” visibility of the supplies once they enter
a theater of war. That visibility is essential in today’s battlefields,
Hughey said during an Association of the U.S. Army panel discussion.
“The point of failure is at the seam between the strategic and operational
level,” he said.
Since setting up shop in January, the DDOC has made tangible contributions,
according to Hughey. It identified, for example, 2,500 containers of construction
materials that were about to get shipped to Iraq, even though they were not
needed. The DDOC turned down 1,700 containers.
The shortage of tracks for Abrams and Bradley vehicles was another source of
angst for the Army. As inventories ran out, the Army Materiel Command started
ordering track components directly from manufacturers and had them shipped by
air to Iraq.
The DDOC, meanwhile, found out that the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment—on
its way home from Iraq—had managed to accumulate 19 containers of track
supplies, or the equivalent of five C-5 cargo aircraft loads. DDOC staff immediately
ordered that the cargo be left in Iraq for use by other units. “It saved
the cost of air shipping more track and the cost of shipping 19 containers back,”
Another job has been to expedite shipments of broken down equipment back to
the United States. In November and December, the Army shipped nine containers.
After the DDOC arrived in January, the service sent back 79 containers.
Despite its successes, the DDOC is not the answer for the long term, Hughey
said. “It’s an ad hoc staff.” A more permanent solution would
be to appoint a joint theater logistics command, “with the force structure
to ensure that the strategic improvements we are making don’t stop at
the port of debarkation.”
Hughey said talks are under way to reorganize the logistics forces in all the
services, to “provide the forces we would need to create a joint logistics
command for the theater.” The operation in Iraq offers a “unique
opportunity” to bring about change, he said. “We have to get past
the separate service’s concerns that they are going to have to contribute
more than they are going to get out of it.”
Army Maj. Gen. Terry Juskowiak, commander of the Combined Arms Support Command,
endorsed the notion of a joint commander for logistics. “Who in the theater
now does logistics command and control for the combatant commander?” he
asked. “It’s done ad hoc. … We are advocating (along with
the Transportation Command) that this ought to be more than just ad hoc.”
Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, when logistics become a sore topic of discussion
at the Pentagon, one of the ideas kicked around was to create a four-star “Logistics
Command” that would have merged the Transportation Command and the Defense
Logistics Agency. Through the DDOC teaming arrangement, such a merger was averted.
Nevertheless, there should be an ongoing debate about the need for a “single
logistics system,” said Lt. Gen. Richard A. Hack, deputy commander of
AMC. “Do we need a joint four-star-like command? I think it needs to be
explored,” he said at the AUSA conference. “There are a lot of pros.
Each service’s unique logistics requirements adds complexity.” The
head of such organization would have to be a “trained logistician, the
likes of which we haven’t seen. I don’t know how you would train
someone to command that.”
The Defense Logistics Agency, for its part, is moving rapidly to set up a supply
depot in Kuwait that will be stocked with 40,000 “critical items”
by the end of the year, said Army Maj. Gen. Daniel G. Mongeon, director of logistics
operations at DLA. The depot will open for business this summer with a relatively
small stock, and then gradually build up, Mongeon told reporters. The Kuwait
depot is part of a broader DLA plan to set up facilities in “forward areas,”
designed to bring the equipment closer to the troops. Before the end of 2004,
DLA will break ground on depots in Sigonella (Sicily), Guam and South Korea.