Logistics: May 3, 2004

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While the conquest of Iraq last year was fast, that speed revealed some serious problems in the American supply (logistical) arrangements. Although the U.S. Department of Defense has made thorough preparations to get troops, equipment and supplies shipped (or flown) to Kuwait, there was a breakdown in tracking the stuff once it reached Kuwait, and in getting it up the road to the troops in Iraq. This is not a new problem, it was first encountered during the Spanish-American war of 1898. Every war since then has seen attempts to solve the problem of getting items from factory to foxhole in a timely manner. 

But somehow the improvements during, and after, each war dont stick. This was embarrassingly evident in the Spring of 2003. This time around, the flaws were blamed on a Cold War era logistics system that was built for a slower paced war. The system worked in 1991, because there was six months to get set up, and the fighting was over in a hundred hours. Throughout the 1990s, suggestions were made to modify the logistics system to deal with the kind of war encountered in 2003, but there was never enough money, or interest, to do so. Logistics usually gets stiffed when it comes to allocation money and effort. 

With operations in Iraq still going on through 2003, the Pentagon finally woke up to the fact that the problem wasnt going away. So in January of 2004, a team of logistics experts were sent to Kuwait. This group, called the Deployment and Distribution Operation Center (DDOC), was given money and authority to organize things so that troops got their supplies in days (if it was air freight) instead of weeks. DDOC had to deal with the fact that the army, navy and air force were all bringing stuff into Kuwait, but that no one was in charge of allocating resources (warehouses, trucks, armed escorts, dock space) to get it delivered to the recipient. It was every service for itself. DDOC quickly took over control of what was coming into Kuwait, and how it would go out to the troops in Iraq. The new operation worked, run by 63 people, a bunch of computers, a satellite link and software and techniques that have been used by civilian firms for over a decade. A lot of tracking technology was already in place, as part of the system that was quite good at controlling the flow of stuff from the factory to the port in Kuwait. Each combat unit also has computers and software to keep track of what they got. By bringing all this together, DDOC was able to create immediate benefits. For example, units returning to the United States were taking with them supplies that incoming units needed. DDOC told the units leaving Iraq to leave certain stuff behind, and told the incoming units to not bother bringing some stuff. DDOC also found supplies and equipment within the region that some units needed, and others did not. All DDOC had to do was order material to be moved, sometimes only a few dozen kilometers.

DDOC works for Central Command, which runs all American military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East. The eight other commands now want the same type of organization to coordinate the shipment and distribution of supplies for the army, navy and air force troops working for those commands. 

 


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