Logistics: April 19, 2005

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A study of the first year of the Iraq war revealed some typical Pentagon failures. The main problem was the lack of war reserve stocks. These are supplies (especially ammo and spare parts) that are stockpiled in peacetime so that, when a war comes, the troops would have adequate supplies for the first few months of the conflict. Or at least until new supplies could be ordered and delivered. After the Cold War ended in 1991, the war rather large reserve stocks were allowed to run down, or were sold off. The Cold War stocks were large, and expensive to maintain. It made sense to reduce them. But not much was purchased to create post-Cold War war reserve stocks. To compound the problem, the Pentagon had not developed an effective inventory control system for wartime operations. The military war reserve stocks were managed like there would never be a war. Strange, but true. The Afghanistan operations used so few resources that it had hardly any impact on the war reserve stocks. But Iraq gave the system a real workout, and the logistics and supply people had to make things up as they went along. The result was an expensive scramble, producing too few, or too many needed items. The lack of planning led to problems like being unable to accurately track the movement of the two million tons of supplies shipped that year. It was so bad, that some items were not even packaged properly to survive shipment overseas. Supplies werent the only thing that didnt move properly. The lack of planning, and peacetime training exercises, also meant that money was often not delivered to key vendors in time. This was particularly troublesome when the vendor happened to be an air or sea freight company.

The U.S. Transportation Command, and several other agencies involved in this mess, have all taken the pledge to set things right and sin no more. They are half right. Everyone will hustle to get the system patched up and functioning for now. But in the future, the same rot and sloppiness will seep back in. Thats what has happened time and again in the past. Odds are, it will happen yet again. People like to talk about future wars, but no one likes to spend money on getting ready to buy, store and ship the needed supplies.

 


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