Focused Logistics

Background
What is Focused Logistics?
Evolution or Revolution?
The Lean Supply Chain
Focused Logistics: The Advantages
Focused Logistics: The Disadvantages
The Tailored Supply Chain - 'Suits You, Sir?'
Flexibility and Responsiveness
Conclusion
Bibliography

Background

With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union, and hence the disappearance of a monolithic threat to Western Europe, there has been an increasing desire to reduce defence spending and divert scarce resources into other public sector services. This increased pressure on the defence budgets, which has been felt in most countries in Europe and North America, has led to a search for ways of making a shrinking budget stretch further.
In some ways the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is facing the same challenges as many commercial companies did in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the recession, in their bid to reduce costs in order to maintain profitability. While the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) has generated new initiatives such as 'Smart Procurement' and the creation of a Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) and Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) in order (for some, at the behest of the Treasury) to reduce costs in the procurement and sustainment of the UK Armed Forces. This however, can be seen as important due to the fact that defence inflation has for many years exceeded normal economic inflation (The Economist, 1998), leading to the spiralling cost of new weapon systems.
With logistics having become more important as the 20th Century has progressed, and particularly since the end of the Cold War, the need for more efficient and effective logistics is becoming paramount, as it is seen as both a 'competitive advantage' and a 'force enabler'. 'Focused Logistics' is the latest term to enter usage, and this paper will examine how different it is from what has gone before, and whether it is applicable to some of the operational challenges that the armed forces might face in the near future.

What is Focused Logistics?

As the 21st Century dawns, the rate of change in technological progress is, compared to earlier times, astonishing. With this change, mankind is potentially facing a revolution in information technology, which will be equal to, if not greater than, those of the agrarian and industrial revolutions of previous centuries. With this technological change, allied with the end of the Cold War and the seeming necessity to be able to intervene effectively far away from the home base, attitudes to war are changing along with the approach to business. In many ways, the two are converging, as the military try to take on board some of the 'best' practices of the business and commercial world, as both are faced with significant alterations in political and economic structures, the geopolitical balance, technological progress and perceptions of the 'threat'.
The term 'Focused Logistics' originates with the US Armed Forces and is defined as "the fusion of information, logistics and transportation technologies to provide rapid crisis response, to track and shift assets even while en route, and to deliver tailored logistics packages and sustainment at the strategic, operational and tactical level of operations." (Department of Defense, 1999) The key elements here are the embracing of emerging technologies (particularly information technology), transportation techniques, business methods of asset control and the concept of 'tailoring'. (Gansler, 1998)

Evolution or Revolution?

Is 'Focused Logistics' a new concept or an evolution from present ideas? Is it a military version of 'Lean Logistics'? 'Lean Logistics' has five principles: specify value, identify its stream and make it flow, pull just in time and strive for perfection. (Taylor, 1999) Additionally, the objective of integrating information, logistic and distribution systems is also known as 'supply chain logistics'. This includes "the functions of purchasing, transportation, inventory control, materials handling, manufacturing, distribution and related systems …. Its primary focus is the physical flows and storage of materials and the system flows of related information." (Coyle, Bardi & Langley, 1992) It seems that 'Focused Logistics' is very similar to 'Lean Logistics' in many ways, but it can be argued that it is not exactly the same. Where they differ is the intention to adopt the principles of 'Lean Logistics' to the military environment. The military have a requirement for their supply chain to be as flexible as possible given the uncertain environment they now face. In essence, they are seeking a leaner supply chain, which can support forces anywhere in the world, at short notice.
However, given that the overriding imperative seems to be that of reducing costs, the need to have a more efficient supply chain must be seen in that light. Ultimately, if revisions in the supply chain are going to be costly, then despite the military benefit, governments are unlikely to give the go ahead as the objective for them is the reduction of defence spending. Even if the go ahead is given, is 'Focused Logistics' achievable? Is it possible to utilise a leaner, more responsive supply chain tailored for the operational environment (whatever that may be)?

The Lean Supply Chain

'Focused Logistics' seeks to reduce the logistic footprint, that is, to reduce the amount of equipment and consumables that the MoD needs to store and that commanders need to take on operations. This could be undertaken either by better predicting the rate at which resources are used, which would enable the defence industry to better gear their rate of production within the supply chain to match the usage of the 'customer'. Therefore, the current philosophy of 'just in case' (where equipment and supplies are stockpiled to cover as many eventualities as possible) would have to be replaced by a 'just in time' one'. (Kaminski) However, it may be that commercial JIT is too risky in an operational environment, and that the MoD will move towards a compromise position of 'just enough', which should reduce inventory and make the supply chain more efficient.
The second method would be to build a greater level of reliability into systems in order to reduce the maintenance burden. By reducing the amount of maintenance needed, it logically follows that the amount of spare parts that have to be moved through the supply chain can thus be reduced. Correspondingly, the number of faulty parts moving back up the chain is reduced as well. As an example, during the Gulf War, the Challenger 1 main battle tank was found initially to have a poor Mean Time Before Failure rate, around 723 kilometers, instead of the planning figure of 1,235 kilometres. (Moore, Bradford & Antill, 2000) Thus as the Challenger was substantially less reliable than anticipated, then far more spares had to be moved down the supply chain, more man hours of work had to be put in to fix the problems and more faulty parts had to move back up the supply chain.
In reducing the amount of inventory held in the combat area, reducing the throughput in the supply chain, and having a greater visibility in the supply chain, it would be possible to reduce the logistics infrastructure. Less inventory requires less people to maintain it and less space to store it, as well as fewer troops to guard it in the theatre of operations. Fewer consumables will mean less personnel and transport assets will be needed to move these items (which in turn will mean fewer consumables will be required to keep those assets running) but it is important that the right material be loaded on the correct transport at the correct time and place. The concept of tailoring resources is an important one and will be vital if a leaner supply chain is to be set up.

Focused Logistics: The Advantages

The setting up of a 'Focused Logistics' system could have several advantages: Overall, 'Focused Logistics' is designed to reduce response times and costs, produce a more agile infrastructure, and improve quality and readiness. This 'faster, better and best value' support is arrived at by first identifying and then concentrating on the key elements of the logistic system, and substitutes speed of response for large 'just in case' inventories. The real question is whether 'Focused Logistics' can actually be made to work in an operational environment, or whether it is merely a buzzword for an inappropriate business philosophy shoehorned into a military context? There is a danger of being seduced by the theory of cost saving and efficiency building - implementing 'Focused Logistics' and then cutting overall logistic capability (or in classic British Government parlance, 'improving the tooth-to-tail ratio'). The Falklands Campaign reminded the MoD that the "need to get the logistics right determined the ability of a formation to conduct its operations". (Poffley, 1994) The Gulf War could have been a good opportunity to test many of the concepts now grouped under the banner of 'Focused Logistics' but the Coalition instead chose to build up a logistic 'insurance policy'. Why was this apparent lack of trust exhibited when the crunch came?

Focused Logistics: The Disadvantages

The difficulty for the Armed Forces is knowing what they want and need as well as finding out what is 'just enough' in order to accomplish the goals set them. Allied to this are the possible disadvantages with 'Focused Logistics':

The Tailored Supply Chain - 'Suits You, Sir?'

Whatever happens in the way of moving the supply chain towards a more 'just in time' approach, the MoD must match the logistic capability with its warfighting capability. This is actually pretty diverse with high intensity conventional warfare at one extreme and peacetime training at the other, with many other types of conflict in-between. The logistic requirements of these two scenarios are quite different, and for the UK's Armed Forces to be an effective tool in Foreign and Defence policy, it may seem that the best solution would be to have a system that could cope with the worst case scenario - a conventional war. But that may incur additional costs in peacetime with significant capability going unused.
It would thus appear that the concept of 'Focused Logistics', advocating as it does the tailoring of the supply chain to the operational need, provides the answer. In peacetime, the assets and resources that the military need will be quite small. But as they begin to move along the spectrum of conflict, more assets and resources could be allocated to meet the increasing requirement. This however, may not only have implications for the production capacity within the supply chain, but for the relationships between customers and suppliers.
Firstly, there will be implications for the supply of material to formations on the ground that are at the end of the supply chain. Because of the rising costs of running and maintaining equipment coupled with the high costs of certain consumables (such as ammunition, missiles and torpedoes), there is a move towards a greater reliance on simulation to cover the needs of peacetime training. If this is combined with the concepts of lean supply management, that is, keeping the minimal amount of inventory and producing goods as and when required, it is possible that the production of such goods will be small or even zero in peacetime, with the intention to gear up or even restart production if necessary. The problem however, is that commercial organisations are unlikely to want, or be able to leave production capacity unutilised whilst awaiting MoD requirements. Chances are, they will want to employ these resources satisfying other customers, and are unlikely to divert these resources back to the MoD if it adversely affects other commercial relationships. In order to guarantee supply, it might have to purchase production capacity that lays dormant, and that could be expensive.
Secondly, financial pressure may mean the increased outsourcing of certain services, such as the maintenance of equipment, to a greater extent than happens now. This may also become more commonplace as systems become more complicated and the MoD has to rely on the system's producers to maintain their product in service. While in a peacetime role, this may not present a problem, but the MoD has to prepare to engage in, if need be, other operational deployments, up to, and including, high intensity conventional warfare. How the MoD satisfies this need, either by having civilian contractors or sponsored reserves is not the question. What matters is that the operational commander can be guaranteed their participation, particularly where it is a foreign company, whose government does not support the actions of the UK. Of course, the same problems could reoccur with regard to the tailoring of the transportation needs of the supply chain. Transport assets need to be earmarked and contracts placed, to acquire the necessary resources as the MoD's needs expand and contract according to the situation. This principle isn't new, but SDR identified a number of flaws in the system, as did the National Audit Office report regarding the contractoring of sealift for Operation Granby. (NAO, 1993) These flaws would have an impact on one of the central tenets of 'Focussed Logistics' - that of rapid response.

Flexibility and Responsiveness

In times past, there was an assumption in the MoD that transport assets could be obtained from commercial sources if the need was sufficiently great. In SDR, the MoD announced its intention to purchase four more roll-on/roll-off ships and four large strategic lift aircraft (C-17 or equivalent) (MoD, 1998) in recognition that while resources such as these may be obtainable given sufficient lead time, the time frames that the MoD may sometimes have to deal with makes it unlikely that commercial resources would be available. This is another possible Achilles heel with 'Focussed Logistics'.
Of the few definitions that exist of 'Focused Logistics' none defines rapid response in terms of time frame. The British Army holds combat units at varying states of readiness, some as little as twenty-four hours. As a benchmark, however, it anticipates being able to deploy a fully operational brigade in thirty days. Any logistic support for this formation must therefore be able to respond in the same timescale. It is unlikely then, that in a normal situation, that civilian production facilities, support assets and transport assets will be available at such short notice unless they remain uncommitted to other ventures and earmarked solely for MoD use, which in all probability will command a premium price. It may therefore be more cost effective in certain situations to rely on military assets rather than civilian ones. If the operation then becomes a prolonged one, there is thus no reason why commercial assets could be used in the longer term, thus releasing military assets to once again be held for short notice contingencies.

Conclusion

The United States Armed Forces see 'Focused Logistics' once fully implemented, as a seamless system where there is total asset visibility to enable logistics to be based on velocity of distribution rather than stockholding. Rapid force projection will be possible thanks to an adequate but small logistic footprint and an 'agile supply chain'. (Christopher, 1999) The use of commercial best practice, competitive sourcing and partnering, combined with a decreased in-theatre logistic footprint and infrastructure, reduced inventory and reduced numbers of maintenance personnel are all part of the strategy. It will reduce costs, increase flexibility and provide them with the tailored support to take on an enemy anywhere in the world at short notice. It thus seems an answer to budgetary prayers. For those who resent paying for warfighting assets that remain under utilised in peacetime, 'Focused Logistics' advocates lean supply and a flexible supply chain that should enable the 'tailoring' of logistic requirements on a case by case basis. Not only would it remove the financial drain of under utilised assets, but a properly constructed and tested 'Focused' supply chain should ensure the right warfighting assets are in the right place at the right time and in the right amount.
The MoD has not stated that they will adopt 'Focussed Logistics' as such, and will have to implement a number of changes before they will have the capability to support such a system. The United States has the advantages of having the required funding, economies of scale and readiness to innovate that means that they have every chance of pulling this off.
While some operations (such as in the former Yugoslavia) have shown 'Focused Logistics' to work, it would be inappropriate to draw the conclusion that it can therefore work in all scenarios. In large scale conventional operations, the dependence on technology and logistics based on velocity of distribution, may leave the forces involved vulnerable to whether there is enough transport assets available to accomplish the mission, unanticipated weather, capability mismatches with other allies, maintenance problems, enemy interdiction and the 'fog' or 'friction' of war. 'Tailoring' needs to provide the best, and not just the cheapest, if the troops on the ground are going to have confidence in the system. The final shape of the supply chain, whether it is closer to 'just in case' or 'just in time', must be constructed and tested under the concept of kaizen or the eternal drive for perfection. The system must be constantly tested under conditions as close as possible to what will be found under operational deployment. As such, logistics planning must take into account the huge variety of scenarios that are possible in the post-Cold War world. In the commercial world, the supply chain that works for cars may not work for computers or fresh food, just as high intensity conventional conflict is far removed from many of the operations other than war that we have seen in the past few years. While the exploitation of technology for military advantage has always been an important part of the race to win wars, it should not be sought in isolation. Just as important is an understanding of its best use, the risks, how it can change or not change the operational environment, and how an enemy might respond to its use.

Bibliography

Chadwick, F. Gulf War Fact Book, GDW, Bloomington, IL, 1991.
cover cover cover

Deighton, Len. Blitzkrieg - From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk. Johnathan Cape Ltd, London, 1979.
cover cover cover

Links

Department of Defense. US Army Home Page, Army Vision 2010 and related documents

Other Reading

'Platform Envy' in The Economist, 12 December 1998, p. 25.
J S Gansler, US Undersecretary of Defense (Acquisition and Technology) in FY 98 DoD Strategic Plan.
Taylor, David. 'Supply Chain Improvement: The Lean Approach'. Logistics Focus, Corby, January 1999.
Coyle, J J. Bardi, E J. Langley, C J. The Management of Business Logistics. West Publishing Company, 1992, p. 9.
Kaminski, P G. 'Lean Logistics: Better, Faster, Cheaper'. Defense Issues. Volume 11, Number 99.
Moore, David M. Bradford, Jeffrey P. Antill, Peter D. Learning from Past Defence Logistics Experience: Is What is Past Prologue?, Whitehall Paper No. 52, Royal United Services Institute, 2000, p. 57.
Poffley, Maj M W. 'The Logistic Lessons from the Falklands Campaign and their Relevance to future British Army Operations within Defence Role 3'. MA (Mil Studies) DissertationSeptember 1994, p. 16.
Gray, Colin S. 'The Revolution in Military Affairs' in The Nature of Future Conflict: Implications for Force Development. SCSI Occasional Paper 36, September 1998.
Kallock, R. A Glimpse of the Future: Joint Vision 2010. At the RUSI Focused Logistics Conference, London, 18 - 19 January 1999.
Applegate, Col Dick. 'Towards the Future Army' in The Nature of Future Conflict: Implications for Force Development. SCSI Occasional Paper 36, September 1998.
Department of Defense. Final Report to Congress on the on the Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, GPO, Washington DC, 1992.
Campbell, John. IS / IT and Organisations. Lecture to MDA 13, RMCS, 22 March 1999.
Evans, Brigadier P A D OBE. Contractors on the Battlefield. Discussion Paper D/ACDS(L)/520/1/1. 25 October 1998.
National Audit Office, Ministry of Defence: Movements of Personnel, Equipment and Stores to and from the Gulf. HC693, HMSO, London, June 1993, pp. 5 - 10.
Ministry of Defence. Strategic Defence Review, CM3999, The Stationary Office, London, July 1998, pp. 24 and 39.
Christopher, Professor Martin. 'Creating the Agile Supply Chain'. Logistics Supplement, Haymarket Publications, March 1999.
How to cite this article: Antill, P. (22 August 2001), Focused Logistics, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_focused_logistics.html

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