Military supply chain management is an integrated cross-functional approach to procuring, manufacturing and delivering goods and services for the armed forces. The U.S. Army provides this definition, “Military Logistics is the processes, resources, and systems involved in generating, transporting, sustaining, and redeploying or reallocating materiel and personnel. A nation’s ability to perform these functions relates directly to its military power.”
Logistics is one of most the important components of any overall strategy, because every strategy needs a supply chain to make it possible. In the United States, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and the National Guard have annual plans and guidelines for what they expect their supply chains to accomplish. They also set up standardized systems to manage them. And now, with advancements in technology and the integration of big data, simulators are being used to train logistics personnel and improve real supply chain performance.
Over the centuries logistics has come to be defined as the process of using resources to produce goods and transporting those goods to those who need them. Much has evolved throughout history from the way Alexander the Great transported material to the way big organizations and governments are doing it today. Yet much remains the same. Logistics still depends on converting information about the availability and demand for supplies into practical plans of action that deliver the supplies at the time and to the place where they are needed.
Battle strategy and logistics have always been two sides of the same coin. Every strategy needs a suitable supply chain. Many bold strategies have failed because their supply chains could not deliver the supplies needed by their troops as the campaign progressed. The screenshot below shows a simulation of the supply chain that supported the Japanese Army’s invasion of India in World War II. It was a bold strategy, but it failed because it’s supply chain could not deliver enough food, fuel and ammunition to support the troops as the campaign progressed.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) sees big changes in logistics as technology and national security needs evolve. The process that combines raw materials and services into usable products and delivers them where they are needed is being redesigned. Even simple, commodity products are affected. For example, consider a manufacturing facility that makes fuel for vehicles. The raw material used is petroleum, and the product is fuel loaded into standard sized containers. This product is then delivered based on available information. Every step of this product creation and delivery process is affected by rapid rates of change in technology, economics, and international politics.
Military logistics requires that end users have information at their fingertips so they can make informed decisions about the products they need. People need to know what products are available and do not want to be taken by surprise. Therefore, logistics personnel work with end users to keep them up to date with changes in technology, trends and product availability.
As part of a military supply chain, the logistics manager is responsible for managing both the equipment and the personnel involved with making the supply chain work. They are in charge of everything from buying new machinery to training of troops, and maintenance of vehicles and facilities. Logistics managers are always monitoring the status of the five supply chain drivers. A logistics manager must be able to determine the right mix between cost and quality of each component in order to ensure adequate supplies at a reasonable cost. And they must determine the best possible course of action for delivering equipment based upon the changing demands of the military units their supply chain supports. This can get complex.
Military logistics managers are part of a chain of command. They follow orders from senior commanders and are responsible for the performance of a staff of subordinates that carry out their directions. This involves keeping their chain of command informed as to the status of operations, and moving products and equipment through the supply chain quickly and efficiently so as to meet end user demands. Logistics managers must keep track of who is ordering what from whom and the status of those orders. All logistics personnel must be trained to know their duties and how to use and maintain their equipment.
Military equipment is expensive and it often requires a lot of maintenance activity to support it. The military wants to purchase the most efficient and effective equipment possible to reduce maintenance time. They also want to purchase the best equipment available for their personnel so they can perform to the highest degree possible. Military equipment has to withstand all types of weather. They also have to be durable enough to endure the rigors of combat, which means they need to be extremely well made. These types of requirements often make military equipment expensive to produce. Military logistics managers must strive always to purchase from suppliers that are trustworthy and reliable.
Military supply chain management also involves a lot of testing and research. In many cases, the best way to make military equipment is to create prototypes to find the right combinations of components that will perform best in combat. It’s also important to make sure the equipment can withstand expected wear and tear, and malfunctions can be repaired. Ensuring quality products is essential to the lives of the troops. Equipment prototypes may take longer and be more expensive to make than when the equipment actually goes into production , but this allows the manufacture to make a better product and better meet end user needs.
There is no time to waste when you’re in combat, and running out of supplies can be fatal. This is why military supply chains are so critical to the success of any military mission.
[ NOTE: Featured image for this blog comes from the SCM Globe military supply chain case study that simulates the supply chain created by the Imperial Japanese Army for their invasion of India in World War II. ]