Logistics: January 16, 2004


The U.S. Army is taking a hard look at how it supplies troops going to war. There were unexpected problems in the Iraq war, and the army thinks it knows the reason. The 1991 Gulf War logistical effort, while it had some problems, was run according to the script developed during decades of Cold War planning. The masses of equipment, munitions, fuel and other equipment were available, and were transported to ports and loaded on ships pretty much according to plan. There were glitches, and these were noted and, to a large extent, fixed by 2003. In addition, the army supply people were transforming their logistical operations to take advantage of the Internet and "just in time" delivery of parts and lean (small stocks of spares and other stuff) inventory techniques that had been well established in the civilian sector by the 1990s. Huge Cold War era stocks of supplies were sold off or used up and, because of the faster re-ordering and transportation systems, much smaller (and much cheaper) stocks resulted. 

There was one problem, however, no one in the logistics business had run accurate simulations of future types of wars. It was expected that, if there were another war, it would either be like the 1991 Gulf War (except, perhaps, that it would occur in Korea), or more peacekeeping operations. The 2003 Iraq war, as it turned out,  was very different, especially for the logistics people. First, the Iraq operation proceeded at higher speed. Units where shipped over to Kuwait more rapidly than the logistics people expected. When asked if they could keep up, the supply folks said they could. But they knew it would be a scramble, and it might get ugly. It did.

Another complicating factor was how units different units were organized into temporary outfits, and moved quickly from one part of the battlefield to another. That old Cold War mentality thought of divisions and corps rearranging themselves much less frequently. The rapid reorganizations drove the supply people nuts as they were not equipped to redirect needed supplies to new locations. The supply system was getting bent out of shape with all this high speed warfare. What went down in Iraq was blitzkrieg on methamphetamines. The combat commanders were ready for it, but somehow the warriors and logisticians had never sat down and sorted out what all this high speed combat would do to the supply system. While the supplies did get through, there were local shortages, things got lose and, when it was all over, more than a billion dollars worth of stuff was missing. 

The army supply experts are now revising their systems to deal with what happened in Iraq. Some of the logistical experts are also paying closer attention to what new tactics the combat generals are cooking up. Just in case.


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