Logistics: November 30, 2004


One of the lessons learned in Iraq was that the army did not stock sufficient spare parts to support wartime operations. This problem is nothing new. It happens again and again. The source of the problem is the ease with which one can cut spare parts stockpiles in peacetime. No one will notice it, and you will save millions of dollars. Better yet, you avoid some bad publicity when you have to dump millions of dollars worth of obsolete spare parts. This always happens when the equipment the spares are used for is replaced by new gear. You have a pile of spares you no longer need, and they are often sold off for pennies on the dollar. On a slow news day, the media will pick up on this as another government waste story. Unfortunately, if a war comes along, you need all the spares you can get. But wars occur infrequently, so there is always the temptation to hold back on building up an adequate war reserve of spare parts. 

While everyone has religion about large reserve stocks of spares right now, the old timers in the logistics business know that once the fighting is over, some cost cutter will come along and shrink the war reserve. To try and mitigate that, the military is adopting more modern inventory tracking systems that reduce the time it takes to find the spares, and get them to where they are needed. This is particularly a problem when the spare parts are shipped to units in a combat zone. Its easy to track spares in a warehouse back in the states, but much more difficult once they are in a shipping container somewhere out there. Another possible solution is contracting with firms that can quickly gear up and manufacture spares in a wartime rush. This sort of rapid manufacturing is becoming more common for non-military situations. There is also the portable parts fabrication system, that can build many parts using technology similar to that used to create 3-D images on computers.

But the one thing you can be sure of, no budget conscious peacetime military administrator will be able to resist cutting wartime spare parts stocks. You can bet on that.


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