Logistics Agility & Resiliency: Training the Supply Chain

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

By: Evan Hanson

On January 19, 2018, Secretary of Defense James Mattis delivered a press conference in which he introduced the National Defense Strategy (NDS).  A departure from previous editions, the 2018 NDS warns that “We are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy” and “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.” The strategic document calls for “accelerating our modernization programs and devoting additional resources in a sustained effort to solidify our competitive advantage”—naming “resilient and agile logistics” as a priority.  Unless Air Force supply chain professionals—including logistics readiness, maintenance, acquisitions, and contracting personnel—have a fundamental understanding of how the base-level, wholesale, and acquisitions processes work together, the resiliency and agility called for within the NDS will not be possible.  This article advocates for the establishment of a 2-week in-person training that connects these functions to improve the resiliency and effectiveness of the supply chain enterprise.

While logistics has always relied on information technology, the need for this training is borne out of the increasing threats posed by near-peer competitors, particularly offensive cyber effects.  Reliant on more than 43 individual software systems, the Air Force supply chain functions as a result of data transfer through a complex network that few understand from end-to-end.  The threats posed by offensive cyber effects create operational vulnerabilities, such as those described by Major Anthony Mollison within the Global Air Transportation Execution System (GATES) in his 2015 paper “Fighting Through a Logistics Cyber Attack.”  The potential disruption or degradation of these systems will result in delayed parts deliveries and impact weapons system readiness.

In the face of such threats, the Air Force needs to train supply chain personnel to have a clear understanding of how the enterprise is integrated.  This training would enable the supply chain to adapt when faced with systems degradation and to effectively prioritize as units come back online. This would enable rapid return from degraded system functionality, minimizing lost transactions while systems are brought online. Sister services also recognize the need for precautions in cyber-contested environments.  The Army recently set a goal to “double the standalone sufficiency” of its brigade combat teams—acknowledging that cyber-attacks may increase the time before forward deployed units are resupplied.  Such steps are necessary to ensure operational effectiveness moving forward and to deliver the resiliency and agility called for in the NDS.

In addition to operational necessity, the design of the Air Force supply chain and recent organizational changes highlight the need for this training.  In his Strategic Policy Fellows paper titled “The Enterprise ‘Integrated Life Cycle Management,’” Major Samuel Payne, Jr., describes how the Air Force balances acquisitions and logistics functions between two distinct offices, which are usually combined under industry definition as a “supply chain.”  While the Secretary of the Air Force staff manage “acquisition and contracting professionals,” policy for product support, and the supply chain, Headquarters Air Force personnel are responsible for “logistics readiness, maintenance, and aerial port personnel”—including organizing, training, and equipping as well as development and implementation of logistics policy.  Additionally, in 2001, some base-level logistics functions such as materiel management, transportation, and distribution were consolidated in the Logistics Readiness Squadron (LRS).  In 2010 and 2008, further consolidation occurred when functions traditionally managed at the base level were centralized in the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing (448 SCMW) and the 635th Supply Chain Operations Wing (635 SCOW).  These reorganizations resulted in manpower savings, but restricted base-level capabilities. For example, the management of stock control, which is the quantity of a specific part an organization is authorized to have on-hand, were transferred from the base-level to these supply chain agencies.  While centralization creates a more cost-effective supply chain, it also increases vulnerability for degradation.  To succeed in a cyber-contested environment, logisticians must understand how the many organizations within supply chain work together to reach back in support of warfighters.

OTH, multi-domain operations, emerging security environment

Logisticians closest to the mission remain the front-line customer service agency for a vast supply chain.  These organizational changes required maintenance and logistics readiness personnel to have an enterprise-level understanding to communicate mission impact and identify problems. Despite the need, however, there is no single, end-to-end supply chain enterprise training for company grade officers (CGOs), senior non-commissioned officers (SNCOs), and civilians.  This training gap is further exacerbated because logistics readiness officers have limited supply experience due to the variety of core competencies that exist within the career field.  Maintenance officers (both 21A and 21M) receive minimal supply chain training in their technical training as company grade officers.

The need for greater supply chain experience in the field has been identified by the career field managers. A recent effort was made to robust the Advanced Logistics Readiness Course (ALROC) with Supply Chain Management curriculum and combine the learning objectives with the Advanced Maintenance Operations Course. However, this will not solve the strategic problem as seats are limited each year and the ALROC course must still cover a wide variety of core competencies outside of Supply Chain Management.  Major Payne highlights how “The lack of a centralized [Integrated Life Cycle Management] curriculum means each career field expects its professionals to understand the entire enterprise; however, [current courses] fail to provide the necessary education and training to assist in this understanding.”  While the structure of the Air Force supply chain is capable of “resilient and agile logistics,” the design requires supply chain personnel to have a common, base-line understanding of organizational roles and responsibilities as well as the enterprise-level processes crucial for ensuring mission accomplishment. 

To provide this enterprise-level understanding across the supply chain, the Air Force should establish a supply chain enterprise course (SCEC) targeted specifically for experienced logistics readiness (21R), maintenance (21A and 21M), and acquisitions (63A) CGOs as well as their civilian and SNCO counterparts.  Currently offered to Lieutenant Colonels and civilians in the GS-14/15 grades, the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Logistics Course (Log 420) covers many topics that need to be addressed in the proposed SCEC—such as financial mechanisms in logistics, demand forecasting and planning, sustainment, maintenance, logistics systems, and more.  Additionally, given the thousands of mid-level managers who work within the supply chain, the SCEC should provide hundreds of seats on an annual basis.

While the number of students proposed may seem audacious, there are other Air Force courses that have demonstrated that similar models work.  For example, the Contingency Wartime Planning Course (CWPC)—offered by the Lemay Center—trains nearly 700 students on an annual basis.  Incorporating both large lecture and classroom seminar formats, this course provides key context on how the deployment system works to war planners on command staffs, installation deployment officers, unit deployment managers, and others involved in planning and deployment execution.  These large classes draw together a diverse set of personnel who work together in support of future contingencies.   Like CWPC, the Installation Deployment Officers Course, and the Transportation Fleet Managers Course, the SCEC would provide an important networking opportunity for supply chain professionals as well as context on how the supply chain works from an enterprise perspective. In addition, the SCEC would promote cohesion across all of the career field specialties and between the base- and wholesale-levels of the supply chain.

There are several second and third order effects to creating the SCEC as described.  Providing this training would unify supply chain personnel to deliver necessary resources to the warfighter in accordance with supply chain best practices.  Additionally, as a result of this training, personnel across the supply chain would be equipped to ensure that strategic priorities (such as demand data accuracy) are realized at the tactical level within the supply chain.  With the enterprise perspective in mind, logistics and acquisitions professionals would be capable of enterprise-wide networking and collaboration.  Long-term, this knowledge base would enable personnel to innovate within the supply chain—an area described by the Government Accountability Office as “high-risk” and in need of improvement.  These effects—cohesion, unity of effort, and innovation within the supply chain—are required to achieve the logistics described in the NDS.

While a necessity, establishing the SCEC on the scale described comes at a cost.  Using CWPC as a model and assuming 700 students each year, SCEC operating costs would amount to approximately $1.96 million annually.  While this course would recoup some of these costs in the form of gained efficiencies within the supply chain, the substantial price tag associated with offering a training on this scale comes with risk.  To mitigate this, there are two supplemental alternatives that may be implemented immediately and at low cost—while senior leaders can program resources in support of creating a SCEC.  First, the Air Force Institute of Technology should organize existing distance learning programs in a sequenced, end-to-end sustainment suite.  Once consolidated, senior Air Force logisticians need to prioritize accomplishment of this suite among mid-level managers within the supply chain.  Additionally, logistics readiness, munitions maintenance, aircraft maintenance, and acquisitions officer technical training curricula should be rewritten to include concepts that explain how the supply chain works from end-to-end.  While these mitigation strategies will create benefit in the near term, they will not satisfy the need for the SCEC.  Specifically, they leave out critical populations—such as SNCOs and civilians—who play key roles within the supply chain and must also understand these concepts.  Additionally, the best time to provide an enterprise-level training is once officers, SNCOs, and civilians have background knowledge to relate how their experiences fit into the supply chain as a whole.  Valuable at any point, this training would have more effect if supply chain professionals have the appropriate management experience.   

In conclusion, expanding enterprise logistics training to personnel across the supply chain is worth the investment to achieve the resiliency and agility called for in the 2018 NDS.  As the document recognizes, failure to act will critically impact “our military advantage,” particularly in the face of unprecedented cyber threats.  Many giants of military thought have described the crucial role of logistics in war.  In future conflicts, the speed of the supply chain will require a well-trained team of professionals with strategic awareness. Logisticians with an effective understanding of the supply chain enterprise will make it more resilient during anticipated cyber degradation in a conflict with a near-peer advisory. This course is needed to make that a reality.

Captain Evan Hanson is currently the Resources Flight Commander, assigned to the 790th Maintenance Squadron at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming.  He is a fully qualified Logistics Readiness Officer, and Missile and Munitions Maintenance Officer with experience in air transportation, deployment and distribution, supply, and ICBM maintenance. E-Mail: evan.hanson.1@us.af.mil

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. Government.

OTH, multi-domain operations, emerging security environment
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