Logistics: The USMC approach

Posted: 12/01/2016

Maj. Gen. Craig Crenshaw serves as the Commanding General, U.S. Marine Corps Logistics Command Albany, Georgia. He will be the visiting keynote at February’s International Defence Logistics 2017 conference in Brussels, Belgium, where he will discuss the issues of effectively preparing a military supply chain for a return to contingency operations. Ahead of the event, he spoke to Defence IQ to discuss today’s challenges for military logisticians around the world – including why private contractors are becoming increasingly vital…



Defence IQ:  How is the USMC overcoming the general unpredictability of logistics demands and improving its oversight of the entire supply chain?

Maj Gen Crenshaw:  While unpredictability is an anticipated dynamic of logistics planning and execution, today’s military logisticians are on the cutting edge of supply chain management. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) is always looking for opportunities to enrich our logistics capabilities. Introducing a hybrid mix of legacy and evolving capabilities, we confront unpredictability and improve supply chain oversight by leveraging available Information Technology (IT) systems and in transit visibility technologies; incorporating predictive and autonomic sensors and analytical capabilities into our equipment; conducting modeling and demand forecasting on our supply chains; globally positioning stocks where likely needed; conducting detailed planning  to anticipate and minimize uncertainty; and training to fully understand how to effectively utilize these capabilities to meet mission objectives.

The USMC encourages adaptive and versatile thinking through cross-functional training, mentoring and leadership development at all levels. The vision is for every Marine to be a proficient logistics producer, and for improving oversight of the entire supply chain. Hybrid logistics, a blending of tried and true capabilities with new cutting-edge concepts, requires a logistics community that embraces innovation and change, with an appreciation for the realities of the modern battlefield.

As part of an overarching logistics strategy, Marine logisticians are leading U.S. efforts to achieve centralized inventory management and total asset visibility that align business processes, supporting IT, and organizational responsibilities into a singular service-level capability. It is being designed around the concept of multi-echelon optimization for the inventories across both retail and wholesale levels. For stock planning of non-forecastable demand, we are implementing alternative demand forecasting and stocking level methodologies, as opposed to traditional methods that may be inherently flawed in such environments.

Utilizing a modernized global combat support system is critical to achieving efficiency and sustainability in austere environments. Such supply and maintenance capabilities enable a commander to track Marines and their gear in real time. As a result, there is visibility of logistics requirements across a wide spectrum, from requirements such as fuel and water requests, to the total USMC fleet asset posture and maintenance history of equipment.

Inaccessibility can be an issue when employing network-based tactics. IT solutions can be compromised or simply unavailable due to security issues, access denial, or even malfunction. With increasing use of automated logistics, the USMC recognizes the potential for such threats, and considers the criticality of a reliable cyber environment in logistics planning.   

DIQ:  In what ways is the USMC capitalizing on new technologies to reduce its logistical footprint? Are there any particular technologies that have been sparking real interest this year?

MGC:  Today’s Marine is equipped with world-class warfighting capabilities. We’ve employed enhanced solutions that are faster, go further, carry more, but require more resources to function. Appropriately, the Marine Corps’ hybrid approach extends the Marine Forces’ operational capability to ensure uninterrupted support. Looking again toward technological initiatives, Marine logisticians are focusing on sustainment efforts that can optimize tactical distribution, modernize the supply chain and increase equipment readiness in support of Marine Forces, thereby reducing our logistical footprint. 

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International Defence Logistics 2017

Download the agenda for the International Defence Logistics conference taking place from 21-23 February, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.

We witnessed firsthand the great success of an unmanned aircraft system’s ground and undersea capabilities in Afghanistan.  Cargo resupply unmanned platforms have the potential to greatly enhance tactical distribution; and we certainly intend to exploit these types of capabilities further.

Working with additive manufacturing partners, the USMC is testing additive manufacturing concepts, such as 3D printing, to identify future equipment requirements. The ability to fabricate metal parts at the point of use undoubtedly will have a major impact on how supply chain management is viewed.

As part of the effort to make new innovations work in an austere environment, we are exploring predictive analytics to help maximize use of automated logistics, thereby increasing readiness. This presents great opportunity, particularly in the logistics and sustainment arena, to develop technologies that predict performance, alert the operator to pending events, and recommend options in response.

Equally as vital is finding balance between the need to improve survivability while lightening the load and improving the mobility needed to execute operations. In figuring how to reduce individual combat load, we need to equip and train each Marine to be a producer of energy and not just a consumer. By exploiting modular logistical capabilities, such as individual power managers (pocket-sized solar panels), purification devices and reconfigurable lighting systems, individual combat load is reduced. Not only does this make the warfighter lighter and more mobile, it fills requirements for water, fuel and ammunition. Leveraging such technologies offers great logistical promise and is a significant leap toward improved monitoring of inventory and logistics processes.  

DIQ:  What do militaries need to understand when it comes to better integrating contractors into the supply chain, and what are the benefits of this approach?

MGC:  Contracted service support has been an integral part of the supply chain operations for the Marine Corps. We routinely rely on specialized skills of industry partners to augment and enhance our ability to surge or flex to meet requirements. They have supported us in CONUS and around the globe in contingency operations.

It is important for military organizations to understand the limitations, as well as benefits associated with integrating contractors into the supply chain.  It should be established from the onset, the objective in integrating contractors into the supply chain is to assist the Marine Corps in meeting bona fide requirements that are clearly defined.

USMC chaining tracks

Allowing contract personnel access to military systems can greatly streamline processes; say for instance, providing a part that is unavailable from the usual supply warehouse source. It can sometimes be easier for the contractor to acquire the needed item due to their existing partnerships with other companies.

Developing longer-term strategic partnerships between the military and contractors is key to integrating contractors into the supply chain. This can be accomplished through performance-based logistics contracts, and can provide a foundation for a robust and value generating relationship.

From a legal standpoint, militaries also need to ensure that contractors understand and conform to foundational business processes that are inherently part of the supply process.

Contract support is a force multiplier for the USMC, enhancing and increasing combat capabilities across all expeditionary functions.  Utilizing their services can free up strategic teams to focus on other critical functions, while continuing to support total life cycle management. Early engagement with industry and longer term arrangements, where possible, typically improve outcomes and helps to ensure a long and beneficial relationship across the supply chain partners. Despite the many successful efforts of contractors in combat situations, there is still much to learn about efficiently and effectively integrating contracted capabilities into operational tasks. 

DIQ:  The need for 'rapid response' is an increasingly common requirement.  How do you think logistics efficiency can be maximized to keep up with the pace of these operations?

MGC:  The USMC is an expeditionary force in readiness. In fact, planning and training for rapid response is integral to what we do.  As a result, we are resolved to find opportunities to enhance our capabilities.

Marine Corps recognizes the environment is changing and we won’t always have adequate notice to prepare, nor unencumbered access into the theater where logistics support will need to occur. With uncertainty of the future, it is challenging to plan for specific scenarios, but we work hard to prepare and posture where we can; to include a focus on improving efficiencies in our logistics processes, such as utilizing logistics integration, traceability and control programming to transport repairable items world-wide in a matter of days, with 100% visibility and accountability.

In addition to the current and developing technologies mentioned elsewhere, the USMC continues to review its doctrine to better address operational-level logistics in today’s environment, recognizes the necessity to understand existing theater, joint, and combined/ally capabilities that exist so that Marine Forces can exercise maximum utilization of other’s resources beyond the tactical capacity.

Realizing each geographical Combatant Commander has unique, but in some cases, similar challenges, we are fostering a better environment of open communications and coordination across the MARFORs in order to make necessary improvements. We also make a concerted effort at the HQMC and LOGCOM level to engage with our Service and Agency counterparts to build these same positive relationships to improve understanding of Marine Corps requirements and how these external organizations can contribute to address identified logistics gaps. The Marine Corps is a proven capable expeditionary force; and we recognize the key tenants of Operational-level Logistics are integral to sustained operations.

While it may be challenging to plan for specific scenarios, the Marine Corps works hard to prepare and posture, with a focus on improving efficiencies in logistics processes.

•    Prepositioning.  The USMC is regularly reviewing combat and support capabilities required and where they are positioned to best support future operations and contingencies. We are prepositioning key capabilities around the globe, constantly looking for efficiencies such as developing crisis response support capabilities, increased mobile/combat loading, and pre-configurations that can decrease arrival and assembly time lines.

•    Seabasing.  Seabasing exploits the sea’s maneuver space and provides global force projection with less reliance on ports and airfields ashore. The USMC is looking to maximize current and developing technologies, including available ship platforms, ship-to-shore connectors, operating in higher sea states, and command and control suites to support force generation and closure.

•    Supplier Relationship Management (SRM).  SRM establishes and maintains productive relationships with wholesale suppliers in order to maximize supply support and responsiveness to the warfighter. The Marine Corps goes further than the beach head in supporting operations. We are constantly studying emerging technologies to achieve rapid response solutions from logistical, as well as operational perspectives to improve logistics efficiencies in fulfilling the role as our Nation’s expeditionary force in readiness.    

DIQ:  What do you hope to discover at this year's conference?  Is there any specific question that you would really like to have answered?

MGC:  By participating in this year’s Defence Logistics conference, I hope to discover some of the shared challenges of NATO member nations in determining the best ways to achieve logistics flexibility and efficiency. This is a fitting forum for deepening our dialogue about procuring enhanced logistics capabilities for current requirements, while developing capabilities for future needs.

Consistent with NATO principles of collective defense measures, a more robust collaboration of military logistics intelligence-sharing offers significant value, both to our respective forces, and together as a global coalition.

While there is not a specific question I am looking to have answered, I know there are some interesting challenges and exciting opportunities for us to share as we complete our transition from sustained operations. As logisticians, we have some common interests and this is a perfect forum to discuss where these goals and priorities might take us.

As new threats are revealed and crises arise, it presents a unique set of circumstances for us. Our forces will require sustainment concepts supporting quicker movements in smaller formations across widely distributed (and virtual) spaces. Thus, military logistics processes, systems and networks must evolve to reflect those same characteristics.

The bottom line is the Marine Corps is looking to enrich logistics capabilities as we increase combat effectiveness and reduce our logistical footprint. The idea of collaboratively exploring new operational concepts and capabilities helps ensure overall effects are complementary, mutually supportive and synchronized. I certainly look toward this conference being a conduit to pool our experience, innovation, and creativity to enrich logistics capabilities.

Major General Crenshaw will be presenting a brief at the International Defence Logistics conference on Day One. View the agenda at www.defencelogisticsevent.com.

Posted: 12/01/2016

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