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Fostering Joint Logistics Interdependence

There is a lot of discussion among logisticians about increasing logistics interdependencies among service components in the conduct of joint operations. As I took on my new assignment on the staff of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, I wanted to investigate the nature of the interdependence of organizational systems and report my findings to the logistics community.

Defining “Interdependence”

When we use the term “interdependence,” we should recognize that we derive its meaning from “open systems” theory in the biological sciences. “Open systems” take inputs from the external environment, transform some of them, and send them back into the environment as outputs. James D. Thompson, an organization theorist, was one of the early pioneers in adapting this biological metaphor to describe intra- and interorganizational behavior. In his seminal 1967 book, Organizations in Action, Thompson describes three types of interdependence (listed here from the least to the most complicated)—

• Pooled interdependence. In this type of interdependence, separate organizations, which perform adequately on their own, might fail if one or more of them fail when they all operate in a broad context. One organization’s failure threatens all, but perhaps not all at once. The traditional military practice of relatively independent service- and national-based operational logistics structures is a good example of pooled interdependence. Joint operations can occur, but only with service-oriented logistics support.

• Sequential interdependence.
This type of interdependence is linear, like an assembly line—one unit in the sequence produces something necessary for the next unit and so on. Supply chain management is a perfect example, ensuring goods are produced and delivered from “factory to foxhole.” For example, the Army Materiel Command and Defense Logistics Agency ensure that items are purchased, and a vendor ensures commercial delivery as far forward as possible, where users receive direct shipments or retail activities distribute the items further forward.

• Reciprocal interdependence. Here, the output of one organization becomes the input for others and vice versa. Organizational boundaries become less distinguishable, and the combined performance of the organizations requires complex forms of coordination. This form of logistics support is rare for U.S. forces. One example is the establishment of regional medical centers (such as in Landstuhl, Germany), where more than one service combines with another to provide general and specialized diagnosis and treatment. Another is in joint force projection, where the U.S. Joint Forces Command resources and prepares forces for deployment and the U.S. Transportation Command delivers them according to the combatant commander’s (COCOM’s) priorities.

Thompson maintains that when units come together in collective configurations, they become a synthetic organization, usually with a relatively short lifespan (such as a temporary joint task force created for disaster relief or military operations), and often “emerge” in response to specific environmental conditions and as the situation at hand develops. Figuring out ahead of time exactly what type of interdependence will
develop with synthetic organizations probably is not possible. The design of interdependencies, which depends on the uniqueness of each situation, evolves as circumstances change. However, organization design based on modular capabilities can reduce the uncertainty. This is why the Department of Defense is striving to foster modular characteristics in the current and future forces.

Ways of Coordination

The challenge for logistics force developers is to design more modular and capabilities-based organizations in anticipation of ad hoc interdependence. Synthesizing recurrent reorganization (or “adhocracies”) must be a process flexible enough to adapt to rapid environmental changes in real time. Logisticians have an array of coordination tools at their disposal to organize continuously for various levels of interdependence. I want to discuss these in order from easiest to most difficult. Each type of coordination is associated with a level of interdependence.
The least difficult way to coordinate is very familiar to the military—using already established standards (laws, institutionalized doctrine, rules, habitual
routines, processes, regulations, or standing operating procedures) that fix interdependent relationships among multiple units. This coordination is most often associated with pooled interdependence.

The second way to coordinate—one more often associated with sequential interdependence—is to develop unique plans to coordinate a series of decisions yet to be made. This form of coordination is in addition to established standards, but it is more appropriate in nonroutine situations, such as early in military operations when tasks change often. Plans dictate, for example, the Army’s requirements to provide Army support to other services. The Marines are particularly dependent on Army support to other services for sustained land operations and on the Navy for medical, chaplain, and construction support. All services are sequentially interdependent on the Air Force for strategic airlift, strategic reconnaissance, and strategic attack assets. The Air Force is sequentially interdependent on the Army for furnishing inland surface transportation, air base security, and construction support, seizing forward air bases (as was done recently in Iraq), and providing chemical, biological, and theater missile defense coverage.

The most complex process of coordination—and the one most often concurrent with reciprocal interdependent relationships—is mutual adjustment. The more uncertain and ambiguous the situation, the more likely logisticians will require reciprocal interdependence. A unit’s impromptu reliance on other service capabilities likely will result in this form of coordination. This is because the unit must manage reciprocal support in real time as new information becomes available and may not have the luxury of calling service-specific capabilities when and where they are needed. As logistics information technologies advance and contemporary operational environments become more fluid, the logistician must become more capable in facilitating adjustments to operations in real time. Note that the term “facilitate” replaces “command and control” in cases of reciprocal interdependence. Traditional command and control routines that go up and down the chain are too slow to achieve effective reciprocal support relationships.

Conflicts From Interdependence

Different kinds of interorganizational conflicts (such as service rivalries) may arise with each type of logistics interdependence. In cases of joint operations with pooled logistics interdependence, conflicts may result over allocation of national resources. This was seen in World War II, when U.S. forces operating in the Pacific theater competed for resources with those in the European theater. Landing craft were in short supply; which theater had priority?

Organizations that operate in sequential interdependence rely on outputs from relatively independent organizations that have little or no incentive to respond to the demands of dependent organizations. For example, the Navy and Air Force establish sea and air lines of communication to overseas locations. It takes the existence of a national logistics authority (such as the U.S. Transportation Command) to ensure that service and COCOM transportation priorities are met.

Organizations immersed in reciprocal logistics interdependence can operate routinely without conflict (as in the regional medical center concept). However, in a more ad hoc organizational arrangement, the failure of one service organization to provide its fair share of logistics capabilities to the others will lead to discontent and reciprocal finger-pointing.From a bureaucratic organizational perspective, why would the Navy want to move from sequential to reciprocal logistics interdependence with the Army when conducting combat operations? After all, Navy forces are semiautonomous, with their own sea-capable distribution system. Why should the Army expect the Navy to want anything more complicated than service-oriented, pooled, or, at most, sequential logistics interdependence? What support can the Army reciprocate to the Navy that the Marine Corps-Navy team cannot provide logistically on its own? This may be a key strategic question for Army force planners to answer as they consider how to provide transformational future joint logistics capabilities.

The relationship between efficiency and effectiveness when developing interdependence also is important. Inherent risks occur in moving swiftly toward vast reciprocal logistics interdependencies. The military might not want to rush toward business-like efficiencies in reciprocal relationships because doing so might endanger effectiveness. One of my colleagues, retired Colonel Michael Matheny, stated this succinctly—

Joint interdependence is aimed at efficiency as well as effectiveness. It strikes, to a degree, at the redundancy we have always enjoyed in developing and applying military capability. Military redundancy is not always efficient, but can be effective, since in the peculiar environment of war, business models are not always best.

From the perspective of Defense transformation, reciprocal logistics interdependence in joint military operations will require that the services cultivate trust and reliability as critical values. Conventional service-oriented logistics, as required by U.S. Code Title 10, seems to undermine the prospects of organizing jointly to take advantages of true reciprocal interdependence. To leverage the efficiencies of reciprocal logistics interdependence, our legislators must consider changing the Title 10 restrictions that inhibit it. As the U.S. military moves increasingly toward purer joint operations, it must find new ways to educate and develop service and joint logisticians who can facilitate the nuanced intricacies of focused and mutually beneficial forms of interdependence.

Colonel Christopher R. Paparone is the Deputy Director of Logistics and Engineering at the U.S. Joint Forces Command. He received a B.A. degree from the University of South Florida; master’s degrees from Florida Institute of Technology, the Naval War College, and the Army War College; and a Ph.D., from Pennsylvania State University. He can be contacted at christopher.paparone@us.army.mil.