Just-in-time supply distribution has only
reduced, and not eliminated, the hoarding of excess repair
parts and supplies. The author
believes that the Army must overhaul its entire supply system
if efficiency in obtaining parts and supplies is to be achieved
and hoarding is to stop.
The Army’s traditional mass-based logistics
system involves stocking a large inventory of parts and supplies
that may be required to satisfy mission requirements. The intent
of maintaining a large inventory is to shorten the length of
time required to obtain parts and supplies when they are needed.
These “iron mountains” of stocks are regarded as
dependable, readily available sources of supplies required
for forces to be rapidly deployable, highly mobile, and sustainable.
Maintaining iron mountains of supplies places heavy demands
on Army resources that are increasingly scarce, including warehouse
space, personnel to operate warehouses and move supplies, and
space on transporters. However, budget reductions have continued
to decrease the funds allocated to resource these functions
over the years.
Following the end of the Cold War, most Americans felt that overseas threats
to U.S. interests had been reduced greatly. Thus, during the 1990s, politically
motivated changes produced an austere fiscal environment that limited the Army’s
ability to carry out the policies and commitments mandated by the National Military
Strategy. When the military operational structure was reduced even as military
commitments around the globe increased, Army supply logistics became inadequate.
Budget constraints restricted routine vehicle repairs, delayed deliveries of
parts and supplies, and impeded the implementation of vehicle maintenance initiatives
and modernization programs.
After Operation Desert Storm, the Army began a shift from just-in-case stockage
to a more cost-effective, velocity-based logistics system that closely parallels
the distribution system used in the commercial sector. With this system, known
as just-in-time distribution, buyers communicate with suppliers electronically
to order needed supplies that are shipped directly to the user without the need
for warehouse storage. Just-in-time distribution replenishes needed items as
consumption occurs and substantially reduces the inventory. An electronic supplier-buyer
interface also eliminates several steps in the ordering process, thereby speeding
delivery of supplies.
For users of just-in-case stockage, the quest for a part usually begins with
an attempt to get the item from another in-theater unit that may be stocking
it against some future need, may already have traded the part with another unit,
or may have misplaced it, which results in a search. Thus, units depending on
just-in-case stockage may experience extended wait times until they receive needed
An important advantage of just-in-case stockage is that the unit in need may
have stocked the part “just in case” it is needed so that it is immediately
available to the requester and no wait time is encountered. However, interviews
with personnel deployed for Operation Desert Storm indicated that, in using the
just-in-case system, they often could not locate requested parts that were supposed
to be in the theater.
The users of a just-in-time distribution system also face wait times that vary
according to whether or not the manufacturer of the needed part has it on hand,
can produce it specifically to fill the order, or has discontinued manufacture
of the part. In just-in-time distribution, a needed part is ordered through channels
from the manufacturer or depot and shipped directly to the requesting unit. A
significant disadvantage of pure just-in-time distribution is that the requester
has no option to obtain a part from just-in-case stockage in the theater.
|The flow of supplies competes with
the flow of vehicles in this crowded staging area.
The findings of an independent 1995 study of
supply logistics in Operation Desert Storm indicated that,
because military customers had to use chains of command and
distribution in the ordering and delivery processes, the speed
of Army distribution of supplies was slower than that of civilian
distribution. At that time, Department of Defense distribution
systems took 26 days to deliver in-stock items, whereas commercial
firms delivered in-stock items in 1 to 3 days. Military procurement
of a repair part averaged 88 days versus H to 4 days for commercial
firms, and the average military repair cycle was 40 to 144
days versus 3 to 14 days for commercial firms.
During Desert Storm, the just-in-case logistics system was so severely hindered
by misprioritized shipments that high-priority items, such as food, ammunition,
and fuel, were not delivered to participating units in a timely manner. To avert
the possibility that units might run out of critical supplies, a “work-around” just-in-time
distribution system called Desert Express was developed. The Army used a similar
system in Bosnia to deliver critically needed supplies, particularly during the
buildup phase of that operation. However, if ordered parts were not rated as
high priority in the ordering process and the requisitions traveled through normal
supply channels, the customer wait time was so long that it sometimes posed a
threat to operational readiness.
In 1991, Lieutenant General William G. Pagonis, commander of the 22d Support
Command, reported in his after-action review of Operations Desert Shield and
Desert Storm that logistics management units were late in arriving in the theater
and, once they were there, they often were unable to manage supplies effectively.
To keep supplies and equipment flowing into the theater, local laborers were
hired and combat troops were commandeered to offload ships. This finding was
not surprising in view of the inherently cumbersome nature of deploying large
logistics support units to deliver supplies to highly mobile combat units in
overseas locations. In the staging area of an overseas theater of operations,
the flow of supplies competes with the flow of vehicles to add to congestion
General Pagonis reported that, during the reception phase of Desert Shield, the
traffic flowing through the ports of Saudi Arabia totaled 12,400 tracked vehicles,
114,000 wheeled vehicles, 1,800 Army aircraft, 33,000 containers, 1,800,000 tons
of cargo, 273,000 tons of ammunition, and more than 350,000 personnel. Losses
of container documentation multiplied the number of transportation personnel
needed to channel containers to the correct deploying units. Such delays lengthened
the waits by units to receive their supplies. Many containers languished in the
staging area while awaiting identification to determine the appropriate receiving
A number of nonstandard methods have been used by Army personnel to obtain supplies
during military operations, including padding supply orders, stockpiling extra
items, and procuring supplies from black markets. General Pagonis noted that,
during Desert Shield, multiple requisitions were sometimes placed for an item
already in the theater, while other supply items were procured locally when possible.
Army personnel often resorted to alternative measures to obtain supplies because
they had lost
faith in the Army supply system.
Downsizing the Army’s equipment inventories during the 1990s challenged
the Army to use fewer transportation assets to provide supplies to forces deployed
overseas. When transporters delivered equipment to seaports for shipment to the
theater of operations, they often found that the accompanying iron mountains
of supplies took up more space on the ships than planned. In such cases, units
had to move their equipment to the theater on two different ships, which caused
confusion and congestion for the deployed units awaiting the arrival of their
equipment. Under these circumstances, host nation support was used to move supplies
and provide lodging for incoming forces while they waited for all of their equipment
Just-in-time distribution, used more often, but not exclusively, during recent
operations, has resulted in the deployment of smaller basic loads that require
fewer containers and thus facilitates more rapid deployment. This equates to
reduced space requirements on strategic lift assets and less manpower to move
supplies. At the same time, it creates the resulting opportunity to deploy more
units on fewer strategic lift assets. Deployments conducted using just-in-time
distribution have made more efficient use of strategic lift to move units into
the theaters of operations. How-ever, some just-in-case deployments of iron mountains
of “extra” supplies continue.
|Pallets of supplies are unloaded
from a C–17 Globemaster aircraft at Balad Air
Whether an organization chooses just-in-case stockage or just-in-time distribution
is influenced by customer satisfaction. For example, in an overseas theater
of operations, the level of customer satisfaction with delivery of vehicle
repair parts reflects, to some degree, the level of operational readiness of
vehicles. That is because operational readiness relies largely on the timely
delivery of repair parts to complete required maintenance. Long wait times
for ordered repair parts are likely to be viewed as far more detrimental by
customers anxious to improve their operational readiness than by logisticians,
who might accept a delivery speed slower than that of civilian shippers if
it represented an improvement over past delivery speeds.
Many soldiers deployed overseas from 1990 to 2000 expressed dissatisfaction with
the speed of delivery of vehicle repair parts. Customer satisfaction, both in
units that used just-in-case stockage and in units that used just-in-time distribution,
was influenced by the fact that they relied, to varying degrees, on excess repair
parts their units had hoarded.
It should be noted that differences in satisfaction with delivery of repair parts
within a theater could reflect relative proximity to supply sources during different
deployments. If, for example, a unit located near both the corps command and
a support unit could not immediately obtain a supply item from one location,
it likely could obtain it from the other. Such a supply advantage clearly was
not enjoyed by units stationed in remote areas. In some cases, those that had
been part of a split deployment were able to call their home stations in the
continental United States (CONUS) and request purchases be made via unit credit
card and then sent to the overseas theater, where Army transportation would be
scheduled to deliver the part to the requesting unit. In reality, the Army’s
just-in-time distribution methods for ordering supplies
are very similar to just-in-case ordering methods. The biggest innovation in
the just-in-time distribution system is that the order forms are filled out by
computer instead of by hand. Interestingly, both just-in-time and just-in-case
units scheduled to deploy receive priority when ordering vehicle repair parts
that will bring their operational readiness status to 100 percent. However, once
the units are deployed, operational readiness suffers because repair parts take
so long to procure.
Supply System Realities
The fact that civilian agencies can order and receive most parts within a few
days indicates that just-in-time supply distribution does work and should work
for the Army. Repair parts for military ground vehicles should not take significantly
longer to arrive at their destinations than repair parts for civilian ground
vehicles, especially since discontinued parts are maintained in depots against
a future need and do not have to be manufactured before being shipped to the
customer. However, considering the added channels that military vehicle requisitions
go through from the user in an overseas theater to the manufacturer and the distances
parts must traverse back to the user, it is reasonable to assume that en route
times may be a few days longer.
Just-in-time distribution works fairly well in CONUS because the requester can
use the unit’s credit card to purchase common line items from manufacturers
or local civilian distributors. However, parts for vehicles not in common civilian
use, such as tanks and armored personnel carriers, are not available from local
merchants. Just-in-time purchase of those parts is subject to a timeline similar
to that for purchase of parts for vehicles overseas.
The just-in-time distribution system, as it is presently constituted, allows
for enough reduction in excess to deploy Army forces quickly and efficiently.
However, once the forces are in theater, just-in-case stockage is slightly more
efficient for obtaining repair parts, though it is affected adversely by ineffective
systems for tracking parts in the theater. The introduction of just-in-time distribution
does not solve the problem of getting vehicle repair parts where they are needed
when they are needed, except when distribution of these supplies to the requesting
unit is aided by changes in the accompanying support infrastructure, such as
the unit’s location near a well-supported corps headquarters, or credit
card purchase support from a CONUS home station.
Customer satisfaction drives the attitude toward supply distribution in the Army,
just as it does in the civilian sector. Customer satisfaction identifies the
underlying force behind the need for change to the Army supply system. Comments
from those on the receiving end of the Army supply system reveal that both just-in-case
stockage and just-in-time distribution exhibit inefficiencies in delivering repair
parts to users in the theater. The differences in customer satisfaction attributable
to the proximity of units to supply sources and their ability to take advantage
of credit card purchases by their home stations illustrate the importance of
alternate support infrastructures.
The many layers of the supply hierarchy through which supply requests must travel
point to the need for a completely electronic, real-time data interchange that
ensures the speedy delivery of parts and supplies to requesters and satisfies
the “need to know” of the supply hierarchy. The identification of
some causes of low customer satisfaction brings to the forefront some opportunities
to make significant improvements in the supply system in order to get parts and
supplies to units overseas. Removing the hierarchical levels of the supply system
through which each order must pass, and instead providing those levels with “copy-furnished” notification,
will improve customer wait time and still allow those levels to track supplies
and arrange in-theater transportation as required.
The fact that the just-in-time supply scenario has only reduced, and not eliminated,
the hoarding of excess repair parts and supplies shows the soldiers’ reaction
to the Army’s high readiness requirement in a climate that does not recognize
the slow pace of the Army supply system. This reaction is a clear indication
that, in its quest for continued high readiness standards, the Army must overhaul
the entire supply system if efficiency in obtaining parts and supplies is to
be achieved and hoarding is to stop.
When considering policy and process changes, decisionmakers must revamp the entire
supply system to take advantage of all the available technology instead of simply
automating the old ordering process. If the Army pursues drastic changes, it
can increase operational readiness through greatly increased efficiency in delivery
of supplies and parts to units and repair shops deployed in overseas theaters
Laurel K. Myers is assigned to the Naval Medical Education and Training Command
at Bethesda, Maryland. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from Florida
Atlantic University, a master’s degree in educational administration from
Texas Christian University, a master’s degree in early childhood education
from the University of Southern California, and a Ph.D. in applied management
and decision sciences specializing in logistics from Walden University in Minnesota.