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Joint Logistics—Shaping Our Future: A Personal Perspective

The Department of Defense’s senior logistician offers some thoughts on the collaborative network of relationships and the operational imperatives needed to make joint logistics as effective as possible.

The logistics capacity of the U.S. military today is unmatched. Our Nation’s ability to project military power gives the joint warfighter unprecedented capabilities. However, a constantly changing operating environment and resource constraints demand that we optimize joint logistics to enhance our capabilities for tomorrow. We have the opportunity to significantly advance our systems, processes, and organizations in order to improve support to tomorrow’s joint force commander (JFC), and we must seize that opportunity.

My purpose in writing this is to generate thought and frame discussion. This article represents my view of joint logistics and today’s environment, and it frames three essential “imperatives” and key strategic relationships around which we can build collaborative change. I offer these thoughts as a catalyst for the development of concepts and solutions that will make joint logistics as effective as possible.

Joint Logistics

The necessity of joint logistics is widely accepted throughout the Department of Defense logistics community, and no one I know of would disagree that the effective delivery of logistics support is essential to the JFC, our ultimate customer. However, I believe that our current logistics systems include many inefficiencies, unnecessary redundancies, and process gaps that increase both risks and costs. Achieving harmony among military service- and Defense agency-funded missions, systems, processes, and programs will correct today’s inefficiencies, but doing so poses a significant challenge. That challenge can be overcome with a common agreement on, and understanding of, the purpose of joint logistics. That understanding, in turn, requires answers to the fundamental questions, “What is joint logistics?” “Why do we need it?” and “What does it deliver?”

Joint logistics is the deliberate or improvised sharing of service logistics resources to enhance synergy and reduce both redundancies and costs. We need joint logistics because the services (especially during initial expeditionary activity) seldom have sufficient capability to independently support the JFC.  By sharing, we can make the best use of limited resources to provide maximum capability to the supported commander.

The overall purpose of joint logistics is to achieve logistics synergy—getting more out of our combined resources than we can individually. The supported JFC expects joint logistics to give him freedom of action, so he is able to execute his mission effectively and according to his timetable. Sustained operational readiness gives the JFC the freedom of action he needs to respond effectively to operational objectives. Sustained operational readiness is the result of the cumulative efforts of service, Defense agency, and other logistics players across the entire joint logistics environment.

Joint Logistics Environment

The joint logistics environment is characterized by the Global War on Terrorism, other threats to our security, frequent and diverse commitments around the world, and complex interagency and multinational operations. Future operations are likely to be distributed and conducted rapidly and simultaneously across multiple joint operational areas within a single theater or across the boundaries of more than one geographic combatant command. The requirement to integrate sustainment and force-projection operations in a complex operating environment presents the greatest joint logistics challenge. This environment spans the strategic, operational, and tactical levels and provides the context in which we must deliver the capability, or “effect,” expected by the JFC.

Freedom of action is the overall effect the JFC must have, and that freedom is delivered at the tactical level. We should measure success at the tactical level, and our performance metric should be the amount of joint operational readiness available to the JFC. However, sustained joint operational readiness depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of logistics processes, programs, systems, and organizations that are outside of the tactical level. The effective integration of all logistics capabilities is directly reflected at the tactical level, but there is a high tactical price to pay for inefficiencies at the strategic or operational levels.

Our Nation’s ability to project and sustain military power comes from the strategic level. The national sustainment system enables sustained military operations over time and leverages our most potent force multiplier—the vast capacity of our industrial base. At this level, modern, clearly defined, well-understood, and outcome-focused processes drive efficiencies across service, Defense agency, and commercial capabilities. Robust and efficient global processes, combined with agile global force positioning, are fundamental to joint logistics reform and to our Nation’s ability to maintain global flexibility in the face of constantly changing threats.

The operational level is where the JFC synchronizes and integrates his joint operational requirements with the national system. It is there that joint logistics must excel and where the ability to fully integrate logistics capabilities provides our greatest opportunities. The operational level is where the joint logistician must bridge service, coalition, agency, and other organizational elements and capabilities, linking national and tactical systems, processes, and organizations to achieve the freedom of action that the JFC expects. The essence of joint logistics is found at the operational level, and it is at the operational level that the joint logistics community should focus its efforts.

Strategic Relationships

Effective joint logistics depends on clear roles, accountabilities, and relationships among the global players within the joint logistics domain. The collaborative network of relationships between these players should be based on the preeminence of the services. By law, the services are responsible for raising, training, equipping, and maintaining ready forces for the JFC, so they must lie at the heart of this collaborative network. Service logistics components form the foundation of the joint logistics network and are responsible for maintaining systems life-cycle readiness. Thus, the services act as Defense Systems Readiness Process Owners, and they are the supported organizations for logistics readiness. In this capacity, the services focus on their product: logistics readiness at best value.

The services and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) share responsibilities as the Defense Supply Process Owners. In that shared role, they act as supporting organizations to the components of the joint force for logistics readiness. The services and DLA are responsible for supply support and, supported by the Defense Distribution Process Owner, are focused on their product: perfect order fulfillment.

The U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) serves as the Joint Deployment Process Owner and is the primary provider of conventional forces. In this role, JFCOM, through its service components, ensures that the supported commander is provided with the forces needed to achieve national objectives. JFCOM is responsible for coordinating and making recommendations for the global conventional force and, supported by the Defense Distribution Process Owner, is focused on its product: perfect capability fulfillment.

The U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) serves as the Defense Distribution Process Owner and is the supporting organization to DLA and the services for the movement of sustainment and to JFCOM for the movement of forces. TRANSCOM coordinates and synchronizes the Defense distribution system and is focused on its product: time-definite delivery.

The JFC, through his service components, is the ultimate customer of the joint logistics system. The JFC has authority over joint logistics resources in his area of responsibility and is the principal focus of the national organizations described above.

These national organizations have global responsibilities and form the backbone of joint logistics. They exist to provide and sustain logistically ready forces to the supported JFC. These organizations serve as global providers, responsible for the end-to-end synchronization and coordination of processes that deliver outcomes to the supported JFC. They should strive constantly to improve their capabilities in cooperation with each other, integrating deployment and redeployment, supply, distribution, and readiness processes to ensure that the supported commander receives both forces and logistics sustainment on time and where needed.

Because the services lie at the heart of the joint logistics network, the joint logistics community (including processes, systems, programs, and organizations) should measure “value” at the tactical level from the perspective of the service components of the JFC. Every logistics program, system, and initiative should be viewed within the framework of these critical strategic relationships and should be measured by its ability to support the effect we are expected to deliver.

Imperatives for Success

The value of joint logistics is in its ability to sustain joint logistics readiness, and we can measure that value by how well we achieve three joint logistics imperatives: unity of effort, domain-wide visibility, and rapid and precise response. These imperatives are not goals in themselves. But they define the outcomes of a confederation of
systems, processes, and organizations that are agile enough to adapt effectively to a constantly changing environment in order to meet the emerging needs of the supported JFC.

Unity of effort. This imperative refers to the coordinated application of all logistics capabilities to focus on the JFC’s intent. It is the most critical of all joint logistics outcomes. Achieving unity of effort requires the optimal integration of joint, interagency, multinational, and nongovernmental logistics capabilities. Unity of effort is built around three enablers—

• Appropriate organizational capabilities and authorities provide the means to execute joint logistics effectively and efficiently.
Shared awareness across the logistics domain drives unity of effort by focusing capabilities to meet the joint warfighter’s most important requirements. The effective integration of priorities and the continuous optimization of those priorities in space and time are key tasks that require shared awareness.
Common measures of performance drive optimization across all processes that support the JFC. Clearly defined joint logistics processes, well-understood roles and accountabilities of the players involved in those processes, and shared JFC metrics shape this enabler.

Domain-wide visibility. This is the ability to see requirements, resources, and capabilities across the joint logistics domain. Three fundamental enablers are needed to achieve this imperative—

Connectivity requires access to the information network 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The objective of connectivity is to reach globally—backward, forward, and laterally—throughout the network to synchronize and coordinate the efforts of supporting Defense agencies, interagency participants, multinational partners, host nations, contractors, and commercial sector participants.
• Standard enterprise data architecture is the foundation of rapid and effective data transfer. This enabler is the fundamental building block for creating a common logistics operating picture and high logistics situational understanding. It serves to foster JFC confidence.
• A global focus on the processes that deliver support to the JFC is paramount to achieving the best joint logistics capability. Logistics support to the joint force is global business, and any view of joint logistics that operates below the global level will reduce the effectiveness of processes and deliver less-than-acceptable readiness.

Rapid and precise response. This imperative defines the ability of the supply chain to effectively meet the constantly changing needs of the joint force. Lack of key supplies, regardless of the reason, acts to undermine readiness and increase mission risk. The following performance measures can accurately indicate how well the supply chain is responding to the needs of the JFC—

Speed is the core characteristic of responsiveness, and the most critical to the JFC. In measuring speed, we should focus our efforts on what is “quick enough,” recognizing that not all supplies are equal in importance. Items that truly drive operational readiness deserve special treatment.
Reliability is the ability of the supply chain to provide predictable, or time-definite, delivery. When items are not immediately available, the joint logistics system must provide immediate and accurate estimates of delivery so the warfighter can make informed decisions about future mission options.
Visibility provides rapid and easy access to order information. A subset of domain-wide visibility, this capability answers the JFC’s fundamental questions, “Where is it?” and “When will it get here?”
Efficiency is directly related to the supply chain’s footprint. In the tactical and operational space, the footprint needed to provide support can be determined by the resources needed to compensate for inefficiencies within the supply chain itself.

The Need for Joint Logistics

Joint logistics exists to give the JFC the freedom of action he needs to meet mission objectives. We deliver this effect by integrating all logistics capabilities at the operational level, thereby bridging our Nation’s strategic sustainment base to the complex tactical environment in a way that optimizes logistics readiness. Through rigorous self-assessment, discussion, analysis, and collaboration, we can make significant progress toward improving our ability to deliver logistics readiness.

It is important to move forward rapidly with programs and initiatives that truly support joint logistics. We cannot wait until every issue is resolved to make decisions. Viewing initiatives through the lens of the three joint logistics imperatives—unity of effort, domain-wide visibility, and rapid and precise response—should provide a reasonable starting point for assessing an initiative’s value. The challenge of integrating service and agency programs and systems that were not designed to holistically support joint operations cannot be overestimated. However, the importance of achieving this integration also cannot be overestimated. We have a responsibility to the American people and the next generation of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen to do better—much better.

Lieutenant General C.V. (Chris) Christianson is the Director for Logistics, J–4, on the Joint Staff. He previously served as the Deputy Chief of Staff, G–4, Headquarters, Department of the Army. From August 2002 to July 2003, he served as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, G–4, Headquarters, Department of the Army, with duty as Chief of Logistics, Coalition Forces Land Component Command, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. General Christianson has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from North Dakota State University and is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Ordnance Officer Advanced Course, the Armed Forces Staff College, and the Army War College.