Fort Belvoir, Virginia –
Keeping abreast of emerging technologies and innovation in an austere environment is challenging, but the Defense Logistics Agency Research and Development team knows maintaining strong partnerships with industry R&D experts is vital to meeting warfighter needs.
Warfighter dominance was the theme for the 4th annual DLA R&D Industry Day, held at the McNamara Headquarters Complex Nov. 7.
DLA Program Executive Officer Adarryl Roberts said agency collaboration with industry professionals is necessary for R&D manufacturing technology in which DLA lacks an industrial base. Unlike replacing an old car, DLA is compelled to extend the use of weapons systems even when parts are no longer manufactured.
“We don’t get a new tank every five to ten years. We keep our ships, tanks and planes for 30, 40, 50, and in some cases, 60 years,” he said. “We need somebody to make those parts.”
Addressing industry partners, Roberts explained how DLA’s logistics mission extends to Whole of Government partners as well as warfighters.
“You have a chance to influence the breadth of what we contribute to the Defense Department and WOG with some of the partnerships we’re going to forge here today,” he said.
Roberts introduced the event’s guest speaker and new DLA Chief Information Officer, George Duchak, who has been with DLA just over a month.
“One of the things that attracted me to this job is I found out that the R&D portfolio was under the CIO,” Duchak said, adding his title should reflect that he’s the chief innovation officer as well.
He stressed that DLA can’t move product until information flows first.
“That’s why I like this job – we’re the heartbeat of this organization,” he said. “Without information technology, I don’t think anyone could do their job, at least not the way they’re used to doing it.”
“We’re here today because ‘no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else,’” Duchak said, quoting Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. “It really rings true — none of us are as smart as all of us.”
The CIO said he wanted to use the event to take advantage of attendees’ “big brains” and share great ideas.
Another thing Duchak said drew him to DLA is how much the agency operates like a private corporation. He noted that DLA awards 9,000 contracts per day, has over 12,000 suppliers and 5.2 million line items, which ranks the agency highly among Fortune 500 companies.
As Duchak reviewed various R&D interest areas, including supply chain risk management, predictive analytics artificial intelligence and machine learning, he noted that one-third of the $42 billion in DLA revenue is dedicated to small business.
Duchak also praised DLA’s commitment to continuous process improvement.
“If you just get 1% better every day, the results can be exponential,” he said. “If you get 1% worse every day, you’re irrelevant — you’ll quickly vanish. A lot of the products and things we do with our R&D help us get a little bit better every day.”
DLA R&D Chief David Koch explained how some of DLA’s R&D work is directly tied to specific DLA major subordinate commands and other more process-oriented parts span across the entire organization. Additionally, DLA Small Business has projects that cross every supply chain and touch each of the MSCs.
“We’re trying to find new innovative technologies, test them out in a relevant environment and see if they have application to DLA. And if they do, we can bring them in and transition them to sustainment,” Koch said, adding that R&D involves three major lines of effort: Manufacturing technology, logistics research and development, and subsistence.
The largest “chunk” of the three is manufacturing technology, or mantech, which supports the defense industrial base by helping DLA sustain weapons systems.
Of the 14 total programs, mantech includes: Casting and forging, additive manufacturing, battery network, subsistence network, defense logistics information research, military unique sustainment technology, advanced microcircuit emulation, strategic materials and small-business innovation research.
DLA logistics R&D programs are: Weapon system sustainment, medical logistics network, strategic distribution and disposition, supply chain management and energy readiness.
Koch briefly explained each program and introduced the program managers for each.
The event also featured a small business breakout session and two panel discussions, one entitled, “Doing Business with DLA,” the other, “DLA Faces of Innovation.” During breaks, industry attendees could visit information booths in the HQC cafeteria area and talk to subject matter experts about partnering with DLA.
Koch said this year’s event had the highest attendance of any DLA R&D Industry Day. He stressed the importance of being able to collaborate with industry to share ideas.
“We want some new folks to come in who haven’t even thought of doing business with DLA before, because they may have a new way to solve one of our existing problems that we haven’t thought of,” he said.
Working with federal and private companies is vital because DLA doesn’t have its own laboratories, whereas the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has seven, Koch said.
“So, we’re either teaming with one of the services, USACE or industry or academic partners to actually do the research,” he said. “We also don’t make products — we team with others.”
DLA employees can access the DLA R&D Industry Day video (this is a DoD CAC-restricted link).