Day describes ‘physics of logistics’ to DOD, industry representatives

By DLA Logistics Operations

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Logisticians have a knack for making things happen. Their ingenuity has been relied on for centuries, and the herculean acts associated with providing logistics support have often been referred to as the ’art of logistics,’ because it takes creative orchestrating to get things to the far corners of the globe in a timely fashion.

But there’s also science behind it, especially when considering the many forces that impact warfighter readiness and effectiveness, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Allan Day, director of logistics operations for the Defense Logistics Agency.

Logisticians face many limitations while getting warfighters the right part at the right place, time and cost, Day said. Yet only so much time, space and money are available as the Joint Logistics Enterprise works to increase readiness and enhance combat capability.

At a recent conference with industry and Defense Department representatives, Day described the global logistics challenge as the “Physics of Logistics.” He noted three simple but unavoidable laws. One, stuff can be in only one place at one time. Two, a cubic foot of space can only be occupied by a finite amount of materiel at a time. And three, the same dollar can only be spent once.

“If you have enough inventory that you can place materiel you need everywhere, then you are not testing the log-physics boundary,” Day said. “But when you get down to your last part, and you have multiple users of that last part ... then you feel the tension.”

Having more inventory that can be quickly accessed might be the answer, but that can be costly, Day continued.

“Not just for the inventory, but for the management – touch labor, accountability, auditability, shelf life concerns ... it all adds cost,” Day said, adding that it’s also not realistic, because there’s only so much physical space.

“If you have materiel occupying space in a warehouse, or on a cargo ship, cargo aircraft, truck or train, that’s a choice over something else, both in transportation and storage,” he said. “If we have too much inventory at a single location, it could become a juicy target for an adversary during conflict.”

Another choice would be to lower inventory and rely on transportation to meet warfighter needs, he said. That could cost more and pose more operational risk, however. Moving supplies quickly during war also tends to be more expensive. And adversaries may challenge certain transportation modes in a contested environment, making the transportation dependencies a critical consideration in the time, space and cost equation. Finally, buying the right things is critical given today’s constrained resources.

“If we spend money on items we’re pretty sure we’ll never use, but choose to stock just in case, that money is gone,” Day said. “That’s less money we have to spend on materiel we’re very sure we are going to need.”

Money and resources consumed storing materiel can’t be spent on speedier modes of transportation for items that aren’t forward-stocked.

“As we balance the physics equation of time, space and cost, we accept a level of risk,” Day said. “Because warfighting is inherently multi-service and many times multi-national, the risk trades between different members of the team must be understood and communicated.”

As joint warfighters and partner nations make time, cost and space decisions to balance their own risk, the overall mission risk can accumulate, he said. Without a way to demonstrate the effects of those accumulated logistics risks on operations, mission commanders could experience unexpected failure.

Recognizing that logistics must be integrated to truly deliver effective results in a time-relevant, cost-effective way is foundational to understanding the physics of logistics, Day said. Today’s logisticians are working harder to integrate logistics support and share understanding of readiness risks, he added.

Recently, DLA increased its demand planning efforts, he said. More sophisticated algorithms are helping the agency analyze purchase and use patterns, and collaboration between DLA and the military services is happening at multiple echelons. DLA started hosting annual demand planning summits with the services in 2018 and shares those results with industry, which plays an important role in supplying the fight. Additionally, deep looks at the agency’s operations planning are bringing fidelity and shared understanding of requirements and potential sources.

“Take commercial support to operations,” Day said. “You could have two or more services vying for the same limited capability in a host nation; not to mention the host nation itself may already have designs on that finite commodity.”

Without understanding contingency requirements expected during conflict, mission commanders accept unknown operational risks, he said.

Innovative solutions are also helping redefine legacy methods of solving the time, cost and inventory equation. Additive manufacturing, the topic of the conference Day attended recently, has great potential for relieving risk on the system.

“AM can change this readiness risk equation, because it allows us to move materiel – powders and equipment – allowing a single piece of equipment to generate a multitude of parts with common material,” Day said. This could lower space requirements for inventory and speed the delivery of critically needed parts.

And while the cost of printing a single part could be significantly greater than traditional high-volume production, the quick turnround for additively manufactured parts near the point of need could improve operational outcomes. Day said the potential is undeniable. “It could be a game changer.”

Transparency and collaboration are the keys to realizing potential and achieving success, Day said, adding that he is optimistic about the energy and creative thought going into the front end of logistics and the opportunity to positively reduce risks.

“All of these areas can help us generate better decisions, increase options for the warfighter and reduce readiness risk,” Day said. “And that’s the real mission.”