Improving Combat Supply System

DefenseLINK: Partnership Integrates, Improves Combat Supply System

The Defense Department’s top transportation and supply organizations have joined forces to fix a combat supply system that at times didn’t perform well during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As U.S. and coalition forces raced toward Baghdad last year, some units reportedly experienced a shortage of “bullets and beans” — an alarming state of affairs in the deadly serious business of waging war.

The overseas logistics problems have been fixed, in part, through application of more integrated communications between supply procurers, transporters and customers, two senior military logisticians told journalists during a March 18 press conference at Defense Logistics Agency headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va.


Before and during the recent Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, DoD policy called for TRANSCOM to deliver supplies and troops into overseas combat theaters, leaving responsibility to reorder and transport supplies for front-line units to combat commanders, Dail said.

“We would turn that (responsibility) over to a combatant commander,” Dail explained, “and he would take care of the onward movement and supply of those forces.” In Iraq, though, that system was sometimes found wanting, and the Army launched a ‘white paper’ investigation into the matter.

“What we have now is a rigid (logistics) support system that does not work well in a flexible, changing environment,” Army Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, the Army Staff’s logistics chief, noted in an article published in the Jan. 15 issue of Aviation Week’s “Net Defense.”

Addressing digital communicators at a conference here Jan. 21, retired Navy Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation, noted that supply problems in Iraq resulted, in part, because logisticians use separate information and command and control systems apart from those that warfighters use.

“The fact of the matter is that there is dysfunction from both of those things, and that has to change,” Cebrowski, DoD’s chief transformation proponent, declared.

The workings of the DoD supply system are well beyond my expertise but I’m quite pleased to see that 1) they’re working it at a high level and 2) that Adm. Cebrowski is involved.

Cebrowski has long been an advocate of what he terms “network centric warfare,” a concept that’s rapidly becoming a reality in our military system. I’m skeptical of some aspects of it, notably what I see as significant down sides to removing heirarchy, but the basic concept is dead-on. Exactly how this will work in fixing the logistical system, I’m not sure. It’s probably the most complex piece in the amazingly complex defense transformation issue.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Environment, Military Affairs, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    The workings of the DoD supply system are well beyond my expertise

    But having said that do you really think (feel) it was that big a problem in GWII?

    I followed it as close as possible and there were some problems but when juxtaposed against past conflicts, I’m not sure it was that big a deal. I dunno.

    Your opinion?

  2. James Joyner says:

    It wasn’t that big a problem only because we so greatly outmatched the adversary in conventional combat capability (as opposed to the asymmetric war we’re now fighting). We outran our supply lines in a few days. That would be a hell of a problem against something like a peer competitor.