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Managing Logistics in Contested Areas Is Key to Military Success

Assessing whether the right material is pre-positioned appropriately and near-optimal distribution nodes is at the heart of the Defense Logistics Agency's efforts to posture itself for future operational challenges, DLA Vice Director Brad Bunn said Aug. 29 at the National Defense Industrial Association's Emerging Technologies for Defense Conference in Washington, D.C.

A person behind a microphone makes a gesture with his hand.
Brad Bun
Defense Logistics Agency Vice Director Brad Bunn describes the agency’s efforts to posture itself for future operational challenges at the National Defense Industrial Association's Emerging Technologies for Defense Conference in Washington, D.C., Aug. 29, 2023.
VIRIN: 230829-D-D0441-1001Y

Future military operations are expected to occur over vast geographic areas and require the delivery of military equipment and supplies amid cyberattacks and other disruptions. During a panel discussion, Bunn described how DLA is using artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing and research and development to create reliable logistics capabilities that sustain warfighters "at speed and scale." 

To increase supply chain resiliency, he said DLA's inventory managers are working with industry to ensure there's ample stock to support the initial days of a conflict and that manufacturers can surge to meet newly emerging requirements. 

"We saw these risks during COVID, and we still see some fragility, some brittleness, in our industrial base," Bunn said. 

Addressing cyber risks such as the attack on the Colonial Pipeline that sent DLA's fuel experts scrambling for new ways to get fuel to East Coast customers is another component of DLA's supply chain security strategy

DLA responds largely to operational demands of the services and has what Bunn called a moderate research and development program to help it meet critical supply chain gaps and security threats. 

"Most of that started with working with industry partners and R&D organizations to help buy down some risk of obsolescence for legacy weapons systems where we saw commercial capabilities wane and where we had to bring to bear some resources to buy down that risk in things like microelectronics," he said. 

Bunn added that DLA is part of a large ecosystem and a hub of information on military logistics. 

"But we do not currently have perfect end-to-end visibility of our entire supply chains. We're doing a lot of work in this space to illuminate those dark spots and get better insight and intelligence," he said. 

The Defense Working Capital Fund is another DLA "superpower," Bunn continued. 

"We're often compared to a business because we essentially use a revolving fund, the Working Capital Fund, to pay for our operating costs through sales," he said. "It's separate from the annual budgeting process, so as long as it's working and we're generating sales, we're able to continue operating." 

Though "logistics" is in its name, Bunn said DLA is predominately a procurement organization that processes about 10,000 contract awards a day, 365 days a year. Over 90 percent of those contracts are processed through automation and artificial intelligence. He pointed to the longstanding relationships DLA has forged with the defense industrial base, including small businesses, as key to the agency's success.   

A person in military uniform pulls a chain under a military vehicle.
High Mobility Artillery Rocket System
An Air Force crew chief with Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, with 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, secures a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System into an MC-130J Commando II aircraft during Exercise Talisman Sabre 21, Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia, July 21, 2021.
Photo By: Marine Lance Cpl. Ujian Gosun
VIRIN: 210721-M-TU214-1548Y

"It's really about building those relationships with industry, putting those contracts in place and supplying our customers – the military service warfighters – with those common items of supply and some not-so-common items," the vice director added. 

About 10 percent of DLA's workforce is also outside the continental United States, colocated with combatant commands that rely on the agency for material as well as storage and distribution solutions and disposal at the end of the lifecycle. Partnerships with the U.S. Transportation Command and well-established international agreements further contribute to DLA's ability to meet warfighters' needs even as they fluctuate according to real-world events, Bunn said. 

He noted that DLA's work with the services, industry and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment have helped the agency create reliable logistics capabilities. 

People sit at a table in front of an audience.
Logistics Panel
Defense Logistics Agency Vice Director Brad Bunn, far right, speaks on a panel about contested logistics at the National Defense Industrial Association's Emerging Technologies for Defense Conference in Washington, D.C., Aug. 29, 2023.
VIRIN: 230829-D-D0441-1002Y

The NDIA event drew over 700 professionals from industry, government and academia to discuss the impact of innovative technologies in the national defense realm. Other members of this panel presentation were Christopher Lowman, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment; Army Lt. Gen. John Sullivan, deputy commander of the U.S. Transportation Command; and Air Force Lt. Gen. Leonard Kosinski, director of logistics for the Joint Staff. 

DLA's participation in the NDIA event included an R&D booth in the exhibition hall.

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