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Innovation Will Help Shape Future of Military Logistics

Innovation in logistics is key to the nation's ability to deter aggression as it meets new and growing threats, a leader from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment said on the anniversary of 9/11.

A female uniformed service member stands behind a lectern in front of a presentation.
Industry Collider Day
Army Brig. Gen. Stephanie Q. Howard, executive director of operational contract support for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, describes the importance of innovation in shaping the future of military logistics during the Defense Logistics Agency's Industry Collider Day Sept. 11, 2023, at Fort Belvoir, Va.
Photo By: Chris Lynch, DOD
VIRIN: 230911-D-HE260-1008

One way to avoid war is being so prepared to prevail on the logistics front that the enemy understands the folly of aggression, Army Brig. Gen. Stephanie Q. Howard, executive director of operational contract support for OUSD A&S, said at the Defense Logistics Agency's 4th annual Industry Collider Day. The event connected industry and academia with research and development opportunities in areas like additive manufacturing, strategic materials, and green and sustainable technologies.

"We want our enemy to know that the logistics will be there, that when our warfighter turns to the shelf, those supply parts are there. The uniforms they need are there. The bullets they need are there," she said, adding that logistics also underpins the National Defense Strategy's fourth priority of building a resilient joint force and ecosystem. 

Processes that worked in the past are no longer fast enough, Howard said, and only through partnerships with small businesses and other partners can organizations like DLA and the Army Materiel Command be successful. 

"When our military needs the next weapons system, aircraft, ship, delivery system, unmanned platform, predictive modeling or whatever it is, we cannot create another [Plan of Action and Milestones] and have an arrow going up to the right showing that two years from now we can get that capability into the hands of the warfighter," she said. "It will be two years too late." 

Wars Won or Lost on Logistics 

An Army logistician of nearly 30 years, Howard said warfighters assume the fuel, food and supplies they need are sitting ready on a shelf. But providing military logistics is extremely challenging, she added, citing a quote from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower: You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.

Images of a Russian convoy at a standstill early in the invasion of Ukraine proved that the battle stops without foresight and planned distribution of supplies as simple as a spare tire. Some might argue that military logistics should mirror models by giants like Amazon and FedEx, she said, but the dynamics are different. 

"Let's imagine Cyber Monday, Black Friday, the holiday rush, all of that happening simultaneously without warning. It happens on some unexpected date like March 10. That's what the military is often having to respond to," Howard said.

A female uniformed service member speaks to a man, wearing business attire, inside of a building.
Industry Collider Day
Army Brig. Gen. Stephanie Q. Howard, executive director of operational contract support for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, talks to an industry representative during the Defense Logistics Agency’s Industry Collider Day at Fort Belvoir, Va., Sept. 11, 2023.
Photo By: Chris Lynch, DOD
VIRIN: 230911-D-HE260-1010

The services have an enormous demand and a combination of old and new technology that calls for innovative concepts, she continued. 

"Some of you in this room might be amazed to hear about some of those innovative concepts that are already further forward than you would have expected. Some of you I'm sure have been involved in developing some of those innovative concepts," she said, encouraging participants to connect with DLA to discover how their capabilities fit warfighter needs. 

More of Everything 

Howard recalled Americans' shock 22 years ago when terrorists attacked the nation and redirected the military's focus away from peacekeeping operations. A new enemy quickly became clear, and commanders started asking for more trucks, ships, uniforms and supply parts. 

"Something new was happening, and we needed to get our industrial base ramped up again," she said. 

Howard was then an ammunition officer at Army Materiel Command, and AMC Commander Gen. Paul Kern and other leaders questioned how fast new Patriot missiles could be produced. She and the rest of the team did an analysis that revealed two years would be the soonest. 

"We did not have the innovation in place to speed that up," she said. "No amount of money, no amount of additional workers, was going to change that."

As the troops shifted into counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, military logisticians began introducing more commercial off-the-shelf equipment and grew more agile because that's what troops needed, she said. 

Rather than carry supplies into the area of operations with them, warfighters pared down and depended more on commercial transportation to move supplies.

A large audience, wearing business attire, sits in an auditorium.
Industry Collider Day
Members of the government, industry and academia listen to a panel discussion on emerging technology at the Defense Logistics Agency’s 4th annual Industry Collider Day at Fort Belvoir, Va., Sept. 11, 2023.
Photo By: Chris Lynch, DOD
VIRIN: 230911-D-HE260-1003

"And we could buy stuff in [country]. We could pay DHL to get the equipment where it needed to be," she said. 

The National Defense Strategies of 2018 and 2022 challenge logisticians to prepare for new conflicts that could become force-to-force fights unlike those of the past. New technologies like additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence will be key but still have far to go, Howard said. 

"We must get the technology we need more quickly into the hands of the warfighter," she added. "We cannot be complacent. We cannot depend on the processes and the ways that we have always done stuff because it is not fast enough." 

More information on DLA's research and development program is available at DLA's Research and Development page.

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