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By Flight Lieutenant Gwen Durban, Defence Movements School

“However much we succeed in transforming our logistics processes, there will continue to be a tension between efficiency and effectiveness. A just in time philosophy built around a responsive and agile supply pipeline, a minimum deployment footprint and extensive host nation support, may not always provide the resilience needed to sustain military capability.”


From the logistics of Alexander the Great to today’s operational environment, the importance of the supply chain is recognised as a critical success factor to organisations (Harrison and Van Hoek, 2008). It is therefore important for any logistics commander to understand how to create the optimal supply chain but in order to do so any process must ‘add value’ to the customer (Christopher, 2005). An optimal supply chain in a military context will ultimately be measured by end user satisfaction, and depends on the flow of materiel and services from ‘factory to foxhole’ (Harrison and Van Hoek, 2008).

Modern defence logistics must be able to meet two key objectives in order to support today’s military strategy:
1. Timely sustainment to combat commanders
2. Minimisation of logistics footprint in battle spaces (Tuttle, 2005).

These two objectives are finely balanced. The logistics commander must on the one hand produce an efficient logistics system which minimises waste and therefore cost, and on the other must not diminish support to the overall military objective (Tuttle, 2005). It is therefore important to understand how optimising the logistics footprint can reduce the strain on the supply chain without reducing assurance to the end user; in other words, optimisation must still ‘add value’ to the end user and not just be a cost-saving measure for the Treasury. This leads to the conundrum that every military logistician must ask themselves; just-in-time or just-in case?

This paper evaluates the theory of supply chain optimisation and discusses how it can reduce the strain on a supply chain, whilst discussing the risks involved. A case study investigates how the RAF’s medical logistics at Tactical Medical Wing (TMW) compares to the recently updated United States Department of Defence (DoD) medical logistics chain in the context of optimisation. It asks whether the DoD methods could be applied to wider Ministry of Defence (MoD) logistics practice. The paper also investigates how logistics can contribute to operational agility in the context of an optimised supply chain, in order to empower the military commander.

What is logistics footprint optimisation?

Supply chain optimisation is the application of processes and tools to ensure the optimal operation of a supply chain, including the optimal placement of inventory within the supply chain and minimising operating costs (Simichi-Levi et al, 2003). It can be seen as the process of removing waste from the logistics process in order to make it more efficient – by definition adding value to the process for the end user (Christopher, 2005). Tuttle (2005) then states that within this supply chain, there is a logistics ‘footprint’ which he defines as “the collective set of people, equipment, stocks of supplies, facilities, and other components of the resources necessary to provide support to the combat organisations.”

Optimising a part of the supply chain creates a smoother and more efficient process which ultimately reduces cost (Oleson, 2011). There are many supply chain improvement variables that can be applied to a military context1 and should therefore be considered by the logistics commander, including:
* Speed material flow through the supply chain.
* Amount of inventory.
* Number of inventory locations (Oleson, 2011).

How can the logistics commander optimise the logistics footprint?

The theory of Lean underpins Oleson’s variables (Christopher 1998). Lean pri

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