Technology, better management help Defense agency supply troops

FORT BELVOIR, Va.-New technology, more advanced planning, and direct communications with battlefield commanders have made it easier to get supplies to troops in the Persian Gulf region, Vice Adm. Keith Lippert, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, said Friday.

Lippert told GovExec.com that the war has validated a new business model that the agency is working under that moves away from "stuffing items in warehouses" to relying on technology and contractors to provide inventory as needed. In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, military logisticians were widely criticized for taking far more gear and supplies than necessary to the Gulf.

Lippert says DLA has supplied about $3 billion in food, clothing, pharmaceuticals, fuel and spare parts to troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The agency is responsible for supplying all items shared across the services. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines also have their own supply lines for unique items.

One of the key technological enhancements has been the use of radio frequency tags, small bar codes placed on all parts and gear before they leave warehouses so they can be tracked along the supply line. Lippert says the tags allow troops to track goods as they are delivered and has dramatically cut down on too many orders of the same item.

Logisticians were also called in early on in the planning for the war in Iraq. As far back as last summer, Lippert said, the Pentagon was giving DLA projections on the number of troops that would likely be needed for an invasion in Iraq. He said those numbers were largely accurate and allowed the agency to spend about $1 billion in advance of the war for key supplies such as chemical suits and construction materials.

The agency also has about 75 uniformed and military personnel on the battlefield alongside troops monitoring any potential problems and running a newly created DLA supply warehouse in Kuwait. For example, those DLA troubleshooters recently were called upon to locate more than 30,000 Kosher MREs for Jewish troops to eat during Passover. Lippert said having agency personnel act as liaisons to the troops gives DLA a better sense of its customers' needs.

But the agency has experienced some problems getting supplies, including medical supplies, to customers that need them. A hospital ship recently left the U.S. with only about 75 percent of its supplies, although most of the supplies were added once the ship arrived in the Persian Gulf. And military medics have continued to express frustration about ordering their supplies through a fairly new vendor system. Lippert says DLA is working on better educating its medical supply customers.

DLA has also run out of tents and cots for the Army. "We stocked them, just not in the quantities they needed," Lippert said, adding that the items are on back order. He blamed the shortage on changing battle plans that required more tents and cots after troops were not allowed to use bases in Turkey.

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