By Lt. Gen. Darrell K. WilliamsApril 1, 2019
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has undergone an exciting transformation in recent years. The changes are mostly behind the scenes, but they have already contributed to something Army sustainers care deeply about: improved military readiness. DLA has accomplished this through a number of initiatives that operationalize its support to the warfighter.
What does "operationalize" mean? Our customers have traditionally viewed DLA as largely a wholesale, static supply chain organization. What we're doing better is translating what DLA does into immediate, actionable information that is more relevant to our military services. DLA must view success through the same lens as the warfighter. In the Army's case, success is defined as fully mission capable weapon systems and maximum readiness.
THE SERVICE READINESS DASHBOARD
In spring 2018, DLA rolled out the Service Readiness Dashboard, a comprehensive tracking tool that has become the centerpiece of our efforts to operationalize support to the services. We have always been good at addressing consumable and depot-level repairable requirements at the aggregate level, but we were not able to relate our support particularly well to the readiness of specific weapon systems.
The Service Readiness Dashboard provides a common operational picture by combining data from the services' automated systems with DLA's wholesale data. Through that combination, we are able to see DLA's operational impact on service weapon systems and requirements.
This new tool improves our capabilities in other ways as well. While we used to collectively review our agency performance metrics monthly, recent advances in data management and data science have made it possible for us to address the readiness of key weapon systems in near-real time. We can respond more quickly and accurately to critical materiel and supply availability issues, and we are more predictive in our support to service readiness.
As director, I access the Service Readiness Dashboard nearly every day. So do the commanders of our six major subordinate commands and other key leaders across the agency. But more importantly, our DLA professionals now have a powerful decision-making tool to help them prioritize their work. As a result, we have seen significant improvements in our materiel support to Army readiness.
The bottom line is that five of the Army's big six weapon systems (Abrams, Black Hawk, Bradley, Stryker, Apache, and Paladin) have seen substantial improvements in material availability at the DLA level. For example, our data from January to December 2018 shows our material availability for the M1A1 Abrams tank increased by 6.6 percent. Material availability for the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter went up by almost three percent. The Service Readiness Dashboard has helped us focus on what is important to keep these weapon systems fully mission capable.
Granted, DLA's material availability at the wholesale level is different than Army supply availability. Nonetheless, by any objective measure, DLA's overall materiel support to the Army has enhanced the readiness of the Army's big six systems.
The future for the Service Readiness Dashboard points to greater levels of definition. For example, the dashboard tells us the systems that are "not mission capable supply." That supply may be service supply or DLA supply. But there is another level of definition required, because in the services' not mission capable supply category, there are some DLA impacts not currently taken into account. So we are working toward greater definition to break out the DLA impact on this category.
We also plan to include metrics for industrial support in Army depots. Right now, the dashboard is focused on support to operational units. Soon we will be able to view our impact on the industrial support, which will give us a much more comprehensive picture. We are very excited about the additional capability the dashboard brings to DLA's ability to operationalize our support to the services, and to date, the Army has been a strong partner.
DLA REGIONAL COMMANDS
DLA's organizational structure includes three centrally selected commanders for its regional commands: DLA Indo-Pacific, DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM [Central Command and Special Operations Command], and DLA Europe & Africa.
These commanders oversee the critical capabilities closely linked to the J-4 sections of the combatant commands they support. Incidentally, DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM and DLA Europe & Africa are commanded by Army colonels.
DLA's transformation over the past three years has made all our elements in those regions centrally led and commanded by our regional commanders, giving warfighters a single point of contact through which to access all DLA capabilities.
Within the Army, the regional commands are also linked with the theater sustainment commands. We consider this a critical element and a significant multiplier that extends DLA's capability and support to the services in their areas of responsibility.
These regional commands are comparable to the Army Materiel Command's Army field support brigades. They provide full service for all DLA capabilities in a combatant command area of responsibility. This has greatly strengthened our relationships with the combatant commands and improved the support we provide to the Army and the joint force.
The linchpin for synchronizing these new operational concepts is the transformation of the DLA Joint Logistics Operations Center to the Agency Synchronization Operations Center (ASOC). The ASOC will provide a better, more comprehensive common operating view of DLA's mission support and business processes.
DLA is organized into six major subordinate commands, three regional commands, and several critical functional directorates, such as our Procurement and Acquisition Directorate or J-7.
The ASOC will dynamically fuse the functions and expertise of nearly every mission function DLA performs with our national account managers for each service, our combatant command representatives, and whole-of-government liaisons. This new approach will enable DLA to better focus and communicate the support it provides to the warfighter and our whole-of-government partners.
A principal element located in the ASOC will be the Army National Account Manager (NAM) team. The NAM will work side by side with the functional subject matter experts across DLA who affect critical Army issues. One-stop shopping with more streamlined support to the NAMs will translate to even more responsive support for the Army.
One of the most challenging areas for any organization of DLA's scope--and a critical aspect of operationalizing DLA's support to the Army--is the accuracy of demand planning and forecasting. Are we ordering the right items and in the right quantities? Are we ordering items that will have an immediate impact on service readiness? Are we over ordering or under ordering? Collectively, we must ensure we are spending the services' and the Department of Defense's precious dollars on items that positively impact readiness. I cannot overemphasize how much of a team effort between DLA and the Army this must be.
In July 2018, we invited expert demand planners from the services to join us at DLA for the first Demand Planning and Forecasting Summit to provide us with the best projection of their demand for fiscal years 2019 and 2020. This important face-to-face session revealed more demand than we were aware of--about 20 percent more.
This more accurate demand figure allowed DLA to proactively address the increase well in advance of need. We also gained insight into what weapon systems might see less demand or be headed for obsolescence. Thanks to the participation from the Army G-4 and Army Materiel Command, the summit was extremely successful in identifying projected non-Army-managed class IX (repair parts) requirements for the next two years.
We took this process one step further. Once we received the requirements from the services, we invited about 175 critical industry partners to an industry day. There, we passed along what industry could expect from DLA in the coming months.
Through demand planning and forecasting summits and industry days, we are getting ahead of service requirements and posturing the agency to help the services improve readiness in the future.
WHAT WILL YOU SEE?
Although many of these operationalizing efforts are internal to DLA, for the Army majors assigned as support operations officers in brigade combat teams, the lieutenant colonels commanding brigade support battalions, the G-4s in tactical divisions, and the sustainment brigade commanders who support those divisions, our goal is for you to see improved supply availability that leads directly to improved readiness.
Make sure you know who your local DLA forward representative is; there is one on every major Army installation. That person or element can be of enormous benefit to you and is a direct link to DLA headquarters and each one of our major subordinate commands. Use this capability to the fullest. Through them and the other enterprise organizations that support the Army, you'll see an improvement in your readiness.
Before I close, I'd like to leave you with a couple of thoughts. DLA is a great place for Army sustainment professionals to serve. In my estimation, DLA is an agency not as well known to our junior leaders, field-grade officers, warrant officers, and noncommissioned officers, but it is a rewarding joint assignment that you should seek.
Furthermore, the alignment and interdependencies between DLA, the Army G-4, and the Army Materiel Command will grow even stronger in the decades to come. As I like to say, to describe the Army as our customer just doesn't cut it--we are partners. None of us can support the warfighter without the others. The enterprise perspective you will gain at DLA will benefit you throughout your career. I look forward to seeing you at DLA.
DLA is dedicated to improving our support to the warfighter. Over the past year and a half, we have made wise investments in an effort to ensure the Army gets what it needs. In fact we've made nearly $250 million in investments in authorized stockage lists, forward stocking initiatives, weapon systems support, and other readiness drivers.
DLA is fully committed to aligning with the Army G-4, the Army Materiel Command, and others to ensure we understand what the Army needs to improve readiness and that we are supporting those requirements.
Our strategic plan contains five lines of effort, but the one that is central to everything we do and that will never be compromised is "Warfighter First." DLA has been and always will be a Warfighter First agency.
Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams is the director of the Defense Logistics Agency. He holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the Hampton Institute and a master's degree in business management (logistics) from Penn State. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies, and the National War College.
This article was published in the April-June 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.