By Lt. Gen. Aundre F. PiggeeApril 1, 2019
Soldiers with the 2nd Infantry Division (ID) Sustainment Brigade in the Republic of Korea had a number of mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles that were deadlined because a 6-inch-long cap, used to protect the fire extinguisher in wheel wells, needed to be replaced. There are 20 caps per vehicle--they cost about $2.50 each--and without them the vehicles are not mission capable. However, when the unit put the order in for replacements, the estimated delivery date was five months away.
The brigade had been selected as a test site to see if the Army could use 3D printers to make simple parts at the point of need near the battlefield. Working with engineers at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, they printed 284 of the small caps, saving 1,472 days of equipment downtime. That small fix prevented a big problem.
I share this story with you because it shows that the Army's all-out focus to regain readiness after several years of sustained conflict is paying off. We've worked on improving readiness since the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley first announced in August 2015 that readiness would be the Army's number one priority.
The Army is in a much better place, as can be seen by our brigade combat team (BCT) readiness levels. We now train for large-scale combat operations and have increased home-station training exercises and combat training center rotations. We have changed the instruction at our institutions and changed our doctrine.
INVESTING IN AGILITY
One area where work remains to be done is making the Army agile. We must transform at a quicker pace. We need to stay ahead and be prepared to provide required capability when needed. To be sufficiently flexible, we must embrace and take advantage of more technologies.
The 3D printer is a prime example. It makes more sense to send a printer to the front lines than a huge inventory of parts for every potential problem. Soldiers get things faster. We have a smaller footprint. It's easier to transport. And Soldiers will trust the system and not get frustrated and think nobody is doing anything about their broken vehicles.
That is why we are allowing commanders in the field to invest up to $10,000 of their operating budgets on a 3D printer package. We have started a digital library of parts that can be printed. We are sending machine shop sets, as we sent to the 2nd ID Sustainment Brigade, to other sustainment units so they can experiment.
We also are looking for ways to use additive manufacturing at our depots, arsenals, and ammunition plants to augment the supply chain. Why shouldn't we print parts ourselves when vendors cannot make the parts in a timely manner, are not interested in making just one $50 part, or don't know how to make the parts for old equipment to the original specifications? Getting repair parts weeks or months after they are needed is too late.
OTHER INITIATIVES FOR AGILITY
With Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper's push to modernize, you will see additional technologies and processes making us nimbler in the future. The Secretary of the Army wants us to take advantage of autonomous or semiautonomous vehicles to deliver supplies. He also wants us to make better use of big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Expect to see new technologies sooner rather than later as the Army Futures Command modernizes the way the Army does business and develops capabilities.
Gen. Milley has pushed for more funding to enlarge and improve our Army pre-positioned stocks around the world. We are assembling equipment into combat-ready configurations so that, in the event of a contingency, we significantly increase our ability to move combat-ready ground forces more quickly.
The Chief of Staff of the Army also asked us to pay more attention to our munition's readiness, and he provided additional funds to increase production. Where we have had critical munitions shortages, we have made significant improvements. If there is a crisis somewhere in the world, we are ready.
Additionally, we have improved our supply of spare parts. We standardized BCTs' parts stockages to what we call a common authorized stockage list. We gave the BCTs a mobile supply of the parts we forecast would be most needed. As a result, BCTs are filling more of what is demanded and are repairing weapons systems faster.
For several years, we have placed the turn in and redistribution of excess equipment as a priority. The process has been beneficial to units turning in the equipment because they were still required to maintain equipment they were not using and did not need. The Army standard is 10/20 for all equipment, even if it is excess.
Getting excess equipment out of the motor pools has eased the burden on units and has been beneficial to units that were short equipment. We made sure to transfer the equipment to units that would be the first to deploy, ensuring the highest level of readiness for those units.
REBALANCING THE FORCE
For a while now, my biggest readiness worry has been our ability to set a theater if called upon. The next fight will require all Army components.
The Reserve component is especially key to our success because they make up the majority of our sustainment force. From a sustainment perspective, we are relooking at our balance to ensure we have the right mix of logistics forces with appropriate capabilities at the right time.
We are continuing to ensure Soldiers train their basic skills. After 17 years of counterinsurgency operations, we let some of our capabilities atrophy. We have addressed this and have made significant improvements.
All of our efforts--using new technologies, enhancing training, improving equipment, changing our acquisition strategy, focusing on modernization, and improving current processes and systems--help us become more agile. Nevertheless, the truth is this is a process that has to continue.
Our peer competitors are catching up quickly, and we cannot accept the status quo. This is true in the halls of the Pentagon, but more importantly in the field. Agility does not come from the Pentagon; it comes from our Soldiers who live with problems we can only imagine.
More than anything, I want to empower our sustainers to be flexible and innovative. That is why we have taken so many steps, from so many angles, to improve readiness. And if all sustainers are as creative at improving readiness as the Soldiers with the 2nd ID Sustainment Brigade are, we are well on our way to winning the battle for a more agile Army.
Lt. Gen. Aundre F. Piggee is the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4. He oversees policies and procedures used by all Army logisticians throughout the world.
This article was published in the April-June 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.