CAMP CARROLL, Republic of Korea — U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Korea leaders participated in a virtual forum March 4 focused on how artificial intelligence could help improve the military’s operational medical supply chain.
USAMMC-K’s input to the Department of Defense’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, a component of the Office of the Chief Digital and AI Officer, or OCDAO, was part of an ongoing effort examining the implications of AI on medical sustainment workflow and how such technologies could be leveraged to aid decision-making and support readiness in today’s operating environment.
“There is no doubt that COVID-19 highlighted vulnerabilities within the global medical supply chain,” said Lt. Col. Marcus D. Perkins, commander of USAMMC-K, a direct reporting unit to Army Medical Logistics Command.
“The pandemic was an extraordinary event that impacted every nation, business and supply chain,” he said. “DOD was not exempt.”
Maj. Y. Brian Lee, who is leading medical supply chain efforts at OCDAO, said there is a “real and urgent need” for medical logisticians to better understand how materiel is sourced — starting as raw materials, through production, packaging and delivery — in order to best plan for alternatives in a crisis situation that creates inevitable supply chain disruptions.
Using AI, coupled with human analysis and validation, it’s possible to access multiple databases, analyze massive amounts of data and find trends and relationships in data that a human analyst working alone simply could not achieve, according to Lee.
“In the joint all-domain operations of the future, the DOD must gain decision advantage against an adversary,” he said. “The theory is that AI-enabled decision support tools enable logisticians to make better and faster decisions to sustain the warfighter across the spectrum of conflict.”
The medical supply chain is complicated, Lee said, especially for entities within the DOD.
Unlike some other battlefield commodities, such as weapons, ammunition, vehicles or tanks, the DOD is just one of many customers that rely on the commercial medical supply chain system, which has fewer controls in place from a governmental standpoint and is subject to global supply and demand pressures.
“This inherently creates issues because military logisticians are beholden to the supply chain throughput of medical suppliers,” Lee said. “The DOD’s medical materiel needs are a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the healthcare industry in the United States.”
Once the supply chain’s vulnerabilities are identified and potentially mitigated, sustainers must track and manage materiel throughout its life span, Lee said. The OCDAO is working on efforts — with and through the offices of other DOD principal staff assistants and agencies — that seek to provide combatant commanders and their staff with visibility of medical supplies within their units.
Perkins said AI integration could help medical logisticians better plan and execute movement to support the joint force, particularly in a contested environment, therefore further enabling readiness throughout the Korean theater of operations through improved quality controls, predictive maintenance and forecasting demand beyond prime vendors.
“The OCDAO, with the assistance of USAMMC-K, is looking for opportunities where AI can better inform, predict and protect critical medical materiel necessary to save lives during large-scale combat operations where logistics is contested,” Perkins added.
Lee said input and interviews from experts operating in the field, like the medical logisticians at USAMMC-K and other entities, are essential for AI developers as they create solutions that “make sense in the real world.”
“USAMMC-K will continue to play an important role in field testing the capabilities to ensure real world operability,” he said.