If logistics wins or loses wars, what wins or loses logistics? U.S. military doctrine has the answer: “The U.S. military supply chain (to include the defense industrial base) represents a major competitive advantage that underpins deterrence and allows the United States to project power.” Despite being established in doctrine, it took a global pandemic for the Department of Defense to take notice of the fragility of its supply chains and the full impact of China’s global economic expansion. However, acknowledging vulnerability, understanding it, and doing something about it are not mutually inclusive. While awareness in the Department of Defense is rising, the lack of visibility into defense supply chains makes easy targets for adversaries seeking to insert undetected risks into supply chains — silently biding time until they choose to exploit them. It is difficult to fix what you can’t see. It is time for the Department of Defense to take bold steps to gain full visibility into defense supply chains to help mitigate the risk of acquiring U.S. equipment from foreign adversaries and/or shoddy suppliers.
Supply chains underpin the global market. Every product has a network of interconnected companies that must come together at the right time and place to deliver a timely product. The more complex the product, the more nodes the network has. Each node has its own material, logistics, personnel, processes and stakeholder challenges. A disruption in one node will sweep quickly throughout the entire system and upend the supply chain.
The military supply chain is a complex system comprised of a network of suppliers, expanding beyond the known large defense contractors out to thousands of low-tier suppliers. Each tier of the network is critical to the success of the tiers above and below it. Within these networks, there are nexus suppliers critical to the success of the entire system. We argue that it is not too hard and not too expensive to gain full visibility over all of these supply chain nodes. To do so, the Department of Defense should capitalize on proven commercial supply chain software suites, work with Congress to set visibility mandates and reimagine its approach to supply chain management in the 21st century.
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