NATO's Afghanistan withdrawal poses complex equipment and control issues
As NATO begins to pull out of Afghanistan, John Worth of IFS Defence looks at the challenges faced by the wider A&D market and how new low-risk approaches to resource planning could be the answer to optimising the supply chain.
With the cessation of NATO's involvement in combat operations by the end of next year, countries like the US and Britain face enormous challenges in terms of logistics. It's not just the cost of transporting equipment back home but the costs of refitting it for normal service and funding long-term support plans.
The raw definition of the term supply chain in the commercial world is the business process covering the acquisition of raw materials through production, storage, transport and eventual delivery to the end customer. Also, every company in the supply chain is either a customer or supplier – and in all probability, both – to one or more commercial entities. The A&D supply chain needs to focus, uniquely, on equipment support as well as supply – managing maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations and tracking as an integrated process.
Yet, as Major General Mike Huntley said: "In Defence, and particularly in Afghanistan, the support procedure is an extremely complex part of the equation – it is difficult for the armed forces to determine exactly which equipment, in which configuration and state of repair is out in the field at any given time. Add to this the climate, terrain and, indeed, politics of the locations the equipment has to travel through in order to return, and co-ordinating a cost effective strategy to bring that equipment back to base will prove undeniably complex."
To take just one example: according to CNN, up to 1,500 vehicles will go through preparation to be taken back to the US each month as more and more US bases in Afghanistan close down. At the time of writing, around 400 bases had already shut up shop. And this exercise will continue until the remaining 28,000 vehicles are sent back home, along with 20,000 shipping containers filled with equipment, an exercise that is estimated to cost approximately $6 billion.
Supply chain – broader reach for the military than commercial enterprises
In the face of this situation, accurate, timely information is key – not only on which equipment is to remain in Afghanistan, but the return process itself and, most importantly, which equipment is to be refitted and brought into normal service once it has been returned to the US.
A&D-enabled enterprise support solutions are designed to manage such complex operations much more effectively by providing clear visibility across the entire military supply chain solution – from maintenance through to parts delivery, as well as the detail of equipment configuration, location and movement. More specifically, by identifying what the true costs are, and where they fall, they enable the operation to be made much more financially efficient and hence much more affordable.
Visibility is also crucial to almost all business planning processes – the ability to see goods and materials as they are moved through the supply chain means that operations further down the line, in this case when the equipment arrives back in the US, can plan activities in advance, removing wasted time and resources.
No-risk approach best for the military
New approaches to enterprise solutions now provide pre-configured and templated solutions that are built using a SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) that enables the military to 'pick and mix' solutions as and when required and to add, change or modify their solution with elements such as demand forecasting or corporate performance management as their operational requirements change. They allow defence organisations to develop their own customised enterprise solution without risk to their day to day operations and, because they are modular, they can be funded – module by module.
It remains to be seen just how long the exit process from Afghanistan will take and it will be interesting to see what percentage of the estate will be repatriated and whether they achieve further efficiencies from the equipment once it returns to the US. What is clear is, given the huge costs and complexity of returning equipment from Afghanistan, an A&D-enabled enterprise support solution which is able to manage assets, the complex matrix of configuration and the support chain as a whole, would be a relatively small investment and would more than cover its cost several times over.