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Contested Logistics in a Forward Environment: A MEDLOG Perspective

April 2, 2024 | By LTC Mark G. Sander, commander, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Korea
The value of these terms cannot be overstated in the distributed modern battlefield. Achieving them simultaneously far forward in our operating environment where the force is organized to be lean and mobile with minimal persistent logistics signature is the crux of the problem facing Army logisticians writing doctrine and bringing capabilities to the force.

Medical logistics also have some additional complexities including highly technical products, handling sensitivity, quality control risks and policies, competition and scarcity in markets. We are certainly not the only commodity with unique challenges. However, to sustain survivability on the battlefield, medical logistics must be included in contested logistics discussions and planning.

The forward edge of the battlefield may not always be accessible to secure supply chains. In some cases, the target address or priority effort will require downstream diversion of materiel already in the pipeline. With imperfect access to constant sustainment and periods of enemy disruption expected within domains especially in cyber and information spaces, predictive decision-making tools can dominate in times where communication of requirements is constrained. Modeling common requirements and configurations for distribution of payloads of standardized materials will reduce reliance on demand-based signals and introduce opportunities to automate distribution.

Common payloads of medical supplies and exchangeable medical equipment built into configurations that could be applied to all the joint services has often been an objective in operational environments. This is partly the basis for the selection of Theater Lead Agents for Medical Materiel (TLAMM) regionally to enable the Defense Logistics Agency supply chain element of that design. The military branches using common supply chains for efficiency and to optimize velocity will have effects all the way back to industrial production lines.

Contested logistics demands the versatility of mass customization as far forward as possible, to build operationally relevant configurations and speed them into the tactical distribution channels. That kind of responsiveness in supply chains typically comes in mature supplier relationships that are exercising the channels, modes, contracts and catalogs routinely.

The convergence of AI-based data analytics and transparent asset-reporting systems can also assist decision-making. Data can help identify opportunities for specific supplies that are – or are not – most suitable for contingency stockpiling. Some medical materiel and supplies are more efficiently and effectively sustained through existing channels.

Contested logistics is a priority issue for Army logistics professionals and senior leaders. But we cannot solve this issue alone. We still have a lot of work that needs to be done to synchronize the language of our joint requirements, convergent systems, and agreement on common materiel. We must continue to partner with stakeholders and private industry expertise to collaborate across functions and find solutions.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles to contested logistics? What are your ideas or solutions?

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