Thoughts on Logistics – Software and Systems


In 1991 UK forces took part in the liberation of Kuwait, Operation Granby.

In 1991, the armed forces truly were in Cold War mode so the achievement of mounting an out of area operation of this size should not be underestimated. However, significant shortfalls were exposed, especially in logistics support.

One of the numerous issues identified was the rate of consumable use for the Nerve Agent Immobilised enzyme Alarm and Detector (NAIAD) in high temperatures which led to shortages. [if you want to see what a NAIAD looks like click here]

To quote the MoD

There were also problems caused by poor stock-keeping: many of the chemical reagents and enzyme pads that were provided were out of date. The fact that the enzyme pads needed to be replaced more often than normal, and that the high temperatures of the Gulf region were thought to reduce the lifetime of these pads, meant that this shortage of NAIAD consumables became a real problem. As a result, 1 (UK) Armd Div ordered that Army units were not to activate NAIAD below the Threat State NBC MEDIUM

In 1994 we had Front Line First that sought to reduce the cost of defence, cuts that are.

In 1998 the Strategic Defence Review stated

If we ask our forces to fight, we must be sure they will win. That means we must correct the deep-seated problems we inherited from the previous government, most obviously in the medical and logistics areas, to ensure that our forces are properly supported. Past cuts in support have been presented as “trimming the tail without blunting the teeth”. The reality is that logistic support is the life-blood of the forces, and we must ensure that our forces get the back up they need


We will also radically reorganise our procurement and logistics organisations to spur efficiency and drive through best business practice


To assist the process we will establish a tri-Service Chief of Defence Logistics, who will be responsible for delivering best business practice throughout our support services. This is another huge change for the Ministry, which will allow us to coordinate and standardise our support services properly for the first time.

The 1998 SDR put the armed forces on an expeditionary footing and created the Joint Rapid Reaction Force (JRRF) and with a swish of the pen, solved the problems of logistics.

The newly formed Defence Logistics Organisation has a key objective of reducing the cost of its outputs by 20% over its first five years. As part of this fresh thinking, a whole raft of initiatives are put forward and of course, those management consultants have a field day.

Projects included a single system to replace the existing Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army supply systems, the Defence Stores Management Solution (DSMS), consignment tracking In-Transit Visibility (ITV) and an asset and configuration management tool called Project DRUMM. DSMS was designed around a commercial off-the-shelf solution that would provide an optimised suite of IT packages with simple interchange of data between the separate specialised elements.

After the usual short term budget problems, resultant descoping and extensions to the project lifecycle, it was dumped in 2002.

How much, a snip at £118.3 million write off.

It was a depressingly familiar tale of over-ambition backed up with cold feet when the real issues are revealed.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) then procured two tracking systems – Visibility in Transit Asset Logging (VITAL) for the Army and Air Force, and the Royal Navy Invoicing and Delivery System (RIDELS). Both are MoD-developed systems tailored for each Service.

After a McKinsey study in 2002, a revised DLO Change Programme with a “de-scoped” asset tracking requirement was recommended.  Given the suspension of DSMS, a new project, now known as Management of Materiel in Transit (MMiT), was initiated specifically to build upon the then-current tracking systems. Full replacement of existing systems was considered but, on grounds of affordability and the DLO’s experience with DSMS, this was rejected as being unrealistic.

Also in 2002 the Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) initiated the Future Defence Supply Chain initiative (FDSCi)

The initiative was set up to deliver a private sector outsourced solution but after intense pressure from the trade unions, two in-house teams were allowed to bid against the two private sector consortia. Defence Supply Chain Solutions comprised Exel and Devonport Management and Defence Logistic Solutions, consisting of TNT Logistics, BAE and Westland Helicopters.

In 2003 UK forces are again in the Middle East, on Operation Telic. The NBC threat was even higher but we had been practising expeditionary warfare for several years and had also recently conducted a series of exercises in the area (Saif Sarea) to prove and improve.

Interestingly, NAIAD is still in service and a pretty vital piece of equipment given the whole reason we went to war was that one Saddam Hussein Esquire had an NBC arsenal and wasn’t afraid to use it.

After operations had concluded the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee and National Audit Office both conducted investigations. The NAO report was particularly scathing and had this to say about NAIAD;

vital cassettes for the NAIAD detectors were unavailable

So, in 1991 in Iraq we had a problem with the availability of NAIAD consumables and exactly the same problem, in the same place, in 2003, 12 years later.

This was just one example of logistics failures including a complete lack of NBC filters for armoured vehicles, not a shortage, a complete lack of them. Others included a shortage of desert combats and boots, NBC suits, morphine, small arms ammunition and body armour. Body armour was particularly contentious given its implications in the first UK casualty of the campaign. Geoff Hoon rightly copped for a lot of the blame for this but much of it must also be shouldered by the MoD, uniformed and civilian, if various lessons about logistics were heeded and incompetence in programme execution was not in evidence then perhaps the outcome might have been different.

The NAO reported also stated;

  • The means of tracking supplies in-theatre was largely ineffective, manpower-intensive and swamped by the sheer volume of supplies. The whereabouts of some key equipment and supplies were unknown and therefore arrangements could not be made to get it to the people who needed it. This led to shortages, loss of confidence in the supply chain and inefficiency as personnel searched for items they had ordered or ordered duplicates urgently
  • Lack of consignment tracking led to inefficiencies. For example…the absence of an accurate consignment tracking system meant that commanders could not verify precisely where the equipment was…a duplicate consignment was therefore cannibalised from equipment in Germany and the United Kingdom (in addition to equipment cannibalised earlier) and flown out to theatre as a contingency measure
  • The lack of confidence in the ability of the logistics system to meet units’ needs in-theatre led to a considerable degree of misappropriation of equipment and stores moving through the supply chain…the unauthorised removal of items as they moved through the chain towards the front line served to further complicate the logistics process.

This is sterile and measured wording but translate that to the environment it is talking about and it is clear that yet again, we had to rely on individuals, military and civilian, to make up for a woeful system, lacking in almost every respect.

In 2004 the Defence Logistics Transformation Programme (DLTP) was launched with the aim (yet again) of increasing efficiency and responsiveness of the logistics organisation.

In 2005 the MoD announced that an in-house option for the Future Defence Supply Chain initiative (FDSCi) had won, promising cutting edge technology like roll cages and live shelving!

In 2006 another programme is launched, the Defence Logistics Programme is built around a number of themes; Comprehensive Capability Planning, Flexible Command and Control (C2), Minimised Demand on Logistics, Optimised Support Network and Unifying Logistics Ethos. Here is an update

In 2007 in a written statement to the House of Parliament, Lord Drayson stated

Significant improvements have been made since 2003 to the joint supply chain. The core tracking system, VITAL (visibility in transit asset logging), has been integrated with deployed inventory systems, and VITAL terminals have been located alongside the unit quartermasters in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Improvements to training, policy and process have made it easier for troops to operate the system. Further improvements to VITAL are planned to enable a simpler, more streamlined method of tracking consignments. These changes will also improve the quality and coverage of the data held by VITAL.

At this point, it is worth noting the nickname US forces give to UK forces

The Borrowers

It is also worth noting that after every major operation there will always be write-offs of equipment, military operations are complex and sometimes understandably chaotic affairs, whilst the individual may be asked to sign and indicate LAST ITEM on his 1157 or 1033, accountability higher up the chain has often eluded the MoD. There is a tale that when the items that were claimed as being lost on the Atlantic Conveyor in 1982 were added up, they would have filled the ship many many times over!

The same with the ‘Great Fire of Donnington’

There is also the tendency of soldiers, airman and sailors to hoard equipment against some future contingency that never seems to arrive and to coin a well-worn phrase, if the equipment were meant to be given out it would not be held in stores, the clue is in the name.

It is vitally important, therefore, to know where your stuff is.

But, the diversity of requirements is mind-boggling, a Challenger 2 tank to an indicator bulb, some items perishable, some not, sometimes critical, some not and perhaps in what is a unique challenge, a changing delivery address, akin to threading a needle whilst riding a horse.

And this is just for the forward delivery, logistics is of course much much more than that.

As we move ever closer to full-scale jointery and centrally managed logistics we must also ensure that the different approaches of the services to logistics are maintained because supplying a ship with fuel or a Tornado with Paveway IV’s is very different to supplying a forward-deployed infantry battalion. The QM’s in Army units are usually LE officers with a wealth of operationally useful knowledge that cannot be replaced with a web-based application.

Stung by bad press, critical reports from the NAO and Defence Select Committee and genuine recognition of the need for improvement (remember, service personnel will be all too aware of the implications) there has been a concerted effort to improve matters with a number of projects including;

  • Future Logistics Information System Delivery Project (FLIS DP)
  • JAMES 2 – Joint Asset Management Engineering Solutions
  • JAMES(LAND) – Joint Asset Management Engineering Solutions for complex equipment
  • Consignment Visibility (CONVIS)
  • Management of the Joint Deployed Inventory (MJDI)
  • Total Asset Visibility (TAV)
  • Management of Materiel in Transit (MMiT)

In 2002, the MMiT programme was initiated, in 2008 the contract was awarded to EDS (of JPA infamy), came into service in 2009 and is now reportedly delivering real benefit.

Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel after several hundreds of millions have been wasted.

To give credit where it is due, the MoD has made great strides since the NAO report but we have had agile supply chains, supply chain integration, joint supply chain, converged logistics, end to end logistics, contractor logistics support, just in time logistics, mergers of different logistics organisations, outsourcing, contracts awarded, a whole alphabet of initiatives, consultants paid, bonuses all-round, KPI’s fulfilled and boxes well and truly ticked yet here we are in 2010 and forward units still have to manually unload and break down pallets of stores, aircraft and vehicles going unserviceable for lack of spare parts and yet again the MoD’s accounts are qualified by the NAO because of issues around tracking of assets, particularly BOWMAN.

We must not in any way underestimate the huge and diverse challenges and it is truly a credit to those involved that the joint supply functions as well as it does.

More is needed though.

One can only hope that the SDSR pays as much attention to getting rid of legacy logistics systems and continuing the funding stream for new ones as it does major equipment programmes.

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