Logistics Support Team Distance Support and the Evolving Face of Supply

LT DAVID W. OH, SC, USN
NAVSUP FLEET LOGISTICS CENTER SAN DIEGO

In A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) addresses three global forces that “energize the quickly changing environment in which the Navy must operate.” Two of these forces – “the rise of the global information systems” and “technological creation and adoption” – are relatively new factors that have increased exponentially in their influence over the past two decades. Our most undeveloped adversaries now have the means by which to propagate their extremist agendas, as well as unparalleled access to advanced weaponry that was “once the exclusive province of great powers.”

As such, our Navy is now confronted with an ever-evolving threat which only underscores the importance of our ability to “adapt to the emerging security environment.” All this must be done while taking into account what the CNO describes as “the fourth force” of continuing budgetary constraints.

For the Supply Corps, this is no new challenge. As Commander NAVSUP and Chief of Supply Corps Rear Adm. Yuen states in his Strategic Plan, “Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) has a tradition of meeting the tests of dynamic operating and fiscal environments, and remains dedicated to ensuring the Navy is ready to meet its mission. It is the resiliency and adaptability of our supply community…that allows us to overcome challenges, provide solutions, and deliver to our customer.” It is this spirit of resiliency and adaptability that is vital to the ongoing development of the Logistics Support Team (LST).

The Need for Distance Support

The original concept of the littoral combat ship (LCS) was a sharp departure from traditional Navy vessels. Along with interchangeable, mission-specific modules that would allow ships to tailor their capabilities, LCSs were staffed with an “optimal manning” concept, which initially entailed a chief logistics specialist as the supply department head and three culinary specialists. Today, there is significant churn within the LCS program concerning organizational structure, both at the crew and squadron levels. A couple of constants, however, remain: 1) there will be no 3100 Supply Corps officer aboard, and 2) supply personnel will still be expected to complete warfare qualifications and stand shipboard watches, taking time away from their departmental responsibilities.

The Growth of LST

In order to support the requirements of these minimally manned ships, a substantial portion of traditionally shipboard supply functions were moved ashore and are now managed by the NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) LST. On the food service side, these functions include placing and scheduling food orders, maintaining all food service records, and overall financial accountability. LST supply management functions include material procurement, financial management, Financial Improvement Audit Readiness compliance, and all R-Supply functionalities. In
fact, R-Supply and Food Service Management (FSM) are not even installed on the ships.

With such a drastic shift from conventional supply procedures, LST experienced significant growing pains. Simple processes such as placing a requisition now involved several entities. With distance support, requirements would be communicated from the ship to the Commander, LCS Squadron (COMLCSRON) for approval, reviewed and released by LST, and ultimately received by the crew. Early renditions of this process revealed a number of inefficiencies and communication choke points.

“I remember on my second day trying to ship a high-priority part for USS Independence (LCS 2),” recalled Senior Chief Calvin Hou, who has been with the program since 2014. “Because the unit identification code for LST was different than USS Independence, the customer service representative told me that I did not have the authority to act on behalf of the ship. They didn’t understand that the ship did not have R-Supply aboard and was unable to generate the required documents for transfer, because that was our responsibility.”

Undefined lines of responsibility and accountability were another major concern. For instance, food stores are maintained onboard but without FSM, the LCS is unable to appoint a records keeper. All food service records are completed ashore by LST, which raises issues over shared accountability.

LST Today

With great effort and patience, progress has been made. Increased communications between LCSRON and LST have resulted in clearer lines of ownership, and external supply entities are growing more familiar with the responsibilities of LST. NAVSUPGLSINST 4420.1 established the roles and responsibilities of NAVSUP FLCs in support of LCSs, and the latest edition of the COMNAVSURFORINST 4400.1A included Chapter 18, which further delineates policy and procedures with respect to LCS-specific requirements.

These, in conjunction with continued operations, have led to more clear cut expectations between COMLCSRON, LST, and the ships. LST warehouse teams have increased their presence onboard, and on-hull supply departments are more familiar with the ways in which LST can assist. Consistent ship visits to conduct spot inventories and assist with processing receipts have increased the validity of outstanding material requirements and contributed to a 26 percent increase in supply net effectiveness over the past three months. LST has provided support through many program milestones including sail-aways, commissionings, homeport transits, multiple Western Pacific deployments, and several port visits throughout U.S. 3rd, 4th and 7th Fleets.

LST Readiness Officer Lt. Callan Walsh, who spearheaded efforts to increase LST involvement, had this to say: “Distance support is challenging, but extremely rewarding. It requires shared responsibilities across all stakeholders to make the program successful. Over time, we’ve started to see the dividends from using similar processes across multiple hulls. I can only see a greater need and more opportunities to apply LST distance support concepts and best practices throughout the fleet.”

The Future of Distance Support and the Logistics Support Team

For LST Director Lt. Cmdr. Brendan Hogan, the future of distance support is an exciting concept. “Over the years, we have grown in size, complexity, and scope. Our 53–person staff at NAVSUP FLC San Diego consists of civilian, military and contractor personnel, and is a well-honed group of highly trained subject matter experts that provide 24-hour support to multiple minimally manned platforms throughout the world. USS Coronado (LCS 4) is currently on deployment in 7th Fleet, yet all stock control functions are performed by the LST in San Diego. As the organization grows, we are finding better and more efficient ways to operate.”

Supporting minimally-manned ships through effective distance support is an enduring priority for the Supply Corps. Rear Adm. Yuen’s Commander’s Guidance, Key Focus Area 1.3 states, “Refine our supply strategies and metrics to better support minimally-manned ships.”

The requirements for supporting minimally-manned vessels will continue to develop as more LCSs and Zumwalt-class destroyers are delivered to the fleet. Already, the LCS program has experienced major modifications in terms of manning, organization, and purpose. While LST has made great strides in refining the distance support model to meet evolving requirements, new challenges will arise that need to be mitigated and resolved. But as the Chief of Supply Corps states in his Guiding Principles, “We are tenacious, agile, flexible, and responsive in supporting the warfighter.” What is true for the Supply Corps as a whole will be especially pertinent for LST.

May/June 2017