Operationalizing Defense Logistics Agency Support to the Navy

BY LT. GEN. DARRELL K. WILLIAMS Director, Defense Logistics Agency

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has undergone an exciting transformation in recent years. While changes are mostly behind the scenes, they’ve already contributed to something Navy sustainers care deeply about: improved military readiness. DLA has accomplished this through a number of initiatives that operationalize our support to the warfighter.

What does “operationalize” mean? Our customers have traditionally viewed DLA as a predominantly wholesale, static supply chain organization. What we’re doing better is translating what DLA does into immediate, actionable information more relevant to our military services. DLA must view success through the same lens as the warfighter. In the Navy’s case, success is defined as fully mission capable weapon systems and maximum readiness.

Service Readiness Dashboard

In spring 2018, DLA rolled out the service readiness dashboard, a comprehensive tracking tool that has become a centerpiece of our efforts to operationalize support to the services. We’ve always been good at addressing consumable and depot level repairable requirements at the aggregate level, however we were not able to relate our support particularly well to the readiness of specific weapon systems. The service readiness dashboard provides a common operating picture by combining data from the services’ automated systems with DLA’s wholesale data. Through that combination, we’re able to see DLA’s operational impact on service weapon systems and requirements. This new tool improves our capabilities in other ways as well. While we used to collectively review our agency performance metrics monthly, recent advances in data management and data science have made it possible for us to address the readiness of key weapon systems in near real-time. We can respond more quickly and accurately to critical materiel and supply availability issues and we’re more predictive in our support to service readiness.

As director, I access the service readiness dashboard virtually every day, as do the commanders of our six major subordinate commands (MSCs) and other key leaders across the agency. But more importantly, our DLA professionals now have a powerful decision- making tool to help them prioritize their work. As a result, we’ve seen significant improvements in our materiel support to Navy readiness.

The bottom line is that of the top Navy weapon system platforms with supply chains primarily managed through DLA – F/A-18 (E-F); Virginia class submarines; surface ship anti-submarine warfare combat system (SQQ-89); ballistic missile defense; electronic warfare system (SLQ-32); close-in weapon system – all six saw improvements in DLA materiel availability in fiscal year (FY) 2019.

Granted, DLA’s materiel availability at the wholesale level is different than Navy supply availability. Nonetheless, by any objective measure, DLA’s overall materiel support to the Navy has enhanced the readiness of Navy weapon systems and it has been the service readiness dashboard that has allowed us to focus on what’s important to keep these platforms fully mission capable.

The future for the service readiness dashboard points to greater levels of definition. For example, the dashboard tells us the systems that are non-mission capable for supply. That supply may be service supply or DLA supply. But there’s another level of definition required, because in the services’ non-mission capable for supply category, there are some DLA impacts not currently taken into account. We’re working toward greater definition to break out the DLA impact on this category.

We have recently deployed metrics for industrial support in Navy shipyards as well. Now, the dashboard can focus on support to operational units as well as view our impact on the industrial support, which will give us a much more comprehensive picture. We’re very excited about the additional capability the dashboard brings to DLA’s ability to operationalize our support to the services, and to date the Navy has been a strong partner.

Operationalizing the DLA Regional Commands

DLA’s organizational structure includes three centrally-selected commanders for our regional commands: DLA Indo-Pacific, DLA Central Command & Special Operations Command, and DLA Europe & Africa. These commanders oversee the critical capabilities all closely linked to the J-4 sections of the combatant commands they support.

DLA’s transformation over the last three years has made all of our elements in those regions centrally led and commanded by our regional commanders, giving warfighters access to all DLA capabilities through a single point of contact.

DLA’s regional commanders provide onestop shopping for all DLA capabilities in a combatant command area of responsibility. This has strengthened our relationship with the combatant commands, and improved the support we provide to the Navy and the Joint force as a whole.

Joint Logistics Operations Center Transformation to the Agency Synchronization Operations Center

The linchpin for synchronizing these new operational concepts has been our recent progression from a Joint logistics operations center to an agency synchronization operations center, or ASOC. The ASOC, which became fully operational in November 2019, provides a better, more comprehensive common operating view of DLA’s mission support and business processes. DLA is organized into six MSCs, three regional commands and several critical functional directorates, such as our Procurement and Acquisition Directorate, or J7. The ASOC dynamically fuses the functions and expertise of nearly every mission function the agency performs with our national account managers (NAMs) for each service, our combatant command representatives, and whole of government liaisons. This new approach enables the agency to better focus and communicate the support DLA provides to the warfighter and our whole of government partners.

Navy National Account Manager

The Navy NAM team is a principal element in the ASOC. The team works side-by-side with the functional subject matter experts across DLA who impact critical Navy issues. One-stop shopping with more streamlined support to our Navy NAM team translates to even more responsive support for the Navy.

Demand Planning

One of the most challenging areas for any organization of DLA’s scope – and a critical aspect of DLA operationalizing its support to the Navy – is demand planning and forecast accuracy. Are we ordering the right items and in the right quantities? Are we ordering items that will have an immediate impact on service readiness? Are we over-ordering or under-ordering? Collectively, we must ensure we are spending the services’ and the Department of Defense’s precious dollars on items that positively impact readiness. I can’t overemphasize what a team effort between DLA and the Navy this must be. In July 2018, we invited expert demand planners from the services to join us at DLA for the first Demand Planning and Forecasting Summit, to provide us the best projection of their demand for FY19 and FY20. This important face-to-face session revealed more demand than we were aware of – about 20% more. This more accurate demand signal allowed DLA to proactively address the increase well in advance of need. We also gained insight into what weapon systems might see less demand or be headed for obsolescence. Thanks to the participation from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) and NAVSUP, the summit was extremely successful in identifying projected non-Navy managed item class IX requirements for FY19 and FY20. We took this process one step further. Once we received the requirements from the services, we invited about 175 critical industry partners to our inaugural industry day in September 2018. There we passed along what industry could expect from DLA in the coming months. We repeated our Demand Planning and Forecasting Summit and industry day in 2019 because we believe that through informationsharing events like these, we’re getting ahead of service requirements and posturing the agency to help the services improve readiness in the future.

AM3 Kelly Milakovich fastens the tail cowling on an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter aboard USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) using parts supplied by the Defense Logistics Agency.
–photo by MC3 Taylor N. Stinson

What will you see?

Although many of these operationalizing efforts are internal to DLA, for the Navy officers commanding logistics readiness centers, supply departments aboard ships, and fleet logistics centers — our goal is for you to see an improvement in supply availability that leads directly to improved readiness.

Parting thoughts

Before I close, I’d like to leave you with a couple of thoughts. Make sure you know who your local DLA representative is – there’s one on every major Navy installation. That person or element can be of enormous benefit to you and is a direct link to DLA headquarters and each one of our MSCs. Use this capability to the fullest. Through them and the other enterprise organizations that support the Navy, you’ll see an improvement in your readiness. I also want to promote DLA as a great place for Navy logistics professionals to serve. In my estimation, DLA is an agency not as well known to our junior leaders, mid-grade officers and enlisted personnel, but it’s a rewarding Joint assignment you should seek. Currently, of the eight general and flag officers serving at DLA, three are Navy. Historically, of the 19 DLA directors since 1961, six have been Navy. Furthermore, the alignment and interdependencies between DLA, OPNAV, and NAVSUP will grow even stronger in the decades to come. I like to say, “To describe the Navy as our customer just doesn’t cut it – we are partners. Neither of us can support the warfighter without the other.” The enterprise perspective you will gain at DLA will benefit you throughout your career. I look forward to seeing you at DLA.

GSE2 Hillary Geary performs maintenance on an engine aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) using spare parts provided by the Defense Logistics Agency.
–photo by MC2 Justin Yarborough

Conclusion

DLA is dedicated to improving our support to the warfighter. Over the past year and a half, we’ve made significant investments in an effort to ensure the Navy gets what it needs, putting millions of dollars into authorized stockage lists, forward stocking initiatives, weapon systems support, and other readiness drivers. DLA is fully committed to aligning with OPNAV, NAVSUP, and other Navy logistics supply entities to ensure we understand what the Navy needs to improve readiness and that we’re supporting those requirements. Our strategic plan contains five lines of effort, but the one that is central to everything we do and that will never be compromised is “Warfighter First.” DLA has been and always will be a warfighter first agency.