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How the Army is bouncing its supply chain back from the COVID freeze

The past 18 months have thrown a wrench in many of the military’s plans, but the supply chain took a particularly hard hit.

Deacon Maddox, Army Materiel Command director of supply chain management, said there were a handful of backups that caused issues for the supply chain during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When you’re on a multi-year buy plan, you’ve got a lot of capital sunk in contracts and then you’re counting on sales to occur,” Maddox said on Federal Insights: Supply Chain. “If people aren’t training or leaving the motor pool because they’re doing other things, or they’re isolating or they’re sick or they’re not going on deployments then what you have is the demands that you are counting on that don’t materialize.”

The Army’s Materiel Command uses a working capital fund in order to procure and provide materiel and commercial products and services to its forces. The service ended up needing an injection of hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the fund solvent this year.

“We honestly didn’t think we needed a cash infusion into the working capital fund [back in March] to offset health and safety leave and the increased cost of health and safety leave as others worked longer hours and overtime to keep production running,” Army Lt. Gen. Duane Gamble, deputy chief of staff for logistics, told the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee in March.

The Army is back on track now with its capital fund and focusing on keeping the supply chain humming so that soldiers can continue to repair and sustain their systems into the future.

Maddox said the Army had to revise its sustainment plans after taking a hit from COVID, but the service is taking care to plan for other contingencies as well.

“There’s a lot of things that can happen, climate change is something that we’re watching very closely. That could cause interruptions,” he said. “I think the overarching theme is that we’re not alone in this. We need to think about how do we make our supply chains more resilient? You’re never going to make it completely fireproof against whatever is out there. But how do you minimize the impacts of things like climate change, or pandemics or cyber attacks or anything else?”

Maddox said one of the ways the Army is ensuring more stability is through advanced technologies. The service is investing in centers of excellence and partnerships for things like additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

“One of the areas that we’re really looking closely as we modernize is getting in on the ground level with regard to our tech data, and making that tech data available, either through a digital twin type of situation or digital twin arrangement or when this system is fielded,” Maddox said. “We get those rights, we get that that intellectual property upfront so that we can then convert that into the future capabilities. This technology looking at forward into the future. How do we shape our doctrine? How do we shape policy? How do we shape our weapons systems to do these kinds of things, and the Army is well on its way to having this as a as a capability.”

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