Update on supplies, supply chains from Army Materiel Command

Armies in other parts of the world have called on the U.S. Army, and other armed forces, for platforms and ordnance. This as the U.S. military ponders its own s...

Armies in other parts of the world have called on the U.S. Army, and other armed forces, for platforms and ordnance. This as the U.S. military ponders its own supplies, readiness, and the overriding question of the capacity and resilience of the defense industrial supply base. For an update on what’s going on at the Army Materiel Command, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Deputy Commander, Lt. Gen. Chris Mohan.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin And this whole DIB issue has arisen because of the difficulty on the Navy side of getting their ships built, but also on the supplies of the basic ordnance, the howitzer shells and so forth, and the platforms to launch them. What does it look like from your point of view right now?

Chris Mohan I think we have to remember a couple of things. One, we are part of the global supply chain. It’s very easy to start thinking that in terms of, well, we’ve got a military supply chain that just supplies military hardware. But that is not the case. The companies that supply us with castings and forging, for example, are the same companies that supplied John Deere International Harvester and some of the bigger manufacturers, caterpillar, etc., etc.. So we have to be cognizant of the trends and some of the challenges that they have that will have roll down effects to us as well. The other piece of that we have to think through is how we clearly communicate our demands to industry. And I think we do a pretty good job of that using what we call our operational tempo, using the historical data that we have for our fleets. But then there’s anomalies in the system. An anomaly was COVID, where we had a global shutdown in reality that caused the the bottlenecks that you saw sitting off the coast of the United States. They call a slowdowns in distribution around the globe and also here in the United States. We’re a part of that, and so we were impacted by that. Then you have another spike in requirements, which was our support to our partners in the Ukraine. I know that’s been a topic of big interest, and it put a significant amount of stress on our supply chain, and we are reacting and getting ahead of it, but it’s been a challenge for us.

Tom Temin In the case of something like casting shops make all different sizes and shapes of castings when it comes to say something like a 155 millimeter shell there. That is a specific thing that lots of armies use. And so therefore you’re competing not with the other needs in the United States for casting capacity, but for world wide needs of that particular item. So I guess my question is that is also supplied by the organic industrial base of the United States, but also foreign countries make the same compatible type of item, correct?

Chris Mohan Yeah, that is correct. And in some cases it’s a combination of both. So for some of our munitions rounds in particular, different companies make different components. And then they come to an industrial base OIB facility for their lab process and load assemble pack, which is the final process of putting the round together, testing it, packaging it, and then sending it out for distribution across the Army. It’s a combination in a lot of cases.

Tom Temin And by the way, what about small arms rounds? Is that the same situation or is that pretty good in terms of supply capacity right now?

Chris Mohan Yeah. So we’ve done very well with small arms ammunition based upon the long standing relationship we have with the commercial vendor that operates Lake City Ammunition Plant. So that’s been a longstanding organization that is very well suited to ramp up and ramp down from a production standpoint.

Tom Temin Because in that situation, you compete with the consumer market of all things. And I remember a couple of years ago, the small arms rounds were like $0.80 a piece when people were used to $0.15 a piece. And it was a situation.

Chris Mohan Oh, absolutely. And so the company that operates like City Force, they ramp up and ramp down production based upon the market and what our demands are. They come first, we’re first in line, and then the residuals and other production it goes to the private market. And again, that’s one that we’ve done very well with in this past ramp up of not only increasing the number of units that we send to Europe in response to the Russian invasion, but also the amount of military materiel we have provided to our Ukrainian partners. And then there’s another piece to it, Tom, that also is great news for our weapons and for the effectiveness of our weapons based upon what our partners and allies are seeing as a result of the Ukrainians have had using our weapons systems on the battlefield. We’ve seen a significant increase in demand in the defense industrial base for U.S. supplied weapons to contracts, for military sales, etc., etc.. So it’s a good news story on one end. On the other end it’s placing additional pressure on the, organic industrial base and the entire supply system.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Lt. Gen. Chris Mohan, deputy commander of the Army Materiel Command. And just switching gears here, you have two hats actually in your position. You’re also Redstone Arsenal senior commander. That means there’s a lot of real estate going on down there. What is the latest?

Chris Mohan Well, I will tell you that for background, this is the fourth time I’ve been a senior commander. And this by far, is the most dynamic installation that I have been privileged to serve on, because we’re more than an Army post. We’re very proud of us being a federal center of excellence. And if you look at the 45,000 people that work here, it is not just people who work for the Department of Defense. We are the lion’s share. But we have a long, long history of working with NASA, and the Marshall Space Flight Center is a critical partner in what we do for our national defense, but also we have a growing relationship and footprint of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We’ve long had the Department of Justice here with alcohol, tobacco and firearms, which is part of the explosive ordnance disposal piece, all those guys get trained here. But then you put a significant training load from the FBI. It’s just going to continue to build out that federal center of excellence. And it’s a huge win for us and the local community as well. It’s very exciting.

Tom Temin And tell us about the proliferated warfare space architecture. What is that and what’s going on with it?

Chris Mohan The proliferated space warfare architecture. I would say that when you look at the folks that we have here from Space and Missile Defense Command, the Missile Defense Agency, and now this has always been here, and we have a significant number of partners who are deeply involved in not only ballistic missile defense, but also development of offensive weapons. The return of the Rapid Capabilities Technology Office is leading the Army’s effort to field hypersonic weapons. So we are not just terrestrial anymore from an Army standpoint, we are extra terrestrial if you want to use an ugly term. So it is not just ground based aviation. It is all the way to space. And a significant portion of that research and development is happening in the greater Tennessee Valley.

Tom Temin Yeah. So that creates another kind of cross bridge in the joint effort, because there is a space Command now. And so that’s somewhat separate from the Air Force, not entirely. And I guess that must make for some complicated meeting setups.

Chris Mohan Yeah. So yesterday I attended the change of command and retirement of a friend of mine, Dan Carper, who, turned over Space and Missile Defense Command after four years in command. And it was the first time I’ve ever been to a change command that had two ceremonies. So he had the army chief of staff. We had the army chief of staff here who did the change command for the Army component, SMDC. And then General Dickenson from Space Command was here. Who did the change command for the [Joint Functional Component Command (JFCC)], the Joint Force Ballistic missile defense, which is another element that is headquartered here. And so it was, again, the first time I’ve ever seen a dual change of command. So that speaks to the complexity of some of the operations that are taking place here.

Tom Temin Well, glad to hear that Dan Karbler finally got to retire. I guess some of these things were held up because of the politics in Washington, because he’s been on the show, too. And so we wish him well in retirement.

Chris Mohan He’s a wonderful human being.

Tom Temin You bet. And getting back just to that supply chain issue, I guess my question is, how do the different components of the military talk to one another about it? Is it a concerted effort?Because you’re buying different things than the Air Force, which is buying different things in the Navy. But it all comes down to, as you point out, the energetics, the castings, the casings, all the electronics that go into a lot of these things. So there’s a common industrial base as you break it down from the finished product.

Chris Mohan Yeah. And within the munitions portfolio, we’re exceedingly joint. We have the Joint Munitions Command, which is one of our subordinates, our ammunition depots, like the depot I commanded out in, Utah. We stored a significant portion of Marine Corps ammunition. We were doing work for Navy shipboard air defense systems. That’s very, very joint. Within the repair parts and other consumables, that’s also very joint. But that is, we all tie in and plug in and put our demands on the Defense Logistics Agency. And so they provide a significant portion of our repair parts, for example, as they do for the the Marine Corps and the Navy and the Air Force. So we talk to our sister services, but more so we talk to the Defense Logistics Agency. Highlight the fact that we are a federal center of excellence here. And then the fact that while we see challenges in the supply chain and the pressure we are seeing in the supply chain, for example, we are doing more things with Bradley Fighting Vehicles right now than any time I’ve seen in my career. That is from a standpoint of how many units we have rotating into Atlantic Resolve CTC rotations. We are transitioning from a Tuesday, so Red River Army depot is running two shifts, for example, as we convert. And then we are cascading fleets of older Bradleys from one unit to another. And then we’ve got a significant number of Bradleys we provided to the Ukrainians, and we continue to provide them, repair parts and technical expertise as we go over the shoulder using tell a maintenance, if you will, to support our partners and allies.

Tom Temin Yeah, items are on the shelf until they’re not, in other words.

Chris Mohan Exactly. And from that standpoint, we are moving out rapidly to start doing some additional additive manufacturing. So for example, where we have stock out, the manufacturer can’t repair or can’t replace and build new repair parts, control arms or suspension parts or whatever. We have engineers who have taken those and they’re doing the analysis. If we have the tech data, we are taking the tech data and machining those around the industrial base, particularly the Rock Island arsenal. And if we don’t have the tech data, we are reverse engineering them and then machining those. And that is an effort that is rapidly accelerating, and one that we are going to continue to pour resources in as we look at a potential conflict in the Pacific, for example. Look, it’s easy, Tom. It’s easy to get to Europe, to be totally honest. We have a very robust distribution system. Europe’s got lots of roads, it’s an industrialized, it’s easy for us to do business. But when we think about island warfare in the Indo-Pacific, how are we going to shorten the supply lines? And we think a way to do that is through additive manufacturing, manufacturing, whatever you want to call it. And so we’re moving out on that right now. And so if you think about our ability to take the machinery and place some of the machinery forward, you look at the rapid advancement of just 3D printing. When 3D printers first came around, I was a depot commander. When we bought our first one, I think it cost $25,000. Or you could probably buy one that’s just as capable right now for $300. And so we have 3D printers that are printing hard metal now. And so we’ve got to take advantage of that technology use the lessons learned that we were getting off the battlefield in Ukraine to propel us forward, both in a ability to print and also the thought process and the process behind it. Two separate things intimately entwined, but two separate things that we have to attack both on.

Tom Temin Yeah, you answered one of my questions. You think of additive manufacturing generally as plastic, and people think of metalworking as subtractive. You’ve carved it away on a lathe and so forth. But there is additive metallic manufacturing then.

Chris Mohan Absolutely. And I think that we are on the leading edge of capability. The piece that we have to work through are the authorities, and that work is ongoing right now. So you say, well, what do you mean by authorities? So think about the intellectual property rights of a company that we have bought a piece of equipment from. The intellectual property rights. In some cases, we didn’t buy the IP. So we don’t necessarily have the tech data. So we have to do negotiation with that. And that’s taking place at the highest levels of our Department of Defense to work through that or think about the piece of kit that is obsolete. So the company that made, this one little widget is now either out of the business and they don’t work with DoD anymore, or they went out of business. And we had 50 of them on hand. And we’ve burned through those 50 because increased demand, and now what? That’s where we’re really focusing on okay. How do we take one of those, reverse engineer it, prototype it, rapidly print it, test it and then get it out to the field in a semi temporary basis. You assign a risk assessment to it. Make sure commanders understand that there could be potentially some limitations to these parts. And then at the same time, you’ve got the demand on the normal supply system that is going to get you the fully engineered part at some point. But what we’re trying to do is generate the readiness that we’re required for our operational commanders. We think this is something we’re definitely going to have to really get right for the future battlefield, just based upon the speed, the dispersal that we think we’re going to have. So we’re going to be widely dispersed on the battlefield. The battlefield is going to be highly lethal. So if you don’t continue to move, if you could be spotty, you could be killed. So that’s going to demand us and require us to think differently about how we do precision sustainment. So we’re not going to be able to have large stockpiles of parts. So we got to think through how we potentially reverse engineer manufacturer to new technology, 3D printing, advanced machining and then do distribution from sanctuary. But we’ve got to get as close as we can to those points of distribution so that we can impact the readiness and provide the readiness that our commanders demand.

Tom Temin Sounds like in the case of a real situation where there’s national security at stake, you would go ahead and make the parts you need, wherever you might need to make them, and worry about the courtroom battle over IP at some other point.

Chris Mohan Well our soldiers have long proven that when you give them a problem set, they’re going to drive on solving that problem in order to generate that combat readiness that they demand. And so we’ve just got to help them. And I agree with you that in times of national emergency, we’ve got to be willing to take those steps necessary to provide the necessary things to our partners and allies and our own forces.

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