WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – A comprehensive, cohesive capability roadmap for supply chain risk management (SCRM) is the driving force behind the work of a cross-functional team led by the Air Force Materiel Command’s Logistics, Civil Engineering, Force Protection and Nuclear Integration Directorate.
Air Force activities, operating as “pockets of excellence” have executed varying levels of SCRM practices for the last decade, said David Mathis, a supply chain manager at AFMC.
“But, we are working to evolve the concept, practice and definition of supply chain risk management across the Department of Defense and Services so our leaders can make more informed, proactive decisions as capabilities are developed and sustained throughout the life cycle. Supply chain risk management is more than a single functional process; it’s a cross cutting capability that needs to be shared and collaborated as we maintain current and develop future systems,” he said.
Supply chain logistics have played a key role in warfare since the beginnings of time, with the ability to supply, move and maintain an armed force in operational conditions integral to success or defeat in conflict. The disruption of a fuel supply might lead to an enemy’s inability to launch fighters in a battle. The bombing of a manufacturing facility for engine parts could lead to a shortage of tanks or field vehicles.
However, while traditional supply chain activity has focused on managing the risk to a physical commodity, modern SCRM requires a “cradle-to-grave” approach that accounts for risks from the time a requirement is identified through development, sustainment and ultimate retirement of the same.
“Why worry about disrupting the physical thing once it’s fielded if I could instead prevent you from fielding or even executing a capability in theater?” said Mathis. “Who is in the global industrial base developing our future systems…who is servicing our current systems….all of these can be supply chain risks. We’re working to get policy, processes and tools in place so we can build a collaborative infrastructure and the tools to mitigate these issues.”
Overcoming strategy and culture gaps are two of the biggest challenges the team has overcome since launching the effort, said Mathis, much of which was driven by divergent definitions of SCRM in DoD and Air Force Instructions pertaining to weapons system information and operations, versus sustainment activities. More than 24 functional experts from across AFMC headquarters and centers in conjunction with representatives from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations met in March and August to collaborate on the best way forward for SCRM, identifying convergent roles and processes to streamline as the team moves forward with an evolutionary action plan.
“We have formed a common understanding of what supply chain risk management is and have broadened the aperture. Supply chain and risk accounts for more than just the commodity; it’s the whole lifecycle (hardware, software/firmware, and services),” said Mathis.
A key focus of the team’s effort centers on eliminating organizational stovepipes which limit the sharing of information and often result in duplicitous efforts that can add time and cost to the acquisition process. This is particularly relevant in the area of vendor assessment, said Edward Kempf, a SCRM program manager at AFMC.
“If someone has done a review of a particular supplier that may be relevant to one of our weapons systems at some point in the supply chain, we might want to look at that,” said Kempf. “The information they have collected may be useful for us, or we may determine we need to dive deeper into an assessment. However, we need a governing structure and collaborative tool to enable the push and pull of this information in the environment.”
The team’s efforts are achieving results. Risk-based vendor assessments are in place to evaluate supply chain vulnerabilities and determine their integrity and resilience. During these assessments, risks such as parts and technology obsolescence, foreign government influence, financial issues and more have been identified and mitigated, driving tangible mission-focused results leading to weapon system design updates and more agile supply chains.
An approved AFMC-wide SCRM action plan is now in place, enabling the team to focus on building the infrastructure and collaborative tools necessary for implementation. The bottom line is ensuring a secure operational environment underlies a quicker, more proactive supply chain for the Air Force.
“The bottom line is readiness. We are driving towards a more secure supply chain to make sure we minimize risk as we provide capabilities to our warfighter. We have a goal, and this roadmap will help us to get there,” said Kempf.