Brig. Gen. Chris Mohan, the deputy chief of staff for operations at the US Army Materiel Command, discusses how the service is adapting its logistics capabilities to operate in highly contested environments, prepositioned stocks, and ensuring future systems have as lean a support footprint as possible with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. The Interview was conducted at the Association of the United States Army’s annual Global Force symposium and exhibition in Huntsville, Ala,, where our coverage was sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Global Force Symposium here in Huntsville, Alabama, the number one winter gathering of U.S. Army leaders from around the world along with industry, thought leaders, media and more. Our coverage here is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
We’re honored to have with us Brigadier General Chris Mohan who is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at Army Materiel Command at Redstone Arsenal, one of the nation’s historic arsenals. And I have to say that AMC has done some extraordinary support in helping bring this great gathering together. General, great seeing you again.
Brigadier General Chris Mohan: It’s great to be here, Vago. It’s good seeing you again as well.
Mr. Muradian: It’s fantastic, we were reminiscing a little bit about one of your former bosses, General Sullivan, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But let me focus on your job now. You were a depot commander before you did this at Tooele in Utah, and you were presiding, you and General Perna, the Commander of the Materiel Command, are working to transfer back to a great power competition of logistics. And everything the U.S. military does really relies, obviously, on the Transportation Command, but a real massive backbone of that is the Army Materiel Command.
Talk to us a little bit about the mental shift and also some of the specific policy shifts you’re making to go from operating in a permissive environment to something which may be far less permissive in the future.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: I think the biggest thing is we have to change the way we think. If we think about the strategic support area, and it really starts at our posts, camps, stations, our housing units where we build combat power and the individual soldiers, and that stretches all the way from CONUS or wherever you’re stationed, all the way to the joint security area which is wherever that theater of operations is. And how do we one, synchronize and forward deploy combat power? And then how do we do that when we know everything’s going to be contested? That’s really the big mental shift that we’re making that one, in a great power competition there is no free play space. So for 18 years we’ve been able to move freely in and out of the Middle East. The biggest hazard in a lot of cases was weather affecting our strategic mobility. But now we know it’s with adversary capabilities, that everything we do is going to be contested. So how do we reform our way of thinking to do that, both in a standpoint of a hardening of our facilities here, our visibility of our facilities here, and our ability to project combat power?
Mr. Muradian: And what are some of those mental shifts? I want to try to get to that in different pieces, but what do you think are the key sort of shifts and the programmatic shifts you guys are making to change that –?
Brig. Gen. Mohan: A major shift of the Army, as you well know, the Installation Management Command is now a subordinate unit to Army Materiel Command which really gives us the ability to not only get greater visibility at the four star level, but also synchronize the support that we do at our MFGRs, our major deployment platforms. How do we one, recognize the capabilities that they have; two, make those four star level decisions for resources to say okay, do we really need a new rail head here? No, we need it here. Looking at the total continuity and the total continuum of all that capability.
That is a major shift that is going to greatly improve our ability to project combat power.
Mr. Muradian: There has to be also a very powerful allied component of that, right? Because in Europe, for example, you mentioned railheads. One of the questions was sufficient rolling stock. Are there enough transporters for equipment? And I think people sometimes don’t recognize the importance of that. Talk to us about how you’re rebuilding that capability, which I think is a good way to get into the next question which is Army prepositioned stores which you have all around the world.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: A couple of things I will mention. My former job I was the Commander of the 3rdExpeditionary Sustainment Command at Fort Bragg, and in the life of a unit a warfighter exercise, CPX, is a major milestone. My partner unit was the 101 Log Brigade out of the UK because as one of our units we had the 3rdUK Division. So interoperability with our key allies, everything from we operate UK HETS right now in Europe because they’re able to transport over European roads better than ours, and to our command and control systems. They were using the same systems that we were using. So that interoperability is absolutely critical to our capability.
Mr. Muradian: Let’s talk a little bit about prepositioned stores. Very important, Poland coming on-line now obviously as a major center certainly in the east of Europe. Walk us through how, as much as you can, obviously there are some very classified elements of this, but what are the sorts or things that you can afford and you want to have forward? What are some of the things that you’re falling back? How is the whole construct changing given what we need, how we need it and how much we need it, maybe something that actually changes rather dramatically.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: First of all, we want to focus on having the right prepositioned stocks in the right locations.
The next piece that we’re really working hard and investing hundreds of millions of dollars in, we call it our Configured for Combat Initiative. So when a unit falls in on traditional APS, they still have to bring a considerable amount of, to accompany troops’ equipment with them, particularly radios, battle command systems, and in some cases heavy weapons.
So what we’re doing now is in selected locations we are buying that and we’re going to position it on the vehicles or right next to the vehicles which will do a couple of things. One, it will significantly reduce the time it takes for units to fall in on and draw it because all the stuff’s there. It’s already mounted. The second is the significant reduction in the amount of strategic lift that it takes to move those soldiers. A more than 50 percent reduction in the amount of lift it takes to move, because they don’t have to bring their heavy weapons, they’re not bringing all their radios, et cetera, et cetera. So that is something we’re very excited about, but it comes at a cost.
So that cost, we look to make sure that we have the right APS in the right locations.
The other piece is, recognizing that in some cases our swing stocks, if you will, are also APS and they’re uploaded on ships and making sure that we have the right mix of those as well is also very important for us.
Mr. Muradian: How do you deal with the targeting element of this? In a great power competition the adversary knows where some of these prepositioned stocks are, they become a vulnerability. So when you talk to a lot of Cold Warriors they’ll say we have to do a lot of change-up and actually rely on those prepositioned stocks but realize we could lose them.
Talk to us about kind of a distributed logistics model you’re going to have to go to potentially if you’re going to have to fight, survive and win this to a guy who’s got a lot of firepower they can direct at those stocks.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: That’s a great question. Our ability to move it quickly, and we’re testing that right now in Europe, our ability to move it quickly is absolutely critical. And that takes full-time sustainers, contract, uniformed, who are on-site who can quickly marshal that equipment, load it on rail and then move it to a tactical assembly area where then you mate the forces that are flowing in from OCONUS.
There are lots of investments, and you’ll see a lot of vendors here in air defense capability. I don’t really speak to that, but the key piece is agility and our ability to move it quickly.
Mr. Muradian: There are a number of other revolutions that I think are going on and I think General Perna has spoken to some of these. One is get officers back into the motor pool. What are some of the organic skill sets? Where do you change the contractor support/contractor reliance model as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan that will not be as relevant, for example, in a great power competition? Talk to us about contractorization, what the future of that is. Because you still need it but you’ll need it maybe very differently. As well as the rebuilding of some organic capabilities to be able to sustain yourself under fire.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: I’ll start at the basic soldier skill level. We are pushing our mechanics back into the motor pools. We are pushing our cooks back into the dining facilities. And we’re learning a lot of new lessons.
My command sergeant major and I did a major field exercise. We walked through the field feeding area and there was a lot of discovery learning going on that he and I had taken for granted. So we’re doing stuff like that.
The ordnance school in particular has greatly increased their technical training that we provide not only to our soldiers but to our middle management, the warrant officers who are down there with technical skills courses. That’s very important.
The other piece, at a higher level that we can’t lose sight of is when we buy something we need to get the tech data package so that one, we can manufacture the parts if necessary through additive manufacturing. We’re pushing real hard on that. But also that we can control a portion of the supply chain as necessary. That’s something that’s very important to us as well.
Mr. Muradian: I remember this story, and we were talking just before we started taping, prior enlisted, was an officer, remembers the Cold War and the tankers used to know how to change the springs in their Cadillacs, for example. But then we got to, send that unit into depot or pull the main computer instead of just troubleshoot the card. You’re trying to rebuild some of those skills so that under fire folks can economically support their weapon.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: Yeah. For example, our Line Replaceable Units, LRUs, that are on all of our combat vehicles. What we see in depots when they get pulled and replaced, they get them back and they run analysis on them. There’s a high number of NEOFs, no evidence of fault.
So is it the LRU that was bad when it was on the tank? Or were the batteries not fully charged?
So building back in that diagnostic capability is incredibly important, and we are giving soldiers new tools to do that. But it’s the skill capability of our non-commissioned officers and particularly our warrant officers that we’re building back into the field so they have the capability to do that.
Mr. Muradian: Let’s talk a little bit about the requirements process. I asked this question of the Under, Mr. McCarthy, as well as General Murray who’s the Futures Commander. Talk to us about AMC’s role in advising the requirements process to try to take as much complexity out of systems and increase their sustainability, because in a future conflict, lives will be lost to move stuff forward that we may not need to move. Talk to us about modularity. Talk to us about supportability as a key requirement in future systems.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: You won’t find an Army leader that doesn’t have scar tissue on this one. My favorite example is the forklift. Our rough terrain forklifts are the backbone of our logistics capability in the field and in Iraq I had our rough terrain forklifts next to a civilian version manufactured by the same company that didn’t have all the military specific stuff on it. An NBC over-pressure system, blacklight lighting that we didn’t use in a consolidated facility like we were running in Iraq, and a significantly higher operational readiness rate by a less complex piece of equipment that is just the same thing.
So we are looking at do we really need what we’re going to buy and making those decisions. You know, Vago, the senior Army leadership has taken this extremely seriously. I’ve never seen a process like we’re doing right now where they are racking and stacking, priorities going through program by program saying hey, do we really need this? No. We’re going to reallocate funding in other cases. And we’re doing the same thing in the logistics community for different systems. Some of this is pre-decisional to say okay, how many different versions of this type of vehicle, the sustainment vehicle, do we need? Can we consolidate not one trailer, maybe, that will satisfy multiple requirements? And just have one piece of equipment in the field versus all these very boutique capabilities? So that’s something we’re driving on very, very hard.
Mr. Muradian: And that’s, the Night Court process, for example, has been just sort of extraordinary in how the senior leadership is really coming together and vetting each one of these lines. But are you even looking at it within systems to say hey, look, here are all the subcomponents and stuff. You guys are giving me maybe 5,000 extra parts I have to support. Is there an effort to even look into these systems and say how can commonality take parts and complexity out of the individual systems?
Brig. Gen. Mohan: I think more so our efforts within AMC is to ensure that we’re getting the right parts to the right location. So our suppliability campaign, which is the boss’ number one priority right now. We’ve seen a tremendous up-tick in OpTempo for all of our heavy combat fleets. Some fleets that had not been used much in years because we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. So as a result of that, we have had to rebuild in some cases with OEMs, and through TACOM, a much more robust supply system.
Looking at the data and using some of the new tools of data analysis is allowing us to focus specifically on those readiness drivers that are actually accounting for the down time. So we’re doing a tremendous amount of effort on that right now.
Mr. Muradian: You dovetailed right into my last question which was going to be on artificial intelligence. You talked about big data. Nobody’s collecting more data than each one of the individual military commands, you guys being no exception given the sheer volume of what you touch. Talk to us about the role of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and some of these advanced technologies to get you to better sort of do that predictive element which is so key in logistics. When the right thing needs to be there at the right time.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: I would say we’re on the, from my standpoint, I’m an amateur. I would say that we’re on the initial stages, very early stages from us. We just want to be able to get all the data so we can see it.
So how do we offload that data and get it into our business warehouses, that’s what we call our big data warehouses, so that we can manipulate it? We’re making strides with that.
The second piece will be okay, how do you apply the fundamentals of artificial intelligence to really make sense of it faster? We’ve got great, great research analysts, we call them ORSAs, that can do whatever you need to be done with data. But we need to do it faster so we can be more responsive.
Then our trick will be okay, what do we do with the data and the analysis once we have it? How do we influence the supply chain? How do we incorporate things like additive manufacturing?
On a battlefield we’re fielding 3D printers, for example, to units so that they can use them. We know every part can’t be printed with a 3D printer. But can you print one that will last for three days while we get one shipped from CONUS or wherever you are on the battlefield? That’s the decisions that we’re going to have to make, the policy decisions.
The depot I commanded in Utah, we used a very rudimentary 3D printer to build service parts for some of our machinery that would fail. We said okay, instead of waiting until they fail and order one from the manufacturer, let’s just print them and we’re going to replace them every X number of hours. We got a bump in output because of it for nothing.
So that’s the kind of things that we have to focus on, bringing those capabilities into the force at the right level with the right decision authorities and so our commanders can make the right decision on the battlefield.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you one last question because I know you’ve got to go. Talk to us about how you’re drawing from your sister services. Each one of them is working on printed parts. I know the Air Force Materiel Command is working that. I know the Navy is working that at sea, the Marines are working that as well, and I know the Army’s been working hard. Talk to us about how you guys all work and learn from one another. You have very different problems but also very, very similar problems in some ways when you’re trying to deliver logistics to that sharp end.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: From an additive manufacturing, the Marines are doing a great job and we’re working with the Marines in a nascent capability to learn from each other. But we’ve got a long history of working together, particularly with the Marine Corps in energy programs, depot rebuilds. Their tanks are our tanks. Breaching vehicles. So we’ve got the foundation built. We’ve just got to take it to the next level so that we can learn from each other. We can’t afford to have each service having their own.
Look at uniforms. What’s the Air Force wearing right now? They’re wearing the OCP because it’s a good uniform and it works well on the battlefield. The Air Force is going to adopt our new hand gun system because it’s a great weapon, it’s going to work well on the battlefield. So I think that with necessity and prodding that we’re going to get closer and closer as we move forward.
Mr. Muradian: Brigadier General Chris Mohan who is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at U.S. Army Materiel Command in Redstone Arsenal. Sir, thanks very much and best of luck, and hopefully we can get to the sharp end and see how real logistics is delivered.
Brig. Gen. Mohan: Absolutely. We’d love to have you out again. Thanks, Vago.
Mr. Muradian: Thank you, sir.