Adapting Logistics for the 21st Century – Technological Advancements, Evolving Requirements, COVID-19 Disruptors

Feb 9, 2021 | DTJ Online, Fall Meeting 2020 Videos, Logistics

By Sharon Lo Managing Editor, Defense Transportation Journal and The Source


The NDTA-USTRANSCOM Fall Meeting took place October 5-8, 2020. The event brought together more than 1,500 attendees from government, military, and industry to learn and collaborate in a virtual setting. The theme for the meeting was Innovative and Disruptive…2020 Vision for the Future.

One roundtable—Adapting Logistics for the 21st Century – Technological Advancements, Evolving Requirements, COVID-19 Disruptors—represented this theme well. Led by USTRANSCOM Deputy Commander VADM Dee Mewbourne, USN, panelists included Dr. Chris Caplice, Executive Director, MIT’s Center for Transportation & Logistics; Dr. George Friedman, Founder and Chairman, Geopolitical Futures; and Tom Shull, Director, and CEO, Army & Air Force Exchange Service (The Exchange).

Throughout history, transportation and logistics have evolved due to technology, changing requirements, and unanticipated disruptors. The panel share their thoughts on how logistics will adapt to meet the warfighter’s requirements and challenges in the future. They also discussed the future impacts of technology on transportation and logistics.

Mewbourne reflected on how logistics has evolved within the enterprise. “It’s really interesting to just think about how we have continued to evolve and challenged ourselves to become better and better as an enterprise because we weren’t afraid to think differently and to be able to have disruptive thoughts and to be able to challenge ourselves to become better.”

Shull shared that many of the tactical lessons learned from addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges over the years had broader implications for strategic lessons for The Exchange, which it is applying.

Caplice called the COVID-19 pandemic a pivot point for the advancement of technology. Companies he spoke to had advanced their digitalization by three to five years what otherwise would have occurred. “[The pandemic’s] a forcing mechanism to change behavior to meet the promise of technology, and that’s kind of the theme that I’m seeing over and over again,” said Caplice. “So, the first big behavioral change is the rapid advancement of digitalization, the acceptance of digitalization, and the idea of pushing paper out of the processes as much as possible. The second thing that I’ve seen—and this might not apply directly to the military because you’re kind of already there—is a tighter mission focus from companies.”

“When we talk about economics in geopolitics, overwhelmingly we talk about logistics. Because the question is not merely the production of things, but the delivery of things, the factory, the movement of those things to the consumer, to the battlefield, to wherever,” said Friedman, providing context for the importance of logistics to the warfighter. “So, we spend an awful lot of time looking at conflicts, for example, in terms of logistics. Wherever we’ve had wars, we’ve had logistics obviously, and logistics frequently determined the outcome of the war.”

Driving home the role of this connection in the future, Friedman added “We will have to find ways to insert our forces far more agilely and probably with far less humans and far more robotics and things. But to be able to shape the behavior of nations that are far away from us is still important, and that’s the key point that I want to make—which is that logistics is at the heart of everything we do militarily, economically, even politically, but it’s changing—it’s changing before our eyes. It makes it easier in many ways, but the transition will be extremely hard.”

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