Push-Button Logistics

July 1, 1963

The mark of a successful logistician from the days of the Roman legions to modern times has been to see to it that the fighting man has what he needs when he needs it. The sure formula is to provide more than enough. Too much is expensive and wasteful, to be sure, but if you win, it is worth it. And too little is often fatal.

In testimony to that credo, rotted cases of World War II equipment still clutter the beaches of Pacific islands, abandoned as US military forces moved on toward Tokyo. As recently as the Korean War, supply men ruefully surveyed the welter of packing cases piled high at Pusan—and filed new requisitions rather than search endlessly for the parts they needed.

The philosophy of ordering more than you need, of squirreling away items that may sometime come in handy, of neglecting to get rid of things you no longer need, comes naturally to a supply man.

Or did.

The Air Force is working hard to change all that. In the last few years, with the cost of weapon systems shooting up almost as fast as the weapons themselves, Air Force leaders looking for ways to economize turned their attention to logistics and assigned top managerial talent to the problem.

The result has been a revolution in logistics. By applying sound management principles, by questioning practices that had been taken for granted for centuries, by adapting new technology to the logistics process, the Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC) has achieved dramatic savings in the cost of supporting USAF weapon systems.

So big and complex is the logistics structure that it takes literally years to carry out fundamental changes in its operations. The man primarily responsible for planning and setting these changes into motion is Gen. Edwin W. Rawlings, who retired in 1959 after eight years as Commander of the Air Materiel Command, AFLC’s predecessor. His grand design was carried forward by Gen. Samuel E. Anderson, who headed AMC from March 1959 to July 1961, and by Gen. William F. McKee, now USAF Vice Chief of Staff, who was AFLC’s Commander from August 1961 to June 1962. They are now culminating under the able direction of Gen. Mark E. Bradley, Jr., who entered the logistics field as a Wright Field test pilot in 1937 and has served in logistics continuously since that date.

Three new technological developments, all interre­lated, have contributed heavily to the revolution. They are reliable global communications, electronic data-processing equipment, and the ready availability of cargo aircraft for a worldwide delivery system.

These three have made it possible to do away with a warehouseful of supplies on every base, backed up by a long pipeline of depots and subdepots around the world.

The family that lives next door to a supermarket doesn’t need a pantry the size of grandmother’s store­house down on the farm. The combination of fast communications, fast record processing, and fast de­livery has, in effect, put every Air Force base next door to the supermarket.

Many an old supply sergeant, watching his parts backlog gradually diminish, must have felt like the trapeze artist working for the first time without a net. One slip, he was sure, and the whole act would col­lapse.

But no serious slips have occurred. What’s more, the new lean and effective supply system has helped improve operational readiness and cut the AOCP (air­craft out of commission for parts) rate.

Today an Air Force unit with a supply requirement punches out a requisition and feeds it into the global DATACOM system of the Air Force Communications Service. Almost instantly a copy of the requisition is reproduced at a Stateside USAF depot. If the matter is urgent, the requisition is filled and the part on its way by air the same day.

In practice, it isn’t necessary to fill all requisitions by air. A combat unit deploying overseas carries its own thirty-day spares flyaway kit. When a part is withdrawn from the kit, the unit submits a requisition for a replacement. The data-processing system at the depot not only issues instructions to withdraw the part from stock but also determines the most econom­ical way to ship it to the user to meet his deadline. Airlift is reserved for urgently needed parts or for items too valuable to consign to slower-moving trans­port.

Last year AFLC shipped 280,000 tons of supplies and equipment by air, representing eleven percent of its total tonnage shipped, other than fuel and oil.

Air shipment is, of course, expensive compared with surface movement, but the results easily justify the cost.

Pipeline time for aircraft engines between Stateside depots and overseas bases, for example, has been cut from 145 days in 1952 to seven to nine days now. Ten years ago there were more engines in the supply pipe­line than were in use. Today the ratio of spares to installed engines is just over fifty percent. The cost of engines in use is $4.2 billion; spares, $2.2 billion. Thus pipeline reductions represent a savings of more than $2 billion in engines alone. This is six times the annual AFLC transportation bill, for air, sea, rail, truck, and pipeline shipments.

The ratio of engines spares to those in use would be lower still if the figure did not include those being overhauled in AFLC depots. Here, too, AFLC has achieved substantial savings. As recently as 1955, an average of six months elapsed from the time an engine was removed for overhaul until it was back in use.

Through use of airlift and close management controls, the engine-repair cycle now averages only thirty-five days.

Careful attention to control and fast handling of high-value items is now standard throughout USAF. High-value items—those costing $10,000 or more-account for almost half of the total dollar value of the Air Force inventory but amount to only two percent of the total number of items. Conversely, USAF saves on administrative costs by devoting less attention and paperwork to low-value items—items costing up to $10—which constitute eighty-three percent of the inventory volume but only eleven percent of the dollar value. The items in between, designated Category II, are carefully controlled under well defined procedures. Among materials in this category are “blue chip” items of relatively high value but expendable, such as certain electronic components.

Ten years ago when AFLC’s predecessor, the Air Materiel Command, stocked about a million separate items, its total inventory weighed about seven million tons. Today AFLC carries more than twice that many separate items; yet total weight is down to 2.3 million tons. Or, stated another way, in 1952 it took $l.20 worth of spares to support a dollar’s worth of weapon systems. Today the relative cost is only thirty-three cents.

Even more significant is the improvement in overall support of military operations in the same period. The AOCP rate has dramatically decreased from twelve percent in 1950 to 2.7 percent today.

Besides providing more effective and more flexible support, AFLC has been able to close down forty-three installations since 1952 and reduce its manpower from 224,000 to 148,000. Ninety percent of these are civilians, and only three percent of the total AFLC force is overseas.

Nearly half this reduction in personnel came about as the result of shifting various functions to other commands. About 33,100 people have been transferred from AFLC or its predecessor, AMC—15,200 to the Air Force Systems Command when AFSC acquired many of AM C’s engineering and procurement functions; 5,300 to the Defense Supply Agency, which is handling for all the services half a million supply items formerly stocked by AFLC; 1,800 to MATS in a shift of aviation depot groups from AFLC; 1,800 to the Air Force Communications Service; and 6,400 to PACAF and 2,600 to USAFE when AFLC closed its overseas depots.

Establishment of the Air Force Logistics Command in April 1961 was itself a result of USAF’s growing attention to logistics functions.

From 1950 to 1961, two of USAF’s major commands were involved in this effort, with overlapping respon­sibilities. The Air Research and Development Com­mand (ARDC) was responsible for basic and applied research and development of weapon systems, while the Air Materiel Command (AMC) had charge of procurement, production, and operational support. What was wrong with that alignment? As explained by Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Gerrity, USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Systems and Logistics, “The gray area occurred during the development/ production phase. ARDC was moved to continue to improve the product, even though it was in production. AMC resisted devel­opment changes because they delayed production and increased costs.”

So, in April 1961 USAF assigned the entire systems-acquisition function to AFSC, under Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, while AFLC was given worldwide re­sponsibility for operational support of all USAF sys­tems and equipment. The two Commands continue to work closely with one another. A joint task group on working relationships has already tackled more than twenty projects involving overlapping interests.

With AFLC’s new responsibilities have come new tools.

Computers and other electronic data-processing equipment are currently held in high regard through­out the Department of Defense, but it was AFLC which pioneered their use in the military, and AFLC is today the world’s largest user of such equipment. The Command recently ordered RCA 301 c6n1puters or its Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, headquarters and for its nine depots, to replace 500 pieces of punch-.card equipment and save the Air Force $1.5 million in yearly rentals.

Among the other management techniques that have significantly improved AFLC’s ability to meet its res­ponsibilities while reducing costs is the Air Force’s new 66-1 maintenance record system, so designated for the number of the governing AF manual.

The purpose of 66-1, briefly, is to record mainte­nance experience. What part broke? Why? Conversely, how long will a part last before it should be replaced

General Gerrity explains the system this way:

“We started by accumulating data on failures, causes, results of inspections, and a very wide range of related information about the maintenance of our equipment. As we continue to amass this detailed in­formation and analyze it electronically, we get much more factual data on which to base our maintenance procedures.

To some, 66-1 seems a nuisance. It requires an aircraft mechanic, for example, to record all steps he takes in inspection or repair of any piece of equipment. When he removes a part from an airplane, the mechanic must report the type of maintenance performed, what the discrepancy was, and whether the part was bent, broken, or corroded. He must note whether he removed and replaced the part, adjusted it, or repaired it himself. If he replaced it, he must show what happened to the defective part—whether it was repaired at the base or, if shipped to an AFLC depot, why it couldn’t have been repaired on base.

Recording of maintenance data is by no means new, but in the past, procedures have varied from base to base, Now, under 66-1, AFLC receives data on more than four million maintenance actions a month—forty­-eight million a year! It would be impossible to in­terpret this data manually. But machine processing has already enabled AFLC to accomplish extraordinary results.

For one thing, the data shows where major mainte­nance problems are cropping up in various weapon systems; once weaknesses are identified it is usually possible to remedy them. In the B-52, for example, major maintenance problems center on the power-plant, the bomb navigation system, and the airframe. On the F-106 it’s the fire-control system, powerplant, and landing gear. On the Atlas missile, the main prob­lems are in ground-support equipment, with tracking and instrumentation next most troublesome, and sew-icing and handling third.

Using 66-1, too, AFLC found that periodic inspec­tion checklists were covering many items that didn’t need attention. By eliminating unnecessary actions, man-hours spent on periodic inspections have been greatly reduced. The time required to perform the 600-hour inspection on the KC-135 tanker was cut from nine days to two and a half. B-52 inspection time dropped from eleven days to three and a half. The net result has been to make an additional wing of B-52s and one and a half KC-135 wings available for oper­ational use.

Do these short cuts impair effectiveness? Quite the opposite. “The basic measure of our success or failure is the percentage of our aircraft operationally ready,” says General Gerrity. “Ten years ago our average rate of aircraft ready for operation was fifty percent Today our average is over seventy-five percent.”

Any appreciable improvement in the Air Force’s maintenance workload should pay rich dividends to USAF and the taxpayer, because maintenance now takes $6 billion of the Air Force’s $16 billion annual budget and employs one-third of all Air Force person­nel.

Maj. Gen. T. Alan Bennett, AFLC’s Director of Maintenance Engineering, explains that there are three levels of USAF maintenance—organizational­—that performed on the line or in the hangar by unit personnel; field—handled on base by maintenance squadron specialists; and depot—operated by AFLC in its own depots or under civilian contract. Air Force policy, he said, requires that maintenance be per­formed at the lowest possible level, dependent upon the special tools, equipment, facilities, and personnel skill level available, because the sooner repairs are made the sooner the weapon system is restored to combat-ready status.

Thus another result of 66-1 will be to determine how much of the maintenance workload can effective­ly be handled at base level. Ideally, if all maintenance were performed on the spot, “down time” of aircraft and support equipment would be kept to the mini­mum. On the other hand, it is more economical to centralize at an AFLC depot the special tooling and skilled personnel needed to perform heavy mainte­nance and overhaul. Through analysis of 66-1 data, AFLC expects to advise major commands on how to gain maximum use of the skills, tools, facilities, and parts now authorized at base level. Next will come a planned increase in base-level repair capability where the increased costs of expanding that capability are outweighed by the operational loss in sending planes or parts to an AFLC depot or civilian contract facility.

Depot maintenance and modification is the largest segment of AFLC operations, occupying more than half of the total AFLC organic and contract labor force. Last year depots and contractors performed modification and repair on almost 14,000 complete aircraft and more than 23,000 engines. Where equip­ment cannot readily be moved to the depot, as in heavy communications gear and missiles, AFLC over­haul teams go to the site. In addition, AFLC shops repaired and overhauled about three and a half million items—accessories, components, and the like.

Whether depot-level maintenance is to be per­formed by the depot itself or by civilian contract is determined not by relative cost but by the mission pri­ority of the equipment. This is in line with DoD pol­icy that depots will repair mission-essential weapon systems while other overhaul is to be done by contract.

General Bennett points out that depots need not perform all priority overhaul in AFLC depots in order to ensure a capability to support emergency or war requirements. “We must have enough in-house capa­bility to assure the technical competence to manage work performed on contract,” he explains, “and to en­sure swift response to emergency Air Force programs in case of strikes or other work stoppages in industry.”

At present, about half of depot-level maintenance is done by civilian contractors, but contract mainte­nance is expected to decrease as bases build up their own maintenance capabilities.

Each depot is responsible for a share of USAF weapon-system support, providing both maintenance and supply support. Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area at Tinker AFB, Okla., for example, both repairs and furnishes spare parts for B-52s, B-47s, C/KC-135s, C/KC-97s, and certain other aircraft. Middletown AMA, Olmsted AFB, Pa., is the maintenance and supply center for all USAF helicopters, most liaison aircraft, and some trainers and medium transports. San Bernardino AMA, Norton AFB, Calif., does the same for the Atlas, Titan, and Thor missile systems, while Ogden AMA, Hill AFB, Utah, takes care of Minuteman as well as the new F-4C and others.

Rome AMA at Griffiss AFB, N. Y., specializes in USAF communications, radar, and weather support. Among them, the nine AMAs cover every USAF weapon system and component elements. The other AMAs are located at Brookley AFB, Mobile, Ala.; Kelly AFB, San Antonio, Tex.; Warner-Robins AFB, Macon, Ga.; and McClellan AFB, Sacramento, Calif.

Maintenance engineering is one of four major func­tion areas of AFLC. Others are procurement, supply, and transportation.

Although initial procurement of USAF weapon sys­tems was transferred to Systems Command in the 1961 reorganization, AFLC spends about $3 billion a year for spare parts, armament and airborne missiles, motor vehicles, ground-support equipment, and local pro­curement, as well as contracting for modifications. In addition, it exercises surveillance over $1.2 billion in local purchases made by individual USAF bases.

Spares procurement is at best an inexact science. To get a supply of spares at reasonable cost, AFLC must place the bulk of its orders before production is completed on the weapon system they will support. After that, subassembly manufacturers will have turned to other projects, and retooling to produce ad­ditional spares raises costs considerably.

Thus, AFLC must estimate how many parts it will need, often before significant data is compiled on the rate of failure or wear-out. Adding to the problem is the increasing complexity of weapon systems. The World War II B-17 had 17,000 parts; the B-52 has 120,000. The V.86 has 15,000 parts, the F-4C 35,000. The Atlas has 85,000. Electronics accounts for much of these increases.

Supply men are getting a more accurate fix on spares requirements through a number of related ap­proaches, all made possible by data-processing equip­ment. Most useful, probably, are the 66-1 reports, al­though the trend of replacement needs doesn’t become clear until the weapon system is in operational use. AFLC normally gets a worldwide report on stock bal­ances from throughout USAF semiannually. Recently, on a test basis, it asked for that report each quarter in order to give inventory managers a better picture of use rates. The more frequent reports are paying off, and quarterly reports may be made permanent. In a detailed study of demand for 15,000 inventory items over a three-month period, it was found that 4,000 items were not called for at all; 3,100 were requested only once, while but 350 items were requested as much as five times. By cranking all these figures into its computers, AFLC hopes to gain more reliable data on which to base its spares procurement.

In another pilot project, AFLC has stationed a pro­curement team at the Martin Co. plant in Denver to make on-the-spot decisions on spares requirements for the Titan II ICBM, which became operational last month.

“The Air Force’s compressed method of producing weapons—applying the concurrency concept in re­search, developing, and testing—has made this kind of effort necessary,” General Bradley explains. “Since it is working well, we expect it to be extended to other vital weapon systems.”

In its procurement operations, AFLC does business with more than 20,000 firms, most of which have fewer than fifty employees. To keep its workload within manageable limits, AFLC has authorized USAF bases to make local purchases of certain high-volume, stable-demand items that are available commercially. Though it may lose a little of the price discounts usu­ally accompanying single-point purchases, the proce­dure benefits small business, and AFLC saves on trans­portation costs. Bases now buy some 125,000 items annually, compared with only 50,000 a decade ago.

But transportation continues to be a costly item.

AFLC’s transportation bill last year was $336 million—ninety percent of the entire USAF transportation budget. In 1962 the command shipped two and a half million tons of supplies and equipment and fourteen million tons of petroleum products—the latter roughly equivalent to a tank-car train stretching from Browns­ville, Tex., to Anchorage, Alaska.

But tank cars have disappeared from the railroad sidings at many US bases. Thirty-five bases now re­ceive their fuel via pipeline, at appreciable savings. In 1953 the Air Force transported 1.8 billion gallons at a cost of $27.8 million. Last year it shipped 3.6 billion gallons at a cost of $28.2 million, a per-gallon reduction of almost fifty percent.

In addition to its responsibilities to the Air Force, AFLC manages the aircraft materiel portion of the nation’s military assistance program, refurbishing air­craft and providing maintenance and supply guidance to some fifty nations.

The grand total of AFLC “customers” adds up to 15,000 units in eighty-six countries.

Its work with military-assistance equipment is one aspect of the last step in materiel management—the disposal of excess or obsolete equipment. Unless action to remove unneeded assets from USAF inven­tories is as prompt and effective as buildup and sup­port actions, storage facilities would soon become overloaded.

Getting rid of unneeded items is one of AFLC’s more vexing problems. There is a task force at each AMA—designated MINT, for materiel identification and new item control techniques—charged with elm-mating surplus items and cutting down on duplicate stock numbers for identical items. In an inventory of more than two million separate items, in which an identical item may be bought from two or more suppliers, some duplication is inevitable. But MINT teams painstakingly review manufacturers’ data and feed information into data-processing machines to compare new items against existing assets.

Between January 1959 and July 1961, the Air Force inventory increased at the rate of 14,000 items a month. At that rate, AFLC’s catalog would have carried 2.7 million items by 1965, well over three million by 1970. But under MINT, the rate began to level off. By last fall, AFLC was able to effect a net decrease of 42,000 items, deleting 111,000 while adding only 69,000 new items.

Eventually, General Bradley expects the MINT program to reduce inventory listings by about thirty percent. Industry can help, he says, by making use of standard parts in their components and by furnishing AFLC with data and drawings upon request to enable MINT teams to screen for duplicates.

The increase in items handled by AFLC would be even higher were it not that the DoD-level Defense Supply Agency is taking over the stocking and issue of many items common to two or more services. As of March 1963, more than half a million supply items, representing a total of half a billion dollars, had been transferred from AFLC to DSA. The list included construction, industrial, automotive, electronics, and general items.

‘We intend to transfer to DSA every Air Force item that we in the Air Force determine is susceptible to DoD integrated management,” General Bradley declares. “At the same time, we intend to be sure that every item we can manage more effectively and econo­mically is retained for Air Force management.”

Interservice collaboration in logistics is growing in other ways too. AFLC has set up an agreement with the Navy for joint responsibility in supporting the McDonnell F-4B/F-4C Phantom II weapon system. The agreement provides that the Navy will function as an integrated materiel manager and handle procu­rement for both services on aircraft spares and missiles, while USAF is responsible for the engines. “Cross servicing will be a way of life on the F-4C,” says General Bradley, “and will be exploited in every way possible.”

One source of spare parts which costs the Air Force nothing is AFLC’s 2704th Aircraft Storage and Dispo­sition Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. Here, where the Air Force stocks its surplus and obsolete aircraft, men of the 2704th carefully take apart planes of no further use to the US or its allies, salva­ging and repairing parts that are still needed, re-claiming such valuable materials as titanium and magnesium, and selling the rest as scrap. AFLC has contracted with Lear Siegler Service, Inc., to assist the 2704th in this operation, which at a cost of only $6 million a year reclaims $360 million worth of usable parts and materials annually.

The revolution in Air Force logistics, conceived by General Rawlings and sparked by Generals Bradley and Gerrity, still is going on. Up to now it has been comparatively easy for competent leaders to show gains because in this field waste has been inherent in the past. Future gains may come harder. But there is still much room for improvement.

Analysis of parts failures will give engineers the clues to designing longer-lasting components requiring less maintenance. Fully automated warehouses that produce the required part on demand are already within reach. Air-cargo-handling equipment (see page 89) will reduce airlift costs so that almost all supplies can be delivered by air. Improvements in packaging to permit easy visual identification will keep parts from being lost or misplaced in the user’s hands. Making subassemblies the lowest stock unit—rather than individual bits and pieces—will reduce catalog items and cut maintenance time. The possibilities are endless.

Meanwhile, AFLC is looking ahead to new projects in support of the military space mission. “We want to achieve the greatest possible logistics participation in development and acquisition of space systems,” Gen­eral Bradley has declared. “We want to be able to provide a full range of logistics support and services to all agencies having interests in space.

“Consequently, the command will have to acquire and develop the necessary facilities, personnel skills, and technological facilities. AFLC is here to stay as far in the future as I can see.”

Thus the logistics field today offers real challenges to men of resourcefulness and ingenuity. This is true not only because there is much still to be accom­plished, but because every improvement pays double dividends—it increases the combat effectiveness of existing Air Force weapon systems and at the same time frees more money and more manpower for new tasks.

The Air Force is achieving substantial economies by air shipment, particularly in high-value items. A number of related developments are now under way which, by effecting significant cuts in turnaround time, will bring air-shipment costs into line with surface means.

Chief among these new techniques is the 463L materials-handling sys­tem being developed by AFSC’s Aeronautical Systems Division. It in­cludes an entire family of related handling equipment to move cargo from the warehouse into the airplane and out again in a minimum of time and effort.

System elements include automatic belt and sorting devices in the ware­house; standardized lightweight cargo pallets with nets to tie down packages of various shapes, thus making each pallet a single container; trucks with roller beds adjustable to the fuselage height of present cargo planes; roller beds in the plane’s fuselage floor; winches in the plane to draw cargo into the fuselage; and tie-down de­vices which lock the pallet to the fuselage floor.

The 463L system is being devel­oped especially for the Lockheed C-141A Starlifter, which will enter the MATS fleet early in 1965. But the system will be used also in USAF C-130s, C-133s, and C-135s.

It often “takes longer to load and unload aircraft with current handling equipment than it does to fly the Atlantic,” Col. Richard S. Nye, dep­uty director of ASD’s airlift moderni­zation center, said recently. “It is no longer the air vehicle that keeps air cargo rates up; it is the indirect or handling costs.”

By matching the C-141A with the 463L system, Colonel Nye predicted a direct operating cost of four and one-half cents per ton-mile from 1,000 to 3,000 nautical miles. This, he said, compares with present air cargo costs of seven to eighteen cents per ton-mile.

An adaptation of the 463L system is now being tested with a fleet of five Whitworth Gloster Argosy air-freighters operated for Logair by Cap­itol Airways. Using the specialized equipment at AFLC’s Kelly AFB, Tex., depot, the Argosy’s turnaround time, including offloading and onload­ing, is only thirty minutes.

An even faster offloading tech­nique, for resupply of troops in com­bat, has been developed by the Tacti­cal Air Command. With its cargo ramp open, a C-130 makes a touch-and-go landing or very low fly-by, trailing a hook attached to the plane’s cargo. The hook (see cut) engages a cable on the ground which pulls the cargo from the plane. —A.R.S. [Allan R. Scholin]