Over the last several years there has been a direct shift away from government-owned and operated logistics capabilities in favor of performance-based logistics (PBL) and contracted logistics support (CLS). In many cases these approaches are now considered the sustainment strategies of choice to facilitate the rapid acquisition and fielding of equipment to the warfighter. While many argue the success of these methods, they were accomplished in an era of unlimited resources and little oversight.
In today’s resource-constrained environment, the risks and costs of relying on these techniques are not sustainable. Furthermore, these procedures do not meet the needs of Marine Corps units operating in an austere and uncertain combat environment. The bottom line is that it is time to reorient back to a Marine-centric approach.
Although the use of PBL and CLS is often perceived to provide an acceptable level of performance, there are numerous concerns that strike at the heart of their viability. Typically there is a lack of understanding of required maintenance and supply processes, and each program operates a separate and unique supply chain. This leads to inflated readiness reporting, a lack of visibility, and intense difficulty to accurately assess established performance metrics. Additionally, it is problematic to support geographically dispersed forces on a dynamic battlefield with civilian contractors. These are very real challenges that limit the operational effectiveness of these strategies.
Unequivocally, the most disturbing outcome is the eroding of Marines’ core competencies and abilities to repair critical equipment. This trend directly contradicts the 35th Commandant’s Planning Guidance (Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, 2010) that states:
The United States Marine Corps is a middleweight force, light enough to get there quickly, but heavy enough to carry the day upon arrival and capable of operating independent of local infrastructure.
The Marine Corps’ growing reliance on CLS and PBL will not allow units to operate independent of local infrastructure, and it is not plausible to think that civilian contractors will be ready to operate, deploy, and support the MAGTF in a time-constrained manner. There is little doubt that the civilian contractor support will eventually show up, but there is also no doubt that it will be late and there will be a period of time that necessitates Marine support. This potential gap in support is not acceptable.
Based on these factors, a thorough analysis of the Marine Corps’ use of PBL and CLS is warranted to ensure that it is executed correctly and under the right conditions. It is critical for the Marine Corps to implement an overall solution that expedites the restoration of the Corps’ flexibility and self-sustaining expeditionary capability to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
The Marine Corps’ policy on CLS is defined in Marine Corps Order 4200.33 (MCO 4200.33), Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) for Ground Equipment, Ground Weapons Systems, Munitions, and Information Systems (Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, 2000). It stipulates that the Marine Corps must maintain its expeditionary capability and its maintenance, supply, and distribution capabilities in order to maintain readiness. Additionally, MCO 4200.33 states that any potential use of CLS is a consideration that should be addressed on a case-by-case basis to determine when, where, and how such support may best serve the Marine Corps. It further directs that the decision to use CLS must include a contingency plan to transition to organic support if CLS fails to meet the operational support requirements, and it should be transparent to the Operating Forces.
Clearly established policy supports a Marine-centric approach; however, the actual application of PBL and CLS has not met this threshold. As a result, the reliance on contractors has expanded, and the key tenets outlined above have been ignored. CLS and PBL techniques are now characterized by the risks associated with contractors on the battlefield, lack of oversight and quality control over contractor performance, lack of exit strategies, an erosion of core capabilities, funding uncertainty, and the complexity of establishing metrics that properly hold organizations accountable. The departure between policy and practice is vast, and it is time to close this divide and reestablish a balanced approach.
Marine Corps Concerns
Unfortunately this paradigm shift to utilize CLS and PBL remains in the Marine Corps today, and in some respects it has become institutionalized. As systems were fielded, acquisition personnel did not acquire the necessary technical data rights. Due to the proprietary nature of many of these new systems, troubleshooting and maintenance were severely limited. As subassemblies became unserviceable, the only recourse was to purchase additional subassemblies or remain dependent on the original equipment manufacturers for repairs. With plentiful budgets and a high operational tempo, a cultural change took place within Marine Corps maintenance communities. It became easier to “pluck and chuck” high-value components rather than attempt to repair. This is no longer an option, and it is vital to return to our core logistics competency and have Marines fix this equipment.
The fielding of a weapons system is a complex undertaking that impacts the entire doctrine, organization, training, material, leadership, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) spectrum. To simplify this process, program managers are relying on CLS sustainment solutions to avoid some of the detailed analysis that is necessary. “Hit the CLS button” has become the sarcastic metaphor of choice in maintenance communities. To compound the problem, a mass submission of urgent universal needs statements (UUNSs) by the Operating Forces placed a significant burden on the acquisition community to rapidly procure and field new equipment. To support the warfighter, many of the requirements for routine acquisitions were bypassed.
Although there are many lessons from the current operational environment, it must be remembered that many of the CLS concepts implemented in the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM/Operation IRAQI FREEDOM era relied on a battlefield that is largely “garrisonized.” This type of environment cannot be the foundation as future solutions are explored; the issues associated with contractors in a dynamic and challenging combat environment must not be forgotten. In instances where CLS has proven to be effective, rear area support bases or mature forward operating bases usually characterize the operating location. This is not the type of battlefield that the Marine Corps will likely face in the future, and it cannot serve as the basis for decisions on the type of support to implement.
As budgets decline and resources are constrained, it is time to efficiently provide support at a reduced cost, but with improved levels of service. Many of the current support arrangements are fiscally unsustainable, and the equipment inventory will be maintained longer than anticipated. To this end, the following key recommendations are provided:
• Expedite the program of record determination for all equipment fielded as a UUNS and conduct the necessary DOTMLPF analyses.
• Ensure that future contracted sustainment strategies are adopted at the component level vice platform level, allowing Marines to support Marines on the battlefield.
• Any future contractor provided support should be established at the intermediate maintenance activity, reducing the requirement to provide redundant contractor maintenance and supply at supported units.
• Require transition to an organic fielded maintenance solution no more than 4 years after achieving initial operating capability on a weapons system. A proper balance must be achieved by implementing CLS as an interim solution until such time as Marines can be properly trained and equipped.
• Acquire the minimum technical data rights necessary to allow Marines to conduct systems restoration on the battlefield. This will also require the cataloging of repair parts to the lowest level possible to enable them to be stocked and requisitioned through the organic supply system.
Future contingency operations, emergencies, and budgetary constraints necessitate a shift in sustainment strategies away from a reliance on CLS/PBL. Furthermore, the Marine Corps’ core competency to maintain equipment and ensure compliance with existing acquisition policies is absolutely essential. As the Nation’s expeditionary force-in-readiness, it is vital to maintain this capability and not completely outsource it to civilian contractors. The goal is not to eliminate CLS or other PBL arrangements, but rather to determine how the Marine Corps can utilize these support strategies without compromising its expeditionary nature.