Strengthening the Defense Supply Chain to Secure the Nation’s Future

A series of disruptions have made securing the defense supply chain critical for the nation. An industry leader outlines how to achieve resilience in the face of an uncertain future.

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The U.S. Military has endured supply chain disruptions from a variety of factors including COVID-19, demand surges and geopolitical tensions. As a result, domestic and international shipping of critical supplies has been significantly hindered.

These disruptions propelled strengthening the defense supply chain to the national forefront, with the Biden administration releasing an executive order detailing how to sustainably and securely modernize manufacturing management operations.

“The blockades we have experienced made supply chain resilience a national priority. We in industry have to offer flexible solutions that will be responsive to rapidly changing environments,” says Will Johnson, senior vice president of Leidos, a leading defense technology company working closely with the Department of Defense to address these challenges.

According to Johnson, achieving resilience and meeting the recommendations of the executive order requires a combination of strategies to make the product life cycle more transparent, increase the speed of delivery and implement innovative technology to optimize supply chain processes and avoid future delays.

Bracing for Impact

Right now, it is impossible to develop supply chain solutions without preparing for the disruptions the increasingly uncertain relationship the U.S. has with China — and China’s growing partnership with Russia — will inevitably cause.

“China and Russia have established that they are working together moving forward,” Johnson says. “So any restrictions on Russia may result in China taking actions against the U.S.”

Although several solutions, like Build America, Buy America, have provided guidance to beef up the country’s industrial base and bring significant amounts of manufacturing back to U.S. shores, Johnson notes the timeline might not beat rising tensions.

“With Buy America, more manufacturing will move back to the U.S., improving the resiliency of the supply chain,” Johnson says. “But in the near term, the organic base within the U.S. may not be able to spin up fast enough to compensate for the rising pressure with Russia and China.”

In the meantime, it is imperative to evaluate and plan for all possible outcomes. 

“Understanding the potential impact and constant monitoring is critical,” Johnson says. “Proactively laying out what action(s) to take in various scenarios allows us to stand up capabilities and deploy at a far greater speed, therefore lessening any impact.”

Shifting to a Multi-Supplier Approach

With so much uncertainty on the horizon, Johnson says strengthening flexibility of operations is also key to resilience. Oftentimes, the DoD relies on one sole supplier of a product, which leaves almost no room for changing suppliers in the event of a shortage or to combat obsolescence.

“For example, if a tsunami hits a distributor in Asia, the Army has no way of knowing how the U.S. supply chain will be affected,” he says. “The storm has taken down our only supplier, and we have no other options.”

The first step in preventing this, according to Johnson, is shifting to a multi-supplier approach. This way, in the event of an emergency shortage, defense agencies can reach out to other suppliers as backups and prevent delays.

“We can’t rely on one stovepipe supply chain anymore; there should be many partners dispersed to provide resiliency,” Johnson says.

Providing the Commercial Experience

In addition to bolstering emergency support, a multi-supplier approach will also allow the military to pick and choose which product and provider is right for it. Johnson likens this capability to the speed and certainty that the civilian population experiences every day when ordering goods and supplies online. 

“There's no reason that we can’t bring that rapid fulfillment model to the government,” he notes.

Expanding the distribution options not only informs the military on exactly when to expect a product; it also allows for several distribution locations, ensuring timely delivery if an emergency occurs.

“With several different distribution points, we can make sure the product gets where it needs to be, no matter what,” Johnson says. “That transparency, that resiliency, that flexibility is what the U.S. government needs to experience.”

Bubble Wrapping the Supply Chain

The recommendations Johnson outlines are not just wishful thinking. He and his team at Leidos are currently working to make these possibilities a reality.

“We're creating strategic partnerships so that we can actually bring a more transparent and resilient experience to the military,” he says. “We are also making investments in our integrated logistics platform to give customers maximum transparency and versatility,”

This platform helps the military prepare for the impact of geopolitical tension or an emergency shortage by creating predictive analytics, running analysis and identifying alternative solutions.

“If a specific commodity is coming from China, we can figure out how many locations are producing it and who all the suppliers are and build them into our predictive analytics model,” Johnson explains. “Meaning if one or more plants are hindered, we provide backup options.”

In the event of cyberattacks, all the services Leidos provides are “bubble-wrapped” with cybersecurity protection, Johnson says.

“When you think about the supply chain, none of it matters unless you can secure it,” he says. “We build the latest cybersecurity protection into every solution so it can’t be tampered with or infiltrated.” 

Ultimately, Johnson believes Leidos’ work with the DoD will create a productive, collaborative environment to increase logistical efficiency and solve one of the country’s most pressing issues.

“By working together, we can provide more resiliency in the supply chain,” he says. “This should protect it and give much more visibility into what's causing shortages so we can prevent them and get our military what it needs to defend the nation.” 

Learn more about how Leidos can help optimize and modernize your supply chain operations.

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