Mason says logistics ‘tooth-to-tail’ ratio must involve trade-offs 

Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, deputy chief of staff, G-4, showed this slide at the AUSA Hot Topic forum ‘Sustaining Force 2025’ illustrating the differences between a 1999 Hummer and a 2014 version that is ‘jazzed up’ for the 21st century battlefield.

I truly understand we want the pointy end of the spear and a lot of trigger pullers … But just saying ‘reduce the tail, reduce the tail’" is a risky proposition.

Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, deputy chief of staff, G-4, was referring to a "tooth-to-tail" ratio with the tail being logistics supporting the infantry.

He delivered his remarks at the Association of the U.S. Army’s "Sustaining Force 2025" seminar in May.

Like many things in life, he said the ratio involves a trade-off.

"There are a lot of innovative things that can be done to reduce the tail, but just cutting it and taking out capability before putting in a mitigation process and solution set just increases risk."

He then made reference to what Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Campbell spoke to earlier in the morning – the notion of "just-in-time" business practice used for military applications.

"The closer you get where people are fighting and dying, business practices don’t make sense. But there are money people and programmers that want to drive this."

Just in time, for example, is used by retailers who order just enough stock to fill orders or over-the-counter sales. Any more than that would likely be excess inventory with associated high overhead costs.

Business practice for the military, Mason said, would work out to having just enough ammunition to kill the last enemy with the last remaining bullet.

"We don’t want the other end of the spectrum, where there’s ‘just-in-case’ logistics, solving everything with mass. We tend to do that. We did that in Desert Storm and the beginning of OIF," he said.

Once again, Mason pointed out the need to find that sweet spot in trade-offs, citing two examples, the first being "just-in-case" logistics:

"Many ammunition lines in Afghanistan had 10 years capability on the ground because the commanders don’t trust us," he said, adding that one reason may be skepticism in the IT system. "If commanders don’t see it, they don’t trust the system, so they order more and more ammunition."

Mason then showed a PowerPoint slide (see above) with a 1999 Humvee on the left, and a 2014 one on the right.

The one on the left side looked like a chop shop had cleaned out a lot of goodies while the one on the right was jazzed up for the 21st-century battlefield.

In 1999, "a company commander might have had a speaker and a radio," he said, referring to add-on components. The Humvee on the right was armored and had computerized displays, a gun turret and other gizmos.

Today, "our vehicles have become fighting platforms," he said, just "like Bradleys and tanks."

The "one on the right is exponentially more expensive at every level of maintenance and repair parts. Do you know what’s driving that cost?" he asked the audience.

"Software," replied someone.

"Right," he said. "Software costs are becoming unaffordable. We can’t afford to have every vehicle in the Army look like this."

Mason then returned to his trade-off theme, illustrating how complex a cost-benefit analysis can be.

In the Army’s 2025 motor pool, "which vehicles will look like the one on the left and which will look like the one on the right?"

He explained that a corporal who is deployed using the Humvee on the right gets spoiled by the features, and when he "comes back home, they stick him in the vehicle on the left. Then it becomes a motivation and retention issue as well," as a pure cost calculus.

G-3/8 is working their way through that, he said.

"It’s a tough thing to do," he explained. "It’s a leadership issue as well."

(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by David Vergun, Army News Service.)