The Significance of Reverse Flows in Defence Supply Chains | Jeremy Smith

September 13, 2019 posted by

A simplistic but the quite useful
view of supply chains is that they consist of a number of flows so we
typically talk of forward or downstream flows of products material going to the
end-user to to a final customer we talk of upstream or reverse flows which are
typically information flows data flows demand data consumption data and so on
and then the third flow is money flow and that’s normally the flow of money
upstream so it’s customers essentially paying suppliers on a non national onto
a so on upstream reverse flows in commercial supply chains have become
quite prominent or increasingly so in recent years driven by a number of
things legislation so increasingly legislation is placing responsibility on
original equipment manufacturers and manufacturers in general to take greater
responsibility for doing something appropriate with their products at their
end of their useful service lives there’s a growing awareness of the
concept of the circular economy and increasingly people complying with the
circular economy rather than the traditional linear economy I’m also
seeing a growth in product returns so typically online shopping online
retail the the internet seen a huge growth not only in that kind of trading
but in products going back to the supplier and that has had a side effect
of increasing money flows downstream so essentially money going back to the
consumer so that’s why they’ve become really quite significant in in
commercial supply chains routine but challenging well they are
routine to defense logisticians defense logisticians for decades have been quite
accustomed to managing reverse flows what makes them routine well in
steady-state operations it’s quite normal to see for any given operation
significant volumes of shusei engines major assemblies major subsystems being
taken out of vehicles aircraft and so on and being pushed upstream reverse
flowing back too often back to the UK mainland or to the some of the depth
facility usually to undertake or be subject to some particular kind of
maintenance repair and overhaul in enduring operations
any any military operation with with some some endurance some length to it
will normally see military units quite routinely rotating it’s its approach
it’s a process known as a relief in place the military also speak about rule
amant and it’s where one unit is taken out of theater and replaced by another
and it’s quite typical for that unit as it goes out of theater to take all of
its equipment with it quite a major logistic reverse flow operation if you
if you imagine a major coalition operation with several nations involved
then it’s not unusual for one partner coalition partner nation to exit theater
with all of its equipment all of its inventory all of its logistics
infrastructure quite a significant reverse movement and to be replaced by
the replacing partner nation and I think finally really the other aspect of
routine activity is is in drawdown when military forces progressively reduce
their presence in anticipation of a cessation of hostilities and an end to
the operation and so you’ll see a progressive reduction a reverse flow of
in particular static warehoused type storage and and inventory so
inventory volumes will flow backwards as those four
progressively drawdown the challenges to that relatively routine business well a
lot of military equipment is quite sensitive and so rather than move it by
potentially vulnerable and insecure surface means most militaries will
choose to use strategic airlift and the problem with strategic airlift is that
there’s not much of it and it’s in heavy demand so you need to prioritize and it
requires very careful management reverse flows the flows out of theater have to
be balanced with forward flows the flows into theater because although you might
see forces progressively drawing down inevitably there is the prospect of
increased enemy activity some maybe some political vacillation or prolonging of
the of the operation and what you can therefore see is a it’s a real
challenging in managing the balance of the flows the majority of it may be
upstream in Reverse but there will always be the need to sustain troops who
are currently deployed and getting that balance right can be very very taxing
very challenging and and frankly no matter how brilliantly you plan the
reverse flows it can all go horribly wrong if the enemy has a vote and they
ramp up their activity or indeed political indecision leads to a
prolongation of the of the operation and so you can actually see those reverse
flows carefully planned as they were stopping dead or at least being
significantly disrupted so very challenging business and I think it also
fair to say that inevitably for any defense business any defense ministry
and its Armed Forces those strategic movement assets that control both
forward and reverse flows will be in huge demand there are never enough and
when you consider for example in a perhaps a many nation coalition
operation you could see several nations competing for very limited airspace many
people will be aware for example that the Camp Bastion in Afghanistan for
several years was one of the busiest airfields in the world
and so vomiting for air space can be a very significant challenge but likewise
road networks rail networks port infrastructure everybody’s trying to use
a relatively limited range of facilities so I think cooperation collaboration
careful commander control is is fundamental a success and I think I
would conclude by saying that defense logisticians do this stuff routinely and
I would suggest that given the growth in reverse flows in the commercial
logistics business that commercial logisticians can learn a lot from
defense logisticians you

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