While the media spasms[i] over the corona virus as a way to get rid of President Trump, we should be examining critical lessons that we should learn with respect to military preparedness.
The corona virus (Covid-19) outbreak is causing some disruptions in military productions and activities. Right now these are precautionary. The bigger issue that these disruptions highlight is the issue of single source procurement. Will external sources being interrupted result in more producers returning to the US? Are self-imposed risks acceptable?
Some of the disruptions in military activities include:
- Lockheed Martin has held up production of F-35s in Italy and Japan. They have told employees to stay home for the next week. However, Lt Gen Fick (Program Manager) said that he does not anticipate any other disruption to the supply chain and that the Joint Program Office (JPO) is not taking any deliberate steps to actively curtail any ripple effects due to the corona virus that may further go through the F-35 supply chain.
- The Indian Navy (IN) has postponed the 10-day long ‘Milan 2020’ multilateral exercise it was expected to host in the Bay of Bengal for 31 navies. The IN said in a statement on 3 March that this year’s iteration of the biennial exercise, which was scheduled to begin on 18 March, has been deferred after taking “the safety of all participants and travel restrictions imposed by the spread of Covid-19”
- The Pentagon will decide soon how to prepare for the upcoming military moving season with the outbreak based on whether the new COVID-19 virus is still active in late spring through early fall, a military doctor said Wednesday. Presently travel to and from Korea is halted.
- Military families in Italy are facing a third week of school and day care closures. They are also facing a two week quarantine when/if they return to the US.
- The Army is screening new recruits before they enter basic training. Any found positive for COVID-19 will be quarantined.
It is certain that these are only the tip of the iceberg. What is most important is what are we learning from the ongoing disruptions? Are we examining supply chains to see where we have potential bottlenecks? Are corporations and government entities willing to pay the price for some redundancy or are they going to take a risk? Risk might be acceptable in some categories or cases but not others. Examples where risk may not be acceptable include pharmaceuticals, long lead time parts and components for essential military equipment, critical personnel skills.
The obvious other casualty of this virus scare is globalism. When critical things have been allowed or even encouraged to be externally produced and then become unavailable due to disruptions in production and thus the supply chain in addition to looking for alternate production providers we might just question the whole philosophy that caused the problem—globalism.
A peacetime example that could occur next week to military units because of personnel replacement disruptions. As an armored brigade commander I had over 100 tanks to maintain. In my direct support maintenance unit there was only an authorization for 2 turret mechanics with a critical skill. If one of those authorizations was not filled and the other individual was on special duty my turret problems went unresolved until I could find a work around. So an efficiency in personnel created a maintenance bottleneck and reduced readiness of several tanks. Was this an acceptable risk? Not to me but surely to the bean counters in the Pentagon. Surely they considered the risk. But what if the bottleneck is not anticipated or there is not a work around. This example applies as much to the supply chain as it does to personnel. Is there a workaround whether it be alternate suppliers or backup capabilities? Redundancy is not necessarily bad.
These are the questions that we should be answering. We should thank the Covid-19 for forcing the consideration of the risks created by what were thought to be the efficiencies of single source and function operations and globalism.
[i] “Unfortunately, we have been able to assess that accounts tied to Russia, the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation, has been engaged in the midst of this world health crisis,” Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, testified before the Senate on Thursday.
She went on: “We saw the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation at play. Russian state proxy websites, official state media, as well as swarms of online, false personas pushing out false narratives.”