Military Applications in Reverse Logistics
Many people have told me that the military has no group in place to conduct reverse logistics operations. But the fact is that the military has been practicing reverse logistics since day one. Currently, the military has the largest reverse logistics operations in history.
The problem of understanding the concept of military use has to do with one small part of the definition of reverse logistics. In the civilian world, reverse logistics can be considered as a customer returning a product to a retail store, with the idea that the broken product will be sent back through the supply chain and through a series of warehouses until it arrives at the place where it was manufactured. That’s a good story. However, that is not the complete story of reverse logistics.
Starting a few years ago, military logisticians became the leaders in the biggest reverse logistics operation in history. They are poised to return thousands of containers and equipment from the Middle East back to the U.S. Those military logisticians are rethinking new ways to load and track and trace inventory as it returns–this is called reverse logistics.
The term reverses logistics is in the United States Army vocabulary as Army Regulation 711-7. It describes how items such as trucks or tanks, or any military equipment that is damaged or unserviceable, can have some value reclaimed from that item. That is what we do in reverse logistics – reclaim value.
Some military equipment can be returned in good shape to other military units or to National Guard units; some can be fixed and sold; some can be sold as is.
Besides fixing or returning military equipment, there is an issue of transport. The return process requires many ships and thousands of containers.
Tracking and tracing technology is a key part of the military effort to ship equipment back to the U.S. It takes tracking and tracing technology to identify each item in the inventory of hundreds of millions of items. All of it must be inventoried, categorized, and tracked along a complex virtual and real road from the Middle East to a final destination.
All of this effort costs billions of dollars. Recent military budget uncertainty has impacted the military, including logistics operations. The military logistics community has explored ways to work smarter to get the job done.
It sounds simple, but it is not. This return of military equipment is perhaps the most complex system of reverse logistics operations in the world.
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is the Program Director for the Reverse Logistics Management. Previously, he was a tenured Associate Professor of Logistics at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His Ph.D. is in Engineering Management from Old Dominion University. His book, RFID Metrics, examines how we define problems such as reverse logistics.