Friday, December 4, 2009

Logistics and Transportation 341, Last Lecture, and Surge in Afghanistan

This week I gave my last lecture of the semester in my undergraduate Transportation and Logistics course, FOMGT 341, and next week the students will be presenting their team projects, which I am very much looking forward to listening to. Each year there is a different theme that the students seem to resonate towards as to their projects, which they select to work on and to report on. As Charles Darwin said it well, It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

This year a clear predominant theme that has emerged that has captured the students' interest and imagination is the fragility of the network infrastructure, especially that of transportation.

Today, CNN is reporting on Logistical Problems Could Plague Afghanistan Troop Surge, and the article is featured in CNN Politics. I have extracted several quotes from the article, which I highlight below and these quotes are powerful (and frightening enough) that I will not editorialize on them. It is clear that without appropriate infrastructure and planning for logistics and transportation networks, no enterprise, be it corporate or military (as we know in the discipline of operations research going back to World War II), will likely be successful.

The authors of the CNN article, Hornick, Lawrence, and Pleitgen state in regards to the new surge:

A lot of it is going to be dictated by conditions on the ground: Can they build the new bases, the new roads, new infrastructure to handle the influx of troops? They proceed to discuss the many obstacles: A lack of paved roads outside the largest cities are easy places... to place roadside bombs... In addition, the main way to move troops and supplies around the country is by helicopter. The country is landlocked, and no navigable waterways lead to the ocean.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, quoted in the article, said in mid-November:

It's not going to be a brigade a month, because of the infrastructure piece.

Air Force Sergeant Nicholas Caldwell is building a new road at Camp Wolverine and says, We [are] working hard and doing as much as we can. It would be nice if we could get some help.

Recall that this is the second surge, with soldiers saying that in the first surge it took months for supplies to catch up with them.

There are concerns as to where to even house the soldiers, especially given the extremes of temperatures in that part of the world in winters and summers. Clearly, as the article also recognizes, under the tight schedule not only will roads and new housing and dining facilities be necessary but also more medical facilities, more supplies, including fuel, as well as electricity.

I write books for many reasons. Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World perhaps should be used as a textbook to educate regarding the above, before it is too late.