Discussion about the impact of sequestration has quieted down of late, but that subject was never far from the minds of speakers and attendees at the National Defense Industrial Association's (NDIA) annual National Logistics Forum. The event itself offered a reminder of tightened purse strings in Washington: Instead of the usual four-day conference in Florida, this year's outing ran for two days in Northern Virginia, not more than a long walk from the Pentagon. Even with the relocation, the impact of sequestration was evident. With travel and conference funding slashed across the board, attendance—particularly by government civilians and uniformed personnel—was light.
The "current fiscal constraints" was a recurring theme for all of the speakers. Lou Kratz, chair of the Logistics Management Division at NDIA and vice president and managing director, logistics and sustainment at Lockheed Martin, set the tone for the conference by calling on industry to concentrate on "focused innovation" and to anticipate "over-the-horizon threats," even as he acknowledged that there is "no constituency for readiness."
"Focused innovation" is the polite way of saying we are going to have to invest wisely, spend judiciously, pick our targets carefully, and be very creative because there just isn't enough money to cover all the defense requirements that the potential threats dictate. As for future threats, it's important to plan ahead. Unfortunately it's difficult, because crystal balls never work that well, and who knows what threats will emerge in 2020? And Kratz's comment about "no constituency for readiness" reflects the sad reality that nobody who influences spending is strongly advocating for equipment maintenance and repair, even though it's sorely needed. It takes a lot of money to keep warplanes flying and other equipment in combat-ready condition. But broken Humvees can't vote, and that means the money gets allocated elsewhere by Congress.
Throughout the conference, eupHemiäms for the impact of budget cuts continued to fly around the room. "We must be vigilant [about] trade-offs," said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness Alan Estevez. During a roundtable hosted by retired Army Lt. Gen. C.V. "Chris" Christianson, now the director for joint and strategic logistics at National Defense University (NDU), we heard that the military's focus these days is on "getting the most out of what you got."
Director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy Richard T. Ginman brushed aside any thought that congressional deadlock is the sole cause of current difficulties. Laying a challenge out for both government and industry, Ginman said, "You don't need legislation to do the job right."
The message is clear. After years of growth and profitability, a reset is underway in aerospace and defense logistics, and it is going to be painful.
In the words of Alan Estevez, "We're on a slow ramp to hell."