Exceptional Release Presents:
Leading Logistics Into the Future
Mr. Steven J. Morani
Department of Defense Senior Executive Staff
Interviewed by Maj Geno Fan on behalf of the Exceptional Release
Steven J. Morani is a retired aircraft maintenance officer with over 28 years of active military service and is now a member of the Department of Defense Senior Executive Staff. He is the Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics. Mr. Morani was also the first Commandant of the Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Officer School, now known as the Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School (AMMOS). Most recently, Mr. Morani served as the Deputy Director on the COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force, which was established to synchronize and provide interagency assistance to the Health and Human Services’ national response to the COVID-19 pandemic requests for medical resources. The Exceptional Release had the privilege of discussing his thoughts on developing expert logisticians, preparing for the future fight, and leading through crisis.
ER: You were part of the beginning of the AMMOS program as its first Commandant. During that period, what did our service need that drove the standup of the program? When it first began, what was your vision for AMMOS graduates?
Mr. Steven J. Morani: The vision for AMMOS graduates has always been to develop credible, humble, and approachable leaders that have the intellectual agility to think, problem-solve, and generate combat capability. Equally important, the logistics community needed expert advisors who had the skills and demeanor to effectively share what they know with their leadership, peers, and subordinates. Establishing the school was in response to a task given to the logistics community by former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General John P. Jumper at a CORONA conference. Lessons learned from Operation ALLIED FORCE revealed that the USAF had gaps in understanding and executing the complexities of generating and sustaining aircraft under expeditionary conditions. This crucial knowledge and skill atrophied over years of operating as a rotational force. The AMMOS mission was to provide logistics officers a rigorous (20 weeks at the time), graduate-level experience where they learned cross-functional logistics through the lens of the six agile combat support master process.
We used the USAF Weapon School approach as a benchmark for developing Airmen that were not only the best in their specialty, but could share and teach it effectively in order to raise the collective capability of the organizations they were assigned to. These graduates would then continue to pay forward what they learned throughout their careers, thereby making them more effective commanders and staff officers.
ER: Some of our Maintenance Groups are establishing Maintenance Tactics Sections led by AMMOS graduates—mirroring the weapons officer model in the operations community. As the logistics enterprise continues to evolve in preparation for the future fight, what are some other ways the community can leverage the talent produced by the AMMOS schoolhouse?
Morani: I think that is a great idea and an overdue evolution in how to best use AMMOS graduates. Graduates should also continue to participate in reviews and updates of the 3-series Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) that AMMOS developed for maintenance and munitions functions. Having best practices codified is important, but it should be part of both formal and unit level training programs. A copy of the TTP should be one of the first documents a second lieutenant receives at Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course (AMOC) in block one of training. TTP is not just for officers, but for mid- and senior-level NCOs as well. AMMOS graduates should also be part of exercise scenario development to ensure squadrons, groups, and wings are practicing and validating the right skills. Finally, I’ll point to something developed about six years ago by Col Bill Ray and expanded by then AMMOS Commandant, Col Greg Lowe. This was the concept of a logistics verification program to train and test local leaders on their wartime tasking, much like the operations community does for their mission verification. My understanding is that this program has been formalized through the AMMOS program and graduate network, and it is a phenomenal way to train and test an organization’s preparedness while uncovering gaps in capabilities.
ER: As our fleet of fifth generation aircraft in the Air Force inventory continues to grow, we have purchased more Contractor Logistics Support (CLS). Some have argued that shifting back to organic support is a more sustainable and viable solution. How do you see us balancing these two maintenance models?
Morani: You have it correct when you use the term “balance.” For “white jet” undergraduate pilot training, 100 percent CLS may work, but not for maintaining operational readiness of military forces. It is an inherent responsibility of the military to have the technical competencies to manage and perform field level maintenance and the other supply chain processes to support fielded forces. This is not the role of contractors, but the mission of an operationally ready, fight-tonight military. While contractors can support some depot-level and enterprise supply chain roles, it is essential that we have a ready and right-sized logistics capability to keep the force proficient and to sustain them in a conflict. This includes all the supply chain processes as well. We need to carefully consider what we outsource, particularly as it relates to field-level logistics, whether that is supporting sortie production for training or contingencies.
ER: How do we meet the demands of the high-end fight while balancing the need to sustain our legacy weapon systems?
Morani: Your question implies that we cannot meet a high-end fight with legacy systems. A legacy platform is not necessarily bad if it still satisfies the capability requirements of the Warfighter. It’s only problematic when the system is at the end of its life cycle without a funded modernization or service life extension program. While it’s essential for the Department to maintain a technological advantage over our adversary, it should not be at the expense of sustainment. I cringe when I hear people talk about taking funding away from sustainment and putting it into development. This assumes that somehow sustainment requirements are less important than mission or developmental requirements. Sustainment is not an option. It is designed into each weapons system and to trade it off will cause the system to age out earlier than designed or not meet the designed capability of the system. Skip a couple of maintenance cycles on your sophisticated European sports sedan and you will find out just how much more expensive it is to restore the performance than if you accomplished the maintenance when scheduled.
ER: Some Air Force senior leaders have made comments regarding the service spending too much on sustainment and that we need to figure out how to scale sustainment funding in order to accelerate the development of new technology. As requirements/cost growth continue to be a concern as we take on weapon systems like the F-35 and KC-46, how and where do we find the balance?
Morani: If the intention is to take funds from current readiness accounts to support future changes in structural readiness, I fundamentally disagree with this zero-sum approach, because it upsets the balance between operational and structural readiness. It trades one thing for another, when we really need both. Sustainment is a requirement and not tradeable. Although it tends to be traded-off because the impacts are not felt upfront in the acquisition cycle. However, it is no less important than any other capability that is necessary to deliver mission effects and should not be viewed as a trade-off to fund structural readiness. The cost of sustaining fielded systems is set when the sustainment strategy is designed as part of the overall acquisition strategy. Perhaps the cost to achieve an incremental increase in reliability or maintainability was seen as too costly at the time and more frequent inspections were required, or perhaps a technology wasn’t mature enough to deliver the designed availability and therefore more spares were required to support the system. Either way, the die was cast during the acquisition phase and once fielded, we must live with those decisions. As systems age through their life cycle, they require continuous inspection, test, service, repair, rebuild, and calibration. If we rob from sustainment accounts, the readiness impacts may not show up immediately, but the effects will manifest when there are no spares on the shelf. When this occurs, readiness rates drop drastically, not slightly. From there, recovery may take years due to parts lead-time delay or worse, obsolescence due to no demand signal. There’s a direct relationship between a healthy inventory of spares and operational readiness.
However, we can reduce life cycle sustainment costs by focusing on the long game rather than upfront procurement costs. The sustainment key performance parameter (KPP) that was added to the capabilities development and design process considered sustainment an integral component to performance. It ensures the Warfighter is delivered a system with optimal availability and reliability at an affordable life cycle cost. Funding reliability centered maintenance programs to increase mean time between failures also reduces costs and improves availability. Investing in sustainment technologies that reduce troubleshooting and inspection cycle times and implementing modern maintenance strategies like Condition-Based Maintenance Plus (CBM+) to perform maintenance based on a deep understanding of repair data and projected need serve to round out the combination of options that a program office can use to control or even reverse sustainment cost growth.
Another point I would make is really a question: “What problem are we trying to solve?” Is it a problem with the defense industrial base not having the competencies and proficiencies to design and build modern, highly complex weapons systems? If so, that is a different problem that can be addressed in other more creative ways than with sustainment funding. Perhaps this problem can be solved more affordably by using advanced modeling and simulation approaches, or build-offs that hone the skills of scientists and engineers, but do not necessarily result in the replacement of weapon systems that are still operationally relevant. Just like we strive to become more efficient with sustainment dollars, the same argument can be made with how we invest in basic research, development, and engineering.
The last point I would make is that requirements owners (aka “the Warfighter”) should be at the center of these discussions. The Warfighter will ultimately be responsible for determining the balance between operational readiness and structural readiness. Where this risk is spread is for commanders to determine, not developers or sustainers.
ER: Recently, you were part of a Joint Acquisition Task Force helping to solve medical and health resource shortages and on-shore manufacturing capability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. How has COVID-19 affected our supply chain? Do you see the pandemic’s impact as short-term or long-term? What are some lessons learned the Department can apply post-pandemic?
Morani: I could go in several directions with this question, so let me talk about how this event demonstrates that readiness requires both a healthy inventory and a healthy industrial base. This pandemic shined the light on how fragile our medical supply chains became when we traded-off readiness for low prices and minimized inventory cost by holding minimal days-of-supply. Just like military readiness, medical readiness needs both elements; it just happens to be different commodities. This is why the Department of Health and Human Services is not only replenishing the strategic national stockpile, but also radically resizing and equipping it with the necessary medical personal protective equipment (PPE), pharmaceuticals, and testing supplies to respond to a national level crisis. This means increasing inventory levels by 1000-2000 percent for some key PPE items. In addition, the nation needs a ready and controlled source of domestic medical supplies, so we need establish companies that can produce these items on our shores. This is similar to how the military departments have an organic industrial base that can produce the commodities and equipment to sustain weapon systems. Just like depots, these companies also need some level of reserve capacity that can ramp to a higher production rate through second or third shift operations to meet peak demand. Although, to have this healthy domestic medical industrial base, it must be economically viable and sustainable, otherwise it will be temporary. If we take a short-term view that a vaccine will solve our problems and do not invest in this capability, we will likely repeat the same outcome in the event of another pandemic. For the Department of Defense, we can use COVID-19 to recognize our own need for a “healthy-shelf” that can absorb a surge in consumption (i.e. a major conflict) while the organic and defense sector manufacturers produce to sustain operations. As with the medical readiness model, the Department will also need to make the appropriate investments in parts inventories and capacity.
ER: American society is feeling the effects of this new stay-at-home and telework environment. As a senior leader, how do you continue to build connectedness amongst your team and remain tightly linked with your work force?
Morani: In my organization we have a mix of employees teleworking and those physically reporting for duty. We have daily morning synchronization meetings to make sure we have “ears on” with the entire team at least once a day. As a positive consequence of sheltering, the pandemic has accelerated the use of multiple new collaboration tools that are making it easy to communicate and, where cameras are authorized, still see each other. For a mature workforce that has learned appropriate socialization skills and have pre-existing relationships, I’ve seen minimal negative impact. My concern is with new employees on-boarding into an organization and ensuring they are able to establish healthy relationships. Building connectedness must be deliberate through creating opportunities to grow those relationships. Again, for a mature workforce, this is less of a problem, but for new entrants to the workforce, this will be problematic. Human capital development will be negatively affected if high school and college students do not return to in-school learning. Remote learning can lead to a slow down or disengagement in learning, causing students to be ill-prepared to enter the workforce. From a socialization perspective, lack of common rules, behavioral norms and expectations will also affect how groups interact and manage disagreement in a civil, professional manner. If society doesn’t prepare young adults entering the military, that means it falls to the Services to spend more time and resources to ensure new recruits understand and can operate as a unit.
ER: As the new Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Brown laid out his top priorities during his May confirmation hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee—his number six priority is “establishing flexible logistics.” Nested in his priority is the idea of logistics under attack and the need for agile and survivable solutions. How do you see the mindset of the logistics community shifting to meet the Chief’s guidance?
Morani: The concept of logistics under attack is not new. Coming from Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), General Brown has a greater appreciation and is rightly addressing how to operate within a contested environment where long lines of communication are no longer guaranteed secure. To meet the Chief’s intent, the mindset for not only the logistics community but also the operations community has to change. Logistical support cannot just be assumed available; in fact, planning should reflect the opposite. We should assume it will be limited in scope and duration as well as require more time to reconstitute. While we need to make investments in equipment and supplies to support this concept, we cannot completely buy our way out of this problem, nor can we assume that operations will be restricted to one region of the globe. Therefore, we need to shift our thinking in terms of a globally integrated approach. The current Joint Concept for Logistics describes the required capabilities that we need to enable logistics that are flexible and globally integrated. For this concept to work, we also need a decision support information network, enabled through a common operating picture, where operations, intelligence, and logistics information can be synthesized to identify requirements, anticipate problems, and assess availability or constraints. Information agility will be key under the Chief’s concept and will provide commanders timely options to rapidly allocate, reallocate, or apportion materiel based on optimal courses of action.
ER: If you could change something in the Air Force logistics portfolio that would make us more lethal, agile, or effective, what would it be?
Morani: In line with what we discussed earlier, I would change how we assume risk and how we fund our logistics capabilities. While we all recognize there are budget trade-offs, we must keep a proper balance between developing new capabilities and sustaining our current capabilities. It is a balance between what has been described as structural readiness (i.e., do I have the right force structure and can it accomplish what I need to do) and operational readiness (i.e., is my force proficient and adequately equipped to fight now). Logistics sets the outer limits of what is operationally possible—it can be the enabler that guarantees victory, or the constraint that causes defeat. If we do not adequately and consistently resource logistics and sustainment accounts to achieve the operational readiness levels necessary to support the plans and capability requirements of the Warfighter, we won’t be ready. Logistics requirements are not optional or any less important than operational or mission requirements. They are part of the military readiness “insurance premium” and we need to treat them equally.
ER: If you met Lieutenant Morani today, what piece of advice would you give him?
Morani: There is a lot of advice I could give Lieutenant Morani as he begins his military journey, but if I had to give him one piece of advice above all others that would help him as a leader and as a productive citizen, I would tell him to always treat others with dignity and respect. Everyone has value and deserves to be treated with equal respect. While everyone may not have the same aptitude, capabilities, or aspirations, everyone has the ability to contribute in a positive way if given the opportunity. Assume that everyone has positive intentions and that if given the right motivation, they will create value for your team. It’s up to leaders to find the right fit for each team member, and to challenge and develop them to contribute their best to the mission. This is the essence of leadership.