Naval Logistics in Contested Environments

Research Questions

  1. What is the current state of the supply chain for munitions and naval aviation repair parts?
  2. Can the defense industrial base support a Western Pacific scenario?
  3. How can the Navy mitigate shortages and supply chain challenges?

The U.S. Navy is evolving toward distributed maritime operations (DMO) in order to mass overwhelming combat power in response to the capabilities of near-peer adversaries in the Western Pacific theater (namely, China). To support the DMO concept, the Navy needs new approaches to logistics and the resupply and sustainment of distributed units.

Giving particular attention to the acquisition end of the military supply chain, the authors analyze two commodities — munitions and naval aviation spare parts — and identify specific challenges and constraints the Navy faces: Current supply chains are focused on steady-state demands and near-term readiness concerns. Demand metrics are based on historical analyses of past conflicts that do not match expected demands in a Western Pacific scenario under DMO conditions. Differences in incentives among critical stakeholders also complicate the Navy’s ability to source to expected demand levels. A shift in focus to just-in-time logistics and resource conservation makes it difficult to stockpile and invest to meet future readiness. Even if the Navy were to fix its demand forecasting capability, issues of diminishing manufacturing sources, shared production lines, and existing funding mechanisms limit the Navy’s ability to surge to meet demand.

In light of these challenges, the authors recommend possible mitigation strategies to address demand forecasting, budgetary concerns, and industrial base capacity. Their recommendations emphasize improved operations planning and execution (near-term objective), increasing inventory of repair parts (mid-term goal), and investing in future systems and force design (long-term strategy).

Key Findings

  • The Navy’s current supply chain initiatives focus on fixing near-term readiness.
  • Current models and demand estimates do not accurately account for DMO requirements.
  • Misaligned incentives among key stakeholders make it challenging to source adequately to meet wartime demands.
  • The Navy is not currently buying to meet the demand required for major combat operations and would be short hundreds of weapons under any operating concept.
  • Issues in the industrial base capacity would also prevent the Navy from surging to meet demand.
  • Funding mechanisms complicate buying to meet wartime needs.
  • Complex relationships and shared production lines obscure awareness of vulnerabilities in the supply chain.
  • Mitigation strategies are needed to address demand forecasting, budgetary concerns, and industrial base capacity.


  • In the near term, the Navy should accept risk so that it can prioritize longer-term investment in increased inventory for repair parts and newer technologies and system design.
  • In the near term (the next three years), if conflict with a near-peer competitor arises, the Navy’s options include reallocating inventory from other theaters, surging production shifts to meet an immediate increase in demand for munitions, and using emergency mobilization mechanisms.
  • In the mid-term (two to seven years), the Navy should increase inventory, whether by buying more munitions, investing in factory infrastructure, or appropriating Navy dollars for buffer stocks.
  • In the long term (five to 15 years), investments should be directed toward modular designs and emerging technologies for munitions and next-generation platforms, such as the F-35.
  • Across all time horizons, the Navy should focus its efforts on improving how it calculates demand by using better engineering models, kill chain system assessments, and live testing.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Logistics Directorate; and conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Center (NMF) of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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