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NEWS | April 5, 2024

Symposium brings together Army, industry leaders across OIB enterprise

By Michelle L. Gordon

The Aviation and Missile Command brought representatives from the Army and industry together for the fourth annual Organic Industrial Base Modernization Symposium and Industry Day held April 2-4 at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

The symposium is one of the few opportunities for industry representatives to showcase their capabilities directly to their government partners. The focus is OIB modernization — a 15-year, multi-billion process launched in October 2023 to overhaul the Army’s 23 depots, arsenals and ammunition points. Although AMCOM returned as host for the event, new this year was sponsorship by Army Materiel Command, which opened up the discussion to all OIB sites Army-wide.

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences organized the industry day portion of the symposium, which offered venders the opportunity to showcase next-generation technologies that could contribute to maintenance solutions for the Army. The exhibitors gained high visibility for their products and services, as well as learned about opportunities for collaboration among the leading technology experts who serve the Army’s maintenance community.

Event coordinator Robert Sullivan said AMC saw value in the symposium because it brings people from across the OIB enterprise together to share best practices, discuss challenges, and help each other solve problems.

“Industry experts are also here to show us their capabilities to help solve those problems,” Sullivan said. “They showcase their technologies, and we are looking at how they align with the decisions the leaders are making.”

Sullivan said the first day of the three-day symposium focused on data analytics and metrics, both from the government perspective and industry. Day two provided an OIB site perspective, and the final day was from a headquarters perspective.

Marion Whicker, AMC’s top civilian, kicked off the event with a brief overview of the modernization effort. She told the hybrid audience that nearly three years ago, Congress told the Army the OIB was in a state of disrepair and needed modernizing, and 18 months later, the Army had a plan spanning 15 years. 

She said the biggest challenge was that the modernization plan must happen concurrently with the daily repair-and-return of weapons systems to maintain readiness. She likened it to the auto industry, saying they can shut down for two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter for retooling. 

“The Army can’t do that,” Whicker said. “We have to keep rolling along.”

Whicker called the plan a tremendous undertaking, as the facilities, on average, are about 80 years old. She described in detail the five lines of effort: facilities, tooling and processes, workforce, network and cyber, and energy and environment. Of the five lines of effort, she said cyber is where the Army will need the most help from their industry partners.

“One of the good things about our OIB today is that they are not very cyber-vulnerable because our machines are old,” Whicker said. “They are not networked, so there isn’t a lot of cyber and IT built into them, but as we retool, we will be using modern capabilities. Outfitting the facilities with cyber and IT is probably one of our biggest challenges as it is not in our lexicon of capabilities.” 

Accomplishing those five lines of effort across 23 OIB sites over 15 years and implementing them in three phases requires meticulous organization and accountability, especially when Congress wants to know where every penny of the $18 billion is spent.

To do so, the OIB Modernization Task Force meets twice yearly for a war game meeting.

OIB Modernization Task Force Director Stephanie Hoaglin said the war games include all 23 site commanders, their deputies and subject matter experts, as well as personnel from the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), program management offices, and other stakeholders such as the Army Corps of Engineers and Army Contracting Command. 

“The task force is the integrator of all things modernization,” Hoaglin said. “We bring all the different colors of money and all of the different programs and create a holistic view.”

That holistic view is best represented in Vulcan. This data-driven decision-making tool not only includes every detail of the OIB modernization master plan but also evaluates risk and impacts if there are budget cuts and what those cuts could mean for the OIB enterprise as a whole. 

Named after the Roman god of forge and foundry, Vulcan is not a database but a tool that tracks how each project is funded and prioritized and assists with decision-making. Whicker demonstrated Vulcan’s capabilities and benefits at the symposium.

She said, “In FY23, Congress said, ‘What can you move to the left? What can you do faster with more money?’ Because we had Vulcan as our management tool, rather than take weeks or a month to compile data, we were very quickly able to push a couple of buttons and make informed decisions. The Army ended up getting an additional $1.5 billion to address shortcomings at the ammo plants.”

However, as organized as the task force is, the Army cannot do it alone. Whicker and Hoaglin said public-private partnerships with academia and the defense industrial base are vital to a successful Army OIB modernization plan.

“We are experts in our installation. We are experts in sustainment. We are expert logisticians, but we are not experts in modernization,” Hoaglin said. “We are collaborators. The reason why events like this symposium are so important to me and my team is because I don’t know what industry has to offer. These events allow me to know where I can go and who I can ask for help.”

Whicker told the crowd about another event where the Department of Defense needed critical assistance from its industry partners — the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

She said the vaccine task force realized dry ice was not factored into the plan two weeks before the vaccine was scheduled to be distributed. She remembered their market investigations included a commercial carrier that manufactures its own dry ice for shipments. Whicker contacted the company president, and the carrier was manufacturing dry ice for the Army a few days later.

“I tell you that because I want you to keep giving us your good ideas,” she said. “Keep telling us about your capabilities because even though we may not use them today, we keep that database. And I guarantee you, there will be things that happen that we don’t even know about today. That’s what we want; we want you to share your good ideas with the Army.”