The logistics story of Camp Bastion
Supply Chain Digital spoke to two of the logistics team at the British Armed Forces, responsible for bringing Afghanistan's Camp Bastion back to the UK.
You’ll have heard of Camp Bastion. The British Armed Forces base in Afghanistan became synonymous with the fight against the Taliban. But what you might not know is what was involved in creating a town the size of Reading in a land-locked country, while under attack from a pretty determined enemy. And unlike most towns, Camp Bastion needed the ability to evolve and fully support the troops there with everything they would need from vehicle maintenance to a hot meal. And then, of course, it would need to be dismantled and taken back to the UK again at the end.
The camp started as just a few tents back in 2005, but as the need for a logistics hub in Afghanistan became apparent, its importance grew, as Senior Infrastructure Office for the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Quinn, explains: “Initially we thought of Kandahar, but it was just a bit too far away to provide a forward hub of logistics, so that was the genesis of Camp Bastion. One of the key drivers was to place a hospital within easy reach of the guys engaged in combat on the ground. A metric we have is one hour between being a casualty on the battlefield and going in to surgery in the hospital, so the siting of the hospital was a key factor.”
The location of Camp Bastion was also central to where they thought the operation would be conducted, but out of easy rocket range, to learn lessons from Iraq and avoid indirect fire. And another point in Camp Bastion’s favour was its location on top of an aquifer, which meant the team could drill down deep enough to get water.
But, as Quinn points out, Camp Bastion was only ever designed to be a small base, a logistics hub, with a hospital. But over time, this changed. “We thought actually we need to invest in Bastion,” says Quinn. The runway wasn’t big enough to airlift, so it an expansion was invested in. And then a maintenance facility was built in Bastion, to avoid having to fly helicopters to Kandahar for essential work. So, bit by bit, Camp Bastion grew. It even built its own bottling plant for bottled water. “When we asked a logistics question, the answer always turned out to be to invest in Camp Bastion,” says Quinn.
Eventually, it had the same footprint as the English town of Reading. Although Quinn prefers describing it as more similar to Aldershot – with Gatwick Airport attached. Because during the peak of Camp Bastion’s operations, it had one of the busiest UK airports in at that time.
Building and sustaining such a base was an immense task – as was closing it down. Major Charlie Perkins, was the Adjutant of the Theatre Logistics Group, a role which involved overseeing the breakdown of the camp. Perkins says: “The Theatre Logistics Group was responsible for taking all the kit and equipment, triaging it, deciding how it was going to be disposed of and what was going to be returned to the UK. The first unit deployed in March 2014 and we were all out by December of that year.”
Just nine months does not seem like a huge amount of time for such as challenge, and Quinn says that every single item was assessed to decide what was cost-effective to return to the UK and what could be disposed of or handed over to the Afghan National Army. He adds: “Then, the question is, how do we get the stuff back? This process works by first designing the last 90 days or so in the camp, working out what our footprint on the ground would be and what we would need and then working back from there.”
Perkins was involved in this from right at the start, as she explains: “I was in central Helmand back in 2012, decommissioning check points and patrol bases, so I saw the very start of the process. But we had something to collapse into – Camp Bastion. We had to think about how we were going to go through the same process with Camp Bastion itself.”
By the time the First Logisitcs Support Regiment turned up at Camp Bastion in March 2014, the big strategic thinking had happened. “We knew what our timeframe and deadlines were, so it was a case of rolling on from what the previous Theatre Logistics Group had already started. And what we did find was that we managed to speed things up, which was great,” says Perkins.
The Theatre Logistics Group, at its absolute peak, consisted of around 800 people, with that number constantly reducing as the December deadline approached. But a far higher number of people were involved in the close down of Camp Bastion, as Laurence Quinn says: “It’s a lot more than you imagine and it depends on when you stop counting them! As well as those involved in Afghanistan on the ground, there was a large number of UK-based people too. Even if logistics wasn’t your day job – it touched everybody to some extent. And then the other hidden number is contractors, we had thousands of contractors involved.”
The closure of bases came under the acrony of BRAC-T - which is bases realignment and closure (transition) – and there was a policy on how it was conducted, including the condition kit and equipment was sent back in. Generally, says Perkins, as much as possible was done in Camp Bastion so a minimum of intervention was needed when it arrived back in the UK.
Quinn adds: “A large amount of kit went by sea because flying wasn’t always cost effective, so it would fly out to marry up with sea transport. We did try some land movement but it took a long time and could only do with low risk items such as tented camps.”
And all this had to be done while not compromising the troops on the ground. Quinn says: “To the time we handed it over to the ANA, Camp Bastion was evolving. Stuff was still being built two months before it closed – because it was needed for our capabilities. Everything we did was for our capabilities. Camp Bastion was an incredible achievement.”
This interview was published in the December 2015 issue of Supply Chain Digital.
DHL and UPS: How is 3PL Evolving in 2021?
To optimise their supply chains, many companies have turned to third-party logistics providers—3PLs—to outsource how they manage inventory, stock warehouses, fulfil customer orders, pack pallets, and handle returns. Especially in the midst of the pandemic, corporations have struggled to satisfy their customers, mitigate shipping delays, and react to rapid spikes in demand. In short: if logistics isn’t your core competency, rely on the experts.
To examine the current state of 3PL, we decided to have a quick roundtable with Philippe Gilbert, President of UPS Supply Chain Solutions, and Phil Roe, Chief Customer Officer and Strategy Director at DHL Supply Chain. Here’s what they have to say on the subject:
What are the fundamental benefits of partnering with a third-party logistics provider?
‘Proper supply chain visibility and planning is one of the key challenges facing modern supply chains’, says Phil. ‘Supply chains now cover multiple jurisdictions across significant distances. They’re also omnichannel, meaning that it’s now standard practice for there to be multiple routes to the customer’. Philippe adds that, ‘3PLs can deliver efficiencies and resources across the supply chain that are difficult for most businesses to replicate’.
According to a study from UPS Global Logistics, five major challenges drive companies to outsource:
- Limited Space
- Increased Customer Expectations
- Faster Order Fulfilment
- Reduced Labour Costs
- Multiple Fulfilment Channels
Now, the pandemic has accelerated 3PL adoption. In that same UPS survey, 29% of respondents indicated that they’d switch to outsourcing their logistics as a direct result of the past year. ‘One of the biggest issues impacting our current customers is the timing on inventory levels’, says Philippe. ‘Production delays out of APAC have pushed receipts and built back orders of products’.
How are 3PLs helping businesses cope with broader disruptions, such as Brexit, transport logjams, and driver shortages?
‘We can categorise supply chain disruptions into three broad areas’, explains Phil. ‘Demand-side, supply-side, and environmental. Some of these are easier to control than others, but all benefit from proper oversight and the ability to quickly adapt’. When the Brits finalised Brexit, for example, DHL scaled up areas that needed specialist support, such as customs processing. ‘We can leverage our network and redeploy on demand’, he explains.
As for UPS, the company developed a post-Brexit SCS solution that enabled its clients to keep inventory closer to their UK customers. ‘We can maintain a broad portfolio of carriers and providers to quickly adapt to supply chain disruptions’, Philippe says. ‘This allows customers to avoid service delays, added costs, and administrative burdens associated with customs clearance’.
Next, this conversation would be incomplete if we didn’t talk about how the boom in e-commerce has affected 3PL.
Do you anticipate that e-commerce growth will continue?
‘The growth of the past 18 months shows no sign of slowing down’, Phil says. ‘Consumer habits have altered, in some cases, permanently. Over the last eight months, DHL has seen a 150% increase in its fulfilment division—reflecting the soaring demand’. To keep up, the company has focused on data and automation, as well as deploying robotics solutions alongside its employees. ‘Whether that’s automated pallet systems or pick-and-pack robots’, Phil explains, ‘we’ve coupled technology and data to manage demand, meet customer expectations, and smooth out labour requirements’.
Fundamentally, e-commerce is driving demand for additional labour and space. ‘This presents a unique opportunity for 3PL’, Philippe says. ‘New entrants in retail platforms, though currently small, will look to disrupt the giant retail players. They’ll be closer to their customers in the city. And they’ll try to unify and digitalise SME brick-and-mortar retailers’.
How are shifting customer expectations - such as the next-day “Amazon Effect” - impacting 3PL?
‘We see 3PLs expanding their networks to be closer to consumers and integrating fulfilment with last-mile delivery’, says Philippe. ‘They have to expand their reverse logistics, including investments in warehouse space’. He suggests that data analytics can enhance visibility and help 3PL companies address inefficiencies. ‘With the right technology’, he says, ‘businesses can access accurate, connected data and derive actionable insights’.
Predictive and prescriptive analytics, when coupled with artificial intelligence and machine learning, can help companies understand when, why, and how supply chain disruptions occur. ‘This way’, Philippe adds, ‘they can prepare for them—or better yet, sidestep them completely’.
In addition, customers now expect companies to follow through on their social commitments...
Can 3PLs help organisations deliver on their ESG objectives, such as reducing carbon emissions?
Absolutely. Through UPS’s Eco-Responsible Packaging Programme, for instance, the company evaluates its clients’ packaging processes to determine the best way to protect their products and the planet. In addition, the corporation works with carriers on creative, lower-emissions solutions. ‘By 2025, we plan to source 40% of all ground fuel from sources other than conventional gasoline and diesel’, Philippe explains. ‘That’s nearly double what we used in 2016’. By then, 25% of UPS’s total electricity will come from renewable sources.
As for DHL, the company offers a portfolio of GoGreen solutions, which offers its customers a range of ways to minimise their impact on the environment. ‘This includes everything from carbon reporting and analytics solutions to investments in internationally-recognised climate protection projects’, says Phil. ‘Sustainability provides us an opportunity to collaborate with our customers’.
Yet, it’s often challenging to serve customers in highly regulated industries. How can companies overcome those hurdles?
‘Companies operating in highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals and life science face extra pressure on their supply chains’, Phil explains. ‘Dealing with rapidly growing changes then requires depth and breadth, which is something a global business such as DHL can offer’. To overcome regulatory challenges, DHL offers its clients dedicated sector specialists who understand niche industries but still have access to its global network.
At the end of the day, Philippe comments, 3PLs must take responsibility for running compliant programmes and services. ‘Licensed or not’, he says, ‘they’ll need to work with their highly regulated customers to ensure that SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and audit processes are in place’.
What do the next 12 months hold for 3PL providers?
‘Providers will focus on mastering omnichannel e-commerce’, says Philippe. ‘You’ll see faster last-mile delivery, more sustainable logistics and packaging, and better forecasting for risk management’. Overall, he notes, 3PL providers will invest in data analytics and new warehouse technologies to provide greater visibility into their supply chains.
For example, UPS is rolling out a new suite of digital engagement tools. According to Philippe, the company introduced a new UPS Forwarding Hub, UPS Customs Brokerage, and CoyoteGo portals to help their supply chain solution clients. In addition, its e-Fulfilment and Ware2Go products help small- and medium-sized businesses outsource with ease. ‘We’ve focused on adopting technologies to improve our operations’, Philippe says.
Finally, UPS’s Advanced Technology Group (ATG) has implemented robotics, drones, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, new software platforms, and sensor technologies to increase its 2021 revenues and cut bottom-line costs. Says Philippe: ‘With these tools, we can meet customer expectations for real-time tracking, end-to-end visibility, and personalised service’.
And there you have it: the future of 3PL.