By Maj. Daniel J.N. BelzerOctober 4, 2018
The operations process requires that commanders understand, visualize, describe, and then direct. Staffs play a critical role in informing commanders' understanding. At the outset of any military decisionmaking process (MDMP), the key preparatory task for any staff is to understand the operational environment. Understanding is a collaborative process at the operational level, and it requires maneuver and sustainment staffs to define the roles and responsibilities for each headquarters.
This article focuses on two practices that assist operational-level staffs with understanding and visualizing sustainment during decisive action. The first, called the "fights slide," categorizes staff responsibilities. The second, the "hourglass method," is a new concept that commanders and staffs can use to visualize proactive sustainment. Together the two tools empower sustainment decision-making in advance of a critical maneuver event or decision.
THE FIGHTS SLIDE
At the outset of any MDMP process, the key preparatory task for any staff is to understand the operational environment. Understanding is a collaborative process at the operational level and requires that maneuver and sustainment staffs define the roles and responsibilities for each headquarters.
In any decisive action environment, the sustainment enterprise presents several strategic and operational staff elements that empower maneuver commanders. The staffs' roles are not always clear, especially when new teams begin a decisive action fight without a previous working relationship. Without defining the "fights" between two headquarters, duplicative effort and informational fratricide are not just a risk but a forgone conclusion.
Prior to Warfighter Exercise (WFX) 17-04, the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) identified ways to coordinate and communicate the relationships and responsibilities of the joint task force (JTF) J-4, a coalition forces land component command (CFLCC) C-4, and an ESC. Integrating an ESC into any corps-level task organization, whether in direct support or through an operational control relationship, requires a higher headquarters to establish plans and priorities while the ESC executes those priorities. Both staff outputs, whether prioritization or execution, set sustainment conditions for critical maneuver events, but both staffs must independently set their own planning priorities.
During WFX 17-04, the length of theater lines of communication drove the response time. The 593rd ESC managed that response time through mission orders and direct communication with executing units. For WFX 17-04, the fights were arranged so that the ESC managed current and limited future operations. As a result, the C-4 and J-4 staffs were able to focus on future operations and plans.
While counterintuitive, this arrangement was symbiotic. By relieving the C-4 and J-4 staffs of the full-time requirement to manage current operations and reporting, those staffs could focus their limited manpower elsewhere. The 593rd ESC, less encumbered by a higher staff section's desire for data, was able to accept responsibility for providing the CFLCC and JTF commanders with situational understanding.
The fights slide technique established roles and responsibilities during WFX 17-04. (See figure 1.) The idea is simple. Acknowledging that both the CFLCC and ESC staffs have similar management umbrellas, the slide establishes the focus for each staff within specific areas. The CFLCC and ESC spend their time working toward common goals rather than confirming that their independent actions served the broader commander's intent.
Settling the duties and responsibilities between a JTF J-4, a CFLCC C-4, and an ESC is absolutely critical during the MDMP. Left undone, or done sloppily, the sustainment enterprise cannot hope to unify its efforts to set sustainment conditions prior to critical maneuver decisions.
The goal of all logisticians is a commonly understood sustainment plan that provides the maneuver commander with the operational reach, endurance, and freedom of action required to win. That plan must identify and execute key sustainment tasks in advance of a maneuver requirement to minimize the risk of a tactical delay when momentum is most critical.
The simplest way to identify and tackle the most critical sustainment conditions is to plan for catastrophic tactical success or failure in the maneuver fight. U.S. forces could achieve all of the goals of phase III before sustainment conditions are set for transitioning to phase IV. Worse, they could achieve most of the goals for phase III and find that the lines of communication are unsustainable for the final engagement.
Alternately, obstacles and enemy air defense could be substantially more effective than expected, and joint forces may have to revert back to phase II to develop strategic and operational stocks of critical munitions, bridges, and ordnance disposal equipment before continuing phase III. Success in this scenario could come from friendly or enemy actions or inactions; it could also be the result of the failure of either force to adapt to new conditions. The operational and strategic sustainment enterprise is primarily concerned with how the altered situation compels future key sustainment tasks, conditions, and decisions.
THE HOURGLASS METHOD
Once the JTF, CFLCC, and ESC leaders set roles and responsibilities, the sustainment enterprise requires a way to compare and contrast current conditions with future operations. The visualization is the most important collaborative tool for recommending sustainment decisions at the flag-officer level.
The hourglass method is one way to graphically nest the current situation in key sustainment tasks and critical sustainment conditions. (See figure 2.) Sustainment conditions correlate with sustainment decisions that must occur in advance of a maneuver decision.
Once the ESC commander or the CFLCC deputy commanding general for sustainment (DCG-S) makes relevant decisions and maneuver forces begin executing a critical event, the process continues with shaping tasks. Shaping tasks generate conditions for the next wave of key sustainment tasks after a maneuver decision changes the operational environment.
The hourglass focuses on a point where the maneuver commander makes a decision that influences a critical event. The enemy must react, which creates new conditions on the ground that restart the process with sustainment shaping and key tasks. Maneuver decisions in this method normally mirror critical maneuver events that exploit an initiative and maintain momentum.
Figure 3 presents a fictional snapshot of phase III combat in a decisive action environment. The coloring system is a method for identifying where the staff is progressing from items newly added. The decision points and critical events in this model are fixed unless a branch, sequel, or change in the operational environment requires a change to the decision-support matrix.
The model is read from left to right. There are five key sustainment tasks that support CFLCC decision point 1. Those key sustainment tasks set conditions for the 593rd ESC's decision points, which match or model the criteria the CFLCC commander established in his intent.
Once a critical event occurs, the operational environment is altered, and future key sustainment tasks may be infeasible.
Shaping tasks are a way for the staff to predict the outcomes of critical events and anticipate sustainment, which leads the commander toward the next set of key sustainment tasks. These tasks assisted the 593rd ESC commander in communicating his operations and planning horizons to the CFLCC DCG-S and the commanding general of the theater sustainment command.
The hourglass model provides the sustainment enterprise with a way to visualize, contextualize, and prioritize what must be done to enable CFLCC and JTF decision-making. Units can adapt each item to highlight a staff assessment of the progress made in key tasks, sustainment conditions, or shaping tasks. Units could also highlight new conditions or key tasks with bold text. This would immediately draw attention to staff actions that have changed since the last hourglass was provided to the ESC commander and the CFLCC or JTF DCG-S.
The hourglass method builds upon the Army operations process and the MDMP. Understanding the mission alone is insufficient. During the MDMP, joint, component, and ESC staffs need to delineate their roles for executing a responsive multimodal sustainment plan. The fights slide provides a way to do that with flexible management umbrellas. The hourglass method then helps sustainment staffs to understand and visualize the conditions, tasks, and decisions that occur in sequence in order to support decisive action.
Maj. Daniel J.N. Belzer is the executive officer of the 308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Brigade. He was previously the lead support operations planner for Warfighter Exercise 17-04 and the S-4 for the 2nd Infantry Division Artillery at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Virginia Military Institute and a master's degree in supply chain management from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a graduate of the Red Team, National Security Policy, and Theater Logistics courses.
Brig. Gen. Jack Haley, Col. Dennis Kerwood, retired Col. Dave Saffold, Capt. Jon-Michael King, and many other members of the 593rd ESC contributed to this article.
This article is an Army Sustainment product.