Mission command of sustainment operations

By Maj. Gen. Steven A. Shapiro and Maj. Oliver DavisNovember 4, 2019

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The Army Vision released on June 6, 2018, states that near-peer threats "will increasingly challenge the United States and our allies in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific region." Conceivably, future conflict may consist of large-scale operations across multiple continents similar to what the world experienced during the two world wars.

Our resource- and sustainment-dependent forces will rely on rapid resupply to the forward line of troops to execute all phases of the operation. With a large number of sustainment organizations in theater and a responsibility to sustain forces from the ports in the rear to troops on the forward line, how does a theater sustainment command (TSC) conduct mission command of sustainment operations?


What is mission command of sustainment units, and how does it differ from mission command of sustainment operations? Joint and Army doctrine is clear regarding how to exercise command and control and mission command. Doctrine delineates clear command and support relationships that leave little confusion about who a subordinate unit answers to.

However, sustainment headquarters are often expected to own sustainment, often with no clear command relationship with units in their areas of operations. Adding to confusion, doctrine is not clear on how to execute mission command of sustainment operations.

Army doctrine defines mission command in Army Doctrine Publication 6-0, Mission Command, as "the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander's intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations."

Similarly, a sustainment headquarters executes mission command of sustainment units with authority over units within its own task organization. Whether the unit is assigned, attached, under operational control (OPCON), or under tactical control, the line and block chart leaves little confusion about which headquarters a sustainment organization answers to. Defining mission command of sustainment operations--not just of sustainment units--is more difficult since there is no doctrinal definition for it.

In a theater area of operations, mission command of sustainment operations is the senior sustainment commander's authority to direct all sustainment based on the sustainment priorities established by the combatant commander. The TSC is required to bridge the gap between tactical sustainers and the strategic enterprise. The TSC brings all capabilities to bear through centralized planning, synchronization, and decentralized execution, and the TSC commander is empowered to make decisions on behalf of the combatant commander.

Field Manual 4-95, Logistics Operations, provides a glimpse into the difference between mission command of sustainment units and mission command of sustainment operations by defining logistics mission command. However, the definition of logistics mission command specifies only the collaboration between logistics organizations through planning and synchronization and does not address the authority of a sustainment headquarters without clear command relationships.

Without a clear definition of mission command of sustainment operations, a TSC commander must implement control measures to exercise mission command of sustainment operations in both the joint security area and joint operations area.


Mission command of sustainment operations may look different across the multiple phases of a joint operation. Figure 1 shows how much military effort is applied to each activity during the different phases of a joint operation. The number and types of sustainment forces during the shaping phase will look much different than they will look during the dominate phase.

However, before we take a look at the transition of mission command across the phases, we need to look at exactly what unique authorities a sustainment headquarters has in order to conduct mission command of sustainment operations.

Logistics doctrine does not specify mission command of sustainment units as the preferred method of mission command, but there are enough examples in doctrine to understand why planners see this as the paradigm when they design organizational charts. The Army's doctrine on logistics operations depicts sustainment brigades as under the OPCON of the TSC during theater-level operations.

During joint operations, the combatant commander is the directive authority for logistics (DAFL) and cannot delegate this authority, even to the senior sustainer on ground. Reserving this authority at the combatant commander level ensures unity of effort for all sustainment units. Regardless of what organization or service a sustainment unit belongs to, every unit is subject to the DAFL's authority and the priorities the commander establishes.

However, the combatant commander can assign the senior logistics headquarters of a subordinate service component as the joint command for logistics. The TSC or expeditionary sustainment command (ESC) is often designated to fill this role with the authority to plan, synchronize, and execute sustainment in theater according to the combatant commander's priorities.

Even with this authority, it is not feasible that all sustainment units in theater fall within the TSC's task organization beyond the shaping phase, which is why the TSC employs measures to ensure sustainment is executed according to the combatant commander's sustainment priorities.


Phase 0 of any operation is much like the current state in the European theater. During this phase, the theater priorities are to deter future adversaries, practice security cooperation, assure partners and allies, and build stability. Sustainment forces build capacity and interoperability through multinational training events, while leaders and planners work with multi-agency and civilian partners to ensure the infrastructure exists to support operations for future conflicts. The TSC or ESC exercises mission command of sustainment units during this phase, as the quantity and types of sustainment forces in theater do not exceed the headquarters' span of control.

Currently, during Phase 0, the 21st TSC conducts mission command of the only U.S. sustainment brigade in Europe. With its assigned theater opening units, the 21st TSC shapes the theater for future conflict while participating in multinational exercises to assure U.S. partners, strengthen multinational capacity and interoperability, and deter future adversaries.

However, even with mission command of sustainment units, many sustainment forces are not clearly within the TSC's or ESC's organizational chart. We call these units "associated units," which in Europe include units from the Defense Logistics Agency, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the Army Sustainment Command, and the Army Contracting Command.

These units collaborate with the TSC staff in designing the concept of support for steady-state and contingency operations, which they execute once approved by the TSC commander. Even though these units are associated, they help shape the theater by participating in the 21st TSC's battle rhythm and planning teams. Hence, the TSC executes mission command of sustainment operations.


As shown in figure 1, Phases I through III (deter, seize initiative, and dominate) see an increase of military effort. During Phases I and II, sustainment headquarters start to shift focus to opening contingency bases and rapidly receiving and moving forces forward. Activities that require the use of maneuver forces significantly increase, which in turn increases the requirement for echelons-above-brigade (EAB) sustainment forces, especially forces for theater distribution and theater sustainment.

As the operation transitions to Phase III, the TSC headquarters is responsible for sustaining forces from the port to the most forward boundary. The TSC will retain some mission command of sustainment units, such as theater-opening units and sustainment forces operating in the joint security area.

However, with multiple ESCs, EAB forces, and long lines of communication, Phase I is where TSCs and ESCs should transition to mission command of sustainment operations. A practical reason for the transition to mission command of sustainment operations during Phase I is span of control, as headquarters generally do not have the capability to provide mission command for more than six subordinate units.

Using the 21st TSC as an example, during steady-state operations, the TSC's span of control includes a sustainment brigade (for theater opening), a military police brigade, a medical brigade, a special troops battalion, and various company-sized direct reporting units. Theater-level operations would add multiple ESCs and EAB units to the theater's sustainment architecture.

The 21st TSC also would maintain coordinating relationships with other brigade-level theater logistics providers from the Defense Logistics Agency, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, and the Army Sustainment Command.

Mission command of sustainment units would easily exceed the TSC's span of control, but through mission command of sustainment operations, the TSC can employ control measures to execute the combatant commander's sustainment priorities. This also enables maneuver commanders to maintain a sense of ownership of sustainment within their battlespaces.

Commanders are responsible for setting their priorities of sustainment, and they require a sustainment headquarters that answers directly to the commander. As the theater transitions to Phase I operations, the TSC can continue to influence sustainment by managing theater-level assets, but ESCs and sustainment brigades need to be fully integrated into their supported organizations.

As the senior sustainment headquarters belonging to the organization, ESCs and sustainment brigades need to be able to speak with authority delegated from their supported maneuver commanders. During a multiple corps fight, ESCs need to be confident that they belong to their supported maneuver units and act in the interest of their maneuver units first, since the TSC will not always have the awareness of the fight happening on ground.


The task organization drives how sustainers plan and execute sustainment. Rather than understanding "who works for whom," sustainers are more concerned with "who supports whom," or the supporting and supported relationship. Looking across the formations, sustainers are concerned about ways to mitigate shortfalls, often through resourcing. Sometimes those resources are in the sustainment organization's own units, and it is critical for sustainment units to clearly understand who they are supporting with what resources.

In executing mission command of sustainment operations, sustainment planners at the TSC and combatant command levels identify the supporting and supported relationships for the theater. The foundation of mission command of sustainment operations is unity of effort. As previously stated, it is important for all sustainers in a theater to remember they work for the same DAFL authority. The TSC does not need to own formations to influence support.

Planners at all levels, across the sustainment enterprise, collaborate to ensure a unified theater concept of support. They freely share information because they realize that their information drives tactical-level sustainment and ensures the TSC executes theater-level sustainment according to the combatant commander's priorities.

The concept of collaboration is emphasized further in Field Manual 4-95, which states, "A collaborative environment is one in which participants share data, information, knowledge, perceptions, and ideas. Collaboration provides planners with a view of the whole plan while working on various portions of a plan, which facilitates identifying and resolving conflicts early."

Unity of effort is the first control measure the TSC leverages during mission command of sustainment operations. The TSC uses the battle rhythm to ensure unity of effort, enable the staff to resolve issues at the staff-officer level, execute sustainment in accordance with the priorities of sustainment, and inform the commander.

The TSC is empowered by the combatant commander to develop and enforce the sustainment battle rhythm. The combatant command headquarters orders participants and reporting requirements, which range from sustainers at the corps and division levels to the sustainment enterprise agencies.

Within the battle rhythm and through coordination with the joint force headquarters, the TSC or ESC can ensure integration among the multiple stakeholders through boards, bureaus, centers, cells, and working groups (B2C2WG), which usually fall under the oversight of a single staff principal to ensure synchronization and information sharing.

The TSC can serve as the B2C2WG and operational planning team proponent for many sustainment requirements and use these events to integrate the staff and multiple logistics organizations and agencies into the planning process. The battle rhythm is another tool that the TSC uses to exercise mission command of sustainment operations. Although associated units may still not have a defined command relationship with the TSC or ESC during Phases I through III, the TSC or ESC exercises mission command of sustainment operations over associated units through the battle rhythm.

Not only do associated units participate in the battle rhythm, they provide (or exchange) liaison officers with the TSC and are integral in developing the theater concept of support. While the TSC may not have mission command of sustainment units over the associated units, it has mission command of their operations, because the associated units follow the TSC's concept of support.


The TSC maintains the theater's sustainment common operational picture (COP), ensuring both commanders and staffs at all levels can visualize the sustainment health of all organizations across the theater. Since the TSC is responsible for executing the combatant commander's priorities of sustainment by directing the movement of assets, the TSC staff needs a complete view of sustainment across theater.

As the theater's materiel manager, the TSC uses information gathered through the COP and sustainment information systems to control the distribution of sustainment. This COP is developed through disciplined logistics status (LOGSTAT) reporting within the battle rhythm. Through orders, the combatant command directs LOGSTAT submission requirements, including frequency, while the TSC collects the LOGSTATs to maintain the sustainment COP. Although corps ESCs are under the OPCON of their supported units, the theater LOGSTAT report and B2C2WG enable the TSC staff to prioritize which theater stocks to move forward to which units.


The 21st TSC exercises mission command of sustainment units and mission command of sustainment operations every day. In today's Phase 0 environment, the 21st TSC shapes the theater for future conflict with assigned and associated sustainment forces. The 21st TSC helps build the future alliance by participating in multinational training exercises that help build capacity and interoperability.

The 21st TSC conducts collaborative planning with strategic military and civilian agencies to ensure the speed of assembly of deterrent forces from ports to intermediate staging bases to forward training and tactical assembly areas. At key sustainment nodes, whether ports, railheads, or intermediate staging bases, assigned and associated sustainment forces in theater help develop and follow the theater's concept of support with the 21st TSC.

All units understand the supported and supporting relationships at sustainment nodes, and the 21st TSC establishes fusion cells that facilitate the speed of reporting and work through conflict at those critical nodes. With its theater-opening forces, the 21st TSC ensures the theater is capable of rapid entry throughout European seaports and airfields.

In preparation for Phase 1 operations, the 21st TSC trains as it would fight during a future joint operation in the European theater. Through training exercises, the TSC conducts mission command of sustainment operations within the joint operations area while maintaining mission command of sustainment units during theater opening.

Through exercise design, the 21st TSC routinely trains with active and reserve component ESCs. These ESCs exercise mission command of sustainment units of subordinate active and reserve units and answer directly to a multinational corps headquarters. During these exercises, the 21st TSC conducts mission command of sustainment operations not only through the battle rhythm and materiel management, but also while exchanging personnel within the headquarters.

During Saber Strike 2018, the reserve ESC provided a liaison to the 21st TSC, while the TSC provided a fusion cell co-located with the ESC. This fusion cell not only facilitated reporting, but also provided subject matter expertise in sustainment operations unique to the European theater.

In today's high operating tempo in Europe, the 21st TSC executes mission command of sustainment operations with a task organization that is constantly changing and sometimes depends on what mission is occurring.

At any given time, the 21st TSC can provide direct support to multiple exercises across the continent, manage logistics support areas for an aviation brigade deploying into integration sites in the Baltics and Balkans, while exercising tactical control of an armored brigade combat team moving from its training area to the Port of Bremerhaven, Germany. These activities alone require the maximum effort of the TSC staff.

During a large-scale conflict in Europe, the TSC cannot conduct the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration of every brigade combat team while simultaneously exercising OPCON of every ESC in theater.

The TSC depends on ESCs directly responsible to their corps commanders to completely own sustainment in their battle spaces. The purpose is not to absolve the TSC of responsibility for subordinate sustainment organizations but rather to make sustainment organizations more responsive and reactive to support their commander's requirements.

However, through authority delegated from the combatant commander, unity of effort, the battle rhythm, materiel management, and theater LOGSTAT reporting, the TSC can effectively conduct mission command of sustainment operations.


Maj. Gen. Steven A. Shapiro is the commanding general of the 21st TSC at Panzer Kaserne, Germany.

Maj. Oliver Davis is the 21st TSC G-3 Future Operations Branch chief. He holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of West Florida and a master's degree from Central Michigan University.


This article was published in the January-March 2019 issue of Army Sustainment. PB7001901

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