When it comes to building readiness across the Total Army, Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson is leading the charge. As the acting commanding general of Forces Command (FORSCOM), she is responsible for ensuring the nation's Soldiers are ready to answer the call whenever and wherever needed. A gifted Army aviator who earned her pilot's license at age 16, Richardson's three-decade career has been highlighted by service as the deputy commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, the Army's chief of legislative liaison, and the military aide to the vice president. Here are her insights on force readiness and sustainment for the future fight.
Q: FORSCOM focuses on being ready to "fight tonight." In your view, what are some of the critical sustainment challenges to being ready now?
A: Sustainers and operators are facing the challenging reality of an uncertain world. We are shifting from almost exclusive counterinsurgency (COIN) operations to preparing for large-scale combat operations. Competing against a near-peer threat requires synchronization of all elements of combat power, especially the sustainment warfighting function.
The static, robust, and mature forward logistics base environment we occupied in COIN must evolve to a more dynamic, austere, and expeditionary decisive action environment. Sustaining and regenerating combat power forward in this environment while in contact will be the single greatest challenge.
While we can plan to address this, we must also recognize it is difficult to predict an emergent threat. You may not know when the next mission will come, what it will be, or where you will have to deploy. What we do know is we have to be ready now. We have to plan, prepare, and practice for the most difficult scenarios. Building the expertise for expeditionary logistics at every level will be paramount to our nation's ability to fight and win the next war. So we are enhancing training for our sustainment units across the total Army. And we're not just talking about it, we are ensuring it.
At the combat training centers (CTCs), we now require logistics units supporting rotational brigade combat teams (BCTs) to compete in the maneuver box as well. As I visit our CTCs, I see our units being challenged with incredibly aggressive and agile opposing forces (OPFORs) free to take advantage of any perceived weaknesses; the OPFORs are relentless and are experts at their mission, and there are no timeouts. Anyone who has participated in a recent rotation or read the lessons learned knows what that means: surviving to accomplish your mission cannot be assumed.
Whereas we used to be quite scripted with our CTC scenarios that is no longer the case. Our logisticians have to contend with interdicted supply routes, jammed communications and networks, civilians and casualties on the battlefield, and a whole host of other hazards that degrade their mission performance.
It is the most realistic environment we can create to prepare the force for Multi-Domain Operations and drive home the integration of maneuver and sustainment efforts. It forces our sustainment Soldiers to train in the same decisive action environment they will operate in during combat. Our CTCs provide a tremendous return on investment, especially in terms of readiness for our sustainment units.
Although we have increased the number of rotations, we can only send about a third of our units through this world-class training every year. So, to address the shortfall, we've challenged our commanders to intensify their home-station training.
We've increased the resourcing to do so across all Army components, including training at National Guard and Army Reserve state and regional training sites. Bottom line, our guidance is if it doesn't build readiness, don't do it.
Q: How has sustainment transformed from when you first joined the Army?
A: First and foremost, the improvements in our logistics analytics redefine our situational awareness. Before, we had a collection of antiquated and stovepipe analog data; now, it's predictive, digital data within an integrated system of systems that informs commanders across echelons. Leaders are now empowered with the analytics to see equipment and materiel readiness across formations in near-real time. This ability to understand our readiness enables all of us to make decisions at multiple levels to support emerging requirements with strategic effects.
We have also transitioned to a modular, brigade-centric fighting formation. Under this structure, commanders and sustainers alike have found they have to leverage all capabilities at echelon via our BCTs, sustainment brigades, and expeditionary sustainment commands to achieve success in combat. Our sustainment doctrine continues to mature, so maneuver commanders are further empowered to leverage the entire sustainment enterprise to achieve the desired effects. We must be able to sustain ourselves at scale, at high operating tempos, and in austere environments.
Finally, I would highlight our recent conceptual transformation of the readiness cycle from the Army Force Generation model to the Sustainable Readiness Model (SRM). SRM is yielding positive results because it entrusts commanders with ownership of their current and future readiness; it's the essence of mission command. Commanders are embracing the culture shift. We're seeing units take a more proactive role in building the competencies to ensure readiness at every level. This all adds up to a remarkable improvement in the readiness rates of our entire Army.
Q: Can you describe how we are improving deployment readiness with emergency deployment readiness exercises (EDREs)?
As the Army's force provider, FORSCOM has the same mission today as we did when we were activated in 1973: all things readiness. Today, maximizing unit readiness is our number one priority as we prepare forces for combatant commanders' rotational and contingency operations.
For emergent and contingent operations, we are honing our ability to rapidly deploy forces into any area of operations, regardless of austere theater infrastructure or any adversary's antiaccess/area denial capability. These operations are often time-constrained events where hours, or even minutes, matter. So our ready now approach focuses on both reducing the amount of time units require to initiate movement to theater and enabling them to do so at the highest levels of readiness.
To achieve this, we must look at every aspect of preparation; if we can't get there, we can't fight, and we can't win. Readiness begins at home station, and, across the total Army, commanders are entrusted to ensure their personnel and equipment are ready to deploy. An essential element of their ability to do so resides in our power projection platforms and our mobilization force generation installations. These facilities provide the backbone from which we can rehearse and refine the systems and skills necessary for expeditionary deployment. To test these systems, commands at all echelons leverage EDREs. FORSCOM, in particular, executes no-notice brigade-level EDREs to exercise deployment systems and assess unit- and installation-level readiness.
In 2018, FORSCOM alerted the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, to conduct a sealift EDRE out of Fort Drum, New York, through the Port of Philadelphia, and into Fort Polk, Louisiana, through Port Arthur, Texas, for their Joint Readiness Training Center rotation. When they arrived at Port Arthur, they continued to the tactical assembly area at Fort Polk where they completed reception, staging, onward movement, and integration tasks. This was a monumental and challenging operation that moved 1,487 pieces of rolling stock through a relatively unused transportation node and directly into operations--with no notice.
EDREs of this complexity exercise the entire enterprise--from FORSCOM and Army Materiel Command to Installation Management Command and U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM)--and validate not only the unit but also the entire deployment process. The Port of Philadelphia had not been used for deployment in nearly a decade. Through the EDRE program, we've been able to exercise just about all of the ports, roughly 20 in total. USTRANSCOM's personnel at the ports aren't used to dealing with tanks and military vehicles, so they're exercising us, and we're exercising them. There's training occurring on both sides. It's truly a win-win situation for the ready now mentality and culture.
Q: What message do you have for commanders when it comes to maintenance readiness?
A: It's all about 10/20! At a certain point in time, budget unpredictability caused us to temporarily go to a maintenance standard of fully mission capable (FMC) plus safety. Now that those measures have been lifted, we have to get that out of our culture. There is only one maintenance standard in our Army: the 10/20 standard. FORSCOM guidance clearly identifies that commanders are responsible for maintaining their equipment to the 10/20 standard at home station, during training, and while deployed.
Operational readiness begins with a deliberate and disciplined supply and maintenance program led by commanders; achieving success starts in our home-station motor pools and is reinforced by direct command involvement. These programs teach, train, and reinforce the standards for our operators, maintainers, and leaders.
Resourcing our formations to the 10/20 standard is at the heart of achieving Sustainable Readiness, and the Army is committed to doing so across all Army components. However, consistent, predictable funding is critical to achieve and sustain these standards. When funding becomes unpredictable, readiness across the force is lost, and the true cost is increased risk. It's all about getting back to the basics, the blocking and tackling fundamentals to build readiness. As my old boss, Gen. [Robert B.] Abrams always said, the bottom line is that you can't outrun your maintenance--you have to train what you can sustain.
Q: Can you discuss total force integration and force structure, particularly concerning early-entry requirements?
A: FORSCOM knits together all of the Army's components in everything we do. Unlike the other services, we have over 50 percent of our forces in the Reserve component, so our relationship and our total force working together as teammates are absolutely critical in building readiness for America's Army. While the bulk of FORSCOM contains predominantly active Army combat power, the partnership we have with the National Guard and Army Reserve is arguably stronger today than it has been since World War II. We are in full alignment in our vision for total Army readiness. Our cooperative efforts to integrate and leverage our strengths are producing tremendous results in both our readiness levels and our training programs across all three Army components.
The Army is under tremendous pressure in terms of force structure. Authorized end strength is set, but the demands of Multi-Domain Operations are evolving and expanding. The business models we used to meet counterinsurgency requirements will clearly need to be modified as we transition to large-scale combat operations. Getting the prioritization and structure of early-entry capabilities right is critical, particularly given the demands that accompany the task of setting a theater in an austere area. Again, it's a balance between components to meet these requirements. Where are we with our current force structure? Overall, I'm pretty comfortable with our ability to meet early-entry requirements.
Q: What role will FORSCOM play in Army modernization?
A: The need to adapt to emerging threats is not a modern-day phenomenon; if we are to ensure overmatch against any adversary, current or future, we must adapt. FORSCOM has a great partnership with Army Futures Command (AFC) that allows us to provide the warfighter perspective while staying informed on modernization efforts. In turn, we're included in all meetings and decision briefs to help shape the way forward for modernization and the future force.
In making immediate and significant investments in our future capabilities across the Army's six modernization priorities, there may be some near-term impacts on readiness. At FORSCOM, it's our role to mitigate those impacts through integration, experimentation, and training. We select forces to assess equipment, confirm capabilities, and provide feedback to AFC as part of the buy-try-decide methodology. This partnership is critical to identifying and refining capability gaps under real-world conditions and getting equipment into the hands of Soldiers sooner and faster, while minimizing cost and risk to the force.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you learned throughout your career that Soldiers today should know?
A: The fundamental lesson is that a commander's most valuable resource is time. The way commanders go about spending it for their units is of the utmost importance.
Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper has acknowledged this age-old truth and has taken action to reduce the administrative burden on company commanders and buy additional training time. This is having a direct payoff on our ability to produce ready now units; whether a combat arms unit or a sustainment unit, and irrespective of Army component, commanders should understand and appreciate the effort to ease the burden of time management.
The other lesson I offer is that readiness is all about being proactive. It's personal initiative, and it's responsibility. Prior to addressing manning and equipping, commanders must understand that achieving readiness rates comes down to the individual Soldier being mentally and physically prepared to conduct training. Only after the individual Soldier is prepared can commanders plan and execute collective training of squads, platoons, companies, and battalions.
Q: Any final thoughts you'd like to share?
A: I want to emphasize how well the enterprise approach to combat readiness is permeating throughout our Army. All four of the Army commands are absolutely teamed across all components with the Army service component commands and direct reporting units in a very positive way that produces tremendous improvements in readiness.
I've been back and forth between assignments at the Pentagon, out in the field, in the testing community, and now in my current role at FORSCOM. Quite honestly, I see less stovepipes across the force. I think we've made a huge effort to break them down and synchronize what exactly our capabilities are and what we can bring to bear across all the functions of the Army. The teamwork we are seeing now to make this work is really tremendous.
Winning can't be about one Army component, or even just one service. It's all about preparing our units to deploy in support of combatant commanders, enabling them to win decisively, and setting conditions for them to return home safely. When it comes to FORSCOM, our objective is clear: maximize readiness in units so our Army can achieve success anytime, anywhere against any enemy.
Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the April-June 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.