At all levels of warfare--strategic, operational, and tactical--transportation is a prerequisite for achieving the National Military Strategy. However, the Department of Defense (DOD) has a transportation problem that threatens the nation's ability to project power abroad. The Army remains the largest transportation consumer within the DOD, and every service has voiced concern regarding the ability to provide sufficient lift for the Army in the event of large-scale combat operations.

The Air Force is keenly aware that Air Mobility Command cannot adequately deliver combat forces to the places the Army wants to go. Likewise, the Navy has reported that its sealift fleet, which transports 90 percent of the Army's equipment around the world, will fail in its required surge transportation capacity by 12 million square feet within the next 10 years. The Army Operating Concept, Win in a Complex World, echoes the need for transportation assets to be able to set the theater, sustain operations, and maintain freedom of movement, as described in Army Warfighting Challenge (AWFC) 16.


While the Air Force and Navy are focused on strategic lift, the Army's solutions to AWFC 16 are predominantly focused on the operational and tactical levels of warfare. The Army has also chosen a different approach to addressing transportation limitations by focusing on reducing the demand on distribution operations rather than increasing lift capacity.

The Army Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver states, "Improved mobility and sustainment capabilities, along with fundamental demand reduction, enable BCTs [brigade combat teams] to operate at a tempo the enemy cannot respond to or sustain, while allowing BCTs to concentrate combat power rapidly to close with and destroy enemy forces from multiple positions of advantage."

Demand--a unit's operational requirement for services or commodities that enable freedom of action, extend operational reach, or prolong endurance, but which the unit cannot independently produce or acquire--has historically constrained the employment of maneuver forces at the tactical level. A unit's demand is addressed through distribution operations that rely heavily on transportation assets.

The emerging solutions to reduce demand are materiel-based solutions that focus on narrow aspects of distribution operations, namely unit endurance and sustainment velocity. Without a renewed focus on the ability to provide sustainment mass at or near the decisive point, tactical units face significant operational risk during large-scale combat operations.


Because a unit's lines of distribution are inversely proportional to its operational reach, reducing demand by increasing unit endurance will certainly benefit tactical units. The intent is for BCTs to operate semi-independently up to seven days before resupply, more than double what tactical units plan for currently.

Much ink has been spilled on the Army's desire to employ emerging technologies such as water from air systems (WFAS) to increase endurance at the tactical level. The Army is expecting WFAS to generate 500 gallons of water from the atmosphere per day with each system and thereby reduce the number of water storage assets that units are required to maintain while forward deployed.

The Intelligent Power Management Distribution System (IPMDS) is similar to WFAS in its intent. IPMDS remains a far-term solution with estimates of a 30 to 40 percent reduction in fuel costs for power generation. Both of these technologies already exist and the expectation is that these systems will increase in efficiency over time. Tactical units will find these systems fielded in greater numbers and will be able to eliminate the numerous trailer-borne generators and cumbersome water storage tanks that they currently maintain.


Beyond endurance, the Army is making significant investments to improve distribution by increasing sustainment velocity. Here again, the Army is looking to emerging technologies to change the sustainment paradigm.

The DOD's Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap for fiscal years 2013 to 2038 articulates the U.S. military's strategy for developing and fielding unmanned systems over a 25-year time frame. Chapter 6 of the document describes the need for autonomous sustainment platforms. One such platform is the joint tactical aerial resupply vehicle, an aerial drone capable of transporting loads weighing 300 to 800 pounds. Similar systems are being developed across all of the services, and a few, such as the K-Max, have already found their way into operational theaters such as Afghanistan.

The Army's emphasis on velocity is also apparent in its shift in the procurement of new tactical wheeled vehicles (TWVs). In 2010, the Army published its TWV Strategy, which outlined the capabilities needed in the TWV fleet.

At that time, the threat of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan was reflected in the strategy's emphasis on the need for increased Soldier protection in every class of TWV. The impact of these recommendations is exhibited in the development of the new joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV).

About 49,000 of these vehicles are set to become part of the TWV fleet in the coming years to replace the venerable Humvee. However, JLTVs are larger and heavier than the vehicles they are replacing, and as the Army has refocused on large-scale combat operations, there has been greater emphasis on more agile tactical vehicles.

Accordingly, to complement the large JLTV, the Army has pursued ultralight tactical mobility (UTM) vehicles for certain infantry BCTs. These UTMs are already fielded to some units, such as the 82nd Airborne Division. UTMs have the potential to be used in restrictive areas as "internal/ferry support" for supplies and have even been proposed for more traditional distribution roles, such as for forward arming and refueling points.

Beyond materiel-based solutions, the Army is looking at improving velocity by decreasing the time between processes within the sustainment enterprise. The Velocity Management initiative, which began in 1995, continues to work to generate increased efficiencies at various bottlenecks within the sustainment enterprise.

Historically, class IX (repair parts) supplies have been difficult to forecast because equipment wear and tear is unpredictable. The time lost waiting on spare parts to be shipped, received, and issued to supported units significantly degrades readiness.

Here, additive manufacturing will greatly improve sustainment velocity. 3D printing technology is poised to significantly reduce the supply support activity's authorized stockage lists for tactical units deploying to theaters where depot-level support is far removed.


While the Army has chosen to address demand reduction by increasing unit endurance and overall velocity, it has assumed risk in providing maneuver forces with the ability to mass sustainment at or near decisive points on the battlefield. Defined as the concentration of combat power at the most advantageous place and time to produce decisive results, mass has become increasingly neglected in sustainment considerations. This will have major ramifications for units at the tactical level in the event of large-scale combat operations against near-peer or peer adversaries.

Without the ability to mass sustainment at key points in times or locations, sustainers will not be able to provide maneuver forces with the ability to reinforce friendly forces or exploit the enemy in depth. Neither the UTMs nor the unmanned aerial systems discussed earlier have the ability to deliver the quantity of supplies necessary to enable a maneuver unit to close with and destroy an enemy.

Larger loads require exponentially larger, more expensive transportation platforms that cannot deliver directly to the point of greatest need. An unmanned aerial vehicle such as the K-Max is no more effective at providing sustainment than are the Army's current sling load capabilities.

Furthermore, larger autonomous vehicles would likely be finite, operational-level assets similar in allocation to current autonomous aerial reconnaissance platforms. Likewise, the proposal to use UTMs for forward arming and refueling point operations, as discussed in a RAND Corporation assessment, will face similar limitations in lift capacity and deliver a low return on investment for tactical units.

Because of these limitations, the bulk of tactical sustainment will continue to come from medium-sized TWVs. For these vehicles, lift capacities are not measured in pounds but in tons. However, the Army has not seriously committed to improving either capacity or capability within the medium TWV fleet.


Although the Army has invested in upgraded medium TWVs, the Automated Ground Resupply program, and the Expedient Leader-Follower (ExLF) demonstration program, a closer examination of these programs reveals that the overall investment in maintaining sustainment mass is out of balance with programs of record designed for velocity or endurance.

ExLF technology is an innovative solution to delivering sustainment on the battlefield and is rapidly approaching operational capability. This program would allow one driver to lead a convoy of almost a dozen vehicles without using GPS.

Technology testing and demonstrations are scheduled to occur throughout 2019 and 2020 using existing sustainment vehicles such as the load handling system. However, the Army's investment in bringing ExLF capability into the fleet amounts to just $50 million over the course of three years and a fielding of just two transportation companies over the same time frame.

Concurrently, for fiscal years 2019 through 2021, the Army's investment in the JLTV program will be $207.4 million, which is over four times the amount spent on augmenting existing sustainment platforms with ExLF. While the JLTV is a new vehicle and ExLF uses existing platforms, the JLTV does not bring potentially paradigm-shifting capability into maneuver formations in the way ExLF can.

The JLTV capitalizes on current technologies for armor and electronic warfare, while ExLF has the potential to enhance sustainment mass without a corresponding increase in sustainment personnel. In total, $39 billion will be invested into the JLTV program over 20 years. Considering that the Army fields a TWV fleet of 225,000 vehicles, investing in approximately 120 vehicles over three years will not significantly improve sustainment operations in the near term.

A significant investment in improving sustainment platforms is needed; many designs have been in use for several decades. For example, the family of medium tactical vehicles (FMTVs) has been a workhorse of the sustainment TWV fleet since the 1990s.

On Feb. 7, 2018, the Army committed to a seven-year contract with Oshkosh Defense, LLC, for the new FMTV A2 variant. The Army's total investment in FMTV A2s, with upgraded power plants, protection, and cargo capacity, amounts to $467.2 million. A few months later, the Army purchased four new orders of existing FMTV A1s, totaling 771 vehicles at a cost of $159.6 million.

These investments stand in stark contrast to the much larger investment the Army has made in the JLTV. Furthermore, neither of these new FMTVs will augment vehicles currently found in unit motor pools. Rather, they will replace them as the aging sustainment fleet approaches its end-of-use life or maintenance expenditure limit.

Unless the Army makes a serious investment in fielding a more robust medium TWV sustainment fleet, a major capability gap will emerge in large-scale combat operations, not because of demand reduction but because of an inability to mass sustainment in support of the maneuver commander.

Such a capability gap is already evident at the tactical level. Within the brigade support battalion (BSB), where distribution operations are spread between the battalion's combat trains and the forward support company's field trains, personnel and equipment divestment has been ongoing for several years.

As an example, in fiscal year 2010, a BSB from the 82nd Airborne Division was authorized a fleet of approximately 140 FMTVs. By fiscal year 2018, the same unit was authorized only 76. In particular, there was a significant shift in troop transport capability within the BCT.

Between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2018, the number of FMTVs with the low-altitude parachute extraction system was reduced from 72 to 25. Using all 72 vehicles in fiscal year 2010, the BSB could transport 1,080 Soldiers. A few years later, the same BSB would be able to transport only 375 Soldiers using all 25 FMTVs, a reduction of almost 60 percent in troop transport capability.

While demand reduction has been a key component in addressing AWFC 16, demand within the BCT has increased in recent years as a third maneuver battalion was added to each BCT. Simultaneously, the number of sustainment assets and personnel found in support battalions has decreased.

As a result, BSBs are becoming more dependent on support from external organizations, such as the sustainment brigade, in order to meet internal unit demand. If the sustainment brigade's assets are already committed, such as in support of another unit that is part of the main effort brigade, BSBs will remain under-resourced.

The inability to provide internal support is already evident. For example, in garrison units rely extensively on installation bus support in order to move personnel to training sites. Using organic assets would require multiple trips, which would be simply too time-consuming or would require too many vehicles. If the BSB lacks the ability to organically mass sustainment in a garrison environment, large-scale combat operations pose significant operational risk.

Sustainment is the fine art of balancing ends, ways, and means to provide commanders with freedom of action, operational reach, and the endurance to win in a prolonged fight. For the multi-domain environment, the Army has chosen to focus on smaller, more agile platforms, streamlining processes, and emerging technologies to reduce the demand for sustainment at the tactical level. This is undeniably sensible as the days of massed-based logistics, with huge inventories and equally massive inefficiencies, should be confined to the dustbin of history.

However, the current approach neglects the importance of massing sustainment through lift and transport capability. Large-scale combat operations in an increasingly complex operational environment will require a greater number of transportation platforms, not fewer, as tactical units will be expected to fight in new domains. The need for additional lift has already been identified by the Navy and Air Force. Without a more comprehensive strategy to address this issue, the Army will find it increasingly difficult to achieve success on the battlefields of the future.

Maj. Peter Van Howe is the executive officer of the 407th BSB, 82nd Airborne Division. He holds a bachelor's degree from Purdue University and a master's degree from Troy University. He is a graduate of the Theater Sustainment Planner's Course, Joint Operation Planning and Execution System Action Officer and Support Personnel Courses, Air Assault School, and Jumpmaster School.
This article was published in the April-June 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.