By Gen. Gustave "Gus" PernaJuly 18, 2019
Battlefield sustainment is both an art and a science; it's ultimately about synchronizing, integrating, and transporting commodities to provide maneuver commanders with freedom of action, extended operational reach, and prolonged endurance.
When it comes to battlefield sustainment, logisticians should pull inspiration from famed hockey player Wayne Gretzky who said, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."
For logisticians and sustainers, this means ensuring the right commodities are already in place when commanders and their Soldiers need them. It means Soldiers are not waiting for logisticians to catch up to their movements. It means logisticians have anticipated requirements based on their environment, the operation, and the mission.
The science of sustainment is not difficult; it is basic math and computations. A vehicle takes X amount of fuel multiplied by the number of miles expected to be driven. A platoon requires X amount of water for a given amount of hours. The same calculations can be made for ammunition, food, medical necessities, and every other class of supply. Logistics status (LOGSTAT) reports give us these numbers, and like the rulebook in hockey, they are the foundation of our profession.
The art of sustainment, however, requires more thought and intuition. It requires logisticians to understand their environment by studying the terrain and the enemy's position.
It is maintaining battlefield situational awareness and using all available information--from radio chatter to battle update briefings--to anticipate requirements. The art of sustainment is about thinking through how the environment affects the LOGSTATs. In the simplest example, that same vehicle that took X amount of fuel was started early to warm up on a cold day. Therefore, it will require additional fuel and sooner. A hot day with a high operational tempo means that same platoon will go through more water. These atmospherics (the art) are not given to us; we must inherently identify and consider them.
Mastering the art and science of sustainment requires logisticians to rely on their professional military education, training, and experience. A comprehensive knowledge of logistics and sustainment doctrine must be complemented by a keen understanding of brigade combat team, division and corps requirements during an offensive attack. Extensive tactical experience is invaluable but is all the more valuable when accompanied with a comprehension of how the Army runs at the operational and strategic levels.
During deployment, it is too late to practice battlefield sustainment skills. Logisticians must exercise and engage in tough, realistic training that stresses people and equipment in order to be ready for the next contingency. Only when we merge our sustainment skills with our intrinsic expertise in forecasting, risk analysis, and supply chain management, can we ensure we get ahead of requirements and provide the best value to maneuver commanders.
Ammunition, fuel, and water--to logisticians, these can become simply computations, but they are more than a math problem. They are enablers to readiness. We must get back to our core competencies and basic responsibilities to plan, integrate, synchronize, and transport commodities at echelon in support of the maneuver commander. Future battlefields will require us to anticipate warfighters' needs, integrate logistics support, and respond rapidly with innovation, ingenuity, and agility.