Next month marks 75 years since my father, Staff Sgt. Roland Piggee, was a part of the Red Ball Express. This truck convoy system delivered supplies to Soldiers who landed in Normandy and were fighting their way into Germany.
To sustain the battle, the Army had 6,000 trucks traveling 350 miles each way to provide consistent resupply to the frontline.The trucks took a tremendous pounding. They were enemy targets for the German air forces. Equally challenging were the maintenance issues: burned out motors, overheated engines, and worn out tires.Initially, truck convoys were the only option for resupply, as the Allies had destroyed the French rail system to prevent the Germans from supplying their own troops. The Red Ball drivers contributed as much to winning the war as any unit, something my father was extremely proud of his whole life.As was true for Gen. George Patton's Army, battlefield sustainment is and always will be key to our Army's success. Since we are in the midst of a major transformation, I have received a lot of feedback from Soldiers about improving our sustainment operations across the battlefield. Their input is valuable to me. I think it would be beneficial to all sustainers if I answer a sampling of recent inquiries from our units in the field:1) WHAT IMPACT WILL MULTI-DOMAIN OPERATIONS HAVE ON SUSTAINMENT OPERATIONS?A multi-domain fight will be considerably different from the way we have fought over the last 18 years. In fact, it will be more like our World War II efforts. What's old is going to be new again, to an extent. Sustainment operations must be ready on all levels: land, air and sea--as it was for my father's generation. Additionally, new threat considerations must also include cyber and space. And adding further complexity is the fact that we may encounter these threats simultaneously.
It would be dangerous to focus our efforts in one area and not adjust resources continually to address dynamic changes in the environment. The team at CASCOM came up with an easy-to-remember, yet all-encompassing, way to think about what logisticians need to do: the acronym SPIDERWEB.It spells out a great checklist: be SELF-SUFFICIENT; practice PRECISION logistics; have INTEROPERABILITY with our sister partners and allies; be DIVISION-focused; be good at EXPEDITIONARY logistics; include REGIONAL resources; be WIDELY-dispersed; ENABLE mission command with enterprise resource planning systems; and have BALANCED forces.
In an actual spider web, strands are independent, but connected. It's strong and resilient. If we can do that on a battlefield, it's a good position to be in.2) HOW CAN WE BETTER ENABLE SOLDIERS TO CREATE SOLUTIONS USING TODAY'S TECHNOLOGY ON THE BATTLEFIELD?If you look at the last 100 years of innovation, you see that in the first 50 years, the military led industry in technology developments. But in the last 50 years, the roles have been reversed--industry has led the military.There are many commercially-available technologies that would allow us to do our job better on a multi-domain battlefield, and we are trying to employ them.3-D printers are one example. Select commanders in the field can invest up to $10,000 of their operating budgets for 3-D printers. If Soldiers print a part or tool, they can incorporate the specifications in an Army-wide digital repository so others can replicate it. The best ideas come from Soldiers just trying to maintain the equipment.3) IT HAS BEEN A PRIORITY IN ARMY HEADQUARTERS TO GET RID OF EXCESS EQUIPMENT, BUT ON THE NATIONAL GUARD SIDE WE ONLY HAVE A LIMITED NUMBER OF SOLDIERS WHO CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE AND WHY?It has been a priority of our Army for several years to turn in and redistribute excess equipment. It should be a priority for every commander.The process is beneficial to units turning in the equipment because the Army maintenance standard is 10/20 (This refers to the level of maintenance outlined in technical manuals 10 and 20 series.). Even if your Guard unit is not using the equipment, Soldiers in he motor pool have to maintain it. If it's excess, turn it in. It frees up time and resources to do things that could improve readiness. It saves supply efforts that could be put toward readiness and modernization efforts. That is a win for the Guard.Our 2019 goal is to turn in 325,000 pieces of equipment. As we modernize and replace equipment, we will have more excess. Recently, I visited Fort Stewart, Georgia, where they are fielding the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. But, just as important to them was turning in 450 excess Humvees so they could focus on the new JLTV. That is the focus we need from all commanders.4) WHAT ARE THE ARMY'S PLANS TO ENSURE UNITS ARE PROPERLY EQUIPPED TO MANAGE INCREASED DISTRIBUTION REQUIREMENTS IN LARGE-SCALE COMBAT OPERATIONS?The Army made a decision to move transportation (prime movers for troop movement) and fuel distribution assets to echelons above brigades a few years ago to restructure Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs). We are well aware of the challenges this has created at the tactical level. We are working on addressing them.One way is through our efforts to redistribute the equipment being turned in and moving it to high-priority units that would be the first to deploy. Another is to purchase new equipment as we modernize the Army. We have included more resources in the budget to do so. In a large-scale operation, we also will have help from our new Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP V) contract to augment the Army force structure.5) THERE HAS BEEN DISCUSSION TO EXTEND BCTS' UNIT BASIC LOADS (UBL) FROM THREE TO SEVEN DAYS OF SUP-PLIES. FROM OUR EXPERIENCE, WE ARE A LONG WAY FROM BEING ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH THAT, PARTICULARLY WHEN IT COMES TO BULK WATER. CAN YOU DISCUSS THE STRATEGIC GOAL?To meet our goal of having BCTs sustain themselves beyond our current timeframe without a resupply, we have to be creative in reducing demand. This will involve upgrading vehicles to be more energy efficient. We are aiming for a 30 percent improvement in fuel consumption.Water was a problem for us in Afghanistan, a land-locked country. If we had a portable system for on-site water bottling, it would have significantly reduced our transportation requirements, and it would have been healthier and cheaper. It has been 10 years in the making, but we are in the final testing for an Expeditionary Water Packaging System that will help teams sustain themselves.
We know the focus on counter-insurgency in the last two decades has resulted in gaps in logistics.6) CAN YOU ELABORATE ON HOW WE ARE FIXING THE GAPS IN PREPARATION FOR LARGE-SCALE GROUND OPERATIONS?We have fixed many gaps by going back-to-the-basics of moving and maintaining equipment. In Europe, we are practicing moving heavy equipment that we had not moved since the Cold War.
We have developed new leaders who are engaged and focused. They have had more opportunities to practice because of increased training, including additional multinational exercises.
We have new doctrine. We have expanded our Army prepositioned stocks and are configuring them to be combat ready.We have improved our supply of spare parts with a common authorized stockage list, so combat teams can take with them a mobile supply of readiness-driving parts.
We are working on developing autonomous distribution systems, both aerial and ground, that would increase resupply throughput, reduce the number of drivers, and increase force protection by reducing risk.A lot of hard work is going into closing the gaps. It has been worth the effort as we continue to build readiness. But it's not over. We will need to do more if we ever need our version of a Red Ball Express.This article appears in the July-September 2019 issue of Army Sustainment