From private to sergeant to three-star general, retired Lt. Gen. Larry Wyche is the epitome of an Army logistician. Across multiple assignments at Army Materiel Command (AMC) and during his time as the commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia, Wyche developed a reputation for ensuring our warfighters had what they needed when they needed it. Here are his perspectives on the challenges of battlefield sustainment and how the Army is preparing to succeed in the future.
How has the Army's evolution impacted sustainment throughout your career?
We're a very different Army today than when I joined back in the mid-1970s. For example, when I became a Soldier, we had significantly more forces in Europe, forward stationed against the Cold War-threat of the Soviet Union.
As logisticians our role was to ensure we had the "big logistics tails" that ensured we could meet, delay, and push back Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces. That involved planning and moving huge amounts of equipment, materiel, and resources to support corps- and division-sized units in major combat.
Today, the Army is a brigade combat team (BCT)-centric force. We're a smaller presence in Europe and more continental United States (CONUS)-based. We are deploying BCTs and units rotationally around the globe in support of combatant command requirements.
For logisticians, it's not about massive flows of logistics, like it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Today it's about precise, tailored, expeditionary logistics support that allows warfighting commanders to have what they need, while still being light enough, agile enough, and fast enough. It's about right-sizing the logistics element to minimize our footprint and be able to move forces quickly and fight continuously.
Let me put these changes into the perspective of shoot, move, and communicate. When I first entered the military, I was a [military occupational specialty] 19D, cavalry scout. When you talk about shooting, it was the M16 rifle, the M60 machine gun, and the M72 light anti-tank weapon.
Now, with the M249 squad automatic weapon and other advanced weaponry, it's absolutely amazing to me how much more lethal the Army has become at the company level over the past several years.
When it comes to the "move" part of that equation, in the old days, we had the jeep, the old "deuce and a half" [2 1/2-ton] cargo truck, and the commercial utility cargo vehicle. Compare the M113 [armored personnel carrier] and the M114 [armored fighting vehicle] to the Bradley fighting vehicle. Now we're looking at a future of next-generation combat vehicles, some manned and some unmanned and robotic, that will give us overmatch against peer competitors.
Last but not least is communicate. We had the old AN/PRC-77 radios you put on your back, and the TA-312/PT field telephones where you'd run a landline after you moved in and occupied an area. That's how we did comms. When you look at the technology we use to talk and stay connected today and at how much more globally connected we are, it's like night and day. We've brought an entire Army network together and placed it in the hands of Soldiers at the tactical level.
Having said that, all that technology comes with some challenges, because you have to be able to repair and sustain those new types of equipment. You have to be able to integrate all of the systems together and provide precision logistics to sustain them over time. It's a double-edged sword. We're at the point now where we're exercising much of this new technology and equipment. Overall we're doing well, but ensuring our logistics is as sophisticated as our new weapon systems is a big challenge.
I would also argue we've made a major transformation from a leader development standpoint, from the time I came into the Army 42 years ago. When you look at our Soldiers now, especially over the last 17 years, our standards and leadership have improved significantly, and it's unbelievable what they can do.
What were some of the greatest challenges you faced during your tours at AMC?
I had the opportunity to serve at AMC as the commander of Joint Munitions Command, the AMC G-3, and then finally as the deputy [commanding general of AMC]. I really enjoyed AMC, and I worked for four great commanders. During my time in and out of those positions, our biggest challenge was ensuring we didn't lose our warfighting edge as we transitioned out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 15 years, we had proven ourselves in combat, and we could not afford to come back to the CONUS and go flat. So to maintain that warfighter-logistician mentality, we forced our leaders within AMC to get out and to continue developing those relationships, letting the force know we were still there to support them. That's easier said than done.
The other significant challenge was the supply availability of repair parts to maintain the readiness of our systems. When you look at the type of wars we had been involved in, we were a rotational force deploying primarily to Iraq and Afghanistan. We didn't use as many of the heavy platforms and weaponry we normally would have in a more conventional fight, such as M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and M88 [Hercules recovery vehicles].
As a result, the industrial base -- both DoD and commercial -- has adjusted accordingly. Once we transitioned to a CONUS-based Army supporting multi-domain operations, some of those repair parts were not available to maintain our fleets. It was no one's fault, as we were focused on the war we had to fight at the time, but we weren't quite ready for the war we potentially confront today.
So now we're getting the industrial base geared back up to support the type of Army we are transitioning to. Are we there yet? No. But when you look at the number of BCTs we have trained and ready to fight versus a couple years ago, we're much better than where we were.
How have advancements in end-to-end asset visibility improved our ability to sustain the warfighter?
We can see ourselves from the manufacturer all the way to where the part needs to be on the battlefield. That's irreplaceable. The challenge is understanding where the chokepoints and lack of system integration are in the pipeline that can limit the maneuverability and options available to our warfighters.
Identifying chokepoints becomes even more important--and difficult--when you consider the global supply chains for our modern, integrated weapons systems. There are more chokepoints in these chains, and it requires more analysis to identify where these points may emerge and how to mitigate their consequences. When you talk end-to-end logistics sustainment today, you're often talking about long distances and a large number of players in the supply chain. Now that we can see ourselves better, we have to look at our efficiency and effectiveness.
End-to-end visibility also allows us to better identify requirements and to have better forecasting. As a result, we're able to address some of the challenges we've had with our industry partners as they develop solutions to meet our requirements. At the end of the day, this strengthens our industrial base and facilitates readiness.
What impact will Army Futures Command (AFC) have across the enterprise?
AFC is a big win for our Army. You have one command with the right structure and leadership to synchronize and integrate requirements and acquisition--a single focus on developing future capabilities from beginning to end. AFC will reduce the time it takes to validate requirements and procure equipment.
Over the past 17 years, we were focused on making sure our Soldiers had what they needed at a particular moment on a particular kind of battlefield. As a result, we didn't put the resources we needed into modernization, so we lost some of our technological advantage. With so many unknowns in the world today, we cannot afford to take the time we have taken in the past to put something in our Soldiers' hands. I truly believe we won't have that problem going forward because of the establishment of AFC.
The other piece is our relationship with industry. When you think about the Army, and the Department of Defense as a whole, we have a huge impact on government resources. But in the scope of big research and development efforts, we're actually quite small in certain key areas. It is unbelievable what technology is out there in commercial industry. Reflect on Steve Jobs--he started in his garage! We have to do a better job of seeking out all the other developers like Steve Jobs, and the technologies we desire, within industry. It has to be a very deliberate, focused effort, and AFC will help with this. Having said that, resources must come with it to be able to execute. Army leadership is very aware of this, and I think we will see great things from AFC moving forward.
What is most important for success as we shift to a large-scale, multi-domain environment?
Leader development--the key to our future is the ability of our leaders and Soldiers to execute on the battlefield. We have to put in the investment to develop them; we're not teaching them what to think. We're teaching them how to think. They must be able to think on their feet and deal with a myriad of challenges.
We must also continue to rely on our noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps. Having been an NCO, I know firsthand what our NCO corps has done to make our Army the best in the world. Not every Army in the world has the kind of professional NCO corps that we do. In some ways, our NCO corps is our secret weapon. These Soldiers epitomize the model of what you want a Soldier to be: bright, articulate, and results-oriented, while taking care of people. And I truly believe we have only begun to scratch the surface of the potential of our NCOs.
There are obviously other areas we have to address, such as organizational structure, unit types, and the entire DOTMLPF [doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities] spectrum. But our Soldiers will adapt to the new multi-domain approach to operations and the accompanying new doctrine.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned that all Soldiers should have in their hip pocket?
Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Understand that everyone deserves good leadership, and we are all members of a team of teams, so don't let your ego get in the way of that. Cultivate the ability to keep your eye on both the big picture and the little details--especially as a logistician--and develop a commitment to serving others and your organization selflessly.
A great logistician has to anticipate what the commander will need and when and where they'll need it before the commander does. Logisticians need to keep one eye on the present and the other on what's next. No commanders want their options limited by a lack of logistics. And while no organization can afford to have everything everywhere all the time, in many cases, astute anticipation ensures that the most critical materiel is there when it's needed most. That is a key lesson for logisticians.
Also for all our sustainers, always remember that as warfighter logisticians, you have to be prepared to give the shirt off your back and boots off your feet to support the fight. I often would tell my logistics Soldiers that we will never say no as long as we have one gallon of gas or one bullet left to give. That kind of attitude and approach is the most important lesson I can share.
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 July-September 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.