By Lt. Gen. Duane A. GambleJanuary 16, 2020
Beginning in February, our Army's competitiveness will be on display in ways not seen since the Cold War. As we mobilize for the DEFENDER-Europe 20 training exercise, we will rehearse our ability to project capabilities and defend our allies and partners.
The exercise involves about 20,000 U.S.-based Active, Guard, and Reserve troops; 9,000 European-based U.S. troops; and 8,000 troops from 17 allied nations--almost enough Soldiers to fill two Madison Square Gardens. It will be a dead sprint to move heavy equipment; deploy personnel; convoy wheeled vehicles; and get everyone enough food, water, and ammunition across several European countries.
I know from my experience when we did smaller exercises in Europe back in 2016, that the training value starts way left of the exercise. For DEFENDER-Europe 20, the training value started weeks and months ago as units prepared for expeditionary deployment. Whether we win in DEFENDER-Europe 20 will depend on four factors that will determine our success and demonstrate our total readiness.
First: Logistics preparation of the battlefield. We must understand the operating environment; in particular, the rules of sovereign nations. We must be sensitive to the political and diplomatic atmospherics and the governed laws of our host nations and train to operate within their guidelines.
We should not be surprised that sovereign nations have rules similar to what we have at home: when we move equipment from state-to-state, we need a convoy clearance and states dictate when we drive our oversized heavy equipment on their roads.
We must configure our vehicles so they meet European Union regulatory standards with specific fire extinguishers and NATO placards for trucks carrying ammunition and hazardous material. We can't assume away the problem. We must clearly understand the rules and be prepared to operate in the environment.
Next, we must build reflexive competence in the operation and maintenance of our equipment, to include issuing and drawing Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) and learn to do so at the speed of war. Units must know and rehearse their responsibilities. The material enterprise must make the process seamless. Units trained and practiced in executing their APS draw responsibilities must be able to deploy with their individual gear and weapons, fall in on a unit set or combat-configured equipment, conduct Pre-Combat Checks (PCC), and move to the line of departure.
To that end, Soldiers from the Idaho National Guard's 116th Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) will put APS-2 to the test, drawing tracked- and wheeled-vehicles and other equipment from the stocks. Our goal is to get the equipment issued in 96 hours. To speed the process, Army Materiel Command (AMC) is placing APS data into GCSS-Army, enhancing visibility to all stakeholders prior to the exercise to ensure seamless issue, sustainment, and technical inspections of APS-2 equipment.
Although the National Guard will test APS, most Soldiers coming from the continental United States will deploy their own heavy equipment. This will exercise our ability to project combat power at the speed of war. Over the last few years, we have increased our tactical readiness with home station training, but tactical readiness is meaningless if we cannot project it and move it across seas. This will help us assess our ability to project warfighting capabilities from power projection platforms in the Strategic Support Area to three ports of debarkation in Europe, then onward to unit assembly areas and through various modes of transportation to get to point of need. Defender 2020 is an opportunity to test our ability to project combat power to meet the objectives of our National Defense Strategy.
Lastly, we will exercise our expeditionary sustainment capability. When Soldiers arrive in Europe, there will be no great logistics infrastructure that will greet them. Units must be able to do their job, at every echelon, whether it is an operator having reflexive competency in his or her equipment, or a maintainer understanding how to properly diagnose and rapidly return a piece of equipment to fully-mission capable status.
Sustainment excellence at echelon is decisive to winning in large-scale combat operations. We must be trained and ready to perform our sustainment mission at the speed of war in a harsh, austere, and unpredictable environment. During the exercise, logisticians will combat threats within a multi-domain context that will inform future unit and institutional training.
Our exercises should inform our behavior. For example, to move equipment from fort to port, do we need additional investment in rail heads and containers? If putting APS equipment into GCCS-Army helps speed the delivery, how do we accelerate the GCSS-Army changes required to make this our standard? What other technologies do we need to invest in to move us into the Information Age? How will artificial intelligence change future battlefields?
This exercise should also inform our multi-national interoperability opportunities. Our allies often carry similar supply commodities and logistics capabilities as we do, but cannot digitally share their data, resulting in clogged ports and a tremendously large logistics footprint. Many countries fight with U.S. equipment--we must eliminate obstacles to interoperability.
As part of a new Army "Strengthen Allies and Partners" program, here in the G-4 we are creating a roadmap on how to improve interoperability over the next decade. So as we train alongside our partners in Defender 2020, we will assess our initiatives and identify those things we can do better together. Our objective is to use a common logistics picture; share in-theater reception, staging, and onward movement requirements; and exchange commodities in an automated manner.
Ultimately, we should all look at DEFENDER-Europe 20 as an exercise that provides a deterrent effect that keeps us in the competition phase, but it is also an excellent opportunity to practice fighting and to practice winning.
Lt. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, oversees policies and procedures used by U.S. Army Logisticians. He has masters of science degrees from Florida Institute of Technology, and Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
This article was published in the January-March 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.