A key objective for the inaugural DEFENDER-Europe 2020 exercise (DEF-EUR 20) was the issue, use, and turn-in of Army prepositioned stock (APS) equipment as part of exercising dynamic force employment of a combat-credible force. In this capacity, Europe-based APS-2 builds rapid power projection in theater and operationalizes the U.S. National Defense Strategy. Army Doctrine Publication 4-0, Sustainment, makes clear the value of geographically dispersed APS sites: they are essential to timely support to national military and defense strategies in areas of national interest and treaty obligations, while significantly reducing strategic lift requirements and bypassing congested nodes.
APS equipment issue occurs at sites that are strategically placed and contain a whole-unit’s worth of modified table of organization and equipment, authorized stockage lists, and shop stock.
During DEF-EUR 20, APS-2 Zutendaal Work Site in Belgium issued three sustainment brigade company equipment sets to three gaining tactical units (GTUs) based in the continental U.S. (CONUS). This was a change based on real world conditions: the eruption of COVID-19 in Europe in early March 2020 resulted in a fourth sustainment brigade company not getting issued after it was prepared and made ready for issue (RFI).
In this article we present important observations that enabled APS-2 Zutendaal Work Site to successfully anticipate requirements then prepare and issue equipment to deployed units. Given that Zutendaal, like other APS-2 sites in the Netherlands and Germany, was only established in 2017, the lessons learned are beneficial for the larger sustainment community to shape the strategic support area of tomorrow. Standing-up and operationalizing Zutendaal Work Site as an APS site within a short period is particularly relevant to discussions about posturing the force for future fights that require a forward, dispersed, and nimble footprint but which can quickly generate materiel readiness closer to the point of need.
Preparing for Equipment Issue
APS equipment issue to the deployed warfighter is only successful when preparation for contingencies is coordinated and synchronized at every stage of the planning process. At the strategic level, this requires close collaboration between headquarters, Department of the Army (owner of APS equipment and issue authority), U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) (the executive agent for APS equipment sourcing, management, and accountability), U.S. Army Forces Command (prepares units to fall in on and draw from an APS), and Defense Logistics Agency (the sourcing agent for APS secondary items and sustainment stocks).
According to Army Regulation 710-1, Centralized Inventory Management of the Army Supply System, an APS site constitutes one leg of the strategic mobility triad, along with airlift and sealift capabilities. The use of APS allows rapid CONUS-based power projection anywhere in the world. As APS exists to support the warfighter and reduce the amount of equipment that must deploy from home station, strategic-level planning supports the combatant commander (CCDR) who identifies APS requirements in conjunction with their aligned Army Service Component Command (ASCC). The CCDR and ASCC decide to employ APS assets in theater and seek release approval from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, or his or her designee. As laid out in Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 3-35.1, Army Pre-positioned Operations, this decision is made in coordination with Headquarters, Department of the Army and the Joint Staff, AMC, the requesting ASCC, and Army Sustainment Command (ASC).
ASC is AMC’s executive agent for APS, responsible for accounting for, storing, maintaining, and issuing APS equipment and stocks. U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, a realigned AMC subordinate agency that falls under the new Army Logistics Medical Command, is also a key stakeholder and manages all Class VIII (medical supply) equipment at APS sites. The CCDR is supported with APS in theater by ASC’s Army field support brigades (AFSBs), composed of Army field support battalions (AFSBns) that manage APS sites. The APS site is where the warfighter comes face-to-face with strategic readiness. It is the readiness fulcrum of the strategic support area: linking personnel in the joint security area with materiel from CONUS.
Before a Soldier can deploy and accept a single piece of equipment, a series of APS site activities must be closely synchronized:
- Manning and training
- Equipment configuration and handoff
- Nurturing of partnerships
Surprisingly, neither ATP 3-35.1 nor Technical Manual (TM) 38-470, Storage and Maintenance of Army Prepositioned Stock Materiel, discuss the workforce that makes APS sites function. The civilian technicians, supply clerks, mechanics, quality assurance officers, information technology specialists, and human capital staff are essential for successful APS operations and equipment issue. No single piece of equipment can be provided to the warfighter without the trained and skilled team required to account for, store, maintain, and issue APS equipment. To make this happen, a nuanced approach to recruitment, upon initial site stand-up, and retention of top talent must be devised far ahead of any equipment issue.
In the areas where APS-2 sites are located, unemployment rates are historically low and, generally, geographically separated from more urban areas. This makes hiring the right talent a challenge. Adding to this, each European nation has different status of forces agreements concerning the number of U.S. Department of the Army Civilians and U.S. civilian contractors allowed in each country. In Belgium the number is set low. Thus, an APS site must rely on and leverage host-nation talent to augment the smaller U.S. management staff. Zutendaal Work Site has partially overcome this constraint through a steady and tailorable approach by working closely with host-nation employment agencies, advertising in local publications, reaching out to local trade schools, and by attending local job fairs and hiring events in search of critical skills.
Preparation of unit equipment sets at Zutendaal Work Site began as soon as the first DEF-EUR 20 planning guidance was distributed in mid-2019. This allowed APS site personnel ample time to perform supply, maintenance, and quality assurance on the designated unit-sets intended for issue. TM 38-470 briefly describes the production efforts required to get equipment ready for GTUs; while APS sites develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) and sequences of issue to manage site efforts. At a newer site like Zutendaal, preparation of equipment for issue requires a little more time as personnel continue to receive, store, and maintain new materiel that arrives as they simultaneously develop production schedules, perform maintenance services, and configure equipment for issue.
The site maintenance directorate realigned its work priorities to ensure designated equipment was serviced in accordance with TM 10/20 standards, to replace defective mechanical components, order and install replacement parts, and configure vehicles with combat identification panels and component mounts. In the months prior to the GTU's arrival, maintenance personnel with quality assurance oversight performed routine surveillance as described in TM 38-470 to ensure battery life, fluid levels, and correct tire pressure. The validating event for these efforts was the on-site vehicle road tests before the GTU arrival. This ensured each piece of rolling stock was road-worthy and any minor defects that emerged during storage and staging was corrected. Further, quality assurance personnel follow a rigorous eight-step RFI process before stamping off that a piece of equipment is ready for issue to the warfighter.
Site supply personnel had equally arduous tasks to prepare unit equipment for issue. They:
- Managed storage and release timelines
- Ensured equipment basic issue items (BII) and components of the end item (COEI) were complete—with no shortages that rendered the equipment less than TM 10/20—and secured to major end items in accordance with higher headquarters guidance
- Removed preservation materials
- Configured equipment into unit sets
- Ensured vehicles were fueled
- Maintained property accountability at all times
- Physically loaded and mounted end items such as sets, kits, and outfits with vehicles, and vehicles with trailers or ground support equipment
The quality assurance directorate played an outsized role at Zutendaal Work Site, ranging from planning and managing the equipment issue process, conducting unit equipment readiness assessments, tracking RFI rates, ensuring vehicle compliance with European regulations on fuel and ammunition carriers, and coordinating for field service representative support with U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command and U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command. That level of coordination ensured that complex systems, such as vehicle command, control, communications, computers, cyber and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C5ISR) equipment or tactical water purification systems, had the requisite components and were fully installed and operational prior to handing them over to the GTUs. At the end of all of these efforts, equipment designated for issue was laid out for GTUs as a unit set in the equipment configuration and handoff area (ECHA).
Equipment Configuration and Handoff
The warfighter first encounters strategic readiness at the APS site’s ECHA, a deliberately planned, organized, and secured area where RFI equipment is drawn by the GTU according to site SOP. ATP 3-35.1 emphasizes that the draw process should occur as quickly as possible. It is otherwise generic in its description of the timeline and process for efficient equipment issuance. As a result, an APS site will typically appoint a senior leader to serve as the ECHA chief. The ECHA chief, in turn, creates a detailed issue sequence to manage the GTU’s time on site and allow the GTU to efficiently arrive, take issue of APS equipment, and begin movement to the tactical assembly area as fast as possible.
The central objective for Zutendaal Work Site during the draw process was to simplify the process for the GTUs, make it very easy for Soldiers to quickly perform preventive maintenance checks and services, for GTU command and supply teams to conduct an inventory alongside the site accountable officer, and then transfer property from the Army’s wholesale record to the GTU. The intent was to minimize the GTU’s time spent on the ground to allow more time to prepare for convoy operations.
During DEF-EUR 20 property transfers, site personnel did encounter slight delays in the exchange of data files between the Army War Reserve Deployment System (AWRDS) and Global Combat Support System-Army, however, solutions have been identified to prevent future delays. Additionally, in the coming years AMC intends to integrate GCSS-Army worldwide within the APS program.
Nurturing of Partnerships
APS equipment issue cannot happen without support from partners. This is even more important outside of the U.S. (ATP 3-35.1), where host-nation support can make or break an operation. At Zutendaal Work Site, close synchronization between multiple U.S. agencies and site leadership was critical:
- Base operations support and emergency services, provided by U.S. Army Garrison–Benelux to accommodate a surge of deploying Soldiers onto the site
- Customs clearance
- Equipment loading support
- Vehicle test-driving, provided by multiple units from 16th Sustainment Brigade
- NATO Support and Procurement Agency delivered and applied African Swine Flu disinfectant on all vehicles (a more important APS-issue function in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic)
- U.S. Embassy Brussels assistance, identified and solved inter-state movement issues after equipment issue to GTUs
Participating NATO countries, to include Belgian host-nation partners, were likewise essential for the APS issue. This support ranged from effective site-level communication and planning with the mayor of Zutendaal, Belgium; to the setup of the GTU Life Support Area in Grobbendonk, Belgium; to the delivery of diesel fuel by the Belgian army 29th Logistics Battalion for issued vehicles; and synchronization between local police agencies and Belgian army movement control teams that enabled vehicle convoys that departed the site.
Future APS Operations
The use of APS and equipment outside of the U.S. is a decades-old concept. The precursor to the current APS-2 equipment sets were prepositioned organizational materiel configured to unit sets, which were maintained at Combat Equipment Group-Europe sites throughout several NATO countries. At the end of the Cold War and after Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, U.S. Forces in Europe began to draw down and no longer had to maintain a deterrence footprint to support the AirLand Battle doctrine of the U.S. Army. Prepositioned stock models changed as irregular warfare became normative. The Army continues, however, to prepare for sustainment operations in a multi-domain battle environment, which requires operationalized prepositioned stocks that are combat configured well ahead of Soldier arrival.
On future battlefields, the traditional U.S. advantages of unimpeded strategic movement into theater and time to amass combat power will be contested. Soldiers will require capabilities that are agile and ready for immediate deployment. APS sites have realized this certainty and are implementing combat-configured (CFC) readiness standards at the direction of the AMC commanding general. CFC APS sets include vehicles configured with identification panels, weapon mounts. BII and COEI will be secured where Soldiers are accustomed to storing on vehicles and critical C5ISR will be installed and tested, a major milestone. The aforementioned objectives will be documented and stamped by quality assurance personnel to ensure the APS provides the best equipment possible to the warfighter.
Defining CFC standards has required PhD-level analysis and effort. It represents a paradigm shift in the way APS is managed. Notably, CFC standards require a significant change in how APS arranges work-flow, as major platforms are viewed as a fully configured system of systems. As production schedules across all APS commodities are linked and synced, a fully configured platform and all of its systems will enter maintenance simultaneously to maintain the highest level of unit set readiness. Also required is an acceleration in building capital infrastructure and facilities that can support this more robust industrial requirement.
APS Site as the Fulcrum of the Strategic Support Area
The principle lesson learned at the APS site level during DEF-EUR 20 is that APS sites are not just a place where Army “stuff” is stored. They serve as highly valuable, readiness-generating platforms that are expeditionary oriented and agile to support the emerging requirements of multi-domain operations. This article makes clear that before, during, and after DEF-EUR 20, the Zutendaal Work Site served as a fulcrum for the strategic support area where military might is generated, projected, and sustained.
APS sites are strategic locations where the entirety of the sustainment enterprise can coalesce in real time to achieve national military objectives. They drive and inform supply availability, equipment readiness, organic industrial base readiness, installation readiness, strategic power projection, munitions readiness, Soldier and Family readiness, and logistics information readiness. The end result, as captured in Army Doctrine Publication 4-0, Sustainment, is increased efficiencies across military services, agencies, industry, and allied partners.
Capt. Matthew A. Gaumer serves as plans and operations chief, Army Prepositioned Stock-2, Army Field Support Battalion-Benelux, 405th Army Field Support Brigade, in Zutendaal, Belgium. He holds a bachelor’s degree and multiple master’s degrees from Loyola University Chicago, Saint Meinrad School of Theology, University of Leuven, American Military University, and the University of Oklahoma. He holds a doctorate degree in history and theology from the University of Leuven. He is certified as a Demonstrated Master Logistician and is a graduate of Transportation Basic Officer Leader Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and Theater Sustainment Planners Course.
Paul "Corey" Horn is site director of Army Prepositioned Stock-2, Army Field Support Battalion-Benelux 405th Army Field Support Brigade, in Zutendaal, Belgium. He holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Armstrong Atlantic State University and a master's degree in procurement and acquisition management from Webster University. He is certified in Life Cycle Logistics-Level II, is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps, and is a graduate of the Sustaining Base Leadership and Management Program.
This article was published in the July-September 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.