Electronic payments are not a birthright. Nation-state peer competition has re-emerged and made this fact more evident. Cyber assaults on Estonia in 2007 (dubbed Cyber War I), Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine in 2015 and 2017 revealed that banking infrastructure, electrical grids, media outlets, and government agencies are cyber-targets. This lesson could be particularly harsh during power projection, or any critical multi-domain operation (MDO) in a contested or competitive operational environment. Large-scale combat operations (LSCO) will be especially complex, and history indicates that the Army will encounter critical moments when cash is king. Focus on counter insurgency operations (COIN), heavy reliance on electronic payments, as well as operational planning and training gaps, have degraded the commander's ability to use cash as a weapon. The Army must consider using physical currencies during combat training center (CTC) rotations, modifying the classes of supply to account for physical currencies, establishing a warranting and certification program, and establishing an operational currency with the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury).
The Army has employed cash to enhance, augment, and facilitate sustainment operations during every conflict since its inception. For example, during WWII the Army Finance Department disbursed $176 billion, in more than 20 different currencies, to support operations in the European and Pacific Theaters. That roughly equates to $2.54 trillion in today’s dollars. Finance units disbursed cash payments to contractors, vendors, host nation laborers, as well as for micro-purchases at the tactical level. To be sure, cash will not fund an entire conflict, but it will provide flexibility and depth to support sustainment across strategic, operational, and tactical lines of communication.
The LSCO scenario presents sustainment challenges in which the Finance and Comptroller Branch may play a significant role. As the Army pivoted toward LSCO from COIN, it identified 17 major gaps in the force and three are sustainment related: shortage of Class III at the line of departure, lack of tactical sustainment mobility, and the absence of division-level materiel management. As operational reach extends and formations disperse across the battlefield, sustainment challenges will increase. Cash will be a critical capability to mitigate the strain and reduce the time and distance required to procure goods, commodities, and services. Cash will also serve as a force multiplier that enables flexible procurement forward of the operational support area.
During all phases of the operation, operational contract support (OCS) will leverage regional resources and support the commander’s requirements. To be effective, there must be an adaptable fiscal-triad partnership between contracting, comptrollers, and finance. Contracting officers source goods and services, comptrollers commit funding toward valid requirements, and finance units disburse payments for the goods and services. Electronic payments are preferred; however, when that is not feasible, cash must be available to pay vendors.
Commercial support during theater opening is inevitable and will be cash intensive. As previously mentioned, one gap is the shortage of Class III at the line of departure. Without electronic payments, this may drive a cash requirement to support force projection. This single gap would require six skids of $100 bills to procure the required fuel over the course of 30 days. That is $335.3 million, or $11.2 million a day. Although it is disingenuous to claim the Army will need $335 million in cash at a single moment, for a single bulk fuel purchase, it is certain multiple aerial ports of debarkation (APODs) and seaports of debarkation (SPODs) will require physical cash during theater opening to close or mitigate known gaps.
Physical currency, whether in the form of U.S. dollars, foreign currency, or an operational currency, will greatly enhance mission success across all levels of warfare. Two significant conditions that the Army typically operates in rely heavily on cash. The first are those austere locations geographically separated from population centers, such as those used in staging or contingency operations. The second are host nations with fragile banking industries, such as those with a major conflict inside its borders or nearby. These conditions highlight that physical currency is the preferred medium of exchange, and specifically those backed by the United States. This became evident as the U.S. dollar became the preferred currency during Operation Iraqi Freedom with the collapse of the Iraqi banking system. Cash’s dependability will provide critical support to sustainment operations in complex and lethal environments even in the absence of a reliable host nation banking system.
Cyber-contested, or even cyber-competitive, MDO environments may impact many systems that we have depended on for acquiring goods and services. The General Fund Enterprise Business System, the Deployable Disbursing System, and the Standard Procurement System are just three examples of finance and procurement systems that all reside on the Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet). These systems and their susceptibility are additive to our electronic banking and electrical grid vulnerabilities, all which commanders must plan for. If an attack or disruption to our banking infrastructure is a critical point of failure, should we consider cash as mitigation? Put another way, if the fuel keys and credit cards don’t work in a given Army division, can that division self-deploy from fort to port in a cyber-contested or cyber-competitive environment? A thorough mission analysis may highlight a requirement to maintain U.S. dollars, an operational currency, military payment certificates, or mix of “most likely” currencies in division-level vaults to self-deploy from fort to port and facilitate onward movement.
Cash requirements will not go away with improved connectivity and a robust theater. In fact, the requirements may increase as we transition to consolidate gains. Regardless of the phase of the operation, units will require cash for local procurements and for programs such as the Commanders’ Emergency Response Program (CERP). Paying for local interpreters, funding projects, and building out survivable garrisons are all cash intensive operations that staff members must incorporate into the planning process. These activities, funding authorities for programs such as CERP, and micro-threshold purchases serve as the foundation of fiscal diplomacy. Fiscal diplomacy creates a positive influence on the local population, and supports strategic economic diplomacy and America’s foreign policy.” Finance units are a key element to fiscal diplomacy by ensuring prompt payment for goods and services. As learned in WWII, “Under wartime conditions, the army experienced difficulties in securing needed items overseas, but these difficulties could be minimized or magnified, depending on how finance officers paid those who had contracted for goods or services.”
The Way Ahead
Based on cash requirements to support the range of military operations, the Army must address specific areas for improvement. Staffs must incorporate cash into operational planning and provide their commanders with courses of action to employ cash effectively. The cash requirement in future MDO/LSCO operations highlights the need for finance units to be technically proficient as agents of the Treasury. Simply put, we must incorporate finance units into all major training events, consider cash as a class of supply, develop and implement a warranting and certification program, and partner with the Treasury to establish an operational currency.
Training for Cash
Since 2010, only one financial management support team has been a player unit at the Joint Readiness Training Center or National Training Center. The lack of participation by finance units in CTC exercises is partially a consequence of our reliance upon electronic payments, the deactivation of finance battalions in 2008, and the absence of planning and tracking mechanisms. Commanders must include disbursing operations into major training events such as CTCs, Defender-series exercises, and command post exercises. This participation will have a ripple effect as units conduct individual and collective training, and participate in the “train up” for major events. Commanders at all levels will experience cash intensive periods during MDO/LSCO, and the finance units responsible for disbursing operations must be ready to support. Finance units must “train as we fight.”
Developing running estimates, understanding command and support relationships, integrating reports into the logistics status report to better inform the logistics common operating picture (LOGCOP), publishing the finance concept of support, etc., do not come naturally and require reps and sets in training. As the Secretary of the Army has stated, CTCs are the “gold standard training” designed to mirror the intensity and realism of armed conflict. Is it time to incorporate host nation currency within the CTCs? Should units contract and procure some Class III, Class IV, and transportation with cash during initial entry into “the box”? Should commanders have the ability to use cash to influence and set favorable conditions in their area of operations? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, sustainment leaders may need to assess if their finance units are prepared to “fight tonight.”
A Class of Supply
The finance operations planner at brigade, division, and corps level does not exist. When the Army deactivated the last finance battalions in 2008, gaps emerged in the planning for physical currency and finance units that manage and disburse the cash. As a means to integrate cash into operational planning, a broader way of thinking is required when considering the logistics of cash. Budgeting rests with the comptroller (S8/G8) who ensures the commander has the required funds and authorities to meet operational needs and mission requirements. On the other hand, finance units acquire, account for, safeguard, and disburse physical cash during all phases and in all areas. We must close the planning gap and simultaneously establish a methodology to plan, track, and estimate cash requirements on the battlefield. To close the gap, the Army should establish cash as a new class of supply, i.e. Class XI, or modify an existing one.
Sustainment planners must have a methodology to plan for cash, track its status through running estimates, incorporate it into the commander’s LOGCOP, and recommend employment of finance units to disburse it. Understanding and anticipating cash requirements to ensure finance units have the authority and means to acquire and deploy cash immediately upon need is paramount. If planners can forecast cash requirements, commanders will be able to capitalize on the reliability of cash to close or mitigate key sustainment gaps. However, if cash is absent from sustainment forecasting and the predictive analytics used to support the commander, there is increased risk of being unable to sustain dispersed formations. Cash and the multiple currencies required to support MDO/LSCO cannot be an afterthought in the planning process.
Warranting and Certification
While training and planning begin to address readiness, serving as an agent of the Treasury requires an inordinate amount of technical expertise and oversight. Adherence to the Treasury Financial Manual and the Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation is not waivable. By extension of U.S. Code, disbursing officers (DO) and disbursing agents (DA) are agents of the Treasury, as they have direct access to Treasury accounts. To acquire, account for, safeguard, and disburse cash in accordance with the law and requisite regulations, DO and DA appointees must be on orders, and should be warranted and certified. Execution and management of warranting and certification programs should be part of the U.S. Army Financial Management Command’s responsibility for functional oversight of technical readiness. Additionally, the Finance and Comptroller School should develop “Finance Firing Tables” to support the warranting and certification programs. These programs will give sustainment commanders the confidence that their assigned finance units are technically proficient and can perform their duties as agents of the Treasury.
The Treasury approved and printed numerous “invasion currencies” during World War II as negotiable mediums of exchange on local markets. One notable example was yellow seal U.S. dollars used to support the North African operation in 1942. Easily distinguished from normal blue seal U.S. dollars, the thought was if an appreciable amount of this invasion currency fell into Axis hands, the Treasury could declare the entire series non-legal tender. Additionally, using yellow seal dollars as currency mitigated the risk that the French Provisional government, which was loyal to the Vichy, may not provide enough franc currency to support operations.
The necessity for cash in MDO must drive doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and policy solutions for finance units. In an effort to support division-level deployment operations in a MDO contested environment, the Army should take three actions. First, conduct a financial estimate on fort to port deployment operations. Second, coordinate with the Treasury to establish an operational currency, much like the past invasion currencies. Third, maintain the operational currencies in the vaults at the division level and above. Finance units should maintain and track by serial number an operational currency in garrison, which would only become legal tender upon executive order.
Can the Army’s divisions self-deploy if there is a denial or disruption to the electrical grid, financial system, or banking system? Would maintaining an operational currency in every division’s vault, that is activated upon executive order, help mitigate the effects? Would an operational currency serve as a deterrent for cyber and electromagnetic spectrum attacks? Should we use NIPRNet systems to fund all requirements necessary to project force and build combat power?
A supply chain network is an engineered flow of information, funding, or materiel from its suppliers to customers. In a contested or competitive environment, across a major ocean, on another continent, crossing multiple national boundaries, with numerous APODs, SPODs, and division-size elements that are in different phases of unified land operations simultaneously, it is not hard to imagine why cash will be required. Cash is a commodity necessary to ensure freedom of action and to extend operational reach. It’s reliable, agile, responsive, and a key element in fiscal diplomacy. Cash is accepted and required from the strategic support area to the deep maneuver area and is worthy to be considered as a class of supply. Brigades, and echelons above, must plan for cash and the finance units that employ it. Finance units must train as part of their assigned commands with cash at home station, at CTCs, and during other major events. The Army must ensure finance units are ready to support the commander’s ability to deter, fight, and win.
Col. Greg Worley is the commandant of the U.S. Army Finance and Comptroller School and Chief of the Finance and Comptroller Corps. He has a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Oklahoma, a Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Administration from Syracuse University, and a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is a Certified Defense Financial Manager and holds DoD Financial Management Certification Level 3.
This article was published in the January-March 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.