Despite the scenario, regardless of the theater, the U.S. Army will fight and win our nation’s next war. From the industrial base to the point of contact, it is the Army’s responsibility to leverage sustainment for the joint force. The foundation of sustainment will be central to the comparative advantage for the joint force commander in combat. As it has been throughout history, logistics remains essential to deter and win great power competition, de-escalate crises to avoid conflict, and identify opportunities to build cooperation.
The Army provides support to other services and common user logistics, while also serving as the executive agency responsible to the joint force, interagency, and, when appropriate, allies and partners. Title 10 authorizes combatant commanders to use directive authority for logistics “to assign responsibility for execution of executive agent, lead service responsibilities and to make other special arrangements such as assigning common user support or common user logistics to a service or agency … It includes peacetime measures to ensure the effective execution of approved operations plans, effectiveness and economy of operation, prevention or elimination of unnecessary duplication of facilities, and overlapping of functions among the service component commands,” Field Manual 4.0, Sustainment Operations. This effort reduces duplicated sustainment functions and maximizes freedom of action, operational reach, and prolonged endurance for the joint force commander.
Historically, the United States has enjoyed uncontested freedom of movement across multiple domains and, strategically, around the world. This advantage allowed the Army and the joint logistics enterprise to move personnel, supplies, and equipment around the globe to support operations since World War I. However, as the Army developed the multi-domain operations ready force, the global stage has continued to evolve. The demand to shoot, move, communicate, and sustain forces over vast distances, through contested domains, in a competitive space with increased sustainment demands from the joint force has evolved the challenges of the joint logistics enterprise. Sustainment modernization concepts must be well nested across the services and require integration with an industrial base that is capable of meeting the challenges of competition and conflict. Sustainment is more than a warfighting function; it is the advantage necessary to win, and it must be integrated at all echelons, rather than merely deconflicted.
Joint Logistics in a Contested Environment
The joint logistics enterprise applies resources to the national defense strategy and delivers the capability to win. The Army’s multi-domain operations (MDO) concept influences what the Army resources for modernization. However, and equally important, the MDO concept must support the Army’s Title 10 roles and responsibilities as part of the joint force. As the force builds and sustains readiness from the strategic support area (SSA) to the tactical point of contact, the Army’s support to other services takes on more importance during transformation and modernization, and impacts requirements in large-scale combat operations (LSCO). At the same time, the joint logistics enterprise must integrate our combined capabilities understanding where one service’s capability starts and transitions between services, industry, and domains. In both competition and conflict, with our joint, multinational, and industry partners, the joint force must be able to shoot, move, communicate, and win from the SSA to any location, with the expectation that the force is contested throughout the process, and is equally challenged with time, speed, and distance.
Three specific requirements support the joint logistics enterprise modernization efforts to deliver a calibrated force posture to sustain and project the force during MDO: resilient and integrated sustainment mission command and control, assured joint power projection, and the ability to sustain in a distributed environment.
Resilient and Integrated Sustainment Mission Command and Control
A commander’s ability, at echelon, to use information across domains to deliver decision advantage over adversaries requires standardization, integration, and interoperability of information systems. Data is key to logistics. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning improve our ability to reduce resource demands and deliver logistics on time. In the early nineties, it was enough for a commander to see and direct across the brigade or division battlespace, but today, commanders need to see across domains. Additionally, depending on the commander’s location or responsibility, they may need to see across nations, multinational agencies, or national supply and distribution chains. This common operating picture must allow commanders to access protected and secured data and information that delivers decision advantage.
The ability to collect, transport, analyze, decide, and act on data at the echelon, while protecting and securing that data, requires a capability that has resiliency in a contested environment. To inform a commander’s decisions, a common operating environment must be established for all commodities, including medical logistics, across a multitude of information sources. To manage this, the joint logistics enterprise must integrate commercial, military, joint, and multinational data to provide a common operating picture.
Additionally, this platform and system sharing must be able to communicate between business and operational warfighter mission arenas. The solution must not only reside at the enterprise level but be available for commanders at all levels. The ability to aggregate the data allows the commander to leverage the technology to influence the environment, at the echelon, from the SSA to the point of contact.
Achieving the decision advantage allows leaders to make better decisions faster. Decisions based on accurate and relevant data provided by an integrated and decisive capability translate to a comparative advantage over our adversaries. As the department refines authorities, it enables effective execution of logistics activities across combatant commands. This global network has vulnerabilities that require the ability to disconnect and operate effectively in a denied, disrupted, intermittent, and limited (bandwidth) environment. Finally, acknowledging the possibility of disconnected operations requires the ability to predict and push logistics to the joint force without communication. During disconnected periods, the force must be able to forecast through predictive analytics capabilities to provide support during intermittent windows of opportunity.
Modernization efforts from acquisition to current execution in the field include prognostic and predictive maintenance (Class III/V distribution, Sensors, Tactical Cloud, AI & Assured Data) to allow predictive analysis at echelon that achieves demand reduction, increases agility within the warfighting function, and reduces risk to our Soldiers. As data analytics mature, the force develops resiliency by integrating command post computing environments into the sustainment tactical network. Additionally, the work currently being done within the Army to modernize the enterprise business systems will improve our ability to manage data at echelon.
Assured Power Projection
Lethality is tied to the ability to project power around the globe, at speed, and without constraint. The SSA enables freedom of action and operational reach that supports MDO through the power projection of forces, materiel, and capabilities worldwide. Although the joint force currently operates uncontested in strategic deployments, the joint force must be ready to project forces from a contested homeland not only during competition and crisis but also during the conflict. This contested move requires rapid availability, a calibrated force posture, and close coordination with multiple agencies and authorities within the United States and with our allies and partners worldwide.
Rapid availability requires the joint force to be ready and available. The ability to visualize, understand, and rapidly respond optimizes the joint force to project power from a contested homeland and requires collaboration across government and non-government agencies to understand requirements, rehearse plans, and deliver lethality to the point of need. From a sustainment and distribution perspective, this visibility assists the joint force to protect DOD supply chains, the commercial transportation sector, and supporting infrastructures. Our total force approach to MDO, with visibility of rapid availability—left of conflict—allows senior leaders to understand limitations, mitigate risks to time, distance, and speed, and project power appropriately. This speaks to the importance of a calibrated force posture.
Calibrated force posture is a progression of global positioning and the flexibility to maneuver across multiple domains. It is the art of power projection as the joint force sets the globe. It is the Army’s responsibility to position the right assets for the joint force to seize the initiative in large-scale combat operations. This sets the globe left of conflict and logistically minimizes the risk of time and distance, allowing improved response time as competition turns to the crisis. One example of Army support to this end is the establishment of mobilization force generation installations. These locations enable the mobilization and demobilization of forces in support of joint force commander requirements worldwide.
Rapid availability and force posture require access outside the SSA. The ability to provide flexibility requires authorities with allies and partners and the defense industrial base. Forward presence, expeditionary forces, and national-level capabilities require the ability and the authorities to operate in all domains at echelon to compete and win.
Sustainment for Distribution Operations
Distributed sustainment operations require the ability to be responsive and to execute in a disaggregated manner with the capability to disconnect and operate independently. This requires synchronized, anticipatory, and integrated logistics operations. Additionally, the ability to synchronize, sustain, and distribute logistics requires data-enabled capabilities to deliver the visibility for speed and freedom of action to the multi-domain force. This maximizes decision space and provides operational flexibility. The joint force must be set in competition and modernized to reduce the demand on tactical and strategic sustainment forces. Setting the theater, reducing demand, leveraging our allies and partners, and operating with the ability to rapidly recover requires a surge-capable industrial base to deliver operational endurance.
The ability to operate in a distributed manner begins with a theater that is postured or set to ensure freedom of action. This secures global access to regionally aligned, enduring, and episodic sustainment infrastructures. The force must continually set the theater through activities such as multinational engagements to achieve agreements that enable access, basing, and forward presence through optimal force and equipment decisions of combat configured and ready Army pre-positioned stocks; rotational forces that are equipped and ready; and shared visibility and interoperability that leverages the joint, multinational and industrial force and protects enterprise systems as well as the distribution and supply network to enable the joint force.
As the DOD surges modernization efforts, requirements, and demands on logistics, distribution, and maintenance all increase without service-imposed constraints across the joint force. As a simple example, heavier equipment requires more fuel, different transport, and more maintainers. As the demand increases, the resources needed to sustain the force and protect the force also increase. Demand reduction results in extended operational reach; faster resupply of essential items; improved platform efficiency, speed, and time; reduced mission risk; greater lethality; less dependence on logistics support; and reduced requirements to secure the logistics movements of military and commercial moves. While host nation support and interoperability between services and nations increase sourcing options and decrease distribution requirements, it may also add demands in the agreement. The DOD must fundamentally reduce demands on logistics to succeed in competition, crisis, and conflict. Some examples of reducing demand are vehicle hybrid electrification, reducing ammunition weight and packaging, decreasing maintenance repair time requirements, and reducing special tool requirements. These are all considerations in the acquisition process as the owner of the requirement sets conditions for program development.
As demand decreases, the requirement increases for the use of smaller, more attritable platforms for distributed operations that provide autonomous or semi-autonomous resupply capabilities across multiple domains (land, sea, and air). Some examples include moving towards a common tactical truck that increases the use of shared repair parts and maintenance tools or increasing the use of autonomous refueling and stock control capabilities. While the future of competition and conflict will require systems that use fewer logisticians, logisticians will still be required to move people, materiel, and supplies to geographically dispersed locations that support distributed operations, e.g., an Army Watercraft Strategy that enables a “ship to shore” capability regardless of the theater of operation.
Finally, the resiliency of the organic industrial base, in concert with the defense industrial base is the nation’s insurance policy. The requirement to transition from an industrial-age organic industrial base built in the 1940s to an integrated and resilient base that has depth, speed, and can surge when needed on par with the commercial sector delivers the advantage necessary to win. Understanding capabilities, capacities, and requirements across the joint force, access to supply chains, and the ability to surge equate to speed that can counter the tyranny of distance across multiple domains. Understanding the depth and resiliency of the base allows the development of options in times of surge. It also informs resources and investment decisions to address an antiquated base.
The sustainment enterprise provides the comparative advantage the joint force requires to fight and win our nation’s wars. The Army delivers the joint force commanders options to leverage readiness. These options ensure effective execution of plans, the economy of operations, prevention or elimination of unnecessary duplication of facilities, and reduction of overlapping functions among the service component commands. Future concepts require resilient, integrated logistics mission command, assured power projection, and sustainment for distributed operations. Despite the scenario, regardless of the theater, the U.S. Army will fight and win our nation’s next war. Logistics remains essential, providing the advantage, ensuring lethality, and delivering resources to win.
Maj. Gen. Rodney Fogg, commanding general of Combined Arms Support Command, is a graduate of Quartermaster Basic and Advanced Officer Leadership Courses, Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College. He has a master's degree in Logistics Management from Florida Institute of Technology and a master's degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.
Brig. Gen. Michelle M.T. Letcher is the 42nd Chief of Ordnance and the commandant of the Ordnance School at Fort Lee, Virginia. She holds master’s degrees from the State University of New York at Oswego, the School of Advanced Military Studies, and Kansas State University. She completed the Senior Service College Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin.
Col. Kenneth W. Letcher is the director of the Fielded Force Integration Directorate at CASCOM. He holds master’s degrees from the American Military University, the Command and General Staff College, and Kansas State University. He is completing work on a Ph.D. in International History from the London School of Economics.
This article was published in the April-June 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.