Fijian Army Private Beado Ratuciri, who serves with 3rd Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment, shoots and takes instruction from U.S. Army Spc. James Bianchi, who serves with 1st Btn., 27th Inf. Regt., 2nd Brigade, Inf. Brig. Combat Team, 25th Inf. Division during a Short Range Marksmanship training in Labasa, Fiji, August 1, 2019. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Houston)
Fijian Army Private Beado Ratuciri, who serves with 3rd Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment, shoots and takes instruction from U.S. Army Spc. James Bianchi, who serves with 1st Btn., 27th Inf. Regt., 2nd Brigade, Inf. Brig. Combat Team, 25th Inf. Division during a Short Range Marksmanship training in Labasa, Fiji, August 1, 2019. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Houston) (Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Houston) VIEW ORIGINAL

One of the critical functions of the U.S. Army is the ability to conduct force projection. That is to project the military element of national power from the United States in response to military operational requirements. The operations extend from mobilization and deployment to a theater and the redeployment to a place of origin. The U.S. military conducts regional integration with the Indo-Pacific through two parts; mutual defense treaties and training exercises. Specifically, the U.S. Army conducts bilateral exercises in the Indo-Pacific through Pacific Pathways and the newest large-scale exercise, Defender Pacific. Part of any major exercise is training events with allied and partner nations that require ammunition, explosives, and missiles. Many of the U.S. Army units deployed into the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s area of responsibility will most likely receive Class V supply from Okinawa, former Ryukyu kingdom, and part of the First Island Chain.

Bilateral Exercises

The First Island Chain comprises mainland Japan, Okinawa, the northern part of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan. The second chain consists of the northern islands of Japan stretching to Guam and the islands of Micronesia. The Army has nearly 85,000 troops stationed in the Indo-Pacific region and already conducts Pacific Pathways bilateral exercises. The training reinforces the U.S. forces in rapid force projection into the Pacific. The Pacific Pathways exercises began in 2014 and have supported bilateral training with allies and partners between the U.S. Army and nations such as the Philippines and Thailand. There are generally three rotations each year for about ten months divided between Pathways 1, 2, and 3. In recent years, Pathway exercises have extended units in host nations for more extended training periods. Exercise Defender Europe 20 had the largest deployment of U.S. forces into Europe. The Army also conducted Defender Pacific 20, a smaller joint exercise that demonstrates strategic readiness. Defender Pacific 21 is a division-sized exercise in the Indo-Pacific and the next phase of the Defender Pacific exercise is to conduct joint multi-domain operations supporting Indo-Pacific command.

Army Distribution Management

Supporting ammunition is one of many commodities required to support bilateral Defender Pacific exercises. Munitions supply is a complex logistics operation due to the critical need during exercises, inherent hazards of handling explosives material, and the regulatory security requirement during transportation. Class V materiel managers execute supply support using the Army distribution management process that includes the following:

  • Materiel Management
  • Distribution Integration
  • Transportation Operations Functions

Army Techniques Publication 4-42 Materiel Management, Supply, and Field Services Operations, describes materiel management as the continuous situational understanding, planning, and execution of supply and maintenance capabilities to anticipate, synchronize, and direct all classes of supply to maximize combat power and enable freedom of action in accordance with the supported commander’s priorities. Class V distribution integration aligns material requiring distribution (by specific types, quantity, and priority) with adequate transportation capabilities to synchronize distribution to support Indo-Pacific exercises’ concept of operations. Lastly, transportation operations develop a movement plan by mode and through entry ports dependent on each host nation node’s capabilities. But first ammunition must leave the seaport of embarkation from one of the nodes in Japan.

Japan Ammunition Supply Points

Ammunition Depot, 10th Support Group, is the remnant of 83rd Ordnance Battalion. An inactivated ordnance (ammo) unit with the mission of ammunition management. The amount of service members assigned to the ammunition depot does not compare to the reduced amount of the former 83rd Ordnance Battalion. Still, the Army civilians and Japanese host nation support continue the mission. Today’s mission is to operate four strategic prepositioned ammunition support activities in support of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s full spectrum operations and the Joint Munitions Command’s maintenance and demilitarization programs. Kawakami Ammunition Depot operates the only approved burn site in Japan. The depot also runs the ammunition peculiar equipment 1236 M1 Deactivation Furnace to demilitarize small caliber rounds and components for the joint force. The four strategic prepositioned ammunition support activities are:

  • Kawakami Ammunition Depot
  • Akizuki Ammunition Depot
  • Hiro Ammunition Depot
  • Ammunition Depot Okinawa

Ammunition Depot Okinawa is the Army’s portion of Kadena air bases’ munitions storage area, northeast of the air base, covering over 26 square kilometers. Under the 18th Munitions Squadron administrative control, all four U.S. services manage operations supporting conventional munitions throughout the Indo-Pacific region. The Okinawa munitions storage area is known for Operation Red Hat—the removal of chemical warfare munitions. Also, as a key intermediate staging base for the Vietnam conflict with B-52 bombers taking off from Kadena Air Base. The U.S. forces in Japan and ballistic missile defense assets are an essential component of the Indo-Pacific strategy. To that end, U.S. Army bilateral exercises play a vital role in the region.

COVID-19 Challenges

While the U.S. Army was conducting Defender Pacific and Pacific Pathways 20, COVID-19 caused a severe outbreak and public health emergency in January 2020 and a global pandemic in March 2020. Usually, providing Class V support to units can be a push or pull system. A push of ammunition goes to the supported units, or supported units pull ammunition from ammunition support activities. For exercises on mainland Japan, a push method is used as the entirety of Japan can easily stretch the lengthwise of the east coast of the United States. From northern Hokkaido to southern Kyushu, and the remote archipelago of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa. Ammunition Depot Okinawa conducts a pull method as the island can easily be traveled a few hours from the major airport to the island’s northern edge. The unit provides a detail of Soldiers and an NCO to sign for the ammunition from the ammunition supply point. Then containerize the ammunition and send the containers as unit cargo movement into the host nation for the exercise. The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed ammunition supply operations for Pacific Pathways and Defender Pacific from the Okinawa Island.

Exercise Ammunition Shipments

One of the first initiatives, pre-COVID, for Pacific Pathways and Defender Pacific 20 was to use container roll-in/out platforms. While blocking and bracing of breakbulk munitions provides an appropriate way to ship ammunition using wood filler for constructing partitions. The lumber must be kiln-dried, heat-treated, and stamped as required by the DOD wood packaging material program. The fundamental flaw in using the lumber process is that it does not allow exercise units to conduct proper retrograde as the units conducting the exercise are limited in tools and experience with blocking and bracing ammunition with lumber. A function of ammunition material management is retrograde, the returning of excess or unserviceable ammunition material. The unit signed a temporary hand receipt (DA Form 3161) for equipment, and the unit commander signed a memorandum of understanding for the loan of the equipment. The initial step provided a path for future critical actions to continue operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Japanese government created travel restrictions that prevented most U.S. citizens from entering the country and placed service members on a 14-day quarantine period that traveled into Japan.

The shift in procedures changed from unit cargo movements to shipment operations, from an ammunition support activity using a push method to the exercise unit located in a host nation. The operation is complex but achievable using the shipment process and the request for an exception to policy for manual issue procedures for the Total Ammunition Management Information System. The shipment process allows ammunition material to use the transportation system to send ammunition containers to an in-country node supported by the U.S. Government. With second destination transportation from the port to the storage area operated by the organization conducting the exercise. Manual issue procedures allow the ammunition supply point to support the exercise unit with training ammunition from approved authorizations and maintaining track of expenditures. The difficult part will be during retrograde operations, where the unit will have to conduct shipments from the host nation back to the supply point on Okinawa. The ammunition supply point conducts the receipt process to bring the ammunition back onto the stock record and completes supply discrepancy reports for any incorrect documentation. Then lastly, the use of manual turn-in procedures to close out the training ammunition and reconcile expenditures.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed sustainment planners for Pacific Pathways and Defender Pacific to create innovative solutions to new logistical problem sets, as the U.S. Army will be the leading provider for ammunition supply support during large-scale combat in joint multi-domain operations. Major exercises provide the opportunity for sustainment and maneuver units to identify future training requirements. While Defender Pacific 20 provided for ammunition distribution management to increase organizational effectiveness and readiness. Defender Pacific 21 will offer the opportunity to practice the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, maneuver unit practice training to support the nation’s force projection and ordnance sustainment units the ability to provide Class V distribution in a challenging environment.

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Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael K. Lima is the ammunition warrant officer for the 10th Support Group, at Torii Station, Okinawa, Japan. He is an accountable officer of an ammunition supply point at Kadena Air Base. He was battalion senior warrant officer advisor for the 6th Ordnance Battalion in the Republic of Korea. He holds a doctorate in business administration and a master's degree from Baker College Center for Graduate Studies.

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This article was published in the April-June 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.

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