During Operation Iraqi Freedom’s (OIF) initial combat operations, our sustainment support enabled mission execution even as the on-hand supply of several commodities tended to be lower than expected. National supply shortages and limited theater transportation capacity were challenges units adapted to by carrying what they needed until a more stable supply flow was made available. Despite the friction they caused, these supply and transportation shortages pale in comparison to the challenges we will face sustaining large-scale combat operations (LSCO) against a near-peer adversary.
At the start of OIF, our logistics system was distribution-based and operated with the luxury of near-constant connectivity between its nodes and segments. At the end of OIF’s first year, we began reducing our uniformed sustainment footprint in the theater and purposefully replaced it with contracted capabilities. Year over year, this tactical logistics support enabled our operations and ensured we could minimize those challenges unique to OIF’s warfighting context without necessitating exponential growth in sustainment units. Our brigade-centric structure met the needs of counterinsurgency and stability operations. Still, our transition to division and corps operations is essential to best posture ourselves for a future conflict marked by distributed, contested, and extended operations across multiple domains. Assured lines of communication and other luxuries will require disciplined and precise logistic demand to employ our sustainment force structure for greatest effect.
More doesn’t always mean better and adjusting our perception of demand to this notion will be a key enabler in continually compressing that logistical tail. The goal of distribution-based logistics wasn’t simply inventory re-duction as a means to an end; rather, we sought to improve support efficacy and agility. The same purpose holds true for our focus on reducing logistics demand across echelons as a means of reaching our readiness objectives—such a reduction is not just austerity for austerity’s sake. It is no great secret that what worked in OIF may not carry over to future conflicts, so our Army and the joint force are recalibrating our doctrine and execution toward LSCO in a multi-domain operational environment. From increased precision during the requirements determination process to added agility in the tactical space, demand reduction efforts will ensure our sustainment readiness for the next fight.
As a means of progressing from idea to concept to a guiding framework for action, Training and Doctrine Command published a white paper, Demand Reduction: Setting Conditions to Enable Multi-Domain Battle, in 2018, which outlines that in order for units to effectively conduct semi-independent operations in newly challenging environments for an extended period of time, the Army must concurrently reduce demand while improving its ability to support brigade combat teams on an evolving battlefield. Former Chief of Staff of the Army and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley amplified this hypothesis in his assertion that a “massive amount of logistics” won’t necessarily be as readily available in future conflicts. A unit’s operational requirements that support mission readiness are derived from a commander’s intent. In future operations, the evolving nature of warfare will almost certainly make our demand drivers more variable and harder to predict. Our solutions to best posture for these operations are both tangible and intangible. For example, we’ve already made great strides reducing battlefield demand of critical supplies like fuel by reconfiguring how we deliver this in the tactical space. Our bulk fuel distribution systems now transport over 30% more fuel with the same number of trucks, reducing fuel demand and removing vehicles from that tactical space by positively changing how we conduct organic fuel distribution to a given brigade. However, taking full advantage of updated capabilities or enabling technologies is best supported by a commitment to logistics discipline that permeates our culture. From leader education to tactics, techniques, and procedures adjustments, we are framing demand reduction as a tactical readiness enabler as agile and adaptive as the commanders it has been developed to support.
As with any initiative we undertake as an Army, leadership and culture serve as critical linchpins equally as important and foundational to success across the force as any other investment. This dynamic is no different in advancing capabilities supporting an Army fully prepared for multi-domain operations (MDO). One of those is our complete, systematic approach to demand reduction. In this edition of Army Sustainment, you will learn more about how the Army has already made great strides operationalizing this concept and what the path forward entails in our drive to an MDO-Ready force in 2035. From meeting demand at its tactical point of need through our support of advanced manufacturing capabilities to making best use of our enterprise sustainment data to eliminate reactive maintenance, our efforts to reduce demand all revolve around providing our commanders in the field with the materiel and decision space they need to decisively accomplish their mission.
At its core, demand reduction is neither a seismic shift toward materiel austerity nor a singular focus on using less gas on the battlefield. The effort cuts across echelons, from the organic industrial base to the close tactical area and has been built into the way we will modernize in the context of MDO. Executed properly through a clear understanding of its scope, demand reduction will effectively serve as our new status quo, driven by its cultural adoption. Our sustainment capabilities have proven to be a distinct competitive advantage over our adversaries time and again. Maintaining this edge will remain an imperative in the future.
Lt. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, Deputy Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Department of the Army, G-4, oversees policies and procedures used by U.S. Army Logisticians. He has masters’ of science degrees from the Florida Institute of Technology and Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.