Setting the theater requires an analysis of the operational environment (OE) in which forces will operate to identify what is needed to execute operations within the theater. It is incumbent that strategic planners across all warfighting functions analyze the operational environment to understand constraints that will affect their ability to execute the mission. The DOD has six geographic combatant commands across the globe, including U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Southern Command. Each geographic combatant commander (GCC) is responsible for an area of responsibility within their region. Each GCC must develop a theater campaign plan and theater engagement plan while setting conditions within the theater to conduct operations during a crisis, competition, and conflict. A comprehensive analysis of the OE is required to understand the theater of operations and ensure the development of suitable, acceptable, feasible, and flexible theater plans.
OE Assessment Tools
Planners use several tools to assist commanders in visualizing the operational environment, including the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) and the theater logistics analysis (TLA). The IPB is one of the most frequently used tools that provides an analysis of the OE. The IPB is a tool that analyzes the OE from an intelligence lens and assists commanders in understanding mission variables that could affect operations to include enemy, terrain, weather, and civil considerations. Field Manual 4-0, Sustainment Operations, describes the sustainment preparation of the operation environment (SPoOE) as an assessment tool used by theater planners to analyze the OE and identify resource factors that could impact sustainment operations. Joint Publication 4-0, Joint Logistics, describes the SPoOE as the TLA, a supporting process used by planners that provides an initial sustainment assessment of resources, infrastructure, and logistics within an OE. The TLA is the genesis of theater sustainment planning and facilitates the development of the theater logistics overview (TLO), the concept of logistics support (COLS), and the logistics estimate.
Theater Logistics Analysis
The TLA is a strategic-level process and the foundation of sustainment preparation and planning at the theater level. The TLA is a powerful sustainment tool used to inform decisions across all phases of the conflict continuum and assists in setting and shaping the theater. The TLA is a detailed analysis of each country within a theater. This analysis provides commanders with critical information about each country, including threats, geography, environmental factors, host nation agreements, and country infrastructure and military resources. Theater sustainment planners, joint logistics enterprise (JLEnt) partners, and partner nations all facilitate the development of the TLA. The TLA is a continuous process that begins before setting the theater and is refined throughout crisis, competition, and conflict as the operational environment evolves. The TLA is essentially a theater sustainment common operating picture for the GCC at Phase 0, which is maintained to ensure the commander has an accurate sight picture of sustainment capabilities and constraints across the area of responsibility. The GCC’s ability to understand, visualize, and describe sustainment within the theater enables the execution and sustainment of operations. The TLA enables the JLEnt to conduct integrated and synchronized logistics operations through a shared understanding of the environment and posture of sustainment within the OE across the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.
The threat analysis is one of the most important features of the TLA. Identifying and evaluating threats, risks, and vulnerabilities is key to understanding the OE in which U.S. forces deploy and operate. The threat analysis entails a granular assessment of enemy capabilities, operations, investments, and alliances within the theater. Additionally, it examines critical U.S. and host nation networks and infrastructure, which enemy forces could target. Counterinsurgency has taught us that targets assigned to non-lethal assets are frequently more important than targets assigned to lethal assets. Sustainment nodes and networks are often vulnerable targets for enemy forces due to the adverse effects degraded logistics have on military operations. It’s important to identify threats, risks, and vulnerabilities in the TLA to execute appropriate countermeasures to protect critical theater nodes and assets.
Examining enemy capabilities, operations, investments, and alliances is an in-depth process. It’s important to identify and understand enemy capabilities due to their direct ability to hinder and limit operations. Enemy forces have the means to target theater operations and sustainment through kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities. For instance, increased technology has enabled near-peer adversaries to exploit U.S. networks through cyberwarfare. The use of cyber-attacks to degrade sustainment networks is probable in all theaters, and the identification of this risk during the TLA will prepare U.S. forces for future operations. Economic diplomacy is another non-kinetic capability used by near-peer adversaries that affects sustainment. Near-peer adversaries use economic diplomacy to lure nations into debt traps to increase political leverage. Countries that fall into debt traps are often pressured to support lender nation interests, resulting in forced strategic alliances. Alliances forced by economic diplomacy become problematic when U.S. forces look at access, basing, and overflight across the theater. Kinetic capabilities like chemical warfare remain a risk to forces and sustainment across the theater. The first large-scale use of chemical warfare was chlorine gas during World War I. Since then, chemical warfare has advanced and is likely to be used in conflict by near-peer adversaries to specifically target sustainment nodes like aerial and seaports of debarkation. This risk requires analyzing mitigation efforts and sustainment requirements in the event of a chemical attack within the theater.
Near-peer adversarial operations and investments must be scrutinized to identify potential strategies that will be used to limit and hinder U.S. operations. The employment of advanced technologies and capabilities within the region by adversaries can be used to determine current enemy capabilities and future operations. Furthermore, infrastructure investments, emerging weapon systems, and alliances must be explored to ensure the GCC understands U.S. forces’ potential threats within the theater. Planners must remain abreast of all enemy threats and activities within the region to anticipate enemy strategies that may be used to disrupt operations and sustainment.
Geography and Environmental Factors
Geography and environmental factors affect every aspect of war and must be considered when analyzing the OE. These factors can limit and hinder operations within a theater. The TLA analyzes how geography, terrain, climate, and weather influence how the theater is set and the execution of operations and sustainment. Geography and terrain are linked to time and distance. For example, the Indo-Pacific region is geographically dispersed, consisting of chains of island nations; the distribution of islands across the Pacific affects the time and distance required to move throughout the region. In contrast, the Middle East region is predominately land-based, making the time and distance to travel throughout the region significantly less. The time and distance required to deploy forces and materiel in and around theater rapidly is critical information the GCC must understand to set, sustain, and operate within the theater.
Geography and terrain are critical to sustainment regarding natural resources within a region. Natural resources like water, wood, oil, and steel are vital assets used to sustain operations and should be considered when setting and sustaining the theater. Planners must determine what natural resources are available in the region and how to obtain those resources that are unavailable. Terrain that offers abundant natural resources reduces the burden of sustainment in a theater. Similarly, terrain is often used as a tactical advantage in war and is key when planning forward posture sites and sustainment nodes within a theater. Planners must assess key terrain and infrastructure to identify suitable locations for prepositioned stocks and essential sustainment nodes like ports of debarkation, theater storage areas, and theater gateways.
Additionally, climate and disease affect force health and sustainment operations. Extreme temperatures and weather increase loss of life and adversely affect personnel, equipment readiness, and equipment storage. Endemic diseases within the region impact force health, so identifying diseases during the TLA facilitates force health protection measures before deployment. Rising global surface temperatures are slowly increasing sea levels in all regions. The constant rise in sea levels is causing coastal erosion, affecting existing infrastructure throughout the globe. If existing infrastructure becomes inoperative, new infrastructure will be required for operations across theaters globally. Hence, the need for continuous site surveys and country assessments within every combatant command to understand the impact of environmental factors on terrain.
Furthermore, weather conditions can impede operations; heavy precipitation and winds affect air, maritime, and surface operations within a theater. Without fail, geography and environmental factors will impact operations within a theater. Planners must analyze every aspect of geography, terrain, climate, and weather to ensure the GCC recognizes and understands all elements that could degrade or hinder operations within the theater.
Host Nation Agreements
The TLA analyzes host nation agreements due to their ability to enable operations and sustainment within the theater. Agreements provide host nations with logistics capability, access, basing, and overflight. Two primary host nation agreements facilitate military operations within a theater. These agreements include the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Agreements are negotiated through the Department of State and delegated from executive power by the president or legislation from Congress.
ACSAs are bilateral agreements to exchange logistics support, supplies, and services with host nations. Supplies and services covered by ACSAs include medical services, port services, storage services, communication services, and more. ACSAs reduce the logistics tail, increase multinational interoperability, and provide commanders flexibility by using supplies and services that reside within the host nation. ACSAs enable U.S. forces to rapidly deploy and begin initial operations using host nation logistics support. Furthermore, ACSAs can support joint multinational exercises within a theater. As U.S. forces continue to increase joint multinational exercises across theaters, the lack of agreements affects the ability to execute exercises throughout the theater. SOFAs are unique multilateral and bilateral peacetime agreements that establish the rights and privileges of U.S. forces while in host nations. SOFAs vary and can include provisions covering entry and exit of personnel, access and use of facilities, criminal jurisdiction, and more. The U.S. currently holds SOFAs in several nations, enabling U.S. forward presence and access across the globe.
Planners must understand what agreements the U.S. holds with each country within a region to shape, set, operate, and sustain the theater. These agreements impact forward presence, the posture of Army prepositioned stocks, logistics support, and multinational interoperability. The lack of agreements within a theater can be used to inform the Global Posture Review, Theater Engagement Plan, and Department of State at large on agreements that need to be forged.
Infrastructure and Resources
The TLA examines existing resources and infrastructure within the theater to identify what is available and needed to set, operate, and sustain the theater. The theater’s resources and infrastructure are local or brought in by military forces. Local infrastructure within the theater can be used to facilitate several sustainment operations, including theater opening, theater storage, theater distribution, and health service support. Planners conduct a broad analysis of host nation infrastructure, including communications and financial networks, road and rail networks, waterways, ports, airfields, and bridges, all of which are key to enabling distribution operations. Additionally, planners analyze host nation resource facilities that can be used to execute sustainment operations. These resources include refineries, water production, and sanitation facilities, manufacturing plants, cold storage facilities, and more. Furthermore, an analysis of host nation services is required to determine the amount of local labor used to support military operations.
In addition, to identifying host nation resources and facilities, planners must identify existing military capability within the host nation. Planners must understand all sustainment capabilities within a region that can be used to enable the GCC’s priorities, including sustainment forces, sustainment nodes, and Army prepositioned stocks. All military resources must be considered regardless of service; supporting the GCC’s priorities is a joint effort. Planners who can describe current infrastructure and resources within a theater can assist the GCC in understanding available capabilities that can be used for immediate response to crises in the region.
The TLA is how joint forces analyze the theater and operational environment. This process and tool prepare planners to develop the theater logistics overview, concept of logistics support, and logistics estimate, which all describe the “what, how, and when” for sustainment within the theater. Through a comprehensive view of sustainment, this tool highlights sustainment gaps that will force the culmination of the joint force if not addressed. The TLA is the genesis of all sustainment planning within a theater. Without this tool there is no true understanding of what sustainment capability exists to execute competition, crisis, and conflict operations. The TLA is a powerful tool, but it’s only as good as its existence and use by strategic and operational planners, who develop operational plans and inform the execution of operations at the tactical level. When the TLA, TLO, COLS, and running estimates are all in alignment, the JLEnt is better postured to achieve unity of effort, which will ensure that there’s sustainment unity of action. Most importantly, the joint force commander can achieve JLEnt wide visibility through access to resources, data, and processes, ensuring that our logistics responses are rapid and precise in support of joint all domain operations.
Maj. Gen. David Wilson is the commanding general of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command. He’s served as the U.S. Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea / United Nations Command Director, J4/U4; and CFC Deputy C-4, and the 40th Chief of Ordnance. Wilson holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Citadel, a master’s degree in General Administration from Central Michigan University, and a master’s degree in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Maj. Tanya Leonard is the commander’s initiative group officer for the 8th Theater Sustainment Command. She holds a master’s degree in General Administration from Central Michigan University and a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Delaware.
This article was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.