Setting the theater is key to maintaining dominance and overmatch across crisis, competition, and conflict, and no community has a bigger role than our sustainment and logistics enterprise. Simply said, setting the theater involves strategic, operational, and tactical activities that establish and maintain favorable conditions for conducting Army and joint operations. It requires having the forces, equipment, infrastructure, and relationships firmly established forward to provide combatant commanders with the range of tools they need to respond quickly. This enduring forward presence builds trust and helps assure allies and partners in a region and serves as a credible deterrent to potential adversaries.
Army Materiel Command (AMC) leads efforts at the strategic level to set theaters with sustainment supplies and commodities. This starts by assuring the Army’s strategic power projection capability projects combat power globally. It’s further accomplished through the forward positioning of Army prepositioned stock (APS) and equipment and through foreign military sales (FMS), which build shared capabilities and capacity with allies and partners.
Power Projection Infrastructure
To effectively set the theater, the Army must have the right infrastructure to project combat power from its installations in the U.S. and abroad into potentially contested theaters thousands of miles away by land, sea, or air. Having the very best trained, ready, and equipped forces in the world does nothing if we cannot get them to where they need to be and sustain them once there. The ability to rapidly surge combat-ready forces into and across theaters is critical in projecting forces at a moment’s notice to support the joint force and our allies and partners.
AMC’s transportation offices, depots, arsenals, plants, ports, and installation infrastructure—railheads, roads, and airfields—are key to the nation’s power projection capabilities and must be modernized to support current, surge, and future Army readiness requirements. To accomplish this, AMC is leading the Army’s effort in developing and implementing a holistic facility investment plan (FIP) that identifies all requirements for more than 141,000 facilities across its installations and aligns resources with Army and commander priorities. Using the latest capabilities in data analytics and visualization, the FIP provides a 10-year outlook, updated annually, that ensures funds are allocated to the highest priority projects based on Army readiness requirements.
AMC also is nested with Army Futures Command and the modernization community to ensure that power projection infrastructure is modernized alongside the Army’s weapon systems.
From airfields and railheads at mobilization force generation installations to cranes and docks at our military ocean terminals and commercial ports, our strategic power projection capabilities provide a strategic advantage, and they rely on ready, modern infrastructure.
Army Prepositioned Stock
As a critical component of the strategic mobility triad, with sealift and airlift, APS is strategically placed sets of equipment ready for Soldiers to draw and move out immediately to tactical assembly areas. APS cuts the timeline and reduces the strategic lift requirements for deploying units by providing the theater-specific combat equipment required to respond rapidly, speeding troops to the frontlines. More than just tanks and artillery pieces, APS includes combat sustainment and enablers such as command, control, computers, communications, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. APS is separate from commodities such as food, fuel, medical supplies, and munitions staged in theater but work together to provide commanders with the equipment, supplies, and sustainment capabilities they require. Managed by Army Sustainment Command, the Army currently maintains six APS sets aligned with a geographic combatant command or afloat.
The Army is employing a 21st-century APS strategy focused on expansion, repositioning, and modernization to ensure the right equipment is postured in the right regions for rapid employment. For example, in the last two years, AMC repositioned thousands of pieces of equipment and modernized APS facilities and infrastructure to best support combatant commander requirements for the European and African theaters.
Part of the 21st-century APS strategy uses APS in competition to support exercises and deployments of regionally allocated forces, not just as a war reserve. During the Defender-Europe 21 series of linked exercises, equipment configuration, and hand-off area teams assigned to Army Field Support Battalion-Benelux issued 281 pieces of APS equipment to infantry, signal, and support units in Germany and Estonia. Following the exercise, sites at Zutendaal, Belgium, and Eygelshoven, Netherlands, received, inspected, and performed maintenance on all forward-issued equipment to ensure it was ready for issue again. Exercising the draw and employment of APS in competition builds skills and muscle memory that will pay dividends should we move into crisis or conflict.
APS also demonstrates its relevance and criticality in real-world contingency operations in Europe. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, President Biden ordered the deployment of several thousand U.S. troops to Europe to assure our NATO allies and partners and deter further aggression. Soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, who deployed from Fort Stewart, Georgia, to Germany on short notice, drew equipment from APS-2 stocks, and immediately began training with allies and partners at the Grafenwoehr Training Area. Elements from the German armed forces Bundeswehr Logistics Command delivered multiple loads of vehicles and equipment from Mannheim to Grafenwoehr, demonstrating the interoperability and partnership with allies. APS serves its purpose on a global stage as troops quickly deploy, draw equipment, and move out to conduct their missions.
Foreign Military Sales
We will not fight the next war alone. Security assistance and FMS sustain strong relationships with allies and partners and build their capacity and readiness while supporting combatant commander priorities. AMC and our U.S. Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC) are critical in establishing and maintaining military partnerships through execution of its security assistance and FMS program. The AMC Security Assistance Enterprise currently executes more than 6,100 FMS cases with more than 135 countries, the preponderance of all Army FMS security assistance provided to our allies and partners.
As we have seen during the current conflict in Ukraine, FMS is proving invaluable to enabling our allies and partners. From 2019 to the present, USASAC implemented 107 FMS cases and provided more than $300 million of equipment to Ukraine. From ammunition to small arms; Javelin missiles to night vision devices and radios; and from HMMWV variants to Toyota Land Cruisers, FMS demonstrates our commitment to building partner capacity.
The key to successful FMS is offering partners and allies a total package of materiel, spare parts, training, publications, technical documentation, maintenance support, and other services AMC provides to Army units. This ensures partners and allies receive equipment and can effectively train, utilize, and maintain it.
Our logistics capability has long been a strategic advantage for the U.S. Army. With current events in Eastern Europe, our nation’s ability to respond with dynamic force deployment and employment to assure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries has never been more important. Properly setting the theater is foundational to success.
We must lean forward in modernizing critical power projection infrastructure, anticipate future requirements and preposition equipment accordingly, and continue to develop critical relationships with allies and partners through security assistance. Setting the theater through the Army principles of logistics and sustainment—from the strategic support area to the tactical point of contact—assures our ability to maintain a combat-credible force that can demonstrate clear strategic and operational overmatch over adversaries—and do it second to none.
Lt. Gen. Donnie Walker currently serves as the deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Materiel Command and the senior commander of Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. Walker was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps upon his graduation from Auburn University in 1987. He earned master’s degrees in Logistics Management from the Florida Institute of Technology, and Military Arts and Sciences from the U.S. Army War College.
This article was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.