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The Department of Defense released the classified version of the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) in March, and the unclassified report is expected soon. The NDS specifies three primary ways the department will advance its goals: integrated deterrence, campaigning, and actions that build enduring advantages. Effective port operations and setting theaters across the globe—this edition’s theme—are unequivocally pivotal across all three.

We must first understand the areas of responsibility and theaters within the geographic combatant commands (CCMD) in order to effectively set them. Theaters represent extended battlespace; they will be contested, expeditionary, multi-domain, and focused on potential large-scale combat operations. Each theater poses unique challenges for sustaining and maintaining the force. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is focused on the pacing challenge of China in a maritime-dominant domain, while U.S. European Command is focused on the acute threat of Russia in a land-dominant domain. Persistent threats, including Iran, North Korea, and violent extremist organizations, remain that we must plan and prepare to defend against, all while defending the homeland and our installations from a diverse range of threats.

While joint doctrine varies on the definition of setting the theater, Army Doctrine Publication 4-0, Sustainment, describes it within the sustainment warfighting function as a continuous shaping activity conducted during a steady-state posture and contingency or crisis response operations. Setting the theater describes the broad range of actions, including port operations, conducted to establish the conditions in an operational area for the execution of strategic plans.

Simply said, setting the theater provides strategic depth for sustainment across commodities and all classes of supply, and ensures that our forces can move quickly to, and then throughout, a theater to accomplish their mission without a cold start to logistics. It allows the sustainment enterprise to demonstrate speed of response and agility to support CCMD operational plans and tactical requirements.

While the operational framework of setting the theater is rooted in the Joint Security Area (JSA), it is enabled by the Strategic Support Area (SSA). From the Army’s Organic Industrial Base, where equipment and ammunition are upgraded and stored, to Mobile Force Generation Installations that preserve the Army’s ability to project combat power, maintaining readiness in the SSA is a critical first step at the strategic level to set the theater.

At the operational level, the majority of work to set the theater occurs in the JSA. Field Manual 4-0, Sustainment Operations, and Army Techniques Publication 4-94, Theater Sustainment Command, direct that theater sustainment command (TSC) conduct mission command of theater sustainment operations and coordinate and synchronize logistics movements and sustainment operations accordingly. Through the TSC, actions to set the theater include:

  • Ensuring Army prepositioned stocks are positioned, modernized, and ready for combat.
  • Providing the right commodities, from munitions to wholesale sustainment repair parts, in the right quantities and locations.
  • Providing operational contracting support and Logistics Civil Augmentation Program capabilities.
  • Hardening interior lines of communication and the distribution network.
  • Diversifying and readying air and sea ports of debarkation to demonstrate agility.
  • Enabling Foreign Military Sales to build partner capacity.

Sustainers must provide geographic combatant commanders the capabilities to demonstrate access, presence, and influence; ensure freedom of action; extend operational reach; and prolong endurance.

Setting the theater is not a once-and-done activity; it is an ongoing operation that requires logisticians to constantly assess the environment and current posture, think differently about threats, and act decisively. It also requires the right materiel investments in key capabilities in the sustainment warfighting function such as ship to shore logistics vessel distribution, cargo-unmanned aerial systems, predictive logistics, and advanced manufacturing. Sustainers have more real-time data at their fingertips than ever before. We must be proficient, anticipatory, and deliberate in leveraging data analytics to remain ahead of need and ensure we do not consume readiness faster than we can sustain it.

A critical component of setting the theater is enabling port operations to facilitate the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration of forces and equipment within a theater. I recently visited ports on the East and West coasts and Gulf of Mexico, and I can attest that our transporters and sustainers are making our enterprise proud. In 2021 alone, we conducted 57 brigade-equivalent deployments, moving more than 27,000 pieces of equipment to support six CCMDs through 23 U.S. and 45 overseas ports. As we further refine the Joint Concept for Contested Logistics, we must ensure our ports are secure from physical and cyber threats, and our strategic lines of communications are protected. Our ports at home and abroad provide a critical capability to project combat power to theaters across the globe.

The Army’s effort to set the theater in Europe over the past few years is paying huge dividends today on the world stage in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. In fact, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville recently told reporters that the ease with which Army units deployed to Europe and immediately began operations are due to the planning, staging, and forward-thinking logistics to set the theater before the unprovoked invasion. The Army sustainment and logistics enterprise has proven critical to the U.S. whole-of-government effort to fortify our commitment to NATO and support to Ukraine.

Our forward presence gives us a competitive advantage, both physically and through our supply chains and strategic partnerships. Effectively setting the theater ensures the right equipment is positioned in the right condition at the right location to enable operational plans in competition, crisis, and conflict. It is foundational to the Army’s strategic readiness and our ability to sustain our forces, anywhere, at any time.


Gen. Ed Daly serves as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. He served three years as the deputy commanding general of AMC in his previous assignment. He managed the day-to-day operations of the Army’s logistics enterprise and served as the senior commander of Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. He served as the commanding general of Army Sustainment Command at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, and as AMC’s deputy chief of staff, overseeing the roles and functions of the headquarters staff.


This article was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.


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