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Readiness is an aspiration, and like most preferred states, it is both fleeting and unsustainable. In an actionable sense, it is ultimately the responsibility of respective commands to ensure their Soldiers are trained and equipped, leveraging all the Army’s training domains, such as institutional, operational, and self-development, with critical capabilities that can be operationalized within combatant battle spaces. The operative actions are training and equipping the unit, individually and collectively, with the goal of aiding friendly forces with winning in contested environments. Through these two courses, readiness is actualized to the greatest extent possible.

For sustainment, the fruition of general readiness can be accomplished via a blend of training themes, including building core competencies rooted in foundational knowledge and doctrinal understanding; empowering sustainers with effective decision-making tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for the employment of a more decentralized approach to authority; and finding utility in the latest sustainment methods and technologies. All training and resource support mechanisms and organizations must recognize, stay abreast of, and address gaps related to these objectives.

Historically, fundamental knowledge of sustainment spacing and execution in the deep, close, and rear fights is an imperative taught and reinforced through the curriculums of the centers of excellence. This is both the starting point for readiness and a warfighter mindset. From here, the basis of shared understanding is developed and embedded in Soldiers’ logic. This thought process serves as a quick reference and default when the fog and friction of war interject and provides a Soldier’s instinct the opportunity to assert itself after years of instruction and exercise iterations. For instance, one way of sustaining operational reach and combat power projection is to provide an appropriate level of support from the forward line of troops and the company trains rearward through to the seaport/airports of debarkation in theater in a linear fashion. In non-contiguous battle spaces, however, creating nodes and links with configurations that align with the core principles of doctrine and incorporate pre-positioned stock and airdrop locations can be ideal. In both cases, common sustainment rationale serves as the grounds for cross-functional planning considerations. All sustainment entities, including logistics, financial management, personnel services, and health service support, should first attempt to match their activities in scale and scope with established guidance from military publications and manuals like Field Manual 4-0, Sustainment Operations.

As time becomes a significant variable in the decision-making process, higher echelon’s intent must be the driving force employed by lower echelons to make determinations and commit resources. Complexities and complications created by combat scenarios likely lead to moments when mission command becomes the pervasive choice for conducting military operations, particularly when communications are reduced or degraded during conflicts. Being ready for these moments involves establishing general guidelines for managing through, at minimum, the most likely and most dangerous situations. Guidance born of deliberations made in training scenarios and battle-tested in the escalating operating tempo of the crawl, walk, and run phases of events should be codified in the form of standard operating procedures and reinforced with battle drills for any of the collective to quickly apply. Another aid that any unit can use is the graphical common operating picture, which can be used as an assessment tool to provide a visual depiction of where forces-in-need reside versus where classes of supply are stationed in bulk versus the number and type of assets available to package and move these items in logistics packages from point A to point B. Moreover, predictive technologies housed on digital platforms can assess standing and imminent conditions across all the sustainment disciplines. They can also prescribe suggestions for coordinating the flow of materials and support from points of storage/staging to points-of-use, which can ultimately supplement human intelligence and analysis, especially during compressed decision-making cycles.

Outcomes of innovation can provide a competitive advantage. The unannounced entry of a new procedure or product can leave an adversary without a relevant response for some unknown period. Relying too heavily on past precedent to support future fights is risky. The value of infusing novelty and uncertainty into activities includes a greater probability of attaining favorable results. Two ways to do this are changing the order of use of a tactic or introducing new sustainment creations. Where else can unique methods come from? The civilian sector and commercial worlds offer the opportunity for the Army to find resourcefulness in processes and procedures that have already been appraised. Further developments in categories such as protection (communication and cyber transmissions between supply, transport, and demand points/elements) and military deception (moving products most efficiently and performing services with a virtually undetectable footprint) are impending breakthroughs that will require a revamp and introduction of complimentary sustainment TTPs. A culture that encourages and supports such product or process progression is key, and the bottom-up feedback portion of the communication loop should be the channel for good ideas coming up from ground zero to reach the high-level capability and integration discussion forums.

Equipping the force is a significant enablement piece of the readiness equation. Soldier capacity can be exponentially increased by technology that enhances productivity. A training plan that draws the line from familiarization with the use of machinery to expertise in using it in a reasonable timeframe is critical for readiness. Another crucial dimension is demand reduction: eliminating excess resulting from redundancies using effective health monitoring (via sensors) and enterprise resource systems for timely maintenance, supply, and funding tracking. The cycle from concept to budgeting, as well as the subsequent prototype and minimum viable product stages, can prove to be both protracted and cumbersome. In the interim, building the best force with the best assets the force has at its disposal is the specified, implied, and essential requirement. In part, this entails working to routinely bring non-mission capable assets, such as heavy equipment transport systems, back on station faster and upgrading digital underwriters, like Global Combat Support System — Army and Advancing Analytics, with the latest-and-greatest software patches for improved overall network and system effectivity.

The essence of readiness is training and equipping a unit. The sustainment function and supporting institutions have created the infrastructure to teach and train for what was. Still, the challenge is devising and refining the ever-changing how for what will be. Prevailing logic supports the notion that time will be the most relevant variable in the battlefield decision-making equation. With minimal oversight from higher echelon, sound judgments will be a battlefield differentiator for all warfighters and joint collaborations. Managing the ambiguities surrounding both the addition of innovations and the relationship between a Soldier, the function, the tools, and the appropriate use and measure of all facets simultaneously will be key. To make matters more challenging, scarcity will be a force constraint; security must be skillfully integrated to protect the recommended modes and parameters for the transport of all resources and commodities; and leadership from the enlisted and officer ranks, especially middle management, must work diligently to adhere to the standard proximity and allocation rules for the establishment of supply and service support areas within the battle space. In the end, sustainment must continue evolving, and the schoolhouses, units, and enabling systems must continue staying ahead of the tasks and be up to the challenge.

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Major Antonio Randolph currently serves as the S-3/operations officer in charge for the 1-182nd Field Artillery Battalion. Randolph has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and a Master of Business degree from the University of Southern California. He is a graduate of the Army’s Strategic Broadening Seminar at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and the Joint Logistics Course at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia.

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This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.

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