Designed as the capstone training event for corps and divisions, the warfighter exercise (WFX) simulates realistic scenarios that test and strain the capabilities of staffs at echelon to execute multidomain operations against near-peer adversaries. At this scale, brigade headquarters can be incorporated to replicate effects for their supported formation. For division sustainment brigades (DSBs), there is no better exercise to test the brigade staff’s ability to integrate and synchronize sustainment across echelons. Additionally, the WFX is an excellent venue for the DSB to exercise its relationship with warfighting function sections at the division level.
The 4th Division Sustainment Brigade (4DSB), assigned to the 4th Infantry Division (4ID), participated in WFX 23-01 in the fall of 2022. The exercise included U.S. Army Pacific, I Corps, 4ID, the 25th Infantry Division, the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC), and various joint partners. In addition to 4DSB, 4ID was task organized with two Stryker brigade combat teams (SBCTs), one armored brigade combat team, one infantry brigade combat team (Airborne) (IBCT), a combat aviation brigade, a division artillery (DIVARTY) brigade, and a maneuver enhancement brigade (MEB). 4DSB was tasked with organizing its organic division sustainment troops battalion and division sustainment support battalion, as well as an additional combat sustainment support battalion.
During WFX 23-01, elements of 4ID conducted joint forcible entry operations, including an airborne assault, an air assault, an amphibious assault, and large-scale combat operations (LSCO) against a near-peer adversary in a multidomain environment. The intent of this article is to socialize key lessons and observations from 4DSB’s warfighter progression.
Task Organize for the Fight
In the LSCO environment, sustainment organizations must task organize for the fight and remain agile and adaptive while searching for creative ways to build reach, endurance, and freedom of action in depth. WFX 23-01’s initial sustainment estimates revealed the IBCT and two SBCTs would have less than two days of supply for fuel and bulk water within their formations. Estimates also revealed the DIVARTY field artillery battalion forward support companies could not execute supply point operations from the division support area (DSA). These estimates triggered 4DSB to organize sustainment packages to augment each maneuver brigade support battalion (BSB) and to develop a BSB in direct support of the DIVARTY. These task organization changes increased operational endurance within the supported formations and reduced the frequency of distribution operations in a restrictive operating environment.
Joint Forced Entry Prioritized Vehicle Listing
4ID prioritized key assets across its airborne assault, air assault, and amphibious assault, developing balanced load plans across all warfighting functions to rapidly build combat power. The inclusion of sustainment assets across each load plan enabled the rapid buildup of sustainment combat power and prevented the culmination of maneuver forces during the early stages of the operation. Key sustainment capabilities by operation included:
- Airborne Assault. Shortly after seizure, bulk packages of fuel, munitions, and water were dropped onto a secured airfield. Additional fuel assets, materiel handling equipment, medical equipment, and transportation assets were air-landed on the second day. This approach enabled the establishment of a sustainment node, an arrival/departure airfield control group, and a limited role II medical facility (with forward resuscitative surgical team augmentation). The ability to seize, hold, and manage an aerial port of debarkation provided 4ID a critical gateway to deliver sustainment assets, expand the lodgment, and build combat power.
- Air Assault. Elements of 4DSB’s early entry command post (EECP) participated in the air assault as the quartering party for the DSA. This enabled the main effort brigade combat team (BCT) to focus on security and lodgment expansion while the DSB assumed command and control of port operations, preparing to receive forces during the amphibious assault while setting the conditions to begin commodity buildup at the DSA.
- Amphibious Assault. A forward logistics element and the remaining elements of 4DSB’s EECP were integrated into the first two amphibious squadron movements, encompassing mission command capability, bulk fuel storage, material handling equipment, ammunition storage, and movement control capabilities. This enabled 4ID to establish a sustainment foothold at the seaport of debarkation, build stockages of critical supplies, and posture for the reception of bulk resupply from follow-on vessels.
Prior to WFX 23-01, 4ID casualty operations were trifurcated across the 4DSB support operations (SPO) officer, the 4ID surgeon cell, and the 4ID G-1. This approach generated three different operational pictures and proved disruptive to air and ground casualty movement operations. Once the 4ID and BCT surgeon cells were assigned the proponent for casualty visibility, 4DSB was free to plan and synchronize movement, while the 4ID G-1 maintained visibility of personnel movement and replacement requirements.
In the early stages of the exercise, 4DSB was over reliant on sea-based resupply operations. When sea-based resupply operations were delayed or subject to convergence windows (also known as pulse windows, which are relatively short windows of time during which multidomain assets are employed to protect moving forces), it had a direct impact on 4ID’s operational endurance. This impact was amplified when the Air Force ceased air-land operations after two days. Effective distribution operations in support of LSCO require redundancy. 4ID achieved this effect through the combination of air-land operations, aerial delivery operations, dedicated rotatory wing operations, ground distribution operations, sea-based operations, and local procurement activities. Success requires this type of multifaceted approach to distribution operations.
Convergence Windows and Joint Risk
The joint force did not assess risk the same as 4ID units in contact. Army risk did not always equate to joint risk, and vice versa. Two days after our airborne assault, units were in dire need of bulk fuel and critical munitions. Additionally, the division had more than 800 casualties requiring evacuation to high-level medical care. 4ID assumed because Soldiers were in contact, the joint force would follow. This was not the case, especially outside convergence windows or when there were known anti-aircraft threats. Unfortunately, this is the reality the ground force must be comfortable operating in. The crucial mitigation technique is to maximize all available platforms for distribution options and patient backhaul while understanding and articulating unacceptable risk.
Supply Chain Visibility and Velocity
Tactical and operational endurance in LSCO is directly tied to the visibility and velocity of commodities from the strategic support area to the forward line of troops. Within two days of 4ID’s initial assault, the division was running out of several critical munitions. Initially, logistics leaders were unaware of munitions stockages in the theater of operations and could not articulate when or where resupply operations would occur. This awareness was only generated after contacting the 8th Theater Sustainment Command and the Joint Munitions Command. Informed by national-level stockages, production rates, and distribution rates, 4ID sustainment leaders were able to project operational endurance and risk. Throughout WFX 23-01, 4DSB experienced similar challenges with fuels, medical supplies, repair parts, and major end items. Understanding supply chain stockages and the associated velocity is critical to identifying opportunities and risks.
Money is an enabler in LSCO. Using field ordering officers and class A agents, 4ID enabled each of the brigades to locally procure items like fuel or construction and barrier materials. Units were also able to compensate local nationals for the use of materiel handling equipment, commercial line haul and refrigeration assets, hospital facilities, and warehouses. The key to leveraging money as a weapon is understanding the commodities and services available in a particular theater. The 4DSB S-2, in conjunction with counterparts from the support operations section, must fight to understand the assets available as they conduct sustainment preparation of the operational environment.
Sustainment Preparation of the Operational Environment
The Army’s sustainment forces will be unable to meet all requirements during LSCO. Units can mitigate the impact of limited commodities and degraded distribution operations by having a thorough understanding of what might be locally available. This assessment should account for capabilities like hospitals, fuel supply depots, seaport and airport capacities, the availability of construction materials, local industries, availability of humanitarian assistance items, and even bottled water. Local procurement reduces the burden on the military supply chain and enables leaders to focus on military-specific items like munitions and repair parts.
4ID Sustainment Fighting Products
LSCO generates a lot of logistical data. To maintain tempo and reduce staff churn, 4DSB operated off five primary fighting products. These included:
- Operational Graphics. Understanding the scheme of maneuver, down to the battalion/squadron level, was maintained by the 4DSB S-3 and the division rear command post (RCP) battle captain (CPT).
- Priority Information Requirements. Specifically, commander’s critical information requirements to understand decisions the 4ID commanding general (CG) was making and friendly force information requirements to help us see ourselves were maintained by the 4DSB S-3 and the RCP battle CPT.
- Sustainment Decision Support Matrix. This was generated by the 4DSB SPO officer and maintained by the 4DSB S-3 and the RCP battle CPT and was used during the RCP sustainment decision board when required.
- Sustainment Distribution Synch Matrix. This was maintained by the 4DSB SPO officer and used across 4ID to integrate and synchronize air and ground movements within 4ID and between 593 ESC and 4ID units. This document was the critical driver of 4DSB’s current operations and enabled common-user land transportation asset management.
- Sustainment Battle Update Assessment (BUA). This was a commodity or service-specific running estimate maintained by the 4DSB SPO officer that helped identify opportunities, risks, and culmination points.
Using a process like the fires community’s decide, detect, deliver, and assess framework, 4ID sustainment leaders employed a series of working groups, boards, and decision briefs to ensure the sustainment community remained focused on generating the right effects at the right time. Using a targeting approach, the team systematically anticipated, integrated, synchronized, and executed sustainment operations up to 120 hours out. Key events of the 4ID sustainment critical path included:
- 4ID Logistics Synchronization (assess and detect). Hosted by the 4DSB SPO officer with participation from all the brigades, this engagement aimed to validate on-hand status and capture future requirements.
- 4DSB Sustainment BUA (assess and detect). This was hosted by the 4DSB SPO officer to identify opportunities, risks, and culmination points for the 4DSB commander.
- 4ID Distribution Working Group (detect and deliver). This was hosted by the 4DSB SPO officer with participation from all the brigades and the RCP. This engagement aimed to integrate and synchronize commodities with distribution assets in space and time.
- 4ID Sustainment Decision Board (detect and decide). Hosted by the 4ID G-4 with participation from the G-1, surgeon cell, protection cell, MEB, and 4DSB, this engagement aimed to present the deputy commanding general-sustainment with opportunities, risks, and recommendations.
- 4DSB Operations and Plans Sync (deliver). Hosted by the 4DSB S-3, with participation from the MEB and 4DSB units, this engagement aimed to synchronize distribution and protection operations in time and space.
- 4ID Sustainment Visualization (detect and decide). Hosted by the 4DSB planner, with participation from the 4DSB commander, 4DSB SPO officer, G-1, G-4, and surgeon cell, this event aimed to incorporate the 4ID CG’s visualization for the next 96-120 hours and identify sustainment opportunities, risks, and recommendations.
Five Standing Questions
In prosecuting the sustainment fight, 4ID sustainment leaders continually reviewed the following five questions:
- How are we leveraging all resources in the environment to generate options for commanders?
- Are we seeing and controlling distribution operations?
- Are we task organizing for the sustainment fight?
- Are we anticipating requirements, anticipating transitions, and setting conditions?
- Are we maintaining the sustainment critical path?
A considerate and ruthless application of the principles of sustainment, coupled with the lessons outlined above, proved key to success during LSCO. Integration and synchronization of the DSB with the division staff allow the sustainment team to focus on applying these principles and lead to a level of concinnity that most effectively enables readiness, promotes endurance, and drives tempo on behalf of the division. During LSCO, this collaborative approach proved critical to our ability to fight, sustain, and win!
Col. Kevin W. Agness is the commander of the 4th Division Sustainment Brigade. His formal education includes a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, a Master of Business in supply chain management from the University of Kansas, and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Washington.
Maj. Heath A. Bergmann is the brigade operations officer for the 4th Division Sustainment Brigade. His formal education includes a master’s in operational studies from the United States Army Command and General Staff College, a Master of Arts in public policy from the University of Michigan, a Master of Science in safety, security, and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University, and a Bachelor of Arts in general studies from Eastern Kentucky University.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.