The nature of war requires warfighters to integrate their plans with sustainment planners to achieve success. Bulk petroleum remains one of the critical requirements during sustainment operations. Future large-scale combat operations (LSCO) will require an enormous amount of bulk petroleum. Currently, the Department of Defense requires 4.6 billion gallons of fuel annually to support the joint force (JF). The ability of the Army to support a nine-division fight will demand millions of gallons of fuel each day to support the warfighter’s prolonged endurance. Petroleum and water planning occurs at all levels of war, with the most critical requirements at the strategic level assigned to a single organization for support to the JF.
The Theater Petroleum Center (TPC) is an Army strategic planning organization responsible for supporting combatant commands (CCMDs) in identifying requirements for bulk petroleum and water in theaters. The organization synchronizes the petroleum and water functional planning requirements across the total force. The development of this organization bridged strategic planning gaps identified in 2017. Storing and distributing bulk petroleum logistically challenges the JF. The strategic requirement for planning bulk petroleum and water for the JF encounters different challenges dictated by the conditions of the operating environment.
Petroleum Planning History
The history of petroleum planning organizations supports the emergent requirement to change the current structure of this organization before future wars. Strategic petroleum planning gaps arose following the inactivation of the 49th Quartermaster (QM) Group in 2012. The 49th QM Group served as the Army’s senior petroleum organization for petroleum planning and distribution. The modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE) for the 49th QM Group provided eight times the personnel assigned to the TPC today. During its time, warfighters presented questions regarding petroleum and water through the petroleum group. The inactivation of the 49th QM Group supported force reduction requirements experienced during counterinsurgency operations in 2009. Today, the U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) maintains over 90 percent of the Army’s petroleum and water capabilities. USARC also manages the remaining three petroleum, oils, and lubricant (POL) groups that support the total force’s operational and tactical requirements for petroleum and water, which relies on the capabilities of the TPC.
Theater Petroleum Center Capabilities
The TPC supports the global management of bulk petroleum and water in the joint environment by assisting with the planning for each geographic combatant commander (GCC). A joint petroleum officer (JPO) assigned to the joint staff requires the support of the TPC during joint fuels coordination boards, which are recurring meetings of joint and coalition partners, along with stakeholder personnel. The JPO designates sub-area petroleum officers to support large geographically dispersed areas during these meetings. A shared understanding of multiple elements during the collaboration of forces supports simultaneity. The JPO validates the requirements of the JF and assigns a priority to petroleum distribution throughout the theater. The JPO and TPC both provide planning support to the TSC and expeditionary support command’s ability to identify requirements and reduce theater shortages of bulk petroleum.
The joint environment requirement for bulk petroleum and water demands a broader battlefield scope than POL groups and QM petroleum liaison detachments’ planning requirements. LSCO requires the plan for bulk petroleum to remain enduring to support all services dispersed across multiple theaters. The petroleum planning of multiple theaters requires different planning and coordination based on the conditions of the operational environment. For example, one theater’s planning requirements and constraints require collaborative training, experienced personnel, and a forward and rear element to support the warfighter plans, highlighting problems supporting multiple theaters. Re-examining the utilization and MTOE of the TPC will support future requirements of LSCO.
Theater Petroleum Center Utilization
The potential of wars between two world powers in the present and future challenges all actors involved. The U.S. military must prepare for wars on two fronts potentially fought in contiguous and noncontiguous environments. The 2022 National Security Strategy predicts that in 2030, current actors’ modernization and diversification efforts will require the nation’s deterrence of two nuclear powers. The Army’s potential engagement in wars on two fronts presents challenges to the TPC due to its limited size and capability to support multiple theaters simultaneously. The organizational structure requires an analysis of its current assignment, personnel, and experience.
The TPC’s mission of supporting all CCMDs requires experienced and capable strategic planners. The organization lacks the experience to participate in various training exercises conducted by each GCC. The current mission of the TPC requires adequate guidance for staffing regarding the assignment’s process to identify the right talents and skills for the organization. Acquiring School of Advance Military Studies graduates with previous experience will best serve the TPC’s ability to support a war on two fronts.
Budgets display challenges for the organization to maintain a worldwide focus. Funding constraints occasionally hinder the support of training exercises, which significantly reduces the ability of each planner to gain critical knowledge of war plans. GCCs set focus priorities during training exercises, and each theater of operation requires different planning horizons and considerations. The organization’s constraints in supporting important training exercises sometimes result in the lack of GCCs requesting the TPC as an asset during war planning events. Budget constraints also hinder the ability to afford training opportunities for newly assigned personnel.
The potential for conflict across multiple theaters requires TPC personnel to prioritize and resource multiple operation plans. The current training shortfalls present challenges for an organization to conduct decentralized operations simultaneously. The lack of universal awareness across the force challenges the TPC to access different opportunities to understand all war plans. The current structure of this organization experiences gaps in knowledge levels due to the need for assigned personnel with solid backgrounds as strategic planners. Identifying the right balance of experience and talent for the TPC remains a significant challenge for the organization. The gaps identified in capabilities and training reduce the overall readiness for bulk petroleum and water planning to support theaters, which require concrete training solutions.
The solution to training shortfalls requires assigned personnel to attend institutional training to build a foundation. The updates to the training guidance of the organization will support all individuals to attend schools. The talent management framework for strategic petroleum managers outlines a deliberate, continuous, and progressive career path for petroleum planners to serve the TPC best. An additional recommendation supports updates to the training guidance of the TPC to support all critical training exercises conducted by all CCMDs. The Army’s petroleum and water capabilities composition across USARC requires partnership training between the total force to increase readiness. Providing support during USARC’s annual Quartermaster Liquid Logistics Exercise (QLLEX) in a joint planning capacity will reduce knowledge gaps in the total plan. Institutional and experiential knowledge gained during training supports the organization’s capability to function independently within different theaters of operations.
The current structure of the TPC has personnel assigned grades of O-6, O-5, O-4, W-4, E-9, E-8, two E-7s, and two E-6s. The solution for knowledge gaps experienced in the organization requires the increase of grade plates. The current O-4 requires an upgrade to O-5 and two E-7s to E-8s. The increase in grade plates will combat the identified knowledge gaps in strategic planning. Adding another O-5 enables the director to align two personnel to each CCMD. The alignment of two personnel to each CCMD advances the training support coverage and internal training for all assigned personnel. Additionally, assigning two Department of the Army Civilians would support the organization’s continuity.
The solution for personnel shortages requires a comprehensive review of the sustainment community to identify the right talent to fill TPC manning gaps. The deliberate process of developing petroleum and water planners must start early and be sequential throughout leaders’ careers. Assigning individuals with strategic planning experience will support the organization’s ability to manage multiple theaters simultaneously. The mission of the TPC requires six of the 10 assigned personnel to obtain Top Secret security clearances to support the wartime planning requirements of GCCs. Updates to the organization’s structure will support manning guidance of the organization to reduce issues of personnel shortages. Effectively manning the TPC will support mission requirements, and the update to the policy will support utilization shortfalls.
The policy update outlining the TPC’s critical contribution to total force exercises will increase the partnership with USARC. The TPC’s role in sustaining a high-conflict fight in the future requires updates to its current structure and alignment. The organization’s critical capability to the JF requires adequate resources to support all GCC’s mission requirements. The primary emphasis of solutions for the TPC will focus on doctrine, personnel, policy, training, experience, and organizational structure. Incorporating executive summaries for all training exercises provided to the total force will increase GCC’s awareness. A better understanding of the TPC roles and responsibilities of the TPC versus those of USARC regarding exercises will raise awareness necessary to validate petroleum and water units.
The current utilization of the TPC hinders its ability to sustain a war on two fronts. Re-evaluating and restructuring the TPC will posture the organization to support the 2030 vision of the Army. The mission to help CCMDs identify their petroleum and water needs requires strategic planners with experience and broad sustainment capabilities. Increasing the recommended grade plates supports the organization’s ability to focus efforts worldwide with experience across a broad range of strategic planning capabilities to support a war on two fronts. Preparing for future conflicts supports the adequate staffing and utilization of the TPC to fight and win in complex environments.
Master Sgt. Antadius Smith is currently a student at the Sergeant Major Academy Class #73, NCO Leadership Center of Excellence at Fort Bliss, Texas. He served as the executive assistant to the Headquarters Department of the Army G-4 sergeant major. He served as the detachment sergeant major for the Theater Petroleum Center of the 3rd Expeditionary Support Command. He is a graduate of the Chief Master Sergeant Leadership Course for the Air Force. He has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in organizational leadership from Thomas Edison State University. He holds a Master of Science in executive leadership from Liberty University.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.