Today’s Army is amid its most significant transformation in 40 years. While we spent the first two decades of this century focusing on counterinsurgency operations in southwest Asia, our peer adversaries narrowed and, in some cases, eliminated the many advantages that make us the world’s preeminent land power. To reestablish those advantages, the Army is developing capabilities at every echelon to deploy, fight, and win. Here at the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), we primarily focus on sustainment at the division echelon because it is the Army’s principal tactical warfighting headquarters during large-scale combat operations (LSCO).
During these operations, Army divisions command brigades, synchronize various enablers, and combat multipliers to converge rapidly upon enemy formations and win battles and engagements. As part of the division’s warfighting team, the division sustainment brigade (DSB) integrates and distributes the capabilities necessary to provide maneuver forces with the speed, range, and endurance necessary to achieve victory. The changing character of warfare increases the difficulty of that mission, particularly because of DSB vulnerabilities across multiple domains: air, land, space, maritime, and cyber. Thus, we are simultaneously growing the DSB’s ability to move, shoot, and communicate while protecting our operations from multidomain threats.
By 2030, Army divisions will be ready to conduct successful multidomain operations (MDO), which Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, defines as “the combined arms employment of joint and Army capabilities to create and exploit relative advantages that achieve objectives, defeat enemy forces, and consolidate gains on behalf of joint force commanders.” Given the growing lethality of our adversaries, the increased complexity of future battlefields, and our formations’ emerging capabilities (and growing logistical requirements), where should DSB leaders focus their energies to ensure success?
An old saying suggests better questions produce better answers. Of course, we cannot definitively say when or where the Army will fight its next campaign, but DSB leaders and staff officers must consider the following questions as we prepare our Soldiers for battle.
Is the DSB ready to support the division?
Readiness, of course, includes both subjective and objective factors. While some of these, such as morale and discipline, can be difficult to judge, others provide specific metrics. Does the DSB have enough personnel assigned, for example, and are they in the correct military occupational skills? Do Soldiers have the right equipment to perform their mission, and is that equipment operational? Are Soldiers and subordinate units trained on the individual and collective tasks necessary to survive and sustain in an MDO environment?
This last metric, collective training, may pose the most significant challenge to DSB leaders due to the time and energy necessary to conduct and assess full-scale collective training events. For now, warfighter exercises and rotations at dirt combat training centers offer the most realistic collective training opportunities. Still, key leaders at every echelon must create and exploit informal training opportunities whenever they present themselves.
As commander of the 2nd DSB in Korea, for example, Col. Rob Montgomery quickly recognized the importance of being able to disperse and move his brigade on the battlefield to reduce its signature, enhance survivability, and generate redundancy. As a result, he overcame limitations on time and training areas by exercising his command posts quarterly, even if those exercises simply involved relocating from one corner to another on Camp Casey.
Whom are we supporting?
The division’s mission dictates its task organization and the task organization dictates the DSB’s sustainment requirements. To anticipate those requirements, DSB staff must work closely with the division staff to pursue information and monitor any changes in the division’s troop list while articulating the need for additional capability within their formations. The division’s requirements and capabilities will likely change between phases of an operation as higher headquarters attach and detach enablers to support the mission. When demand exceeds capacity, the DSB staff must highlight and communicate those capability gaps and their associated risks.
How and when do we deploy?
For forward-deployed units, this question may simply address how and when DSBs move forward to occupy their designated tactical assembly areas. For units based in the continental United States, however, overseas deployments challenge commanders and their staff to synchronize and accomplish dozens of critical tasks within a constrained timeline.
Packing equipment, loading rail cars, and moving to ports of embarkation constitute major muscle movements that compete with the DSB’s obligation to prepare individual Soldiers and their families for the upcoming deployment. In addition, the DSB may retain home-station support requirements as it prepares for movement. Meanwhile, the likely attachment of additional units and individual personnel generates its own challenges. Finally, our adversaries have already demonstrated the ability and the will to attack our communications networks, power grids, and other critical infrastructure within the continental United States. These threats further complicate the DSB’s deployment process.
Where do we get support in theater?
The DSB has limited organic transportation, supply, and maintenance capabilities available to support attached units and the main effort within the division area of operations. As a separate and equal responsibility, however, the DSB commander and staff must also integrate and synchronize external support from multiple agencies to ensure responsive and effective sustainment of units assigned and attached to the division. These agencies include theater and expeditionary sustainment commands, the Army field support brigade, the contracting support brigade, the theater medical command, the Defense Logistics Agency, and the United States Transportation Command. The DSB staff must know what help is available and how to access those capabilities in a timely manner.
How do we accomplish the mission during LSCO?
During LSCO, the DSB faces two complex challenges: sustainment and survival.
The lethality, scale, and speed of LSCO place extraordinary demands on the DSB’s ability to support, especially in the demands for water, fuel, ammunition, and repair parts. The increased lethality of this battlefield damages or destroys more equipment and inflicts more significant casualties on divisional units, challenging the DSB’s ability to repair weapons systems, treat and evacuate wounded Soldiers, and provide replacements in a timely manner. The immense scale of these operations extends lines of communication (LOCs) within the division’s area of operations and between the divisional support area and sustainment nodes in the rear area. These extended and contested LOCs stress information systems and increase the time and vulnerability of resupply operations, especially in a maritime environment. Finally, the speed of these operations challenges the DSB staff to see the battlefield better, anticipate changes earlier, and make decisions more quickly.
Fortunately, we are fielding new and improved equipment, such as the tank rack module and the autonomous transportation vehicle system, to increase battlefield sustainment units’ speed and capacity. We are also reorganizing capabilities within the DSB to add greater operational flexibility to its organic sustainment support and special troops battalions. At the same time, we are fielding business information systems to enable more rapid and effective decision-making earlier in the decision cycle. Capabilities such as predictive logistics and the sustainment transport system will help commanders see the future more clearly and make better, faster decisions.
Improved access to meaningful data coupled with advanced decision support tools powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning capability will allow us to achieve decisive dominance if we develop skilled data users in our ranks. For example, during the drawdown in Afghanistan, Col. Erin Miller’s 10th DSB was the last Army sustainment brigade in theater. Her command post eventually shrank to three dozen skilled Soldiers. Yet they managed to synchronize and execute the retrograde of American military supplies and equipment worth billions by leveraging machine learning and data analytics to maintain situational awareness.
Unfortunately, the multidomain threats that characterize LSCO degrade communications, disrupt supply lines, and threaten the very survival of the DSB. Command posts must conduct distributed operations, staff sections must relearn the ability to perform their responsibilities in an analog environment, and subordinate units must exercise appropriate initiative in the absence of communications with higher headquarters.
The enemy’s ability to destroy whatever it can see also puts a premium on communications security, signature management, and movement control. Convoys, for example, may move only within windows of opportunity based on enemy satellite reconnaissance. Meanwhile, our information systems must remain productive while operating during planned offline periods.
In November 2022, the Army published Army Techniques Publication 4-91, Division Sustainment Operations. This publication, developed and written by CASCOM in coordination with stakeholders across the Army Sustainment Enterprise, addresses many of the issues discussed above. In addition, our doctrine division is revising our capstone doctrinal publication, FM 4-0, Sustainment Operations, which will address the challenges of 2030 in further detail.
The increased lethality of future battlefields makes warfare more difficult and sustainment more critical than ever. As the division’s integrating headquarters for all elements of sustainment, the DSB plays an essential role in success or failure. Therefore, the key leaders in every DSB must know their business and prepare their organizations to survive, sustain, and win the next war.
Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly serves as the commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. He previously served as the commander of the 19th Expeditionary Support Command. He was commissioned as a lieutenant of Air Defense Artillery and awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree as a Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Richmond. He holds a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the National Defense University and a Master of Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the Army Command and General Staff College.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.