Logistical Impact | Operation Success Requires Understanding Sustainment

By Master Sgt. Brandon S. RileyAugust 1, 2023

(Photo Credit: Sarah Lancia) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the novel “The Burning God,” R.F. Kuang writes, “Amateurs obsessed over strategy, and professionals obsessed over logistics.” Field Manual 3-0, Operations, describes the movement and maneuver warfighting function (WfF) as tasks and systems that employ forces to gain an advantage over an adversary or threats. An operation or activity’s success is impossible without understanding sustainment and its proper application in operations. The sustainment WfF impacts a commander’s ability to employ forces in-depth and the time it can endure continuous operations. Sustainment and logistics share links but do not always mean the same thing.

Sustainment WfF

An operation or activity’s success is only possible by understanding sustainment and its proper application in operations. Knowing sustainment and logistics are connected but not synonymous is critical to any plan. Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 4-0, Sustainment, defines logistics as the means and plans that support forces and their movement. The Army defines sustainment as provisioning the elements of the sustainment WfF until mission completion. The sustainment WfF defined by ADP 3-0, Operations, is “the related tasks and systems that provide support and services to ensure freedom of action, extended operational reach, and prolong endurance.” ADP 4-0 identifies the four elements of the sustainment WfF: logistics, financial management, personnel services, and health service support.

The first element of the sustainment WfF is logistics. It requires the Army to plan and execute the sustainment of its forces in all phases and aspects of a mission, including maintenance, movement, and distribution of supplies and forces, contracting support, and engineering efforts. The second element is financial management. Financial management covers the Army’s requirement to pay for contractual services, ensures the use of financial resources does not violate any laws, ensures members of the Army receive pay and compensations, and guides units to ensure they remain on a budget path to not overspend allocated amounts and maintain records and compliance requirements to remain ready in the event of a financial audit. The third element of the sustainment WfF is personnel services that ensure the Army has the people needed to perform its directed mission and addresses the readiness of Soldiers and their families. Personnel services include human resources, legal, and religious support.

Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Russia began massing forces on the Ukrainian border in late 2021 but did not begin the invasion until February 2022. The plan was to have the Ukrainian capital under control within 10 days, with the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (AFRF) back in Russia by the summer of 2022. A study by the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies assessed how the Russian command supplied ammunition and utilized infrastructure to conduct resupply activities during the first phase of the Russian invasion.

The AFRF relied heavily on a delivery and distribution system that began with the brigade element conducting distribution activities to the battalion echelon and ending with the company or battery end-user receiving the ammunition. The study points out the lowest tactical level units required an amount of ammunition that surpassed the brigade and battalion level capacity, requiring the use of units at the division and army levels. The need to adapt to Russian doctrine was not a planning consideration for the invasion. After the first 30 days of the invasion, the AFRF began using existing rail infrastructure to capitalize on its efficiency in reaching units at distances of 30 to 50 kilometers from the point of contact. The study also notes an AFRF struggle stemmed from a reliance on the rail systems to supply its forces in the Donbas region’s offensive. Once the Ukrainian armed forces received military capability assistance from the West in the form of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, they used known Russian doctrine to accurately assess the locations of field depots and maintenance locations. The concept of sustainment ultimately determines the depth and time a force can maintain or endure operations at a given tempo.

Depth and Endurance

ADP 3-0 defines depth as how operations occur in time, space, or purpose to achieve a desired outcome. ADP 4-0 defines endurance as the ability to put combat power into operation for an extended time. Sustainment accomplishes depth and endurance by providing a framework for commanders to plan the delivery of supplies and equipment into operations instead of being an afterthought. Planning for sustainment requires a commander to provision and build estimated requirements into the plan that allows logistical operations to change as the situation develops. Operations that account for the sustainment and delivery of logistics enable a force to build depth and complexity to their plans with less concern about being able to last until the next resupply. The U.S. Army builds depth before any operation because of its doctrine.

The Army builds its power on the ability to succinctly and consistently leverage elements of the nation to support military operations by utilizing resources across four levels: national, strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war. These layers allow for planning to occur independently or in unison. The national and strategic layers incorporate how industry and supply chain elements integrate to supply logistical needs while ensuring efficiency in both quality and cost. The operational and tactical levels create the highest demand signal and demonstrate the logistical needs at the point of friction with less regard to cost.

The fusion of capabilities and resources at all four levels of war allows for proper planning and ensures a force maintains endurance in operations. An example of endurance is that from 2020 to 2021, the U.S. committed $1.55 trillion to the Global War on Terror fight. The depth of operations the U.S. participated in ranged from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Africa, and limited operations in the Pacific. The dollar amount and length of time in persistent conflict do not equate to depth or endurance. However, the willingness to execute all these operations at different times with different objectives and keep them sustained does show an ability to endure and maintain depth.


Sustainment and logistics share links but only sometimes mean the same thing. Conflating the two is a failure to understand the depth of operations and the ability to endure conflict. The success of an operation or activity is only possible with an understanding of sustainment and its proper application in operations. The sustainment WfF impacts a commander’s ability to employ forces in-depth and the time it can endure continuous operations. Instances of failing to account for logistics as part of the strategic plan are evident in the Russian incursion into Ukraine. The gaps in Russian plans resulted from not linking logistics to the principles of depth and endurance.


Master Sgt. Brandon S. Riley is an Armor Senior Sergeant. He has served in leadership positions, from team leader to first sergeant. He recently attended the Sergeants Major Course at the U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Post University, Connecticut.


This content is published online in conjunction with the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.


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