Sgt. 1st Class Courtney Valentin, assigned to the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, scrubs a database of unit overage repairable items to facilitate the return of monetary credit at Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, March 27, 2023.
Sgt. 1st Class Courtney Valentin, assigned to the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, scrubs a database of unit overage repairable items to facilitate the return of monetary credit at Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, March 27, 2023. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Kirsten M. Sanders) VIEW ORIGINAL

As the dawn of 2030 approaches, the Army is forging ahead on a bold path, investing in revolutionary technologies to shape an agile, technologically proficient, and adaptive force ready for the challenges of tomorrow’s battlefield. In the Spring 2023 edition of Army Sustainment, Gen. Charles Hamilton, commanding general of Army Materiel Command, wrote, “Sustainment leaders of the future must be able to understand and employ the knowledge and power of data and information as critical readiness assets to inform future sustainment actions reliably and rapidly as combat multipliers.” Tactical sustainment formations are indispensable for mission success in the rapidly evolving landscape. Responsible for delivering vital logistics and sustainment support, the mission complexities of brigade support battalions (BSBs), division sustainment support battalions (DSSBs), and combat sustainment support battalions (CSSBs) are amplified in a contested multidomain operational environment. Commanders and leaders must create a data-centric culture and commit to continuous learning immediately to enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness and adequately equip the sustainment leaders of the Army of 2030. This article recommends key strategies for educating and training BSBs, DSSBs, and CSSBs, enabling them to harness data to its fullest potential.

Creating a Data-Centric Culture

The transformative potential of data in military operations is immense. Harnessing this potential requires a paradigm shift toward a data-centric culture where evidence-based decision-making precedes intuition. This shift requires a significant investment in comprehensive data literacy training for the officers, warrant officers, and noncommissioned officers at echelon. From understanding basic data collection techniques to mastering advanced data analysis and interpretation, BSB, DSSB, and CSSB personnel at all levels must be equipped to utilize data promptly and effectively. Notably, the sensitivity of sustainment data also calls for rigorous training in data security practices, ensuring personnel understand how to protect and responsibly use vital information. As the spectrum of potential battlegrounds expands across the five domains, so does the requirement for specific knowledge and skill sets for effective tactical sustainment operations. The first step in educating tactical sustainment units is cultivating a data-centric mindset. This mindset involves instilling an understanding of the value of data in the decision-making process.

Educating BSBs, DSSBs, and CSSBs on data-centric operations requires strong leadership support and guidance. Even if you do not know the difference between Python, C++, or R, it is essential to understand the potential benefits of the organization’s ability to work through extensive amounts of data faster than ever before to provide leaders with actionable information. Commanders and senior leaders must emphasize the importance of data utilization, promote a culture of continuous learning, and allocate resources for training and technological advancements. Leaders can inspire their personnel to embrace a data-driven mindset by setting examples and championing data-centric practices. By emphasizing the importance of accurate and timely data, personnel within BSBs, DSSBs, and CSSBs can be encouraged to proactively seek and leverage information to support operational planning and execution.

Additionally, providing comprehensive data literacy training to personnel is crucial. This training should cover various aspects, including data collection, analysis, interpretation, and visualization. Equipping individuals with the skills to navigate and manipulate data effectively empowers them to extract meaningful insights, identify trends, and make informed decisions. Unit-level training programs incorporate leader development programs, staff training, or institutional training in person or virtually with online courses tailored to the unit’s specific needs. Leaders must work with the Training and Doctrine Command and Combined Arms Support Command to nest their approaches to develop a comprehensive curriculum that covers relevant data analytics concepts, tools, and techniques tailored to sustainment operations within tactical formations. This curriculum should include modules on data collection, analysis, visualization, and interpretation specific to sustainment functions. Unit commanders can implement a structured training and certification program that offers progressive levels of certification, such as basic, intermediate, and advanced, to accommodate personnel at different levels of expertise. This program can include classroom-based instruction and hands-on exercises utilizing real-world sustainment data sets, embedding sustainment-specific data analytics certification into existing training programs at the battalion and brigade levels. This integration ensures a standardized baseline of knowledge and promotes a consistent approach to data analytics across brigade combat teams.

Commitment to Continuous Learning

Tactical sustainment unit leaders must commit to continuous learning to facilitate ongoing professional development opportunities for their personnel. These could encompass certification programs, long-term leader development, workshops, and conferences focused on relevant topics. Sustainment-specific data analytical certifications equip personnel with the skills and knowledge to analyze and interpret data relevant to their specific operational domain. Continuous learning approaches enable leaders and staff to make informed decisions based on data-driven insights and mitigating risks and to capitalize on opportunities across unit manning cycles. This commitment concerns acquiring new technical skills and fostering a culture that values, understands, and effectively uses data. Done well, it will lead to improved operational efficiency for the supported organization. Data analytic certifications foster a consistently updating understanding of industry key performance indicators, enabling BSBs, DSSBs, and CSSBs to track, measure, and improve processes such as supply chain optimization and personnel management. Personnel can implement targeted improvements, streamline workflows, and enhance operational efficiency by identifying inefficiencies and bottlenecks. Through investment in and commitment to data analytics, battalions and brigades can gain visibility into resource utilization, including personnel, equipment, and supplies. Certification in data analytics equips leaders to identify surplus or underutilized resources, leading to better resource allocation and cost savings. Sustainment-specific data analytical professional development promotes a culture of continuous improvement within tactical sustainment formations. Sustainment leaders must become advocates for data-driven practices, fostering a mindset of seeking opportunities for optimization and innovation. This culture shift will lead to improvements in sustainment operations as, in Hamilton’s words, we become the “Army of 2030 and design the Army of 2040.” Continuous learning ensures personnel remain at the forefront of their fields and foster a culture of intellectual curiosity and adaptability, which are invaluable in the dynamic multidomain operations environment.

Opportunities and Risks

In the quest to develop BSBs, DSSBs, and CSSBs into data-centric organizations, tactical sustainment unit commanders and leaders find themselves at the crossroads of promise and peril. The commitment comes from artificial intelligence (AI), which offers transformative potential in optimizing logistics, enhancing predictive maintenance, and improving decision-making. Commanders and leaders must seize opportunities in AI, invest in AI literacy, foster an organizational culture that embraces AI, and integrate AI tools into operational processes. The advent of AI has revolutionized numerous facets of military operations. AI can optimize logistics management, enhance threat detection, and facilitate predictive maintenance. BSBs should invest in AI education to enable their personnel to leverage these technologies effectively. Understanding how to work with AI tools, interpret their outputs, and integrate them into operational processes is key to capitalizing on AI’s potential. Importantly, this should also include education on AI’s limitations and potential ethical considerations, ensuring AI is used responsibly and effectively. However, increasing reliance on digital technologies also opens the door to new threats, particularly in cyberspace. Cybersecurity becomes indispensable to this data-centric transformation, warranting robust defense mechanisms against cyber threats. This necessitates comprehensive training in cybersecurity best practices, threat detection, and response strategies. In navigating this digital transformation, leaders must balance the pursuit of innovation with the imperatives of security, ensuring BSBs and DSSBs leverage the benefits of AI while safeguarding against the risks inherent in the digital age. The cyberspace domain brings with it a new array of threats. As BSBs become increasingly reliant on digital technologies, they must prioritize cybersecurity. Cybersecurity training best practices, threat detection, and countermeasures can significantly enhance a unit’s resilience against cyber-attacks. Given the potential for catastrophic consequences should a BSB’s digital system be compromised, investing in comprehensive cybersecurity education is a necessity, not a luxury.

Conclusion

In conclusion, as the Army stands on the brink of 2030, the path ahead is one of transformation and innovation. With a relentless focus on adopting revolutionary technologies, the Army is diligently working toward developing an agile, technologically proficient, and adaptive force that can confront the challenges of tomorrow’s battlefield. Understanding the critical role of data and information as readiness assets, sustainment leaders at all echelons must equip themselves with the knowledge and power of data to inform future sustainment actions rapidly and reliably. In this evolving landscape, BSBs, DSSBs, and CSSBs play indispensable roles in mission success. However, their mission complexity is amplified in a contested multidomain operational environment. Commanders and leaders must foster a data-centric culture and prioritize continuous learning, enhancing operational efficiency and effectiveness. By embracing key strategies for educating and training these sustainment units, they can harness the full potential of data, ensuring they are properly equipped to lead the Army into the future, specifically toward the Army of 2040. Through these efforts, the Army will fortify its readiness and achieve unparalleled success in future battles.

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Lt. Col. Xeon Simpson currently commands the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. He is a graduate of the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course, Petroleum & Water Officer Course, Combined Logistics Captain Career Course, Recruiting Commanders Course, and the Command General Staff Officer College. He has a master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Louisville, Kentucky.

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This article is published in the Fall 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.