Strategic Enabler’s Lens: Supporting LSCO in a Contested Environment

By Lt. Col. Michelle P. Santayana and Capt. Stephen GowenFebruary 1, 2024

Cpl. Brandon McCray, a signal support systems specialist assigned to the 87th Division Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, sets up communications equipment during the National Training Center...
Cpl. Brandon McCray, a signal support systems specialist assigned to the 87th Division Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, sets up communications equipment during the National Training Center rotation 23-05 at Fort Irwin, California, March 2, 2023. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Jared T. Scott) VIEW ORIGINAL

As the Army organizes divisions and corps into formations supporting large-scale combat operations (LSCO) for the Army of 2030, sustainment operations with the right capability and capacity must be predictive and precise to support smaller and more dispersed units better. How logistics forces are formed, resourced, and trained for LSCO will shape the conditions for supporting the fight in contested environments and the response to conflict and competition in the multidomain operation sphere. This article explores the complexities of sustainment in a contested environment from the lens of a strategic enabler, provides insights on overcoming challenges based on lessons learned from an ammunition supply mission in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, and offers actionable strategies for navigating through logistical obstacles with confidence.

Understanding the diverse command relationships, responsibilities, and missions in a joint environment is essential in multidomain operations to ensure unity of effort. The following depicts the unique missions and responsibilities of geographic combatant and component commands in the theater:

  • U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) leads the strategic-level effort of projecting and sustaining combat power by expanding global transportation networks to aggregate force packages and expanding access to posture the joint deployment distribution enterprise to deter, win, and meet the nation’s objectives. It synchronizes global mobility capacity to effectively operate in a contested environment, leveraging allies and partners while enhancing relationship building to enable freedom of maneuver in the theater of operation.
  • U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM’s) mission is to champion cooperative regional security and stability and enable military operations and activities with allies and partners to support enduring U.S. interests.
  • U.S. Army Central Command (ARCENT) is an operational level Army force in the CENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR) that generates favorable conditions for joint forces in and out of theater, sets the theater for rapid execution of military operations, and enables forward presence to deter acts of aggression promulgated by the adversaries.
  • The 1st Theater Sustainment Command sustains the fight, sets the theater by posturing resources and capabilities, and ensures sustainment is readily available to the warfighter at the point of need.
  • The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) performs global deployment and distribution (D2) operations by providing surface mobility options and sustaining warfighting requirements to ensure strategic mission readiness supporting combatant commands and the total joint force. As the Army component command of USTRANSCOM, SDDC is the connective tissue that links the entire distribution network together with capabilities and capacities to move combat power globally via highways, ports, and rails to enable dynamic force employment, warfighting readiness, and lethality at scale.

As one of only two SDDC forward deployed battalions assigned to the 595th Transportation Brigade, the 831st Transportation Battalion acts as single port managers responsible for managing the flow of DOD cargo in the countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Oman. The battalion conducts terminal port operations, facilitates surface distribution, and enables strategic transportation operations, providing sustainment, deployment, and redeployment expertise for combat-credible military forces. It also coordinates access to 12 strategic seaport infrastructures, maintaining capacity and preserving readiness to support USTRANSCOM’s mission requirements in the theater. The Qatar detachment is involved in the booking process, movement execution, vessel loading, and export to the port of debarkation, ensuring all DOD cargo is delivered on time while meeting all customs process requirements. Headquartered on Al Udeid Air Base, Doha, the detachment synchronizes strategic, operational vessel movements for USTRANSCOM, CENTCOM, ARCENT, and U.S. Air Forces Central transiting in and out of Qatar.

As one of the many strategic enablers on the ground in the CENTCOM AOR, it is key for sustainment units to set conditions for speed and flexibility with the growing demand in today’s logistical operations, often requiring extensive logistics support to ensure mission success. It is critically important to improve the unity of effort within the joint logistics enterprise (JLENT) to ensure maximum effectiveness and flexibility to deliver sustained logistics support in a contested environment marked by competition, scarce resources, geopolitical tensions, and rapidly evolving technological advancements. This also makes it imperative for businesses and military logistics to adopt a confident and optimized approach to ensure seamless operations and maintain a competitive edge. This article also examines the military operation in Qatar to illuminate how successful partnerships established at Al Udied Air Base have increased lethality, global agility, interoperability, and operational effectiveness for successful joint operations.

Understanding a Contested Environment

Field Manual 4-0, Sustainment Operations, recognizes the importance of the Army and joint force adapting and preparing for LSCO in highly contested environments by operating effectively across all contested domains, integrating sustainment with its joint and multinational partners, and synchronizing operations across all levels to enable unity of effort, operational reach, freedom of action, and prolonged endurance. Ongoing efforts in Ukraine and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command contribute to other contested environments, drawing SDDC assets (airlift, sealift, etc.) to meet daily competition and contingency demands. For this article, a contested environment in the logistics sector refers to a highly competitive and rapidly changing marketplace where businesses and military logistics encounter various challenges that can hinder the efficiency and effectiveness of operations.

Key Challenges in Contested Logistics

From a strategic enabler’s lens, the three most significant challenges in contested logistics are trade barriers, political instability, and technological disruptions.

  • Trade barriers. In a contested environment, intricate trade policies and protectionism measures can impede the smooth flow of goods. Adapting to changing regulations and seeking alternative supply chain routes are essential strategies to mitigate the impact of trade barriers.
  • Political instability. Geopolitical tensions and political unrest can disrupt supply chains, leading to delays and increased costs. Developing contingency plans, diversifying suppliers, and enhancing situational awareness are crucial in navigating such risks confidently.
  • Technological disruptions. Rapid technological advancements, including automation, artificial intelligence, and blockchain, are revolutionizing logistics. Embracing these technologies and investing in digitization can streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and enable seamless connectivity in a contested environment.

Overcoming Challenges with Confidence

While overcoming challenges, the 831st Transportation Battalion Qatar detachment’s keys to mission success have been the lessons learned and best practices from daily operations, where collaborative partnerships have been fostered, planning and synchronization have been proactive and synchronized, and D2 operations have been streamlined.

  • Foster collaborative partnerships. Building strong partnerships with suppliers, shipping companies, and other stakeholders in the supply chain can enhance efficiency and responsiveness. Through collaboration, businesses and military logistics can collectively share resources, manage risks, and navigate challenges. The military operations in Qatar examined in this article’s case study demonstrate collaborative efforts with host-nation organizations, multinational partners, and private contractors, creating a business ecosystem that promotes effective logistics support. These partnerships allowed for the sharing of expertise, information, and resources, facilitating the smooth execution of operations. By leveraging local capabilities, the U.S. military enhanced its ability to quickly adapt to regional conditions, thereby increasing overall operational efficiency.
  • Proactive planning and synchronized operations. Efficient logistical operations require meticulous planning and synchronization. The U.S. military in Qatar employed proactive planning methods to anticipate demand, allowing for the allocation of necessary resources contested daily. By utilizing advanced data analytics and forecasting techniques, the military operation optimized the flow of personnel, equipment, and supplies, minimizing delays, ensuring effective support to the troops on the ground, and allowing for rapid response to changing mission dynamics. This included solutions like cross-docking, real-time monitoring, and just-in-time inventory management.
  • Streamlined D2 operations. Effective D2 operations are the backbone of any successful SDDC logistics operation. Military operations in Qatar employed innovative strategies to ensure rapid and accurate distribution of essential goods. By adopting industry best practices and using advanced tracking and monitoring systems, the military maintained visibility and traceability of supplies from the point of origin to the final destination. This level of control reduced the risk of delays, minimized loss, and ensured troops received critical resources promptly.

Case Study for Contested Environment

The ammunition supply mission was a theater resupply and retrograde munitions mission that occurred at a Qatari seaport. Due to the drawdown in mission requirements across the CENTCOM AOR, the need for resupply and retrograde had decreased, which made this operation between the JLENT partners and Qatari government agencies more significant. Key stakeholders collaborated and coordinated to ensure a shared understanding of the operations by conducting mission briefs, meetings, and rehearsals before the execution date. The Qatar detachment’s focus was the processing and documentation of the import cargo and port operations, ensuring customs waiver requests (CWRs) were submitted timely to the Qatari government headquarters (HQ). Leading up to the operation date, the detachment was in constant communication with the port authority, emphasizing priority in the mission, ensuring zero incidents during port and vessel operations, and continuously coordinating to ensure timelines, safety, and personnel processing were finalized before the start of the operation. The culminating event was the full rehearsal of concept with all key stakeholders 24 hours prior to mission execution.

JLENT partners performed roles ranging from the vessel carrier contractor ensuring stevedoring services were completed, Air Force working dog teams inspecting and clearing tugboats, vessel berth areas, and trucks operation, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command divers ensuring zero obstructions in the vessel berth area, and port authority officials monitoring safety for all parties. The Qatar detachment provided oversight of port operations, ensuring vessel and port operations were executed safely with no operational delays.

Issues for Contested Logistics

In the ammunition supply case study, JLENT partners experienced challenges in a contested environment based on trade barriers, political instability, and technological disruptions. The rapidly changing environment, constrained resources, and competing demands for resources in the CENTCOM AOR made it more essential to plan, execute, and synchronize logistics operations collectively and collaboratively in a unified effort.

  • Regarding trade barriers, all cargo must have CWRs submitted to the Qatari government HQ to receive approval and acceptance into Qatar. This means the Qatari government can deny any cargo entry into the country, which would hinder military operations in Qatar and the Persian Gulf if not approved.
  • For political instability challenges, being part of the Persian Gulf involves unwanted third parties potentially hindering vessel operations, such as with rising tensions with Iran. Precautions may need to be taken to ensure the safety of military operations and equipment to ensure unhindered movement throughout the Persian Gulf.
  • Concerning technological disruptions, many ports across the globe have begun to switch from personnel-operated equipment to unmanned automated equipment. Qatari ports utilized automated gantry cranes to load and discharge vessels, which in the future could be a key point of failure should a gantry crane go astray while holding a container full of ammunition 50 feet above the ground. Additionally, potential near-peer adversaries investing in new equipment and software that could hack into equipment and track cargo movements can cause unprecedented infrastructure failure in multiple ports worldwide.

Solutions to Contested Logistics

Lessons learned from the Qatar ammunition supply mission identify the need to foster collaborative relationships, proactively synchronize planning and operations, and streamline processes and systems to maximize responsiveness in logistical operations.

  • Foster collaborative partnerships. Collaboration with the Qatari government and port authorities was vital for optimizing ammunition operations at ports in Qatar. The military actively engaged with Qatari government officials and port authorities to enforce stringent security protocols, safeguard the secure handling of ammunition, and work closely with shipping companies, customs, and other regulatory bodies. The Qatar detachment ensured compliance with U.S. military and Qatari regulations and maintained smooth operations.
  • Proactive planning and synchronized operations. Efficient communication and accurate documentation are vital ingredients for seamless operations. All mission partners implemented streamlined communication channels and leveraged digital platforms and secure networks to communicate simultaneous operations effectively.
  • Streamlined processes and systems. Systems used by the military allowed for real-time information sharing among relevant mission partners, ensuring seamless coordination and minimizing delays. Digitized documentation processes replaced manual paperwork, making tracking and updating information easier and minimizing human errors. This digital transformation provided secure platforms for exchanging classified information, allowing operation coordination with units in different countries and enabling hour-by-hour updates until the vessel departed, ensuring seamless transition and zero incidents.


Successfully navigating logistics as a strategic enabler in an LSCO-contested environment necessitates a confident approach, optimized strategies, and continuous adaptation. Understanding the viewpoints of contested logistics challenges, employing proactive planning, fostering partnerships, and streamlining strategic surface deployment and distribution will help shape conditions for successful joint force operations for Army 2030. Effective and efficient joint operations in Qatar demonstrated the commitment of mission partners to ensure access, build partnerships, and deter adversaries to achieve operational and strategic objectives within the CENTCOM AOR. With a proactive mindset and a commitment to excellence, joint and Army forces can optimize operations, drive growth, and thrive even in the most contested environments.


Lt. Col. Michelle Santayana serves as the battalion commander for the 831st Transportation Battalion, 595th Transportation Brigade, at Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. She has a master’s degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Capt. Stephen Gowen served as the Qatar detachment commander for the 831st Transportation Battalion, 595th Transportation Brigade, at Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Georgia Southern University.


This article was published in the Winter 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.


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