The Indo-Pacific region presents multiple challenges for the joint force to fight and win against a near-peer or capable adversary. To extend the operational reach and prolong the endurance of the joint force during large-scale combat operations (LSCO), sustainers must navigate the vast geography of the Pacific, synchronize and integrate logistics operations, and deliver materiel and capability with precision. Mission command is critical to synchronizing sustainment operations in a theater where logistics nodes are separated by long distances from the North American West Coast through Oceania and Southeast Asia. Army Doctrine Publication 6-0, Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, defines mission command as the Army’s “approach to command and control that empowers subordinate decision making and decentralized execution appropriate to the situation.” Sustainers must exercise and rehearse the relationships within the mission command structure to work through friction and gain a shared understanding of challenges and opportunities presented in a joint and multinational setting.
In the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) theater, the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade (AFSB) participates in a series of exercises known as Operation Pathways, conducted in multiple locations across the Pacific. These exercises enable the theater AFSB to set conditions for delivering capabilities to multiple locations simultaneously during conflict and rehearse these processes with strategic, operational, and tactical partners. Each exercise is also an opportunity to rehearse the command relationship between the various Army Materiel Command (AMC) elements that send strategic sustainment capability to the warfighters in the joint operations area (JOA). Army Sustainment Command (ASC), a major subordinate command of AMC, capitalized on the opportunity to rehearse the command relationship between the theater AFSB and AMC sustainment enterprise elements in the JOA during Talisman Sabre 23 (TS23). Taking place in Australia, Talisman Sabre is a biennial U.S.-Australian exercise designed to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific by strengthening partnerships and interoperability among key allies.
Theater AFSB Mission Command
The 402nd AFSB directly supports the U.S. Army Pacific with the 8th Theater Sustainment Command (TSC). The 402nd AFSB is ASC’s Pacific theater AFSB and serves as ASC’s operational arm in INDOPACOM. The theater AFSB synchronizes efforts of the AMC enterprise through the employment of logistic support elements (LSEs) in the JOA and ensures sustainment capabilities have been prioritized and resourced effectively to enable supported units. Over the past two decades, the U.S. military delivered strategic-level logistics to the point of need in relatively uncontested space. In LSCO against a capable adversary in the Pacific, logistics operations will be confronted by multidomain threats impacting air and sea lines of communications and theater distribution.
The theater AFSB provides command and control (C2) of AMC enterprise logistics in this contested space. During TS23, the 8th TSC was a combined joint TSC, composed of U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and Australian logistics personnel, and co-led by the 8th TSC commanding general and the Australian Defense Force Joint Logistics Command’s director general of logistics operations. The 402nd AFSB performed its role as a theater AFSB and exercised operational control (OPCON) over a corps and division LSE deployed to support I Corps and the 25th Infantry Division (25ID). The Army Field Support Battalion-Hawaii (AFSBn-HAW), an assigned unit to the 402nd AFSB with a habitual direct support relationship with 25ID, deployed a division logistics support element (DLSE) in support of 25ID. The 404th AFSB, a sister brigade of the 402nd AFSB with a habitual direct support relationship to I Corps, deployed a corps logistics support element (CLSE) in support of I Corps. The AFSB deployed a C2 team that was collocated with the combined joint TSC, exercised OPCON over the 404th CLSE, and the 404th CLSE exercised OPCON over AFSBn-HAW DLSE. This command structure of the theater AFSB enabled efficient communication, prioritization, and synchronization of enterprise sustainment efforts in the JOA. In the months following TS23, the 402nd AFSB will mission command a reverse equipment configuration hand-off team from the 404th AFSB, based in Charleston, South Carolina, but deployed to the Indo-Pacific to conduct the reinduction of the equipment drawn by exercising units into Army pre-positioned stocks.
Understanding sustainers must adapt to changing operational environments, Maj. Gen. David Wilson, the commanding general of ASC, recently brought AFSB commanders from all over the globe together to discuss command relationships between the AFSBs, CLSEs, and DLSEs at a senior leader forum. During the forum, held at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, in August 2023, commanders from all seven AFSBs wargamed a series of scenarios that would generate requirements for strategic sustainment in various theaters during LSCO. The AFSBs exercised the concept of deploying ASC sustainment capabilities into the combat theater, including CLSEs and DLSEs. The theater AFSB commander exercised OPCON of supporting CLSEs and DLSEs. The wargame reinforced the importance of mission command principles: competence, mutual trust, shared understanding, commander’s intent, mission orders, disciplined initiative, and risk acceptance.
With a foundation of strong bilateral and multilateral relationships, the theater AFSB’s understanding of the theater and joint force land component commander’s priorities sharpens with every exercise. Each Pathways exercise introduces theater-specific problem sets that enable the 402nd AFSB to improve its ability to assess the needs of the force in time and space, integrate and synchronize efforts of the sustainment enterprise in theater, and inform the combined joint theater sustainment commander on the most effective distribution of national-level sustainment capability in theater. Through Operation Pathways and exercises like TS23, the theater AFSB develops the relationships and systems to sustain and demonstrate combat credible forces’ reach and endurance in fighting and winning in combat, all in support of the goal of integrated deterrence.
Understanding the Chief of Staff of the Army’s priorities — warfighting, delivering combat-ready formations, undergoing continuous transformation, and strengthening the profession of arms — the 402nd AFSB focuses on training objectives to ensure enterprise logistics synchronization delivers combat-ready forces. In TS23, logistics experts from AMC life cycle management commands (LCMCs), Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, Army Aviation and Missile Command, Army Communications-Electronics Command, and Joint Munitions Command provided strategic logistics support exercising Army units both in person and through mobile means to enable combat readiness. Due to the dispersed nature of support and dynamic requirements, ASC LSEs communicated to LCMC experts, deployed by DLSEs and CLSEs to the tactical customer units, through senior command representatives in OPCON to the theater AFSB. The theater AFSB and subordinate LSE command structure enabled senior command representatives the flexibility to balance and synchronize LCMC support. Constant communication and a disciplined battle rhythm enabled effective distribution of assets, ensuring all operations were supported. Future exercises will provide more opportunities to exercise, develop, and refine processes and rehearse the command relationships that could be exercised in a contested environment during crises or conflict.
Army logisticians who have served in the Pacific understand the requirements to sustain the joint force in a large-scale conflict will quickly exceed capabilities if they are not synchronized in time to achieve desired effects. The Army’s command relationships must be clear and well-rehearsed to codify processes and procedures in standing operating procedure and doctrine. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in April 2021, “Throughout American history, deterrence has meant fixing a basic truth within the minds of our potential foes: And that truth is that the costs and risks of aggression are out of line with any conceivable benefit.” Leaders in ASC and AFSBs will continue seizing opportunities to build relationships, improve systems with every lesson learned, and continuously set conditions for credible logistics that endure through time and space should competition escalate to crisis or conflict.
Col. Courtney M. Sugai is the commander of the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade. She holds a master’s degree in diplomacy and military studies from Hawaii Pacific University and a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the Dwight D. Eisenhower School of National Security and Resource Strategy, Washington, D.C.
Lt. Col. Mark A. Yore serves as the executive officer for the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade. He earned a master’s degree in global and international studies from the University of Kansas. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, Kansas.
This article was published in the Winter 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.