In his address at the Association of the United States Army 2023 Annual Meeting, Gen. Randy George, the 41st Chief of Staff of the Army, posited, “The world and warfare are changing rapidly. We will stay ahead of our adversaries.” In short, the character of war is changing, which drives the Army to embrace new ways (doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures) as it transforms to meet future needs. New concepts for warfighting will drive future changes. These will affect all our Army warfighting functions (WfFs) and especially revolutionize the sustainment WfF. One often discussed concept when it comes to future warfare is contested logistics. As Army sustainers, we must ask ourselves what it is and how it will shape sustainment operations.
The U.S. has enjoyed nearly 80 years of unimpeded logistics dominance, but the world is changing. One only needs to read the news to see how our adversaries aim to contest our sustainment prowess in multiple domains and understand that it will be critical to the next fight. And that is why we must be prepared to win in this emerging environment. We must continue applying the age-old principles of Army sustainment as set out in Field Manual (FM) 4-0, Sustainment Operations, which will ensure our success in every domain in large-scale combat operations (LSCO).
Traditionally, we have considered integration to ensure Army sustainment operations are synchronized with Army operations. While that remains true, we must also consider integration with our joint partners and with the military of other nations as an essential task in future warfare. Winston Churchill famously quipped, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.” He only meant this half in jest. World War II, the last true LSCO environment the U.S. faced, was successful because of the integration of allied partners. Future warfare will be no different. We must continue working closely with our joint and allied partners in routine exercises to ensure we are prepared to fight together during a contingency.
Agile sustainment is crucial for providing freedom of maneuver to the joint force. This encompasses all aspects of sustainment: logistics, financial management, personnel services, and health services support. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is a prime example of how agile sustainment is vital for sustaining operations amid contested supply lines.
Precision sustainment is a critical aspect of forward logistics that emphasizes maintaining adequate supplies and equipment at the right place, time, and quantity to sustain military operations. This approach involves a deep understanding of the operational environment, including terrain, weather, and enemy movements, and a deep understanding of the operational variables covered in Army Doctrine Publication 3-0, Operations. By anticipating potential challenges and threats, we can take proactive measures to ensure supplies and equipment are readily available when needed.
For instance, precision sustainment may involve pre-positioning critical supplies and equipment in strategic locations, such as forward operating bases (FOBs) or staging areas, to ensure its accessibility. It may also involve using advanced logistics technologies such as predictive analytics and automated inventory management systems to optimize supply chains and reduce the risk of shortages or delays. By adopting a precision sustainment approach and conducting thorough threat analysis and intelligence gathering, we can generate resilience in the face of contested logistics and maintain a decisive operational advantage over our adversaries.
In contested environments, responding quickly to changing requirements is crucial. Resilient and agile logistics are necessary for timely support at the right place and time. This is where predictive logistics emerges as a potential game changer. Using data to anticipate equipment needs and optimize the supply chain stands to disrupt our adversaries’ efforts to contest our sustainment operations.
Predictive logistics is essential for modernizing the Army’s logistics management as it helps support maintenance requirements, minimize downtime, and increase overall equipment readiness. It is crucial we ensure data security and take measures such as encryption, access controls, regular security audits, and personnel training. It is vital we align these efforts with the emerging technical capabilities coming out of industry. Prioritizing predictive logistics systems and implementing security protocols can help the Army safeguard sensitive information and maintain a robust supply chain that meets the evolving requirements of a contested environment.
In today’s complex and contested operational environments, advanced decision-making processes are crucial for military leaders to ensure mission success. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies, leaders can now leverage these advanced tools to simplify and streamline logistics processes. These technologies can reduce complexity in sustainment processes and enable standardized procedures, thereby contributing to efficiency in the use of resources and providing practical support to forces operating in challenging environments. By leveraging the power of AI and ML, sustainment leaders can make more informed decisions, optimize supply chains, and enhance situational awareness, which will lead to mission success. Moreover, AI and ML will not only enable us to make more simple decisions but also allow us to make complex decisions faster than ever before.
During the war on terrorism, the Army enjoyed unprecedented logistics capability. The FOB concept enabled sustainers to stockpile nearly infinite amounts of supplies to ensure the maneuver force’s success. However, in a contested environment, we cannot afford the luxury of larger FOBs with large equipment stores. While doctrinally, economy speaks of contracted support, we may not be able to rely as heavily on contractors in a contested environment. We need to clearly understand what contract and host nation support operations look like in this new environment and plan accordingly.
The recent RAND Corporation study, “Russian Logistics and Sustainment Failures in the Ukraine Conflict,” highlighted how increased dependency by the Russian army on extended ground transportation led to heightened vulnerability to interdiction, particularly with Ukraine’s acquisition of advanced missile systems capable of targeting distant positions. This is not an anomaly, and we shouldn’t ignore what we witnessed. We must pursue advanced technologies to reduce sustainment demands and improve supply distribution methods. Integrating autonomous vehicles will reduce manpower on the battlefield, and incorporating hybrid technology into combat platforms will reduce supply demands. While these cutting-edge technologies promise risk reduction to the force, widespread implementation across the Army is a process that will span several years.
Starting now, it’s crucial to incorporate tactical concepts like displace, disperse, and defend when training for survivability in a contested environment. Displacement involves deliberately shifting forces from their current position to another location, aiming to avoid enemy detection and evade threats. Dispersal distributes forces across a broader area, lessening vulnerability to concentrated attacks and enhancing resilience against enemy actions by complicating an adversary’s efforts to target or neutralize logistics capabilities. Defending protects a specific position and capability from enemy threats or attacks. These tactics are frequently employed together, forming a comprehensive tactical approach. This unified strategy increases operational flexibility, enabling military commanders to adapt to evolving situations.
Continuity is likely the most important principle we should consider in a contested logistics environment. FM 4-0 defines it as “the uninterrupted provision of sustainment across all levels of war.” Our focus as sustainers is to understand and link sustainment operations not only from the factory to the foxhole but also from the foxhole to the factory. The tele-maintenance effort led by U.S. Army Europe and Africa in support of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is but one example of how we can leverage technology to close the gap between the industrial base and the tactical level.
Moreover, we should clearly understand that in the contemporary operating environment, it is not only the tactical level that will be contested as it always has been. Rather, we are already seeing our adversaries begin to impede our ability to operate at all levels of warfare, including the homeland at the national strategic level.
Finally, in the challenging near future, we must remain able to improvise with sustainment operations. We are already gaining reps and sets in this area in the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility with joint and multinational exercises like Talisman Sabre and Keen Edge. The 8th Theater Sustainment Command’s ability to adapt and improvise during these exercises has given them valuable lessons in successfully sustaining joint/multinational forces.
Current conflicts around the world and the growing abilities of stronger, more capable adversaries demonstrate a need to refine policies, strategies, and preparations for the future fight in a contested environment. With a collective effort from the Army sustainment enterprise, we rise to the challenges presented by contested logistics. Nesting our concept in guiding statutes, directives, policies, and doctrine ensures we will be successful. Moreover, when tied to our eight sustainment principles, we have a better understanding of the complex problem we are trying to solve and how to win in any environment.
Lt. Gen. Heidi J. Hoyle currently serves as Headquarters, Department of the Army, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, and oversees policies and procedures used by Army Logisticians. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, she has a Master of Science in systems engineering from the University of Virginia and a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the National Defense University. She is a graduate of the Chemical Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Officer Advanced Course, United States Army Command and General Staff College, Kansas, and the Eisenhower School of National Security and Resource Strategy, Washington, D.C.
This article was published in the Winter 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.