Transforming Army Sustainment to Contend with a Contested Logistics Environment

By Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, Col. Marchant Callis, and Maj. Ryan J. LegaultFebruary 1, 2024

(Photo Credit: Sarah Lancia) VIEW ORIGINAL

As the Army pursues transformational change to execute large-scale combat operations against peer adversaries in a multidomain operations environment, the sustainment warfighting function faces the challenge of effectively modernizing its forces and capabilities to maintain pace with the transforming Army. The future operational environment (FOE) presents a sensor-rich, transparent, lethal, and multi-dimensional landscape where friendly forces will be under constant observation and face new and deadlier threats to the homeland, forward deployed forces, and air and sea lines of communications while contending with a host of disruptive effects associated with new technologies. Daunting as they are, these are the characteristics associated with this contested logistics environment.

Officially, Title 10 of the U.S. Code (10 USC § 2926) defines the contested logistics environment as “an environment in which the armed forces engage in conflict with an adversary that presents challenges in all domains and directly targets logistics operations, facilities, and activities in the United States, abroad, or in transit from one location to another.” Consequently, future sustainment forces must be prepared to effectively operate in this setting across the land, maritime, air, cyber, and space domains from a strategic distance where no sanctuaries exist, regardless of the location or proximity to the locus of conflict. As we continue modernizing sustainment capabilities, the following areas will be critical to mitigating the effects of a contested logistics environment: decision dominance, autonomous distribution, demand reduction, advanced power, and maritime operations.

With these areas serving as a guidepost, the Army sustainment enterprise must transform to provide our combat forces the ability to prevail against a peer threat in the FOE. Continued and successful modernization efforts will ensure sustainment remains a pacing function, where that pacing function is fundamental to victory on the battlefield and the achievement of campaign objectives and national-level goals.

Decision Dominance

Sustainment requires the ability to collect and manage a massive amount of data through a resilient platform that is predictive, near real-time, and integrated into the mesh network to maintain the operational tempo required. No single human has the cognitive capacity to compete with decisions made at quantum speed or enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI). Seeing, directing, and sustaining distributed forces across domains requires modernizing our forces, capabilities, and processes to adapt to the changing environment. Through the use of AI and machine learning, we must aggregate the right data captured from sensors arrayed across the battlefield and synthesize that data into actionable intelligence. Doing so will afford commanders the ability to make informed, real-time decisions to meet current requirements while providing a depth of understanding over time to effectively shape future efforts. A comprehensive and common sustainment operating picture, incorporated into the operational picture, complements decision dominance and further enforces sustainment as a pacing function alongside maneuver. This sustainment operating picture should be tailored by echelon, where that picture would include different information, geography, and time horizons appropriate to the level of command at which the picture is being used.

Achieving decision dominance through modernized and data-centric capabilities will enable predictive logistics, where commanders can more clearly see and effectively meet warfighter requirements ahead of need. By extension, this will ensure the Army’s ability to achieve precision sustainment — sustainment that is not only just in time but just enough as well.

Autonomous Distribution

Autonomous distribution, inclusive of autonomous-capable modes and nodes, positively alters risk calculus, where commanders will likely take much greater risks with machines than they otherwise would with Soldiers’ lives. Future sustainment operations will benefit from autonomous capable systems that can navigate extended distances to increase endurance, directly addressing strategic to tactical distribution gaps and survivability challenges. Operating in this manner would also enable the reallocation of manpower to address higher-level tasks that require human reasoning and operational judgment. In all cases, autonomous distribution must provide reliable, responsive, and agile options arrayed across the battlefield to ensure survivability and operational reach. Key to leveraging this autonomy will be a resilient sustainment network that provides a reliable means to pass data and exercise mission command activities across a wider number of locations in support of a more distributed battlefield.

Demand Reduction

Lighter, leaner, and just as effective combat power is critical to the force’s ability to operate semi-independently with a level of prolonged endurance that adversaries cannot match nor sustain themselves. We should seek to achieve this lighter, leaner, and just as effective methodology by focusing on demand reduction at the platform level, which by extension provides reverberating and beneficial effects across the entire supply chain, from foxhole to factory and back. Advanced manufacturing throughout the supply chain, production at the point of need, and commonality across platforms are just a few key initiatives to reduce not only distribution requirements but the overall risk to the force as well. Initiatives such as the Common Tactical Truck will standardize the fleet while increasing interoperability across the joint force, flattening the supply chain, and streamlining effectiveness to keep pace with a more dynamic battlefield. Setting and achieving goals in this area will create a more effective, efficient, and survivable force, which is critically important within the context of a contested logistics environment.

Advanced Power

Advanced power solutions and platforms will enable maneuver forces to overmatch the adversary’s operational tempo. Power generation and power distribution are becoming more advanced and efficient, requiring less space, weight, and power to operate in austere areas. Autonomous distribution and AI will increase effectiveness at the point of need and provide opportunities for continued growth in energy production, distribution, and storage. Continued advancements in research and development, including bio-manufacturing and synthetic biology, could enable energy independence at the formation level beyond 2040. Minimizing communication requirements, advancing battery technology, and examining methods to recharge on the move all support the future of energy storage. Sustainment’s provision of advanced power systems will play an important role in providing the flexibility and continuity of operations our forces will require on a fast-paced, more dynamic, and lethal battlefield.

Maritime Operations

Army maritime lift capability must integrate with special forces and the maneuver force, increase protection measures at the platform level, and incorporate the Army’s maritime mobility capability into the overall scheme of maneuver at the theater level and below. Speed and range to ensure operational relevancy, capacity to deftly move fully intact unit forces, interoperability with joint and partner naval and land forces, and survivability to operate in non-permissive, contested environments are all essential. To enable this, we must ensure the presence of a robust joint communications system that possesses interoperable command, control, communication, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting capabilities so Army maritime vessels can contribute to and benefit from the joint force writ large. Ultimately, maritime operations must enhance joint operational maneuvers and sustainment through seamless integration. This will provide geographic combatant commanders with the options required to exploit windows of opportunity, where they would possess the freedom of action to move combat power and support combat operations as required.

There is strong historical precedence for this, with Army watercraft systems serving an integral role in every major American military conflict from World War II forward. A more recent example includes Operation Just Cause, where amphibious landings showcased the effective use of landing craft, mechanized vessels to transport personnel and equipment to the point of need. Considering the pacing threat, the future portends more of the same, where advancements in maritime operations appear vital to providing future combatant commanders the maritime distribution capability they will certainly require.


The Army must invest in all warfighting areas, including sustainment. Recognizing that large-scale combat within the context of a contested logistics environment places a premium on the ability to robustly sustain forces over extended time and distance, modernizing sustainment capabilities is non-negotiable. We should guide strategic resourcing decisions by focusing on five key areas: decision dominance, autonomous distribution, demand reduction, advanced power, and maritime operations. Investing in these areas will afford the Army the opportunity to address known gaps from the strategic to the tactical. At the same time, sustainment leaders must continue to remain agile, dynamic, and responsive to the changing FOE. In this way, it is not just about modernizing materiel platforms — it is about transforming the force through formation-based capabilities that benefit from updated doctrine, organizations, training, leader development and education, policy, and facilities.

The challenge is clear, and the call to action from our nation’s most senior leaders has been formally registered. The question is no longer about if we transform but about how we transform and where sustainment should and will play a central role.


Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly served as the commanding general of Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. He previously served as the commander of the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. He was commissioned as a lieutenant of Air Defense Artillery and was a Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Richmond, Virginia. He holds a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the National Defense University, Washington, D.C., and a Master of Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the Army Command and General Staff College, Kansas.

Col. Marchant Callis serves as the director of the Sustainment Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. He previously served as the Chief of Staff for the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. He holds a Master of Arts degree in management and leadership from Webster University, Missouri, and is a Harvard University Fellow.

Maj. Ryan J. Legault serves as a concept developer in the Sustainment Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. He previously served as the battalion executive officer for the 601st Aviation Support Battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas. He holds a master’s degree in logistics management from Florida Institute of Technology. He is a graduate from the Army Command and General Staff College, Kansas.


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


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