The Air Force is especially vulnerable to threats because of its reliance on prepared airfields. While the service can overcome some disadvantages with long-range bombers, a war in which missiles knock out American air bases and prevent the ability to launch and recover short-range fighter jets is unlikely to end well.
Agile Combat Employment ACE is an operational concept that leverages networks of well-established and austere air bases, multi-capable airmen, pre-positioned equipment, and airlift to rapidly deploy, disperse and maneuver combat capability throughout a theater.
Paired with aircraft fueling, arming and limited maintenance activities, ACE expands the number of bases from which air forces can generate combat sorties. Through cross-major command initiatives and coordination, ACE has evolved to produce multidisciplinary support personnel, expanded to recurrent use in exercises and served as a foundation to further interoperability.
Access to airfields must be expanded. The ability to “pick up” and move at a time, and to a place, of the combatant command’s choosing is markedly diminished. In turn, capability in theater risks becoming static and could make for easy targets.
Procurement of pre-positioned equipment must be accelerated. To reduce theater airlift requirements, it is imperative to pre-position equipment that airmen will need to support forward aircraft. This is particularly true in theaters that lack well-established multimodal networks.
But procurement timelines for these materials are often lengthy. For example, full fielding of deployable air base system kits is not expected until 2026. This will be protracted further for regionally based cluster pre-position kits, which have yet to receive funding as part of the Air Force’s latest budget request.
If troops cannot posture these kits in a timely manner, America’s air forces may risk moving to insufficiently outfitted locations — a result that would adversely impact ACE execution.
Planners should assess the role and capacity of airlift. Airlift will invariably incur a heavier burden to execute ACE. Needed to carry the crews and cargo supporting fighter aircraft from one location to the next, transport assets prove integral to this concept’s agility.
However, given the fleet’s high demand, it is smart to evaluate whether it could sustain ACE across a contested environment. This examination should account for current and future demands to fully identify air mobility limitations. The findings would serve to determine the right mix of airlift and whether requirements exist for an airframe not in the inventory.
Finally, the Air Force must broaden its training to create multi-capable airmen. Due to finite capacity to rapidly shift support personnel worldwide, the Air Force is training airmen to take on roles outside of their traditional jobs. This effort reduces the logistics tail required to project combat power.
So far, multi-capable training has been developed and executed by various major commands, and Air Force has begun crafting a program baseline. To build on this foundation and produce multirole airmen from the outset of their military career, incorporating the new training standard into applicable technical schools would aid in growing the requisite skills needed to compete in tomorrow’s fight.
Importance of Small-team Distributed Logistic Operations
In practice, commanders and their staff plan for activity ‘two-down’. For a combat brigade this means a focus upon coordinating the efforts of combat teams that are usually allocated to a battlegroup. A brigade can only generate so many combat teams based on its company or squadron level headquarters elements. Within the battlegroups, commanding officers group armoured troops, infantry platoons and other capabilities together.
A range of additional enablers are often attached to these combat teams at different times for a specific task and purpose. These groupings are not templated, but usually reflect teams established and practiced during training prior to battle. From this mix of combat teams the brigade commander establishes battlegroups, based around a battalion or regimental headquarters.
The services now concentrate much of its sustainment capability at the formation level with battalions and regiments possessing small integral echelons. Logistic capability is allocated to battlegroups to support tasks in a similar way as combat forces when they are assigned to combat teams and battlegroups.
There are two ways in which this allocation occurs as defined by duration, distance and threat. In the first, combat service support (CSS) capability is allocated for a set time or battle phasing. Alternatively, the brigade headquarters provides coordination and sets control measures which allow CSS capability bricks to independently navigate the battlefield to allow the sustainment of forward combat teams.
It is possible modularity could be taken further with logistic teams of platoon size the basis for CSS ‘capability bricks’ within a combat formation. This means that a CSS battalion commander like peers from combat units would need to generate small and capable platoon-sized ‘replenishment teams’ to include:
Proficient distribution teams, transports sections, and transport troops that can group and regroup to achieve the distribution effect across the battle space.
Technically qualified and proficient forward repair teams and forward repair groups to maintain and repair brigade equipment across the battle space.
Bulk fuel section, ammo sections, and warehouse platoons capable of defending, holding and preparing combat commodities for distribution.
Logistics command teams that can command and employ any capability brick allocated to it.
Replenishment teams could operate in direct support to combat teams. To achieve this level of dispersal in a formations logistics capability would be difficult for reasons of control, but technology could assist future logistic commanders. In the near future, enabled by a range of new platforms, replenishment teams should possess the ability to communicate, provide their own protection to some extent and have sufficient situational awareness to navigate a complex battle space, and most importantly, protection and weaponry stay alive.
As a CSS commander at any level, it is a sobering thought to realise you command a high value target and a physical vulnerability of the formation. This is especially the case if logistic capabilities are centralised and made static in large positions. There are ways to mitigate this risk, but it is likely dispersed, but mutually-supporting platoon-sized CSS capabilities, is the best way for sustainment to be assured without tempting an enemy with a large logistic target.
Moving in small packets, below detection thresholds if possible, and responding with overwhelming firepower if required should become the norm for logistic elements. In applying this concept, losing a replenishment team to enemy action will pose a significant problem for the combat team being sustained. However, considered in the context of a non-dispersed formation, such a loss would seem minor in comparison to losing either a company-level CSST or the Brigade Maintenance Area or Support Group.
How can the formation staff execute this concept and give the brigade its tempo? It won’t be an easy task. With a set number of Combat Teams and replenishment teams available to a brigade, coordination and control measures become central to their effective and efficient use. ‘Road space’ must be managed efficiently as CSS elements will routinely move forwards and rearwards as the battle moves back and forth.
Intermixed in this movement, combat teams will leap frog in tactical bounds; requiring replenishment at various intervals. Further rearwards bulk commodity movements and distributed, and continually moving, ‘Logistics Nodes’ will very quickly stretch the ability to sustain tempo. Managing this complex battlespace will require the best out of the formation staff.
Logistics Teams must ‘think smaller’ when considering the use of logistic capabilities. Future wars and operating environments, particularly in littoral or urban domains, will require logistic units to operate independently, and most likely in platoon-sized elements supporting combat teams in combat. Just as members of the combat arms need to develop new tactics, techniques and procedures to operate in a dispersed battlefield, so too will logistics teams.
Transferring what was once a regimental echelon sustainment task to formation level logistic units will require them to develop a different approach to generate capabilities that are suitably structured to interact directly with combat teams so to effectively sustain the brigade.
This requires more of logistics teams who must understand the building blocks of the brigade and the mechanics of how combat teams move, fight and execute tactical tasks. This will enable them to better visualise and plan sustainment requirements. Doctrine should guide them in developing such an understanding.
Undoubtedly seeing it, exercising it and simulating it will lead to better outcomes; logistics teams must practice the concept regularly in collective training. Furthermore, logistic commanders must trust junior logistics officers to command and fight logistics capabilities in the battle space. Logistics teams have been reluctant to do this in the past, and is a culture that must change.
Changing old approaches to logistics to focus upon small-team operations will better prepare logistics for the requirement to be responsive and agile. Coordinated effectively with the formations battle plan, small-team operations will better support the Brigades’ tempo and contribute to it winning the land fight.
Capacity of Logistics Enterprise
It may seem that it is easier to build up logistics forces, and support organisations, than it is to have combat forces at battle disposal. This is because it is generally easier to procure equipment for logistics purposes than it is for combat forces, there is assumed familiarity between logistics operations and industrial activities which suggests that any conversion between the two is relatively simple, and there is always the possibility that the commercial sector can be turned to overcome any deficiencies there may be in organic logistics capabilities.
.If military forces are to be responsive, fully trained and equipped, logistics forces must be available; processes ranging from strategic activity to tactical action must be coherent and well-practiced. A combat force without efficient and effective logistic support is ineffectual and, in the end, a waste of organisational effort.
At the root of logistics readiness is the bond between acquiring and maintaining military capability to have it available, and the establishment of a logistics process which enables or constrains its use operationally. The acquisition process, and military capability management typically executed by Service headquarters, limit the combat forces that can be created and made available.
However, it is logistics capabilities and practices that limit the forces that may be actually employed on military operations. The combat unit that is formed and given the latest technology, best armour and capable of overmatch against any possible adversary will be ineffective – undeployable in practice – without a logistics system capable of sustaining it.
Logistics readiness is particularly vital for those militaries that are expeditionary. Not only do robust logistics capabilities define the capacity of a military to project force, these same capabilities underwrite the ability of a military to respond quickly, affording them time to overcome the distance there may be to the operational area.
Militaries rarely assign logistics readiness issues as their highest priority to resolve. Instead they are typically consumed with ensuring that the elements at the forward edge of the operational area are as ready as practicable. But if compromises are made with regards to the preparedness of the logistics ‘system’ as a whole, or the logistics process is inefficient or ineffective due to poor practices and inadequate logistic discipline across the military, the readiness and preparedness of any unit destined for operations will itself be compromised.
Operational reporting consistently identifies forces as having culminated as a consequence of system-wide logistics failures that may have been otherwise prevented. Less well known are the times in which senior commanders have had to make choices on which forces they chose not to deploy based on the readiness of the logistics forces and the logistics process more generally. In strategic decision making, where logistics becomes the ‘arbiter of opportunity’, if not the arbiter of choice, and the true measure of whether a military is ready for combat.
- Is there ordnance that UAS could deliver in an overwatch role?
- Do UAS currently have the endurance to provide overwatch?
- Watch to detect the threats likely to confront logistics sites?
- Are there data links to deliver the sensor data to the logistics site?
- Do UAS currently have the endurance to provide support?
- How effective is long-duration coverage of the site in question?
- Are there UAS capable of flying the mission?
- Are there sensors that could find the cargo?
- Can the cargo platforms somehow be instrumented to aid in locating them?
- Can the UAS carry a radio adequate to transmit cargo location information to the recovery unit?