The success of military logistics during the past decade of combat operations is partly to blame for anyone’s assumption that continued logistical success in the ever-changing national security environment is a given across the entirety of the military logistics enterprise. This dangerous assumption tends to exclude logistics from the conversation regarding the nation’s current and future warfighting needs.
As a result, the logistics enterprise is rarely debated outside the logistics profession with the same intensity as other more publicized warfighting needs, especially the need to regain our military technological advantage over major competitors. Failure to understand the implications of not modernizing logistics in a time of great technological change compromises success of the modernized force.
In addition to ensuring modernized logistics capabilities are appreciated as central to regaining our military advantage, logistics capabilities must be considered in the ongoing discussion of solutions to overcome the current readiness shortfalls of today’s military. Logistics is nearly absent from the recent testimonies by military leaders, members of congress, and industry. While all of the testimonies highlight the need to modernize the U.S. military in order to regain our technological advantage, few specifically highlight the need for modernized logistics capabilities.
“Logistics isn’t rocket science…it’s much harder!” Logistics is—those at home, deployed in operational settings, and permanently stationed abroad—given that it must operate around the world and across every domain of activity in spite of enemy efforts to frustrate its operations. Consequently, it is far more complex than even the most operationally global business enterprises.
Logistics planning and modernization define the distinctive characteristics or qualities of the military force and ultimately provide the military commander the freedom of action, endurance, and ability to extend operational reach that are necessary to achieve success.
Logistics operations are far more than “back office” functions and are truly what sustain the force and support its warfighting readiness. The criticality of logistics is not a newcomer, however; logistics has a significantly more complex nature today because of its integration across air, land, sea, space, and the information and cyber domains.
For the U.S. to be able to sustain effective combat operations in the modern era, it must “prioritize prepositioned forward stocks and munitions, strategic mobility assets, partner and allied support, as well as non-commercially dependent distributed logistics and maintenance to ensure logistics sustainment while under persistent multi-domain attack.”
As network and electronic warfare capabilities are introduced to the forward edge of the battlespace, individual capabilities represented by on-hand quantities of different technologies and trained personnel will truly define a unit’s ability to execute the mission-essential tasks demanded in the complex warfighting environment of a peer adversary.
The impact of logistics beyond readiness grows exponentially when taken in the context of the larger complexities of strategic logistics capabilities such as national and international rail, port, and sealift capacities. Reductions in the size and capability of the industrial base, limitations on our national sealift capacity, and aging of the infrastructure needed to move personnel, weapons systems, ammunition, and fuel all directly challenge the ability of the United States to project military power.
Requirements for recent conflicts pale in comparison to the requirement laid out for the future military force in the National Defense Strategy (NDS). The future fight will require significantly greater responsiveness and diversity in the face of a greater threat. The NDS requires a military that will “be able to strike diverse targets inside adversary air and missile defense networks to destroy mobile power-projection platforms.
This will include capabilities to enhance close combat lethality in complex terrain.” To achieve mobility and resilience, our military will be required to field “ground, air, sea, and space forces that can deploy, survive, operate, maneuver, and regenerate in all domains while under attack. Transitioning from large, centralized, unhardened infrastructure to smaller, dispersed, resilient, adaptive basing that includes active and passive defenses will also be prioritized.”
The force of tomorrow must be ready to defeat a peer competitor in a broad battlespace that requires security for each logistics movement, the ability to off-load across various widely distributed locations, with minimal infrastructure, and in a communications-degraded environment.
The ability to meet the NDS requirements requires a significantly more agile force. It must be able to dictate the time and tempo of its buildup and control the massive capabilities of the U.S. military. It must coordinate with allies and partners to place combined force capabilities against the adversary’s weakness and develop and sustain a broad array of overseas advanced bases that will change frequently and provide the responsiveness and effectiveness needed to prevail despite enemy efforts to prevent U.S. forces from getting to or operating within the theater of combat.
U.S. military has not had to “fight its way to the fight” since World War II. Equally absent since that time has been the need to apply combat power to preserve logistics capabilities.
Given the evolution of competitors’ abilities to threaten the logistical underpinnings of U.S. combat power, force logistics planning now requires innovation in both technology and operational concepts. In a time of constrained fiscal resources, this means doing differently with less. There is no option to fail, and there is no hope of unlimited resources. The combination of innovation and new technology is therefore critical to maintaining the competitive logistical advantage that U.S. forces have enjoyed since World War II.
The NDS focuses on investments needed to improve the ability of forces deployed abroad to maneuver against an enemy and ensure that the posture of those forces (how they are arrayed in theater) has resilience (the ability to sustain losses and remain effective). Not explicitly addressed in the NDS but fundamentally implied is the equally daunting challenge of winning the “home games” by having the critical military–industry partnerships and dedicated infrastructure that serve as the preparation and launching pads for our forces. technical support for contract maintenance, and the ability to replace warfighting platforms that are well beyond their service life, be it ships, aircraft, or major land-component systems (tanks, artillery, reconnaissance vehicles, personnel carriers, radars, ground vehicles, etc.).
When the instability of funding that results from continuing resolutions and an inability to pass budgets on time is added to these challenges, one can see that the problems confronting the industrial base are magnified at a time when they most need to be reduced so that our ability to supply the force is responsive and resilient.
Maybe counterintuitively, a constrained ability to build “new iron” (ships, aircraft, and major ground weapons systems) actually increases the logistics burden and budget because the cost of maintaining older systems necessarily increases.
The problem is made worse by the complexity of dealing with both old and new technologies in a single logistics enterprise. Add to these challenges the reduction of skilled manpower in the active and reserve forces, the increased difficulty of retaining seasoned military personnel, and a decreasing number of civilian and contractor artisans in the logistics workforce, and the need for modernizing the logistics force, from training to developing new concepts, becomes even more obvious.
Modernizing “home game” infrastructure must also include improved, state-of-the-art ranges and maintenance facilities, which are critical to supporting the readiness of new platforms that are being acquired in every service.
Such facilities must also be made resilient in the face of network security challenges, now a common feature of modern conflict. Integrating simulators and virtual reality capabilities into range design will also help to reduce the logistical impact of home-station training and generate much-needed efficiencies in major range training opportunities while also improving overall warfighting readiness.
The hybrid logistics attributes are a mixture of legacy and evolving technologies. They are delivered from the sea by means of modern connectors, platforms, processes, and concepts with the flexibility to enable multi-domain fires and maneuver. They are innovative in concept design and practice, with a command and control architecture that is guarded against cyber and electronic warfare threats, and data-driven through predictive analytics.
They also are applicable across the entire U.S. military from the strategic level to the tactical level. Ultimately, the effectiveness of any logistics capability is determined at the tactical level, but sustained success at the tactical level requires effectiveness further upstream at the operational and strategic levels.
Success at the operational level requires integration of logistics capabilities contributed by all entities involved in military affairs, to include service, coalition-partner, interagency, private/commercial, and host-nation capabilities. The operational integration of these various capabilities provides the linkage between the tactical and strategic levels.
Logistics survivability upgrades can achieve reduced targetability of the logistics force through development of manageable electronic signatures, a reduced logistics footprint, and improved distribution with reduced static inventory. Static inventory is distribution moving at zero miles per hour, and anything that is static on the modern battlefield has little chance of remaining survivable.
The ability to make the force more survivable requires both technological improvements that reduce the need for large footprints in bulk liquids and ammunition and refocused training and logistics concepts. Technologies such as additive manufacturing, improved man–machine interfaces, and advanced robotics will contribute significantly to improved survivability. Ultimately, change must ensure both speed and reliability of logistics systems that build trust from the tactical level to the strategic level. Improvements in munitions and energy systems will directly improve the speed and reliability of the force and, thus, its logistical survivability and effectiveness.
While not a new consideration in designing a force for tomorrow that remains relevant today, the development of integrated, agile, technologically advanced, and effective logistics systems that drive efficiencies into every corner of the military is increasingly essential in today’s dynamic, fast-paced, and ever-changing national security environment. The shift in our military focus to competing in an era of great-power competition demands an even greater understanding of logistics and highlights the breadth of the requirement to support the entirety of the force in innovative ways, from training in the United States to deploying far from home.
Whether the unit engaging the enemy is in the air, on land, at sea, or in space or cyberspace, it must embrace innovation in logistics that not only integrates new technology, but also innovates in the “hybrid” environment of old and new in order to retain our military’s true advantage as the world’s only force that can “prevail in conflict both today and well into the future.
- Military logistics involves the interaction of military and government entities with private, commercial, foreign, and multinational organizations worldwide.
- Unlike commercial companies with global distribution operations, the military faces conflicts that usually erupt with very little warning
- Conflicts immediately create enormous demands for support
- Unlike commercial firms that can prepare by the calendar, the military must operate without knowing when the date of each event occurs
- Military must have the ability to respond to a sudden change in the “latest hot item” within hours, if not minutes.
- Military forces must receive such support regardless of network condition
- Network disruption could limit or make intermittent access to networks
- Supporting logistics forces must meet the demand while an enemy is trying to destroy customers
- Must operate at home and away zones
- Must confront enemy intent to destroy the delivery fleet at every opportunity.