Weapons, weight and sustainment in the multi-domain battle are required to support operational combat power in multi-domain battle. This is a well-known, historically proven, trend. However, there are measures which can be taken to reduce this effect, or eliminate it in some areas.
It is possible to create a lean ‘tail’ capable of adaptively responding to operational needs in spite of logistic demand. However, without comprehensive planning, there is every likelihood that inefficient operations can result in a ‘tail’ that monsters to a force-compromising ‘iron-mountain’, or a ‘tail’ so austere that it invites an inconvenient force culmination in battle.
Logistics is rarely just a Logistics Team problem. Very few logistics teams, in low tempo, will ever be responsible for the strategic procurement decisions upon which logistics demand is based. However, they must be consistent advocates for demand reduction and management.
This is not as simple a task as it first sounds, because many proposed solutions have a habit of challenging the assumptions made by force designers; designers who have a tendency to assume logistics abundance in an operational setting, or, alternatively, fail to fully consider logistic demand as a planning factor at all.
Platform efficiency strategy is one logistics teams have the least ability to influence outside of describing logistics costs to key decision makers in the acquisition process. Platform efficiency is the application of technology to minimise the amount of logistics support required to deliver and sustain a capability.
Technology will be transformative, but it is a long-term solution typically reflected in multi-decade procurement processes. But some land forces have only just recently introduced new combat capabilities. This means the opportunity to influence platform efficiency will be very limited for some time yet.
Another strategy for reducing logistics demand – force efficiency – is an option that can be implemented now. Force efficiency refers to initiatives which require fewer force elements to achieve a desired effect. In developing Army Stryker-capability, for example, the organic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance available to brigade combat teams, coupled with precision fires, complemented and enhanced the capability of the medium-weight properties of the platform.
In this case, you might say force efficiency didn’t deliver operational effectiveness – at least in terms of the operations that the Stryker would subsequently find itself in. But we must be reminded that the combination of modern armed, and increasingly cheap, UAV’s supported by surveillance capabilities and guided weapons offer forces firepower with little permanent presence on the ground and logistics cost as a consequence.
In terms of logistics-specific activities there are other force efficiency opportunities that can be undertaken. Adopting common components, ammunition and other items, and standardisation across coalition boundaries greatly simplifies supply between likely partners. Collectively, and in an operational environment, there may be possibilities to share capabilities and prevent the unnecessary duplication of effort.
Elsewhere, the modularisation of vehicle components, supported by information systems that better predict maintenance requirements, has been touted as offering opportunities to improve force efficiency. Implemented effectively, this approach limits the need to forward position maintenance personnel with most deep repair occurring rearward but you might see a maintenance problem as one of distribution. Self-offloading distribution vehicles, or more effective ways to store and package supplies, also exemplify a force efficiency strategy.
Force efficiency can also be improved through conceptual and doctrinal means. At the macro level, land forces – as part of joint forces – can achieve greater efficiencies by removing duplicate functions, or if demand can’t be reduced, sharing functions to create greater opportunities. This approach is a cornerstone of the multi-domain battle concept, a natural evolution of joint operations.
Doctrinal approaches to logistics that move away from constructs of logistic elements are devolved and owned at the lowest level, to those where modularised logistic capabilities are surged to support particular missions and tasks for limited time periods, also offers the prospect of improving force efficiency.
Rethinking assumptions about who ‘owns’ what in the battlespace, and the logistics control methods such as ‘lines’ or ‘levels’ of logistics support must be part of future logistics transformation efforts, as well as land forces which tolerates the inevitable periods where limited logistic support must be directed away from one unit to another to support combat operations.
Closely aligned to force efficiency is personnel efficiency. An example of personnel efficiency, where less personnel are required to do a particular job is given example by logistics and combat force personnel ‘mixing’ tasks such as armoured fighting vehicle operations and maintenance. Noting the training burden and competency risk it imposes, some small military units extensively cross-train limited logistic personnel.
There is no reason the skills possessed by personnel from logistics or combat arms cannot be similarly transferred between one another in such a way. Technology can also support personnel efficiency. Examples include modernising ‘logistics information systems’ and ‘common operating pictures’, both of which promise to improve supply chain performance to enhancing the capacity of logistics teams to respond to emergent tactical requirements.
The last strategy presented here is mission focus. For many militaries who have transitioned their forces to enable a consistent, rotatable amongst available combat elements, readiness cycle the term mission focus is not always apparent. Mission focus refers to the specialisation of formations for particular tasks thus avoiding the costly logistics capabilities that might enable the formation to be prepared for all tasks, or those tasks which might be perceived as unlikely. But there are inventive ways in which land forces can be structured appropriately to achieve mission focus without abandoning preparedness-based force design methodologies.
Temporary allocations of modularised logistics capabilities based upon emerging operational requirements is probably the best-known method and should be rigorously applied in future attempts to transform land forces. Even so, land forces should always be prepared to abandon force design models which are based upon an assumption of being able to ‘do it all’ when the need arises, and prepare logistics capabilities accordingly.
Logistics is an end-to-end process, and although land forces may seek to reduce logistics demand through a variety of comprehensive strategies, their work can be undone by a failure to properly integrate their planning with other activities and change programs elsewhere
Plans must be built for logistics teams to more efficiently support combat capability and a structure must be formed, for it will be their lot in the operational environment to advise, if not resolve, numerous challenges which come from increased combat power.
It’s a problem if substantial improvements in combat capability now being seen in land forces are curtailed by the supply shortages, maintenance limitations and distribution constraints that are so very routine in war
Commanders will always exploit success as far as their logistic capability will allow, so much so that they may willingly bring severe logistics risk on their force to win. To prepare land forces for such occurrences, logistics teams must be professionally active and understand tactics and concepts implicitly to shift weight and through adapting their own practices ensure the force remains steady for its ultimate test.
Establishing Communication between Logistics Teams and Commanders
An effective and robust dialogue is just what logistics teams need to achieve with their commander.
Why the need? Logistics Teams must understand the motivations of their commanders, and in return, their perspective must be reflected in their commander’s understanding of the operations.
This applies in low tempo where materiel and personnel must be ready and prepared for operations. However, it should go without saying that the dialogue is even more fundamental during high tempo operations. Without an effective dialogue between commander and logistics teams, operations and logistics planning requirements risk becoming unbalanced, with logistics and combat elements potentially ‘unhinging’ each others operations at a time they should be working effectively together.
Before any operational dialogue can occur, we should consider what the commander and logistics teams should seek to understand. The commander likely wants to know several things: Is this plan doable or not? They have a plan and they just need a yes or no as to its feasibility. They don’t necessarily need to be provided with tons of calculations although the most will want some sort of evidence to your conclusion, especially if your answer is no.
When is the battle going to end? And restart? In an ideal world, formations would be able to operate forever over unlimited distances, with logistics quietly sustaining the force. Commanders get this is not realistic, if for no other reason than they get that their people need to sleep at some point. They want to understand when or where they need to pause, and at what point they can resume their preferred activity.
How much is this going to cost me? Be it time, money or tactical opportunities logistics will cost a commander and his plan. What is it, can he afford it and what is he giving up to be sustained?
Logistics teams are seeking answers to key questions: What are you thinking of doing? As logistics teams, there is a lot of difference between the ‘fight tonight’ and the ‘fight tomorrow’. It is too late for the ‘fight tonight’ to be influenced by a logistics team, the right stuff must already be in the right place, right now, because there is little opportunity to change plans. The ‘fight tomorrow’ is key business for the logistician.
What opportunities are there to reset the battle? As much as sustaining in background is desirable, fleeting opportunities in the lull of the fight must be taken to enable the force to recuperate itself. Identifying, along with operational planners, when these opportunities might be taken by consulting the commander will be vital to enabling the force to reset and recuperate.
With an increased operations tempo and cuts to budgets and force size, military contractors have shifted from supplemental to operational necessity. Contract support in both garrison and contingency environments is now not only common, but also expected by commanders.
With this excess, however, has come increasing dependence on contract support as well as a decrease in utilization of organic military logistics both on and off the battlefield. The result is a growing military logistics experience gap, presenting readiness challenges for future battlefields on which contract support may not be a viable option.
At some point, the money that enables contractor support will vanish or the military will be asked to fight in locations where contractors cannot follow. Proper balance between contract support and organic logistics forces is imperative to ensure ability to meet the future demands of a multi-domain battlespace.
While contractors do not participate directly in executing or planning military operations, they do fulfil needs essential to combat operations, and those needs seem to have grown over time. In particular, during periods of increased restrictions on the presence of military forces, reduced force numbers, and increased operations tempo, the Army turns to use contractors. With manpower limitations and increases in combat demands, Army leaders use contractors to provide logistics support to allow the military to focus on their kinetic missions.
Many operational commanders would much rather fill their ranks with combat forces instead of force sustainers. With contractor utilization becoming more commonplace on the battlefield, commanders began expecting similar support at home during exercises. During large-scale military exercises, it is typically less labour intensive for the military to outsource things like chow halls and transportation of equipment.
It saves headaches and late nights for the planners and sustainers, making it an easy choice for them to support. Unfortunately, these challenges are precisely the point of exercise training. This is the time for sustainers to practise their skills so they become capable and confident in their ability to accomplish their mission.
While contractors are an essential component to sustaining the Army, the US military desperately needs to set a new organic-to-outsourced logistics balance if it wants to ensure readiness for future conflict. Future conflicts will be not only be more complicated, but more complex, with land forces fighting in dispersed locations to create effects in multiple domains, while defending against multi-domain attacks. This environment requires a more agile and dynamic organic-to-outsourced logistics balance.
The question is how to determine the right mix of forces and contracted support to complete a mission in the most effective and efficient manner. Often, contracted logistics support may be the easiest choice. However, it is not a perfect fit for every mission and it does not provide the right solution for all skill and manpower shortages it is employed against.
Like all things, when the military uses contract support in military operations, leaders need to evaluate the risks and benefits of each decision. Using a contractor does not ensure the desired performance in the same manner as using an organic Army asset. A key consideration in finding balance is recognizing that the Army and the contractor have inherently different interests. Army leaders must not forget its current and future core interests, balancing today’s logistics demands against maintaining a force capable of sustaining itself on austere future battlefields.
In addition, having the ability to use contract logistics support does not release sustainers from being able to perform their mission-essential tasks. For the Army, the three sustainment warfighting functions are: logistics, personnel services, and service support. All other warfighting functions (mission command, intelligence, movement and manoeuvre, fires, protection, and engagement) depend on their successful accomplishment in whatever threat context the Army is engaged in.
Logistics Teams must find a balance between organic and contract-provided support that does not compromise the Army’s future logistics capabilities. Forces must revitalize the ability to support and sustain future operations while balancing the fiscal responsibilities of using contractors with the readiness benefits of maintaining organic logistics capabilities.
In part, this means decision makers must roll back the mission and guidance creep and opt for increased utilization of organic logistics functions. Above all, logistics teams must emphasize the importance of re-developing the processes, procedures, techniques, and training at the tactical level. Organic sustainment must be challenged and empowered to experiment, advance, and refine their skills during exercises just as their battlefield counterparts do.
One of the primary reasons cited for Army increasing use of contract support is “the need to compensate for a decrease in the size of the force and a lack of expertise within the military services.” In order for the Army to decrease spending on operational contracts and continue its global coverage, the military would need to increase instead of drawing down and fill the knowledge gaps they have created.
There is no argument that Army requires contract support to enhance its capabilities, especially when actively engaging in numerous roles throughout the globe. However, creep in both contractor mission and guidance on their utilization is eroding the Army’s logistical core competencies and degrading requisite skills and knowledge. Having the ability to use contract support to ease logistics operations does not release logistics teams from being able to perform their mission-essential tasks.
In future expeditionary operations, especially due to multi-domain considerations, it is unlikely the Army will be able to rely as heavily, if at all, on the abilities of contractors. Logistics teams must have confidence in their ability to execute sustainment missions without contracted support.
Sustainment does not just appear on the battlefield, or even in the area of operation. Without exercising the action of sustainment with organic logistics elements, the capability will continue to erode until the US military is unable to support itself in the future fight. The contractor logistics easy button may not be available on future battlefields; so it is time the Army prepared for the hard work of sustaining the fight in that emerging context.
- Equipping logistic convoys with small reconnaissance UAVs
- Reduce manpower requirements?
- Remove personnel from dangerous jobs or circumstances?
- Improve force protection?
- Reduce materiel requirements associated with the operation or task?
- Accelerate the tempo of operations in useful ways?
- Simplify processes?
- Reduce the likelihood of attack?
- Reduce the costs incurred from a successful attack?
- Are there sensors that could detect the threats logistics convoys seem likely to confront?