U.S. Military Increases Focus on Contested Logistics

By Becky Leggieri   •
Credit: Adobe Stock

In October 2022, Army Secretary Wormuth’s keynote address at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting emphasized logistics and sustainment support in the Indo-Pacific to strengthen deterrence in the theater. She also tasked the Army Material Command to connect the Army’s “logistics community with the commercial sector to look at our requirements and focus on the opportunities presented by autonomous distribution, energy efficient combat systems, and predictive analytics.” Last month, the Army Futures Commander, General Rainey, announced the formation of a Cross Functional Team for contested logistics to be co-located with Army Material Command in Huntsville, Alabama, providing a path for logistics to be seen in the same light as new combat capabilities with industry.

You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

In March, Commandant of the Marine Corps Berger signed the latest version of Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 4 Logistics (MCDP 4), providing the Corps with the first update in twenty-six years. The update followed the February publication of Installations and Logistics 2030. While the MCDP 4 acknowledges the role of technology and data, the Pacific Theater, which was the only theater the Marine Corps were assigned to in World War II, is only referred to in educational vignettes. The Installations and Logistics 2030 report is another enterprise-wide view stating, “This document serves as the primary reference for how we will logistically support the future force.”

The failure of Russian logistics in Ukraine was part of the motivation for American military planners to re-examine current doctrine and plans. Stranded tanks with no fuel, hungry soldiers, and lack of battlefield replacements for equipment and personnel exposed the lack of planning for a prolonged war as well as a lack of concern for members of Russia’s military. Observing Russian tactics, techniques, and procedures of multiple levels of command has given the United States military an opportunity to validate assumptions or reshape them.

Critically, the Russian war with Ukraine is only one catalyst for an increased emphasis on logistics for the Army and Marine Corps. Although policymakers tried in the past to increase focus on the region, the shift to the Indo-Pacific theater has more traction this time as the threat posed to the world order by China becomes more apparent. A dedicated deterrence initiative for the region, much like ones used for Europe, includes budget investments, increased exercises in the region as well as increased outreach to potential and existing partners to help set the theater for the future.

With vast seas and complex island chains, the factors of time and distance are exponentially more challenging in this geographical area of responsibility for planners in all domains. What worked in the past with large static logistical hubs and dominance on land and in air, will not be applicable going forward, hence the efforts to modernize doctrine, planning and partnerships as the groundwork for sustainment in this contested theater.

Chart I. Source: Army Fiscal Year Budget Overview 2024

Contested logistics was a topic of discussion in a March 2023 Senate Armed Services Committee Army posture hearing with General McConville, the Army Chief of Staff. When asked how the FY24 budget supported contested logistics, McConville pointed to the new cross functional team for contested logistics as a start and referenced the lessons learned in Ukraine. Then, he compared the robust capability to support logistics in the European theater to the work needed in the Indo-Pacific, and highlighted areas of funding for procurement of watercraft and prepositioned stocks.

According to Army budget materials, the FY24 funding for distributed logistics in a contested environment, specifically Indo- Pacific, totals $1.4 billion (See Chart I). The Army’s 2023 planned Indo-Pacific Command exercises, such as Pacific Pathways, will inform future logistics community decisions on effort and funding. An expected FY24 Q1 (Oct-Dec) Continuing Resolution could affect implementation of this initiative.

Gentlemen, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.

General George S. Patton, USA

While the Army has started their shift from permissive to contested logistics at the four-star level and planning the new cross- functional team to develop future capabilities, the Marine Corps’ revised logistics doctrine is intended for every Marine to read and use. The Installations and Logistics 2030 report states, “While logisticians are our subject matter experts, ultimately commanders are responsible for logistics.” The document provides a holistic view of logistics and sustainment, running the gamut from data management at all levels of command to medical care to inventory management. The report provides context, milestones with dates and responsible leaders, and considerations for present and future planning. A review of the distribution capability of installations not only for equipment and supplies but for training of forces and retention of personnel emphasizes the broad and inclusive effort of the report.

The 1997 MCDP4 observed, “we realize that technology is a tool to assist us; technology does not provide the understanding and judgment required to operate an effective logistics system.” Over the past twenty-six years, adoption of new technology may be the biggest influence on military operations as well as daily life. The new doctrine acknowledges the role of technology in modern warfare. “Unmanned platforms, additive manufacturing, three-dimensional printing, renewable energy, and predictive supply and maintenance have the potential to improve tactical distribution, modernize the supply chain, and increase equipment readiness.” Embedded sensors, predictive modeling, digital mapping, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are referenced as tools to plan, predict, secure, respond and improve the logistics system.

While the Marines have published and disseminated their plans to reset and improve logistics in the Indo-Pacific, funding requests to Congress may wait until information from the taskers is gathered, vetted, and presented for decisions. The Marine Corps’ FY24 budget Operations and Maintenance request increased the Field Logistics budget by $208.8 million to address information technology and tactical communication modernization efforts. Small funding increases to study contested logistics and improvements to fuel and water systems were also included.

As the Army and Marine Corps gear up for increased activities in the Indo-Pacific with exercises, training existing partners and reaching out to new ones, and gathering knowledge to inform strategy and plans, we expect the President’s FY25 Budget to include more investments in sustainment and logistics, specifically secure and modern technology to provide accurate and timely information to leaders throughout the military. A renewed emphasis on logistics will bring new investments, partnerships and the respect sustainment deserves.