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An Army Revolution in Military Logistics?

In recent years, the Army has been continuously transforming logistics in support of Soldiers. This transformation has been driven by technological innovations, changes in the conduct of warfare, lessons learned, and the ever-expanding roles and functions of the military. But has this transformation been evolutionary, or has it been revolutionary, as advertised? Furthermore, is the Army’s Revolution in Military Logistics (RML) truly a revolution in military affairs (RMA)?

According to the last three Chiefs of Staff of the Army (CSAs), a revolution or transformation in military logistics is an integral and necessary part of an RMA, and the Army has been undergoing a self-proclaimed revolution of one form or another since 1999. MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray, in their book, Dynamics of Military Revolution, define an RMA as follows: “Revolutions in military affairs require the assembly of a complex mix of tactical, organizational, doctrinal, and technological innovations to implement a new conceptual approach to warfare or to a specialized sub-branch of warfare.” They also posit that there have been five RMAs in modern times: the early modern revolution, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, World War I, and the genesis of nuclear weapons.

The Department of Defense concurs with their definition of an RMA. According to the Secretary of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment, “A revolution in military affairs is a major change in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of new technologies which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine and operational and organizational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of military operations.” Has the progress or planned progress in the above-mentioned tenets combined been enough to say that the changes being made to logistics are revolutionary, or are they just evolutionary? Is the Army’s RML truly an RMA?

Goals of the Revolution in Military Logistics

To understand Army logistics transformation to date, it is first necessary to examine its stated goals. In 1996, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff published Joint Vision 2010, outlining his thoughts on how the U.S. military needed to prepare to meet challenges and adversaries in 2010. Joint Vision 2010 named key tenets required to achieve a level of full spectrum dominance over adversaries, and one of these tenets was focused logistics. The CSA published the corresponding Army Vision 2010 in 1997. This document defined focused logistics as “the fusion of information, logistics, and transportation technologies to provide rapid crisis response, to track and shift assets even while en route, and to deliver tailored logistics packages and sustainment directly at the strategic, operational, and tactical level of operations.” At that time, the Army listed eight concepts that it would pursue in the development of focused logistics: anticipatory logistics and personnel support, split-based operations, sustained tempo, enhanced throughput operations, velocity management, battlefield distribution system, total asset visibility, and objective supply capability.

In 1997, the Joint Staff Logistics Directorate (J–4) published “Focused Logistics, the Joint Logistics Roadmap to Joint Vision 2010” as an addendum to Joint Vision 2010. This was an action plan for identifying and integrating joint logistics issues and initiatives. A key to this plan was the designation of six tenets, or areas of focus, as the framework for the logistics required to support joint warfighting: joint theater logistics command and control, joint deployment and rapid distribution, information fusion, multinational logistics, joint health services support, and agile infrastructure. Although concepts such as technological innovation and leveraging key enablers to achieve information superiority were referred to as something desired, the lack of specifics meant that this document served as a general direction of effort rather than a series of steps to achieve the end state described.

In 1999, the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics (the Army G–4), the Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) Commander, and the Commander of the Army Materiel Command published an article in the January–February issue of Army Logistician that clearly laid out the way ahead for logistics transformation. For the first time, the Army’s three senior logisticians addressed the logistics community in a unified voice. The CSA and the Commander of the Defense Logistics Agency wrote complimentary articles in the same issue of the magazine.

These articles identified the Army’s focus areas for the next 10 years of transformation and designated them as the first wave of the RML. The Army’s logistics transformation would focus on exploiting improvements in automation, communications, and business practices; reshaping command and control relationships to provide better unity of command; and purchasing distribution technologies that facilitated rapid throughput and follow-on sustainment. The second wave of logistics transformation, from 2010 and beyond, would focus on maximizing emerging technologies that could be used to lighten support requirements, enable those requirements to be projected faster, and reduce the overall demand for logistics as a whole. The Army also named the tenets needed to frame its efforts to achieve focused logistics: a seamless logistics system, distribution-based logistics, total asset visibility, agile infrastructure, rapid force projection, and an adequate logistics footprint.

The Army did not completely mirror the concept of focused logistics as defined by the Joint Vision 2010 addendum’s six tenets. The Army neglected to include joint theater logistics command and control, multinational logistics, and joint health services support. This is significant as it reveals that the alignment of priorities at the Army and joint levels were not always synchronized.

Below is a chronological order of the Army’s published tenets or focus areas of RML and their links to joint doctrine.

Relating RML to DOTMLPF

The following is an analysis of the logistics-related changes made to doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) since the establishment of the RML in 1999. The question is whether these changes are revolutionary or evolutionary.

Doctrine. The changes to doctrine have been evolutionary in nature. The Army learned lessons from past operations and, as a result, adjusted the characteristics and functions of combat service support (CSS) doctrine. It recognized the requirement to operate as part of a coalition and addressed joint and multinational support in its doctrine. The Army also changed its field manual numbering system to mirror the joint doctrine numbering system. It realized that successful logistics support of an operation cannot be left in the hands of capable individuals unless they have the appropriate resources. Finally, the Army realized that logistics is broad in scope and simplified its doctrine at the tactical level accordingly. These changes all mark a natural and logical progression.

Organization. The very basis of the Army’s transformation causes a revolutionary shift in the logistics organization structures. The key to the transformation is the shift from a division-centric force, focused on the employment of 10 divisions, to a brigade-centric force, focused on the employment of 70 brigades, including 42 active component and 28 reserve component brigades. It has taken what used to be an organization formed only for deployment, the brigade combat team (BCT), and made it a permanent, fixed organization. However, it has done the polar opposite with logistics units, eliminating most fixed structures above the brigade support battalion (BSB) level, particularly at the division level. While joint force commanders can select from a fixed menu at the brigade level, they have to order logistics a la carte. This seems like a logical way to support forces with a more capable BSB, and it may seem evolutionary in nature. However, making the leap to multifunctional logistics down to the company level and relying on the ability of logistics organizations to form to meet a specific mission set and deploy in a relatively short period of time requires revolutionary thought and quite a bit of faith.

Training. Training has experienced four fundamental changes, and they are essentially evolutionary. First, company- and field-grade logistics officers are benefiting from four initiatives to increase their operational competence. The first is the creation of the Basic Officer Leadership Course. The second initiative is the decision to allow CSS officers to attend the 61-day Ranger School once again. The result of the first two initiatives is that more tactically proficient officers will now be leading soldiers into combat. The third officer initiative is the decision to send all majors in the Operations Career Field (predominantly working in deployable units) to the year-long Intermediate Level Education (ILE) course at the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In the past, only 50 percent of majors in the Army were allowed to attend the resident phase of this school. The fourth officer initiative is the creation of a multifunctional logistician functional area.

A second fundamental change in training is the change to the Army’s standards in weapons training. Now, CSS units are required to perform live fire training and are given the resources to do so as much as combat arms units. That change means that CSS units, already led by more tactically proficient leaders, are now entering combat with better training at the individual and collective levels.

A third fundamental change in training is the emphasis by CASCOM and the Army Training and Doctrine Command on producing tactics, techniques, and procedures to conduct convoy and base defense live fires. Finally, the Army is also building facilities at all three combined training centers for conducting convoy and base defense training events, which are vital to the execution of logistics.

To call this focus in training revolutionary would be wrong. It appears more like a reaction to the Army’s current operations. Perhaps the revolutionary aspect is that the Army is not only retaining but also expanding its institutional training as it continues to execute the Global War on Terrorism. However, note the absence of any significant training initiatives specific to noncommissioned officers or enlisted personnel.

Materiel. Two significant changes to materiel for the Army have affected the RML. The first is the change in the Army’s acquisition process, and the second is the Army’s expectations for unit readiness. Two outstanding programs that epitomize the acquisition process improvements are the Rapid Fielding Initiative and the Rapid Equipping Force. In October 2005, the Army also introduced what it calls the Army Force Generation model for manning, equipping, and training units. Rather than being tied to static units, now units are given priorities based on the likelihood that they will deploy. As impressive as these changes in materiel solutions are, they are merely evolutionary improvements, not revolutionary. They are simply enhancements to increase visibility, reduce response time, and ensure unit readiness.

Leadership and education. Part of the Army’s overarching RMA is a movement from a division-centric Army to a brigade-centric Army. While this, again, is not a new concept (regimental combat teams fought regularly in World War II), it does mean that brigade commanders now have more responsibility and thus require more assets. Now that the division support command (DISCOM) no longer exists, the BCT is the first organization in which a logistician works for a warfighter. Support battalions that used to report to a DISCOM commander now report to the supported brigade commander. The Army has given complete control of logistics to the supported brigade, focusing on customer satisfaction at the brigade level.

In contrast to this, the next level in which a logistician will typically work for a warfighter is at the Army Forces level (a one-star command or higher). With the focus on brigade-sized organizations and division- and corps-sized headquarters commanding them, sustainment brigades do not report to those warfighting commands. Instead, they report to the theater sustainment command (TSC) in theater. Although this may seem like a departure from the brigade-level focus, it actually gives the TSC commander the ability to flex assets across the battlefield to support the maneuver plan.

The only reason this represents a revolutionary change is that aligning all logistics organizations under a single logistician in a theater is the opposite of placing the BSB commander under the control of the BCT commander. The bottom line is that this supports centralized control (TSC and BCT commanders) and decentralized execution (sustainment brigades and forward support companies). What makes it revolutionary is that the Army could have picked any level at which to centralize command and control, and it selected the lowest and highest echelons.

Personnel. Although the concept predates the RML, because of the time necessary to realize the effects of the change, creation of the multifunctional logistician is perhaps the most revolutionary change in logistics. The multifunctional logistician (functional area 90) is competent in planning and directing logistics operations from the factory to the foxhole, across the entire spectrum of logistics functions. The multifunctional logistician must have experience in synchronizing and integrating the functions of supply and services, transportation, maintenance, aviation logistics, and medical service. In a time when the Army is rapidly fielding and equipping units with highly technical materiel solutions, it is demanding that its personnel become more generalists than specialists. One could argue that this is really being forced on the Army based on its current operating tempo. By creating a multibranch Logistics Corps, the Army is essentially stating that it has provided the resources and trusts that its quality personnel, provided with first-class training, can execute all of the logistics functions adequately. This is a significant change to branch parochialism.

Facilities. There has been only one significant change to facilities that affects logistics transformation. This change, like others mentioned, is inexorably linked to other DOTMLPF domains, like training and personnel. As a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s report, the Ordnance Center and School at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and the Transportation Center and School at Fort Eustis, Virginia, will relocate to Fort Lee, Virginia. There, they will merge with CASCOM, the Quartermaster Center and School, and the Army Logistics Management College to form the Army’s Sustainment Center of Excellence. This will, for the most part, consolidate logistics training and doctrine development at one installation. While this change is linked to a revolutionary process, the need to consolidate installations is really an evolutionary response to the new Logistics Corps, coupled with the consolidation of officer training, and is based on the need to reduce redundance in combat developments and training.

By applying the DOTMLPF domains to specific changes the Army has made since 1999 to its logistics construct, three were determined to have made revolutionary changes and four were not. With all of the aspects weighted equally, the answer is simply no: the Army has not revolutionized logistics to date.

Analyzing Logistics Changes Based on RMA

After qualitative analysis of the RML in relation to each of the seven DOTMLPF domains, it is logical to look at the overall changes to Army logistics and analyze them according to the innovations required for an RMA. The four innovations—tactical, doctrinal, organizational, and technological—required for an RMA will be discussed to determine if they reach a different conclusion than the DOTMLPF analysis.

First, tactical innovations are conspicuously absent during the RML’s time period. Tactical logistics is performed in essentially the same manner now as in 1999. Combat forces are supported by an echelon of logistics that requires stocks of supplies and distribution assets. That echelon of logistics is supported by another echelon that accomplishes the same mission on a broader scale. Although the Army is attempting to streamline this process through materiel solutions (technological innovations) and organizational changes, the process remains the same.

Doctrinal innovations, albeit not revolutionary in nature, have occurred. The Army has learned from its past lessons and made appropriate adjustments to its doctrine. However, the doctrine, which is broad in nature, has not generally changed the way logistics is conducted in support of operations. Any revolutionary change will likely come from organizational and technical innovations.

Organizational innovations have occurred and have already been deemed revolutionary. First, the Army now has only three echelons of logistics, whereas previously it had at least five. Second, the organization supporting the BCT has become more capable. Third, the decision to create organizations capable of task organizing to meet a specific mission and placing them under the control of a single commander gives logisticians greater flexibility than ever before.

Finally, technological innovations seem to be one of the areas in which the Army will make great strides in achieving its RML. In addition to systems such as the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3), the Army is developing systems that will improve distribution on a three-dimensional battlefield: Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) and joint heavy-lift aircraft, which will allow more efficient distribution of fuel and water; the theater support vessel, which will enable quicker deployment of forces; and the armored security vehicle, which will permit logistics units to protect themselves.

Although innovations have occurred with varying degrees of success, there has been no fundamental change to the way logistics is conducted. However, that being said, the Army has accomplished an enormous amount since 1999 in improving its logistics capabilities.

The Army’s Report Card

How do logistics changes made thus far stack up against the tenets of the RML? In 2004, the Army stated that it had four areas that it would focus on for the next 2 years: a logistics data network, a responsive distribution system, a robust modular force reception capability, and an integrated supply chain.

Logistics data network. The Army’s intent was for logisticians to be an integral part of a joint, satellite-based communications network that is capable of providing full-time connectivity from the battlefield to the industrial base. Implementation of BCS3, which will be fielded to all active duty units by the end of fiscal year 2007, will make great strides towards achieving this tenet if it provides everything it promises. However, two key hurdles need to be overcome for this tenet to be realized. First, BCS3 needs to provide not only in-transit visibility but also total asset visibility. Second, BCS3 needs to be able to provide the appropriate level of asset visibility continuously to everyone in the logistics chain, from the operator of a truck to the TSC commander. Without that capability, it will be impossible to achieve a responsive distribution system.

Responsive distribution system. The Army’s intent was to develop a distribution-based logistics system, reaching from the source of support to the Soldier, focused on guaranteeing on-time delivery. The Army has taken steps required to achieve this tenet by providing resources for its organizations. Distribution exists at the brigade level, and sustainment brigades can task organize distribution assets to meet requirements. Distribution must now focus on two things: seamless integration with the capabilities of the other services and the use of technological innovations to mitigate the risk associated with time and distance on the battlefield. BCS3 must provide in-transit and total asset visibility in real time. This will allow commanders to adjust resupply operations while en route, determine supply and maintenance requirements and act appropriately before the critical time, and make the current distribution system truly responsive.

Robust modular force reception capability. The Army’s intent was to design an integrated theater- opening capability that responds on extremely short notice and executes crucial sustainment tasks immediately upon arrival in theater. Two specific changes in the Army’s organizational structure have been made to achieve this capability. The first is the creation of the expeditionary sustainment command, which can deploy rapidly and provide command and control of a theater logistics network indefinitely or until relieved by a TSC. The second is the identification of a sustainment brigade (theater opening). Although, as mentioned previously, sustainment brigades are not fixed organizations, the Army has identified the resources required for a theater-opening capability and embedded them into emerging doctrine as a template for an organization to meet this requirement.

Integrated supply chain. The Army’s intent was to develop an end-to-end view of the supply chain and integrate service and agency processes, information, and responsibilities by providing joint logistics data freely and automatically among the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Progress in this tenet still suffers from parochialism in the military. End-to-end distribution requires the collective efforts of all services; however, the services still have issues regarding to interoperability, culture, and communications. The development of joint systems such as BCS3, JPADS, and joint heavy-lift aircraft is helping to mitigate this problem. Another innovation that may help realize this issue is the development of a Joint Logistics Corps.

The Army is not in the midst of a revolution in military logistics. Although the Army has revolutionized specific processes, logistics transformation generally has been characterized by one of three terms: logistics evolution, logistics reaction, or logistics adaptation. Logistics evolution is a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form by recognizing shortfalls and evolving to overcome them. Logistics reaction is a change in response to immediate and significant requirements, such as the Global War on Terrorism. Finally, logistics adaptation is recognizing better procedures that are being used by sister services or commercial businesses and applying them to Army systems.

Since the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, the services have been actively pursuing better cooperation with each other. Successful operations in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans are testaments to the effort. In achieving that goal, perhaps logistics can be truly revolutionized, which may ultimately lead to a revolution in multinational logistics.

Dr. David A. Anderson retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is currently an associate professor in the Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations at the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Major Dale L. Farrand is the executive officer of the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, currently serving in Baghdad, Iraq. This article is based on his thesis for his Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) master’s degree in military arts and science, for which Dr. Anderson served as Chairman. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, and the Army CGSC.