Commentary

The Objective Force and Logistics Force Protection

by Colonel Steven A. Bourgeois

    The Army recently conducted a futuristic event in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, called the Army Transformation War Game. The war game gave the Army an opportunity to put into play the force it envisions having on the battlefield in the 2015 to 2020 timeframe. Two futuristic battlespaces were simulated during the war game—one in Asia and one in the Pacific. Units in both battlespaces had Objective Force capabilities.

    The timeframe selected for the war game may seem a long way off, but it will be here before we know it. The captains who are commanding our companies today will be colonels commanding the Objective Force brigades that will face tomorrow's enemy in a new type of battlespace. If you think force protection has been challenging in the past, just wait. To steal a phrase from a popular song, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

    When drawing up plans for force protection, three areas must be considered: the enemy or threat, the battlespace, and the way we must operate to succeed.

We must never forget 

that we are soldiers first and logisticians second. 

We must be as skilled at firing an M16 rifle or 

an M249 squad automatic weapon as we are 

at changing engines.

The Enemy

    The enemy we will face in the future will be very different from the enemy we have trained to defeat over the last 40 years. Gone are the days of the Warsaw Pact heavy-armor force. Gone is the old Soviet heavy-armor force doctrine that the Iraqi Army used in the Persian Gulf War.

    By now, our enemies have picked up on our use of after-action reviews as a learning tool. Tomorrow's enemy will have studied, learned, and honed his techniques and procedures. He will have one goal in mind: to negate our size and technological superiority in order to defeat us.

    The new enemy will be technologically suave. He will make optimal use of readily available technology. Cellular phones and the Internet will give him robust and adaptive communication capabilities. For example, in the movie "Black Hawk Down," civilians who were stationed near airfield runways simply called in their reports of coalition activity to the enemy on their cell phones.

    The 21st century enemy will attempt to limit our use of ports and airfields. Operation Desert Storm sent a loud and clear message to our enemies: "Don't let the Americans get a foothold that will allow them to build up the logistics capability to unleash their combat power." Therefore, ports and airfields will be potential targets that will be under constant observation.

    By using simple, commercially available technology, our enemy could develop a capable intelligence-gathering system. Anyone can obtain night-vision devices commercially at stores like Radio Shack or Sharper Image. An inexpensive remote camera suspended from a helium balloon could feed real-time video to our enemies.

    Our future enemy will attack to destroy our support capability. He will attack our logistics tail across the spectrum, including our homeland. He will have a more lethal array of weapons than anything we have seen in the past, ranging from car bombs to mortars and rockets. Huge stockpiles and warehouses full of supplies will become "metal magnets" for enemy gunners. As the current Middle East situation demonstrates, it does not take a sophisticated weapon to inflict significant damage. Suicide bombers are the epitome of simplicity.

 
Soldiers experiment with an end user terminal, a new technology that will enable brigade and below troops in the field to communicate and make decisions faster and more accurately.

    We should be able to assume that we can resupply with relative ease and security from an intermediate supply or staging base (ISB) established outside the area of responsibility. Unfortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth. Our enemy's area of operations knows no bounds. Against a lethal, technologically enhanced enemy, we can no longer assume the security of an ISB. Instead, we should expect our enemy to attack our ISB directly. We also should expect him to attack the host nations and to put political pressure on them to deny access to the U.S. military.

    Our enemy's intent is to put our logistics forces continuously in harm's way, which will divert critical combat forces from their primary mission and cause high casualty counts in the rear area. This tactic has been used successfully against the Russian Army in Chechnya.

The Battlespace

    Tomorrow's battlespace will present logisticians with challenges very different from those we face today. Because of the size of the area of operations and the innovation and dedication of our future enemies, protecting our logistics capability will be significantly more difficult.

    Most of us have grown up learning how to fight the "Fulda Gap" scenario involving fast-moving, heavily armored forces. Most of today's force structure was designed for that type of battlefield. Such a structure was triumphant in Operation Desert Storm.

    We have been trained to think in a linear fashion. This lulls us into thinking that our lines of communication are relatively secure behind the forward line of the battle area. Rear area security is viewed as a military police or tactical combat force mission, because the major threat in the rear area typically is from small, irregular units and lone combat systems that may have leaked through the main fight.

    However, the battlefields of tomorrow will be significantly different. The battlespaces represented by Operations Urgent Fury in Grenada, Just Cause in Panama, and Joint Endeavor in Bosnia, as well as the current war in Afghanistan, point us in a new direction as we design the Army's Objective Force. Of the conflicts in which the U.S. military has been involved over the last 20 years, Desert Storm stands out as the anomaly.

What We Must Do to Succeed

    U.S. forces will maneuver rapidly over distances that are unimaginable by today's standards. Units will be separated geographically but linked virtually. An area of operations will have no well-defined rear area. The emerging term "gray area," which means that no one really controls the area, is gaining popularity. We no longer can count on secured and patrolled lines of communication or assume that our base defense clusters are secure areas. Tomorrow's force must have the lethality of today's heavy force, the deployability of today's light force, and the agility of today's special force.

    An important lesson learned during the Army Transformation War Game is that force protection will be important to successful sustainment operations. A lot of innovative work is being done on maneuver support and the role of military police in the Objective Force. Many out-of-the-box organizational designs and innovative materiel solutions also show promise in providing the tools needed to improve force protection capabilities. However, we logisticians can begin now to implement some of our own improvements.

    Other force protection "take-aways" from the war game include—

    · Logistics operations are combat operations. Convoys, recovery operations, and ammunition transfer points must be viewed not only as logistics operations but also as combat operations because they are lucrative targets for the enemy. Logisticians must plan, coordinate, and, if necessary, conduct combat actions to protect our assets on the battlefield, starting with techniques such as four-vehicle convoys, assistant drivers in every vehicle, vehicles equipped with crew-served weapons, and positive command and control.

    · We must create a combat culture in the logistics branches. Sustainment operations are not just logistics operations; they are combat multipliers as well. We must create in the logistics community a combat ethos that views all logistics operations as contributing to the combat mission.

    · We must never forget that we are soldiers first and logisticians second. We must be as skilled at firing an M16 rifle or an M249 squad automatic weapon as we are at changing engines. Rules of engagement must be part of our everyday training and ingrained in all of our soldiers, not just training conducted annually to beef up quarterly training brief statistics. These rules must become part of our culture; logisticians must know when and how to engage targets to protect not only themselves but also other soldiers in their units.

    · There is safety in movement. Future combat systems will not be designed simply to "slug it out" with the enemy. Rather, our forces will use speed and agility, coupled with information dominance, to strike the enemy on our terms at times and places of our choosing. This principle holds true for logistics units as well. Forward support battalions "jump" to make it more difficult for the enemy to get a good fix on their locations. Refueling on the move and ammunition transfer point operations are designed to happen quickly and efficiently and not allow the enemy to "draw a bead" on us. We need to broaden these types of concepts and find better ways to provide support on the move.

    · Stockpiles are lucrative targets for the enemy. The Army must continue its ongoing move away from a
supply-based logistics system to one that is distribution based. We must become expert at managing the supply pipeline and avoid providing the enemy with high-payoff targets.

    · Distribution methods must not become predictable. We shouldn't make it easy for the enemy to find us. To quote from our transportation brethren, we must be "multinodal and multimodal." That means that we must learn to use diverse methods, both air and ground, to resupply our forces. We can no longer build our resupply operations around LOGPACs [logistics packages] that arrive at a set time at a set location. We must resupply on an irregular basis and never fall into a discernible pattern. We must integrate "pulse" sustainment into the maneuver battle rhythm. Conducting sustainment the same old way, along the same routes, will make the enemy's work a lot easier.

    Our future enemy and the battlespaces to which we will deploy undoubtedly will present us with dynamic challenges that are difficult to comprehend in today's terms. New, innovative technologies and organizational designs will help us to meet those challenges. Protecting our forces will become even more important as we are called to meet the new enemy on the future battlefield. The insights gained during the Army Transformation War Game demonstrate immutable truths; they are evolutionary, not revolutionary. We must begin today to set the condition for success on tomorrow's battlefield.

    Colonel Steven A. Bourgeois is the Director of Combat Developments for Ordnance at the Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of New Hampshire and master's degrees from Babson College and the Naval War College. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.