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Configured Loads: A New Look
at an Old Concept

Units around the Army have used configured loads for years. Standard packages for barrier materials can be found in the tactical standing operating procedures in just about every division and brigade across the Army. What has not been done until now is to create tailored packages for all applicable classes of supply and making them accessible to all units through the standard supply system.

Institutionalizing a configured-load concept across the Army is vital to achieving a more reactive, rapidly deployable, and sustainable force. With standardized configured loads, units will need to carry less in their basic loads. They will be able to depart from their home stations while logistics planners program numerous days of supply through alternate, even multiple, ports of debarkation. The most important aspect of this initial push is that continental United States (CONUS) depots can build sustainment loads for the smallest unit in the battle space. With little or no need to reconfigure supplies when they reach the theater of operations, the Army can reduce the number of soldiers needed to perform supply activities. The bare essentials required to provide supplies using configured loads would be equipment for intermodal transfer and adequate transportation assets to conduct battlefield distribution.

Concept Development

Imagine a unit ordering 3 days of supply for all of its basic needs through its Standard Army Management Information Systems computers using at most 20, as opposed to 60 to 80, national stock numbers. Furthermore, imagine these supplies being delivered to the unit’s location from a CONUS depot with little or no reconfiguration required. A team made up of members from the Department of the Army G–4, the Logistics Transformation Agency, the Army Forces Command, the Army Combined Arms Support Command, the Army Materiel Command, I Corps, and the Army Training and Doctrine Command has been working on this concept for the past 3 years. The team’s objective is to make the “factory to foxhole” concept a reality. Configured loads can be used by all Army units and eventually may be used by all of the services.

A unit may receive slightly more supplies in a module than it needs. Compromises may have to be made to increase efficiency. Items within the supply system have a set unit of issue, such as each, box, case, pallet, or roll. It may be necessary at times to break into a unit of issue to make a module that will satisfy the requirement of the requesting unit. Cost effectiveness will influence this decision. As planners gain experience and have more demand history, they can make better-educated decisions about how to refine the loads.

Module Size

The basic building block for any configured load is a module. The two primary types of modules are commodity and capability. A commodity module contains items from the same supply class and can be used in multiples or mixed with other commodity modules to build a mission- or unit-configured load. A capability module may contain items from different supply classes designed to support a specific mission or function and can be used in multiples or mixed with other modules to build a mission- or unit-configured load.

The team found that constructing configured loads would be much easier using standard dimensions. They decided to use a common 40-by-48-inch warehouse pallet as the building block. Because four warehouse pallets fit onto a 463L air pallet and two 463L pallets fit onto an M1 flatrack or M3 container roll-in-roll-out platform (CROP) flatrack, it is easier to plan for multiple transportation platforms with minimal reconfiguration. For example, if a CROP is the platform for transportation, simple addition determines that 8 to 16 warehouse pallets will fit on it, depending on whether or not a second level will be used.

A height restriction for modules would be beneficial, but none has been set at this time. Published air-load planner manuals indicate that the maximum height for a 463L pallet is 96 inches. Therefore, it would make sense to set a height restriction for a module at no more than 48 inches so that, if weight allowed, modules could be stacked two high.

As the configured-load concept matures, all log-istics planners will need to be intimately familiar with the restrictions imposed by various modes of transportation. As air load planner manuals state, each aircraft has height and weight restrictions. The mode of transportation used to transport a configured load will greatly affect the load’s final design and dimensions.


Subsistence Modules

To meet the requirements of all units, the basic modules for subsistence items must be adaptable and applicable across the entire Army. Flexibility has been built into the modules by either finding a common denominator of supplies or making a “break point.” A break point is simply a quantity of items that meets the basic dimensional requirements for a module and is instrumental in meeting the supply requirements of a unit.

For example, a pallet of 48 cases of meals, ready to eat (MREs), is a wholesale shipment; it is also one of the modules. It is built on a 40-by-48-inch warehouse pallet and, depending on the ration cycle and days of supply, will meet the needs of a unit with a set number of soldiers. A break point was made by removing one layer (12 cases) of MREs, thus creating a second module of 36 cases. This process was continued until the last module had one layer of 12 MREs on a warehouse pallet. The result was four building blocks, with varying quantities of meals, that could be combined to meet the specific needs of a given unit. MRE modules can be combined with water modules to create a shipment of food and water for a unit for the length of time they need it. For example, combining a module of 48 cases of MREs (576 meals) with a module containing 52 cases of water (624 one-liter bottles) would provide 50 soldiers with food and water for 3 days, with soldiers consuming three MREs and 4 liters of water per day.

More Modules

Capability modules, so far, have been composed primarily of class IV barrier materials. Three class IV modules have been developed. The class IV modules can be ordered in multiple quantities and combinations to give a unit the ability to perform a specific mission or function.

The class IV modules available are the two-man fighting position module, the 100-meter triple-strand concertina wire obstacle module, and the traffic
control point module. Each of these is built on a 96-by-40-inch warehouse pallet, which is equivalent to two 48-by-40-inch pallets set side by side. The longer pallet is necessary because of the size of the lumber in the two-man fighting position module and the 6-foot pickets in the other two modules. Pictorial instructions are provided to ensure that the modules are built the same way, no matter who builds them.

Planning for Operations

A Stryker brigade combat team deploys with only its unit basic load, which includes 3 days of supply. Depending on the mission and the theater of operations, supplies could be programmed and pushed to the brigade every 10 days or until no longer needed. This would allow the unit to concentrate on the mission at hand and to get into a battle rhythm.

Once the unit switches to a pull requisition system, there are multiple courses of action (COAs) for supplying it with configured loads. The COAs depend primarily on what actions the combatant commander has directed. Some of the possible COAs and their advantages and disadvantages are shown in the chart at left.
A crucial cog in the sustainment wheel is the beginning of the entire process. To make planning and ordering configured loads simpler, quick-reference matrixes for subsistence items have been developed. The next step is to develop enablers or tools that simplify planning for transportation and distribution of the loads.

Problem Areas

Refrigeration. The only food modules designed so far are for MREs and unitized group rations, heat and serve (UGR H&S) because perishables needed to make complete A and B ration meals must be refrigerated. Modules could be made for the dry-pack portion of meals, and the perishables could be integrated into the load to the using unit at the brigade support area or earlier, depending on the situation and available assets. The most likely option is to continue to have the perishables delivered as they currently are instead of integrating them into configured loads.

Commercial standards.
The Army, like the other services, uses commercial products that are packaged in containers of varying dimensions. For example, 1-liter bottles of water are packaged in many shapes and sizes. This variability can cause problems in planning shipments. The problem is not insurmountable, but it is one that needs to be addressed, monitored, and taken into consideration when planning for an operation.

One size may not fit all. Units throughout the Army have different compositions, equipment, and needs. The equipment is the key factor in this instance. Because some units use equipment that is unique to them, supplies for that equipment will not be needed by other units. For example, a heavy unit’s M1 Abrams tank requires a mysterious liquid known as “turbo-shaft,” which is a unique lubricant for tanks to keep their turbine engines operating, so it is not needed by other types of units. The underlying problem here is in developing unique modules or even configured loads for each unit. This practice needs to be controlled and limited as much as possible.

Load Tracking and Delivery

The configured-load concept is an efficient way to expedite throughput from factory to foxhole while maximizing efficient use of transportation assets. New distribution platforms promise to increase the efficiency of battlefield distribution. Imagine the benefit of a configured load built at a CONUS depot being shipped to an infantry company anywhere in the world on a single intermodal transportation platform, with little or no reconfiguration. To take it a step further, imagine that the same configured load is outfitted with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag and the gaining unit can track it from CONUS to their location.

The future of distribution and accountability looks even brighter with the advent of RFID. RFID allows information on all items in a load, regardless of supply class, to be “written” on a tag. RFID helps make accountability and tracking easier and more accurate. Industry standards still have to be agreed upon, and a Department of Defense (DOD) infrastructure must be developed and fielded to capitalize on this enabler.

Configured loads and modules could eventually be delivered to units using the Integrated Logistics Aerial Resupply (ILAR) system. This capability would reduce the number of trucks and troops traveling on the roads in all theaters of operations. The combination of configured loads and ILAR will expedite the delivery of supplies to soldiers and significantly reduce soldiers’ exposure to the enemy.

Configured loads will remain relevant even as the Army and DOD continue to transform. In fact, a more modular capability-based force may make sustainment planning simpler. Most of the existing configured-load modules were developed for use across DOD, regardless of unit strength or configuration. Class III packaged petroleum products are the only modules that will be tailored to vehicle or equipment density. We owe it to the soldiers to provide them the very best and most timely support possible. ALOG

Major K. Eric Drummond, USAR, is an associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., where he works with the I Corps G–4 Transformation Office at Fort Lewis, Washington. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.