HomeAbout UsBrowse This IssueBack IssuesNews DispatchesSubscribing to Army LogisticianWriting for Army LogisticianContact UsLinks































Modularity and Logistics

The Army is working to provide technologies that better protect Soldiers in the theater of operations. These new technologies will also help keep logistics Soldiers safer while they conduct convoys.

Modularity, which was designed to address mobility and asset control, has achieved some success in making the brigade combat team (BCT) the centerpiece of our warfighting formation. Modular design and organic logistics capabilities are essential in today’s operations because most deployed BCTs operate in diverse terrain, under arduous environmental conditions, and against determined enemies. The modular BCT support design takes the best elements of the old main support battalion and pushes critical logistics enablers forward. The result is that our logistics formations are much more capable than they were before modular BCTs took the field.

The modular design has, however, raised questions in the minds of many logistics commanders who are faced with repeated deployments. These questions require serious debate and discussion to continue the evolution of modular capability. By examining some of the pressing questions raised by brigade-level logistics commanders, the Army can focus on forming solutions for its modular formations.

Why Does My MTOE Not Fit the Mission?

Whether the Army is engaged in maneuver operations or counterinsurgency warfare, the modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE) is a vestige of the past and hampers the mission and force development in deployed theaters. A mission-essential equipment list should become the guideline for planning, training, and deploying a unit.

Although doing so seems antithetical to modular design, each brigade support battalion (BSB) must abide by its MTOE as it resets and trains for its pre-deployment mission readiness exercise (MRX). Modular forces are only able to transcend the limitations of their MTOEs with the extraordinary expertise of junior and midgrade noncommissioned officers (NCOs). We must continue to equip these multiple-tour veterans with home-station equipment sets that match (or replicate closely) the vehicle sets and equipment they will use once deployed. Light-skinned vehicles without digital communications or weapon mounts are of no use to units or their NCOs as they train Soldiers on battle drills needed to survive in combat.

(Photo by SPC Luke Thornbury, 55th Signal Company)

I commanded the 626th BSB, 3d BCT, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), while it was deployed to Iraq as part of Multi-National Division-Center (Task Force Mountain). Our mission was that of a motorized or mechanized BCT, so our BSB’s mission exceeded our air assault MTOE. Our early experience and planning said that we would need a wide range of heavy equipment transporters, M88 medium recovery vehicles, rough-terrain container handlers, and materials-handling equipment to perform our distribution mission. But repeated submissions of operational needs statements were denied because the equipment was “not on our MTOE.”

Meanwhile, the Soldiers depending on our battalion to distribute heavy engineer supplies, heavy equipment, shelters, frozen and fresh rations, ice, and class IX (repair parts) did not care about whether or not we had the equipment needed to perform that function. We were denied equipment even while standing next to motor pools full of echelons-above-brigade vehicles that stood idle. Worse, the equipment remained there because the process to request its use was completely unresponsive to tactical units at brigade level and below.

MTOE personnel problems also plagued our preparation for combat and our initial deployment. The Army Human Resources Command has a stated policy of filling a unit to 90 percent before its MRX. But our BSB was not 90-percent filled until the BCT started assigning us military occupational specialty (MOS) 11B infantrymen to fill critical slots in our distribution platoons. Our MRX preparation was also affected by the need to enroll Soldiers in the Warrior Leader Course and NCOs in the NCO Education System. This was a bill we willingly paid since it was the only opportunity for many of them to attend training between deployments.

Security escort requirements need to be factored into the MTOE. These escort positions may need to be MOS immaterial. We trained and formed security elements at home station to ensure we would have certified crews to man the 20 gun trucks that were not on our MTOE. If we must follow our MTOE to fill personnel requirements, then the MTOE should be built according to what is required to man a rear detachment and should include the personnel to properly secure our unit’s own movements.

After assuming our mission and picking up our base defense responsibilities, we found ourselves operating with only 65 to 70 percent of our personnel available to perform our daily logistics mission. We factored in 10 percent of our Soldiers being unavailable because of midtour leave, and while replacements did continue to flow, we never gained any aggregate strength because personnel were forced to redeploy or were injured. Soldiers arriving from the training base often were not in shape and sometimes had medical conditions that prevented them from deploying. Despite the month-long home station individual replacement training we conducted with our rear detachment, Soldiers joined us needing weapons training beyond the iron-sights skills they brought with them.

(Photo by SPC Luke Thornbury, 55th Signal Company)

Where Is Our Modular Logistics Doctrine?

I may be the only one who noticed, but the most recent version of Field Manual (FM) 3–0, Operations, has no chapter on logistics. That is odd because the June 2001 version of FM 3–0 had an entire chapter on logistics and how important it is to operational commanders. I searched the entire text of the February 2008 version and found four small paragraphs of text that basically refer the reader to FM 4–0, Combat Service Support, which was written in August 2003—before the modular BCT design was widely implemented. A new version of FM 4–0 is currently being developed, but for now, logistics Soldiers have to use the approved 2003 version.

After being disappointed by the new capstone doctrinal publication, I searched for some clarity in subordinate doctrinal publications. The fact that FM 3–24, Counterinsurgency, published in December 2006, has an entire chapter (Chapter 8) dedicated to sustainment seems to highlight the gross error of omission in our capstone operational doctrine.

FM 4–0, as currently written, is a decent document that logisticians read and then quiz each other on after they redeploy from Iraq or Afghanistan. The buzzwords in FM 4–0 all still apply to today’s operational environment, but now they are exponentially more complex. Responsiveness, simplicity, flexibility, attainability, sustainability, survivability, economy, and integration are all wonderful words, but how do they relate to our modular formations? The old concepts of functional branch support are gone now that we operate in multifunctional organizations. Logistics doctrine needs to incorporate combat escort (gun truck) missions, MOS crosstraining (liquid logistics skills, multifunctional mechanics, and combat security functions), and engineering support for sustainment missions. FM 4–0 needs to reflect the complex nature of the logistics mission and how it relates to the mission of the BCT we support.

The new FM 4–0 cannot arrive soon enough. Senior mission commanders have defaulted to BCT-level commanders to figure out sticky issues like how to use forward support companies (FSCs). Army planners had a short debate over support relationships and the ability to weight main efforts, and then the debate became shrill and pointed and ended with a wide spectrum of arbitrary solutions that ranged from direct support to full attachment to maneuver battalions.

Our capstone doctrine should explain the possible solutions and provide our operational commanders (and their staffs) with a serious analysis of the consequences and benefits of different command and support relationships. Modular logistics doctrine needs to address “general purpose” forces and the need to task-organize for the a la carte missions that commanders face as they prepare for operational deployments that exceed their organizational designs.

(Photo by CPT Allison Flannigan, 626th Brigade Support Battalion)

The medical community needs to be included in this debate because medical doctrine has become less relevant to Soldiers in the same way that logistics doctrine has in the past 3 years. Level II healthcare does not exist anymore, and medics in the brigade support medical company perform missions beyond the range of their training. The medical community should develop tailored solutions to reallocate essential medical support to combat units with specialty doctors and diagnostic equipment. With the number of replacements shrinking and repeated deployments, this need has never been more critical.

Medical concepts like tactical ground evacuation platoons no longer have a relevant purpose, given our reliance (or overreliance) on air evacuation platforms. The size of BCTs’ operational areas and the distance between them now rival those of Cold War-era division-sized formations. Advances in medical technology have increased our need for rapid and off-the-shelf solutions that fit our deployment and training requirements.

Where Is My Equipment for Training?

Training Soldiers on the Army’s continental United States fleet of trucks is not going to prepare units for combat. Readiness measures need to be based on real standards that units can achieve according to the missions they face. The need to transition from MTOE-based readiness reporting to mission-essential readiness reporting has never been more important. In addition, modernization of the tactical truck fleet needs to double its pace. Much of the deployed fleet still comprises M900-series vehicles, which consume more time, manpower, and money to maintain than newer vehicles.

Current home-station equipment is woefully inadequate for conducting any realistic training. In our particular case, we were issued M1097 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (two-seaters) without radios, Blue Force Tracker, vehicular internal communications intercoms, or ring mounts. This is not exactly the type of vehicle that helps to train new Soldiers on what to expect when they arrive in Iraq or Afghanistan. Maneuver and logistics units end up having to share fleets of vehicles and train on proxy equipment to prepare Soldiers for their next deployments.

The practice of leaving our equipment behind in the care of the Army Materiel Command (AMC) has received much acclaim. However, intense debate has ensued on how effective this has been in saving the Army money on maintenance and on how a lack of accountability affects a fleet.

The real opportunity being missed is that AMC commands the Army’s entire logistics industrial base, which should be leveraged to produce “simulated capability” to train units that rotate home before deploying again. Strategic leaders need to invest in the current fleet of trucks and transform them into simulated combat systems. AMC should seek to “set the grid,” much like the trainers do at the National Training Center and the Joint Readiness Training Center, and allow units to draw only the training equipment they need to prepare Soldiers for the next deployment.

Low-density equipment and unique logistics sets need to be maintained as training implements at home station since the MTOE does not authorize the full range of required equipment. Borrowing equipment between units and between the Active and Reserve components allows Soldiers to be exposed to water purification equipment, heavy-lift transportation equipment, refrigeration vans and equipment, and mechanized track and turret systems.

Who Will Lead Our Soldiers?

The current operating tempo and the intense back-to-back deployment schedule that our forces experience are wearing down an entire generation of leaders. Gaps in our force structure have been filled by accelerating promotions and, in the case of officers, double below-the-zone consideration for promotion to major. The requirements for warrant officer packets have been relaxed to allow more junior Soldiers to apply, and the aggregate experience of squad leaders in our logistics formations has changed from 12 years (when I was a platoon leader) to barely 5 or 6 years today. This young and capable cohort of leaders is amazing, but they are constrained by a personnel system that cannot match experiences with requirements in line units.

In some BCT logistics formations, first lieutenants command companies and infantry, signal, and field artillery officers command FSCs because they are the most capable individuals available for the positions. While these decisions are not made lightly, the lives of Soldiers and mission completion are the only factors that matter. Terms like “professional development” or “branch qualification” are not considered when facing a shortage of logistics officers because they have all been herded into military transition teams (MiTTs) and away from line units. Necessity requires us to find the most capable leaders available despite the branch insignia they wear on their class A uniforms.

Experience counts in the logistics field. Captains are managed as a group, and once a first lieutenant is selected for promotion, he is held against the requirements for captains. Some captains have gone to the career course and are dubbed “senior captains,” and others have not been able to escape the vortex of deployments long enough to attend the course. This has had an extraordinary effect on senior NCOs, who end up training young leaders for a year before the officers are forced to move on to the next position. The fact that we have captains serving as company executive officers should not be a surprise. Few options exist for this generation of officers; if they go to the advanced course, they will either deploy again or end up on a MiTT.

(Photo by CPT Allison Flannigan, 626th Brigade Support Battalion)

I remember having to interview for command, waiting eagerly in my staff job for months before finally being deemed worthy. I was in command for a mere 18 months, and an NTC rotation was the highlight of my experience. I took command in my sixth year in the Army after holding three platoon leader positions. We must be aware of the generation gap forming between the incumbent leaders and those who will soon become battalion executive officers, support operations officers, company first sergeants, and battle staff NCOs. They have known only combat and operational deployments. This generation of officers and NCOs has had its moral fiber tempered in fire and not in the discipline of drill and command inspections.

Operational experience is supplanting a deep understanding of regulatory guidance. This and a lack of relevant doctrine makes officers of my generation stand to become relics of a bygone era. We run the risk of becoming irrelevant to a generation of leaders who know how to get things done in combat. The rote of military procedures and rigid regulatory practice has given way to “pit crew maintenance” and “locker room” troop-leading procedures.

Many challenges face our logistics formations on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Many more await us in the fields of training, doctrine, and materiel readiness. The need to speak in plain language about the challenges facing our modular capability will have impacts well beyond the tactical realm of the brigade. If we are not able to frame the problem in terms that our young leaders understand, we will lose our credibility and their trust. The decision to make BCTs the centerpiece of our warfighting capability has created the need to transcend the limitations of our strategic manning and equipping systems.

How should BSBs be employed? What are the proper support and command relationships with maneuver battalions? How do logistics units above BCT level provide responsive support when no habitual relationship exists with the supported division or BCT? These and many more doctrinal issues require answers to fully realize the capability of a modular logistics organization.

Finally, what we do is about people. The next generation of logistics Soldiers and leaders is taking shape and being formed by their experiences in this current conflict. How are we going to carve out space and time for them to learn to support operations at the high end of the full spectrum of conflict? How will we be able to meet their personal and professional needs for development? How can we develop competent leaders who will continue to see solutions in the hazy mist that surrounds the future of the Army and its forces?

Our modular design needs to keep pace through vibrant doctrine and strategic and institutional systems that will meet the demands of tactical units. If we are not able to grapple with the massive issues we face in our strategic and doctrinal bases, the future will take shape with no intention. The boom you hear over the horizon is not necessarily the sound of artillery; it may be the hollow sound of an Army marching into the future.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthew D. Redding is the commander of the 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). He has a B.A. degree from St. Lawrence University and an M.S. degree from the University of Maryland. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the Joint Forces Staff College.