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Logistics Status Reports and the Logistics Common Operating Picture

To avoid third-order effects that can cost Soldiers’ lives, logistics planners must be able to develop a complete logistics operating picture of the battlespace. But that picture cannot be achieved unless units provide timely and accurate logistics status reports.

We had finally established our logistics operation at Forward Operating Base Detroit in Ghazi Province. However, neither the brigade S–4 nor the brigade support battalion (BSB) support operations officer (SPO) had received any of the brigade’s logistics status (LOGSTAT) reports at 0800 hours. That was the first indicator that we were going to have a bad day. Then the need to support high-priority tactical missions precluded the convening of the brigade logistics synchronization meeting scheduled for 1000 hours. The SPO began to wonder what else could possibly go wrong.

That was when the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3), used for collecting, analyzing, and publishing data, lost connectivity. Since the brigade had not practiced any alternate methods of transmitting LOGSTAT information, we were unable to synchronize our efforts with the echelons-above-brigade support battalion that was responsible for supply distribution to our brigade.

By 1600 hours, the brigade combat team (BCT) S–4 had received only three of the eight required reports from the brigade’s units. The SPO had to make a decision based on the incomplete logistics common operating picture (LCOP) he had before him. Based on the shortages listed on the LOGSTAT he had in hand, he decided to schedule an emergency resupply convoy to transport water and fuel from the BSB to a forward operating base. The convoy left the BSB at 1930 hours. Along the route, it encountered an improvised explosive device that detonated at 2010 hours, killing two BSB Soldiers and destroying a fuel tanker.

Fortunately for everyone, this sequence of events occurred at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, and not in the hostile environment the Army faces every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Soldiers who were notionally “killed” were “resurrected” 24 hours later, along with their “new” tanker. The greatest irony of this scenario was that the LOGSTAT report received by the SPO—on which he based his decision to send the emergency resupply convoy—was inaccurate. The unit did not need an emergency resupply because its report did not show actual quantities on hand. The unit had sent a duplicate of a previously submitted report in order to meet the brigade commander’s reporting requirement. In other words, the unit sent the report in order to “check the block.”

This scenario vividly demonstrates that failing to submit accurate LOGSTAT reports in a timely fashion undermines the ability of units to achieve an accurate LCOP, and lacking an accurate LCOP can lead to deadly third-order effects on the battlefield. What follows are some thoughts for improving LOGSTAT report management—and thus the LCOP—based on observations and practices at NTC.

A Common Operating Picture for Logistics

The LCOP is essentially a function of the common operational picture (COP). Field Manual 3–0, Operations, defines a COP as “a single display of relevant information within a commander’s area of interest tailored to the user’s requirements and based on common data and information shared by more than one command.” Similarly, an LCOP is a single and identical accounting of the logistics capabilities, requirements, and shortfalls in an area of operations shared between the supporting and supported elements. The LCOP allows the supporting elements to determine unit capabilities, forecast logistics requirements, synchronize logistics movements, and publish information that improves situational awareness at multiple echelons of support.

Contemporary logistics operations require that use of the LCOP be integrated into and support the COP. The tiered areas of interest (meaning combat zones, or “hotspots”) on the multilinear battlefield in the Middle East have led to greater emphasis on increasing the combat skills of sustainment Soldiers. Many Army terms formerly reserved solely for the tactical field now have logistics equivalents. Supply convoys are now potential combat convoys because modern logisticians cannot expect to operate in the rear battlespace and deliver supplies forward as their predecessors did. Modern logisticians consider every combat support mission in Iraq and Afghanistan a deliberate tactical movement through unforgiving, hostile territory.

Correspondingly, logisticians realize the increased need to incorporate tactical considerations into their planning process through the development of their own COP, the LCOP. This means that the operation of the BSB tactical operations center (TOC) must be aligned in a manner that “fuses” the key information and planning cells. This TOC fusion cell must be efficient, effective, and simple enough to function throughout continuous operations. The BSB SPO, S–2, and S–3 officers, along with the BCT S–4, assemble in a directed logistics targeting meeting to address current and future mission capabilities, shortfalls, and requirements. The logistics targeting meeting synchronizes the brigade’s logistics effort with its tactical mission and includes the brigade-level maintenance meeting.


The Daily LOGSTAT

Observer-controllers at NTC have noted a trend toward low frequency of submission of LOGSTAT or forward operating base logistics (FOBLOG) status reports by brigades training at NTC. Many reasons are behind this trend, ranging from conflicting mission requirements and communications network issues to sheer noncompliance by BSB-supported units. Noncompliance with the established battle rhythm is often directly related to the supported units’ lack of confidence in, or inexperience with, their supporting BSB or a general lack of trust in the supply system. [“Battle rhythm” refers to a deliberate daily cycle of command, staff, and unit activities intended to synchronize current and future operations.]

However, just as Department of the Army Form 5988–E, Equipment Inspection Maintenance Worksheet, is the starting point of the entire maintenance support process, the LOGSTAT report is the feeder for the visibility, forecasting, and execution of the sustainment mission. It is not just a logistician’s tool but also a friendly force information requirement (FFIR), which is “information the commander and staff need to understand the status of friendly force and supporting capabilities,” as defined in FM 3–0.

Before logistics planning can begin, the organic and nonorganic units supported by the BSB must submit accurate information on the status of commodities. Consequently, the LOGSTAT report must be detailed enough to be an effective tool but also easy enough for everyone to use and understand. The LOGSTAT report should be standardized across the using units and should follow a format that allows its transmission through a system that does not require line-of-sight communications. To ensure that multiple transmission methods are available to prevent the disruption of the information flow, units should develop a primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency communication plan.

Once the LOGSTAT format is determined, a good data-transfer battle rhythm must be established to develop a good LCOP. A thorough communications exercise (COMMEX) should be conducted before the information management systems are actually used; this will allow the command to identify and resolve issues while building user confidence in the stability of the signal officer’s communication plan. Coupling the COMMEX with a good data-transfer rehearsal helps to establish the brigade standard with each participating unit.

A good data-transfer battle rhythm facilitates the collection of accurate and timely information from supported units by maintaining the principles of flexibility, sustainability, and ease of use. A flexible battle rhythm responds to changing mission effects and new logistics requirements. A sustainable battle rhythm is synchronized with the scheduled logistics resupply missions. An easy-to-use battle rhythm does not require reports during normal hours of limited operations since reports at such times often produce unverified or inaccurate data.

The use of automation to transfer data among units is a definite combat multiplier. However, units experience diminishing returns when they focus more heavily on the systems used to transmit data than on the integrity of the data. BCS3 allows for exceptional visibility of brigade- and unit-level assets. Using BCS3 and other information management systems should not prevent regular face-to-face or voice communication between the supporting and supported units.

Backhaul Versus Emergency Resupply

Maneuver battalions facing conflicting mission requirements at NTC tend to delay or neglect the LOGSTAT report since the first-order effect of not reporting logistics is not as distressing as that of not accomplishing a tactical mission. In fact, the third- and fourth-order effects of poor logistics management may be as destructive as the “flash-to-bang” first-order effects of any other tactical mission.

Logistics planners and executers constantly face the difficulty of determining the requirements, capabilities, and shortfalls of the logistics system. They direct their efforts toward ensuring that no tactical mission is jeopardized because of logistics challenges. However, the absence of accurate and timely reporting by supported units often creates the need to choose between two courses of action: either pushing supplies based on incomplete data and thereby risking the need to move inordinate amounts of backhaul (planned or unplanned loads carried back with a transporter to the point of origin); or delaying the planning process until accurate information is gathered and thereby risking the need to make an emergency resupply to a unit that is dangerously low on a commodity like fuel, water, or ammunition.

No matter what decisionmaking process is used, backhaul and emergency resupply missions still mean additional U.S. and coalition forces personnel on the road. Emergency missions, in particular, may entail the hasty assembling of personnel and equipment and the bypassing of proper precombat checks and inspections. The possible loss of life and equipment resulting from poor planning should give every logistician excellent grounds for insisting on compliance with the battle rhythm and the integrity of the LOGSTAT report. Proactive and predictive logistics is paramount for tactical victory over the enemy.

It is important for logisticians to remain aware of the effects of their forecasts and schedules. The SPO should endeavor to provide sustainment to supported units in a relatively normal and predictable manner; this will reduce the need to have to push emergency resupply commodities, regardless of cost. Comparing the commodities backhauled with the commodities sent by emergency resupply will give logistics planners and executers an idea of where their LCOP is deficient.

Making effective and sustained changes to the logistics battle rhythm is often a protracted process requiring excellent lateral coordination and earnest command emphasis to be successful. Nonetheless, the gains of an improved LCOP are tremendous, including greater tactical flexibility, less logistics unpredictability, and, in turn, better management of our greatest resource: the Soldier. Professional logisticians understand that the life of the Soldier resides in the third-order effect of logistics and act accordingly.

Persons desiring updated information on the logistics training trends at NTC or teaching products for their command can email the author at timothy.mccarter@us.army.mil or contact the Goldminer team at (760) 3805805 or DSN 4705805.
ALOG

Chief Warrant Officer (W4) Timothy N. McCar-ter, Sr., is the class IX distribution observer-controller with the Goldminer team at the National Training Center, Operations Group, at Fort Irwin, California. He has completed the Warrant Officer Staff Course, the Joint Course on Logistics, and the Support Operations Course (Phase II). He has degrees in distribution logistics management from Coastline College and in business management from the University of Maryland.