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Logistics, CSS, Sustainment: Evolving Definitions of Support

George C. Thorpe, in his 1917 book Pure Logistics: The Science of War Preparation, wrote, “There is something more than academic interest in correctly defining Logistics, for the purpose of the definition is to establish a division of labor, and if two divisions are properly drawn while the third is not, there will be either duplication of effort or some functions will be overlooked entirely, with the result that certain preparations for war will not be made.” As our Army transforms from the legacy force Army of Excellence to the full-spectrum, brigade-centric modular force, we must ensure that we heed Thorpe’s counsel and define our future sustainment organizations and concepts for the most effective division of labor.

During much of the 20th century, the definitions and concepts for the terms “logistics,” “combat service support (CSS),” and “sustainment” found in the Army’s capstone doctrinal manual for operations did not match the definitions and concepts for the same terms found in the keystone manual for support. This doctrinal disagreement left the definitions and concepts underlying support of Army forces open to interpretation and allowed anyone with a vested interest to selectively manipulate them in an effort to garner resources and power within the Army. The term “logistics,” after decades of skewed interpretation and misapplication, and despite possessing a vaguely distinct official definition, became conceptually synonymous with the terms “CSS” and “sustainment.” As a result, many nonlogistics support functions, such as personnel support, were commonly lumped under the concept of logistics and did not receive adequate attention during the design of organizations or the development of war plans.

Logistics, CSS, and sustainment actually are relatively recent additions to the official Army lexicon. Although the concept of providing support to armies is hardly new, the terminology currently used by the U.S. Army emerged only in the mid-20th century. Through the first half of the century, Soldiers in the field used the terms “administration” or “administrative support” to describe any military activity outside the realms of tactics and strategy. Before the term “logistics” was introduced to the field in 1949 (in the keystone manual for support, Field Manual [FM] 100–10, Field Service Regulations, Administration), use of logistics was fashionable primarily in academic and Department of War General Staff circles. Likewise, the term “CSS” received attention in General Staff circles but was not commonly used by ordinary Soldiers until it was introduced to the field in 1962. “Sustainment” first appeared in doctrine in 1986.

Since their introduction to the whole Army, the terms have become basically synonymous—distinguishable only slightly in definition but not at all in application. Fortunately, recent doctrine may put an end to this

The Rise of “Logistics”

Before World War II, the Army narrowly defined logistics as the art of planning and carrying out military movement, evacuation, and supply. By war’s end, Army-wide acceptance of the term resulted in an expansion of the concept. This expanded usage was reflected in the 1949 version of FM 100–10, which defined logistics as “that branch of administration which embraces the management and provision of supply, evacuation and hospitalization, transportation, and services.” (FM 100–10 was renamed “Combat Service Support” in 1968 and was superseded by FM 4–0 in 2003.)

The last word in the definition, “services,” opened the door to applying the term “logistics” to all noncombatant military activities. Officially, “logistics services” activities were limited primarily to maintenance, labor, and construction; in practice, the whole concept of logistics, under the guise of “logistics services,” took on whatever meaning was convenient to a particular user. James A. Huston, in his instructive survey The Sinews of War: Army Logistics, 1775–1953, expressed his consternation with this expansion of the concept of logistics when he wrote, “From that point [1944] various people, like Humpty Dumpty, began making it [logistics] mean whatever they wanted it to mean.” Huston saw in this expansion of the definition of logistics the usurping of the administrative support field, of which logistics was only a branch.

The movement toward defining all noncombatant military activity as logistics provided a pragmatic approach to managing the exponential growth of the Army support system during World War II but also an opportunity for those with ambition to build an empire. This trend reached its zenith with the consolidation of all administrative, personnel, and logistics functions under the command of one organization, the Army Service Forces (ASF), during the middle years of the war. The ASF became an unwieldy organization unable to provide efficient support across the entire spectrum of support functions and was disbanded shortly after the war ended. Although the ASF failed, its final report defined logistics largely in terms of its own functions; these were in essence the same functions assigned to the term “administrative support,” of which logistics was actually a subordinate activity. This report gave unwarranted credibility to the idea that all support activities could be organized and managed in the same manner as logistics.

The disbanding of the colossal ASF did not curtail the expansion of the concept of logistics. Although the Army in 1946 reorganized the former ASF’s “administrative services” under the Adjutant General’s Department and the ASF’s “personnel services” under the Assistant Chief of Staff, G–1 (both of these organizations being supervised by the Director of Personnel and Administration on the War Department General Staff), this action did little to clear up actual lines of control and coordination. The reorganization proved to be only an interim solution at best since most of the ASF’s business practices were carried over, for over a decade, to the War Department General Staff.

In 1956, the Army, in yet another effort to clearly separate personnel support from logistics, created the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics (ODCSLOG) and the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (ODCSPER) and provided them with a mandate to not only develop policy and conduct planning within their respective spheres but also to operate and direct activities to ensure that orders were issued and carried out as intended.

Unfortunately, due to an institutional inability to break old habits, the idea that personnel support was a component of logistics was not completely expunged from the minds of many Soldiers. By 1962, the new ODCSLOG became so involved in directing all administrative support activities that it neglected its real mission of planning and directing only logistics support. The ODCSLOG justified its adherence to the old ways by pointing to the 1954 version of FM 100–10, which defined logistics as follows:

In its most comprehensive sense, those aspects of military operations which deal with: (1) design and development, acquisition, storage, movement, distribution, maintenance, evacuation, and disposition of materiel; (2) movement, evacuation, and hospitalization of personnel; (3) acquisition or construction, maintenance, operation, and disposition of facilities; and (4) acquisition or furnishing of services. It comprises both planning, including determination of requirements, and implementation.

Although, by definition, the “acquisition or furnishing of services” was limited in scope, in practice the phrase permitted the term “logistics” to be applied indiscriminately, and the meaning of logistics lost what little stability it had possessed before entering the common language of the Soldier. The ODCSLOG’s impulse to crowd all support activities under “logistics” implied a unity that did not exist, resulting in an unclear division of labor for Soldiers who had to organize and administer support in the field.

The Birth of “CSS”

To reduce this confusion, the Army in 1962 undertook a major reorganization of its support activities. Labeled COSTAR (Combat Support to the Army), the reorganization aimed to reestablish the pre-World War II distinction between logistics and personnel support by severely restricting the activities of the ODCSLOG and giving greater importance to the ODCSPER. Under this new structure, the ODCSLOG concentrated on logistics planning while the ODCSPER focused on personnel planning. Unfortunately, this department-level mandate was contradicted by the simultaneous creation of a Combat Development Command (CDC), which was under the command of and staffed mostly with logistics officers. CDC took up the old ASF mission of developing concepts and doctrine in the areas of logistics and administration. Although the implementation of COSTAR at the department level clearly betrayed the widespread myth that all support functions, particularly personnel support, could be technically and practically administered in the same fashion and in the same organization as logistics activities, the creation and staffing of the CDC continued to foster, albeit not necessarily intentionally, the myth that logistics trumped all support activities.

The Army, again attempting to clearly delineate support activities, introduced CSS as the overarching term to describe all assistance given troops outside the areas of tactics and strategy. Published in the same year that COSTAR was implemented and the CDC was established, the 1962 version of FM 54–1, Logistics Command, introduced CSS as follows:

[As] used in this manual the term “Combat Service Support” embraces the assistance given to troops in the management and execution of military matters not included in tactics and strategy. Such assistance consists of personnel management, interior management of units, logistics, and civil affairs.

Officially, this definition was aimed at subordinating all support activities to the broader field of CSS. In reality, this was the same definition given to the term “administrative support”—the one used by the Army for the first half of the 20th century. Use of CSS fell victim to a semantic shell game and had little impact on dispelling the one-size-fits-all use of logistics.

Underscoring the new term’s lack of impact, new versions of the Army’s manuals did nothing to establish CSS as a new overarching support concept. FM 100–5—the manual for operations, published in 1962—and FM 100–10, published in 1963, did not define, let alone recognize, CSS. (FM 100–5 originally was named Field Service Regulations, Operations, and became Operations of Army Forces in the Field in 1968 and Operations in 1976.) FM 100–5 grouped all support activities, including personnel services, as “functions of logistics” but did not define logistics. FM 100–10 grouped all support activities under the old term “administrative support.” While it did at least divide that term into “logistics” and “personnel,” it maintained the definition of logistics introduced in the 1954 manual.

The failure of both doctrinal manuals to recognize CSS as introduced in FM 54–1, coupled with contradictions between the two manuals in how they defined logistics and grouped support activities, laid the groundwork for half a decade of confusion within the sustainment community and the Army at large.

Logistics and CSS: Doctrinal Confusion

After experiencing initial resistance, CSS did gain in popularity after the 1968 versions of FM 100–5 and FM 100–10 concurrently introduced the term to the Army at large. However, the two manuals differed in their definitions and in fundamental concepts of support. FM 100–10 described CSS as one of the three major subdivisions of military activity—combat, combat support, and combat service support—and defined it as “the assistance provided operating forces primarily in the fields of personnel and administrative services, civil affairs, construction, labor, maintenance, supply, transportation, and other logistical services.” FM 100–5 did not specifically define CSS, but it did provide a list of CSS activities different from that found in FM 100–10. While omitting personnel activities, FM 100–5 added chaplain, food, finance, legal, medical, and military police support.

The 1968 manuals also differed in their divisions of labor. Continuing in the tradition of its 1963 version, FM 100–10 divided the subordinate activities within CSS between logistics and personnel functions. By contrast, FM 100–5, following its 1962 version, grouped all support functions under the single heading of CSS, explaining the concept of CSS under the title “Concept for Modern Logistics.” This was the first indication that CSS and logistics would become synonymous in future operations manuals. Adding to the confusion of defining CSS, the manuals did not agree on a definition of logistics. FM 100–10 again carried forward its 1954 definition of logistics; FM 100–5 used the term abundantly but, as in previous versions, failed to define it.

The two manuals’ contradictory definitions of CSS and logistics overshadowed their simultaneous introduction of the term CSS. Repeating the lack of impact of its 1962 debut, the use of CSS in 1968 again did little to end the tendency to treat all support activities as logistics. Instead of clarifying the Army’s support concept, the two terms became embroiled in a long-running semantic dispute, with the operations and support manuals providing incoherent support doctrine and little concrete guidance on how to organize and administer CSS. This was just the thing Thorpe warned against in 1917.

As the disagreements unfolded, FM 100–10 stood fast through four versions over 20 years (1968 to 1988) in both its overarching concept of CSS with the subordinate activities of logistics and personnel and its long-standing definition of logistics. During the same period, FM 100–5 renamed and redefined its concept of support four times in as many versions. During the renamings in FM 100–5, two trends emerged. First, the 1976 manual inconspicuously began to use CSS and logistics interchangeably. Second, the 1976 manual introduced a system of separating support activities that by 1986 evolved into what became known as the “sustainment functions” of manning, arming, fueling, fixing, transporting, and protecting. The overwhelming acceptance of the revised AirLand Battle doctrine’s innovative operational concepts in the 1986 version of FM 100–5 led to the unquestioned acceptance, by association, of the manual’s newly introduced “sustainment” concepts.

In an unprecedented move, the authors of the 1988 version of FM 100–10 abandoned their 20-year history of separating CSS activities between logistics and personnel and adopted the 1986 operations manual’s “sustainment functions” (although FM 100–10 did rename them “CSS tasks”). And after having done so for 34 years, the 1988 support manual no longer provided a definition for logistics. Ostensibly, these moves were an effort at building consensus; in reality, they provided the final impetus for the operations manual to elevate logistics over CSS. Moreover, after 34 years of doing so, FM 100–10’s failure to define logistics created a void that the next version of FM 100–5 filled, to the detriment of CSS.

Ongoing Doctrinal Conflict

Capitalizing on FM 100–10’s acquiescence, it seemed that the authors of the Army’s 1993 version of FM 100–5 attempted to deliver CSS a coup de grace. The 1993 operations manual stressed that logistics was an overarching function embracing all support activities across the full range of military operations, defining logistics as—

. . . the process of planning and executing the sustainment of forces in support of military operations. It includes the design, development, acquisition, storage, movement, equipping, distribution, and evacuation functions of supply, field services, maintenance, health service support, personnel, and facilities. Accordingly, it is an overarching function that occurs across the range of military operations. At the tactical level it focuses on the traditional CSS functions of arming, fixing, fueling, manning, moving, and sustaining the soldier and his equipment.

FM 100–5 described CSS as nothing more than the tactical application of logistics, in essence inverting the traditional support roles and making CSS subordinate to logistics. Undergirding this, the operations manual changed its label for support activities from “sustainment functions” to “tactical logistics functions,” thus reinforcing the notion that all support activities, including personnel support, fell within the purview of logistics. As had occurred with the 1986 version, the overwhelming acceptance of the full-spectrum operational concepts in the 1993 FM 100–5 led to the widespread, unquestioned acceptance of that manual’s new logistics support concepts.

In an attempt to reassert the supremacy of CSS over logistics, the authors of the 1995 version of FM 100–10 defined CSS as the overarching function of support, encompassing all activities that sustain forces across all levels of war (the same definition used in Joint Publication 4–0). However, their effort was fruitless; the concepts of FM 100–5 prevailed, and the paradigm that logistics encompassed all support activities, including personnel, was well established in the minds of most Soldiers.

Adding credence to this thinking, the new FM 100–10 used nearly the same language to describe CSS as FM 100–5 used to describe logistics, thus sinking the terms and concepts of logistics and CSS into an indistinguishable quagmire. The continued inability of the doctrinal manuals to agree on a conceptual framework for organizing the Army’s support functions created a doctrinal defect that precluded a clear understanding of how the Army would organize and administer its sustainment functions.

Clarification at Last

The Army attempted to rectify the doctrinal defect by bringing both the 2001 FM 3–0, Operations (the old FM 100–5), and the 2003 FM 4–0, Combat Service Support (the old FM 100–10), into complete agreement on definitions and concepts. Setting aside nearly a half-century of disagreement, the authors of the new manuals endeavored to establish the supremacy of CSS over logistics by presenting a unified front that restored logistics to its subordinate role in support doctrine. FM 3–0 changed the name of its support chapter from “Logistics Support” to “Combat Service Support,” reflecting the same title given to the Army’s keystone support manual for over 30 years. Both manuals also agreed on support definitions.

More important than titles and definitions, both manuals agreed on division of labor, organization for support, and general orchestration of the CSS effort. The manuals divided CSS into various subordinate support functions, including logistics and personnel, thus presenting CSS as an umbrella concept embracing all aspects of all support functions from the industrial base to the Soldier in the foxhole. This new agreement between the two manuals returned logistics to its correct position as subordinate to CSS and equal with personnel support.

Solidifying this cooperative effort at defining operational support, the 2008 version of FM 3–0 reintroduced the 1993 term “sustainment” as a warfighting function and defined it as “the related tasks and systems that provide support and services to ensure freedom of action, extend operational reach, and prolong endurance.” This latest version of FM 3–0 subdivides the sustainment warfighting function into three distinct subfunctions of logistics, personnel services, and health service support. The draft version of the new FM 4–0 echoes the definition and subdivisions found in the new operations manual, leaving no room for misinterpretation. (In the draft FM 4–0, logistics is further categorized as supply, field services, maintenance, transportation, operational contract support, and general engineering support, while personnel services is categorized as human resources support, religious support, financial management operations, and legal support. Health service support is not further defined.)

This survey of the evolution of doctrinal terms reveals how a half-century of incoherent support doctrine led to the widespread and ill-conceived notion that personnel and human resources support are subfunctions of logistics. The latest versions of FM 3–0 and FM 4–0 provide hope that the newly introduced sustainment warfighting function finally will provide an umbrella concept under which logistics and personnel services will operate as equally important functions on the battlefield.

It is important to the success of sustainment as a synchronized warfighting function that the organizations developed to execute sustainment do not repeat the empire-building antics of the failed ASF and the original ODCSLOG. Clearly, certain areas of personnel services (such as postal operations and human resources) will benefit from being part of the command and control heirarchy of the operational sustainment community, but other areas (such as casualty operations, personnel accounting, strength reporting, and personnel management) will not benefit from being forced into a sustainment hierarchy. These latter functions must remain unencumbered by hierarchical organizational structures so they do not become mired in unresponsive bureaucracy; caution must be exercised to ensure that unity is not forced where unity does not in fact exist.

On the other hand, human resources professionals, as members of the operational sustainment community, must exercise mental flexibility and truly explore with confidence, competence, trust, and well-built relationships the possibilities opened by this new environment. This is particularly important at the Army service component command, corps, and division levels, where a synchronized sustainment effort is paramount to achieving agility in full-spectrum operations. This is a time of unprecedented change, and as professionals we owe our best effort to giving the emerging sustainment operations doctrine a chance for success.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey C. Brlecic is an Adjutant General officer. He is currently a student at the Air War College and will assume a brigade-level command in Maryland upon graduation. He holds an M.A. degree in organizational leadership from Chapman University and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the School of Advanced Military Studies.

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