Small Wars Journal

The Complexity of Sustainment: Home and Abroad

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The Complexity of Sustainment: Home and Abroad

Hildred Mathews

The ever-increasing complexity of the operational environment reinforces the necessity of how sustainment is executed in the military. Sustainment within any military organization has one primary objective when executing its wartime and garrison mission- to never culminate due to overreaching your logistical capabilities. Some of our greatest battlefield leaders have failed because they overlooked their forces sustainment requirements and underestimated the importance of those sustainment requirements. Over 200 years ago, Napoleon and his Grande Armeé set out to conquer Russia, and although his sustainment plan, obtain supplies from the land, had consistently proved viable and enduring, for this battle it proved insufficient.[i]  A sustainment plan in today’s modern military is nested in every echelon and unit. These plans prevent organizations and units from culminating or overreaching their logistical capabilities.

Organizations reach their logistical end state using completely different sustainment models. There are many differences in how we sustain a Military Intelligence Brigade and how a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is sustained. Key components to the Military Intelligence Brigade, Theater (MIB[T]) support structure that differ from the Brigade Combat Teams. BCTs are operationally controlled support elements, hybrid maintenance management, and command supply discipline. These three areas function very differently but have the same effect when employed.

Identifying gaps and placing key sustainment components into an organization using command relationships is a staff’s responsibility that should not be overlooked when moving beyond the garrison. The MIB(T) support structure unlike any BCT are not equipped with organic support elements to sustain the organization outside of the garrison environment. Forward logistics elements, brigade support battalions, and sustainment brigades are military organizations that integrate with the strategic level proponents when deployed beyond the garrison environment.  

How does the MIB(T) integrate its logistical requirements into the theater sustainment architecture without the basic sustainment components to enable their mission requirements and set the theater?   Command relationships and support augmentation have to be built into the MIB(T) and shaped into an organization that can effectively bind itself into the sustainment fabric and support the personnel and equipment within the organization. Bottom line, the MIB(T) is not a self-sustaining organization outside of garrison. When deployed, theater sustainment assets are realigned and supporting organizations are tasked to support the MIB(T).

Equipment maintenance can be a large undertaking without a sufficient maintenance element that is structured to support all the MIB(T)s support requirements. The maintenance program is divided into two programs; traditional maintenance and the intelligence electronic warfare maintenance. Both maintenance programs are managed by the Brigade S4 staff section. The pass back support or next level of maintenance does not exist within the organization. The Logistics Readiness Center (LRC) formerly Department of Logistics provides pass back and commodity shop support for the MIB(T). The LRC enhances the maintenance capability of the MIB(T) by addressing the complex maintenance environment found in the MI community. Logistics Readiness Centers (LRCs) are the single entry point to access logistics capabilities, serving as hubs linking the national sustainment base to the warfighter. LRCs integrate capabilities and improve supply chain management, end-to-end distribution, and business processes at home station. The formation of LRCs set the conditions to integrate all Army Material Command (AMC) capabilities under one entity on installations Army-wide. LRCs are designed to provide the best possible service, by increasing quality and efficiency, and standardizing performance.  Essentially, all maintenance that cannot be completed by a MIB(T) mechanic is evacuated to the LRC. When using LRC services it is prudent to factor maintenance costs into the annual budget. During deployment operations, the MIB(T) attaches sustainment organizations to its task organization or receives area support to fulfill it maintenance requirements forward. The LRC is only a garrison capability.

The BCT has a robust maintenance company attached to each battalion. The BCT battalions have the ability to repair each piece of equipment they are authorized at the unit level. In the event where the battalion level maintenance cannot repair a piece of equipment, it is evacuated to the next level of maintenance within the brigade, the Brigade Support Battalion (BSB). The BSB houses all low-density maintenance mechanics that are not at the battalion level.  In theory, the BSB has the capability to conduct all maintenance within the brigade and facilitate a move onto U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) strategic sea or air assets.  

Command Supply Disciple and property accountability are everyone’s responsibility.   The potential for excess equipment to burden a footprint is all too easy to accomplish.  To avoid this pitfall, the unit supply sergeant and commander must understand the turn-in and requisition process. The Supply organization has a Supply Support Activity (SSA) assigned to it.  This facility is the hub for all supply action within the Army system. Through the brigade Property Book Officer (PBO), any unit can return property it has been assigned. The benefits of returning excess property are; (1) Saved space within unit footprint; (2) Reduction of the commander’s hand receipt; (3) Returned money back into the Army system to procure more up to date equipment. It is everyone’s responsibility to be prudent tax dollar spenders.  The BCT is task organized a distribution company that manages the Supply Support Activity within the BSB to support the BCT. The MIB (T) is not authorized to have an SSA.  The implications of not having a collocated SSA can have serious impacts on the unit’s ability to properly circulate property thru its proper life cycle.

Setting the Theater from a Sustainment Perch

Despite the differences between the MIB (T) and the BCT, these two organizations sustainment functions operate identically when deployed forward. Coordination and synchronization with the Theater Support Command enable reception and integration to maintain a balanced flow of supplies, personnel, equipment, and units consistent with strategic lift capabilities and Army Service Component Commands (ASCC)/Ground Component Commands (GCC) priorities.

Setting the Theater with Army Doctrine Reference Publication 4–0, Sustainment, says setting the theater includes “all activities directed at establishing favorable conditions for conducting military operations in the theater, generally driven by the support requirements of specific operation plans and other requirements established in the geographic combatant commander’s theater campaign plan.” The publication goes on to explain, “Setting the theater includes whole-of-government initiatives such as bilateral or multilateral diplomatic agreements to allow U.S. forces to have access to ports, terminals, airfields, and bases within the area of responsibility (AOR) to support future military contingency operations. Setting the joint operations area (JOA) includes activities such as theater opening, establishing port and terminal operations, conducting reception, staging, onward movement, and integration, force modernization and theater-specific training, and providing Army support to other Services and common-user logistics to Army, joint, and multinational forces operating in the JOA.”[ii]  Each sustainment component (Theater Sustainment Command [TSC], Expeditionary Sustainment Command [ESC], and Sustainment Brigade [SB]) has a vital role in ensuring synchronized reception, staging, and onward movement operations.

The TSC’s primary role is in coordinating for Reception Staging and Onward Integration (RSOI) and executing it through the mission command of ESCs or SBs. TSCs help build a theater infrastructure from a combination of existing and deployable assets capable of supporting the deployment process and rapid force generation. Ultimately, it relies on sustainment brigades, augmented by theater opening elements, to conduct Port of Debarkation (POD) support operations, provide life support, and execute theater distribution operations.[iii]

In theater opening, the ESC is responsible for planning and coordinating with multiple agencies, including USTRANSCOM, AMC, Defense Logistics Agency, and Surface Distribution Deployment Command. Using the Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), the ESC coordinates for the establishment for all sustainment functions other than medical –for synchronized reception, staging, and onward movement operations. Balance is central to the relationship between deployment and theater distribution. To achieve balance, the supported GCC maintains overall responsibility for planning for the flow of units, equipment, and materiel into and within the theater, but the execution is the responsibility of the ESC. In this role, the ESC plans, controls and synchronizes all operational-levels of logistics in support the theater or joint force commander including theater opening and distribution.

Theater opening is a critical mission in which the sustainment brigade must support ports of debarkation (air and surface) to establish sustainment bases and to facilitate port throughput for the reception, staging, and onward movement of forces within a theater. To accomplish this mission, a sustainment brigade is given mission command of a mix of functional battalions and a multi-functional CSSB. In addition, the sustainment brigade staff may be augmented with a Transportation Theater Opening Element (TTOE) to assist in managing the theater opening mission. The TTOE element provides the sustainment brigade with additional manpower and expertise to conduct transportation planning. It also provides additional staff management capability for oversight of RSOI operations, terminal operations, motor transport, and movement control. Conducting efficient and effective theater opening operations requires unity of effort among the various commands and a seamless strategic-to-tactical interface. The sustainment brigade interacts and coordinates with the Joint Deployment Distribution Operations Center, an in-theater representative of USTRANSCOM, to improve in-transit visibility, synchronize and optimize the interface of inter-theater and intra-theater distribution to ensure the optimal flow of forces, equipment, and supplies.

As the military changes, the complexity of sustainment will evolve with it. All organizations are not designed to support their forces as a standalone entity, but when placed into a theater environment, the logistical architecture interfaces and sustains the force at echelon.

End Notes

[i] Lynch Bennet, The Gran Failure: How Logistics of Supply Defeated Napoleon in 1812, Vol I: Issue I

[ii] LTG Gustava Perna, Setting the theater: Planning today Provides Options for Tomorrow

[iii] LTC Davie Burgdorf.

About the Author(s)

MAJ Hildred S. Mathews was commissioned in October 2003 as an Ordinance Officer, from Tuskegee University.  His logistics assignments include: battalion maintenance officer, shop officer, Military Transition Team Logistics advisor (Iraq), Deputy Directorate of Logistics (IMCOM),  82 ABN Division G4 CUOPs Planner, CJFLCC-I deputy J4, BCT BDE S4 (82nd ABN), BSB Executive Officer (82nd ABN).  He has six deployments; his most recent as the Base Operating Support Integrator to Syria (BOS-I).