Small Wars Journal

Genesis of a Logistics Exercise – Building a Modular Content for Tactical Logistics Commands

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 9:29am

Genesis of a Logistics Exercise – Building a Modular Content for Tactical Logistics Commands


By Sandra Huber & Michael Kidd




A resurgent Russia has once again highlighted the importance of the NATO alliance. For such a large and diverse organization, NATO is in a constant state of innovation examining, testing, and where appropriate implementing new ideas. A prime example is the creation of two Joint Logistics Support Groups (JLSGs); 1 star deployable logistics headquarters that command enablers and coordinate theater logistics - permitting operational commanders to focus more closely on the mission while JLSG can place its entire organizational focus on logistics. Specifically, they manage all aspects of Reception, Staging, and Onward Movement (RSOM) and 3rd line sustainment of NATO forces at the tactical level, to include transportation, medical, engineering, and force protection (NATO, 2018).


These nascent commands, located in Naples Italy (JLSGNP), and Brunssum Netherlands, have engaged in a multi-year effort to build their capability by the beginning of 2023. STEADFAST JUPITER 22 was to be the capstone exercise for JLSG Naples. A fully integrated NATO exercise with over 20 training audiences where JLSGNP would test its mettle in support of a complex multi-domain mission. The exercise would pressurize the command to see if the policies and procedures it established would survive contact with an intricate set of challenges. 


In 2022 NATO de-prioritized STEADFAST JUPITER over immediate requirements. While most commands shifted focus to other tasks, for a number of organizations, that was simply not an option. I had to assess my command's ability to command and control logistics forces. Our ability to support future operations as part of the NATO response force is a priority mission!” said Admiral Vizulis, Commander - JLSG Naples. 


Directing his command to leverage the initial exercise plans into a complex logistics Command and Control (C2) exercise, Admiral Vizulis pressed a normally 18 month planning cycle into six months while rebranding the exercise as a complex logistically focused problem set. In total, 172 team members from 16 different Headquarters and 15 member nations - plus Calian contracted support rallied to ensure the command would have a rigorous look at their concepts and procedures. By the end of October 2022, the commander would know that his command could bridge stovepipes and execute its core missions of RSOM and Sustainment and Support while responding to crisis.


From a JLSGNP perspective, the main effort of the exercise was twofold:

  1. Focus on logistics processes executed by JLSG. Would the exercise highlight significant gaps in the reporting expectations for subordinate and higher organizations, or validate as sufficient the existing communications requirements? 
  2. Additionally, start the process of designing injects and storylines logistics and operational exercise for the future so that commanders can decide which modules and injects are included in any exercise.


Selected Background


While a complete task list is available within the NATO JLSG Handbook, this article focuses on those specific areas relevant to the STEADFAST JUPITER exercise (NATO, 2021). Doctrine is clear: logistics is a national responsibility and sovereign host nations will manage NATO deployments within their borders (NATO, 2012). At the same time allies understand that logistic independence is untenable and a collective approach to logistic management will best serve the alliance (Petreski, Iliev, & Cerimi, 2017). The battlespace of a complex conflict does not have the room for multiple logistics infrastructures competing for constrained resources. Furthermore, significant conflicts will limit host nation resources. While there is an expectation that they can manage to welcome initial NATO forces, national forces will shift to either address the threat, or respond to the impacts of conflict on their society. The crumbling civilian infrastructure and displaced persons currently in Ukraine provides a model of what any nation may deal with during conflict operations (NATO, 2018).


Given this, JLSG is at the center of a tactical logistics universe. Operating under the Joint Force Command’s joint logistics support network, they coordinate with National Support Elements (NSE), and other component commands as they command and control not only subordinate units responsible for managing logistics, and operational forces being served by the logistics efforts (NATO, 2018). Though logistics management is often complex, the nature of NATO force generation adds additional layers of uncertainty. The JLSG assumes control in the early stages of a conflict. Prior to that, they do not have a command relationship over enabling units, or even which nations will provide units. Consequently, they must be able to command and control forces without the advantage of existing relationships or prior exercises. They must also do so in what is likely the most confusing and complex phase of a NATO operation. 


STEADFAST JUPITER permitted JLSG to test itself by managing simultaneous RSOM and Sustainment of a brigade equivalent movement through a nearly 700 kilometer Joint Logistics Support Network. The organization was working in a region, and with units that were prior to the event - strangers. Following a model familiar to most nations, the exercise’s focal point was the command operational center (Joint Logistics Operational Center / JLOC). The JLOC became the linchpin for operations, identifying and de-conflicting friction between efforts to move forces into theater while supporting them with food, fuel, and ammunitions. Increasing the degree of difficulty, injects are designed to specifically test the supply and support network. 


The exercise was equal parts assessment and training. Multinational headquarters must always integrate new personnel into the culture and procedures of their new organization (Meyer & Xin, 2016). JLSG has the added responsibility of conducting this assimilation process without the inertia of organizational experience. Despite members' levels of experience moving national forces, this was the first time JLSG planned and executed RSOM of forces in a simulated environment. The planning and execution of a brigade-size multinational NATO force during the exercise forced a level of training not previously possible. Conducting sea, air, rail, and road movements within a multi-modal distribution system required the organization to balance capacity and operational requirements. Furthermore, the exercise team presented challenges to test the headquarters’ ability to recognize a changing environment, then appropriately respond to a new reality. Enemy action disrupted supply routes and key nodes fell victim to disease-forced closures. This is an important topic since several studies highlight that appropriate military logistics decision making makes the difference in a successful mission (Aćimović, Mijušković, & Golubović, 2021)(KANE, 2001)(Prebilič, 2006)


Complicating the RSOM challenge was the need to balance the influx of new combat forces with the requirement to support and sustain existing forces using the same infrastructure. From Napoleonic excursion into Russia through Rommel’s operations in North Africa, and onward, history is replete with examples of commands failing due to inadequate supply tails (Toole, 2011) (Draft, 1987). JLSG also manages the delivery of vital supplies to units operating in theater. The exercise forced a hard look at likely disruptions and frictions between competing logistics requirements. Be it, available trucks to move material, or schedule disruptions to oceanic shipping, headquarters personnel were required to maintain the balance of resources while ensuring both missions succeeded. The past several years saw the Suez Canal blockage, and COVID enforced bottlenecks at national borders. (Gast, Brinsfeld, Marsili, & Jahn, 2021) The exercise forced logisticians to continue facing those challenges and so reinforce the lessons imposed over the past years. Consequently, injects introduced participants to the challenges border customs play in theater distribution. 


Though theater logistics C2 had not practiced at scale prior to the exercise, the RSOM and Sustainment sections of JLSG had trained and prepared in the months leading up to the exercise. Their planning efforts contributed to a common understanding of the environment within the headquarters. Completely untested however, was interaction with subordinate units. As a standalone headquarters element, JLSG has no command relationship with subordinate units prior to time of crisis. While policies and procedures existed, they had to work independently of any existing relationship between units. The exercise was the first opportunity for the various organizations to come together, establish working relationships and execute missions. While existing standing operating procedures and common instructions facilitated a rapid norming of various command elements, as well as integration within headquarters augmentees – there is still friction in coming together. Exercises address those frictions prior to time of crisis.


Design of Logistics Exercise


JLSGNP designed a crisis exercise planning process that mimicked traditional exercise development, albeit at a far faster timeline than most exercises utilize. Tightening the process, and eliminating all non-value added elements so that the commands could focus exactly on those areas supporting the mission NATO demanded.


Due to the limited amount of time to design the exercise, we focused on the main training objectives (TO) for the training audience (TA) JLSGNP that tested our core responsibilities, namely:

  • Deploying the forces,
  • Sustainment and support,
  • Current operations and synchronization and,
  • Plan joint operations (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Training Obejctives

Based on the TOs and the setup of the training opportunity, we propose the following key events for the planning and execution phase of the exercise. In the conception and de-scoping phase, we brainstormed possible options for the background information including the fictitious scenario in close coordination with Joint Logistic Support Group Coordination and Training Centre (JCTC) in Garlstedt, Germany. JLSG, in coordination with JCTC and national/ NATO headquarters was able to utilize legacy work from the canceled exercise to execute key pre-exercise milestones of:

  • Initial rebranding: While the exercise relied on background materials initially prepared for the original STEADFAST JUPITER, shifting to a logistic focus required significant adjustments to the proposed problem.
  • LOGFAS database development: The Logistics Functional Area Services (LOGFAS) database which is the main NATO software tool to plan and execute movements and is critical to planning or simulating movements within an Area of Operations. (NEXUS Life Cycle Mangement, 2022) The focus lied in the creation of the multi-national detailed deployment plan and the tactical RSOM plan.
  • Planning Conferences: Accelerated planning required participants from across the NATO and host nation logistics commands to gather and ensure proper synchronization across the community.
  • Site Survey: As a deployable command, it was critical to scout locations for the field headquarters, ensuring proper real life support and communications infrastructure was available. In particular, a JLSGNP layout was established and successfully tested.
  • MEL/MIL: We focused on the scripting of the main event list (MEL) respectively the main incident list (MIL). Note that the MEL/MIL development procedure often consists of the following events: the Strategy development, the Incident- and the Scripting workshop. The aim of these events is to develop the storybook for the exercise. The storyline progression for the seven-day battle rhythm is depicted in Figure 2. We developed a full exercise script containing injects for all branches and the command group. At each point in time, EXCON had the ability to present injects over time in support of an integrated storyline. This modular design allowed us to up –or downscale the intensity of the exercise. However, it should be ensured that key injects (illustrated as yellow stars in Figure 2) are presented to the TA to achieve the TOs. The all-logistics focus permitted logistics motivated injects that were far more robust than logistics injects in an operational exercise. For example, artifacts were developed to simulate social media movements in the local population that the command had to assess for relevance, and contractual bottle necks and roadblocks were created that would never have made the cut for a broader focused exercise.
  • JEMM development: One of the main efforts is the development of the exercise database in the software called Joint Exercise Management Module (JEMM). Several significant inject lines were developed and loaded into the exercise inject database, each containing branches to respond to actions. Specifically, emergent prisoner of war facility that required coordination between operational commands, engineers, force protection, contracting, host nation, civil military affairs, and legal in order to successfully execute tasking – kinetic action against logistics nodes and lines of communication that tested explosive safety requirements, engineering, movement and transportation and host nation support – and strategic movement disruptions that sent ripples through the tactical movement schedule, disrupting not only scheduled movements, but also the balance of end item deliveries to operators.
  • EXCON Development: Finally, the design process of STEADFAST JUPITER resulted in the execution phase of the augmented Headquarter (HQ). In order to train the HQ, we established the Exercise Control team (EXCON) separate from the training audience. One of the main goals is to manage the script of the exercise and trigger the JLSG processes. In addition, EXCON produced several types of output, such as orders, update briefings, LOGFAS updates, answered Request for Information (RFI), etc. For example, every day an operational Update Brief advanced the storytelling within the scenario. In order to achieve the above-mentioned goals, a robust EXCON structure needed to be established. To produce high quality logistics products as shown in Figure 5, the following capabilities should be represented: Chief Situation Center (SitCen), LOGFAS cell, subordinate units (LOCON), operational commands (HICON) and additional key stakeholders (FLANCON). Equally important is the senior mentor, logistics observers and evaluation team. In particular, those functions stimulate the dynamic changes during the execution phase of the exercise. An illustration of our EXCON is depicted in Figure 3. In addition, two main meetings, namely the MEL/MIL Coordination and Exercise Steering meeting, should be established within the EXCON battle rhythm to ensure the script for the TA is effectively planned, refined, and executed (see Figure 4 for a tested battle rhythm).

Figure 2 Design of story lines to tackle JLSGNP TOs

Figure 3 EXCON structure

Figure 4 EXCON Battle Rhythm

Figure 5 Exercise Artifacts


Main Findings on the training audience and the exercise design


Training audience: Through the design of the exercise, the leadership assesses the performance of the TA and the future guidance they propose. With respect to the TO Deploying the forces, it can be highlighted that a tactical RSOM plan has been successfully planned and executed. This includes conducting movement meetings with the main stakeholders such as the host nation, NSEs, etc. However, the limited number of LOGFAS operators placed a practical limit upon the number of validity checks on the movement plan, limiting the consideration of potential options. Further work could, therefore, focus on training additional operators as well as guidelines on how to conduct validly checks. This would then enable a direct assessment helping to execute high-quality plans.


One of the most important outcome was a test of the concept of the sister JLSG support at times of crisis. As mentioned above, the Naples JLSG is one of two. Though the Brunssum JLSG is nearly equivalent to Naples in mission and staffing - it has a far different geographic focus, and national makeup. As each organization is navigating the NATO staffing process each understands that should one need personnel to respond to a crisis, the other would provide. STEADFAST JUPITER put that to the test. Fully 30% of the headquarters would be brand new members of the team, coming with their own procedures and organizational culture. Would these differences build a more diverse and lethal force, or would frictions between the groups wear away the effectiveness of the headquarters? While the outcome of this exercise demonstrated that the professionalism of all involved more than made up for any challenges, all observed that bringing disparate organizations together creates frictions requiring deliberate focus to alleviate. Moving forward it is important that planners understand several key takeaways to ensure that exercises adequately stress logistics forces, and that non-logisticians have a realistic view of how logistics impact combat operations.


Exercise design: First, we highlight that a high quality LOGFAS database is one of the most important factors for achieving the TO “Deploying the Force”. In this sense, the national sustainment planning, the national force profile and holdings information and the deployment planning within LOGFAS should be at an appropriate level. Thus, it is important that in an early stage of the planning process the Joint Support Enabling Command (JSEC), JCTC and additional LOGFAS Subject Matter Experts are involved.


The results of STEADFAST JUPITER suggest the following findings for the MEL/MIL Development process. We can observe that the main functions, i.e. subordinate units (e.g. RSOM Battalion, Transportation Battalion, Sustainment Battalion), National Support Elements (NSE), NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), need to be represented for the Incident and Scripting workshop in order to develop realistic injects and responses for the training audience namely JLSGNP. The goal should be to establish a JEMM data base that incorporates various events for each section within a JLSG. In particular: Plans, Purchase & Contracts, Supply & Services, Intelligence, Joint Logistics Operation Centre, Military Engineering, Movement & Transportation, Host Nation Support, Medical, Civil Military Corporations, Commander Update Briefings, and Reports & Returns (R&R). Additionally, injects should include the prioritization of logistic resources and services as well as logistics measurements for each node/ edge within the logistics network, e.g. Air Ports of Debarkation (APOD) respectively /Land Lines of Communication (LLOCs).


Next, we investigate how the EXCON structure impacts the outcome on the training audience. With the focus on JLSGNP, it is crucial to represent the commanders of each subordinate unit into EXCON (see LOCON in Figure 3). The main advantage is to train realistic processes with subordinate units which are often met for the first time, e.g. R2 in order to depict a logistics situation. Furthermore, the cooperation with NSEs and the host nation need to be represented in the structure (see FLANCON in Figure 3) in order to guarantee smooth logistics operations. Finally, an independent scenario chief ensures that the situation of the opposing forces is included in the TA’s update and assesses if they derive appropriate conclusions for the logistics mission. Daily assessments of how the TA responds to injects are also important to ensure that the daily progress of the exercise continues at the proper pace.





Most large scale exercises take liberties with logistics - often ignoring lead times and constraints in order to advance an operational storyline,” said Admiral Munsch, Commander NATO Joint Force Command Naples and Commander US Naval Forces Europe and Africa. “This was a great opportunity to fully focus on all aspects of the logistics enterprise.”

The JLSG effort to rebrand STEADFAST JUPITER, into a fully integrated logistics exercise was a demonstration of what would happen when logistics challenges were not “hand waived'' away. Logisticians must always be accountable for solutions that are actually implementable.


STEADFAST JUPITER was the cornerstone on the road of JLSGNP being ready to fulfill its commitments as part of the NATO Reaction Force. The exercise benefits are multifold:

  1. Enables multinational tasking opportunities with our NATO Response Forces subordinate units,
  2. Enables the collaboration with augmentees and stakeholders such as NSE, NSPA, etc. and 
  3. Facilitates the triggering of enablement processes and improvements of collaboration.


Everyone within the exercise development and assessment cycle must work to design flexible and repeatable state-of-the-art JLSG exercises. These should emphasize development of general plug and play events for JLSGs to ensure realistic storylines. This is similar to a modular design in which the JLSG commander can decide on the focus of the exercise. Furthermore, the development of scenario, strategic, operational, and tactical documentation might be fruitful for a more in-depth environment.


Disclaimer: This article reflects the views of the authors and is not the position of JLSGNP, NATO, or any member nation.





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About the Author(s)

 MAJ Huber and Commander Kidd are logistics planners at NATO’s Joint Logistics Support Group, Naples Italy. Major Huber is a German Air Force logistician with a PhD from Helmut Schmidt University with substantial publications on supply chain analytics, and complex decision optimization in a military logistics environment. Commander Kidd is a US Navy Supply Corps officer with published analytic pieces on supply network structures, maritime logistics, and additive manufacturing in the military supply chain.