Small Wars Journal

What is Certain: Logistics Support in Austere Expeditionary Environments

Share this Post

What is Certain: Logistics Support in Austere Expeditionary Environments

Justine Sacco

From a logistics perspective, what I am most concerned about is our ability to perform operational logistics on the battlefield. Thirteen years of FOB-based logistics and largely predictable deployments have allowed some key logistical skills to atrophy.

-- Lieutenant General Gustav Perna, Army G4

Lieutenant General Perna draws attention to an important reality, during the last 13 years of sustained conflict the logistics community has relied heavily on Forward Operation Base (FOB) logistics along with civilian contractors in a mature theatre.  This has led to an erosion of the knowledge and employment of traditional logistical equipment. FOBs precluded most logisticians from having the opportunity to provide expeditionary logistical support, while contractor support precluded water treatment specialists (92Ws), food service specialists (92Gs), and petroleum supply specialists (92Fs) from exercising many individual tasks of their MOS. While FOB logistics were the norm over the last decade, in the future it is certain our community will be asked to provide logistics in support of decisive action in austere expeditionary environments.

In preparation for future operations, logisticians must understand the challenges articulated in the Army Operating Concept (AOC) “Win in a Complex World”, comprehend the training being carried out at Combat Training Centers (CTC), develop realistic home station training to train individual tasks and requirements and highlight those Soldiers and leaders in our community who executed traditional logistics demands even in a “FOB world.”

Senior leaders across the Army have inferred that future conflicts will grow increasingly uncertain and we cannot predict where the Army will be engaged next in ground combat. Newly appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Joseph Dunford, expressed in his recent confirmation hearing his concern of the dangerous, unpredictable world we live in. GEN Dunford named Russia, China and Extremist Islamic organizations as top threats currently to the United States. The AOC further illustrates competing powers from state and non-state actors. Due to our uncertain future the AOC places a heavy reliance on decisive action missions because of the variance of threats today. In support of decisive action, with multiple efforts across the battlefield, expeditionary operations must be executed in support.

As we move forward, logisticians need to be ready to provide support across the operating environment. Efforts must be put forward focusing on the functionality and operability of our equipment and implementing sustainment in support of decisive action. Logisticians have grown comfortable executing logistical support from stationary FOBs. These behaviors are a result of our last 13 years in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Our logistical preparation must shift to simultaneously sustaining all logistical efforts and tracking multiple efforts across the battlefield.

Contractor support has caused an atrophy of individual Soldier and leader skills to properly forecast requirements. Contracted companies, such as KBR and FLUOR, provided many of the life support comforts that traditional logistics MOSs would have provided. These companies enabled logisticians to purge their knowledge and experience. This also caused an adverse impact on logistics as a planning factor, and leaders anticipating CLI, CLIII, and CLIX supply requirements.

During OEF and OIF, water purification systems were virtually obsolete, with bottled water being the primary product for water consumption. 92Ws did not have the opportunity to utilize their water purification specialty, as a myriad of different independent companies provided purified bottled water to every U.S. military establishment across Iraq and Afghanistan.

Along with water, contractor’s provided food and dining facility (DFAC) support. Much like the 92Ws, 92Gs did not regularly execute foodservice operations. At small Combat Out Posts (COP) in both theatres there were 92Gs exercising their specialty, but they were scarce and typically worked out of a hardened structure, not the associated mobile kitchen.

A typical scene for deployed Soldiers at a re-fueling station was similar to a full service gas station in the U.S. A civilian, dressed in coveralls with eye and face protection would guide vehicles to the pump and proceed to fill up their tank as necessary. 92Fs were not found issuing or receiving bulk fuel at most locations. Fuel operations were run from a fixed site that was established by contractors. Since contractors were responsible for the site, 92Fs missed the opportunity to exercise their specialty. Army vehicles were rarely used for re-fueling operations during OEF, instead local nationals were used for the regular transport of fuel to each FOB. Finally, similar to DFAC operations, only a select number of 92Fs could be found issuing and receiving fuel at COPs.

Mechanics of all specialties could be found gainfully employed during deployments. With the reliance on vehicles to execute ground combat missions, Soldier mechanics regularly executed preventative and action driven maintenance. Although what Soldier mechanics were allowed to work on was limited, and even if they were allowed to work on a vehicle or piece of equipment, there was a civilian contractor close by monitoring. The majority of vehicles and equipment utilized required a Field Service Representative (FSR) to diagnose and repair. If Soldiers were allowed to work on the equipment, the FSR had to validate their actions. Along with contractor support degrading individual Soldiers skills of equipment, leader’s ability to forecast requirements was also degraded.

When forecasting classes of supply, logistics leaders were involved in the request process, but the involvement of the contracted companies sent the wrong message about sustainment operations. The presence of large CLI and CLIII points gave the impression to supported units that logistical needs would constantly be met and they would never be without fuel and sustenance while conducting operations. 

Bottled water was available on every FOB and it was not uncommon to have water points every 400 meters. Instead of a unit properly requesting water prior to mission, they would upload however many cases they felt needed for the duration of their mission. Tactical level logisticians were not involved in the logistical planning and forecasting ahead of time, logistical analysis was rarely exercised.

Much like water, fuel consumption was rarely forecasted. Units had their own best practices for refueling; filling up prior to mission execution or immediately after completion was the norm. Once again fuel was not a planning factor for supported units. Logisticians did not have to conduct a fuel analysis based on mission duration and environment.

Logistical forecasting was absent because the assumption was made that logistical support would always be present. Large fuel and water points were erected and it was at a Soldiers disposal 24 hours a day. Due to logisticians not being involved and conducting proper analysis, they reacted to logistical demands instead of forecasting it. When water and fuel levels hit a predetermined point, more was requested. No rigor or analysis conducted, more was ordered to fill points to 100%.

Logisticians cannot assume these practices of OEF and OIF will translate to best logistical practices in our next conflict. Two tenets reflected in the AOC; endurance and mobility are examples of what logisticians must keep in mind when planning support operations. Logisticians must sustain efforts for sufficient duration while providing military forces the capability to gain positions of relative advantage, conduct high OPTEMPO operations, and concentrate combat power while dispersed across wide areas. The nature of combat described, aligns with how logistical operations should be executed as a war fighting function in ADRP 4-0. Logisticians must anticipate and provide the traditional logistics support that contractors have in the past.    

CTC rotations are currently demanding this skill set of Army logisticians. Decisive action which encompasses stability, offensive and defensive operations are the current scenario for the Brigade Combat Team (BCT). Logistical units are simultaneously using traditional equipment across the battlefield while reacting to indirect fire, small arms fire, IED attacks and complex ambushes. Senior leaders are expecting this level of proficiency from logisticians and are demanding it to enable combat operations for the BCT.

Moving forward in an uncertain environment we must refine our expeditionary edge, prepared to autonomously provide support across the battlefield. Training focused at the lowest level, will ensure Soldiers can employ specialty equipment in austere environments. Soldiers must also keep in mind that during expeditionary operations they are vulnerable and must be prepared for enemy engagements, in order to remain combat effective while executing logistical functions.

Chief of Staff of the Army, GEN Mark Milley, has expressed that “home station” training is crucial and units must not wait for CTC to test their proficiency. While CTC is an example of what is expected, CTC rotations are decreasing and not every BCT will be afforded the opportunity to attend once a year. Instead logistical units can exercise expeditionary operations anytime a sister unit deploys to a training exercise.

Logistics units need to be involved and aware of the training their supported units are conducting and offer expeditionary support during their training scenario. Construct a CLIII refuel on the move point for the supported unit en route to training. Instead of handing out Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) prior to the event establish a field feeding site for the duration and provide hot rations for Soldiers. These are simple examples of how to execute expeditionary logistical operations and crucial to future combat scenarios.

For the majority of the logistics community, expeditionary operations were not executed, but even in a FOB world there were a small number of logisticians that executed these traditional demands. Now, more than ever, these Soldiers and leaders are critical in preparation. Their experiences need to be heard, rather than discounted, and involved in developing challenging training scenarios for future operations. We must translate the hard-earned insights to evolve and grow. Our community now has the challenge of developing and implementing functional expeditionary training in a resource constrained environment.  

We, as a logistical community, are preparing to operate in our next sustained conflict and must train for a non- FOB world. Lack of proficiency on traditional logistical operations was a critical lesson learned. The increasing complexity of the environment forces us to remain diligent and balanced with contractual capabilities. Logisticians need to continue thinking critically and creatively about logistical support for decisive action. The unprecedented rate of technological change will significantly alter modes of logistical support in the future and this article aims to contribute to the dialogue.

About the Author(s)

Captain Justine Sacco is a Logistics Officer/ 90A currently serving as a Chief of Staff of the Army Fellow on the Strategic Studies Group. She served at Fort Campbell, KY with 3BCT 101st ABN DIV and deployed twice while there. Her most recent assignment was the Professor of Military Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. CPT Sacco holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and Political Science from Niagara University.