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The Road to Predictive Logistics: Perspectives from the 8th Theater Sustainment Command

By Maj. Gen. Charles R. Hamilton and Lt. Col. Edward K. Woo | Oct. 2, 2019

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- Former President and Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower once observed, "You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics." Stated during World War II, Eisenhower's message is archaically imperative for the battlefield of tomorrow, with evolving logistic designs to sustain drones, vertical lift, robotics, and virtual reality.

This is principally true in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility consisting of half the globe. Under a future complex battlefield in a Large Scale Combat Operation (LSCO), questions arise to optimize readiness. What can we do now to prepare the LSCO battlefield for tomorrow? How do we accomplish this with the strategic support area on the other side of the world in the Indo-Pacific (INDOPACOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR)? The 8th Theater Sustainment Command (TSC) engaged in deliberate and candid discussions of the future of theater sustainment both internally and with external partners at echelon. Particularly in the Indo-Pacific Theater challenged by its tyranny of distance, one phrase that dominated the discussion was "predictive logistics."

Although not a doctrinal term, predictive logistics can be loosely defined as forecasting sustainment gaps and the ability to stage materiel in locations and quantity to anticipate and decisively respond to warfighters needs; it involves real-time consumption trends and locations of multi-modal assets and infrastructure to enable logistics forecasting. The next logical questions are: if predictive logistics is the whole of the equation, what are its parts? What does the road look like to predictive logistics lo? As fighting and winning our nation's wars is the end and predictive logistics is a way, then the means to achieve this objective entails five tenets explored at 8th TSC that can better posture the U.S. for successful deterrence. They are access, pre-set agreements, agile sustainment, dynamic forward posturing, and leveraging technology. These five areas are not designed to capture the totality of tasks, but their nuances cannot be ignored when solving sustainment deficit forecasting.

ACCESS

First, partnerships or theater security cooperation are unrivaled strategic advantages critical to theater posture. The theater is laden with strategic opportunities such as training a ready, combat credible force and building a network of partner nations with the additional goal of strengthening alliances and partnerships. Deepening ties with host nations and collaborating with combined partners provides theater logistics assurance to win in a complex environment.

Prevalent to the theater, logistician is maintaining regional engagements in order to present competitors with multiple dilemmas and to strengthen capacity for deterrence. For several generations, the U.S. leveraged access to the Indo-Pacific region with in-depth relationships with other countries by contributing to multilateral exercises. However, as important as the existing relationships are, the U.S. will benefit from more than what currently exists. Maintaining additional access through fostering international relationship is important national security work and is primarily done through diplomatic channels. The TSC finds itself in a unique position as an instrument to open a subtle door of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief coupled with U.S. Defense security cooperation activities. In this vein, sustainers deepen their relationships through natural disaster relief efforts, disaster management exchanges, rotational forces and combined training exercises by testing reception, staging, onward movement (RSOI) and force projection capabilities. These inter-relationships invoke acceleration of combined rapid contingency response and contribute to the potential of more access in the region.

PRE-SET AGREEMENTS

Second, if U.S. diplomacy efforts allow for country access, the agreements leveraged in support of other operations such as the aforementioned disaster relief can provide growth opportunities.

Throughout multiple deployments, theater sustainment planners have seen firsthand how the lack of pre-positioned supplies is a disadvantage. Pre-set agreements, in the form of operational contracts, enhanced defense cooperation agreements, or foreign military sales, are ways to rotate and maintain critical materiel, medical and installation platforms. Pre-set agreements open the door to infrastructure investments, such as the establishment of seaports, airports, roads, rail, and basing.

Despite the U.S. military's advantages relative to any potential military adversary, the U.S. military's strategic lift capability may be constrained based on massive requirements. Increased investment in these pre-set agreements now will help to meet future needs better as future adversaries' capabilities improve over time.

DYNAMIC FORWARD POSITIONING

Another tenet involved in this situation is dynamic forward posturing, where power projection provides logistic support to joint and combined forces and will initially rely on immediately available operating stocks and pre-positioned war reserve stocks. Specific to the Indo-Pacific region, the distance between the U.S. and the region, or from the strategic support area to the joint security area, creates sustainment challenges. Imagine an LSCO in its 30th day, with U.S. military members unable to continue the fight because they have used up their fuel, munitions, and subsistence resources and the replacements are still many hours or days away. Warfighting resources stored in smaller, more "forward," configurations realize the potential to improve readiness. General Gustave Perna, Commander of U.S. Army Materiel Command stated in his Army Sustainment article in 2017 "Providing Materiel Readiness in a Joint Battlefield" that "force projection... entails Army pre-positioned stocks that are configured to strengthen national defense and build capacity."

Commodity readiness is only effective when it is well placed. The tyranny of distance is a dominant factor from the strategic support area to the Indo-Pacific theater, across 5,000 miles from the factory to foxhole and 5,000 miles retracted from foxhole to factory. Establishing footprints is the incentive for theater planners to broadcast deterrence abilities in the future LSCO fight.

Furthermore, in line with the Army Posture Statement 2019, army pre-positioned stock (APS) should be configured for combat and placed in other countries through security cooperation efforts to ensure the right capability is at the right location. Today, the U.S. Army has multiple locations in the continental U.S., overseas, and afloat where equipment and materiel have been pre-positioned for future use, ideally reducing response times. Recently, Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James C. McConville, opined that pre-positioned stocks were "absolutely critical" to readiness. His statement highlights just how critical these pre-positioned supplies and forward posturing are to the military's readiness and effectiveness.

AGILE SUSTAINMENT

The sustainment tenet that binds all others is the integration of agile sustainment to ultimately provide freedom of maneuver to the joint force during contingencies. Agile sustainment includes nesting all the precepts of theater sustainment and commodity management. It encompasses munitions, fuel, strategic lift, contingency contracting, medical, human resources, engineering, and materiel readiness. Theater sustainment planners identify requirements, critical items, and services needed, force structure planning, time-phased force, and deployment data development, and joint reception, staging, onward movement, and integration requirements to meet demand from theater entry and operations, to redeployment and retrograde. Agile sustainment is the cornerstone presupposition thought process to a successful joint crucible harbored with the National Defense Strategy. The U.S. generates efficiencies by coordinating and integrating service, agency, and other capabilities to meet the theater commander's requirements.

LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY

Finally, across the joint force, patterns of emerging technology have materialized. Agencies involved in accelerating innovation include Army Futures Command, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Army Sustainment Command and INDOPACOM logistics common operating picture (LOGCOP) analysts, where programs such as Rapid Fabrication via Additive Manufacturing, unmanned aircraft systems Battle Damage Assessment Diagnostics, Unmanned Logistics Delivery Systems, tactical data systems management and technology for casualty evacuation response are at the cutting edge.

One particular initiative of interest is a LOGCOP, one with real-time sustainment and supply chain system situational awareness, utilizing AI to predict from enterprise to tactical formations. Theater sustainers have a tremendous amount of equipment and people to move -- from Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises to RSOI to APS draw to railhead, convoys, and strategic air and vessel movements. The 8th TSC is at the cutting edge, where it works directly with enterprise, collaborating and focusing efforts on the capability to anticipate increments and decrements to warfighter readiness (fuel, ammo, medical, and maintenance) as well as where those supplies are needed. The ultimate goal is for the Strategic Support Area's leadership to see the same LOGCOP as the theater sustainment command, so that can we can optimize acceleration of communication that is accurate in time and space. With all stakeholders capturing the same sight picture across echelons and in any global security environment, the efficiency and effectiveness of implemented systems will be measured by lives saved on the battlefield.

The U.S. National Defense Strategy calls for resilient and agile logistics. Therefore, the U.S. military must collectively move towards the offered "predictive logistics" coherence, one where a joint and whole-of-government effort are applied. With access to and agreements with countries, theater sustainment planners can depend on forward postured assets towards predictive logistics, where distribution and resupply missions are better synchronized with planned resupplies versus unplanned resupplies. Coupled with the advantages of an agile sustainment approach and increased awareness through technological LOGCOPs, the road to predictive logistics is a driving force to improve responsiveness to warfighters' needs. Our forces, while applying the five subjects in a recursive thought process, will help sustain the advantage over competitors.

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