Maneuver Self Study Program

Why the Study of this topic is Important

Maneuver leaders must understand that logistics considerations have the ability to influence the planning and execution of operations at all levels of warfare. These considerations include the setting for future warfare, the opportunities for those that are informed, and the historical command relationships between suppliers and consumers. In the foreseeable future, if the US Army is deployed to conduct Unified Land Operations, it will likely be in austere environments with underdeveloped infrastructure. This situation will strain the systems, processes, and resources intrinsic in military logistics, and exacerbate the friction along the combatants’ lines of communications. Informed commanders will account for their supply lines, and seek ways to exploit the vulnerabilities of their enemies’. Furthermore, maneuver leaders who know what logistical capabilities are available can use them to gain a decisive position of advantage against the enemy. Finally, knowing how convoluted command relationships between operators and sustainers have been throughout history, the informed maneuver leader will understand how the parallel levels of command work together toward a common objective. All of these considerations will garner trust in the system, giving commanders the confidence to boldly and aggressively close with and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver.

Military Logistics

"It is no great matter to change tactical plans in a hurry and send troops off in new directions. But adjusting supply plans to the altered tactical scheme is far more difficult."

-Walter Bedell Smith,
Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces

What is Military Logistics?

Military Logistics is the processes, resources, and systems involved in generating, transporting, sustaining, and redeploying or reallocating materiel and personnel. A nation's ability to perform these functions relates directly to its military power. Their successful execution will provide a country strategic flexibility, and has the potential to grant a decisive position of advantage. These functions as listed follow generally the levels of war from the strategic to the tactical, though they do not fall definitely within any level. Furthermore, their execution spans the Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multi-National domains.

Admiral Henry Eccles in his seminal work Logistics and the National Defense stated that logistics is the bridge between military operations and a nation's economy. This conceptual linkage is best represented in a nation's processes, resources, and systems used to generate materiel and personnel. Generation includes the production and procurement of military forces and serves as the foundation of military logistics. It directly influences the swiftness with which a country can mobilize, and how long a country can endure in a conflict. This is particularly important when the conflict that does not proceed as expected. The United States' ability to generate materiel and personnel in World War II was a marvel of epic proportions and critical in the Allies' ability to prosecute the war. The Allies' efforts to target the Axis' generation capabilities resulted in the birth of the US Air Force with the Combined Allied Air Offensive in Germany, and dismantled Japan's economy with the submarine offensive against its merchant marine forces.

Transportation includes the movement of personnel and materiel into and throughout a theater of operations. In order for a country to perform this function, it must possess the proper resources at each level of war as it establishes its lines of communications and bases, and subsequently maintains and secures them. This aspect of United States military logistics is most vulnerable given the prospective conflicts of the near future. Foremost, the infrastructure of potential theaters of operation will likely be austere and present challenges to the logisticians as they attempt to establish supply and distribution networks. This has been the general state of affairs for US military logisticians since the South Vietnam Theater demanded the construction of the Cam Ranh Bay port to make up for the inadequacy of the single deepwater port in Saigon. Furthermore, the growth of the Anti-Access - Area Denial threat, complemented by the proliferation of precision guided munitions and unmanned aerial systems, may challenge some contemporary strategic assumptions regarding airlift and sealift.

In order to achieve strategic flexibility beyond raiding into enemy territory, a military requires extended operational reach and endurance. Sustainment - the processes, tasks, and systems associated with warehousing, supplying, distributing, and maintaining personnel and equipment - confers this flexibility. Militaries must have effective and integrated sustainment organizations, leadership, and command relationships to employ the materiel and personnel that have been generated and transported to a theater. The Prussian and German attacks into France in the Franco-Prussian and First World Wars demonstrate the challenges associated with managing the requisite masses of materiel. A half-century later, General Dwight Eisenhower as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, chose to attack Germany using a broad front strategy over a narrow thrust alternative due to his sustainment situation.

Redeployment and reallocation relates directly to civilian industry's "reverse logistics," and take place on multiple levels. At the unit level, this aspect of logistics includes the military's ability to evacuate materiel and personnel for the purposes of maintenance, reconstitution, and medical care. Most importantly, the assurance of robust medical care for service members, especially if they are wounded in combat, engenders morale in the force, and assuages fears on the homefront. At the national level, redeployment and reallocation are related to termination of a conflict, or a change of mission. The United States' last five decades of experience with modern warfare has proven how ambiguous and difficult conflict termination can be. Military forces face significant vulnerability while withdrawing from a semi-active theater of operations. The military withdrawal from Iraq in 2010 was vastly different from the First Gulf War's Operation Desert Farewell. Moreover, the security, administrative, and diplomatic challenges of withdrawing from Afghanistan loom large on the horizon.

The tasks associated with generating, transporting, sustaining, and redeploying or reallocating military forces extend through the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war, and across the Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational domains. A nation's military strategic flexibility depends on the ability to perform well these functions of military logistics. The student of military affairs cannot fully appreciate military power if they choose to ignore the tyranny of logistics.

How to Approach the Study of Military Logistics and Apply it

Maneuver leaders should begin their study by establishing a foundation of history related to the generation, transportation, sustainment, and redeployment / reallocation of military forces. Familiarity with the operational military history will provide context and allow leaders to begin thinking in terms of lines of communications, rates of supply, tonnage requirements, etc. Upon this foundation, leaders should develop knowledge of doctrine and some theoretical concepts related to supply and distribution. Furthermore, maneuver leaders should apply their knowledge of history and understanding of theory to contemporary case studies, such as Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Unified Response.

Questions for Reflection/ Discussion

  1. How does understanding a country's ability to generate, transport, sustain, and redeploy military forces contribute to understanding its national power?
  2. How does understanding the logistics networks of the US Military influence maneuver leaders' tactical and operational agility and flexibility?
  3. If the military continues to optimize its distribution capabilities toward a "just-in-time" concept, will maneuver leaders be confident enough their resources to audaciously close with and destroy the enemy?
  4. How will a regionally aligned Brigade sustain itself? How will logistics affect a maneuver leaders' flexibility while deployed in support of non-combat / semi-combat mission?
  5. To what extent should the United States' military industrial complex specialize with long-term national security allies in the generation of military materiel?
  6. How have the organizational changes over the past decade of conflict affected maneuver leaders' capabilities to transport, deploy, and sustain combat power in a high intensity or hybrid combat environment?
  7. How can maneuver leaders balance the need to cater to the quality of life expectations of an All-Volunteer-Force, and the desire to minimize the logistics footprint in an active theater of operations?
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