Magazine article National Defense

'Theater-Opening' Brigades: Army Ponders Formation of Expert Logistics Units

Magazine article National Defense

'Theater-Opening' Brigades: Army Ponders Formation of Expert Logistics Units

Article excerpt

As the U.S. Army reorganizes from a division- to a brigade-based combat force, it also intends to change the way it delivers supplies and logistics support to the front lines.

In particular, the Army plans to create specialized brigades that will be staffed by transportation and logistics experts, whose sole function will be to ensure that combat troops have the necessary equipment. Although the Army today has a substantial combat-support force, it is not set up to respond quickly, nor is it trained to expedite the staging and movement of fighting troops into austere battlefields, officials said.

These specialized units essentially would be taking over functions that traditionally have been assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps. They would be called upon, on short notice, to fly or sail into a potential combat zone, prepare ports and airfields to receive troops and cargo, and facilitate their movement from ships or aircraft to a commander's designated fighting area.

Typically, it is the Marines who open theaters, because they can quickly move troops, vehicles and aircraft ashore from their amphibious ships. Once they secure an area, it is the Army that takes over if the operation requires a long-term presence.

The conventions of the past, however, do not apply in Iraq, where both soldiers and Marines are fighting an extended counterinsurgency, serving anywhere from seven- to 15-month tours.

The idea that the Army needs "theater-opening" brigades has been advocated by the service's deputy chief of staff for logistics, Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson. The current structure, he says, was designed for the Cold War, not for today's fast-moving operations.

Improvements have occurred since Desert Storm in 1991, when it took the Army at least six months to prepare to fight. "It took us much less time in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but it still took us too long," Christianson told reporters. "The kind of enemy we face ... will require us to go very quickly into the darkest corners of the world, get there fast, open up the theater, and put combat forces in very quickly." The solution, he added, is to "put together packages of units that are designed, tailored, equipped and focused on opening theaters."

The Army has a variety of transportation-oriented units that transfer cargo or drive trucks, but none is trained specifically for the "theater-opening" mission, said Maj. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson, deputy chief of staff for logistics and readiness at the Army Materiel Command.

The skills required to open a theater are more than just moving people and cargo, he explained. These units will need to work closely with the maneuver commander to ensure that the conditions are in place for troops to engage in combat.

During the past year, a logistics task force at Fort Lee, Va., has been drawing up concepts for a notional theater-opening brigade, said Lt. Col. James Rentz, chief of staff of the task force.

He described theater opening as "the ability to open ports and airfields, as well as execute the reception, staging and movement of forces into the tactical assembly area."

Unlike the current logistics force, which has to be assembled with soldiers from disparate units, the theater-opening brigades would be permanent organizations. …

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