Laying the Foundation for a Strategic By-with-Through Approach

By Dorman, Edward F.,, III; Townsend, Christopher P. | Joint Force Quarterly, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Laying the Foundation for a Strategic By-with-Through Approach


Dorman, Edward F.,, III, Townsend, Christopher P., Joint Force Quarterly


In a recent Joint Force Quarterly article, General Joseph Dunford stated, "allies and partners are our strategic center of gravity." (1) This is also true at the operational level, as our partnerships allow us to "project power when and where necessary to advance national interests." (2) He went on to describe how U.S. global leadership and the competitive advantage it enjoys are inextricably linked to our extensive network of partners and allies, which the Nation has leveraged since World War II. This legacy continues at U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) as it maintains a strong coalition of 28 nations with boots on the ground at the operational and tactical levels to bring about the military defeat of the so-called Islamic State. As one might imagine, the need for interoperability across all warfighting functions is critical. Moreover, logistics interoperability--meaning common sustainment practices and processes--is an especially critical enabler for a strategic by-with-through (BWT) approach.

This article examines logistics interoperability as a critical but often underestimated factor of coalition warfare, which has links across joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational environments. Logistics interoperability is critical to the future success of global operations responding to transregional threats, but it requires dedicated efforts in logistics security cooperation to build the foundation for a strategic BWT approach. The real question, however, is whether the United States can afford the cost of ownership of such a strategy. The ultimate answer is yes, but this requires a comprehensive review of our current process and approach to security cooperation. The foundation of this enhanced security cooperation rests on improved logistics interoperability and enhancement of our current processes and associated authorities.

RAND defines interoperability as "the ability of systems, units, or forces to provide services to and accept services from other systems, units, or forces, and to use the services so exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together." (3) The North Atlantic Treaty Organization definition of interoperability is the ability of "different military organizations to conduct joint operations," noting that common equipment is not necessarily required so long as the procedures, access, and communication are present to facilitate combined operations. (4) British Army Major Susan Carson suggests that interoperability must be more than coordination and cooperation, stressing the necessity of interoperable communications systems. (5) All of these definitions focus on the ability of disparate forces to operate together in a common space.

While security cooperation is a critical tool for enabling interoperability and BWT options, it usually focuses on materiel solutions sourced through the foreign military sales process, with a short sustainment case to ensure the initial operating capability. However, achieving true interoperability that maintains the U.S. competitive advantage can occur only through an enhanced understanding and analysis of partner nations' logistics capabilities to include its systems, processes, and people. It is critical that we move beyond the traditional "sharpen the spear" applications focused on training and equipping combat systems. We must commensurately invest in developing true partner capacity with an interoperable logistics enterprise as its lifeblood to move us beyond the field level and simultaneously develop the sustainment level through a long-term view of life-cycle management.

Why Interoperability?

The increased emphasis on a BWT strategic approach requires the world's militaries to become more interoperable. Success in warfare requires militaries to develop and maintain reach, endurance, and lethality; sustainment underpins all three because it directly relates to our level of investment in materiel, capability, capacity, and resiliency. …

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