Combatant Logistics Command and Control for the Joint Force Commander

By Schrady, David | Naval War College Review, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Combatant Logistics Command and Control for the Joint Force Commander


Schrady, David, Naval War College Review


JOINT DOCTRINE SAYS THAT "to exercise control at the strategic, operational and tactical levels of war, commanders must also exercise control over logistics."1 Control cannot be exercised without timely and comprehensive information, a picture of the battlefield logistically speaking, including not only what is already on the battlefield but what is flowing into it as well.

The commander's requirement is for information, not just data. Data becomes information-with which to create a picture of the logistics of the forces on the battlefield, to predict the sustainability of those forces, and to evaluate alternative courses of action as they are affected by logistics-when it has been processed by software built around models that transform input data (tons of ordnance or barrels of fuel, for example) into measures of sustainability (days of supply, for example). Further, such information must be generated not for just the current moment but for the future as well. This implies a need for models that can predict sustainability. Better logistics planning factors incorporated in models of the use and replenishment of commodities, better "visibility" (that is, ability to keep track) of the stocks of material on the battlefield and flowing into it, and an ability to predict sustainability will make it possible to achieve appropriate levels of sustainability with minimal stocks of materials.

In 1990, lacking such capabilities, General Norman Schwarzkopf sought to assure himself of appropriate levels of sustainability for the Persian Gulf War by requiring in-theater thirty to sixty days of supply of most sustainment materials.2 This brute-force approach was necessitated by the absence of sustainment planning models and of adequate knowledge about material flowing into the Gulf theater. Huge stockpiles that take months to accumulate and represent a huge "footprint" and great vulnerability can be avoided, and logistics can be made more focused, if a combatant logistics command and control system is developed.3

The theme of this article is that logistics is a central part of the operational and tactical levels of warfare and must be included in the command and control system of the joint force commander. Logistics has generally not been afforded this recognition. It has been seen as an administrative aspect of military operations rather than an operational and tactical component of combat. Running out of fuel or ordnance while in combat, however, is painfully operational.

Logistics: 1960s to the Gulf War

While logistics is the subject of much attention during times of actual conflict, it is not an inherently glamorous subject; it is not close to the hearts of most warriors, and it usually receives little attention during interwar periods. An example of the result of such neglect was the experience of the 173d Airborne Brigade during the first months of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Ammunition had been supplied in "push" packages. Unfortunately, these packages had been developed and tailored on the basis of Second World War and Korean War experience. When the 173d arrived to protect the Tan Son Nhut airport, near Saigon, it found that it used ammunition faster than the rates for which the packages had been designed. To make matters worse, some of the ammunition supplied was for weapon systems that had been retired from the Army inventory. Over 255 tons of ammunition had to be flown from Okinawa in an emergency effort to ensure Tan Son Nhut's security. The operation took every transport aircraft available in the theater for a period of seven days.4

New logistics planning factors were created during the Vietnam conflict, at the behest of Commander, Military Assistance Command Vietnam. Due to the coarseness of available data, the planning factors were derived by dividing the tons of "stuff" shipped into theater by the theater troop strength; thus, all the new planning factors were in units of pounds per man per day. …

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