Logistics innovations are needed "to match the advances that we’re trying to make with our combat forces," the Army vice chief of staff, Gen. John F. Campbell, said.
If those advances are not made, "we’ll fall short of our strategic objectives," Campbell added during opening remarks at the Association of the U.S. Army’s "Sustaining Force 2025" Hot Topic held in Arlington, Va., May 20.
Sustainment is in a critical period of transition, coming out of more than 12 years of war, he said.
The past was marked by an over reliance on contractors doing maintenance work that soldiers used to do, and a budget that could support it with overseas contingency operation dollars.
Today’s challenge is adapting to a reduced workload at depots facing a potential loss of critical skill sets, developing a more rapid acquisition process and adjusting to increasingly complex systems with commensurate increases in sustainment costs, particularly software.
But it can be done, he said.
In the past, logisticians figured out how to sustain remote combat outposts in Afghanistan and in the future, they will adapt and provide solutions.
One of the reasons Campbell said he’s optimistic is because of the Army’s continued priority on leader development, where leaders are encouraged to weigh the risks of trying new ideas and techniques, but are not risk averse.
It’s not just soldiers going it alone, he added. It will take a unified effort across the components and the joint force and the effort will need to also come from industry partners.
Even retired soldiers, many of whom are now industry partners, have a place in mentoring today’s soldiers, such as at forums like this Hot Topic provided by AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare.
Doing more with less may seem a tall order, but "never underestimate what our nation is capable of and what your Army and industry partners can do," Campbell said.
Adding, "Americans have consistently been the greatest innovators in the world."
He then provided some examples.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the innovation priorities were "the big five: the Bradley, Abrams, Apache, Black Hawk and Patriot," he said. "These systems remain relevant. They were well thought-out."
Those platforms have been continually upgraded with advanced technology and even the way they’re used has changed over time, Campbell said, pointing to the Apache teaming with unmanned aircraft, something not originally envisioned by designers.
The Patriot missile system has better radar and munitions today than when it was conceived, he added.
Even the M4 carbine has had 90 modifications done to it over the last decade.
Campbell cautioned against being a pessimist regarding the possibilities of revolutionary change needed to stay out in front of potential adversaries, who are trying desperately to neutralize the Army’s "overmatch."
He cited some examples of pessimists who were proved wrong in the past:
In 1878, a Western Union internal menu read, "This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered a practical form of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
In 1911, Marshall Ferdinand Foch, who later led the allied forces during World War I, once observed: "Airplanes are interesting toys but are of no military value."
And, in 1949, a "Popular Mechanics" article stated that "computers in the future may perhaps weigh only 1.5 tons." Campbell wryly noted that today, "smartphones are computers that can fit in your pocket."
In another recent example of how soldiers today need to be creative and seize the initiative, Campbell related how a few weeks ago, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade landed in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – all NATO countries the U.S. has pledged to protect.
"A company commander got off an airplane and had a microphone shoved in his face and was talking directly to a president of a country. That’s engagement," Campbell said, adding that he expects noncommissioned officers to be able to do that as well.
Three weeks ago, Campbell said he was in Kuwait observing pre-positioned equipment, some of it coming out of Afghanistan. While observing that sort of thing seems mundane, the general was in for a surprise.
Instead of trucks and gear sitting in open storage yards, as is the usual practice, the majority of it was stored in climate-controlled warehouses.
He hopes to see more of that.
While there will be "up front a little bit of construction costs, in the end just doing something like that will save the Army $120 million a year. It’s a good example of quality, money-saving innovation in sustainment," he said.
Another innovation coming online, he said, is the Early-Entry Fuel Distribution system that will increase the build speed of a fuel line from three miles per day, to maybe 20 miles per day.
Energy innovations, savings and efficiencies will be critical to the Army of 2025, he predicted.
Contractors will continue to be an important part of the Army, Campbell said, particularly in the areas of technical sustainment.
"But, as we look at the fiscal environment, we’ll have to reduce some of that and we’re going to have to get maintenance back in the hands of soldiers and better balance cost and risk analysis of paying for contractors," he said.
Don’t believe everything
Campbell noted that a lot of what Americans know about the Army they get from media, and while a lot of it is accurate, a lot of it is not.
He provided some "misguided assumptions" floated around by journalists and commentators.
One is that "wars can be initiated and resolved quickly on our terms. And, America can choose to opt out of a land war and rely on other nations to safeguard our strategic interests."
Another is that "technology is the most important component of readiness and will change the nature of warfare, he said, admitting that he’s an "Air Force brat," but understands that "there’s no substitute for human interaction. Deterrence requires a credible land force."
And another, related directly to logistics, is that "this nation will have time to grow and mobilize a land force in time of crisis."
Of this last myth, Campbell said having an Army that’s "ready, just-in-time," isn’t good enough.
Senior Army leaders are committed to not letting that happen because if it does, there will be casualties.
And, while having a ready, just-in-time Army is largely a function of Congress and the voters, Soldiers have a part to play in advancing sustainment to 2025, and beyond.
He provided a quote from Gen. George S. Patton, which is as relevant today as when he said it some 70 years ago.
"The officer who doesn’t know his communications and his supply as well as his tactics is totally useless," Patton warned.
(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by David Vergun, Army News Service.)