The U.S. Army Reserve is not effectively integrated with the Army active component in order to meet peer/near-peer challenges. Today’s great-power competition requires a Reserve force to expeditiously mobilize and support active-duty forces in stride with a developing crisis. Unfortunately, today’s Reserve force would mobilize for a large-scale combat operation with limited prior sustained interaction with the Army active component.
To overcome this problem, the Army should modify the Reserve’s support models of theater sustainment operations, mobilization method and training doctrine toward a Reserve/active integration model. Reserve/active integration would consist of incorporating regional support groups and similar Reserve brigade forces within the active division support structure. Integration of the Reserve’s support commands and brigades with active component counterpart formations would enable combined training and increased effectiveness during combat.
To implement a true Reserve/active integration model, the U.S. Army Reserve must refocus on three areas: theater sustainment operations, mobilization methods and training doctrine. All three areas must be adjusted through the lens of large-scale combat operations.
Theater sustainment operations will need to be updated to the new large-scale combat operations model by integrating Reserve forces into the active Army’s sustainment operations process and not relying on contracting for sustainment. Mobilization methods need to be unit based rather than ad hoc individual augmenters to active deployment force structures. When it comes to training doctrine, currently, no training link exists between active and Reserve forces at the division or brigade level, so sustainers do not train with their “target audience.”
During the past two decades, the global war on terrorism utilized the counterinsurgency to fight a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout this period, the Army relied on contracting for sustainment, such as water, food, fuel, etc. However, the actions of revisionist powers such as China in the South China Sea and Russia in Ukraine have changed the direction of future warfare. In response, DoD in 2017 introduced the large-scale combat operations framework. The joint force refocused to deterring and defeating peer and near-peer threats.
Large-scale combat operation and counterinsurgency doctrines pose sustainment differences. In 2018, DoD concluded that the fourth strategic deficiency was a lack of fuel and water sustainment during large-scale combat operations. Per doctrine, the Army is tasked to provide liquid logistics on a large-scale combat operations battlefield. The U.S. Army Reserve is the primary force provider for this task. It has the only two quartermaster petroleum groups (the equivalent of brigades), with one more scheduled to stand up in September. Integration of the active Army and the Reserve will be essential for effective sustainment operations during a large-scale combat operation.
Reserve equipment-readiness rates do not match the rigors of a large-scale combat operation battlefield. This is due to the Army’s decision for the past 30 years to direct Reserve commands to prioritize individual readiness over equipment or unit combat readiness. Additionally, large-scale combat operations require units to maintain and certify equipment in a contested and, at times, asymmetric battlefield. Adding realistic and integrated training for the Reserve forces brings the necessary focus on equipment readiness to sustain combat operations.
Currently, the Reserve force is not integrated to properly support the active force during a large-scale combat operation mobilization. Habitually, the U.S. Army Forces Command fills staffing gaps of deploying active forces with ad hoc Reserve units or individuals. The result is a Reserve/active force with no combined training as a fighting force. There are limited pre-deployment linkages between Reserve and active units at the Reserve units, but not at the U.S Army Reserve Support Command and brigade levels.
Historically, the reserve component aligned with the active component, but over the past 30 years, they drifted apart, creating their own stovepipe force structures. Since World War II, the U.S. Army Reserve went through myriad restructuring changes, beginning with the Gray Board of 1947, the Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1952 and the Total Force Policy of 1973. These changes culminated with establishing a U.S. Army Reserve Command chief under Forces Command in the early 1990s and the offloading of sustainment pieces of the combined arms fight to the Reserve.
Current Army force structure puts 78% of its sustainment personnel and equipment in the U.S. Army Reserve. Of note, 55% of medical units, 65% of finance units and 73% of human resources capability reside in the Reserve. This sustainment structure, without a proper linkage of training focus between active and Reserve, leads to a lack of combat power in the Reserve and a cultural problem of sustainment personnel in leadership positions, ultimately hindering the effectiveness of Reserve forces during mobilization.
Army doctrine and force structure do not support a combined Reserve/active or joint training cycle. No training link exists between active and Reserve forces at the division or brigade level. This disjunction creates a situation where the active force does not train with its sustainers, and vice versa, nor does there exist any joint training structure.
For example, DoD tasks the Army to support battlefield liquid logistics with a Reserve force that trains 16 hours per month, with one 14-day training event per year. To further complicate the training environment, Reserve training events rarely occur within the footprint of the active units to be sustained during a large-scale combat operation event.
Currently, no link exists between Army Reserve training events and brigade combat team training events held quarterly at the division level, other than sparse rotations at combined readiness training centers and during combat support training exercises.
Integration of Reserve sustainment units within an active division under the deputy commanding general–sustainment would facilitate realistic training opportunities and effective sustainment operations, and enable responsive mobilization timelines. A rotating Reserve brigade, called a regional support group, would report directly to the deputy commanding general–sustainment. Reserve geographical support commands would focus on the brigade’s equipment and facility readiness.
A full-time liaison officer cell would facilitate division, regional support group and geographical support commands’ training operations and planning. The output of this organizational structure will be increased Reserve unit readiness. The liaison officer would bridge a missing link between Reserve/active training and deployment planning and facilitate requests for information between the active and Reserve support commands.
The Reserve liaison officer would also bridge a knowledge gap between Reserve/active culture, training focus and mobilization methods. Regional support groups with their liaison officer plug-in would enable a “train as you fight” concept for active brigade combat team training and planning for large-scale combat operations and begin creating Reserve/active integration.
Here’s an example of how that works: Georgia’s National Guard brigades already integrate with the regional deputy commanding general-maneuver of the active-duty divisions. As of June 2016, Georgia’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team partnered with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The Georgia National Guard’s 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade also is aligned with the divisional staff of the 3rd Infantry Division. This organizational hierarchy leads to realistic training with their similarly equipped and trained counterparts.
Integrating regional support groups with active divisions enhances the Army’s expeditionary combat capability. Enabling clear, combined Reserve/active mission and training objectives boosts the readiness of the Army and the effectiveness of the joint force during high-intensity combat. This new paradigm enhances the realism of training events and leads to higher troop morale and higher retention rates across the Reserve while giving active units a proper picture of Reserve sustainment force capabilities. Reserve/active integration would give the Army an edge over peers during future combat in highly contested asymmetrical warfare.
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Capt. Justin Albrecht is an Active Guard and Reserve officer. He serves as the operations officer with the U.S. Army Reserve’s 402nd Quartermaster Battalion, New Castle, Pennsylvania. He deployed as a platoon leader with the 1st Infantry Division during Operation Enduring Freedom. He is a Logistics Captains Career Course graduate and holds an MBA from Carson-Newman University, Tennessee.