Sustainment is the foundation that enables maneuver commanders to choose the time, place and delivery of joint war- fighting capability in support of joint all-domain operations. In the words of Dwight Eisenhower, “You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.”
In order to preserve a warfighting commander’s freedom of action, the U.S. Army must think differently about how the theater is set and sustained. This is especially true in the Indo-Pacific Theater, which encompasses over 50% of the world’s population, 3,000 different languages, 16 time zones and 36 nations. How and where the Army arrays capabilities or “builds muscle” will ensure that the “fist” is capable of striking at will during competition, crisis or conflict. The Army must use its operations, activities and investments to build muscle within the joint logistics enterprise, combined multinational logistics enterprise and organic materiel enterprise.
This begins with the integration and synchronization of sustainment within the theater and the U.S. Army 8th Theater Sustainment Command as the lead organization in this effort. The command’s role in setting the theater is critical due to its mission to provide Mission Command for Army and joint operational sustainment organizations, and integration and synchronization of strategic sustainment capabilities during joint all-domain operations. Doctrinally, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command is responsible for theater opening, theater distribution and theater sustainment, which enable the operational reach, endurance and freedom of action of the joint force.
Setting the Theater
Setting and sustaining the theater are often misconstrued as simple tasks compared to combat movements and maneuvers. However, these tasks are complex and essential to shaping the operational environment, supporting combat operations and setting conditions to fight and win. Setting the theater is not a reflexive response to competition, crisis or conflict, but a continuous process of understanding the operational environment; establishing partnerships, access and influence; and developing the infrastructure and networks necessary to support and sustain combat operations.
Moreover, sustainment operations don’t occur by the wave of a magic wand, but through integration and synchronization at echelon to ensure logistics requirements are met to enable combat operations. The 8th Theater Sustainment Command sets the theater through synchronization and integration with unified action partners in order to create conditions through protection, sustainment, access and partnership that enable joint force operations.
The 8th Theater Sustainment Command’s mission to open the theater is just one of three mission sets that sustainers execute to enable the operational reach, freedom of action and prolonged endurance of maneuver forces. During theater opening, the command, along with joint logistics enterprise partners, sets the theater to enable joint all-domain operations through port opening, joint reception, staging, onward movement and integration for the establishment of theater security, the theater distribution network and the theater distribution center.
Theater opening is the first step in building muscle to strike during competition, crisis or conflict. The 8th Theater Sustainment Command executes several preliminary activities that enable theater opening, including theater security cooperation activities, sustainment site assessments, port opening and the establishment of the theater gateway.
The 8th Theater Sustainment Command plays a critical role in setting and shaping the theater through its theater security cooperation activities. These activities provide strategic advantages like partnerships and agreements to the joint force. Partnerships and agreements facilitate forward presence and access throughout the region. Competitors continue to influence Pacific island nations through diplomatic and economic means, which impact U.S. efforts to build alliances within the region.
The 8th Theater Sustainment Command executes theater security cooperation activities within the region through soldier deployments in support of multinational and bilateral exercises and training, military-to-military engagements, subject-matter-expert exchanges, humanitarian and civic assistance, and other activities.
Operation Pathways allows us to rehearse strategic movement, operational maneuver and tactical employment of land forces at size and scale. The execution of each activity shapes the theater, establishes trust, builds partner capacity, increases interoperability and assists in development of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic agreements, which enable the access required to set the theater.
Sustainment Assessment Team
Unique to the Army in the Pacific Theater is the Theater Sustainment Assessment Team, a capability used by the 8th Theater Sustainment Command to set the theater and increase access, presence and posture throughout the areas of operation. The assessment team is an ad hoc, specialized, cross-functional team of sustainment experts who execute on-site assessments of a country’s sustainment capacities, capabilities and infrastructure.
As the team prepares for country assessments, it leverages the expertise of several entities to gather information, entities including embassies, country teams, partners, allies, security force assistance brigades, special operations forces, the U.S Army Surface Deployment and Distribution Command and U.S. forces within the selected country.
Along with determining the feasibility of sustainment activities, the team assists in determining locations for future posture initiatives across the Pacific. The information captured by the team informs the Theater Sustainment Posture Review, another tool used by the 8th Theater Sustainment Command to see, sense, understand and set the theater.
The 8th Theater Sustainment Command, along with joint logistics enterprise partners, executes port opening, which is an essential task of theater opening. Port opening is the security and establishment of sea and air ports of debarkation and key infrastructure required to open the theater. Sustainment site assessments and theater security cooperation activities enable port opening.
Moreover, theater security cooperation activities foster partnerships that enable access to host-nation ports for theater opening. The 8th Theater Sustainment Command uses expeditionary contract support and engineer capability to establish and improve infrastructure at ports when required. The Joint Task Force-Port Opening is another capability that can be used to rapidly establish ports and distribution nodes, and facilitate joint reception, staging, onward movement and integration for up to 60 days during contingency operations.
The theater gateway, established by the 8th Theater Sustainment Command during port opening, facilitates the flow of forces and equipment into aerial and sea ports. The management and accountability of forces, supplies and equipment as they enter a theater is an arduous task that provides the geographic combatant commander visibility of combat power readiness as combat power is built. The theater gateway personnel accountability team within the command manages accountability of personnel, including contractors, as they enter, exit and move throughout theater using the Deployed Theater Accountability System and Synchronized Pre-Deployment and Operational Tracker systems.
Additionally, the accountability team facilitates reception, staging, onward movement and integration of personnel and equipment with joint logistics enterprise partners to ensure rapid and efficient rate of movement of personnel and materiel into the theater to meet operational requirements.
Theater opening is a complex and deliberate mission requiring integration and synchronization of agencies at echelon in time and space. Before any service positions boots on the ground in theater, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command must conduct theater opening activities. This sustainment mission should never be discounted.
Theater distribution is the lifeline of operations and the second step in building muscle to enable the fist to strike at will. The premise that the distribution of logistic commodities from the strategic support area into theater and within theater to service components is a simple operation is a falsehood. Theater distribution requires a complex web of integrated networks to ensure sustainment delivery at the right time and place.
The distribution network established by the 8th Theater Sustainment Command during theater opening is the center of gravity for theater sustainment operations, along with the theater storage area and the theater distribution center. Sustainment of the theater begins and ends with the distribution network, which is composed of four networks: physical, financial, informational and communications. Each network enables the freedom of action, operational reach and endurance of the joint force.
The physical network, including rail, air and sea lines of communication, provides the means for materiel and personnel to move throughout the theater. Security of lines of communication by force protection assets is of the utmost importance to ensure maneuver forces aren’t limited due to sustainment distribution operations.
The financial network provides the means to ensure fiscal resources, policies and processes are available to support operations.
The informational network encompasses information systems required to manage and control theater distribution.
Finally, the communications network provides the theater network architecture that supports security and visibility of communications used for distribution operations.
The majority of the sustainment communication network resides within the unclassified realm. Each network is vulnerable to enemy targeting and must remain secure.
Theater distribution is the means in which sustainers ensure that maneuver forces are fully equipped and staffed to perform their operational missions and that materiel is distributed and retrograded throughout theater. Theater distribution is not only materiel and personnel transport, but also the transfer and storage of materiel. The importance of theater distribution is often unnoticed until units are low on key logistics supplies such as fuel, water or ammunition.
Theater sustainment is the third role of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, the main effort and major muscle movement for the theater Army and the joint force.
It’s fairly common knowledge that sustainment enables operations. However, there are still skeptics who believe sustainment should be hand-waved. Theater opening and theater distribution are the foundation of theater sustainment operations. The theater is opened when the theater distribution management center, theater distribution network and theater storage area are all established.
The 8th Theater Sustainment Command provides sustainment Mission Command for Army and joint operational-level sustainment within the Indo-Pacific region. The organization serves as the centerpiece for the integration and synchronization of strategic sustainment capabilities in support of joint all-domain operations within the theater. The command executes centralized Mission Command and decentralized execution through expeditionary sustainment commands and their assigned sustainment brigades. The span of control for sustainment operations during joint all-domain operations covers the entire Indo-Pacific region.
The sustainment of joint all-domain operations covers myriad functions, including Army support to other services. This support includes theater distribution, health service support, mortuary affairs, materiel repair, personnel service support, humanitarian assistance, force protection and more. Sustainers must continuously assess capabilities and requirements and update running estimates to ensure maneuver force requirements are identified and met.
As the Army and the other services modernize and reform policy and doctrine, the Army must change the way it views sustainment. As the service thinks about joint all-domain operations, the tooth-to-tail paradigm cannot dominate large-scale ground combat operations. Logistics is the muscle that enables maneuver formations to strike.
Sustainment is a combat multiplier that provides commanders with options. Sustainment should never be an afterthought, but a parallel thought, when planning and executing joint operations. History has shown sustainment as both a limitation and strength of armies around the world. The priority that organizations give to sustainment will ultimately determine the difference between victory and defeat.
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Maj. Gen. David Wilson is commanding general of the U.S. Army 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. Previously, he served as director of logistics, U.S. Forces Korea/U.N. Command, and deputy director of logistics, Combined Forces Command, both in South Korea. Before that, he was the Army’s 40th chief of ordnance. He is a graduate of The Citadel, South Carolina, and holds a master’s degree in general administration from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the National Defense University.