Logistics and the Combatant Commander: Meeting the Challenge

July 7, 2008

Combat, reconstruction and stability operations require more than simply employing U.S. military forces; they require a joint and interagency fight built around a coalition of nations. Virtually all intelligence and operations estimates suggest that the war on terrorism requires interdependence among land, sea, air, special operations and logistics forces. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom confirm that future operations will be jointly executed, with each service component lending its unique and important capabilities to the joint battle plan.

Findings from a variety of joint and service-sponsored assessments cite shortcomings to operational effectiveness because there is no joint theater logistics command or management capability. Relevant observations can be summarized as the absence of a joint logistics organization to ensure that logistics functions are executed efficiently; lack of a theater-level logistics commander to provide theater logistics command and control (C2), thereby freeing the combatant commander and his director of logistics (J-4) to plan and coordinate long-range effects; and the inability to execute directive authority for logistics, see requirements and respond with the appropriate capabilities.

Each of these observations highlights the fact that the rate of change in logistics has failed to keep pace with the rate of change in the character and conduct of war. Since the inception of joint military operations, joint theater logistics management often has been ineffective and inefficient. It is difficult to monitor joint operational logistics capabilities as they move from their source through strategic lines of communication and tactical levels to meet joint force objectives. This problem is exacerbated by the current operational tempo of U.S. military forces.

Major operations since Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm have demonstrated that logistics processes do not have distinct strategic, operational and tactical levels. Evidence from current operations and training exercises clearly shows that the operational environment has changed. Joint, interagency and multinational operations are now the norm and require different logistics C2 organizations than are used today to meet the 2 regional combatant commander’s requirements. Logistics is not a linear but a circular concept that begins when requirements are generated and ends when the requirements are satisfied. It is based on prediction, speed and precision; relies on various service, national and multinational assets and capabilities; and is controlled by a joint process that seeks the greatest efficiency.

As an institution, the services, the Joint Staff and U.S. Joint Forces Command are hard at work putting the observations, lessons and conclusions into focus, disseminating the right lessons and discarding the wrong ones, all while fighting a global war. The next set of operations will tell how well the current challenges have been met. This paper points out the challenges the combatant commander and his staff have to address concerning logistics C2.

The character and conduct of future conflicts make the current approach of conducting distinct service sustainment operations unacceptable. This evolving operating environment requires a different joint logistics management process and C2 structure. To achieve this end state, joint logistics C2 organizations will be required to synchronize, prioritize, integrate, coordinate and direct sustainment operations in support of all services, the interagency and multinational partners