This article expresses views of the author, not the Department of Defense or any of its agencies.
Future joint missions make situational awareness critical to the Army's ability to respond rapidly during a crisis.
In our "new world of disorder," the United States military is expected to respond rapidly to any crisis designated by the National Command Authority. There is a high probability that the responding force will be a joint force. This probability creates an acute need for superior situational awareness so that joint headquarters, participating services, and their respective commanders and staffs can function in all areas, including logistics, based on reliable information.
At the operational level of war (the theater in this case), logistics is critical to success in both combat operations and military operations other than war. In fact, at the operational level, classic military operations and logistics tend to merge; one becomes the other. Here, continued success depends on credible information that commanders and planners can use to make timely and accurate assessments and decisions. Reliable information, accessibility, and predictive capability are the centerpieces of situational awareness.
I believe that, for a number of reasons, logistics situational awareness at the joint operational level is woefully inadequate; it is difficult to achieve and maintain and may represent a catastrophic vulnerability-an Achilles' heel-that a shrewd adversary can exploit. There is, however, a solution. Technology and training can be leveraged so that any logistics organization can attain and maintain superior situational awareness.
Let's highlight briefly both the information needs and the considerations that contribute to situational awareness for operational-level logisticians. For starters, what is logistics situational awareness? Ideally, it has four key features-
It is a multiple subscriber (strategic down to tactical level), information management architecture contributing to disciplined reasoning by commanders and their staffs under even the most trying circumstances.
It accelerates logistics decisionmaking and anticipation of requirements by assisting in clarifying problems, identifying solutions, and eliminating or reducing uncertainty.
It is a computer-aided system of systems.
It is continuously updated at real or near-real time throughout its architecture (similar to the maneuver control system).
The Operational Level
At the operational level, senior logistics commanders and staffs receive, process, generate, and transmit tremendous amounts of information. Ideally, information flows top to bottom, bottom to top, and laterally. On occasion, information flow can intentionally skip an echelon.
One might suspect that information flow is a joint weakness since each service generally handles logistics internally, creating significant challenges for any logistics (J4) staff. But, after some analysis, it becomes obvious that the needed information is not found exclusively in logistics channels.
For instance, personnel-related information is the personnel (J1) staff's domain, intelligence matters are in the intelligence (J2) staff's arena, and force tracking is the operations (J3) staff's responsibility. Of course, the tactical commanders' activities and needs are quintessential to the process. Still, the J4 staff and the joint logistics headquarters must have ready access to these domains. I suspect that the timely transfer of critical intrastaff as well as interstaff information in a joint force is a major challenge.
Because of the sheer magnitude of information flowing into, within, and out of the theater, key decisionmakers and planners must have a situational awareness system that updates, stores, categorizes, monitors, prioritizes, searches, summarizes, distributes, and alerts in real or near-real time. Again, leveraging automation and other technologies is the material solution. Training military personnel to exploit the capabilities of these new information technologies is the human component of the situational awareness challenge.
The Human Aspect
In the November 1994 issue of Military Review, W. B. Cunningham and M. M. Taylor state that there are five modes of information. A responsive logistics situational awareness model must address each of these five modes-
Information for intent establishes a subordinate's understanding of his superior's intent; it promotes a two-way exchange.
Control information "addresses matters of primary and current attention" that require immediate action; control information is needed for continuous and unambiguous estimates and assessments.
Monitoring information addresses matters that a commander (or staff principal) "is not currently controlling but which he may choose to control" if either danger or opportunity arises.
Alerting information allows a commander or staff principal "to ignore vast amounts of information until it becomes important enough to demand attention." A detector, either machine or human, signals a requirement for attention by decisionmakers.
Sought information provides specific information that either clarifies or reduces uncertainty; this information is most commonly found in the planning process.
The main point is that the essence of logistics situational awareness is disciplined information management that promotes judicious decisionmaking. This situational awareness model seeks a balance between too much and too little information reaching decisionmakers. Of course, the commanders and staffs must have training and confidence in the system for it to be employed effectively.
This all leads me to five recommendations. First, the services must procure and field a standard, or compatible, logistics situational awareness package. Second, this package must be compatible with all current and future logistics-oriented information systems and feeder systems from other disciplines.
Third, because of the ever-increasing probability of joint operations, the training of logisticians from all services must stress more cross-training and cooperation. Service schools for company- and field-grade officers should be well represented by the other services' logisticians. The services also should establish a robust logistics exchange program; this will promote understanding of joint logistics early in an officer's career, and each exchange officer will receive credit for joint duty.
Fourth, the strategic level of logistics (the Department of Defense and service levels) should consolidate where possible and, most importantly, link information systems to promote seamless logistics support (especially supply and transportation) for customers, regardless of service. This will permit the operational-level logisticians to perform better their role as the synchronizing link between tactical-level and strategic-level logistics.
Fifth, there is a need for an active component, joint logistics command headquarters. This initiative will promote joint logistics unity of effort, logistics interoperability, planning, logistics synchronization, rapid force-projection of a contingency force package, and responsiveness to the joint force commander's plan and decisions. I understand that one or more services may balk at this idea. In my opinion, however, a joint logistics command headquarters has considerable merit.
Simply put, much remains to be done by logisticians from all services before they achieve situational awareness. My five recommendations, if implemented, will definitely enhance situational awareness at the operational level.
I want to start some serious discussion and debate on the challenge of improving situational awareness. Instead of just glancing at the problems and walking away, senior logisticians must take positive action. As military operations become more complex, our defense budgets decline, our potential adversaries become more sophisticated, and the tempo of expected operations becomes more compressed in time, the need of our logistics organizations for a state-of-the-art situational awareness system will only grow.
The movement toward better situational awareness is not revolutionary but evolutionary. However, this evolutionary situational awareness will accommodate rapid exploitation of revolutionary ideas, doctrine, technology, and processes. Finally, let's note the old adage that "thought is action in rehearsal." Take time now to think about logistics situational awareness.
Colonel Larry D. Harman is assigned to Headquarters, 21st Theater Army Area Command, Kaiserslautern, Germany. He holds a master's degree in business logistics from the Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida, and a master's degree in military art and science from the Army Command and General Staff College. He also is a graduate of the Army War College and the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
[This article expresses views of the author, not the Department of Defense or any of its agencies.]