Intratheater Joint Distribution
by Captain Robert P. Mann, Jr.
way forces are employed is changing. Current operations in Iraq
have shown how operational forces can bypass cities and focus
on the enemy. The quick advance of Army combat forces from Kuwait
to Baghdad required support units to stretch their capabilities
in order to keep pace. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Marine
Corps has operated at greater distances from the sea than those
covered in their doctrine. They have demonstrated the ability
to conduct operations over large distances for a sustained period.
Their force structure requires theater-level support to make
this possible. The Air Force has established forward bases in
southern Iraq to provide close air support to the combat units.
To sustain themselves, these forces need more than can be flown
It is no longer realistic to expect support units that are maintaining large
stocks to keep pace with fast-moving combat units. As lessons from Iraq emerge,
logistics will change to ensure that combat troops are able to fight the enemy
and not have to fight the supply and distribution system. Joint distribution
will be required in the future. However, experience in supporting Operation Enduring
Freedom has demonstrated that command and control problems are a significant
obstacle to achieving intratheater joint
|Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)
established a southern theater logistics hub at an air base in
Southwest Asia to support ground forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
At this hub, the Army organized a logistics task force (LTF),
consisting of a general support supply company headquarters and
supply platoon, a class IX (repair parts) section and maintenance
support team from a nondivisional direct support maintenance
company, and a platoon from a cargo transfer company. The cargo
transfer platoon had an attached arrival and departure airfield
control group that worked closely with an Air Force tanker and
airlift control element and an aerial port squadron; these organizations
worked together on the flight line to ensure that the right supplies
reached the supported unit at the right time.
The LTF worked with an Air Force air expeditionary group (AEG) to transfer cargo
from strategic airlift to intratheater airlift. The LTF also had the missions
of receiving ground shipments and configuring them for intratheater lift and
storing CENTCOM-directed authorized stockage list (ASL) equipment.
The LTF had many growing pains, including problems associated with dividing and
assigning responsibility for transload functions among the services and establishing
Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMIS) connectivity through various
communication architectures. The greatest problems, however, were associated
with command and control (C2).
Since the AEG and the LTF were under the direct control of their respective component
commanders, some operations were not properly synchronized. For example, the
LTF was in direct contact with the brigade combat team and was able to determine
requirements and begin preparing supplies and equipment for intratheater lift.
However, the air missions assigned to intratheater lift squadrons did not match
the brigade combat team’s needs. As a result, the LTF
commander who fails to provide
his army with necessary food and other
supplies is making arrangements for his own defeat, even with no enemy present.
The Strategikon, AD 600
to coordinate with U.S. Army Central Command (ARCENT), which
then coordinated with U.S. Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF)
to adjust the air missions. This problem was not a “war
stopper,” but it made the logistics pipeline difficult
to control and strained limited resources.
During Operation Enduring Freedom, strategic logistics operated
according to doctrine. All supplies flowed to the theater logistics
hubs and from there into
theater. If these hubs were located within the theater and had a deployed theater
support command, C2 came from the theater support command. This led the logistics
operators across the theater to conduct many video teleconferences to discuss
priorities, ensure each unit’s capabilities were known, and fill logistics
Approximately 5 months into the operation, the XVIII Airborne Corps from Fort
Bragg, North Carolina, entered the theater and the 1st Corps Support Command
became the lead management agency for
= Continental United States
LOC = Lines of communication
|logistics. C2 was not consolidated,
however, and the southern theater logistics hub still reported to
ARCENT for C2. This hub remained a theater asset because it supported
operations other than Operation Enduring Freedom. ARCENT was responsible
for supply management, and CENTAF controlled intratheater airlift.
Thus, additional coordination between the two commands was required.
Joint theater distribution doctrine should be adapted to apply to intratheater,
or operational-level, distribution. A joint distribution C2 element should control
distribution when a theater support command is not present.
The Army must ensure that current doctrine is understood before it is changed
or adapted. The Joint Publication 4–0 series, Logistics, can be used as
a basis for establishing procedures. These documents focus on the macro level
and do not prescribe exactly how to conduct joint logistics within the theater.
However, they do provide a frame of reference for formulating concepts based
on strategic doctrine.
It is easy to see the overlap of strategic, operational, and tactical logistics
in the diagram of the current logistics concept above. Note in the diagram that
strategic logistics stops at the theater base or port of debarkation.
The fundamentals of theater distribution are centralized management; an optimized
distribution system; velocity over mass; maximized throughput; reduced customer
wait time; minimum essential stocks; continuous, seamless, two-way flow of resources;
and time-definite delivery. These fundamentals will become imperatives as the
Army transforms from an Army of Excellence force to units of action and units
of employment. [Units of action are the tactical echelons of the Future Force,
comprising brigade and below units. Units of employment are Future Force units
that perform division- and higher headquarters-level tasks.] These forces are
being developed on the premise that they will be supported through distribution-based
The requirement to minimize the logistics footprint also must be considered in
order to conserve strategic resources and give the National Command Authorities
the flexibility to conduct simultaneous operations throughout the world. To meet
these Transformation and minimal logistics footprint goals successfully, the
Army must combine logistics efforts at the operational level as has been done
at the theater level.
Distribution in theater from the port of debarkation to the operational area—operational
distribution—is the responsibility of the combatant commander. If the combatant
commander does not have a single logistics commander to assume this responsibility,
he can use his air component commander to control intratheater airlift and assign
the responsibility for the ground lines of communication to his land component
commander. Each service component commander is responsible for providing his
own logistics structure to support his forces. To minimize the logistics footprint,
this must change.
Joint Distribution C2 Element
Centralized management, optimization of the distribution system, and maximized
throughput are the key requirements for achieving operational distribution. A
joint distribution C2 element can manage distribution effectively if it follows
a strong document describing tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Centralized distribution management is the integrated, end-to-end visibility,
capacity, and control of the distribution system and the flow of the distribution
pipeline. The most important element is control. Control should start at the
port of debarkation and continue to the direct support supply unit. The appropriate
mode operators are needed to achieve control. All services within the theater
should be represented in the joint distribution C2 element to collect information
on requirements to ensure that it effectively meets distribution needs.
The centralized distribution management organization should not become an additional
level of command in a theater of operations; it should be used in lieu of, or
in conjunction with, either corps- or theater-level logistics units. The distribution
commander must be given the resources to maintain in-transit visibility from
the port of debarkation forward to the
end of his network. This information must be shared with the supported commanders
and the strategic network. As future common operating picture systems are developed,
the different levels of the distribution system must be able to feed information
up until it reaches the centralized management organization at the highest level.
Lower levels need to be able to view one level up in order to forecast their
needs, plan, and react accordingly. Having centralized management should aid
in the distribution of information as well as the distribution of the supplies.
Another driving force for centralized management is the need to optimize the
distribution system. As the services move to reduce their logistics footprint,
they should try to piggyback their capabilities to get the most value with their
logistics dollars. This is easy for common-user items such as food and water,
and it should be no different for service-specific items.
The joint distribution C2 element will not be a warehouse and will not maintain
stocks; its purpose will be to move supplies through the pipeline. It should
have the ability to hold supplies in the pipeline and push them forward when
needed. However, this is not a supply function; it is a prioritization function.
Airlift units and transportation units already carry cargo for all of the services.
The military should maximize its transportation assets as they move forward within
the theater. A single transportation manager could do this by configuring loads
based on priority, location, and other factors.
Maximizing throughput—a concept the Army has been using for ammunition—could
work for all of the services throughout the battlefield. The limiting factors
are vehicles and aircraft. Minimizing theater-level logistics and maximizing
throughput would eliminate the need for current theater distribution structures.
If the services combined distribution resources, more resources would be available
to support throughput operations.
Logisticians must remember that supplies should be used to support the forces
and not stored. Throughput has to be controlled centrally. With the move toward
loads being configured in the continental United States and sent to the units
of action, management of flat-racks and containers will become paramount.
Centralized management, optimized distribution, and maximized throughput are
important for the distribution flow and also will affect the deployment flow.
Economy of force will reduce strategic lift requirements and ensure that distribution
logistics will have the lift it needs to become a reality.
Common Operating Picture
As information systems improve, a distribution-based logistics system will become
easier to manage. The key enablers will be the services’ common operating
picture systems, which will include logistics modules. To make units of action
a reality, the focus must be on logistics now more than ever. Having common operating
pictures in the minimum number of systems will allow easier management with lower
staff overhead. In-transit visibility technology must be a part of this to ensure
that the supplies in the pipeline have the same visibility as a direct support
unit’s ASL. In distribution-based logistics, the pipeline will be just
as important as the warehouse.
Combining the distribution efforts of the services will have risks. The focus
must be on joint distribution, not joint logistics. The culture of each service
must be respected. Logisticians will need additional training to ensure they
understand the support concepts of all of the services and how they are interrelated.
It will be difficult for services to give up control of their resources and assets.
Giving up resources leads to a feeling of vulnerability, which is similar to
the reason units want to maintain their own stocks.
The risks can be offset through education and professional development. As distribution-based
logistics becomes more acceptable in the services, it will become easier for
the services to work together.
Joint distribution operations will become a necessity in future operations and
future doctrine. A joint distribution C2 element that has the power to meet the
imperatives of centralized management, optimized distribution, and maximized
throughput must be established. The tenets of distribution visibility, capacity,
and control must be instilled in this organization. Using education, future common
operating picture systems, and developed tactics, techniques, and procedures,
combatant commanders will be able to task-organize an effective intratheater
Captain Robert P. Mann, Jr., is assigned to the 2d
Command in Korea. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration
from Rider University in New Jersey and a master’s degree in logistics
management from the Florida Institute of Technology. He is a graduate of the
Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced
Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Logistics Management
College’s Logistics Executive Development Course, for which he wrote this