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CHIPS Articles: Transforming Joint Operational Level Logistics

Transforming Joint Operational Level Logistics
By U.S. Army Col. Mark W. Akin and George L. Topic - January-March 2008
Military logistics support extends from the strategic level in the national industrial base to the tactical level, where "beans, bullets and black oil" are delivered on time, at the right place — and in the right quantity.

There is a pressing need to develop a framework for joint logistics management at the operational level to enhance the synchronization and effectiveness of logistics support. This framework must be based on a set of imperatives and enablers that, when considered and properly established and used, offers the greatest possible freedom of action for the joint force commander (JFC) as well as our interagency and multinational partners.

This need has intensified with the broad array of military operations that is driving significant changes in the way we train, fight and execute missions — from humanitarian assistance to major combat. In turn, those changes require a fundamental revaluation of the way we deploy, support and sustain those operations.

Operational-level logistics link strategic resources with tactical units, enabling force closure, sustainment, reconstitution and redeployment of forces. The challenge of moving operating forces in the war on terror requires extensive integration of strategic and operational deployment and distribution efforts to provide effective operational and tactical sustainment.

These complex processes are increasingly intertwined, combining the services, national providers, coalition partners and a wide range of commercial capabilities — from domestic to international sources.

Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, along with past campaigns, highlight logistics efforts fraught with inefficiency, redundancy and process gaps. Our success was often dependent on heroic efforts and battlefield ingenuity by military logisticians and the overwhelming capacity of our industrial base to provide virtually limitless support. We cannot depend on this in the future, nor should we.

This article highlights a set of joint logistics imperatives and enablers that facilitate the integration of joint operational-level logistics management. It also presents several joint (operational-level) logistics management options and briefly covers Department of Defense actions now under way to enhance joint logistics capabilities.

Closing the gaps to resource sharing

We, Joint Logistics, J9 (Joint Concept Development and Experimentation Directorate) of U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), working closely with the Strategic Logistics Directorate for Logistics, Joint Staff J-4, focus on the operational level because we believe this is where enhancements to joint logistics offer the greatest opportunity for the JFC; choosing the best management structure for a given mission is a critical component of the overall logistics effort.

Current logistics operations are executed to a large extent through a combination of various capabilities in stovepiped processes that offer significant room for improvement. We believe that future operations are likely to be globally distributed and conducted rapidly and simultaneously across multiple joint operation areas within a single theater, or across the boundaries of more than one geographic combatant commander.

It is also becoming clear that the stovepiped processes in use today are not optimizing the delivery of logistics capabilities in accordance with the priorities of the combatant commander and do not embed economy as an element of execution.

Consequently, logisticians must establish and execute a global distribution concept of support that responds with speed, precision and economy to the changing needs of the joint force. Today's warfighter must view future-oriented concepts with new, more integrated transformational ideas.

As stated by Army Lt. Gen. C.V. Christianson, the Joint Staff J-4, “Joint logistics is the deliberate or improvised sharing of resources by reducing or eliminating constraints and developing ways to facilitate this process.” To best allocate, deliver and manage resources that support our military operations on a global scale, it is important to understand some of the key imperatives and enablers that can improve delivery.

In his paper, “Joint Logistics in the Future,” General Christianson identified three joint logistics imperatives for the development of future support capabilities. They apply across all geographic and structural boundaries at all levels. They are guiding principles for system developers, military planners, process managers and logisticians to guide the formulation of objectives and decision making: unity of effort, enterprise-wide visibility and rapid and precise response.

• Unity of effort refers to the coordinated application of all logistics capabilities focused on the JFC’s intent. It means that coordinated and synchronized actions must be driven by the right authorities and capabilities, shared awareness and processes and common performance metrics. It requires an understanding of how the joint process works, how members of the force access the process (to include interagency and multinational partners) and how the JFC measure success.

Unity of effort requires an atmosphere of inclusiveness, according to DoD Directive 3000.05, Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction Operations (available at

• Enterprise-wide visibility refers to the ability to see requirements, resources and capabilities across the joint operational environment, including achieving constant connectivity using data architecture with an enterprise view and having a focus that enables effective resource allocation across the entire system. The logistics community is currently engaged in a comprehensive review of visibility requirements across the joint logistics environment with the services and U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) participation.

• Rapid and precise response is the ability for joint logistics capabilities to effectively meet the constantly changing needs of the joint force. Our collective efforts must focus on speed, adaptability, reliability, visibility and efficiency.

In assessing the framework of joint logistics, it is important to identify and frame a common set of core functions that resides across the operational level. USJFCOM, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) have, over the last two years, identified and defined four joint processes that describe operational-level JFC support and are summarized in the following paragraphs.

• Joint logistics command and control is the exercise of authority by a JFC over the common support required by assigned and attached forces from two or more military departments. It is the means to achieve unity of effort through the effective employment of available resources. This process includes planning for logistics by the combatant commanders and the use of common user logistics and executive agent designation procedures to establish a JFC concept for logistics support.

• Logistics collaboration involves the creation of processes that enhance the visibility of logistics resources across the components, DoD agencies and other participating partners (interagency and multinational).

Links between operations, intelligence and logistics decisions are shared. Operations, intelligence and logistics collaboration provide the operator and the logistician with simultaneous access to multiple perspectives of shared information within a Web-based environment.

• Joint support planning refers to the effective identification of joint or coalition requirements and the planning needed to meet the requirements. The objective of joint support planning is to fully integrate support, intelligence and operation planning considerations in all joint analytical and planning activities across the operational level.

Joint support planning processes should cover the three JFC decision-cycle event horizons: the planning that covers current operations (what is); planning that covers future operations (what if); and planning that covers the future plans event horizon (what’s next).

• Joint support execution and tracking involves managing the commitment and use of resources to support joint and coalition operations. This function is essential to providing rapid and precise response; it must monitor dynamic situations and provide accurate information to decision makers.

Logisticians must be able to rapidly compare sustainment estimates derived from the joint support planning process with actual consumption data and tactical reporting systems to prioritize resource allocation and to best support logistics operations.

Collectively, these enablers should guide the JFC in the design and implementation of organizational constructs and procedures. They form the core components of logistics management at the operational level. While staffing levels, visibility requirements and coordination/ communication conduits vary widely by type of missions, area of operations and many other factors, the imperatives and core functions remain fairly consistent.

One key issue in any complex system is to design and implement an organizational structure appropriate to the mission. At the operational level, there are multiple options being explored to provide the JFC the freedom of action necessary to effectively and efficiently accomplish the mission.

Management Options

At the operational level, the mission of logistics planners and leadership has traditionally been called command and control (C2), a term all military personnel find familiar and comfortable. In the 21st century, the environment challenges traditional military theory perhaps more fundamentally than at any time in history.

For example, looking back at the imperatives above, logisticians are almost always called on to achieve unity of effort without unity of command. Thus, logisticians look broadly at how they achieve unity of effort through coordination, collaboration and cooperation.

Coordination, collaboration and cooperation during the execution of logistics management activities are obviously not mutually exclusive and, in fact, are always employed in some combination. What has changed in the recent past and can be anticipated in the future is the extent to which collaborative processes will be needed to supplement or reinforce traditional notions of C2.

Working with other government entities through the interagency process is not only a challenge and a fact of life, but also in some ways a significant enhancement to the tools logisticians use to accomplish assigned missions.

The mandate of DoD Directive 3000.05 is that stabilization and reconstruction have equal priority to major combat operations certainly directs — at least implicitly — a level of coordination across government entities not previously seen.

In a similar vein, the realization that logisticians will almost certainly be working in a coalition/multinational environment in the majority of future military operations implies the need to reassess the design and implementation of combined logistics support.

Current International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations in Afghanistan are serving to offer insights — and urgent requirements — for new structures, processes and tools to support the multinational force. Logisticians must design the future management capability to take advantage of the lessons from ISAF and have the ability to operate effectively in this environment.

Logisticians must work with the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, old and new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners — and nations that have not been traditional partners in the past. They also must be able to integrate efforts with commercial entities in ways for which, until recently, there has been little experience.

To respond to these challenges, DoD is experimenting with, testing and assessing a number of options for organizing a logistics management capability at the operational level. USTRANSCOM, with the Army and many other partners, is leading a DoD effort to create a Joint Deployment Distribution Enterprise (JDDE), which is designed to enable effective force deployment, unit movement and sustainment support to the joint warfighter.

There are also multiple joint logistics management options now being explored whose products and processes may eventually nest under the JDDE construct. USJFCOM has developed a Joint (experimental) Deployment and Support (JxDS) architecture with multiple combatant commander sponsors, whose products can be used to help shape the JDDE.

DoD Initiatives

The JxDS program and various experiments within it represent an important component of joint logistics transformation. The DoD logistics community has a number of other major initiatives under way to fulfill the joint logistics imperatives and provide the best possible support to the joint warfighter.

Together they will enable more effective and efficient support and facilitate the best possible decisions on the allocation of scarce resources.

Some of the key activities that relate to the improvement of operational logistics management include the following.

– Updating Joint Publication 4.0. This will entail a major rewrite of Joint Publication 4.0, Doctrine for Logistic Support of Joint Operations. The revision for this capstone publication for the community is now under way. This update is using a collaborative approach between the Joint Staff J-4 and J-7 offices with critical input from the services, USTRANSCOM, USJFCOM and DLA. The new publication is scheduled for release in 2008.

– The Joint Portfolio Test Case. During fall 2006, the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and the Joint Staff J-4 to initiate a Joint Portfolio Test Case that realigns the major capability areas of joint logistics from the current focused logistics concept to a new suite of capability areas.

The test focused on three areas:
• How to integrate all the functions, capabilities and processes required to project and sustain the joint force across the range of military options.
• How to align the defense supply chain and optimize the supporting processes to deliver a more effective and efficient outcome to the joint force.
• How to design a governance structure that, first, better integrates decision making; second, invests authorities and responsibilities at the right levels; and third, ties resource decisions directly to joint logistics outcomes.

The results of this test will largely determine how the logistics community addresses our major programs, initiatives and processes, which will have a significant impact on logistics management across the enterprise and certainly at the operational level.

The effort to define high-level supply chain management processes alone will further solidify distribution management tasks and improve visibility. These efforts will need to be balanced against the information and asset/process control requirements of the JFCs — and may be different based on varying missions.

– Joint Seabasing. This concept is defined as “the rapid deployment, assembly, command, projection, reconstitution and reemployment of joint combat power from the sea, while providing continuous support, sustainment and force protection to select expeditionary joint forces without reliance on land bases within the joint operational area.”

“These capabilities expand operational maneuver options and facilitate assured access and entry from the sea,” according to DoD’s Seabasing Joint Integrating Concept (available at doc).

The rules, tools and processes, as well as the tailorable nature of JxDS, provide a near-perfect fit to the joint seabasing concept, filling gaps in logistics command and control to strengthen and support the ability of the JFC to project and sustain military power anywhere in the world.

– Capabilities for Management of Coalition and Interagency Support. USJFCOM, along with eight other coalition partners (including NATO), has initiated a massive Multinational Experiment 5 (MNE5) during 2007–2009. MNE5 will further define and shape how coalition and interagency support can be conducted.

It is well-known that our coalition partners require improved methods to conduct rapid interagency and multinational planning, coordination and execution to create and carry out a unified, comprehensive strategy.

The central theme in MNE5 will be a comprehensive approach (all of government). The MNE5 end state is to define an agreed method by which multinational partners can plan, execute and assess a comprehensive approach to crisis prevention and response.

For MNE5, the logistics goal is to achieve effective and efficient multinational logistics support that gives the coalition force commander the freedom of action to effectively execute multinational operations.

Many of the lessons emerging from past and current MNE events, along with the JxDS, will shape how DoD can utilize the types of services and equities our coalition and interagency partners bring.

Enabling the Joint Warfighter

This article highlighted a fundamental set of imperatives and joint logistics enablers that are designed to help focus efforts to enhance joint operational-level logistics, discussed several organizational options for joint logistics management and described a number of initiatives now under way across the DoD.

Nothing in this article suggests the replacement of service-specific logistics support and capability. Instead, these initiatives intend to enhance those elements by providing an operational-level foundation that strengthens and integrates what Gen. James Mattis, commander of USJFCOM, once called a “common perspective of the battlespace, shared by maneuver, logistics and intelligence elements.”

By fostering synergy at the operational level, we will enhance support operations for all the services at the tactical level. The imperatives, enablers and options close the gap and define the necessary framework for joint logistics management, which improves synchronization and effectiveness of support at the operational level.

Putting these imperatives, enablers, and options into joint doctrine is a task that demands our strongest effort. The joint warfighters we support deserve nothing less.

Army Col. Mark W. Akin is the director, for Joint Logistics J9 (Joint Concept Development and Experimentation Directorate), U.S. Joint Forces Command.

George L. Topic is the deputy director for Strategic Logistics, Directorate for Logistics, Joint Staff J-4.

For more information about transformational joint logistics, go to

Edited from the original article by Col. Mark Akin and George Topic, which appeared in the Joint Forces Quarterly, Issue 47, 4th quarter 2007, with additional information given by Col. Akin in an interview with CHIPS Oct. 24, 2007.

Airmen from the Kunsan Air Base 8th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department work with Gunsan City, South Korea, firefighters to put out a large industrial fire, Dec. 3, 2007. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Rosenbaum.
Soldiers from Company C, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and Iraqi soldiers are picked up in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter after completing an air assault mission southeast of Kirkuk. Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Bendet.
Members of a medical team from Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, sit crammed in among food, bottled water and medical supplies in a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter during a flight to Patuakhali, Bangladesh, Nov. 26, 2007. The USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) are conducting humanitarian assistance/disaster relief efforts in response to Bangladesh’s request for assistance after Tropical Cyclone Sidr struck the Bangladesh coast Nov. 15, 2007. The storm killed more than 3,000 people and left several hundred thousand homeless. The Department of Defense effort is part of a larger U.S. response coordinated by the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development. DoD photo by Marine Corps Cpl. Peter R. Miller.
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