HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Russia’s attack on Ukraine has served as a stark reminder of the importance of logistics and sustainment on the battlefield. The invaders were focused on bringing in firepower for a quick victory, but instead the world saw a stalled-out, 40-mile-long convoy with broken tanks and soldiers running out of rations.
The U.S. Army is renowned for its logistics capability, but is acknowledging how much more challenging and contested it will be to move weapons, equipment and people from fort to port, and into theaters of operation.
The newly confirmed head of Army Materiel Command, Gen. Charles Hamilton, is focused on overcoming logistical problems, improving how the service predicts operational needs, and more precisely carrying out the delivery and maintenance of supplies and equipment.
Defense News sat down with Hamilton at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium here on March 29. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What do you mean when you say “predictive” and “precision” logistics are key priorities? What do you need to accomplish these efforts?
What you’re going to hear from me is “precision sustainment” and “predictive sustainment.” Basically, they’re interchangeable. But the mechanics of it involves getting that logistics tail a little leaner and a lot more agile. And precision comes in at the tactical level.
Gone are the days when we had everything down to your favorite ice cream. It’s going be a lot more expeditionary and, in a lot of cases, you may get what you need just in time for that next big move.
Predictive is more back toward my end at the strategic level, what we’re calling the joint strategic support area. What’s in that space is the organic industrial base and the defense-industrial base as well as a bunch of enterprises that are similar to Army Materiel Command.
How it works is when something happens at the tactical end today, it doesn’t inform the strategic end. It could take a day, or it could take a couple of days, for the information to allow me to react to it. The must-do is when it happens at the tactical end; it’s got to inform a decision at my end.
I’ll give you an example: If I have 20 airplanes at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois with “Class 1″ food and water rations getting ready to take off, and something happens at the tactical end with ammunition, I need to be able to have something that tells me in real time that just happened and gives me courses of action.
One course of action from my device would be: “Hey, let that Class 1 go forward.” Although they already have 10 days of rations, that makes sense. It could be: “Take off half the Class 1 and put the ammo that they need on it.” That’s a good mix. Or it could say, “Offload all the Class 1 and put the ammunition you need,” getting to what they really need in theater, what’s the priority. That’s what we must do in the future to get to predictive sustainment.
Regarding the precision sustainment side — being able to, for instance, lighten the logistics tail — what are you looking at doing to achieve that?
I’ll just use this rudimentary example: Right now, a division or brigade is required to take so many generators. Well, I’d like to use that space to get to the right commodities they need — ammo, food, water. So through technology, perhaps, as opposed to 30 or 40 generators, they have one or two of these new batteries that don’t run off fuel, are quiet and provide the power grid for those units to operate. That’s just one way to cut down on the fuel requirements.
You’ve been tasked with leading a strategy for contested logistics. What are you doing to figure out a path forward?
We’ve got to almost redo the entire way we support. We’ve got some great platforms in place. As seen in Ukraine, it’s almost like giving support while you’re modernizing at the same time. The whole U.S. Army is doing that, and AMC is not absent from that equation.
We’ve got to rewrite our doctrine. For instance, no longer are the days when I could just — like I’ve done many times downrange — send convoys out to resupply. It’s too dangerous to do that.
What we might do in the future is use an autonomous resupply of some kind. It might involve putting those supplies along the route that I know they have to support, unsecured, but I have sensors there that are able to say: “Hey, your operation has been compromised.” ... We’ve got to totally rethink the whole way we resupply, and that’s kind of at the tactical level.
The center of gravity for the next fight? To me, it’s the joint strategic support area, right where we sit, because it’s got some vulnerabilities that I need to work on with industry to fix. So the organic and defense industrial bases, they are where we’ve got to ... focus through technology. Then we’ve got to shorten that gap, close that gap, with industry on how they get requirements so they can make investments to increase capacity.
Sustainment has to be bad for our enemies. If they see that we have the capacity through our industrial bases, they’re going to think twice about taking that next step.
What observations in Ukraine are driving the way you view future logistics?
After [Russia] decided to take on Ukraine, we’ve all been surprised at the logistics side of it, basically how they were landlocked and didn’t plan for the weather, the fuel, etc.
So we would do a little Monday morning quarterback on that, me and my fellow logisticians. But on Tuesday, we were looking at ourselves, looking at our processes and making sure that we were, in fact, doing what we said we can do.
But here is the big difference: It came down to leadership. As you know, they had to move some senior officers to the front to direct traffic. That will not happen in the United States Army.
We have some very capable junior leaders and an incredible noncommissioned officer corps that could do those tasks. I’ve watched staff sergeants lead convoys in combat, certainly young officers do that. I think probably part of our secret sauce is that we have a great noncommissioned officer corps, and we entrust and train our junior leaders to perform those tasks.
With the Army focused on contested logistics, especially in the challenging Indo-Pacific theater, how are you rethinking the logistics tail in that region when it comes to Army pre-positioned stock or other strategies to get equipment to the right place at the right time?
It was a huge mission — just the distance, the time-distance math problem you have to [solve to] get stuff there. In about three weeks, there’s a summit on Army pre-positioned stocks that’s going to happen, and that’s going to drive our strategy for what we do with that stock.
Once we narrow down some more of the agreements for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s area of responsibility, that would allow us to better posture our pre-positioned stock in that theater.
We always use terms like “set the theater.” Having done that a couple of times, I always remind my team it’s about not just setting the theater, but about resetting the theater. Because it changes almost weekly, you’ve got to be very flexible.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.