HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. Army is preparing to put its logistics tail to the test in the Indo-Pacific, considered the most challenging operational theater in the world by service officials.
This summer, the service will hold a large-scale exercise in Australia dubbed Talisman Sabre. As part of the two-week training event that starts in late July, the Army will deliver massive amounts of equipment across challenging terrain and large distances, Brig. Gen. Jered Helwig, the Army’s 8th Theater Sustainment Command commander, told Defense News last week.
“The scale is an order of magnitude higher than anything that has ever been done before,” he said during an interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium here. “It’s been a huge undertaking. Just for one example, Australia’s got very strict agricultural requirements, and we have quadrupled the amount of equipment that we’re bringing … one of the contested things is ensuring that we can [keep] the leopard snail from getting into Australia.”
That has meant months cleaning equipment in Oahu, Hawaii, to prevent the tiny hitchhikers from waging the slowest of invasions, according to Helwig.
Logistics and sustainment are central to carving out a key role for the Army in the Pacific as the U.S. seeks to deter China and prepares to protect allies and partners.
Top military officials have said the region will require the Army to adapt its approach to logistics, and the service is standing up a team focused on enabling the deployment of troops and large amounts of equipment even in constantly contested environments.
But Helwig said the most valuable way to bolster logistics in a contested environment is to exercise it.
“We have to rehearse sustainment at scale and treat logistics as a warfighting function as we rehearse it as part of our campaigning,” he said.
Talisman Sabre, an exercise between Australia and the U.S. that occurs every other year, will prioritize the logistics tail with a smaller emphasis on other operations, he added. Joining the U.S. and Australian armies are South Korea, Indonesia and Japan.
Helwig’s command will set up its main post in Brisbane, Australia, which it has not done outside of Hawaii before, Helwig said. Additionally, the post will consist of a joint, coalition command. “We’ll have a beautiful mix of Australian, Army and joint forces contributions; it won’t look like our standard [Tactical Operations Center],” he added.
The I Corps’ Expeditionary Sustainment Command will set up in Townsville on the northeast coast and the 25th Division Sustainment Brigade will be in Darwin. The distance between Brisbane and Darwin is roughly the same as the distance between Fort Stewart, Georgia, and Fort Carson, Colorado — about 1,617 miles.
The exercise will also include a joint logistics over-the-shore exercise where the Army will take 17 M1 Abrams tanks off of its Army Prepositioned Stock Afloat ship and onto watercraft as well as 400 pieces of rolling stock, which has never been exercised at this size in the theater. The watercraft will land on an undeveloped beach and the tanks will roll off “Saving Private Ryan-style,” Helwig said.
The Army will construct its Trident Pier, a 1,200-foot pier that requires about 100 soldiers to assemble, to help off-load equipment.
Once on the beach in Australia, the 25th Infantry Division will drive the tanks and equipment 100 miles to Townsville.
During the exercise, the Army will also face interdiction of the common operating picture, Helwig said, to test the vulnerability of the logistics system.
Much of Talisman Sabre’s focus areas stem from lessons learned in a smaller annual exercise in the Philippines last year. The Army downloaded equipment from the APS Afloat, rehearsed configurations and drove a short distance and back, Helwig said.
Helwig said the service will increase the complexity of the annual exercise in the Philippines this year as well. While it took place over four locations last year, it now it will include nine.
The Army is also building a Theater Distribution Center in the Philippines in the area where it downloaded equipment in last year’s exercise. The center will serve as a hub for equipment and supplies there so it can be used for every exercise that takes place in the region.
The Army will also set up another distribution center in Australia and will reconfigure the one it has already built in Japan, Helwig said.
While logistics will be front and center at Talisman Sabre, the Army will also exercise logistics and sustainment all year through Operation Pathways, the U.S. Army Pacific Command’s series of annual exercises focused on building relationships with allies and partners.
“Sustainment really doesn’t get the full load against it in a single exercise,” Helwig said “It’s the combination, the weight, if you will, of multiple exercises that really gets us what we need to really see where the stressors are.”
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.