WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps’ logistics system can’t keep up with its new disaggregated operating concepts — or its old crisis response concepts, either — and must be overhauled if the Marines and the joint force want to succeed in future combat, according to a new Marine Corps report.
The service released its Installations and Logistics 2030 plan on Thursday, the latest in a series of deep-dives into how to modernize various aspects of the Corps.
The report, signed by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger, states that, while the Marines have been saying for years that logistics would be key to future success, they haven’t taken the right actions yet to put a modern logistics and sustainment model in place.
“To succeed on tomorrow’s battlefields, we will need a logistics enterprise fully integrated with the broader objectives of [Force Design 2030], capable of supporting multi-domain and distributed operations in contested environments,” it reads. “Currently, our logistical capabilities are under-resourced and do not meet the demands of our future force to succeed on future battlefields.”
The report cites several ongoing challenges: the Corps wants to increasingly rely on stand-in forces, or small units who are always present in contested areas; the service needs to figure out how those forces can be sustained across vast distances and long amounts of time, especially as tensions rise and fall.
New weapons programs aren’t always designed with sustainment in mind, but the service does not have the authority today to fix that through ideas like 3D printing repair parts at the point of need.
And the service has increasingly relied on technical experts in industry to repair advanced avionics and other parts, but the Marines cannot rely on these contractors to be on hand during a conflict; Marines must be able to repair their own platforms while operating forward.
Installations and Logistics 2030 includes three objectives related to the challenge of modernizing the sustainment ecosystem.
First is creating a global logistics awareness.
“To achieve resilient logistics networks, we need to view and understand our logistics resources differently than we have in the past. We will need tools to help commanders visualize logistics resources in space and time across the [joint logistics environment]. This will give us the ability to provide sustainment and distribution options based on threat, inventory position, and protection requirements,” the report reads.
To do that, the Marines and the joint force will need to invest in sensors to predict the demand for parts and to ensure a proper understanding of the inventory. Data will drive logistics decisions, and this data will have to be available up and down the chain of command while being protected from hacking by adversaries. The system will also need alternate ways to communicate needs and move goods into theater, in case the system or the supply routes are disrupted.
To get after these issues, three deputy commandants — for Installations and Logistics, Combat Development and Integration, and Information — will “refine requirements for a logistics information technology system” that can allow for conditions-based maintenance and generate readiness data and ownership-cost estimates.
By early 2024, the deputy commandant for installations and logistics will submit a plan that reimagines the relationships among organizations that sustain naval, joint and coalition operations.
During a Thursday call with reporters, Col. Matthew Mulvey, the futures branch head at Installations and Logistics, said the sensors and networks exist in the commercial market today, but “there are some challenges with getting that type of commercial-off-the-shelf software integrated in with Marine Corps systems”
He said the Marine Corps wouldn’t be alone in this integration effort, since the joint force is working to create a “logistics intelligence” capability.
A second objective is to diversify how supplies are moved.
Noting the Marines and the joint force typically move goods by land and by air, the report states “We will advance from a predominately ground-based, manned and crewed, wheeled-vehicle fleet to a mix of crewed and uncrewed, manned and unmanned, air, surface, subsurface, and ground capabilities with variable payloads and ranges that can be owned, leased, or contracted based on the situation.”
This will include some small unmanned systems that could deliver lightweight goods to contested areas, and the drones will be cheap enough that it won’t matter much if some are shot down.
By fall 2023 the Marines will create a modernization plan for the tactical ground mobility fleet as well as draft a requirement for a multidomain logistics delivery web that could include surface and subsurface connectors, unmanned ground and aerial system, and even emerging space capabilities.
By spring 2024, the Marines will have begun experimenting with using their expeditionary platforms — ships like the expeditionary sea base, aircraft like the KC-130 and more — to support resupply and forward maintenance capabilities.
Forces are already experimenting with some of these ideas to distribute goods in new ways, Col. Aaron Angell, the executive assistant for Installations and Logistics, said during the media call.
A combat logistics battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, sent several Marines to get licensed to pilot a variety of types of boats — the thinking being that some islands in the Pacific do not have roads that can support heavy trucks to move goods around, and those goods may need to be moved from one part of the shoreline to another via small boats.
Those Marines took their new skills to Europe, where they were able to use boats for a resupply mission in a real operating environment.
A third objective calls for the Marines to “improve sustainment.” It notes the Marines today rely on “a linear logistics and supply chain, requiring large warehousing and trans-shipment nodes to break down, consolidate, and repackage shipments for delivery to the end user.”
Though Marine formations are designed to self-sustain for some period of time, they eventually do need to be resupplied; that supply system was long ago designed for efficiency over effectiveness and is now “vulnerable,” the report states.
Though the Marine Corps is in parallel seeking to reduce its requirement for resupply — using less gas, looking to additive manufacturing instead of hauling around spares, forward-staging some goods — resupply will always be a fact of life for deployed Marine units.
This part of the plan calls for new policies that allow greater use of additive manufacturing in the field — and experimenting with this capability by the fall — the installation of wireless internet connections in hangars and flightlines to bolster unit-level aircraft maintenance and readiness, and a new definition of what the war reserve of weapons stocks ought to look like.
The service hedged when asked about the potential cost of all the initiatives in the Installations and Logistics 2030 document. Whereas the first two years of Force Design 2030 were characterized as “divest to invest,” where tanks, heavy artillery and some units were cut to free up funds for unmanned systems, new sensors and other future capabilities.
Angell said divest to invest largely had run its course and there was nothing else to cut to pay for installations and logistics modernization.
The service will have to make “risk-based decisions” about what to take money from in short term, as the service spends about two years developing modern logistics and resupply systems and testing them, and then begin buying and fielding these systems after that.
Some initiatives, he noted — chiefly a plan to field all-electric vehicle fleets at bases — could pick up funding from Defense Department, other federal agency, and even state-level budgets. Angell noted California, home to Camp Pendleton and other large Marine Corps bases, has a particular interest in hastening the transition from gas vehicles to electric vehicles.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.