Exceptional Release Presents:
Persistent Logistics
By Lt Gen Warren Berry,
Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection, Headquarters U.S. Air Force
27 February 2020 (Originally published in Winter Exceptional Release)

Posture, sense and respond in a world of great power competition.

At this pivotal time in history, we are returning our focus to great power competition and are at the forefront of a technological revolution that will change the way we fight and win wars of the future.  Last November, I met with senior leaders across the Air Force Logistics Enterprise, the Joint Staff, and key allies to discuss the critical operational problems listed in the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and how to adapt to deter aggression and prepare for future wars.

Everything we do must contribute to our nation’s ability to deter a great power actor and, if necessary, inflict sufficient force to repel aggression.  To stay relevant in this ruthless environment, we must consistently develop new and innovative ways to deliver our mission.

As a result, we’re embarking on a concept of ‘Persistent Logistics’ to handle Logistics Under Attack, an homage to our steadfast commitment to warfighter support despite competition and attrition.  This concept is in line with the development of the Joint Concept for Contested Logistics and will enable the force to ‘Move to Win.’  We will utilize Persistent Logistics to guide our approach to new and innovative ways to posture, sense, and respond.

To understand the three attributes of Persistent Logistics, we must first recognize who our competition is and why they are a threat.  We are seeing ‘grey zone’ activities that challenge the rules-based international order and enable revisionist powers to operate from advantageous positions.

For example, island-building activities in the Indo-Pacific increase the risk of disruption to sea lines of communication used to sustain those forces.  As adversary militaries modernize, our ability to sustain operations from existing locations will be contested. Additionally, our industrial base is facing unprecedented challenges resulting from a number of macro forces, including targeting by potential adversaries and emerging gaps in and competition for our workforce.

As a result of this competitive environment, DOD supply chains have become fragile and brittle.  We have been forced to predominantly rely on sole-source suppliers, which creates single points of failure in our supply chains, erodes the manufacturing base, creates a multitude of manpower challenges, and limits our capacity to surge in times of crisis.

We are reassessing our posture to address the complexities of the changing global strategic environment and must review our approach to forces, footprint, and agreements. Similar to a commercial airline, we need to optimize our network of global operating locations that enables us to balance risk, investment, and mission generation.  This network of operating locations will allow us to move and disperse the force, complicating the enemy’s targeting cycle.

Our ability to forward position forces and operate from locations of advantage will be dependent on our relationship with partners and allies, and our operating locations may well still lie within contested areas.  Therefore, we’ll need to ensure airbase defense and recovery capabilities are tailored to the operating location requirements.  Furthermore, new operational concepts necessitate smaller, lighter footprints on the ground.

As we introduce new capabilities, to include those that could be runway agnostic, we will need to examine the implications for logistics.  AF/A3 and ACC have been experimenting with force presentation models, which will be refined over the coming year.  Once we have determined where we will fight, and how, we can solidify requirements for prepositioned equipment tailored to support new operational concepts.  Our new approach to prepositioning will necessitate a re-examination of policy and procurement practices to ensure they support contemporary warfighting requirements.

New approaches for positioning, storage, and maintenance should be explored with partners and allies and industry.  Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the utilization of operational contract support (OCS), which, when deconflicted with our joint and Allied partners, will support prepositioning and sustainment to reduce the burden on lift and enable a rapid transition to conflict operations.

Additionally, we need to exploit technologies that reduce our need to stockpile class III, IV, and IX, reducing their vulnerability to attack and availability for “blue force” use.  Finally, great power competition has highlighted a number of concerns across the defense industrial base.  Initiatives such as the Sustainment Strategic Framework, Theory of Constraints, depot modernization programs, and SAF/AQ’s Supply Chain Risk Management are making positive progress to addressing these vulnerabilities.

Sensing allows allied forces to observe the operational environment and orient the logistics enterprise in real-time and near real-time, providing actionable logistics intelligence.  We are putting significant effort into digital modernization, leveraging commercial technologies such as secure cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

Working in conjunction with the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) team, we intend to deliver the architecture, networks, and information, which will enable the force to predict, anticipate and rapidly respond to operational requirements.  This will require a highly connected network of organizations, including allies and industry, utilizing robust self-healing networks.

Future conflicts will be steeped in information, and our ability to effectively process and utilize this information faster than the enemy will be critical for operational success.  Our Airmen must become increasingly adept at using, managing, and protecting the information technology our enterprise relies on.

Responding to a continually adapting disruptive environment will be dependent on the ability to move while generating combat power under attack. This will require the ability to rapidly flex forces and materiel to the point of need in highly contested environments. Distribution will be a critical enabler and will be dependent on optimal utilization of existing lift assets, supplemented with new technology such as autonomous and vertical lift.

Furthermore, we will need new approaches to containerization of supplies to enhance movement.  Camouflage, concealment, and dispersal will complicate adversary targeting, and attacks will be mitigated through integrated base defense and base recovery capabilities.

But let me be clear.  We are in the early stages of developing the future concept for logistics.  There is much work yet to be done.  The recently established Logistics Under Attack Cross Functional Team (LUA CFT), co-led by AF/A4 and AF/A5A, will be undertaking analysis to identify capability gaps and develop solutions.  Some of you will be called upon to contribute to the CFT, but I encourage all of you to continue to innovate and contribute your ideas to the logistics community.

Your ideas will assist us in developing the logistics capabilities, which will enable us to ‘Move to Win.’  You have an exceptionally important role to play in the continued evolution of the world’s most powerful air and space forces; thank you for all you do!

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb House)