The services have put a heavy demand on their logisticians over 15-plus years of conflict, and senior leaders must assess the impacts of that demand and make improvements over time, the commander of U.S. Central Command said during a recent conference.
Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel spoke during the 33rd National Logistics Conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association last week in Tampa, Florida, where he laid out three aspects of the changing nature of warfare that affect logistics.
“Over the past nearly 13 months, we’ve dealt with a number of challenges in Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, the Bab al Mandeb Strait and a host of other locations throughout the Central Region,” Votel said in prepared remarks.
The United States and its partners have been fighting violent extremism in the physical and virtual realms and contending with malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies, he added. Despite these challenges, during 15 years of war, the logistics community found a way to “do more with less” across the spectrum of conflict, Votel said.
He added that military leaders and their industry partners “are going to need to work together to find ways to address the impacts and associated challenges and make the necessary improvements.”
‘By, With, Through’
Votel said one aspect of the changing nature of warfare is an approach the United States has adopted in most places where its forces operate -- working “by, with and through” indigenous partners, now including Iraqi forces, vetted Syrian opposition forces and Afghan forces.
The approach presents challenges, particularly with respect to logistics, the general said, “[but] it is proving effective.”
The indigenous forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria are building capability and confidence and have a vested interest in protecting hard-won gains, Votel said.
“The approach that we’ve adopted places a high demand on the logistics enterprise to arm, equip and supply our partners’ security forces, and not only with conventional weapons, body armor and enablers such as [improvised explosive device]-defeat devices, dozers, bridging and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] assets, but also with former Soviet Bloc arms and equipment,” he said.
Sustaining such operations, Votel said, increasingly requires coordination across combatant command boundary lines, geographical borders, and inter- and intra-theater transportation with partner agencies such as the Defense Logistics Agency and U.S. Transportation Command.
The “by-with-through” approach is likely to continue long after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is defeated, the general said, “[and] … we will need this community’s help in finding ways to support and enable our partners who are in the lead more efficiently and effectively.”
The Gray Zone
Another area where the military and industry need to work together is the “gray zone” -- the space between normal international competition and armed conflict, Votel explained.
The U.S. increasingly operates in this zone, he added, where adversaries use unconventional methods that include cyber warfare, propaganda and support to proxy elements to achieve their objectives while minimizing the scope and scale of fighting.
Such methods increase tensions among partners, emphasizing competing priorities that detract from support for common objectives, the general said, noting that the military must find other ways to compete against adversaries in the gray zone while collaborating with partners to achieve common end-states.
“We are going to need the help of the logistics community and industry to improve our effectiveness in this area,” Votel said.
Iran, for example, poses the greatest long-term threat to stability in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, he said, “ … and the [Iran] regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force operates almost entirely in that gray zone.”
“That is a dangerous space in which miscalculation can easily … lead to misunderstanding and escalation,” he added. “And Iran’s not the only one operating in this zone. The Russians and other external actors are using unconventional means to try to shape outcomes to support their own interests.”
The military and its logisticians must find ways to apply resources and capabilities to better compete against U.S. adversaries in the gray zone short of conventional conflict, Votel said.
The Day After
A third aspect of the changing nature of war often is called “the day after,” the general said. He asked: What happens after the United States helps its partners to retake Mosul and Raqqa? What happens after the coalition defeats the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria?
“We must ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to enable us and our partners to preserve the military gains achieved. This is absolutely essential, and it will require a whole-of-government effort and the support of [the logistics] community, in particular,” Votel said.
Going forward, he added, “we will need this community’s sustained support, … recognizing that logistics requirements will likely increase on the day after.”
It is not enough simply to defeat enemies, the general said.
“While that is absolutely essential, equally important are follow-on efforts focused on preserving the gains achieved and setting conditions that will help prevent similar crises from occurring in the future,” he explained. “This means ensuring that the needs of the people are met and a viable governing structure is in place and enforcing the rule of law.”
The day after requires collaboration among the military and partners in the diplomatic, humanitarian and development realm, he said, recognizing that politically preparing the environment is at least as important as military efforts for preserving hard-won gains.
“We will need this community’s help in finding ways to achieve lasting stability and security,” Votel said, “not only in the strategically important Central Region, but elsewhere around the globe.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)