April 1, 2024

Contested Logistics​ from BCE’s global A&D team


Let’s engage in a bit of heresy: Logistics – not Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) or Joint Fires – is the whole ball game in a future conflict, especially with China. Recently, Admiral Christopher Grady, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military’s new doctrine, Joint Publication 1: Joint Warfighting, focuses on four areas – information advantage, command and control, joint fires, and contested logistics. Grady said the purpose is to win what it calls “key battles for advantage” (1).  While the first three priorities are sexy, none work unless logistics can get the ammo, fuel, and parts to the sensors, shooters, and headquarters. More importantly, the military is not ready for that fight, and they know it.

Every missile, pound of fuel, or repair part must travel thousands of miles in the most inhospitable conditions imaginable. In a fight with China, the “WEZ” – the weapons engagement zone – extends 1700 miles to Guam and up to Japan. China has over 100 surface combatants and submarines supported by world-class intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and over 1,000 missiles that can strike targets anywhere in the WEZ (2). Even an air and maritime-focused campaign will rely on large, vulnerable logistics ships and aircraft. To complicate matters, the PLA possesses sophisticated space and cyber capabilities. They can attack civilian and military logistic networks and infrastructure across the globe, which are vital to supporting a war in the Pacific.

As BCE’s team has monitored this warfighting challenge and listened to DOD leaders discuss their concerns, we have identified four areas of great potential:

  1. Protecting critical infrastructure and systems that are vital to support a war but poorly secured is the next growth area. DOD and the Department of Homeland Security know they have a massive problem from pipelines to commercial transport but lack practical solutions.
  2. “Go green” is a war cry, not an activist slogan. Ounces equal pounds; pounds turn into pallets and containers. Reducing system weight, fuel consumption, repair parts, and ammunition demand decreases the number of aerial refueling missions, resupply at-sea operations, and logistics pushes to ground forces. 
  3. Someone will pay the bill to fix this problem. The Pentagon has used logistics as a billpayer for other priorities for decades. As late as 2019, the Army directed reductions in its fleet of sea lift vehicles that are the foundation for in-theater logistics (3). The Pentagon has begun to look at the problem and will invest heavily for years to solve this massive capability shortfall.
  4. Reducing the physical footprint is the holy grail. Adversaries can see and strike large logistics nodes in the U.S. or Guam. How can Joint logistics transform from “moving mountains” of supplies today to rapid, distributed, and resilient logistics support? This problem touches all the technological frontiers, from additive manufacturing and 3-D printing to AI and reliable long-range secure communications.

DOD’s first step in addressing the gap is highlighting the importance of sustainment in the new JP 1. It lays out new doctrine and concepts on how all domain operations will allow the Joint Force to mass for fights while improving survivability. The Services’ implementing concepts from the Marine Corps Littoral Regiments to Air Force Agile Combat Employment demonstrate that leaders see sustainment requirements driving operations. Investments are starting to follow those concepts. BCE is following DOD and Service decisions and identifying the business opportunities that will follow. 

Contested logistics may not be the cool part of DOD’s new doctrine, but DOD leaders know they must solve this problem, or the others do not matter. 

To learn more about BCE’s global A&D team’s thoughts surrounding Contested Logistics and the broader defense industry or how we support clients in strategy development and refinement, market assessment, competitive intelligence, customer insights, and build/buy/partner decisions, please email globaldefense@bceconsulting.com.

Authored by Colonel Scott Gerber, Ph.D(Ret) and BCE’s Global A&D team

Published on October 9, 2023

Global A&D

Craig Belanger
Senior Partner & Co-Founder Boston
Mark Kipphut
Senior Advisor Dallas
Joe Giandomenico
Principal Boston
Anirudh Suneel
Principal London
Dennis Carroll
Senior Advisor, Aerospace & Defense Tucson
Tony L. Cothron
Senior Advisor, Aerospace & Defense Washington
Richard Mascolo
Senior Advisor, Aerospace & Defense Chesapeake
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