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Slaughtering a Sacred Cow: A Disruptive Proposal to Achieve Marine Corps Operational Logistics

It is dangerous to assume that future conflicts will be contained to a single Combatant Commander’s battle space, or that the location of the next conflict will be predicted with certainty. Global conflicts could require Marine Corps tactical units to be widely dispersed over multiple theaters, necessitating similarly dispersed logistics support. Responsiveness in future conflicts will require the Marine Corps logistics enterprise to set conditions for success around the entire globe and to be flexible enough to orient on any fight as it arises. To enable this concept of employment, Marine Corps logistics must evolve from its current tactical Marine Logistics Group (MLG) model to one that is purpose-built to rapidly and indefinitely sustain the force globally. This change requires the Marine Corps to redefine its role at the operational level of logistics.

The Marine Corps consolidated logistics support under a major subordinate command in the mid 1970’s. Originally as the Force Service Support Group (FSSG) and later as the Marine Logistics Group (MLG), the consolidated tactical structure has been in a state of flux since its inception. Part of this flux is due to the Marine Corps logistics enterprise’s dual requirement to “man, train, and equip” combat forces in accordance with Title X responsibilities, while also rapidly projecting and sustaining combat power during times of conflict. The resulting organizational structures consequently seeks a balance between a functional orientation which enables training efficiency and a pre-task-organized orientation capable of quickly supporting an infantry formation. Currently, Maintenance or Supply Battalions are units focused on one logistics function, while Combat Logistics Battalions (CLBs) are task organized to directly support combat units by conducting a variety of logistics functions. Marine Corps Force 2025 reconstituted Landing Support and Transportation Battalions as functional units leaving the MLG in a state that addresses both competing missions inconsistently across its structure.

Rather than considering the MLG model as a balance between fighting versus training, the problem should be considered in terms of operational and tactical levels of support. Reframing the problem into an operational logistics model allows for an escape from the pendulum swing of reorganizations. The ideal solution would enable expedited deployment and provide sustainment agility at levels outside of the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Additionally, the solution should seek to eliminate unnecessary levels of management to allow for increased speed of tasking to tactical support units.

The Marine Corps is the only service without a dedicated operational logistics enterprise.[1] The garrison model of the MLG is oriented entirely on tactical support and is not resourced or trained to deal with operational coordination requirements. Marine Corps Logistics Command (LOGCOM) exists to fill shortfalls in operational support, not to provide it holistically. While the Corps is a tactical force, a global operational logistics chain cannot be coordinated effectively from the tactical level exclusively. The Marine Corps does not need to own operational level logistics assets but does need to be able to coordinate for internal requirements at the operational level. Instead of possessing a dedicated organization, Marine Corps operational level coordination currently falls on arguably understaffed component command staffs.

General Berger’s recently released Commandant’s Planning Guidance also highlights that “significant changes are required to ensure we are aligned with the 2018 National Defense Strategy,” with force design being his “number one priority.” In re-designing the logistics enterprise, logistics support should aim to minimize large logistics formations both at the tactical and operational level, forcing a shift in focus to distribution throughput and increasing the requirement for accurate coordination. Forward stockpiles should be minimized and those remaining should be dispersed across the battlespace to minimize logistics nodes as targets in contested environments. There feasible and attainable solutions to design the organization so that it can accomplish these initiatives.

Shifting Structure to Operational Support

To address the challenges of the future fight, the Marine Corps should develop a centralized operational level logistics command, dedicated to continuous global logistics operations, with the goal of increasing operational logistics readiness, speeding up deployment responsiveness, and orchestrating widely distributed sustainment.

Assuming wholesale logistics force structure growth is untenable, the Marine Corps logistics enterprise should build this command with existing structure. By shifting direct support tactical units from the MLG (i.e., CLB) to the Command Element (CE) and Ground Combat Element (GCE). The MLG staff and general support units would then be freed up to support the operational mission. Effectively this would split the MLG along tactical and operational support lines.

Current MLG staff would become the core of the new operational logistics (OPLOG) command and would support both the Marine Component Commanders and the MEF commanders. This command would assist the Component Commanders with preparing their respective theaters, tie each theater back to strategic resources, and be prepared to shift efforts in any theater when conflict arises. This OPLOG command would also be the single owner of enterprise supply chain processes and be positioned to advocate for a wholesale modernization of the system. LOGCOM’s role would not change, but they would report to the OPLOG command. The new command would provide a central coordinating entity for prioritization and unity of effort. While elements of LOGCOM could potentially fit within the new operationally focused command, LOGCOM generally would not be a major personnel taxpayer for this reorganization.

While the MLG staff would move to the new OPLOG command, most MLG direct support capabilities resident in the Combat Logistics Regiments would be reallocated to the CE and the GCE. Much of the quantifiable capacity would remain unchanged, but MLG staff overhead would be removed. The combat logistics regimental and battalion structure would stay intact but they would report to MEF or Division Commanders. This would eliminate bureaucratic hurdles of requesting MLG support in garrison and allow the supporting units to better build habitual relationships. As a side benefit for the Marines, the experience of working directly with ground combat units would provide excellent training for young logisticians and build an intrinsic understanding of how to support the warfighter.

The Supply Management Unit (SMU) would be disestablished as a subordinate unit within the MEF, and its garrison functions largely civilianized, managed by either the OPLOG command or LOGCOM, and integrated as much as possible with DLA. SMU personnel structure would then be distributed to form a steady-state global logistics network. This new organization would control throughput along the operational logistics chain via Distribution Liaison Cells (DLCs) located at Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) nodes, Navy Fleet Logistics Centers, and Army Supply Support Activities. This proposal is not unlike the current Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron Program but expands the idea to capitalize on Joint capabilities. The DLCs would be tasked with providing throughput for steady state operations and would be scalable for combat operations.

Specialized supply areas such as Ammunition Supply Points (ASP) or Class I (i.e., subsistence) storage would have both garrison and operational support roles. Civilians should fill many garrison support roles and should provide specialized instruction in their area of expertise. Marines could learn best practices in garrison and carry the experience forward when required, as bolt-on capabilities to the DLCs. Civilians would be capable of continuing support to the installation when uniformed personnel deploy in mass. The inventory in these areas would belong to the operational command to align forecasting, inventory levels, and budgeting at the enterprise level.

The current Repairable Issue Points (RIPs) operations support model works well with LOGCOM support. The RIP should remain in place, but it should report directly to LOGCOM. MEF’s should be able to focus on warfighting and leave supply chain management, including spares provisioning, to the experts in the logistics command. This would consolidate forecasting and budgeting, allow for cross-leveling of stocks globally, and enable LOGCOM to manage the Secondary Repairable stock at the enterprise level to reach optimized sourcing solutions. Forward RIP capability would also be bolted-on to the DLCs as needed.

Creating an organization focused solely on operational support expands the reach of the Corps logistics enterprise and provides the logistics unity of effort that the Corps currently lacks. Shifting direct support tactical resources within the MEF to eliminate organizational barriers would speed garrison responsiveness, expedite force closure, focus training requirements, and increase effectiveness through habitual support relationships.

Additional Benefits

Under the current MLG structure, standard operating policy and procedures that span the enterprise are elusive. Each MEF has their own unique challenges and are allowed their own unique solutions. This sounds good in theory, but it creates an unsurmountable obstacle for modernization based on information technology. Standard procedures are a huge enabler for data driven management practices. One reason the Marine Corps struggles with logistics information systems is because there is no single owner to provide unity of effort. A central operational logistics command could be that single owner for both process and the systems allow the Marine Corps to finally capitalize on its Logistics IT investments. This unity of command and unity of effort would provide benefits across policy, training, and other modernization endeavors as well.

Funding for the civilian support would be offset by the savings attained through better inventory management. The Marine Corps is currently purchasing and storing inventory at least three times to support three independently managed MEFs. A consolidated approach could significantly reduce the total cost of inventory for the Marine Corps.

The structure of the new organization and the distribution of direct support units would have to take career progression into account. Ideally, career progression for logisticians would alternate between the operational command and tactical units, like how NAVSUP manages their personnel. This would encourage the tactical support mindset in operational command and would provide the tactical level unit commander with access to operational logistics knowledge for planning and reach-back if required. This progression offers a possible improvement over the current model by providing hands-on operational level experience to logistics leaders before they reach the strategic level of support at Headquarters Marine Corps.

Parting Thoughts

This is a disruptive proposal that could see units completely restructured, training and career progression changed, and the status-quo upended. But change is required if the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is to be postured to support the force in a global conflict with a peer adversary, where no logistics node or supply line is safe. Shifting the Corps’ logistics mindset and structure to an operational orientation would result in better preparation and support for global operations, significant modernization of supply processes, better training for Marines, and a unity of effort that the logistics enterprise currently lacks. By establishing an operational level command and a steady-state global network, the Marine Corps can build resiliency and flexibility for future operations that will surely out-live the historically unstable MLG structure.

[1] Operational logistics organizations by service: US Army: Army Materiel Command (AMC), Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM); USN: Navy Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP); USAF: Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Global Logistics Support Center (AFGLSC)

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This thought piece was provided by an author who prefers to remain anonymous. Emerging strategies require changes in doctrine, manpower, equipment and training. Much more could be said to frame there

1 Comment

Matt Evers
Matt Evers
Jul 30, 2019

Very intriguing, Sir. This proposal package is similar to what today's supply chains try to achieve in the information age. 1) move upstream closer to your supplier's supplier. And 2) move downstream closer to your customer. Today this is achieved by leveraging data, digital platforms, and omni channel distribution models. For maintenance and supply units, building cross-functional talented teams/staffs with the operational experience (domain knowledge) and the technical skills (analytics and data engineering, predominately from civilian workforce), that are well-established, independent, and report to higher-level management/authority, will reap sustained benefits in getting projects off the ground and improving the supply chain. Leveraging automation and technology could also eliminate some structure (warehouse clerks, admin supply clerks, maintenance management clerks).

Thanks to…

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