Beyond the CPX-Functional: A dedicated sustainment simulation

By: Col. Dennis H. Levesque, Maj. Michael W. Taylor, and Capt. Justin Treakle

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Soldiers from the 25th Division Sustainment Brigade conduct communications training during a Reverse Warfighter exercise at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 11, 2018. The brigade conducted the exercise to wargame large-scale combat operation scenarios from a sustainment perspective. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Sarah D. Williams)

Bullets don't fly without supply!" This common phrase in the logistics community is one that has been around for some time and is now more salient than ever. In today's combined arms fight, logistics plays a heavy role, but it is one that often gets placed at a lower priority in combined arms training. Multiple training events are conducted annually to stress maneuver elements in simulated, near-peer threat environments.

Simulated war games are great training and an ideal way to evaluate the Army's combat arms forces without putting them in harm's way. The thinking behind these traditional warfighter simulations is that logistics training objectives and normal execution duration must be compressed because of the number of training days allocated. As a result, some maneuver commanders are left with unrealistic expectations when it comes to logistics capabilities in actual combat situations.

Further, the landscape of logistics is changing. How the Army has sustained itself in counterinsurgency operations for the past 17 years is vastly different from how it will sustain itself in near-peer threat environments.

Changes to structure and reduced personnel numbers have increased the need for maneuver commanders to emphasize sustainment rehearsals and incorporate sustainment into their schemes of maneuver. Commanders without a clear understanding of their logistics support could stretch their lines of sustainment to the breaking point and undertake actions that are unrealistic or unsupportable.

REALISTIC SUSTAINMENT TRAINING

To address these issues, the 25th Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, conducted a weeklong Reverse Warfighter exercise to wargame scenarios specifically from a sustainment perspective. Reverse Warfighter highlighted the complex problems sustainment brigades face.

A growing trend across all branches of the military is the desire to realistically test how sustainment is accounted for in simulated exercises. An April 10, 2018, article in USNI News, discussed the Navy and Marine Corps' plan to account for logistics in exercises. In the article, Patrick Kelleher from the Marine Corps Logistics Command is quoted as saying, "We must definitively exercise plans and not fairy-dust logistics like may have been done in the past."

The article goes on to show the need to portray accurate sustainment operations. Making assumptions with sustainment does not allow the military to see what deficiencies exist or allow for process experimentation. Undoubtedly, the need for realistic logistics capability data is not only an Army issue but also one that must be addressed across the entire military.

ACADEMICS WEEK

The 25th Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade determined that the best way to showcase this concern was to "train to failure" using a command post exercise (CPX)-functional combined with the available simulation format, Logistics Federation (LOGFED). In order to accomplish this, the sustainment brigade support operations (SPO) section hosted a week of "academics" with all of the stakeholders. During academics, the team examined all of the capabilities of subordinate and higher units as well as of the brigade itself.

The simulations education occurred simultaneously with fundamentals for the personnel assigned to the "puckster" (simulation operator) role. The sustainment brigade had identified a shortfall in previous exercises: the simulation operator roles were being filled by Soldiers who could work with the simulation to execute the task at hand but often failed to understand key elements of the overall mission. Additionally, the training audience had no understanding of how the simulation worked.

To remedy these problems, the response cell was treated as a tactical assault command post consisting of seasoned personnel who understood the functional aspect of "pucking" units in the simulation, the "sim logic" that LOGFED uses, and the concept of sustainment in order to quickly and accurately relay necessary information to the training audience.

By marrying academics and simulation training together, the simulation operators were able to have a better understanding of the capabilities of all units involved and gain insight into the overall mission, which is essential in performing mission command tasks.

PLATFORM PROBLEMS

There were drawbacks, however, and one major lesson learned was that units face many challenges while working with LOGFED. LOGFED is a platform that can work in concert with maneuver simulation platforms, such as Warfighter Simulation (WARSIM), to provide data to training units. However, both LOGFED and WARSIM are cumbersome, inflexible, and require in-depth training.

Before every CPX that involves WARSIM and LOGFED, users get weeklong training from representatives from the Logistics Exercise and Simulation Directorate who also troubleshoot issues during exercises. They served as key agents that allowed our unit to navigate the systems and get the training that we needed with the systems that they provided. However, there needs to be a more comprehensive simulation that allows maneuver units and sustainers to develop one common operational picture.

Since neither platform provides clarity on events, master scenario event lists need to be created by the exercise control group to inject and notify the units of what exactly happened. LOGFED is only able to provide information regarding the loss of personnel and equipment when the user drills down into the event log and pulls the information.

It is clear that this burdensome platform requires a lot of time to manipulate and relay reports and also requires too much time for training personnel. The Army needs a better way to execute simulated training and must consider other options in order to enhance the training of its sustainment Soldiers.

The platform should be more user-friendly with a graphic user interface that allows both the maneuver and logistics commanders to see the same picture and data without extensive training. It should use adaptive artificial intelligence so that commanders must make decisions as opposed to simply executing the course of action that was approved during rehearsals.

This type of virtual constructive training would allow sustainment Soldiers and commanders to be better trained in decision-making skills and could more easily be paused to discuss those decisions with higher command (HICOM) and lower command (LOCOM) elements.

COORDINATION

Another takeaway is that the way CPXs are currently being conducted does not allow for effective or efficient information flow. The sustainment brigade designed Reverse Warfighter with this issue in mind and focused on utilizing the entire sustainment team, both horizontally (peer-to-peer) and vertically (HICOM to LOCOM).

External coordination was made with staff counterparts at the 25th Infantry Division, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command to provide observer, coach, trainer oversight for the brigade. This external support proved to be critical to the success of the exercise as it allowed the brigade staff and SPO sections to work in a one-on-one environment directly with their higher headquarters counterparts to ensure that the sustainment brigade's concept of support was accurately nested with theirs.

It is important to note that these HICOM elements would not provide traditional observer, coach, trainer support. The intent was to have the training audience, HICOM, and LOCOM in the same localized area observing and executing scenarios.

Following an event, the simulation was paused to allow for discussion of the tactics, techniques, and procedures that were used. These breakout sessions were invaluable as the brigade was able to get a detailed picture of what HICOM needed in terms of reporting and how to best relay that information from LOCOM throughout the entire chain of command and across the organization. This was crucial to establishing new standard operating procedures that streamlined reporting and cut down on delays in relaying information.

Other issues faced included staff coordination and reporting. SPO commodity shops never synchronized logistics past 72 hours in the battle. The shortened planning timelines made it difficult to get refined commander's guidance on logistics decisions with regard to ammunition, fuel, water, and meals ready-to-eat reallocation. The brigade S-3 and S-4 faced challenges with command and support relationships with the division, ESC, and corps and nonstandard supply accountability procedures.

The brigade worked through assessing the combat service support battalion, brigade support battalion, forward logistics element, and refuel, rearm, and resupply point abilities to provide forward services on the battlefield and synchronization with supported units. These issues were presented to the Department of Logistics and Resource Operations and the Combined Arms Support Command in order to facilitate broader discussion about the sustainment community and logistics operations in simulated exercises for large-scale combat operations.

Sustainment brigades across the Army often face unique challenges and competing mission requirements. Reverse Warfighter was an opportunity to accurately showcase the way these requirements affect sustainment operations and to collect feedback. The 25th Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade has recommended that this event be conducted annually.

These talking points spurred discussion with key leaders and provided insight into shortfalls that need to be addressed within the sustainment community and the Army as a whole. The event made the staff think deeper and fully appreciate the need for horizontal and vertical staff coordination and mastering technical areas of expertise by correcting failure points.

The Army, and all military branches, should realize that not facing this problem head on could lead to a potential disaster when lives are on the line because, after all, "Bullets don't fly without supply!"


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