WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s newest cross-functional team will focus on real-time force sustainment, reducing logistics requirements, improving supply distribution and effectively delivering power on the battlefield, according to a top service official.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminded the military that it can no longer rely on unquestioned support and logistics. The agency recognizes that it must adjust its approach to logistics to prepare for an adversary like China and to operate in one of the most difficult places on Earth.
When the Army released its Multi-Domain Operations doctrine last year, it included a nine-page appendix focused on the contested logistics challenge. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth has appointed the Army Materiel Command to lead the service’s efforts to determine how to deploy troops with weapons and equipment in an environment where they can’t expect to travel freely.
In the spring, the Army Futures Command rose from the Combatives Interfunctional Logistics Team to address the issue. Willie Nelson, the command’s deputy chief of staff, told Defense News that the group has already declared initial operational capability and hopes to reach full operational capability by the end of the year.
The team, based in Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, has named its first director, Colonel Shane Upton.
The agency has begun considering how it would design its logistics queue in a contested environment. experimenting with hybrid power, autonomous aircraft, boats and vehicles. and developing, in real-time, systems that help provide more accurate estimates of sustainment needs on a modern battlefield.
But it is now pursuing four lines of effort to approach contested sets of logistics problems, Nelson said.
Looking for data
One of the Army Materiel Command’s top priorities is determining how to accurately track what’s being used on the battlefield so the agency can better estimate how much equipment, parts, ammunition, fuel and batteries troops need, Gen. Charles said. Hamilton, chief of command. Defense News in an interview.
Hamilton said AMC has developed a predictive analytics suite that allows the agency to predict predictive and preventive maintenance. The data coming in, Hamilton explained, “has allowed us to get away from a lot of things where we usually wait for something to break or something to end before we act.”
Tracking capabilities in Ukraine also changed the Army’s thought process about sustainment. “What we saw clearly from this tool is, we used to say, ‘factory in the foxhole’ — that’s always been a big thing. Now we say “fox in the factory”. We let the requirements at the tactical level, at the fox level, drive the industrial base and drive the organic industrial base,” Hamilton said.
Much of the work AMC is already doing in this area will feed into the cross-functional team’s efforts to accelerate them. For example, CFT will seek to more quickly advance an automated preventive maintenance, which has been in prototype for years, according to Nelson.
CFT will look at applications that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to be able to provide precision support, Nelson said.
“Think of a situation where you have the ability to understand how quickly[ly] you fire weapons, that provides feedback directly not only to the commander and warfighters, but also to your stewards who then provide timely refueling or rapid-fire refueling,” Nelson said. “These are nirvana-type scenarios, but in general data and our ability to move data is getting us closer and closer to that kind of reality.”
Decrease in demand
The military wants to make sure it can lighten the logistics backlog and is looking for ways to reduce demand on the battlefield for parts, fuel, batteries and water, Nelson noted, but one way to gain efficiencies it is through hybrid energy technology and the search for alternatives to fossil fuels.
Incorporating hybrid technology will reduce demand for natural gas and also give vehicles the ability to travel farther for longer periods of time, Nelson said.
Making vehicles like Humvees and Joint Light Tactical Vehicles hybrids also has a significant warfighting advantage, Nelson noted, because sensors and systems could operate with the engine off, avoiding a heat signature for the enemy to detect, while also saving gas.
The Army has already done a lot of work looking at the possibility of building tactical wheeled vehicles and combat vehicles into hybrid versions, and could convert some platforms in the coming years.
As a means of dealing with “decreasing demand,” as the CFT calls the line of effort, it is seeking ways to reduce the weight of tanks and other vehicles, according to Nelson.
But the military won’t sacrifice protection, Nelson noted, so the agency is looking at technologies such as making additives using non-metallic or ceramic materials.
The CFT will also address improving supply distribution on the battlefield.
Specifically, Nelson said, the military is interested in pursuing an autonomous resupply capability. While the service has considered a variety of possibilities and experimented in this area, this feature is not ready for the first time.
Autonomous refueling will reduce operating expenses, costs and manpower, Nelson said.
The agency will consider a wide variety of options from manned-unmanned groupings to semi-autonomous ground, air and water platforms. “How do we get things from point of origin to point of need in the fastest way? How do we bring autonomy to it?’ Nelson wondered.
Although much development work remains, he added, there is some technology ready to follow CFT when it comes to supplying water or air. Some could be drawn from industries such as oil and gas, he noted.
In previous iterations of the large-scale Project Convergence exercise, the Army demonstrated autonomous refueling using UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. “It’s perfect; No,” Nelson said, “but it’s starting to open up other ideas. You could do it [casualty evacuation]? Could you do a medical evacuation?’
AMC’s Hamilton said autonomous refueling will be “huge.”
“I’m all in,” he added.
The commander also said he recently tasked the Contested Logistics CFT to not only think about autonomous refueling in a defensive posture, but also from an offensive perspective, including the idea of using autonomous explosive refueling decoys to deter the enemy.
“If you pick the wrong one, you might blow yourself up. It might look like a maintenance escort, but it might be something else,” he said.
The military needs to determine how it can use advanced power on the battlefield, according to Nelson, and has already begun that effort, including looking at technology that makes water out of thin air.
But one of the most common issues is dealing with rechargeable batteries in the field.
CFT will work with the procurement industry to achieve a level of standardization around batteries.
“We’re in an incredible number of different types of batteries across the force, whether it’s a dismounted soldier powering a radio or powering something else, all the way to vehicle batteries,” Nelson said.
While vehicle batteries are becoming more standardized, it is more difficult to develop a standard for small, lightweight, rechargeable batteries, he added.
Recharging the batteries is another challenge. Using gas-powered generators works for charging batteries (as well as powering command stations, for example), but the military won’t want to drag a bunch of generators onto the battlefield in the future, Nelson said.
AMC’s Hamilton agreed that the military needs alternatives to generators. “We have to get rid of the generator. Gotta get to the batteries. They’re quieter, they’re lighter,” he said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist who covers land warfare for Defense News. He has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.
Read the original at Defence247.gr