New Marine Corps Logistics Doctrine Emphasizes Resiliency

By Laura Heckmann

Marine Corps photos

Logistics is a concept as old as warfare, but new technologies and the threat of peer competition have prompted the Marine Corps to rethink and rewrite a doctrine untouched for 26 years.

Published in March 2023 by the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps’ update of the 1997 Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 4, Logistics places the “time-tested, combat-proven principles outlined in the previous version in an updated war­fighting context,” the document read.

While much of the nearly 150-page logistics doctrine echoes the foundational principles of its predecessor, the foreword by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger placed contested logistics front and center.

“This publication describes the role of logistics in a globally contested environment, within multiple domains, across the competition continuum,” he wrote. “Marines must be able to operate when logistics is contested, which requires us to consider logistics opportunities and limitations in both force and operational planning.”

The doctrine is not designed to address specific techniques or procedures, nor intended as a reference manual, the document stated. At its core, it is a conceptual framework for understanding the role logistics plays in military operation, laid out in principles, philosophies, vignettes and quotations from military minds past and present.

“The more Marines understand how their needs are met by a complex network of systems and relationships, the better they will be at creating realistic plans, generating requirements, and using the network to build, position and sustain the force,” Berger said.

In addition to the contested logistics environment, two other factors led to the revision of the doctrine: addressing the emergence of the information age and building a more resilient Marine, according to Marine Corps Col. Aaron Angell, executive assistant to the deputy commandant for installations and logistics.

Angell described contested logistics as an “all-domain global contest, every day.” Previously, the Marine Corps focused on the challenge of logistics, “and that last tactical mile,” he said. “How do you get the ammunition, food and water to that fighting Marine up on the front lines from just a few miles back?”

Today, contested logistics extends clear back to the defense industrial base, “manufacturing munitions back here in the United States and other parts of the globe,” he said in an interview.

“When you think about contested logistics and what that means, we’ve been there before,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Edward Banta, deputy commandant for installations and logistics, during a panel discussion at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Expeditionary Warfare Conference. “Everything we’re doing is with an eye towards where we’ve been, recognizing that it’s on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before us, and hopefully not relearning any painful lessons.”

Angell said shaping the new document began “about a year ago,” informed by a smattering of lessons learned, recognition of a changing environment and two cents from observant Marines and leadership. The revision was driven by similar factors that informed Force Design 2030, which is shifting the organization and equipping of Marines for potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific.

A pivot towards a more expeditionary force meant the service had to examine logistics to understand if Marines “have what they need there with them … and also how good are we at being able to sustain them,” Banta said.

In the report “Buying Time: Logistics for a New American Way of War,” published by the Center for a New American Security in April, author Chris Dougherty called the logistics challenges facing U.S. forces in a conflict with China or Russia “severe, but surmountable.”

U.S. dependence on strained logistics networks will require a shift from traditional methods focused on “efficient delivery of supplies and services” toward an adaptive concept “in which methods of support shift in response to threats, operational demands and the availability of information,” he said.

A solution will require what he called “adaptive logistics,” relying on more optimized, efficient and resilient “push” and “pull” models of support. The pull model responds to forces requesting support, whereas the push model forecasts requirements and establishes a set sustainment schedule. The logistics doctrine described both as “critical.”

One of the doctrine’s “most interesting ideas,” however, is changing the phrase “supply chain” to “supply web,” Angell said. The document described a supply web as “networks of interrelated connections that provide flexibility through multiple sourcing and distribution options.”

“When you think of a chain, any link in that chain that’s broken now literally may mean that we have an untethered force,” Angell said. “Whereas a web is more resilient, so if you break a link in a web, that web still exists.”

Reframing the understanding of supply resiliency is part of the document’s larger goal of changing the way Marines think, “using that image to move things forward and create that critical thinking perspective of each one of our logistics professionals,” Angell said.

Ultimately, the doctrine is “about developing critical thinkers who can support Marine forces in any time and place,” which includes leveraging the joint logistics enterprise, he said.

“We typically look at ourselves as a Marine Expeditionary Unit … amphibious ships that can be globally responsive, and we really are bringing everything with us,” he said. In reality, when operating ashore, Marines are tapping into Defense Logistics Agency, Army and Air Force capabilities, “and we need to make sure that every one of our logistics professionals understand all of the elements that are out there.”

Many logistics professionals have areas of expertise, operating within the medical sector, the distribution sector, supply or warehousing and maintenance, he added.

“What we’re trying to create in more of our professionals from the logistics perspective is how do I create one individual that knows enough about each one of those to really bring that to life as a full-spectrum capability as we’re moving into a forward environment?” he said.

The full spectrum now includes information technology. The emergence of data, artificial intelligence and newer technologies such as additive manufacturing have “really advanced” since the 1997 document, Angell said.

“Even just thinking about handheld devices … we can tap into not just a phone, but the data and all of the applications that are now completely applicable anywhere in the globe,” he said.

The new logistics doctrine speaks to the use of artificial intelligence in predictive analysis and modeling to anticipate requirements and leverage emerging technology to digitally map the supply web with modeling tools.

“By augmenting logistics with artificial intelligence and machine learning, a logistics unit may increase its responsiveness, while potentially making the support system more efficient and effective,” the document read.

The doctrine referred to technology as a “force multiplier” with the ability to calculate and predict consumption rates, process support requests, track resources, model usage data and estimate future requirements, while also pointing out potential vulnerabilities.

“The enemy and adversaries will attempt to compromise our logistics information networks,” it read. “Creating global logistics awareness, while operating with vulnerable connectivity is challenging. Information systems need to be hardened against potential attacks and alternatives are needed when primary means are disabled or unavailable.”

Banta echoed the doctrine’s caution, noting the danger of cyber threats to energy and transportation networks and unmanned aircraft systems preying on installations.

“Our adversaries are constantly seeking opportunities to take the technology that is being worked on so far for their own use. We should expect that we’re going to have to fight to get to the fight,” he said.

Handling an influx of data could also create challenges, Dougherty stated in his report. Adaptive logistics will require “better data collection modeling and analysis to use data and artificial intelligence to manage logistics,” while also recognizing what he called “vast quantities” of logistical data collection that could prove difficult to meaningfully process.

“If the Defense Department develops data-driven and artificially intelligent logistics systems, it should do so with an eye toward increasing resilience rather than efficiency,” Dougherty wrote.

Effectively executing adaptation and innovation efforts will come down to what the doctrine called its “invaluable human capital” — the Marines.

The idea tied back into Angell’s emphasis on creating critical thinkers, and the doctrine’s purpose to begin with: “broad guidance in the form of ideas, with historical lessons and realistic fictional illustrations intended to stimulate thinking and encourage additional learning.”

In addition to the document’s collection of quotations, it was also interspersed with historical vignettes contextualizing the document’s concepts — something Angell said was a new addition to the doctrine, and one they “spent a little bit of time on.”

The purpose was twofold: a learning tool to breathe life into a dry publication, and an avenue to introduce parts of history, he added.

“Some of those readers will be enticed to do a little bit more research and understanding. Well, what was the context that drove us to think about having to fly long distances or put stuff on ships?” he said. The document includes vignettes of the future as well, designed to inspire thinking about the realm of possibility with emerging technology, he added.

To the Marine Corps, Angell said the term “doctrine” means “the foundational understanding that we use to teach, to train from … all with an intent to create much more understanding.”

The doctrine speaks of logistics as both an art and science, which Angell called “enduring principles” amid the changing environments of warfare and technology. As the environments continue to change, the Corps hopes to build Marines that can change with them.

“The whole intent of this was to raise the bar for our logistics professionals and make sure that they can be the best and the most advanced logistics professionals in the most austere and challenging environments that you can imagine,” Angell said. “And that’s the challenge that we have before us, and we’re excited to be stepping off.”

Topics: Marine Corps News, Logistics, Doctrine