The Role of Logistics, Sustainment in Integrated Deterrence

By Christopher Lowman

Defense Dept. photo

In my first year as the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, I have observed the contested, dynamic and distributed nature of the new strategic environment.

Peer competitors increasingly hold our defense ecosystem at risk. The future of war will be fast, mobile and lethal and requires the Defense Department to think about sustainment through the lens of integrated deterrence, which is a holistic and coordinated approach that integrates all elements of national power to address and respond to a wide range of threats and challenges.

Realizing the benefits of integrated deterrence from a sustainment perspective hinges on our ability to: prevail in a contested logistics environment; modernize the industrial base across the network of organic, domestic and international partners; establish data-informed sustainment; and find and fix operations and support cost drivers.

In recent decades, U.S. forces have operated without much strategic risk to logistics. We operated from secure bases and became comfortable with uncontested and unchallenged movement throughout the theater of operations. During that time, the capabilities we have fielded — like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and other enduring platforms — have utilized sustainment strategies that assume a more permissive strategic environment.

Today, the strategic environment is defined by challenges to logistics agility, flexibility and survivability through kinetic and non-kinetic disruptions. To navigate and prevail through a contested logistics environment means ensuring that logistics, supply chain operations and transportation capabilities are resilient and can operate effectively in hostile environments.

Therefore, I’ve launched a campaign of tabletop exercises to stress the life cycle sustainment strategies for existing capabilities, given the realities of a contested logistics environment, to better inform current sustainment gap mitigation efforts and future sustainment strategy design. To secure enduring military advantage, the Defense Department must ensure that the combatant commands are postured with sufficient resources such as munitions, fuel and spare parts. They must also have the capabilities to perform maintenance, manufacturing at echelon, storage and transportation and withstand and recover quickly from disruptions.

The future calls for resilient sustainment strategies that are more distributed, flexible and responsive to changing operational and strategic conditions.

One example of reducing risk within a contested environment is the need to mitigate demand for ocean lift capabilities by employing strategies that satisfy demand closer to the point of need.

Advanced manufacturing, which includes 3D printing, provides an opportunity for manufacturing parts on demand, which can be useful in situations where supply chains are disrupted or contested. By integrating advanced manufacturing at different levels, the joint force can produce crucial parts in contested environments in a distributed manner, increasing an adversary’s dilemma and ultimately U.S. integrated deterrence posture.

To enable full implementation, the office of the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment is working to ensure secure transmission of intellectual property and accurate accounting of its use to ensure appropriate compensation to the IP owner, as well as assessing our department’s approach to modernizing intellectual property licensing rights or fee strategies, which requires close collaboration with our industry partners to identify the appropriate changes in policy and process.

The office of the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment is charged with providing advice and assistance to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, deputy secretary of defense and secretary of defense on sustainment functions including logistics, material readiness and product support. In addition, the office is responsible for budgetary, policy and management oversight for sustainment functions in the Pentagon.

At the enterprise-level strategy, the department is looking 15 years down the road at sustainment capabilities within the organic base and developing pathways to better share our future vision throughout the defense industrial base and its commercial partners. My goal is to create a more collaborative, transparent environment that ensures capital investments, whether government or commercial, result in more integrated support for the industry of the future.

We’ve developed goals to ensure strategic alignment across the service modernization efforts and are applying a results-oriented management framework to define an optimum investment approach. This will not only ensure the industrial base is able to keep pace with the rapidly evolving technological landscape but will facilitate smoother integration of these advanced systems into the defense infrastructure.

Today, the services are working to modernize depot maintenance organizations, operations and technologies. They are improving processes, deploying interoperable maintenance repair, overhauling information technology systems and retaining world-class capabilities properly sized to workload requirements. The objective is to meet materiel readiness goals with modernized, efficient and resilient infrastructure at the service and enterprise levels.

Instrumental to the success of the sustainment modernization effort is striking a balance between the organic industrial base and the commercial industrial base.

We must maintain the right balance of capabilities between it and industry, both domestic and international, to ensure resiliency, economic viability and the overall health of all partners. The goal is to create a more complementary defense industrial base that minimizes the duplication of capacity and capability, balancing organic and commercial industry repair capabilities and capacity. The Defense Department is committed to being as transparent as possible when outlining government investments in the organic industrial base, focusing on how it plans to have capabilities complement rather than compete with industry.

To achieve this balance, we are adopting increasingly transparent approaches to foster a more collaborative relationship between the industrial base partners, ultimately driving efficiency and effectiveness in our modernization efforts.

One initiative that should be the subject of future sustainment strategies is being resilient and flexible with commercial partners that emphasize a regional sustainment concept, which would utilize existing allied and partner maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities and U.S. industrial base capital investments to provide sustainment support service using allied and partner national and/or commercial capabilities partnered with U.S. industry within the various theaters of operation.

Building upon and working collaboratively with industry and allied nations would minimize disruptions, optimize supply chains, maximize availability in theater, minimize reliance on long over-ocean transportation routes and further distribute the maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities regionally to increase resilience and survivability.

Building a regional sustainment concept would foster new and innovative supply chain resiliency, improve our ability to identify and respond to future challenges and aid in integrated deterrence.

Given the rapid pace of technological advancements, the department must harness new capabilities and workforce competencies to effectively sustain the force both now and in the future.

For instance, we have only just started tapping into the potential of machine learning and artificial intelligence to address sustainment challenges. As part of this effort, we are developing new capabilities that utilize data and analytics to enhance sustainment-related decision-making at all echelons both within the operational and strategic levels and throughout the weapon system life cycle.

The distributed nature of the battlefield necessitates greater precision in our inventory requirements, increased visibility of our joint transportation needs and capabilities and a better understanding of failure probabilities to efficiently deploy our maintenance resources.

I’ve challenged the services to operationalize conditions-based maintenance-plus at echelon to shift maintenance from an unscheduled, reactive approach to a deliberate, predictive approach. It facilitates performing maintenance based on evidence of need, when it optimally supports operations, as opposed to providing maintenance at failure, which can negatively impact unit readiness.

Taking advantage of the sensor platforms the department has invested in over the last 20 years by implementing conditions-based maintenance-plus decision support tools at echelon helps provide a better understanding of system performance, including associated cost drivers and support options, while also enabling more precise inventory management of critical items.

Consequently, we are concentrating on the creation of business intelligence tools that enable decision-making at each echelon to ensure the battlefield logisticians have the information they need to make actionable decisions that maximize availability and readiness. By pursuing programs in supply, transportation and maintenance functional areas, we strive to leverage data and analytics to further improve sustainment-related decisions across all levels of the department.

As we face the emerging challenges of today’s strategic landscape, we are adopting transformative solutions to drive down operating and support costs while enhancing operational availability across the services. The goal is to incentivize the services and defense agencies to collaborate, align efforts both horizontally and cross-functionally and to ensure we are delivering the highest materiel readiness return on investment.

Key to this endeavor are efforts like the Rapid Sustainment Improvement Program, which is a cornerstone of our strategy designed to address cross-service cost drivers that do not rise above the individual service prioritization levels but collectively account for significant sustainment cost across the department. Through this program, the department can prioritize and resource commercially available sustainment technologies that demonstrate positive returns on investment and can be scaled quickly to improve availability and lower operations and sustainment costs.

Implemented beginning in fiscal year 2024, the department has identified and funded a full range of projects and identified proposed projects for 2025, which include key enablers such as conditions-based maintenance-plus business intelligence tools at echelon, and has started on the effort to solicit industry input for 2026 projects.

This decentralized decision-making process fosters a more agile and responsive structure, ultimately securing our ability to deliver combat power at the point of need. Through this approach, the department can better allocate resources, prioritize efforts, field existing solutions more rapidly and adapt quickly to evolving challenges, ensuring that our military remains prepared and effective in an ever-changing landscape.

The dynamic and contested nature of the strategic environment demands a new approach to logistics and sustainment. Integrated deterrence, as an element of the current National Defense Strategy, offers a comprehensive framework to address emerging challenges and ensure military advantage. Key areas of focus include prevailing in a contested logistics environment, modernizing the industrial base, leveraging data and analytics for sustainment decision-making and finding and fixing operations and sustainment cost drivers.

The current era offers a unique opportunity for collaboration and knowledge exchange between the Defense Department, international partners and industry stakeholders, setting the stage for development of effective regional sustainment strategies that meet the demands of modern warfare.

By adapting to the changing strategic environment and embracing an approach that uses integrated deterrence to combine our strengths to maximum effect, the department can ensure the United States and its allies maintain a decisive edge in an increasingly competitive and challenging world. ND

Christopher Lowman is the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment.

Topics: Defense Department

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