ANNAPOLIS, Md. ― Military operations have always relied on logistics: The supply of fuel, food, bullets and medicine keep the fight going from the front lines back to the homeland.

But the way the Marine Corps intends to fight the next war will require a major shift from mountains of steel piled in deserts or long convoys trucking boxes of MREs and towing water on dusty mountain paths.

Marines will not only be riflemen when forward-deployed, but also water purifiers, fuel cleaners and power scavengers.

Marine Lt. Gen. Charles Chiarotti told the audience here at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference on Oct. 23 that the Corps is entering an era of “hybrid logistics.” And that era will see Marines continuing to use the systems and concepts that have kept them fueled for a couple of generations while simultaneously adapting to be more self-sustaining in hotly contested environments.

Chiarotti serves as the deputy commandant for installations and logistics.

The focus, as was stated in the Commandant’s Planning Guidance issued this summer is for the Corps to aid the Navy through sea denial. That means pockets of small groups of Marines strung out within weapons range of adversaries far from the robust supply chain that they’ve enjoyed for the past decades.

“We have to be lighter, more economical,” Chiarotti said, “Fuel is the pacing commodity.”

That means ways to identify better fuel economy, finding fuel sources and cleaning fuel that the do find in substandard supplies.

For the logistics community that will mean using automation to deliver exactly what’s needed when it is needed, or “precise sustainment,” as the three-star called it.

But logistics goes beyond beans, bullets and band aids. It means maintaining the systems that drive modern warfighting.

To tackle that problem, Chiarotti said they are looking to industry methods to have better awareness and monitoring of the conditions of all of their systems at all times.

“The ability to look at a platform and understand its health; to make decisions far removed from the battlefield and deliver for sustainment is critical for us,” he said.

If achieved, that would give commanders sensors that they could respond to and conduct “condition-based maintenance,” keeping platforms in the fight and pulling them when necessary to maintain their capabilities.

What the future of feeding the operational forces looks like is likely not what it is now. The Maritime Prepositioning Force, a fleet of commercial ships in floating rotation around the world ready to pull into a port and offload for Marines to meet just isn’t likely to work in a near-peer conflict.

Chiarotti noted that while MPF had served the Corps well, the future will likely include more smaller, distributed force packages. A lot of which they’ve been observing industries well versed in delivery, such as Amazon, FedEx and Walmart to learn best practices.

Some of that future includes robots.

A Forward Aerial Refueling Point, or FARP, of the future might contain a handful of Marines assisted by automated machines so that five humans can do the work of a platoon’s worth of Marines for a short period.

One problem they’ve still not figured out is how to get fuel to contested areas.

Chiarotti called the ship to shore petroleum offload capacity “woefully short” for those scenarios.

“We must evolve a new concept that really supports the joint enterprise,” he said.

To address that, a series of war games that began in September and will see another round in November has put logistics as a crucial piece.

That’s because those war games are looking at scenarios beyond regional conflicts that the U.S. military has tackled and looks at what war looks like across multiple combatant commands.

Meaning, logistics will have to conduct intra- and inter-theater delivery. Getting supplies to the combat theater then moving them around the contested environment.

Army Maj. Gen. Mike Wehr, director of strategy, capabilities, policy, programs and logistics for U.S. Transportation Command told Marine Corps Times following the panel that logistics are always part of the discussion and wargame but there are bigger questions being pursued now.

“What is occurring now, is while we have operational plans against individual adversaries, now we’re looking at simultaneous,” Wehr said. “What do you do? That’s the globally integrated piece. How do you sustain security throughout the globe with multiple adversaries?”

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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