The U.S. Marine Corps has long prided itself on being the tip of the nation’s spear in combat operations. For 243 years, it has established dominance on the battlefield and created seemingly impossible gaps in enemy defenses. To meet the demands of the recent National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, however, the current generation of Marines will have to determine how to maximize rapid advances in technology and systems analysis to help forecast key aspects of future conflict, increase efficiency in the Corps’ processes, and increase their ability to affect an adversary’s decision cycle time.
One process requiring urgent attention is the service’s ability to integrate supply and logistics systems across the naval force and with allies and partners. Given the forecasted increased lethality and speed of future conflicts, this process must be modernized, improved, and standardized to ensure the Corps remains relevant and able to contribute to the future success of naval expeditionary operations.
Growing emphasis on the Indo-Pacific and Arctic regions presents time-space logistical challenges that few, if any, Marines have experienced. The Marine Corps needs to maintain accessible stocks of Combat Essentiality Code 5/6 items—repair parts whose failure would render equipment inoperative or reduce its effectiveness—and must preposition redundant and oversized stocks. This will help reduce Marines’ footprint on board naval shipping and at expeditionary advanced bases (EABs), minimize customer wait time, and increase material readiness.
Predictive analytics—a technique that extracts information from existing data to predict future patterns—and naval logistics integration (NLI) are essential in this effort. Their use can ensure the Marine Corps can contribute to the National Defense Strategy’s global operating model by conducting logistics operations anywhere, including in a distributed manner below the level of armed conflict; enable persistent forward naval engagement and operation as part of a joint and multinational force; and increase the service’s ability to deter great power competitors—particularly in the Pacific and the expanding Arctic. With the help of these tools, the Corps can assure U.S. allies and partners that it is prepared to win in any clime and place.
As emphasized in the National Security Strategy, “America’s response to the challenges and opportunities of the cyber era will determine our future prosperity and security.” In future naval expeditionary operations, the Marine Corps’ use and the exploitation of the cyber domain must become a key strength. Failure to acknowledge the importance of the cyber domain will cede a major U.S. advantage to our competitors. Consider, for example, where companies such as Amazon, UPS, and FedEx would be if they did not maximize use of the cyber domain. Leveraging lessons on the use of predictive analytics by companies such as these can help shape the future of maritime logistics.
This should include analyzing usage data and individual requirements across a variety of vehicle and aircraft types, weapon systems, and equipment requiring contingency maintenance and then standardizing deployed repair parts blocks based on this data. If predictive analytics were incorporated into the Corps’ planning, Marines’ participation in the development of sustainment blocks would consist of approving data-set recommendations rather than the time-intensive current model, which uses individual Marine expertise to predict the requirements necessary for sustainment on board ships and at expeditionary locations ashore.
The current lack of standardization and automation in the development and replenishment of repair parts blocks regularly results in haphazard and suboptimal decisions that affect the space available for mission-essential assets on board amphibious ships and the funding available to support Marine Corps units. These well-intentioned but often suboptimal decisions perpetuate bad habits regarding storage operations, shelf-life decisions, and reordering point data.
Such deficiencies will cause greater problems for the Corps as space on amphibious ready groups (ARGs) and at EABs becomes more limited because of the larger size of platforms such as the Joint Strike Fighter and CH-53K when compared to the platforms they are replacing. Storage operations, containerization methods, and assignment to shipping will become even more important—and all can all be enhanced using predictive analytics when developing repair parts blocks.
Predictive analytics can standardize the creation of sustainment blocks by supporting a sophisticated analysis of data and the prediction of future inventory and maintenance requirements. Predictive analytics models can contribute to supply chain visibility and the planning and execution of procurement and physical material management by codifying trends by unit, equipment type, and geographical location.
Currently, personnel at the unit level and the Supply Management Unit attempt to standardize the process of predicting what items should be stocked within a combat logistics battalion (CLB) to support a Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) or special purpose Marine air-ground task force (SPMAGTF), but without a standard model to follow, their ability to build, store, and replenish class IX blocks appropriately is degraded.1 This lack of continuity in determining requirements for class IX blocks and of standardization in developing sustainment blocks creates more problems at the enterprise-level when trying to coordinate efforts across the globe.
The good news is that much of the data required for predictive analytics exists in systems such as Global Combat Support Systems–Marine Corps (GCSS-MC) and time-phase force and deployment data. Service investments in predictive analytics will support future sustainment operations in an increasingly distributed operating environment where customer wait time might mean the difference between mission success or failure. In short, predictive analytics can improve the efficiency of deployed class IX blocks, reduce the physical footprint of deployed MAGTFs, and reduce costs associated with developing and sustaining deployed class IX blocks in support of future contingency operations.
Naval Logistics Integration
Given the decrease in available fleet logistics ships, naval logistics integration (NLI) will become more prominent in the development and conduct of sea-based and EAB operations.3 For sustainment to be successful in future contested operating environments, the services’ supply systems must be (1) mutually supportive, (2) capable of digitally interacting with each other, and (3) able to use allied and partnered nations as contingent ship-to addresses.
Increasing interoperability in Navy and Marine Corps systems through NLI would enhance mutually supporting requisitioning, placement, and permanent storage of Marine Corps–specific repair parts on naval ships. The preponderance of items staged in Navy stores on deployed ARG and Combat Logistics Force ships support repairs for Navy-specific items. There is some crossover for standard items such as rifles and small-load trucks; however, the majority of items do not support the equipment temporarily deployed on Navy ships by the Marine Corps (i.e., amphibious assault vehicles, tanks, F-35Bs, etc.).
To increase self-sustainment within the space available on board the ARG, the Navy–Marine Corps team needs to associate their requisitions using Navy supply systems to generate a demand signal for storage of Marine-specific repair parts in Navy inventory and use the ARG as the ship-to address. This method also could be used for requisitioning Marine Corps hazardous materials (HazMat), which have a notorious reputation for long hold times in customs.
The oils and petroleum required for Marine Corps vehicles and equipment are not routinely stored on board the ARG. As a result, they must be requisitioned while afloat. Depending on the physical location of the MEU, HazMat can become held up in customs, creating lapses in readiness and support to the MEU’s equipment. By generating a demand signal for Marine Corps HazMat via Navy stores, the ARG could establish a recurring requirement, which would limit excess equipment and reduce the MEU’s footprint on board. The same logic would apply if Marines begin operating as part of other naval formations throughout the global operating model contact layer.
GCSS-MC needs to be able to interact with and requisition from partnered sources of supply using GCSS-Army, GCSS-Air Force, and Navy systems such as the Relational Supply and the Priority Material Office. This could be accomplished now with support from the Marine Expeditionary Force Logistics Coordination Offices by associating Army, Air Force, and Navy DoD activity address codes (DoDAACs) with the GCSS-MC system.2 GCSS-MC can be used to create purchase requests from partnered Department of Defense activities. This increased interaction would increase the data available for future predictive analytics by adding the usage requirements of deployed units.
Systems such as the Integrated Development Environment/Global Transportation Network Convergence (IGC) database—a U.S. Transportation Command and Defense Logistics Agency program that fuses supply chain, distribution, and logistics information—also could be used to assist in the requisition of supplies by identifying the physical location of repair parts across DoD. Knowing the location of supplies can provide for alternative requisitioning solutions and flexibility in quickly developing a supply chain network in support of an EAB. Prepositioned stocks available through DoD can decrease customer wait time and increase the Marine Corps’ ability to support itself in a much larger area of operations. They reduce geographic limitations on sustainment and offer new opportunities for replenishment at sea and potentially in theater, where an Army or Air Force unit might be able to provide lateral support.
Moreover, recent combat operations and forecasts about likely future conflict highlight the need for the Corps to be able to conduct joint logistics using NATO prepositioned logistics nodes, as well as using GCSS-MC to ship items to partnered DoDAACs. In 2016, CLB-26, while attached to the 26th MEU, was tasked to provide intermediate supply support to Task Force Spartan in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. CLB-26 provided a class IX block consisting of more than 700 repair parts and 14 secondary repairables, which provided increased flexibility for the 26th MEU and supported the material readiness of the MEU’s ground equipment.
With coordination through the Camp Lejeune Logistics Coordination Office, an Air Force DoDAAC in proximity to the Kara Soar Counter-fire Complex in Iraq was established in GCSS-MC to facilitate the rapid delivery of cargo to Task Force Spartan. By using signal code J (ship to supplementary address, bill to requisitioner) within GCSS-MC, CLB-26 assigned the Air Force DoDAAC as a provisional ship-to address, leveraging the established distribution network in Iraq.
The use of a partnered and collocated DoDAAC in GCSS-MC as a ship-to address allowed for requisitions not stocked by the 26th MEU to be filled by wholesale sources of supply and shipped to the Kara Soar Counter-fire Complex without levying additional coordination requirements outside the established supply and distribution network. This one example reinforces why MAGTF supply and distribution must be associated to all available DoDAACs within DoD and our NATO allies. As the Navy and Marine Corps increase focus on the Indo-Pacific, it will become increasingly imperative to pursue similar efforts with allies such as Australia and Japan.
The Marine Corps must develop unilateral concepts of sustainment that support and allow for joint, multidomain operations in a highly contested environment. Former Commandant Robert H. Barrow once stated, “Amateurs think about tactics, professionals think about logistics.” One look at the massive expanse of the Indo-Pacific and Arctic area of operations highlights the challenges inherent in such a statement.
Throughout its history, the Marine Corps’ agility has been based on its expeditionary mind-set and ability to operate either from the sea or in sustained operations ashore. Included in this is its ability to plan for equipment failures and mitigate those failures through the systematic reconciling and staging of high-demand and low-density spare parts. Time-space challenges in the new global operating model demand a sustainment solution that incorporates joint and multinational interoperability and the use of DoD and NATO partners as sources of supply and distribution centers. Predictive analytics and integrated logistics will sustain and enhance the MEU’s ability to provide forward-reaching capability at a moment’s notice as the Corps seeks to distribute further and farther in accordance with National Defense Strategy guidance.
1. The Supply Management Unit provides requisitioning support between the wholesale and consumer levels of supply within the established Marine Corps supply chain.
2. The DoDAAC is a six-character, alpha-numeric code that uniquely identifies a unit, activity, or organization within the DoD Activity Address Directory. This information is used throughout the federal supply system for identification, requisitioning, shipping, and billing.
3. See Elee Wakim, “Sealift is America’s Achilles Heel in the Age of Great Power Competition,” warontherocks.com.