Most of the observers of Operation Desert Storm (ODS) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) agree that the conduct of the major combat operations during these two operations was successful. However when the logistical performance of U.S Central Command (CENTCOM) together with other components in the US armed forces in these two operations are analyzed by experts, many critiques come up. Many anecdotes of less-than satisfactory support that was given to the combat units are found, from the absence of spare parts experienced by the ground forces moving into the heart of Iraq, to the inability to coordinate more effectively intra-theater distribution. The fact that some of these criticism was made in the aftermath of previous wars, this shows that while the US may have learned from its past mistakes, it has not yet effected the necessary changes in its logistical operations to avoid their operations. This paper will look at this issue critical and see what the American military should do to improve on the underlying issues (GlobalSecurity, 2010).
Discussions in this area have revolved around a perceived inability of the regional combatant commander (COCOM) to carry out directive authority for logistics effectively. So far much criticism has pointed at among other things, the lack a centralized point of contact for the joint logistics theater management for the inadequacies. During Operation Desert Storm, the US Army Central Command (ARCENT) was responsible for the provision of food, bulk fuel, water, ground munitions, inland cargo transportation, port operations, and construction support for all the US forces in the area of responsibility (AOR). The requirements for movement outpaced the capability of ground transportation in the whole operation, had the ODS lasted a little longer, the maneuver forces would have outrun their fuel and other support. The main reason cited for this was the decision to deploy more combat forces and few logistics resources at the commencement of ODS. The decision later on to sequence the deployment of service support units did not help but severely affected the army's ability to provide common user requirements in other areas. In fact some of the logistics forces that arrived later on were not able to meet all the requirements forcing the central command to rely on HNS to make up the shortfall. This situation had a major effect on theater logistics especially at the ports bringing a lot of material. There was no doubt that the ports were important especially to the flow of personnel and material, but the limited initial ability for equipments and troops to be moved from the ports to their preliminary positions of combat became a weak link in the chain of logistics. The number of US organic trucks was not adequate, this was also another problem, especially trucks with good off-road capability, a problem that was made worse by the limited main supply route network. These were serious challenges to the army that had to be overcome. After all these problems and issues, it is expected that the Department of Defense (DoD) would take appropriate measures to make sure that this does not happen again (McCloskey, 1999).
But unfortunately these same problems were witnessed during Operation Iraq Freedom. Information from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Defense did not have the sufficient distribution capability needed in the theater to manage and transport effectively the large volumes of supplies and equipments that were deployed in Operation Iraq Freedom. For instance, there was a delay in the distribution of supplies to forward units because there were no adequate transportation assets like material handling equipments and cargo trucks within the theater of operation. In addition to these, the 377th Theater Support Command that was responsible for support of logistics in Kuwait, was in need of 930 trucks but had only 515 trucks on the ground when combat commenced, this created a big strain on the movement of material. The assets available for transportation were not able to meet the capacity requirements of the Marine Corps and the 3rd Infantry Division. Items of high priority such as food , water and fuel, did not move as intended because the contractors responsible for providing these services from the ports to theater distribution center had a times just 50 out f the 80 trucks that were needed to make the provision of these services possible. All these happened for the same single reason, DOD did not have enough time to mobilize and deploy cargo truck units needed to see that the system was fully prepared to meet the demands that were anticipated from the first day of operation (GlobalSecurity, 2010).
The priority of the Department of Defense was that the combat forces were to move into the theater first. Studies into this operation show that the assets for distribution were either deleted from the plan of deployment, or were shifted back into the deployment timeline. This resulted in the logistics personnel not effectively supporting the swelling numbers of combat troops in the theater. There was an obvious shortage of personnel in the theater, and the few that arrived were untrained or unskilled in the duties they were required to carry out. This led to delays in processing of supplies and backlogs. The absence of support capability as expected came with many negative consequences for the combat forces in the theater. It is apparently clearly that these issues concerning theater land distribution came about due to the failure to effectively implement the lessons that were learned during Operation Desert Storm and in other military operations, a failure that might have contributed to the logistics support problems in Operations Iraq Freedom (GlobalSecurity, 2010).
Another area that posed a problem was the area of communications and information technology (IT). The US Department of Defense has so far recognized the need for improving IT logistics in the 21st century. It has shown this through it goal of attaining information blending that will bring about a secure intranet environment that will allow users in the DoD to have access to shared data and other applications that does not depend on location, and one that is supported by a healthy information structure. It is important to note that ODS happened in 1990, just at the start of the modern computer era. It is therefore worthy noting that IT at the time could not provide capabilities such as total asset visibility that are expected in current times. Asset visibility in the whole system was generally adequate, but the visibility of assets while in transit and in theater was generally poor. These led to a considerable confusion and reordering of same items by field units concerned with the existing or the anticipated shortages of important items. What this meant was that the forces did not trust the logistics system any more. Difficulties were also experienced in the communications capabilities of the tactical units making sustenance more tenuous. Distances of supply routes brought about problems in communications in the logistical system as the Army official found it hard to effectively communicate using the equipments that had been designed for shorter ranges. This meant that without accurate and timely requisition status, without up to date unit location information, lack of sufficient, ship, container and aircraft manifest visibility, logisticians could not adequately support the battle field operations. The period between these two operations, ODS and OIF, saw a revolution in the area of IT and communications although similar criticisms were aired in the following Iraq war (McCloskey, 1999).
In OIF senior commanders did not prioritize their needs, nor make decisions in early stages of the process of distribution, although they could be excused because they did not know what was being shipped to them. This resulted in an overburdened and over tasked distribution and transportation system. Generally, the inability to communicate and satisfy the logistics requirements reliably, rapidly and consistently, limited the effectiveness of the established processes in OIF. To alleviate these problems, recommendations have been made that the creation of a single logistics commander in a COCOM's theater is needed. This is what was lacking in the respective operations. For instance, lack of tools, processes, and structure, forced the operational control on logistics to devolve into the supporting units. Although COCOM is empowered by doctrine to exercise directive authority, the present logistics capabilities limit its ability to discharge this power. This directive authority becomes dispersed instead of residing with the COCOM. This meant that the units and battalions in the operations were just improvising and building impromptu support systems to obtain their own survival (GlobalSecurity, 2010).
So far the US military has managed to overcome some but not all the obstacles. Innovative thinking and cooperation has led to the creation of CENTCOM Deployment and Distribution Center that links strategic deployment and distribution process to operational and tactical functions in support of the war fighter, which has improved end-to-end distribution within an area of responsibility. The US operations experienced these problems not because they lacked a proper organizational structure, but because of the factors that have been outlined above. These include, lack of visibility, communication limitations, and inadequate distribution structure. Logistics communication was cited as the major element lacking in OIF. These involved the pushing of more combat troops early in deployment and delaying combat support resources; this increased the problem and hampered the efforts to control theater logistics. If this problem is not resolved, then the DoD is unlikely to find any effective outcome in the near future. Reengineering and streamlining of the current processes will bring about increased efficiency (McCloskey, 1999).
Evidence from the logistics efforts in ODS and OIF have shown that while the combat forces had enough support, there is still room for improvement. It has just emerged that although the theater commander had the power to control logistics, he never truly had the capacity to perform that function, the norm, was impromptu command and control and improvisation. The many short comings that made it difficult to support the operations included, insufficient planning, challenging logistics, lack of transportation resources, limited logistics communications capability, and processes that were disjointed, all these made war fighters to lose faith in the ability of the logisticians to provide what they needed on the battle field. The major problem especially raised by commanders in the various units, was that no single entity was given the responsibility for giving the overall command and control, this resulted in disjointed command instructions that brought about confusion in the execution of orders. Therefore until and when all these foundational concerns are fully tested and vetted, the US military will continue to treat the symptoms of its joint logistics ills. And if this happens, then the same logistical failures, and missed chances to support properly her combat forces that have so far plagued joint operations throughout her operations history will be repeated in subsequent operations.