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News | July 22, 2019

Battlefield Sustainment on the Korean Peninsula

By Maj. Gen. Michel M. Russell Sr. and Col. William L. Ellis

Since 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been under a United Nations Command (UNC)-led armistice between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). In order to maintain this armistice, Eighth Army has remained forward-deployed on the peninsula.

Strategically, this arrangement has been anchored by our ROK-U.S. alliance, which serves as the keystone for all military and political activity on the peninsula. Our relationship with the ROK was born of blood and shared values that have inextricably linked our two countries for over 68 years. For 55 of those years, the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) has provided operational-level sustainment to the Eighth Army and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).

The delicate balance between armistice and contingency operations has been tested in the last 30 years. North Korea has conducted numerous provocations against the ROK. These range from the first Rodong missile flight in the 1990s to the Hwasong-15 missile flight in November 2017 to an aggressive, evolving nuclear program that now includes a theater ballistic missile with potential nuclear capabilities.

Even today, as our national authorities negotiate for peace on the international stage, the need for the ability to "Fight Tonight," if required, still remains.

Readiness, being ready to fight tonight, is the way of life here. It is the reason we are stationed on the Korean Peninsula. Everything we do must focus on maintaining and improving readiness because, should deterrence fail, we must be ready to engage in combat operations with little or no warning.

If we were to transition to combat operations, how would we execute battlefield sustainment? We would accomplish this mission by setting the peninsula, establishing the sustainment framework for a transition from armistice to contingency operations, and activating of this framework using multi-modal operations. Additionally, we must creatively use innovative economy of force and equipment utilization in order to provide Eighth Army operational reach, freedom of action, and prolonged endurance.

Setting the Korean Peninsula

Our essential contribution to the Eighth Army mission to be ready to "Fight Tonight," is for the sustainment community to be ready to sustain the fight tonight. Over the last two years, in response to the severity, threat and type of provocations from North Korea, readiness on the peninsula has been at an all-time high. As our maneuver forces train and prepare for any eventuality across the full spectrum of operations, so does the sustainment community.

Our Army senior leaders have ensured that our Army forces on the peninsula have all of the supplies required to support a wide variety of contingency operations. This push for readiness started a flow of materiel to set the theater at a rate unseen since Operation Desert Storm.

The "tyranny of distance" in getting the supplies from the strategic rear to the peninsula was just the first in a series of challenges. The Army has consolidated its foot print at Camp Humphreys and closed most of its installations in Seoul, northward, and on the west coast.

As installations closed, there was an influx of supplies, including class II (clothing and individual equipment), IV (construction and barrier materials), VII (major end items), VIII (medical materiel), and IX (repair parts). Those supplies filled every bit of warehouse concrete and blacktop space in the Daegu-Busan enclave.

Coordination for class V (ammunition) was conducted through numerous All Things Pacific and Korea forums led by Eighth Army, U.S. Army Pacific, Army Materiel Command (AMC), and the Army Staff. Further coordination was required to determine where to store the multiple containers of class V, since all ammunition depots and ammunition supply points belong to and are managed by the ROK. increased net explosive weight was added to the depots that were already near capacity. This was accomplished by accelerating the removal of 3,500 containers of obsolete munitions from War Reserve Stocks for Allies--Korea in order to create additional storage space.

The close synchronization and shared efforts of the ROK-U.S. alliance facilitated one of the largest and fastest movements of preferred and conventional munitions to one area of responsibility since Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. This relationship is one reason why the ROK-U.S. alliance is so vital to the successful defense of the ROK.

Delivering these classes of supply on time and in the quantities required was just the first challenge that our Army leaders and strategic partners overcame.

Establish the Sustainment Framework

Since 2018, the Army has been able to set the theater to support large-scale combat operations on the Korean Peninsula. This means it can quickly get enough supplies to the peninsula but not necessarily position the supplies in tactical locations that make them easily accessible and defendable in order to support the tactical fight.

It has been our focus, over the past year, to design and implement a concept for the operational storage of supplies that directly contributes to smooth and efficient distribution of supplies in support of a transition to contingency operations. As we work through these challenges, we looked at the basic building blocks of battlefield sustainment in order to support a tactical fight and sustain the theater. These building blocks are synchronization, distribution, communication, mission command, and the following principles of logistics: integration, anticipation, and responsiveness.

In addition to being prepared to transition to combat operations, we had to consider our directed wartime tasks--executing noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO), reception, staging, onward movement and integration (RSOI) operations, and Army support to other services (ASOS). This sometimes includes requirements based on agreements with the 16 United Nations Sending States.

Synchronization, integration, and coordinated execution, along with greater transparency, were critical as we planned for future operations. At the combined and joint levels, we led and participated in numerous Eighth Army tabletop exercises and joint and combined tactical discussions to include USFK-ROK and Department of the Army-led rehearsals.

In order for our strategic and operational enablers to support the tactical fight, they have to understand all of our requirements for each phase. To support this understanding the 19th ESC has expanded its ability to conduct near-term planning and prepares future plans 45 to 60 days out.

Because the 19th ESC does not have a G-5, it depends on the 8th Theater Sustainment Command's future operations cell to provide operational to strategic reach-back planning and integration. The 19th ESC has created its own G-3/5 in order to plan for future phases and potential eventualities and leverage its sustainment framework to help Eighth Army shape the battlefield for follow-on operations. This provides the Eighth Army with the freedom of action to gain the initiative and maintain momentum in support of the scheme of maneuver.

Additionally, simultaneous planning and synchronization of warfighting functions enable us to develop actionable plans in conjunction with the G-3, J-3, and C-3 and G-5, J-5, and C-5 from the joint and combined headquarters. We must plan across the joint and combined force because each requires unique considerations. While this seems obvious, it is often one of the biggest challenges sustainers face if they are not involved in the initial development of a plan.

Trying to develop a concept of support for a plan you do not fully understand or for one that is not fully supportable from a sustainment perspective is not only frustrating but potentially adds extreme risk. 19th ESC planners were involved in the entire development process for the operation plan as it was vetted, through USFK, UNC, the Combined Forces Command, Indo-Pacific Command, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to ensure it was feasibile, sustainable, and executable from both a maneuver and logistics perspective.

Lastly, the plan had to be further integrated at the joint level because of Eighth Army's ASOS mission. Once Eighth Army becomes Army Forces Korea, during contingency operations, it provides critical classes of supply and services to the joint force. This ASOS mission has several sustainment impacts for supporting other services with classes of supply and common user land transportation assets. This adds additional complexity to our battlefield sustainment framework.

Activating the Sustainment Framework

When it comes to setting the peninsula and optimally positioning supplies to enable quick and immediate access, the true devil in the detail belongs to activation of the concept of support. Even though 19th ESC is in direct support of the Eighth Army and is under the operational control of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command during combat operations, it is also part of the combined fight. Multiple competing demands for finite resources and services require an extensive multi-modal logistics support plan that reaches from the sea to the demilitarized zone and beyond.

The heart of logistics on the peninsula is distribution--the 19th ESC's primary method of extending Eighth Army's operational reach and endurance. This is especially challenging when looking at class I, IIIB (bulk petroleum, oils, and lubricants), IV, V, VII, and VIII. Sustainers must understand the logistics network from our industrial base all the way to the tactical point of delivery and the sequencing and timing of moving personnel, equipment, and supplies across vast distances and possibly through anti-access/area-denial environments. Additionally, we depend on sea and air component commands to maintain freedom of access to the air and sea lines of communications leading to and from the peninsula. The successful execution of NEO and RSOI depends on access to our critical air and sea ports of debarkation.

Innovating Economy of Force and Equipment Use

Battlefield sustainment requires us to be innovative in our approach to maintenance and supply. In the event of a contingency, combat systems will be repaired by the heavy repair division of Materiel Support Command--Korea (MSC-K). This organization conducts sustainment- and depot-level repair programs in order to maintain Eighth Army readiness. However, during contingency operations, MSC-K's repair capability and capacity will shift, and the organization will become the combat power generation center to quickly repair battle-damaged equipment.

Through MSC-K's professional and very skilled workforce and our current transportation network, we can significantly affect the combat operational readiness rate of critical combat systems. This reduces the Eighth Army's initial reliance on class VII being shipped from the states and provides the industrial base the time needed to activate the resupply of critical class VII major assemblies and combat platforms.

In addition, AMC, through its life cycle management commands, has deployed two forward repair activities (FRAs) to the peninsula. These FRAs have directly increased our combat and communications systems' readiness.

The 19th ESC co-hosted sustainment summits with the Eighth Army to identify and resolve tactical to operational supply challenges for class IX repair parts. We also worked closely with AMC to make many class IX improvements, to include closely monitoring and improving all supply metrics to within Department of the Army goals and refining the use of Global Combat Support System--Army at all echelons.

As we look at operations on the Korean Peninsula, it remains essential that we maintain immediate access to the modernized Army Pre-positioned Stock (APS) 4, which is forward deployed to Camp Carroll in Daegu. We have operationalized war reserve secondary items in APS 4 by transferring them to MSC-K in order to greatly improve readiness. The Army Sustainment Command, through the 403rd Army Field Support Brigade, also has reconfigured the APS 4 fleet into ready-to-issue combat sets. This has directly improved our RSOI issue time, providing Eighth Army combat power faster and more efficiently.

Unique to the battlefield sustainment construct here is our dependence on ROK wartime host-nation support. During contingency operations, the joint force has access to over 22,000 members of the Korean Service Corps (KSC). These paramilitary ROK soldiers provide invaluable skilled labor that quickly extends ours sustainment capacity throughout the peninsula and to rotational and deploying units by supplementing logistics requirements with a ready and in-place workforce.

Also, through agreements with the ROK Ministry of Defense, wartime host-nation support in the form of logistics equipment is identified and issued to the joint force during combat operations to enable logistics throughout the peninsula.

USFK approval of Logistics Civil Augmentation Program 5, administered by AMC, will provide essential sustainment functions that the current force structure does not retain, including NEO and RSOI requirements. This is the first time the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program has been made available in the ROK.

In this article, we have discussed how the Korean Peninsula is set, the sustainment framework that is in place during armistice, and how this framework is activated to support contingency operations. Additionally, we must now understand how one mission drives the operational to tactical sustainment structure. One of the major challenges to effective operational to tactical situational awareness of the multiple modes, nodes, and formations throughout the ROK is the lack of communications equipment authorized to the ESC and its down trace units. There is also an essential need for an embedded tactical signal element with the capability to support distributed logistics operations across the entire peninsula.

The underlying premise for most operations on the peninsula is that distributed logistics is executed by units that must have a high degree of organic mobility. With the threat of theater ballistic missiles, special operations forces, and other asymmetric North Korean forces focused on sustainment inventories and infrastructure, logistic formations must be more agile, connected, and cyber-hardened, and they must retain situational awareness and mission command on the move.

The Korean Peninsula has some of the most challenging mountainous terrain that impacts communications. It also has numerous water obstacles, bridges, tunnels, and megacities. These challenges coupled with the potential flood of noncombatants fleeing from the north to the south under NEO directives create a distinctive fog of war that we plan for every day. Consequently, our logistics formations must be adequately equipped with up-armored vehicles to protect themselves while delivering supplies and services on time, every time.

As always, it is our professional warrior logisticians that execute graduate-level logistics in direct support of the entire spectrum of operations on the peninsula. We do this in spite of numerous challenges, atmospherics, and the tyranny of distance. Our mission to support the fight tonight is one we do not take lightly, as we build upon our 55 year legacy of being the Army's only permanently forward deployed ESC. Team 19 … Pacific Victors … Katchi Kapshida!

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command website.