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News | Aug. 3, 2023

DLA assesses future U.S. logistics needs for Indo-Pacific during Talisman Sabre

By Beth Reece

Ground, air and naval forces wrapping up large-scale logistics, amphibious assault training and multinational fires training in Australia this week gave the Defense Logistics Agency glimpses of how it might need to adjust supply and sustainment models to support troops at war in the Indo-Pacific region.

Man holds a fuel pump to an aircraft
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Blake Schibig, dedicated crew chief assigned to the 199th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, removes a fuel hose from a F-22 Raptor during Talisman Sabre at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, July 25, 2023. The Defense Logistics Agency provided pre-planned food and fuel support during the exercise and was also on the ground to assess emerging needs in an area where DLA has a minimal footprint. Photo by Air Force Senior Airman J. Michael Peña
Photo By: Senior Airman J. Michael Peña
VIRIN: 230725-F-SB021-1149
A six-person DLA team of supply specialists and planners participated in Exercise Talisman Sabre, a 15-day, biennial exercise designed to test multinational and joint operations in the region and strengthen interoperability among key allies. The group provided pre-planned exercise support for items like food and fuel but was also on the ground to assess emerging needs in an area where DLA has a minimal footprint.

Although the U.S. military controlled the logistics battle space during 20 years of conflict in the Middle East, DLA Indo-Pacific Commander Navy Capt. Patrick Blake said that space isn’t guaranteed in his area of operations.

“How we’ve grown accustomed to supporting a joint force in a non-contested environment will likely not hold up in a great conflict with a peer adversary,” he said.

DLA has already observed company-level training in the area during previous exercises and Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, but Blake said Talisman Sabre, which involves over 30,000 service members from 13 nations, has revealed how joint forces would transition from ship to shore and fully operate across multiple domains in a shared environment.

“Seeing it at full scale allows us to appreciate the magnitude and type of support we may be relied upon to provide,” he said.

DLA contracts with manufacturers and suppliers to provide items like meals and repair parts, and it’s also the Defense Department’s executive agent for bulk fuel management. The services are mostly responsible for distributing supplies to individual units, however.   

Understanding how the services will support at the last tactical mile and how DLA’s current sustainment models would or wouldn't plug into that allows the agency to reconsider current business models to ensure seamless integration to warfighter support, Blake continued.

Having a consolidated sustainment model managed in the continental United States that includes contracting functions and stockpiles may not work when supplies are needed 10,000 miles away, he added.

Helicopter hovers over a field
Royal Australian Army service members use a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to deploy an artillery cannon prior to a live-fire rehearsal at Camp Growl, Queensland, Australia, July 21, 2023, during Exercise Talisman Sabre. The Defense Logistics Agency provided pre-planned food and fuel support during the exercise and was also on the ground to assess emerging needs in an area where DLA has a minimal footprint. Photo by Marine Cpl. Christopher W. England
Photo By: Cpl. Christopher W. England
VIRIN: 230721-M-UF994-1006
“We don’t have X number of days or weeks or months to move it there when we need it tomorrow,” he said. “That forces us to collectively think through our existing support and come up with a better version of what right looks like alongside our service partners and the combatant commander.”

Blake noted that solutions may involve dusting off old World War II playbooks and bringing back divested capabilities, creating a brand-new sustainment solution, or a hybrid of past and present processes.

The land size of Australia adds to the complexities of providing logistics there, added Marine Lt. Col. Sean Day, DLA Indo-Pacific’s operations chief.

“People don’t always realize that Australia is a large land mass but has a small population. So if U.S. forces are operating there, do the Australians have the capacity to support that kind of increased footprint?” Day questioned. “And how do we bring sustainment into the country and actually move it around where it’s needed?”

Customs regulations and requirements such as those from Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry add to the complexities, he continued.

Blake stressed that while Australia may not have the current industrial base to support sustainment beyond what the Australian Defense Force requires, the two nations are key allies with a long history.

Soldiers with weapons hunker on the ground while aircraft fly overhead
U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Marine Rotational Force-Darwin 23, post security during an air assault for Exercise Talisman Sabre at Bloomsbury, Australia, July 28, 2023. The Defense Logistics Agency provided pre-planned food and fuel support during the exercise and was also on the ground to assess emerging needs in an area where DLA has a minimal footprint. Photo by Marine Cpl. Emeline Molla
Photo By: Cpl. Emeline Molla
VIRIN: 230728-M-KG021-1120
“We have similar tactics, techniques and logistics sustainment practices that we’ve developed over time, particularly over the past two decades in the U.S. Central Command arena,” he said, adding that Australia has also purchased U.S. military equipment through the Foreign Military Sales program.

The U.S. is expected to continue deepening coordination with Australia by increasing rotational forces there and establishing an enduring logistics support area to further expand logistics and sustainment cooperation, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said July 29 at a press conference during the annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations.

“This is an area that leaders from here in DLA Indo-Pacific and at DLA Headquarters have identified as critical for us to start focusing on to determine what investments are needed to posture DLA effectively,” Day said.

DLA’s current footprint in Australia is limited to one DLA Energy liaison. The agency recently awarded a bulk fuel contract for a contract-owned, contract-operated Defense Fuel Support Point that’s expected to open in Darwin in 2023.

As U.S. officials outline future support, Blake and Day said DLA will work as a force enabler to the services.

“What we find very frequently with warfighters is that there’s an educational aspect to supporting them, so we help them understand who DLA is, what we can bring to the table and how the services can best leverage our support,” Day said.