Although the United States has maintained a consistent defense presence in the Indo-Pacific, supporting regional peace, stability, and prosperity for over 75 years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to expand its malign influence across the region, openly challenging the post-World War II international order. The 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) declares the Department of Defense (DoD) will act urgently to sustain and strengthen deterrence, with the PRC as our most consequential strategic competitor and the pacing challenge for the Department. The NDS further states the DoD will advance its goals through three primary ways: integrated deterrence, campaigning, and actions that build enduring advantages.
The United States Marine Corps (USMC) developed a new operating concept to secure objectives codified in U.S. strategic guidance. As part of the USMC Force Design 2030, the Stand-in Forces (SIF) concept provides forward-postured, steady-state forces operating in contested areas and capable of transitioning rapidly from competition to a crisis, to conflict, and back again. Stand-in Forces are designed to operate across the competition continuum within a contested area as the leading edge of a maritime defense in depth to disrupt the plans of potential adversaries. Marines acting as SIF will be positioned forward, shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. Allies and Partners, creating asymmetric strategic advantages.
To fully realize the SIF concept and overcome the “tyranny of distance” in the Indo-Pacific region, the Joint Force must develop a sustainment concept to support SIF that matches its revolutionary intent. To properly implement the SIF concept and achieve integrated deterrence, the Joint Force must leverage sustainment capabilities across each Service and all domains to project and sustain forces in remote locations, for which the Army will play an integral role.
Army Stand-in Forces Sustainment
Army logistics is, and will continue to be, foundational to joint operations and must be ready to provide the capacity and capability required to deploy forward and sustain operations vital to U.S. strategic interests. By cultivating host-nation relationships, operationalizing unique enabling capabilities, and incorporating modernization efforts, Army sustainers will create positional advantages enabling SIF freedom of action and extend operational reach into contested environments.
With over 20 years of sustainment experience in two theaters of war since 2001, the Army’s ability to cultivate host-nation relationships and leverage forward logistics elements will prove instrumental to the SIF concept. Large-scale Army exercises such as Pacific Pathways and military-to-military engagements through the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade and Oceania Engagement Teams, foster greater cooperation with partner nations and present opportunities to develop the connective tissue to build logistics capacity at the forward edge of potential conflict. Access and authorities are essential to conducting theater opening, theater distribution, and theater sustainment to build and sustain combat power. Working through the country teams, the Army can increase Access, Basing, and Overflight (ABO) to support exercises while identifying infrastructure and contracting needs to sustain Marines forward in a future conflict.
The Army’s unique capabilities and expertise can help set the theater and sustain SIF in the Indo-Pacific. As logistical demands increase, ships need improved navigation channels to enter and leave ports efficiently, quickly, and safely. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) dredging operations can enlarge and deepen navigation channels to accommodate more extensive prepositioned stock afloat ships and commercial vessels to more efficiently deliver supplies to push sustainment operations closer to the forward line of Marines. Although the U.S. Navy’s fleet is considered the main effort in the Pacific, Army Watercraft is the transport vessel that provides an efficient rate of movement and can transverse throughout littorals transporting personnel, equipment, and supplies to the point of need. Repositioning the current fleet and acquiring new Army Watercraft Systems at-scale can provide Marine formations critical intra-theater logistics capabilities while simultaneously easing the demands on Naval assets.
Finally, as modernization efforts come to fruition, the Army can incorporate innovation to support SIF. First, while its practical use is still in its infancy, advanced manufacturing is a potential game-changer delivering critical supply parts at the point of need while decreasing strain on the supply chain. The ability to print parts will facilitate lower production lead times than traditional manufacturing methods at lower costs. Second, technology developed through the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and air-launched effects platforms can deliver Marines and supplies rapidly to remote areas. Finally, the Army can provide research and development outcomes to produce tactical hybrid and electric vehicles that lessen the need to transport fuel through highly vulnerable lines of communication while fielding stealthier options with increased endurance in a distributed manner.
To operationalize the Stand-in Forces concept, the Joint Force must develop new methods maximizing Army sustainment capabilities to survive a highly contested logistics environment and rapidly deliver lethality to Marines across the area of operations. The following recommendations will necessitate a paradigm shift in logistics methods, leveraging innovative technologies and lessons learned from recent conflicts.
Reimagine Prepositioned Stocks. A recent GAO report on DoD preposition stocks recommended: “fully implement joint oversight of DoDs prepositioned stock programs, including providing detailed information on how to implement such an oversight approach to synchronize the military services’ preposition stock strategies to avoid fragmentation.” Once adopted, DoD should also harness the lessons learned from Army Preposition Stock–2’s (APS-2) exquisite logistics support to 3rd Infantry Division at the onset of the Russo-Ukraine War to develop a new, more holistic approach leveraging all Services prepositioned stock and distribution capabilities. A distributed Indo-Pacific force posture will necessitate tailored logistics solutions, including maximizing available APS a-float fleets to support the needs of SIF Marines in far-flung climes.
Operationalize the Joint Manufacturing & Technology Center (JMTC) to Build 3D Printing Partnerships in the Region. Printing critical air and land supply parts will prove integral to increasing the supply chain’s speed and flexibility to fight and win the next war. Printing critical components at the point of need mitigates risk to logistics formations and increases operational tempo for Marines forward. Through the JMTC, the DoD can develop additive manufacturing partnerships to facilitate a more robust 3D manufacturing industrial base enabling allies and partners to gain insights and lessons learned beneficial to future interoperability.
Flood the Zone with Army Watercraft Systems. Army Watercraft Systems can prove critical for SIF sustainment and distribution operations in a maritime-dominated theater. Army Watercraft can provide SIF flexibility by enabling operational reach, freedom of action, and prolonged endurance utilizing Logistics Support vessels, Landing Craft Utility vessels, Landing Craft Mechanized vessels, floating causeways, roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities, and tugs. And with the development of the Army’s Maneuver Support Vessel (Light), or MSV(L), the Army will increase payload capability and speed to support tactical units faster while increasing geographical access.
The characteristics of warfare have changed exponentially since the last peer-to-peer military conflict. Harbingers of history, such as the Russo-Japanese War in the early 20th century and the more recent Armenian-Azerbaijan Wars, provided insights into future conflicts and foreshadowed devastating implications. Just as these conflicts tested the utility of contemporary military planning, the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War will undoubtedly reshape the ways future belligerents employ new concepts, technology, and weaponry. Given exponential advancements in the characteristics of warfare, should the United States consider the large-scale movement of troops and equipment through a contested environment against a technologically advanced adversary operationally feasible?
Embracing the Marine Corps SIF concept is an essential linchpin to integrated deterrence and building an enduring advantage in the Indo-Pacific. Harnessing the Army’s sustainment function will prove integral to the SIF concept, with victory or defeat on the line in the Indo-Pacific. The choice is clear. Either operationalize the SIF concept and build logistics infrastructure to support Marines now or be forced to “fight to get to the fight” through the vastness of the Pacific with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Joshua Koncar is a Veteran and serves as a Congressional Liaison at the Office of Chief of Army Reserve. He is an undergraduate of Thiel College and holds advanced degrees from The George Washington University, the U.S. Naval War College, and Liberty University. The views expressed are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of DoD or its components.
Jonathan Bernhardt is currently serving as the Coast Guard Liaison to the Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Offices (JIFCO) in Quantico, VA. Commissioned at Officer Candidate School in 2004. CDR Bernhardt has served in areas of marine safety and security, expeditionary port security, and joint operations and exercises. CDR Bernhardt holds a BA in History from the University of Mary Washington, a MA in Public Policy from the University of Delaware, a MA in National Security & Strategic Studies “With Distinction” from the Naval War College, and a MS in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University. The views expressed are those of the author alone.