Contested Logistics in the EABO Environment

A present look and way ahead

>1stLt German is currently a student at the Army’s Logistics Captains Career Course. He is a Ground Supply Officer and previously was the Battalion Supply Officer for 3d Littoral Logistics Battalion, 3d Marine Littoral Regiment and has a Master’s of Economics from Purdue University.

As the Marine Corps works on applying the ideas of Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) to sea denial and sensing across island chains in the Western Pacific, one critical component remains uncertain: logistics and sustainment. In a recent U.S. Naval Proceedings podcast, when asked what the Marine Corps still needs help on concerning Force Design 2030, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Eric Smith, remarked, “Where we always have to work is logistics, that remains the pacing challenge.”1

The current supply chain is not responsive enough to support disbursed forces in the Western Pacific, and these challenges will only be exacerbated by greater distance and less infrastructure. The Marine Corps needs to find a way to adapt its systems to do so or adjust its business practices to provide sustained support. Looking at data from the Marine Corps supply and maintenance system (Global Combat Service System-Marine Corps [GCSS-MC]) for units in the weapons engagement zone (WEZ) can provide framing for this assessment. Evaluating supply and maintenance chains is relevant to every Marine occupational specialty, especially to the individual rifleman. Sustaining that Marine will be more challenging than ever. While Gen Smith was serving as the commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, he commented that when considering logistics in a distributed environment everyone should be thinking, “need less.”With that being said, each asset is of even greater importance. The days are gone of fleets of HMMWVs and Seven-Tons at a commander’s disposal. Logistics assets within the Marine Littoral Regiment and in the WEZ will be few and far between. Neglecting the supply chain and maintaining these assets is a risk, and the data below highlights several processes that are vulnerable and worth consideration.

When items are ordered in GCSS-MC, the user assigns a priority code which tells the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) the urgency of need for that requirement. The priority codes are associated with a force/activity designator (FAD), which is determined by a unit’s geographic location and proximity to a threat or enemy. Almost all of III MEF is poised to respond to a crisis in the Western Pacific and therefore has a FAD of II as depicted in Figure 1. This means units can order an item with a priority of 02 (highest priority), 05, or 12 (lowest priority).

Figure 1. Designators used in data. (Figure provided by author.)
What next determines how fast the part arrives is the source of supply (SOS) which fulfills the requisition. By looking at SOS and priority code, it is possible to analyze how well the Marine Corps supply systems perform and how impactful priority codes are in reducing wait time. The USTRANSCOM-approved time definitive delivery standards set a goal of delivering an 02 item to Marine units under U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in eleven days (not considering backorders or delays from the SOS).USTRANSCOM does not rely solely on the priority code, though, because what actually determines if the item goes by ship or air is the required delivery date (RDD) inputted in GCSS-MC. Even if a maintainer makes a part 02, if they leave the RDD spot blank in GCSS, it will appear to USTRANSCOM as a low priority.
Using an ordinary least squared regression (a data science practice often used by economists), it is possible to parse out not only the expected wait time from a source of supply but also how much the priority code reduces wait time. An advantage of using the ordinary least squared model versus simply averaging the wait time for each variable is the “ceteris paribus” feature or “all else being equal.” This serves to isolate the effects of each variable from the others. This gives a more accurate estimate and thus allows for an accurate evaluation of the efficiencies or inefficiencies of a supply system.
Table 2 summarizes the results of the regression and displays the wait time measured in days for each SOS that had more than 200 requisitions in III MEF over one year and the effect that assigning a priority 02 or 05 had on wait time. Overall, the data included 244,910 requisitions in III MEF over the last year from 6 different SOSs. There are two supply management units (SMUs) in III MEF, one on Okinawa and one on Oahu, these on-island warehouses are the first stop for units requisitioning parts and supplies based on enterprise business rules; they are grouped together as one SOS for analysis. The right-most column shows the percent of requisitions filled by each SOS.
Table 2. (Table provided by author.)

The most important results come from the two SOSs that filled 99 percent of the requisitions, which were unsurprisingly the SMUs and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). The SMUs are obviously performing the best, and even their priority twelve wait time is likely skewed by the rest of the SOSs and averages much lower (around four days). If the on-island SMUs do not have the item being requested, it is most often filled by Defense Logistics Agency. What is important to note though is that the wait times for Defense Logistics Agency are greater than two weeks even for 02 priority requisitions. Another interesting point is that 02 requisitions are only expected to come in around two days faster than a priority twelve item across all SOSs.

The results illustrate that there is little to no difference in 05 and 02 priority requirements in terms of wait time. Commanders often request weekly or daily updates on their 02 requirements; generally, they are almost identical to the 05 ones in terms of wait time. 02 priority requirements are defined as those without which “the requiring force is unable to perform assigned operational missions.”FAD II is also the FAD used by units “engaged or assigned to combat zones.”This implies that units in combat roles dislocated from the United States who need a part not stocked by a nearby SMU could expect to have the same wait time of over two weeks for their high priority requirements. Now, as mentioned earlier, some of these delays could be a result of not inputting the correct RDD correctly that then leads USTRANSCOM to assign a lower priority.

How does this apply to littoral logistics operations? For one, it is evident that the supply chain is a limiting factor. The tentative EABO manual specifically mentions how “distributing maintenance forces must be complemented by efficiency and responsiveness in the supply chain to ensure maintainers have timely access to repair parts, enabling them to restore equipment to a mission capable status.” Based on the data of requisitions in III MEF, distributing forces will have a hard time meeting this mission-capable status. Waiting over fourteen days in a contested environment is untenable; the deadlined asset will be a target well before the part can reach maintainers. Even if some of the results from above are truly from an improper RDD and priority combination, this still is a cause for concern given that the systems and pressure personnel will be under much greater pressure in the first island chain. In the status quo, units will have to anticipate lengthy wait times or construct highly comprehensive class IX resupply blocks in order to continue to operate effectively, both of which go against EABO principles.

There exists a plethora of solutions to these logistic problems. For one, automation of the correct combination of priority and RDD in GCSS would prevent one of the issues identified above. This is a simple coding switch in GCSS-MC that would prevent a Marine in the WEZ from accidentally getting his part sent via ship versus air. A more advanced and data-science-related solution is developing technology to determine supply needs in advance, this is currently being done with the Condition Based Maintenance Plus (CBM+) program. CBM+ involves placing sensors in military equipment like the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), these sensors can then track a vehicle over its lifetime and use data science to predict part failures or prevent catastrophic failures.After data is collected, it can be “transformed via machine learning applications to develop predictive insights, which are then pushed to software-driven dashboards that can be used by maintainers and operators to make decisions based on evidence of need.”The more time and data the system receives, the more accurate the predictions will become which goes to partially solving the current iron-mountain problem. It cannot be overstated how important this technology is to units like the Marine Littoral Regiment which will be more disaggregated and removed from sources of supply than ever before. Capturing this data will better inform not only the maintenance and supply requirements of current equipment but procurement for future programs of record. The Marine Corps must continue to invest in this program and similar initiatives. If done correctly, this could reduce the wait time to zero—where a maintainer has a part just before it even becomes an issue.

Another solution to this problem is looking at alternatives to established and expensive programs of record. There is a lot of discussion around 21st-century foraging as a way to get after this idea. The suggestion is to purchase local commercial equipment to use for logistical purposes. The upfront expenses might be high to purchase some used vehicles or assets, but the money and time saved in maintenance cycle costs could be tremendous. Vehicles like local pickup trucks, commercial construction, or engineering equipment offer several advantages within the WEZ. They are discreet, reasonably cheap, already exist there, and for the most part, the logistics networks to support them already exist. This strategy also allows leaders the option to abandon assets without the repercussions of losing millions of dollars in government equipment. This also goes along with the thinking mentioned in the tentative EABO manual, if you cannot fix it, get rid of it—which is much easier to do when you did not invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into each asset. One great counterargument to 21st-century foraging is that the local economies of the islands and countries will not be able to support these requirements for a large force (the total personnel within a single Marine Littoral Regiment is in the thousands). An offshoot of 21st-century foraging is to create equipment that is easier to throw away. Unarmored, cheap, simple equipment is one way to get Marines moving faster and support them easier. In an EABO environment, Marines are less worried about an improvised explosive device than they are about a ballistic missile. In World War II, over a quarter of a million jeeps were made, and there was not much intermediate maintenance done on them because it was not worth it. If the jeep broke down and was more complicated than a spark plug or a tire change, it could be disposed of wherever it lay. Last year the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen Berger, mentioned this same idea, asking, “what if it’s done its business in a year and we buy another one?”This is the mindset that Marine Corps Systems Command and procurement specialists need to start asking themselves. If parts are hard to get, then a valid solution is equipment that needs fewer parts.

The EABO manual also offers a cruder solution hinted at above, that is, “If equipment cannot be repaired forward in an expeditious manner, then it should be evacuated, cannibalized, or abandoned.”Again, evacuation is arguably the ideal scenario, but evacuating a principal end item like a JLTV requires more than just a simple tow (a single vehicle weighs up to 21,000 pounds). On an island within the WEZ, limited by narrow avenues of approach and poor maneuverability, it is far more likely the equipment would need to be destroyed and left. One JLTV has a price tag of around $305,000; a single part like a power-control module can make the vehicle unusable, leaving that rifleman and his squad on the island with a giant metal target parked next to them. Units like the Littoral Logistics Battalion within the Marine Littoral Regiment rate only 13 of the D00457K JLTV variant, meaning losing one would decrease their readiness immediately by 8 percent, three of them gone puts them below 80 percent readiness (if we assume the rest are all in perfect condition). On top of that, the current maintenance cycle demands a huge amount of time and money; there are routine preventative maintenance costs, modification instructions, and part replacements that the current system demands. These all might work reasonably well in garrison, but they are a huge investment of manpower and funding which is arguably too large to then be abandoned because a part breaks and there is no chance of timely resupply. On top of this, the Marine Corps is fighting for every penny in order to invest and procure technologically advanced gear like Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System, a replacement for the aging assault amphibious vehicle fleet and littoral amphibious warships. All this equipment will be required to defeat an adversary like China but arguing for these funds in Congress will be much less convincing if the Marine Corps abandons the same equipment on an island a few years later. The Marine Corps needs to confront this issue and accept it as a likely reality. When U.S. forces left billions of dollars of equipment in Afghanistan last year, the public outrage was enormous and top military officers were called to testify about the losses. If the Marine Corps does not adapt quickly to sustaining equipment and procuring “throw-away” equipment as mentioned above, then leaders will need to be prepared to answer similar questions.

Overall, the supply chain system needs to adapt to find ways to deliver parts faster, or at least consistently apply priority codes to get urgent parts delivered more efficiently. This applies to the EABO but also the modern battlefield in general. The pace of battle against a near-pear threat will be much faster than it was in Iraq or Afghanistan. Supply choices might need to be reevaluated using data science as here to see which systems or vendors are working and which are not. Programs like CBM+ need to be prioritized and funded so we can start collecting data and predicting now. If the system is unable to adapt, then commanders and higher will need to understand that the support they expect; is not going to be there anytime soon. The Marine Corps is going to have to find a way to come up with smarter, more flexible ideas to keep equipment operating or start investing in equipment easier to replace. There will not be wrecker support or an intermediate maintenance bay available in EABO. If parts are not anywhere close for delivery, the logistics community is going to have to figure out how to prioritize what they need and find creative ways to get it to the forward-deployed Marine. That rifleman will be the one that we are letting down by not working through these problems and facing these realities now; if we do not plan, they will be the ones figuring it out for themselves.


1. Bill Hamlet, “Proceedings Podcast Ep. 266—Stand-in Forces: Adapt or Perish,” The Proceedings Podcast, podcast audio, May 4, 2022, zines/proceedings/theproceedingspodcast/proceedings-podcast-ep-266-stand-forces-adapt-or.

2. Philip Athey, “Is Expeditionary Foraging in the Corps’ Future?” Defense News, August 9, 2021,

3. Staff, “Uniform Materiel Movement and Issue Priority System (UMMIPS),” Welcome to L&MR, n.d.,

4. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCO 4400.16H, Uniform Material Movement and Issue Priority Statement (Washington, DC: 2010).

5. Ibid.

6. Michael Whitaker, “USMC CBM+ Overview Brief,” presentation, Pentagon, Washington, DC, July 28, 2022.

7. Osman Sesay and Michael Whitaker, “Condition Based Maintenance Plus Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and Beyond,” (Washington, DC: December 2020).

8. Gina Harkins, “Top Marine General: We Need to Get Comfortable with ‘Throwaway’ Equipment,”, February 2, 2021,

9. Headquarters Marine Corps, The Tentative Manual for Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (TM EABO) (Washington, DC: March 2019).

>Author’s Note: A special thanks to the following individuals for their assistance in the research and drafting of this article, CWO3 Erick Bannar, Capt Joseph Shavel, 1stLt William Allred, CWO2 Wendell T. Horton, LtCol Osman Sesay, and Mrs. Anna German.