Leveraging Logistics above the MAGTF

The Joint Logistics Enterprise
>Col Angell is a Logistics Officer currently assigned as the Director, Logistics Combat Element Division within Headquarters Marine Corps, Combat Development and Integration.
>>Mr. Schouten is a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel who has helped update and refine doctrine, publications, and strategic guidance for logistics within the Marine Corps, to include the update to MCDP 4.


Marines traditionally focus on the tactical level of warfare. The FMF is a tactical fighting force—always ready to fight and win. Yet, the reach of our FMF depends on the naval and joint logistics enterprise (JLEnt) to get us to the fight and enable the force to persist in a contested environment. The rise of precision and long-range strike capabilities within the arsenals of our Nation’s adversaries changes the logistics calculus at all levels of warfare. The ability to effectively strike U.S. installations, ships, and aircraft almost anywhere in the world using all-domain capabilities means enemies can actively attack the military logistics system in depth. The Marine Corps must account for these attacks in ways not truly considered since World War II.

The JLEnt, and particularly the Navy in the maritime environment, provides the mission-critical operational and strategic-enabling capabilities for the Marine Corps to operate in any clime and place. In an increasingly contested environment, Marines must closely manage logistics posture and maximize resources to gain an operational advantage. Understanding how logistics above the tactical-level impacts operations is key to ensuring forces have feasible plans with resilient forces to ensure tactical success. Marines must be deliberate in taking steps to understand and leverage operational and strategic logistics capabilities to ensure the force can persist in the contested environments that we are already operating in today.

Operational Logistics for Marines
Operational logistics (OpLog) enables campaigns by linking the strategic means of war to its tactical employment in a specified geographic area. OpLog is inherently a Joint Force effort because of the direct relationship to theater posture and campaign plans managed by the respective theater geographic combatant commander. Logistics at this level includes setting the theater with forces, footprints, and agreements to ensure the supplies and associated distribution systems are appropriately postured to support campaigning as well as the rapid transition to crisis or conflict. Among many organizations conducting OpLog, some of the most significant are the Army Theater Sustainment Command, the Navy Fleet Logistics Centers, and the forward footprint of the Defense Logistics Agency. Logistics professionals are those who can effectively plan, collaborate, and orchestrate these OpLog capabilities across the competition continuum.1

Today, forces will have to fight to get to the fight through a contested environment. Historically, the Marine Corps has had the task of seizing and defending advanced naval bases. These advanced naval bases and expeditionary advanced bases are necessary to sustain the force in the fight. Just as in World War II, Marines will not be given the luxury of permissive port offloads, unfettered aviation operations, and iron mountains of supplies. These realities drastically impact the sustainment options available to commanders. Feasible battle plans in contested environments require intimate knowledge of how forces can be positioned, resourced, and sustained over time. Understanding the challenges and opportunities of OpLog helps commanders make viable plans and maximizes options for the force. This applies to the logistics capabilities within the FMF as well as the theater and local resources that can be made available.

Marine forces may also be assigned a role in executing limited OpLog tasks, particularly in contested environments. Forces and other resources must be dedicated to managing and preserving advanced bases and transportation assets that create theater distribution systems. Of note, advanced bases are key nodes in theater distribution systems, which may include permanent main operating bases or temporary advanced naval bases and expeditionary advanced bases. These locations are each critical nodes in the theater sustainment web that must be staffed and resourced to both meet the needs of the forward force and create resiliency of the base to take a hit and keep on operating. Marine forces will be expected to contribute to operating and defending advanced bases across vast operating areas, at remote locations, or in immature theaters that other forces cannot access. For example, the size and maritime nature of the Pacific Ocean may exceed the capabilities of the Theater Sustainment Command and require Marine Corps investment and reinforcement in specified locations to support joint forces. Conversely, a naval expeditionary force (Navy and Marine team) may be the first available force capable of reaching objective areas where there are no joint capabilities and sparse infrastructure to provide OpLog support to special forces or joint aviation platforms.

Strategic Logistics for Marines
Strategic logistics (StratLog) provides the Joint Force with the means of war by providing the resources needed to conduct campaigns. This includes getting to the fight and feeding the theater network from global sources. Logistics at this level focuses on installations, acquisition and procurement, enterprise inventory management, global health services management, strategic lift, and large-scale mobilization. Many StratLog functions are conducted by designated agencies and organizations to support the entire Defense Department, such as U.S. Transportation Command’s role as in providing strategic lift or inter-theater transportation. Additionally, each Service headquarters manages StratLog functions associated with manning, training, and equipping the force to fight. Marines that participate in StratLog efforts harness global resources, increase JLEnt interoperability, and facilitate naval expeditionary operations over broad time horizons.2

Most StratLog is performed by organizations outside of the Marine Corps, yet Marines influence these global resources. Marines develop requirements and inform solutions to ensure Marine Corps warfighting equities are accounted for in operational planning as well as long-term institutional planning. This coordination involves identifying capability and capacity requirements that drive investment in strategic lift capabilities (ships and aircraft) as well as the necessary infrastructure to sustain the force globally. It also involves providing input to policies that impact Marines globally, such as force health protection policies established by the Defense Health Agency. StratLog capabilities from outside of the Marine Corps are critical for ensuring Marine Corps forces have global reach and sustaining power.

The Marine Corps has StratLog capabilities and uses staffs balanced with FMF-experienced Marines and business-experienced civilians to drive programs across the Service every day. While most of these capabilities are not directly tied to the Marine Corps Task List, these are all mission-critical pillars required to build and sustain Marine Corps expeditionary lethality. These capabilities include installations management across 25 bases and stations, the acquisition and lifecycle sustainment of all weapons systems, and the global inventory positioning to maintain a balance between enterprise force readiness and prepositioning programs for global responsiveness and integrated deterrence. Each of these Marine Corps StratLog capabilities aligns with discreet regulations, and they are all mutually supporting to provide Marine forces ready to fight.

How to Improve Marine Corps OpLog and StratLog Awareness and Execution
OpLog and StratLog are critically important to tactical success and the long-term health of Marine Corps forces. Marines must learn to effectively leverage the Marine Corps StratLog capabilities and the JLEnt to ensure the FMF is maintained at a high state of readiness and globally responsive. Changes in organization, doctrine, and talent management will provide necessary enhancements to transform enterprise resources to FMF lethality and adaptability. The following are four specific recommendations.

First, include OpLog and StratLog issues in Service-level exercises and wargames. Marines have been reluctant to explore force closure and protracted sustainment issues because these operational challenges often come at the cost of tactical readiness objectives. This tendency is out of balance because tactical prowess is irrelevant for a force that cannot get to the fight or lacks the material to endure over time. OpLog and StratLog issues are also often disregarded because they are the responsibilities of agencies outside of the Marine Corps. However, not incorporating realistic theater and global logistics challenges to sustaining Marine Corps employment concepts dismisses fundamental problems that should be addressed prior to conflict. These types of rehearsals can form the foundation for Service requirements and capability gaps.

Second, analyze, assess, and inform the organization and resourcing of Headquarters Marine Corps, Marine component commands, and the supporting establishment that relate to the execution of OpLog and StratLog. Understanding how these organizations relate to force generation, force deployment, force closure, and force sustainment is crucial to informing the level of investment and risk the Marine Corps should take. Current and emergent discussions regarding integrated deterrence, operating across the competition continuum, and contested logistics are relevant for the FMF today and tomorrow. These discussions inform Service-level decision making regarding roles, relationships, and resources across the Marine Corps and the JLEnt. Changes in how other agencies and Services intend to overcome the challenges of great-power competition require coordination for adjusted relationships between organizations.3 Reviewing how the Marine Corps Installations and Logistics Enterprise conducts OpLog and StratLog functions may result in better equipment, resource efficiencies, and improved alignment and interoperability throughout the Joint Force.

Third, capture OpLog and StratLog definitions, relationships, and activities in Marine Corps doctrine to ensure this understanding endures. A consolidated reference for OpLog and StratLog can make issues more accessible to Marines much like MCWP 3-40.8, Componency, describes Marine Corps integration into Joint Force operations. Currently, logistics at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels are addressed differently across various publications and require updates to capture what has been observed through the Force Design Campaign of Learning. Taking inventory of applicable publications and then prioritizing sequenced efforts to update these publications is necessary. These are the publications that tie to Marine Corps training and education programs, and these publications are what Marines leverage as guides to effectively sustain forces in the most challenging operating environments. While updating publications does not seem like an impactful activity, these changes are necessary to ensure lessons from the past and present are carried into the future.

Lastly, invest in long-term talent management efforts to develop and assign the right individuals for critical enterprise logistics positions. In comparison to the vast manpower requirements across the FMF, billets within Marine Corps and JLEnt organizations that conduct OpLog and StratLog activities are limited. Further, few Marines directly engage with OpLog and StratLog activities, and those that do, typically gain this experience near the end of their respective careers. Notably, these few Marines have a disproportionate impact on setting the force and setting the theater for warfighting readiness and battlefield success. Many of these billets also require highly specialized training and education in acquisitions, contracting, environmental management, or land management, all of which may pull Marines away from the traditional career paths related to their primary military occupational specialties. Navigating career paths that balance FMF experience and these OpLog and StratLog skills requires attention at the individual level to align education, fellowships, and assignments. To ensure the Marine Corps remains competent and current, identifying and investing in manpower to take on these OpLog and StratLog billets is critical.

The Marine Corps is a tactical fighting force that thrusts forward from a foundation of operational and strategic logistics capabilities. Marines must master their understanding of these capabilities to ensure the Marine Corps has the operational reach to be a global expeditionary force. The more that Marines learn early how the entire JLEnt gets them to the fight and sustains them in the fight, the more they will understand what is possible in combat. Additionally, some Marines will be assigned the responsibility to conduct and provide oversight of OpLog and StratLog. This is particularly relevant for Marines involved in force generation and force deployment from homestation and then force closure and force reconstitution in the theater of operations. It is necessary to enrich our best Marines today with this understanding before they are assigned to positions where they will influence and be in charge of setting the theater to achieve campaign success. Every Marine must remain tactically competent, yet the more Marines understand the operational and strategic-level sinews of war, the more ready Marines will be to fight and win.


1. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCDP 4, Logistics, (Washington, DC: 2023).

2. Ibid.

3. Examples include the transition of responsibilities between Defense Logistics Agency and Transportation Command, Army cross-functional teams, the Navy’s Transforming Logistics for Great Power Competition, and Air Force Doctrine Note 1-21 “Agile Combat Employment.”