The Role of Logistics in Deterrence

Facing a peer competitor
>LtCol Gillett is Combat Engineer Officer who is currently assigned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a CMC Fellow. He was previously assigned to 3d MLG, III MEF as the Commanding Officer of 9th Engineer Support Battalion.


The most pronounced strategic military impact of the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union on the United States was the shift from maritime, air, and space superiority to one of supremacy. Multi-domain supremacy ushered in a period where the United States sat at the apex of a unipolar global system defined by an absence of existential security threats and a lack of comparable nation-state competitors, which led to a focus on crisis response and irregular warfare. In the last decade, the rise of regional challengers in Europe and the Pacific ended America’s “unipolar moment” of unilateral military supremacy.Strategically, this shift caused a reassessment of military strategy, organization, and doctrine and reoriented strategic policy from an exclusive focus on expeditionary deterrence to a more traditional balance between expeditionary response and nation-state deterrence. In the case of the Pacific, the United States faces an adversary with the capability to disrupt, deter, and limit the United States’ military effectiveness while offsetting other elements of national power that have been foundational to America’s grand strategy since the fall of the Soviet Union.2

The United States military is in an inter-war period that, like the 1930s pre-World War II era and 1945 to 1949 pre-Cold War era, is focused on developing capabilities necessary to meet global and regional challenges. Modernization has rightly focused on command and control, intelligence, fires, and maneuver in developing a force capable of deterring challenges to the status quo, providing flexible options for crisis response, and, if necessary, defeating an adversary in conflict.Though there has been substantive progress in the development of these capabilities, recent calls from Marine Corps and Joint Force senior leadership for modernizing the joint logistics enterprise reflects an acknowledgment that a relative combat power gap exists between strategic ways and means due to an inability to deliver and sustain capability in uncertain or hostile environments.4

Logistics modernization through investments in contested logistics and a global positioning network offers a measurable means to influence and deter peer adversary activities in the region by reinforcing strategic perceptions of credible military capability while demonstrating commitment to the defense of regional allies and partners.Logistics forces have the organic means to be a decisive capability in maintaining operational access and generating flexible response options in a competitive campaign against a capable nation-state actor. The artful application of the functions of logistics, fused with other joint capabilities, offers opportunities to conduct operations that can persist, shape, and deter without the escalatory signaling associated with the deployment of kinetic capabilities. The non-escalatory, dual purpose, and soft power nature of logistics in competition offers latent deterrence options that have been undervalued in the era of expeditionary deterrence but are critical to future strategic and operational success because the presumption of uncontested operational access to a crisis area has been directly challenged creating substantive strategic risk.

This article advocates that logistics forces bring credibility to general and immediate deterrence by ensuring that military forces deployed in response to a crisis have the speed, endurance, and capability to influence an adversary’s risk calculations, reinforcing strategic signaling. Additionally, logistics forces provide unique dual-purpose capabilities that reinforce the application of other strategic tools and build relationships with allies and partners in a manner that makes the United States the partner of choice with domestic audiences.

Logistics in Immediate Deterrence
United States’ strategic deterrence failed in March 1950 with Joseph Stalin’s communication to North Korean Kim II Sung, “The Soviet Union has decided also to satisfy fully this request (invasion of South Korea) of yours.”6 This approval ultimately resulted in the North Korean invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1950 and was based on the perception that in the unlikely event that the United States responded to the invasion, there would be insufficient time, based on United States military capability, to stop the North Korean offensive and was thus the invasion was a perceived fait accompli.7

Conversely, the United States achieved strategic success during Operation Vigilant Warrior in 1994 because of a three-year investment in regional forward operating sites and cooperative security locations facilitated by low visibility and persistent deployments of support forces. These investments resulted in the development of mature infrastructure and robust regional stocks that were supported by the appropriate experts to operationalize those capabilities in crisis.These factors directly enabled the deployment and in-theater equipping of 4,000 combat troops in two days, with a further 36,000 moving to the region within three days, in response to the movement of two Iraqi Republican Guard Divisions to the Kuwaiti border. The speed of the response, compared to the 30 days for deployment required during the Gulf War, surprised Saddam Hussein and was the “primary source of U.S. deterrent power” in coercing, through signals, Iraqi withdrawal and de-escalation.9

Since 1945, the United States has been strategically involved in 368 international crisis events that met three criteria in the International Crisis Behavior database:

  1. A threat to one or more basic values;
  2. An awareness of finite time for response to a value threat, and
  3. A heightened probability of involvement in military hostilities.10

In 52 cases, the United States overtly deployed conventional military forces with the result of de-escalation or termination of the crisis in 73 percent of cases, escalation of the crisis in 15 percent of cases, and no definitive impact on the crisis in 11 percent of cases.

While speed is relative to the perceived threat and the rate at which a crisis unfolds, time is a finite and decisive resource in crisis response. On average, the speed at which forces were deployed from the initiation of the crisis to the first arrival of forces into the crisis area, using the International Crisis Behavior database, was 35.15 days for crises that resulted in de-escalation. In contrast, the speed of the crisis deployment was 57 days for cases that resulted in escalation.11 These findings, combined with historical case studies, indicate that speed is an unambiguous tool to signal capability and credibility. Furthermore, a critical enabler to facilitate speed is investment in strategic transportation, regional infrastructure, and regional pre-positioning as was demonstrated in the dataset by a mean speed of 48.71 days for deployments to immature theaters as compared with a mean of 14.88 days to a mature theater where personnel, infrastructure, and pre-positioned stocks were available in the crisis region.12 Thus, in all 52 cases, previous investments in transportation, pre-positioning, and forward positioning provided the foundation that enabled or inhibited the composition, speed, and influenced the credibility of crisis deployments.13

A robust sustainment network signals credible capability to an adversary and credible commitment to allies and partners. A crisis scenario in the Western Pacific would likely require forward forces to disperse regionally to act as the stand-in force until reinforced through global deployments.14 Based on current forces in the area, forward-positioned ground forces will require initial transportation of between 27,000 and 36,000 tons of personnel, equipment, and supplies regionally.15 Following dispersal, these forces would require between 300 and 600 tons of fuel, water, food, and ammunition daily for ground forces, with an additional 2,500 to 3,500 tons, mainly fuel and ammunition, required daily for aviation formations.16 The additional strain placed on strategic and operational transportation assets, moving forces, equipment, and supplies to reinforce the region magnifies the significance of logistical requirements. A significant crisis deployment from the continental United States, using five divisions and ten air wings as a baseline, would require the movement of roughly one million tons and would require, given optimal conditions, one month or more to complete.17

Logistics investments in general deterrence proportionally reduce, but do not eliminate, the strain on strategic and operational transportation systems in crisis through pre-positioning and forward positioning. Infrastructure, supply, equipment, and sustainment investments in volatile regions allow for the rapid deployment of credible forces that arrive with the necessary support to endure and deter immediately, increasing strategic credibility in crisis. Additionally, the proportional reduction of strategic transportation requirements transitions deployments in mature regions from expeditionary response to conventional strategic response where the threat and an adversary’s access to maritime, air, and space domains is at risk, improving the deterrence credibility and capability and reducing the probability of escalation.

Perceptions of Military Credibility and Capability
A lack of investment in sustainment creates a strategic and operational capability and credibility gap in the Western Pacific, undermining deterrence. A 2023 study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies reveals a series of salient tensions in response to a Taiwan scenario that presents significant risks in escalation and conflict. The two most significant findings related to logistics were the United States must respond rapidly and with its full capabilities to prevent Taiwan from falling, and movement of the intra-theater lift of forces, equipment, and supplies became untenable based on China’s anti-access capabilities early in the conflict, resulting in an abrupt reduction in the capability of combat forces.18 Thus, speed and endurance are two significant factors in the credibility of deterrence and effectiveness in combat against a peer adversary and are qualities that are directly shaped by logistics posture.

Investment in logistics modernization and capabilities in strategically contested regions offers a means to provide latent deterrence through the placement of multipurpose capabilities, which can be overt or concealed, and enhance capability across the spectrum of conflict without the impediment of being explicitly threatening or escalatory.19 The Joint Force has already begun this process through investments such as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative allotment of three and a half billion dollars into the development of main operating bases and the one-hundred-million-dollar investment in Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites in the Philippines.20 However, these investments provide a linear capability that does not align with the envisioned network and require operational and tactical investments to create a multi-tiered strategic and operational mosaic.21

Forward positioning of logistics forces and investments in a distributed network offers a means to reduce the initial burden on transportation networks during crisis deployments, increasing the speed of the deployment and thus bringing credibility to strategic signals. While agreements with partners and allies will not afford unfettered access, investments reduce transportation requirements, generate flexibility, and provide endurance that is not solely dependent on strategic and operational transportation capabilities.

Support to Allies and Partners
The Marine Corps stand-in-force concept emphasizes the necessity for a persistent presence in a contested area to disrupt an adversary in competition and form the “leading edge of a maritime defense in depth” in crisis and conflict.22 Access to contested areas is the core of the concept, with the most significant assumption being that political elites and populations of allied and partner nations will permit access to sovereign territories. Historically, the success or failure of basing agreements with allies depends on available resources, shared threat perceptions, and the cost to political leaders by the domestic audiences.23 Tactical formations offer a means to provide access by leveraging capabilities that do not present a similar threat perception, compared to traditional combat formations, to domestic and international audiences, enabling persistent access to locations inaccessible to other conventional formations.

Domestic audiences will fundamentally view infrastructure construction and repair, medical and dental services, water production and distribution, transportation, and other capabilities differently than combat formations and thus offer alternative and multi-functional solutions in developing agreements. For example, the April 2023 United States-Philippine bilateral announcement of four additional Enhanced Cooperation Agreement sites drew domestic condemnation, leading to statements by senior Philippine officials that the bases would be used primarily for logistics support.24 While a review of 1,430 media reports from February 2023 to August 2023 related to United States-Philippine agreements and regional geopolitical conditions reveals a balanced domestic debate, statements and reporting by leaders indicate that capabilities that are directly applicable to such military operations as humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response stimulates an alternative narrative and represent an opportunity to align operational and strategic ways, means, and ends.

Implications to the Logistics Enterprise
Campaigning. Nested with stand-in force and Joint Force requirements, logistics forces link campaign phases by providing a persistent presence that builds, maintains, and supports strategic and operational investments. Construction of infrastructure by engineers, embedding medical personnel in host nation hospitals, and maintaining stocks and equipment intended to provide responsiveness to natural and man-made disasters all represent activities that facilitate speed and capability in crisis response, bring credibly to strategic signals, and reinforce relationships with allies and partners across a range of time horizons.

General Support in Competition. Establishing a global and regional network to support operations in competition, crisis, and conflict is beyond the organic capabilities of combat formations. In order to build a regional capability that is adaptive, nested, and credible, logistics must evolve from a traditional focus of providing direct support for operations, investments, and activities to one of general support focused on persistent forward presence and increasing regional capacity. The logistics enterprise has a responsibility for the maintenance, development, and operation of main operating bases as key nodes; however, the development and operation of forward operating sites and cooperative security locations will play a critical role in evolving the logistics network from a linear and inflexible network to one that is multi-dimensional, resilient, and diverse. This requires an evolution in logistics formation’s doctrinal employment in competition.

Prioritization of Effectiveness over Efficiency. Effective deterrence requires a degree of risk in the allocation of finite resources. Developing a logistics network requires investment in nodes that may never be employed, where partner policies and strategic priorities change, resulting in expansion or reduction in access, or where elements of the network are out of position in the transition from general to immediate deterrence. However, the most significant risk to the credibility and capability of the joint force is a lack of investment, leading to strategic insolvency. Tactical and operational logistics formations are crucial in limiting risk by shaping through sustained investment while providing strategic flexibility in a crisis.

The employment of logistics forces directly imparts credibility and capability to strategic deterrence through both latent and active capabilities. Logistics and sustainment are essential to deterrence, crisis response, and the effectiveness of operational command and control, fires, intelligence, and maneuver capabilities. Fundamentally, logistics formations bring credibility to strategic signaling in general deterrence and enable tactical and operational effectiveness in crisis and conflict only through investment in competition.

Joint logistics formations’ primary task in the Pacific must be establishing, developing, and sustaining a multi-nodal, distributed network that is ruthlessly opportunistic in the application of engineering, maintenance, supply, transportation, medical, and other logistics functions. Even in competition, opportunities will be fleeting, and a force with the dexterity, creativity, and resources to exploit opportunities will be the force with the initiative and credibility in competition.

Logistics forces offer an optimal and uniquely postured capacity to facilitate access through organic capabilities, enhance perceptions of America’s commitment to allies and partners, challenge the adversary’s core deterrence calculus, and build credible capability into contingencies by enabling crisis deployment speed and endurance. Strategic transportation is finite, and every cubic foot of food, water, building materials, maintenance parts, and other supplies, forward-positioned or pre-positioned, reduces competition in the movement and sustainment of decisive capabilities in crisis and combat.


1. Barry R. Posen, “From Unipolarity to Multipolarity: Transition in Sight?” in International Relations Theory and the Consequences of Unipolarity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

2. The White House, National Security Strategy, (Washington, DC: 2022).

3. Headquarters Marine Corps, Tentative Manual for Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, (Washington, DC: 2022).

4. Staff, “A Conversation with General David Berger, Washington, DC,” Brookings Institute, May 23, 2023,; Richard R. Burgess, “USMC Calls for GPN,” Seapower, February 23, 2023,; and Jen Judson, “U.S. Army Has a ‘Gigantic Problem’ with Logistics in the Indo-Pacific,” Defense News, March 29, 2023,

5. Kristen Gunness, Bryan Frederick, Timothy R. Heath, Emily Ellinger, Christian Curriden, Nathan Chandler, Bonny Lin, James Benkowski, Bryan Rooney, Cortez A. Cooper III, Cristina L. Garafola, Paul Orner, Karl P. Mueller, Jeffrey W. Hornung, and Erik E. Mueller, Anticipating Chinese Reactions to U.S. Posture Enhancements, (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2022),

6. Allan Reed Millet, The War for Korea, 1950–1951: They Came from the North (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010).

7. Jonathan Mercer, “Emotion and Strategy in the Korean War,” International Organization 67, No. 2 (2013).

8. Seth G. Jones and Seamus P. Daniels, “U.S. Defense Posture in the Middle East,” CSIS, 2022,

9. W. Eric Herr, “Operational Vigilant Warrior: Conventional Deterrence Theory, Doctrine, and Practice,” (thesis, School of Advanced Air Studies, 1996).

10. Michael Brecher, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, Kyle Beardsley, Patrick James, and David Quinn, “International Crisis Behavior Data Codebook, Version 15,” ICB Project, 2023,

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Mark F. Cancian, Matthew Cancian, and Eric Heginbotham, “The First Battle of the Next War: Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan,” CSIS International Security Program, 2023,

15. Gordon I. Button, J. Riposo, I. Blickstein, and P.A. Wilson, Warfighting and Logistic Support of Joint Forces from the Joint Sea Base (Santa Monica: RAND, 2007).

16. Ibid.

17. Michael O’Hanlon, The Science of War: Defense Budgeting, Military Technology, Logistics, and Combat Outcomes (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2009).

18. “The First Battle of the Next War.”

19. Kristen Gunness, Bryan Frederick, Timothy R. Heath, Emily Ellinger, Christian Curriden, Nathan Chandler, Bonny Lin, James Benkowski, Bryan Rooney, Cortez A. Cooper III, Cristina L. Garafola, Paul Orner, Karl P. Mueller, Jeffrey W. Hornung, and Erik E. Mueller, Anticipating Chinese Reactions to U.S. Posture Enhancements (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2022), Also available in print form.

20. Department of Defense, “Pacific Deterrence Initiative,” OUSD, March 3, 2023,; and Staff, “Fact Sheet: U.S.- Philippines 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue,” Department of Defense, April 11, 2023,

21. Headquarters Marine Corps, Installations and Logistics 2030, (Washington, DC: 2023).

22. Headquarters Marine Corps, A Concept for Stand-in Forces, (Washington, DC: 2021).

23. Bryan Frederick, Stephen Watts, Matthew Lane, Abby Doll, Ashley L. Rhoades, and Meagan L. Smith, Understanding the Deterrent Impact of U.S. Overseas Forces, (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2020).

24. Staff, “Marcos: PH Won’t Allow Use of EDCA Sites for Offensive Operations,” CNN, April 10, 2023,

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.”

Artificial Intelligence in the Marine Corps Logistics Enterprise: Part 3

Part 3: It’s not pretty: How can we start making AI progress ‘prettier’?
>See first article in series for bios.

In our first article, we discussed the definitions of artificial intelligence (AI), business analytics, data, and other similar terms to level set understanding. In our second article, we described how “ugly” the precursors of AI are within the Marine Corps logistics enterprise and alluded to fixes that must occur for successful AI implementation.

We began this research as an effort to describe how to implement AI in logistics applications. However, through our research, we uncovered an inconvenient truth that the current personnel involved in logistics do not possess the multitude of technical skills required to manage, enable, or implement AI systems.

In this article, we present to you a business case that outlines a fundamental shift in how we view our logistics operators in a data-driven world. AI applications require constant and realtime development, maintenance, and updates. AI applications are also specifically targeted at well-defined decision points. We cannot ask contractors to build thousands of different AI applications to manage deck plate issues. Global Combat Support System is our current enterprise resource planning database, and it has a lot of information that may or may not be useful, depending on the decision point at hand. However, what is more important is reliance on an individual’s ability to carve out the right data from the system, create the right inferences, then present the information to the decision maker. Business analytics, the use of technology and software tools, the creation of decision trees grounded in data, and a basic business understanding of what needs to be done must be built by our own logistics personnel. In business, executives are continually faced with a question: do they make a capability within the organization, or do they buy it by outsourcing the capability? We argue that professional skills need to be developed within Marine Corps logistics personnel instead of trying to purchase systems or contracts to develop AI applications.

The purpose of this article is to formalize our ideas about the training, education, and recruitment of logistics professionals that will enable AI development and improve our broader logistics community in a rapidly advancing technology- and data-driven world.

To achieve this purpose, this article will highlight the need for designing a sound business strategy, propose solutions that should be included in the strategy, and ensure implementation is tracked through a strategy map. Strategic implementation will ensure changes are well-founded, made based on the strategy, and not lost as leaders make permanent change of station moves and shuffle between billets. And finally, the Marine Corps can incrementally build a logistics force that is astute in the data domain.

The strategy must tackle key shortfalls:

Vision: Marine Corps logistics is at a critical decision point: take a risk to rapidly move toward the shiny object of AI without the appropriate strategic building blocks and talent, or take the prudent risk to patiently wait and build from within. A long-term strategic vision is necessary here.

Labor: Ideas like postponement and supply chain design/strategies are rooted in business analytics. So, who is responsible for business analytics? Who is trained and capable? Who has refined abilities to perform proper business analytics?

Talent: Make the capability, do not buy it. If the Marine Corps logistics enterprise decides to buy commercial solutions (consultants, contractors, or systems), they are not going to have the Marine Corps’ business understanding. Likewise, having underprepared Marines tackle the problem is like asking a right-handed person to write with their left hand. Therefore, specific talent, expertise, and aptitudes need to be brought in at the entry-level and woven into the fabric of logistics professionals.

Figure 1. (Figure provided by authors.)

To maintain a productive focus on AI implementation for logistics decision making throughout the organization, established frameworks for data mining and strategic implementation should be used. Above is an example of how IBM’s Cross-Industry Standard Process for Data Mining would support a strategic framework aimed at optimizing the supply chain (Figure 1). Notice that business understanding, data understanding, data preparation, and modeling are parts of the core structure of the chain. Data handling is the bedrock of their network design. Indeed, these core elements are the anchor points in any logistics operation—Marine Corps logistics included—no matter the desired end state. This combination of the Cross-Industry Standard Process for Data Mining and the “Framework for Supply Chain Design” is one of a thousand models of business processes and tools used in almost all industry efforts.

Solution: Enterprise-Level Conceptual, Strategic Actions
To unpack the statement below, we need to have a common understanding of business strategy, permanent structure change, operational effectiveness, and types of innovation. We will discuss each of these components; but first, here is the statement:

As the assessment in preceding articles indicates, the Marine Corps does not have a sound business strategy to keep up with advancements surrounding AI. We are stuck in stage one operational effectiveness, trying to implement AI as disruptive innovation. We do not understand that we are at the precipice of permanent change to the logistics structure regarding data usage and visualization. Data is critical because the future of supply and logistics is rooted in data. People at all levels in the organization will have to understand data, how to collect it, manage it, manipulate it, and translate it into relevant and timely decisions. The ability to do so rests in technical skills, knowledge, and access to relevant systems.

Business Strategy
Business strategy is a well-defined, overarching, and long-term plan to achieve a certain goal. Strategies include well-understood plans, timelines, goals, and assessments to be successful. The Marine Corps’ logistics challenges match what current business executives are seeing in various industries (Figure 2)—a shortfall in technical skills to perform business analytics. Businesses are aggressively identifying these gaps and deliberately developing business strategies to address the shortfall; it is a matter of survival because they are realizing that without these competitive advantages, they will not succeed against competitors who are able to make better decisions faster and more efficiently. The following statement is a synopsis of survey results from 60 senior-level supply chain executives:

They see an urgent need to get better control over their supply-chain technology, which will likely be possible only with a skilled workforce trained to use new digital tools at speed and scale. Some 90 percent of leaders surveyed say they plan to increase the amount of digital supply-chain talent within their organizations, through a combination of in-house reskilling and external hires. Just over half also expect permanent changes to their planning processes as the next normal, such as greater centralization of planning activities, shorter planning cycles, and introducing advanced-analytics techniques.1

Figure 2. The Information Warfighting Function and Stand-in Forces. (Figure provided by author.)

Therefore, if 90 percent of companies are planning to increase digital-supply-chain talent in-house and introduce advanced analytics (Figure 2), the Marine Corps should keep pace with these strategies.

Permanent Structure Change
Before such adaptations can be made, operational effectiveness must be internally supportive versus internally neutral. In his article, “Triple A Supply Chain,” Hau L. Lee describes how successful businesses tackle permanent structural changes in their organizations. He says they foster agility, adaptability, and alignment to keep pace with permanent structural changes in industry. AI is undoubtedly a permanent structural change in the way Marine Corps logistics operations will be executed and managed.Case study reviews show us that time and again, organizations that do not appropriately manage change cannot keep up with rapid and critical advances. For Marine Corps logistics, the currency is time and accuracy—sometimes the most important factor is a fast decision, and sometimes the most important factor is an accurate decision. The Marine Corps will struggle to make competitive, timely, and accurate decisions if it does not properly manage the transitional changes that lead to AI.

Lee also addresses the most common pitfalls and mistakes. He describes that supply chains often become uncompetitive because they do not adapt to changes in the structures of markets or remain aligned with the strategic objectives of the organization. Adapting to technology and data and remaining aligned with the commandant’s talent management strategies is needed. According to Lee, “companies may find it tough to accept the idea that they must keep changing, but they really have no choice” and “most companies don’t realize they face near-permanent structural changes/shifts in the market like advances in technology.”Companies must adapt to the permanent change in technology and data advancements, and the Marine Corps must do the same. At first, failure to make these appropriate adaptations will make it difficult to make the most basic logistics decisions; subsequently, it will be difficult for the Marine Corps to interface with other Services, industry logistics organizations, and open-source systems. Ultimately, it will hinder the Marine Corps from making rapid and accurate sustainment decisions to support units fighting an adversary.

Operational Effectiveness
There are four stages of operational effectiveness commonly understood in business education and execution (Figure 3). In the book, Operations and Supply Chain Management for MBAs, organizations are expected to progress through these stages to meet strategic objectives. This framework guides organizations to actions that move them to being healthy, sustainable businesses.

Marine logistics sit firmly in stage one—having poorly focused objectives, firefighting, outsourcing to experts, and being reactive. At a minimum, the Marine Corps needs to elevate its logistics operational effectiveness from stage one to stage two. The aim of achieving competitive parity with standard-setting logistics organizations like Walmart, FedEx, and West Marine is to help focus efforts and establish limits. By understanding and following industry standards, it is possible to have a benchmark for comparison. The thing the Marine Corps has in common with leading organizations is that everyone uses enterprise resource planning systems, and Oracle databases (like Global Combat Support System) are high-caliber systems. However, unlike leading companies, the Marine Corps does not hire skills and talent to utilize these resources. In fact, moving from stage one to stage three would probably be the most ideal. Our business model in the Marine Corps is unique and requires specific tailoring. Therefore, specifically formulated strategies supported by operations investments are required, in other words, alignment. Advancing to stage four is unnecessary. Stage four implies that the organization is leading development and innovation. We do not need to be ahead of commercial industry in this effort; we do not have the research and development resources. We need to be at stage four for Marine Corps warfighting, not for logistics applications.

Types of Innovation
Innovation is not truly understood without understanding where effective innovation is best implemented. In the article “How Many Supply Chain Innovations Are Truly Revolutionary?” the author discusses two kinds of innovation: sustaining and disruptive.Disruptive innovations are drastic. They change the whole idea about something—its process and design. It gets everyone excited. Sustaining innovations move organizations forward at a steadier pace with innovations and ideas that are more grounded and incremental. Executives view disruptive innovation as the shiny object in the room and as the most glamorous object to pursue. The author warns that executives tend to gravitate toward the disruptive when they should be more focused on the less exciting sustaining innovations. The author goes on to say that “incremental change represents one of the most powerful weapons companies have to stay ahead of the competition.”5

Figure 3. (Figure provided by authors.)

Wrap-Up for Strategic Enterprise-Level Solution
Is AI a sustaining innovation or is it a disruptive innovation? It should be treated as a sustaining innovation. However, it is currently and incorrectly viewed by leadership as a disruptive innovation. We must not misjudge where to align our innovation. The way companies are moving toward AI is radically different than our current logistics design. Our design should be matured through a strategic and incremental approach. We are not rejecting AI. In contrast, we agree that it is likely the way of the future, but conceptual shifts in thinking are needed to move to stage two of operational effectiveness. Therefore, our idea is to ratchet down the glam of AI and focus on sustainable measures to improve the AI building blocks or precursors discussed in our first article: data, information, knowledge, automation, and deep/machine learning. Shifting our focus on AI from a disruptive innovation to a sustaining innovation will enhance and grow our response to the permanent changes we are seeing in data and technology. There are very important things needed to strengthen our logistics capability to remain agile, adaptable, and aligned to the permanent structural changes of data and technology. Investing in people, training, and education will likely enable AI in the future as well as make us better in many other areas of logistics operations.

Solution: Immediate, Targeted Actions
We have identified achievable actions that can be developed now to prepare the logistics landscape for permanent advancements in technology and data proliferation. We outline specific logistics fault lines that must be improved to better position the logistics enterprise to compete in the data and technology domain.

Dr. Langley, a professor who teaches Supply Chain Innovation and Transformation at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business gave his answer to the question, “What are the precursors that have the best chance of success at implementing AI for logistics and supply chain management?” as follows:

Facilitating the uses of AI can be accomplished with the help of capable people who have the math and statistics qualifications to understand and implement relatively concisely defined applications of AI. This would need to include having capable talent in the relevant areas of math and statistics, in coordination with those having operational and strategic involvement in logistics and supply chain. Then, this could be a steppingstone to conceptualizing and launching a larger and more organizational-encompassing plan that would involve AI.6

Dr. Langley’s analysis is well aligned with the key observations we have made in our research and based on our experiences in the operating forces. Namely, we are lacking technical talent in entry-level (supervisory management) positions. Furthermore, the skills need to be developed and cultivated through clear talent management practices; AI is not a commercial off-the-shelf system that can be purchased.

Professional Education Opportunities (Enlisted and Officer)
Professional education opportunities are already in place to some extent in other areas, but they have not been fully executed within business analytics, for logistics. Again, the future of logistics is rooted in data, and we must firmly plant Marine talent in appropriate jobs to fully optimize the benefit of data collection. The goal is to start building a base from within our ranks that can maneuver through rapidly advancing technology and exponential information flows. A start is to direct and fund ten enlisted and ten officers to complete a certificate in business analytics from Smeal Business College, Penn State University, and then grow this number over time; make it mandatory for logistics and supply chain officers to get analytics certifications from reputable sources before attaining the rank of captain; and send Marines to formal Oracle training programs and place certified Marines within Marine Logistics Groups, Logistics Command, and Logistics Division, Installations and Logistics to function as operational, business, and data analysts.

Establish Lower-Tier Corporate Business Fellowships with Large Logistics Enterprises
Through the Marine Corps top- and intermediate-level schools, we send individuals to think tanks, academic institutions, interagency programs, as well as a few corporate businesses every year. These programs target more senior Marine officers to develop conceptual-level understanding. They do not target developing technical skills or the how-to of business operations. No one seems to be learning best practices for distribution, warehousing, procurement, or network design for holistic logistical or supply-chain operations. These opportunities and skills should be offered and taught to the lower tiers (e.g., first lieutenant, captains, sergeants, and gunnery sergeants). It would be beneficial to send logistics specialists to supply-chain industry leaders like Walmart, Home Depot, Scotts Miracle Grow, Amazon, and many others, giving them a clear directive to understand the companies’ business models, the systems, software, and technology they use, the analytics they espouse, and how all these elements translate into executive decision making.

Adjust Logistics and Supply-Related MOS Pipelines
The Marine Corps should recruit college graduates with degrees in supply chain management, statistics, data science, analytics, and other similar areas to be contracted as logistics or supply officers instead of assigning an MOS at The Basic School. To do so means to hunt for the talent we need to survive in this data environment and slowly begin to embed it within the foundation of Marine Corps logistics. Industry would never hire an art studies student to work logistics operations and data management, but the Marine Corps does. Instead, industry would recruit the specific talent that they need, and the Marine Corps should begin this process incrementally. Not all logistics and supply officers need to fit this model, but five to ten percent could be an achievable initial goal. To take it a step further, the Marine Corps should look to establish a new MOS for maintenance management officers (e.g., school trained in business analytics, data visualization, etc.).

Funded Internships for Professional Graduate Students from Relevant Degree Programs
Businesses are doing this on a large scale. Companies like Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Shell, and FedEx, to name a few, team up with universities and provide paid internships for business school students during the summer prior to their graduation. The Marine Corps could take the first step by coordinating with Smeal College of Business at Penn State University. This would strengthen the already strong Marine Corps fellowship program at Penn State. A productive start would be providing one to three positions at the MLG and Headquarters Marine Corps Installations and Logistics levels.

Strategy maps provide organizations with better visualization of strategic business processes and provide an understanding of strategy interactions. Our proposed solutions are aligned with the strategy map Figure 4 (on following page). It is essential to note that as the Marine Corps onboards talent and skills for this effort in the form of internships and recruiting efforts, those individuals need to be clearly aware that they are walking into newly defined roles. They cannot have the misperception they are walking on well-trodden paths. They will be the individuals expected to mature the effort and make progress.

Figure 4. (Figure provided by authors.)

Failure is a certainty if we remain on the current path. Right now, Marines are seeking education opportunities independently by completing degree and certification requirements on their own while often personally funding their programs. Marines that have an interest in this area are watching YouTube videos and getting self-help books to read on the weekends and after hours. This is the type of great personal initiative that we love to see in the Marine Corps, but it is not a strategic business model to follow at the enterprise logistics level.

High-Level Timeline
Billet turnovers, shifting priorities, and lack of focus will be hindrances to implementing these changes. The timescale for changes to take effect will be slow. The people and organizations that implement the changes will not be the same people and organization to assess the effectiveness and make adjustments. Therefore, understanding the timescale is critical to achieving success. Just as the Commandant’s Force Design is not a one-year project but a ten-year plan to slowly move the Marine Corps toward his vision, so also our concept to infuse targeted logistical talent within our ranks to harden Marine Corps logistics conveys long-term vision. To survive changing technologies and remain flexible and inclusive of the nature of AI and analytics involves incremental steps to populate the force with the talent needed. At a minimum, this is a five-year process to infuse the force with critical technical skills, and talented logistics and supply-chain managers. The results of this type of effort will be seen over longer periods of time, and in this case, more training, and over longer periods of time, is better. For example, sending more Marines to get formal skills will result in faster progress toward AI management.

Essentially, the goal is to use AI to make better and faster decisions. A lot of time is wasted trying to put information into context, but by understanding infographics, statistics, and probabilities, an individual can quickly put information into focus for quicker and better decisions. Humans conducting analytics are the foundation to stay in step with changing information and technology environments. To keep pace with future innovative advancements like AI, employing the correct people is a top priority, then the systems—not the other way around. For example, only trained drivers drive Formula One race cars. If a random person is asked to drive the car, he would not even know how to get in, much less buckle in and start the vehicle—and then drive it? He would be lost. The environment is foreign, and the levers, buttons, and diagnostics would be meaningless. Business analytics tools and AI are high-performance vehicles. Without the proper talent and training, a person is looking at blank screens and mounds of data that mean nothing. Great information is embedded within the tools Marines use. Having talented Marines with the background and training in advanced analytics is critical to “driving” the AI innovations of the future. Having the types of people that will drive AI innovation involves taking what we have— plenty of Marines that possess a deep understanding of Marine Corps logistics and supply—and giving them the skills and education required to push business analytics into AI applications.

Elon Musk wants to go to Mars, but he is not going there tomorrow. He and many others in his organizations have been working for over a decade with many precursors and contributing factors to inch closer to the goal. The DOD, the Joint Staff, and the Marine Corps all want some level of AI. This is a great vision and something we should move toward, but it will not happen overnight. There are precursors and contributions that must be made to get us there smartly.

These articles represent our contribution to the vision of implementing AI in Marine Corps logistics. We hope others will build on the concepts we have mentioned and take it to the next phase of development.


1. Knut Alicke, Richa Gupta, and Vera Trautwein, “Resetting Supply Chains for the Next Normal,” McKinsey, July 21, 2020,

2. Hau Lee, “The Triple-A Supply Chain,” Harvard Business Review, October 2004,

3. Ibid.

4. Jim Rice, “How Many Supply Chain Innovations Are Truly Revolutionary?” Supply Chain 24/7, January 2019,

5. Ibid.

6. Email correspondence between authors and Dr. Langley in June 2022.

Artificial Intelligence in the Marine Corps Logistics Enterprise: Part 2

Part 2: It’s not pretty: How ugly is AI progress in the Marine Corps logistics?
>See Part 1 for bios.

This is the second article in our three-part series. The first article discussed the topic of artificial intelligence and how it relates to Marine Corps logistics operations. This article describes how the advancement of our logistics enterprise toward artificial intelligence (AI) cannot rest on highly developed technologies alone.

LtCol Wolfe: I was a previous commander of the 3rd Supply Battalion, a large multifunctional logistics organization; I had a 75 percent and 25 percent rule. Success and effectiveness in running an organization extend beyond effectiveness and efficiency at the operations level. Seventy-five percent of my time was devoted to the tone, temper, and climate of the organization. In other words, things like vision, influence, morale, equality, leadership, mentorship, and decision making affect the entire organization. Beyond this, there were the daily requirements that consumed my time: substance abuse control, legal matters, personnel management, medical/dental readiness, training, inspections, safety, career planning, package routing, maintenance, facilities, budget, and the endless amount of paperwork that must be signed. Twenty-five percent of my time was left over for operations improvement and development. I focused on the conceptual aspects of command, not the technical ones. I relied on and trusted the technical acumen of those professionals embedded within the organization.

Maj Barnes: I was the operations officer for Combat Logistics Battalion 22, a small battalion with a broad set of capabilities (motor transportation, maintenance, medical readiness, supply, engineering, landing support, explosive ordnance disposal, and communications). The battalion had roughly 300 Marines and sailors who possessed around 80 occupational specialties. Due to the broad scope and narrow depth of the battalion, all personnel issues and considerations were unequivocally linked to battalion operations—Marines and sailors become the “one-of-one” capability. The cornerstone of the job was a balancing act to ensure capabilities are maintained and ready amidst incredibly dynamic personnel shifts (permanent change of station orders, promotions, disciplinary actions, end of service, injuries, etc.).

The Problem: Conceptually
The Marine Corps has a group of smart officers that adapt very well. The Marine Corps culture fosters adaptability and decision making with uncertainty extremely well. Unfortunately, the manpower system pays little attention to innate talents, college degrees, or commercial work history. It does not seem to be recruiting specific talent to handle our future data-driven challenges. Instead, it is purely a numbers game. For example, the offensive coordinator does not recruit specific quarterback talent from a pool of college baseball and minor league players. Likewise, Amazon is not recruiting supply chain managers or business analytics or distribution experts from the geology department at Penn State; they are looking for top-performing applicants from the business and statistics departments who have internship experience. The Basic School is often the luck of the draw, with Marines thrown into the logistics world with no formal understanding or passion for the field, and they then receive cursory training in our schoolhouses. There is no clear path to an advanced understanding of how logistics operate and the data that supports decisions and feeds new technology. Some military skills need to be developed within the Marine Corps because there is not a commercial industry talent pool: infantry, artillery, etc. However, this is not the case with logistics. Logistics and analytics are in every industry, every university, and every business model. But the Marine Corps training model for logistics and supply officers takes a wide range of individuals and begins their training from zero. This method does not allow for gaining efficiencies provided by university degrees or the latest industry applications. Progress, improvements, and innovation are systematically stunted by the current methods of assigning occupational specialties.

The battleground for AI progress is ugly and full of shortfalls that must be addressed. We will describe the people and skills shortfalls within the Marine Corps’ logistics enterprise, which we believe must be addressed prior to the exploitation of AI. We are not saying that we are bad at logistics; however, through the spectrum of business analytics, the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is not prepared to transition current practices toward AI for logistics command and control and decision making. Logisticians across the Marine Corps possess the conceptual understanding, but there is an exceptionally large gap in the technical abilities to transition raw data and information into useful AI systems.

We propose that our logistics business structure is off. Structurally, Marine Corps logistics is missing key business attributes within its skills progression. Do not be fooled—the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is a business, even though the business is not driven by profit. It is a business because it is driven by decisions about how to manage scarce resources. Business analytics is a significant technical skill required at supervisory and middle management levels, and we propose that it is an altogether missing element in the administration of our logistics structure. Advanced systems will not solve people problems. Back to the football example, a perfect system, designed by the greatest football offensive coordinator, will not reach its full potential without appropriately skilled players to execute it. So, who are the players?

Data Skills Requirement
The major players in implementing artificial intelligence must possess two critical attributes. First, they must have a deep understanding of Marine Corps logistics. Secondly, they must have a high aptitude for technical skills around data analytics.

In the previous article, we described that business analytics is the precursor to artificial intelligence. We also explained that business analytics encompasses data, information, and knowledge. To expand on that concept further, the science of analytics is generally divided into three fields of study: descriptive analytics, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics. The core competencies of descriptive analytics are rooted in statistical analysis. Predictive analytics builds on descriptive by creating models to predict outcomes based on information. And, finally, prescriptive analytics focuses on what should happen in the future. In other words, based on the predictions, what decision should be made to affect the predicted outcome?

Across the three fields of analytics, data visualization is a key component. Data visualization serves two very critical functions. First, the human brain has strong and natural abilities to observe patterns. Therefore, data visualization is a critical step for understanding data and relationships. Second, data visualization is a very powerful tool to convey relationships and communicate concepts to individuals with a wide range of skills and abilities. Data visualization makes concepts from analytics tangible and understandable to people, even when they do not fully understand the deepest technical aspects.

Business analytics software generally falls into two categories: business intelligence and business analytics applications. According to IBM, business intelligence is “an umbrella term for the technology that enables data preparation, data mining, data management, and data visualization.”The software company, Oracle Corporation, compares business intelligence and business analytics by stating the purpose of business analytics:  To make data-driven predictions about the likelihood of future outcomes, business analytics uses next-generation technology, such as machine learning, data visualization, and natural language query.2

The variety of available tools and resources to perform business analytics/intelligence are too numerous to cover in this article. However, it is worth mentioning a few entry-level software platforms that are well-known and highly used. First and foremost, Excel can run various basic analytics and Marine Corps logistics personnel do not typically scratch the surface of its inherent capabilities; for example, think solver. Going beyond Excel, other powerful data analytics programs include PowerBI, Tableau, R, and R-studio. These programs are more powerful than Excel and are specifically designed to perform business analytics/intelligence tasks. These programs are important because they are capable of handling data and transforming information into actionable insights to inform leaders as they make decisions.

Current, Disorganized Systems
Maj Barnes: While at Penn State, I chose to pursue a professional certification in business analytics in addition to a master’s degree in supply chain management. During the coursework, my eyes were opened to the expansive world of business analytics and its applications. Reflecting on what I learned in the classroom, I looked back on my recent operations officer billet. I had hands-on, daily interaction with a multitude of digital platforms to perform and track battalion operations. The best way to describe the experience is segregated and misaligned. It is a common occurrence that, when there is a data call for training, organizations will use Marine Corps Training Information System metrics, but the Marine Corps Training Information System does not match the morning report, and the morning report is different than 3270 because updates are pending. Then, once the final roster is identified, it is discovered that a lance corporal that checked in two days ago received the training at his previous unit, but it never got entered. Furthermore, there is a corporal that checked out of the unit on temporary-duty orders 25 days ago, but he is at a remote training location and cannot be reached, and he did not receive the training that is reflected in our Marine Corps Training Information System. The S-1, S-3, sergeants major, and the individual sections spend hours tracking this information down. All this is, of course, happening in the background as general update briefs, along with PowerPoint representations of maintenance readiness information, are being refreshed. Furthermore, there is other information that must be collected, analyzed, and reported for readiness reporting in DRRS-MC. Put simply, it is too much—too much information, too many systems, and too much redundant effort.

Excess in anything is not a good thing. There are seven deadly sins in supply chain management implementation that are routinely discussed, one of which is having too many options from which to choose.In our search among high-level organizations, it was discovered that the Marine Corps logistics enterprise has over one hundred information systems that are used, partially used, or available but ignored by the logistics community, and it is unclear who owns and controls the systems. There are too many managing systems functioning in fast-changing environments. Too many tools and data repositories lurk in the shadows. It is hard to keep pace and know where these systems hide. Most do not interact with one another; rather, they are silos that operate independently. The number of systems is so numerous that many officers do not know they exist, much less how to maneuver within them. Marine Corps logistics information and data are everywhere and nowhere. AI cannot save that business model.

Data collection is a good thing, but with unbounded collection comes risk; indeed, too much data can be worse than not enough. It is clear that there is a wide variety of elements within Marine Corps logistics production that must be monitored. Collecting everything just because it is easy to gather the data is not an appropriate monitoring system.Too much irrelevant data can hide the more valuable data and make an already complex and disjointed network of systems more complex, resulting in faulty control measures that keep repeating themselves. Silo monitoring policies from shadow logistics element “mafias” has added to the dilemma. In the end, if we want our systems to have better performance, we must simplify data collection, alter the processes, and have personnel on hand who fully understand analytics. AI will not fix these persistent process gaps. Therefore, AI should not be viewed as a savior for something that is deeply rooted within our core business practices:
Digital waste is especially detrimental to the supply chain. It refers to redundant or unnecessary data that is collected, managed, and stored for no tactical or strategic reason. The amount of digital waste within an organization is typically great. It increases exponentially when one considers the data flow among members in a supply chain.5

AI implementation requires special analytics talent and skills. Determining where to position the talent is a critical decision in an organization as large as the Marine Corps. The division of labor is not only broken down between officer and enlisted but goes much further into a large array of MOSs.

Within the managerial hierarchy, there are essentially three levels—top, middle, and supervisory. Top-level managers are responsible for controlling and overseeing the entire organization. Middle-level managers are responsible for executing organizational plans which comply with the company’s policies. They act as an intermediary between top-level and supervisory-level management. Supervisory-level managers focus on the execution of tasks and deliverables and serving as role models for the employees they supervise.6

Figure 1. (Figure provided by authors.)

In any organization, there are certain skills associated with each management position. These skills are technical, human, and conceptual. The transition of technical, human, and conceptual skills corresponding with the supervisory, middle, and top management roles is a well-described framework in the business environment (Figure 1). Looking specifically at the business skills required for Marine Corps logistics operations at the battalion level, the top management are the battalion commander, majors, and sergeants major; middle management is captains, CWO3-CWO4, master sergeants, first sergeants, and gunnery sergeants; and supervisory management is first/second lieutenants, CWO/CWO2, and corporals through staff sergeants.

Not all levels of management need the same skills and points of view shift depending on an individual’s level. For example, a general officer does not view the skills framework from the same perspective as a battalion commander. At the level of general officer, it is very easy to imagine how battalion commanders can be considered middle management (possibly even supervisory management) when there are regiments, divisions/groups, and MEFs between the most senior generals and battalions. With respect to AI and supply and logistics operations, the supervisory management level requires understanding independent versus dependent variables, knowing how to make statistical predictions, and understanding the scope of the data needed (e.g., six weeks or ten years’ worth). I (Maj Barnes) did not learn these things until participating in my intermediate-level resident school at Penn State—too late when I am already at the top management level, where conceptual thinking prevails over technical.

LtCol Wolfe: In my previous organizations, (for example, Supply Battalion) we collected a lot of data. In my conceptual leadership role, I did not have the time, resources, or, unfortunately, the training in higher-level analytic skills to precisely develop, read, or formulate massive amounts of data and information into something actionable. Holistically speaking, I was already past the technical and was operating from a conceptual level. I relied on supervisory- and middle-level managers to oversee this task. All the while knowing that the business-level analytics needed was not taught in Marine Corps schools. This knowledge gap forced my personnel to learn on the go, and often on their own. My CWOs, who specialized in specific domains of logistics, had to take personal initiative to get up to speed with industry to stay above water. I was keenly aware that most of my staff were not trained for that type of technical understanding. Additionally, prior to my assignment with Supply Battalion, I had served as the Field Supply Maintenance Analysis Office–Western Pacific officer in charge. In this data-centric organization, I also saw that something was missing within all the Marine units my teams analyzed. Not until becoming a fellow at Penn State and participating in the supply chain management coursework did I realize the missing component was business analytics. Today, these functions are often the cornerstones for advances in operations at any level of commercial business operation. If any organization should have the training, specialized skills, and current industry supply chain management tools to assist with analytics, it should be the supply battalions and Field Supply Maintenance Analysis Office–Western Pacific, yet neither did! Unfortunately, the norm is to fall back to spreadsheets or ACCESS, regurgitate the data into it, and then attempt as well as possible to formulate conclusions. My experience highlights an area where the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is behind in advanced business analytics. With these skills being the cornerstone of AI, Marine Corps logistics is not positioned to establish AI systems and practices.

In conclusion, no matter your point of view, information wrangling requires the technical understanding of middle and supervisory managers. Logistics technology, information systems, and business analytics tools are not commonplace in our entry- or mid-level training models. We tend to be broad in scope and rarely, if at all, incorporate commercial industry practices or state-of-art tools to implement advanced analytics for logistics operations.

Current Skill Set Pipeline
It is unnecessary for the Marine Corps to create its own talent pool of software engineers that can develop from scratch these complex systems. That is a bridge too far. However, Marine Corps logistics does not have a group of professionals with the technical skills to manage data on an advanced level. Rather, there is a pool of Marines looking at white noise, trying to understand what it means and where it may fit into complex AI systems or even basic decision making.

Brooks McKinney, in his Northrop Grumman article, “Defense AI Technology: Worlds Apart from Commercial AI,” says:

AI is not simply a “bolt-on” capability that will make everything more capable than before. It doesn’t instantly make things smarter. AI must be integrated into a system from the ground up. According to Jackson Bursch, an AI software engineer for Northrop Grumman, defense AI requires a diverse skill set, including more disciplines than the domain of software engineering. “We’re not just developing software, we’re developing complex systems that work in every domain,” he explained, So, we need people who specialize in specific sensors for data collection, others who can build AI software and still others who can handle the network engineering that connects those sensors to our software.

Figure 2. (Figure provided by authors.)

Talent Management 2030 states, “Every Marine treated like a round peg, every billet like a round hole.” The tangible aspect of this concept in the logistics community is that there are approximately 1,540 second lieutenants through captains with a supply or logistics MOS. The 1,540 Marine officers in that category have approximately 170 degrees among them (Figure 2). The degrees range from ocean engineering and forestry to advertising, art studies, and biblical studies.

Therefore, these individuals were processed as if through a meat grinder. In other words, they were assigned a supply or logistics MOS, sent to three months of supply and logistics school, and then assigned as maintenance management officers, platoon commanders, supply account holders, etc. Logistics problems have always been calculus problems—constantly changing in space, time, and scope. The future of logistics problems will be driven by data, restricted communications, and deep understanding. As an example, consider the following situation.

A logistics unit will be on the move from Objective D to Objective E. They know Objective E is seven days away. The maintenance team is thinking about where they will be seven days from now. Due to communications restrictions and security considerations, it is unsafe to transmit from the locations. So, the team programs a quadcopter to take off from Objective D in three days. Therefore, they will be four days from Objective E with new requirements. Applying an eighty percent accuracy to the timeline, what are the high and low estimates of the team’s actual arrival? What are the risk factors of early or late delivery? What will the future requirement be?

To think about data and information in this manner, both the person transmitting and receiving the information must understand probabilities, error rates, sensitivity analysis, rates of change, and so forth. LtGen Wissler (Ret), in his article, “Logistics: The Life Blood of Military Power,” says that logistics is the most complex capability provided by the military. The depth, breadth, and scope of logistics are immense and intricate. Alan Estevez, former principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics says, “Logistics isn’t rocket science … it’s much harder!”7

The skills gap does not go away by redefining roles. One could argue that all officers must be conceptual thinkers, or that filling unrestricted officer seats by targeting specific business analytics skills would be too restricted. These arguments make sense because leaders that are required to make decisions and influence outcomes are needed and are a major part of the management hierarchy. However, recruiting talent in this specific way results in an enlisted skills gap. From either point of view, the skills gap remains; it simply shifts from a shortfall in the officer population to the enlisted population. In contrast, industry is specifically targeting these skills in their recruitment. If they need a supply chain manager or business analytics skill set, they are not recruiting forestry majors from college or the workforce; rather, they are targeting the skills they need. This goes back to Figure 1 and identifying where the organization needs the technical skills.

System Security and Bureaucracy
Another strategic business consideration is that, if we had the talent pool today, the bureaucracies and security measures in place would prevent these individuals from accessing the tools required to perform AI precursors of analytics. Delving into the systems and information security risks that are naturally inherent to the subject is beyond the scope of these articles, and indeed, free-flowing information and unhindered access to data is a risk. Furthermore, open-source programs are an integral part of developing AI systems. In the article, “Why Is Open-Source So Important? Part One: Principles and Parity,” the authors discuss the importance of open-source programs.

‘For every single branch of IoT and AI there’s an army of companies competing to have their technology become the ‘new standard,’ says Ontañon, ‘those companies developing their technology the open-source way are in a much better position to get ahead of the rest.’ Quite simply, this is because open-source technology has thousands of skilled workers building, checking, and testing code in real-time and in any number of different applications, and thousands of heads are better than one.8

It would be a monumental hurdle for a lieutenant to get permission to have a lot of leading-edge tools such as PowerBI and Microsoft Project, which are basic business tools. Access to open-source tools like R-Studio and Tableau is even harder and more restrictive, with limited licenses. With systematic Marine Corps restrictions on commercial industry logistics tools, the transition to artificial intelligence cannot be realized at a rapid pace.

From our perspective, data overload, skills and talent shortfalls, thousands of people with hundreds of degrees and multitudes of occupational specialties, hundreds of systems, untethered information collection, and restricted software access in the logistics and supply community makes the landscape for AI implementation very ugly. This is a system in disarray. Moreover, artificial intelligence and data analysis are rapidly developing fields, and staying at the cutting edge requires serious strategic decisions aligned with future visions.

In our next article, we will present and discuss solutions that would chip away at the ugly, making it prettier for AI and other advanced technology to flourish.


1. IBM Corporation, “IBM Docs,” IBM, March 8, 2021,

2. Oracle, “What Is Business Analytics?” Business Analytics, n.d.,

3. Inbound Logistics, “Seven Deadly Supply Chain Sins,” Inbound Logistics, January 1, 2004,

4. Jack Meredith and Scott Shaffer, Operations and Supply Chain Management for MBAs (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2020).

5. Ibid.

6. Emily Barr, “The 3 Different Levels of Management,” SpriggHR, July 15, 2022,

7. John Wissler, “Logistics: The Lifeblood of Military Power,” The Heritage Foundation, October 4, 2018,

8. Charles Towers-Clark, “Why Is Open-Source So Important? Part One: Principles and Parity,” Forbes, September 24, 2019,

Quote to Ponder

“What makes the general’s task so difficult is the necessity of feeding so many men and animals. If he allows himself to be guided by the supply officers he will never move and his expedition will fail.”
—Napoleon, Maxims of War, 1831

Artificial Intelligence in the Marine Corps Logistics Enterprise: Part 1

Part 1: It’s not pretty: What is artificial intelligence and its components?
 >LtCol Wolfe was a Marine Corps Logistics Fellow at Smeal Business College, Pennsylvania State University, and previously served as Battalion Commander for 3rd Supply Battalion. He is currently assigned to the Joint Staff J4.
>>Maj Barnes was a Marine Corps Logistics Fellow at Smeal Business College, Pennsylvania State University, and previously served as Operations Officer for Combat Logistics Battalion 22. He is currently assigned to HQMC Installations and Logistics.

Marine Corps logistics is moving toward artificial intelligence (AI) as an element of our logistics systems. We will address the challenges for the Marine Corps and provide solutions through a three-article series. Article one, “It’s Not Pretty: What is artificial intelligence and its components?” sets up the discussion and addresses what AI is and the building blocks associated with it. The article addresses misinformation or misunderstanding of AI that results from its extremely broad application and the varying degrees with which it is developed and implemented. Article two, “It’s Not Pretty: How ugly is AI progress in Marine Corps logistics?” will discuss why the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is unable to take advantage of industry technology in timely, relevant, or meaningful ways. The article brings together the magnitude of challenges in implementation for logistics applications. Finally, article three, “It’s Not Pretty: How can we start making AI progress ‘prettier’?” will discuss an enduring business solution for getting AI implementation right and preventing mistakes early on. It provides tangible and achievable goals to build the capability for execution.

Level-Set Discussion about AI
What is AI? Definitions and capabilities of AI for Marine Corps logistics applications are not uniformly understood, much less agreed upon; furthermore, AI represents broad, dynamic, and evolving technology. There is not a clear understanding among Marine Corps logistics professionals of where the lines between data, information, business analytics, automation, and deep/machine learning are—much less how to formulate and perform these functions. Adding in AI creates another layer of complication. We will attempt to unify the collective understanding of technology and the path to AI.

Definitions and Building Blocks
In this section, we will provide critical definitions for the essential building blocks of AI. There are several precursors to AI, and it is important to understand how the precursors are linked. AI begins and ends with data. However, the bridge between data and AI is pillared on information, knowledge, analytics, automation, deep learning, and machine learning. Put simply, AI is to data what astrophysics is to arithmetic. There are steps in between that must be refined or, dare say, mastered before diving into a new arena. Ultimately, AI performs human-like analytical tasks based on pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is best accomplished through data manipulation and visualization known as business analytics. Within business analytics, there are critical components of data, information, and knowledge. Below, we provide detail for each of these components and the relationship of business analytics with data, information, and knowledge is depicted in Figure 1.

Data is “the basic individual items of numeric or other information, garnered through observation; but in themselves, without context, they are devoid of information.”1

Business analytics is the process of analyzing raw data to draw out meaningful, actionable insights. Effective analytics is the key driver behind data, information, and knowledge. It is embedded within each domain (Figure 1). Without it, we cannot make sense of material to understand the meaning, recognize trends, or arrive at a decision. When looking at a random set of numbers, we can determine it is a phone number. Further analysis can reveal what country it might be from, the state where it was issued, and even to whom it may belong.

Example: Think about random numbers 5553467864, which have no meaning.

Figure 1. (Figure provided by authors.)

Information is “that which is conveyed, and possibly amenable to analysis and interpretation, through data and the context in which the data [is] assembled.”2

Example: Give meaning through rational connection. 555-346-7864 is a phone number.

Knowledge is “awareness, understanding, or information that has been obtained by experience or study, and that is either in a person’s mind or possessed by people generally.”3

Example: Apply useful meaning to the phone number. 555-346-7864 is Jim’s number; he is the owner of a manufacturing business.

Automation is “the ability of software systems and equipment to perform repetitive, monotonous tasks.”4

Examples: text notifications on your smart device, assembly lines, and out-of-office replies.

Deep Learning/Machine Learning is “a type of artificial intelligence that uses algorithms (sets of mathematical instructions or rules) based on the way the human brain operates” and “the process of computers changing the way they carry out tasks by learning from new data, without a human being needing to give instructions in the form of a program.”5

Example: speech and image recognition.

Artificial Intelligence is “the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence—recognizing patterns, learning from experience, drawing conclusions, making predictions, acting, and more—whether digitally or as the smart software behind autonomous physical systems.”“AI makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks.”7

Examples: autonomous vehicles, smart assistants like Siri, and grammar predictions.

Like anything else, AI is a building process that requires multiple predecessors to execute correctly (Figure 2). It is a sequencing of steps from a repertoire of operations, each building from its predecessor so that the goal is better achieved. In business, certain elements must first be refined or created before reaching the desired end state. For example, stakeholders must be identified, roles and responsibilities defined, project scope created, budget formulated, timeline built, milestones established, goals prioritized, and deliverables defined. The Marine Corps is no different. The Marine Corps Planning Process has taught us that there are precursors to the final execution of a well-developed plan. Before we reach the transition step, we must sufficiently tease out a problem-framing course of action (COA) development, COA wargame, COA comparison and decision, and orders development. Moving from problem framing straight to transition does not work—neither does jumping Marine Corps logistics from its current state to AI without enhancing the predecessors.

Figure 2. (Figure provided by authors.)

Business analytics (data, information, and knowledge) can be accomplished without the use of computers, non-digitally. Even though the use of computers and digital systems can enhance analytics, they can still be accomplished (albeit slower and less efficiently) by non-digital systems and processes. Replicating a non-digital process in digital form should not be confused with automation.

Findings From Relevant Literature
Reading the Commandant’s Sustaining the Force in the 21st Century and Talent Management 2030Marine Corps Gazette articles, and “Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Index Report 2021” provides a great perspective on the direction logistics is headed and the precursors that are necessary before AI exploitation. Military-specific publications establish the status of AI internal to Marine Corps organizations, while academic publications convey a broader perspective and describe the industry overall. Below is a synopsis of those materials to provide readers with a collective understanding and establish common knowledge.

During his time as Commandant, Gen Berger has published several documents that outline his visions for developing a Marine Corps that is relevant and prepared for future conflict environments. A common thread of urgency to address talent and technology shortfalls can be seen throughout the documents:

Sustaining the Force in the 21st Century: Gen Berger states the logistics community must identify the improvements necessary to elevate the MAGTF beyond its current state. He goes on to allude that we must always review, discuss, and debate the capabilities we hope to develop. Finally, he talks about data-driven processes for conversion into actual task-related information.

Talent Management 2030: Gen Berger primarily discusses the retooling of our personnel system to better recruit and retain especially skilled individuals. The former Commandant says, “unless we find a means to quickly infuse expertise into the force—at the right ranks—I am concerned that advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, among other fields where the speed of technological change is exponential, will force us into a reactive posture. We should have an open door for exceptionally talented Americans who wish to join the Marine Corps, allowing them to laterally enter at a rank appropriate to their education, experience, and ability.”8

Gen Berger is referring to the building blocks that are necessary to advance our logistics operations. He is not expressing a specific direction here but is leading the logistics community to identify vulnerabilities and mitigation strategies that will enable advanced technologies like AI in support of the MAGTF. Likewise, following the Commandant’s guidance, our recommendations will enhance our current capabilities to better transition into more technological domains.

A review of Marine Corps Gazette articles from the last five years highlights that we have an exceptionally large gap to close from our current logistics practices to what is required in future operating concepts as outlined in key documents like the National Defense Strategy (2018), the Commandant’s Planning Guidance (2019), and Force Design 2030 (2020). Technology, innovation, and rapid flexibility will be essential for logistics support, yet progress is being slowed by legacy systems and practices:

 “21st Century Logistics, Designing and Developing Capabilities”: LtGen Dana’s (Ret) focuses on hybrid logistics, which optimizes old technologies and blends them with the new, discussing how data will drive our future. He indicates that the Marine Corps must realize the full potential of a user-friendly Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps while anchoring in data-driven predictive analytics. Harnessing a data-based approach will elevate logistics operations to the next level. He then mentions training and education as critical for logistician success. He talks of greater operational understanding among the joint, interagency, international, commercial, and host-nation environments to expose logisticians to new ideas. In article two, we will pick up on this topic and address the analytical skills shortfall that is becoming an ever more abundantly clear impediment to advancements and growth in the technology sphere.

“Future Logistics Challenges”: BGen Stewart (Ret) points to logistics information technology shortcomings and our struggles to maintain material readiness for the future we want. He states that we need a user-friendly command and control foundation to advance any future capability or innovative technology. He questions whether the logistics community is invested and taking the right steps to properly educate and train the force for big data and advanced technology execution.

 “Data Driven Logistics”: LtCol Spangenberg et al proposed a year-long experiment that would equip the MLGs with specialized cells focused on data-driven logistics. The cells would consist of six to fifteen Marines with expertise in data engineering, systems engineering, software design, and data analysis. These teams would “experiment with data (collection, analysis, visualizations, decision support) to tangibly demonstrate capabilities, limitations, and requirements of D2L [data-driven logistics] … collect, access, and analyze data; produce actionable insights with clear visualizations; and answer questions or solve problems to enable decisions of their host MLG.”At its core, the article proposes a solution to conduct formalized business analytics with core competencies in a manner that mimics leading logistics companies and organizations in the private sector.

The key documents discussed above highlight two crucial points. First, we are unquestionably headed into a data-centric world. Second, we do not have the core competencies, skills, or training to maneuver properly within the inescapable advancements in technology and AI development. We argue we are not even close to commercial industry progress.

The “Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Index Report 2021” highlights the trajectory of AI research and publications and accurately tracks the current state of the art for AI. The report compares the trajectory and effort of various industries, economic sectors, superpowers, Fortune 500 companies, etc. The key takeaways are listed below:

Private investment in AI soared: The private investment in AI in 2021 totaled around $93.5 billion—more than double the total private investment from 2020.

AI capabilities and technology shifts: The AI algorithms are more capable than ever and continue to make drastic improvements (language and image recognition). Robotics are less expensive and more accessible than ever before (42 percent price decreases).

The United States and China dominate cross-country collaborations on AI: Despite rising geopolitical tensions, the United States and China had the greatest number of cross-country collaborations in AI publications from 2010 to 2021, increasing five times since 2010. The collaboration between the two countries produced 2.7 times more publications than that between the United Kingdom and China—the second-highest collaboration on the list.

Increased investment: Data management, processing, and cloud received the greatest amount of private AI investment in 2021—2.6 times the investment from 2020—followed by medical and healthcare.

Technical experts flocking to industry—not government: In 2020, one in every five computer science students who graduated with PhD degrees specialized in AI/machine learning, the most popular specialty in the past decade. From 2010 to 2020, most of the AI PhDs in the United States headed to industry while a small fraction took government jobs.

Figure 3. (Figure provided by authors.)

The chart above (Figure 3), which depict the number of publications written on AI, correlate with the sense of urgency for AI progress in the Marine Corps and industry. The chart on the left depicts the number of articles written in the Marine Corps Gazette, and the chart on the right shows the number of articles written in the industry. Publication and research efforts are driving the private sector’s development of AI. At first look, the rapid increase in the number of Marine Corps Gazette articles and journal publications around the 2018 timeframe are parallel—this is a positive. However, it is important to note that these are publications that only mention AI and are not necessarily related to logistics.

A closer look at the Marine Corps Gazette articles reveals that of the 47 articles written since 2017, three of them were related to logistics, but they only make cursory mention of AI and address little about what is needed to get to an AI end state. Is three a high or low number of articles? The answer depends on whether the information in the articles was acted upon. Were the results of their implementation assessed, refined, and redeveloped? The sparsity of articles should make the corresponding suggestions easy to track, and if they are not being implemented, then they are the wrong ideas, and not enough ideas are being presented. Since, as a logistics community, we are not collectively discussing how to implement AI, what the requirements are, and what structural problems might exist, the three articles written in the Gazette have not served as benchmarks for traction and implementation across the Marine Corps logistics enterprise

Understanding AI
A better understanding of what it can do, some examples of its use, and how it works may increase the priority it is given within the Marine Corps logistics enterprise.

The PBS special, In the Age of AI, provides several real-world examples of recent advances in AI. One of the most powerful lines in the video is: “China is the best place for AI implementation today, because the vast amount of data that is available in China. China has a lot more users than any other country—three to four times more than the U.S.” The host goes on to further explain, “We’re talking about ten times more data than the U.S., and AI is operating on data and fueled by data. The more data, the better the AI works—more importantly than how brilliant the researcher is working on the problem. So, in the age of AI, where data is the new oil, China is the new Saudi Arabia.”10

In his TED Talk, “The Incredible Inventions of Intuitive AI,” Maurice Conti walks through the progression of human ages and argues that we are at the dawn of a new age. Human society has progressed through hunter-gatherer, agricultural, and industrial societies and is currently in the Information Age. Conti argues that the next age is the Augmented Age, in which natural human abilities will be enhanced by computers, robotics, and digital nervous systems. While the previous ages have been defined by passive tools, the augmented age will be defined by generative and intuitive tools based on the abilities of humans, robots, and AI systems to work in harmony and solve complex problems. Conti makes a clear argument that within a human lifetime (64 years), computers started off playing tic-tac-toe (1952), then advanced to beating the best humans at chess (1997), then beating humans at Jeopardy (2011), and finally beating humans at Go (2016). Computers started off playing kids’ games and are now able to outperform human thought in our most complex games of strategy.

The video “But What is a Neural Network” contains a clear explanation and demonstration of how a neural network is fundamentally built. The demonstration is based on illustrating how the human ability to recognize a set of handwritten numbers from zero to ten is a very simple task. For example, the number three is extremely easy to recognize even when written sloppily and in several different ways. However, writing a program to recognize digitally written numbers becomes extraordinarily complex. Though the video focuses on neural networks, the host explains that neural networks are the foundation of machine learning. Understanding the mechanics and a specific and narrow application of a neural network and understanding where a neural network is in the progression from data to AI are valuable insights.

The Problem
AI is extremely technical, heavily reliant on technology and extensive/free-flowing data, and requires technical experts that can manage complex systems. The Marine Corps logistics apparatus is deep. Not only does the logistics domain include the six functions of logistics but embedded within each of them is a consortium of diverse functions including ship loading, transportation distribution, cargo throughput, mortuary affairs, acquisition, arming and refueling, and warehousing, to name only a few. AI is extremely specific in its algorithm application. Data and information are vast and predictive analytics is brought to life by specifically designed algorithms. Data manipulation has a human element; without understanding the data at a fundamental level, we are guessing about what to tell computers to do.

In our minds, understanding the building blocks for any innovation is critical. The breadth and scope of AI are a significant challenge for any industry, and the Marine Corps is not exempt from this challenge. The three primary concerns are: we have fallen behind industry standards; we have significant challenges adopting state of art for logistics applications; and our pacing-threat competitors are leaning in heavily to develop and apply AI. To win in this domain, Marine Corps logistics must have the goals, talent, and infrastructure to smartly advance it further. In our next article, we will identify the ugly, inconvenient details that currently exist within Marine Corps logistics and must be addressed prior to any deep movement into the AI landscape.


1. Max Boisot and Agustí Canals, “Data, Information, and Knowledge: Have We Got It Right?” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 14 (2004).

2. Ibid.

3. Cambridge Dictionary, “Knowledge,” Cambridge Online Dictionary, n.d.,

4. Harry Dreany, “LP Studies Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Proposal,” November 23, 2021.

5. Cambridge Dictionary, “Machine Learning,” Cambridge Online Dictionary, n.d.; and Cambridge Dictionary, “Machine Learning,” Cambridge Online Dictionary, n.d..

6. Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy, (Washington DC: 2018),

7. “LP Studies Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Proposal.”

8. Gen David H. Berger, Talent Management 2030, (Washington, DC: 2021).

9. Kirk M. Spangenberg, Gregory Lucas, Stan Bednar, Jason Fincher, Leo Spaeder, and Miguel Beltre, “Data-Driven Logistics,” Marine Corps Gazette 103, No. 3 (2019).

10. FRONTLINE PBS, Official, “In the Age of AI (Full Documentary),” YouTube,

A Message From the Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics

This is truly an exciting time for our Marine Corps Installations and Logistics Enterprise. Today, we are balancing the demands of a ready force in day-to-day competition with the imperative to support the development of the future force. We recognize that success in a contested environment hinges on the ability of our Marine Corps elements to persist in early phase maneuver across vast, dispersed littoral maneuver space.

Our Commandant continues to identify logistics as the pacing function for the Marine Corps. I will continue to ask all Marines and our civilian teammates, regardless of occupational field, to think critically and offer solutions for how we can reduce demand and mitigate challenges associated with sustaining our force in campaigning and conflict. Logistics is not just a critical requirement; it is a critical vulnerability. With this in mind, we must work quickly to transition thoughts into action and concepts into capabilities to ensure future success.

As we look to the future, we are shifting our mindset from a streamlined supply chain that is vulnerable to threats to a resilient sustainment web that assures mission success. Our homestation installations and advanced bases are integral as force generation, deployment, and sustainment platforms. We are leveraging opportunities to globally position equipment and supplies at or near the point-of-use, accurately forecast and plan sustainment using real-time data, and coordinate logistics support across the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. We are exploring ways to reduce demand on a distribution system across long and vulnerable lines of communication. We are also maturing habitual relationships with partner, allied, joint, and interagency support capabilities and agreements.

Over the past three years, we have focused on expanding global logistics awareness, diversifying distribution, improving sustainment, and making our installations ready for a contested environment. We have cultivated emergent technologies to advance our tactical logistics capabilities, wargamed and exercised with variations of force organizations, and experimented across the FMF and Supporting Establishment. The output of this logistics experimentation has been critical for us to refine our organizations, capabilities, and concepts. For all who have contributed to these efforts—thank you. This is a team effort, and your voices matter!

The articles in this Marine Corps Gazette are representative of the innovation occurring across the Marine Corps Installations and Logistics Enterprise and illustrate the complexity of sustaining our forces in a globally-contested environment. This is no easy feat, but our Marines have proven time and again that they are up to the job as long as we set the conditions for their continued success. We appreciate the opportunity to share these articles with our Gazette readers and invite your thoughts on the challenges ahead. Semper Fidelis!


Semper Fi,Image

Edward D. Banta
Lieutenant General, U.S. Marine Corps
Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics

Offense Wins Games, Defense Wins Championships

Installations in a contested environment

>MajGen Maxwell is the CG of Marine Corps Installations Command.

>>Col Novario is a Logistics Officer and currently serves as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Engagement, Mission Sustainment, and Innovation at Marine Corps Installations Command.

“Recognizing growing kinetic and non-kinetic threats to the United States’ homeland from our strategic competitors, the Department will take necessary actions to increase resilience–our ability to withstand, fight through, and recover quickly from disruption.”
—National Defense Strategy 2022

Soccer is often referred to as “the beautiful game.” As the most recent World Cup Champions, Argentina demonstrated in Qatar, the only way to win the championship trophy was by fielding a combination of a lethal offense and a resilient and impenetrable defense that blends seamlessly together. The path to being able to raise the cup is by scoring more goals on your opponents than they score on you over a series of matches. It is unique in that for 90 minutes of the game, the play is generally fluid and continuous—there is no play calling from the sidelines or television commercial breaks. For 45 minutes in each half, it is two teams locked in competition with each other, one side leveraging the strength of their team to generate and attack while the other team is posturing to defend their goal and, more importantly, seize the ball from the adversary to generate their own attack and strike a goal. It is a constant battle for position to create a window of temporary advantage to allow an attack to develop or to seize a strategic opening to strike quickly and unexpectedly. This is the nature of championship tournaments—it is also the nature of great power competition. Today in this era of great power competition, the Marine Corps is part of a similar contest, fighting for positional advantage that will lead to decision advantage and result in “net” effects.

In many respects, the mutually supporting and reinforcing nature required in the relationship between the installations and the operating forces we support is much like the relationship between the eleven players who take to the pitch. For the Marine Corps, holding the defensive line are the Marines and civilians operating and protecting installations around the globe while simultaneously providing the foundation from which the FMF can generate an attacking offense. It is this mutually supporting relationship that allows the Marine Corps to gain the advantage and deliver the necessary effects.

If the Marine Corps Installations team is the defensive line, the foremost priority is to defend the goal—to ensure installations are secure and there is a resilient defense, capable of shifting to counter diverse points of attack, whether securing our installation perimeters, protecting the installations communications network, or ensuring the resiliency of the installation from climate and energy effects. Without a strong defense, a team will be under constant pressure, and midfielders and forwards will be forced back just to help defend the goal. For the last twenty years, we have been able to accept risk in the defense. Our adversary was not able to generate an attacking threat that could get out of their back half and cross the midfield line. This is no longer the case today.

The global nature of warfare has changed. Modern technology allows command and control from anywhere to anywhere. Drones can be piloted from around the world. The cyber domain is actively contested today—with attacks coming through virtual private networks that complicate tracing and attribution. Numerous recent examples have illustrated the ways our enemies can attack our installations. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has dramatically changed the traditional calculus. Meanwhile at home, 11 September is perhaps the most striking example, but there are also smaller examples: Oldsmar Florida water treatment plant hack in 2021 and the Colonial Pipeline attack against our fuel infrastructure. Regular cyberattacks on airlines and healthcare systems all expose potential vulnerabilities and risks to the installations, which provide many similar services. Add to this disruptions caused by climate events like hurricanes and droughts or economic impacts of COVID-19, and it is apparent the contested environment is a today problem. Worse yet are the opportunities for our adversaries to put us in a dilemma by pressing their attack when we may be distracted by these events. Much like one player might make a deep run past a defender while another looks to exploit the space it creates, our enemies will look to be aggressive when we are dealing with another problem.

Thus the role of installations must also change. There was a time when we relied on our installations primarily for force generation and to a lesser degree force projection. It was a place to rest and refit before returning forward. Now, a defender must be able to repel an attack while providing the opportunity for a counter—potentially fighting through a contest without assistance from the midfielders or strikers. Perhaps those attacks are small UAS intrusions or swarm attacks or long-range missile attacks. Perhaps they are attacks against the communications network or the utilities infrastructure. Installations must be able to sense and make sense of those attacks and defeat the threat using both kinetic and non-kinetic responses without unduly reducing the capacity of our offense. Consistent with the themes in Talent Management 2030, we must build a team that strikes an appropriate balance of the offense and defense as well as develop players, both Marines and civilians, who can take to the field, fight, and win.

A strong defense will not only secure and protect the goal but will create opportunities to generate and sustain the attack. It is out of the defense that the ball is projected forward and the beginnings of the attack are generated. If our opponent is pressing us, it may take time—we will have to distribute the ball quickly, moving it around, often back and forth between the defense and the midfielders, looking for the opening to be able to move forward and press into the opponent’s final third. Our FMFs are the offense. They move forward, operating out of expeditionary advanced bases, constantly exercising, training, deploying, redeploying—always sensing, probing, and conducting reconnaissance to understand where the opponent’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities are. At the point of the attack, forces like the Marine Littoral Regiment are ready, waiting for the moment, and sensing the opportunity to find the opening to strike or to lay the ball off and create an opening to attack elsewhere. They are supported and sustained by MEF units transitioning between the installations and advanced naval bases forward into the opponent’s side to initiate, reinforce, or sustain attacks while at the same time always being prepared to support and reinforce the defense if under attack.

But increasingly, our operating forces can attack from anywhere and we can support from anywhere. Joint, all-domain command and control, robotics, and autonomous vehicles will only increase this global connection of our installations with our strikers. In a sense, we have big legs that can put shots on goal from around the globe. As we demonstrate the ability to fight from our installations, we must be prepared to defend them.

Just like the eleven players on the field, the installations and FMF players connect. We cooperate. We are inseparable and mutually dependent. We can project power and hold our enemies at bay. If we are resilient and prevent our opponents from penetrating our defense, our strikers can stay on offense. If the defense is brittle or weak, we may be unable to generate the offense against an effective opposing force firing on our goal. We should recognize the accumulated debt of under-investment in our installations is akin to the yellow card that can haunt a player for multiple matches, restraining play to avoid a second yellow card and ejection, or a red card that forces a club to play a man down the rest of the game.

Defeating the threats presented by today’s adversaries ensures installations can continue to support the attack but also preserve our offensive forces’ capacity if we can defend the installations with limited FMF augmentation. Resilience through disruptions will also provide continued installation support to our offensive forces. The dilemmas described above can be overcome if installations are resilient. The ability to mitigate or recover from the effects of hurricanes or power outages allows the continuation of power projection. When our enemies know we not only can survive but can adapt and respond in a contested environment, they will know our resilience is a source of strength and give them pause.

Though our homeland is no longer a sanctuary, and our goal can be shot upon at any time, the same is true for our opponents. The offense and defense are mutually integral to our strength. One must complement the other to achieve a synergistic effect. If our strikers keep the pressure on the opponent, the ability of our adversary to truly put pressure on our defenders will be limited. If our defenders can prevent or quickly repel penetrations, this allows the continuation of the attack. We must maintain pressure on the opponent’s goal. Keeping their players collapsed on their goal prevents sustained and effective pressure on our goal. On the field of competition today, this is very challenging. The game of soccer depends on two teams accepting the rules of the game. As we respect the international rules of order, the principles of national sovereignty, and the freedom and democratic values that form the foundation of this Nation, we will be constrained in what offensive strategies we can employ. Meanwhile, our adversaries do not appear to be constrained by these same values. We must assume they will have the opportunity and ability to generate an offense that can strike at our goal.

Marine Corps installations must be ready today while we make ready to meet the emerging challenges and support the future force design requirements as we provide the core of our Corps’ defense. If we want to continue to raise the champion’s trophy, we must have both an offense that can strike and score and an installations team with the capability and capacity to generate the attack and defend our critical goals.

MCDP 4, Logistics 2.0

Resilient logistics for the force today and tomorrow

“The thoughts contained here are not merely guidance for action in combat but a way of thinking. This publication provides the authoritative basis for how we fight and how we prepare to fight. This book contains no specific techniques or procedures for conduct. Rather, it provides broad guidance in the form of concepts and values. It requires judgment in application.” 1
—Gen Charles Krulak, 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps

The Marine Corps is adapting to an evolving strategic environment and emergent threats. Great power competition, globally contested environments, and expanding warfighting domains are changing the context and character of Marine Corps and Joint Force operations. The Force Design 2030 initiative is intended to modernize the force for a multi-domain crisis and conflict. Logistics is an essential part of this modernization.

Anti-access/area-denial capabilities, new and emerging threats, and time-distance challenges complicate how we sustain our forces, particularly Stand-in Forces. Modernization efforts that account for these challenges will result in relevant capabilities that will be positioned or sustained in contested environments. Therefore, Gen Berger considers logistics “the pacing function for both modernization and operational planning.”2 Service-level efforts to systemically change the Marine Corps Installations and Logistics Enterprise through analysis and experimentation are ongoing. To help guide, inform, and complement these efforts, MCDP 4 has been updated with immediate relevance for the force today and to continue to shape how we fight tomorrow.

Updating logistics doctrine is a supporting effort for Force Design 2030. The original MCDP 4, Logistics, was signed in 1997 and provided all Marines with a conceptual framework for the understanding and practice of effective logistics. This document described how logistics relates to the Marine Corps philosophy described in MCDP 1, Warfighting. While much of MCDP 4 is enduring and timeless, Marines operate in a strategic context and environment much different than the one that existed when the foundational doctrine for Marine Corps logistics was originally published. Therefore, MCDP 4 has been revised to reframe Marine Corps logistics in this emergent, high-threat environment. The primary changes address logistics in great power competition, in a globally contested operating environment, and with an increasingly important Joint Logistic Enterprise (JLEnt). The revised MCDP 4 is intended to encourage innovative thinking, experimentation, and collaboration throughout the Naval Services and Joint Force to sustain forward-positioned forces over time.

Logistics in Great Power Competition
MCDP 4 explains how logistics fit into great power competition. MCDP 1-4, Competing, provides an updated framework for understanding the relations between international actors. This framework expands upon the old war/peace construct by presenting international relations as an ongoing competition. Marines compete daily through logistics activities that sustain expeditionary forces while also assuring allies and deterring adversaries. Forward posturing of logistics capabilities enables the force to rapidly respond to crises and stand ready to defeat enemies in conflict. The revised MCDP 4 aligns with MCDP 1-4 and provides considerations and examples of how logistics relates to each of these competitive acts.3

Globally Contested Environment
Another change from the late 20th century is the realization that military operations can be contested globally. Adversaries have invested in ways to match U.S. capabilities or achieve asymmetric military advantages such as mature precision strike, space platforms, and cyber networks. U.S. adversaries can attack or disrupt military operations in lethal and non-lethal ways using a variety of multi-domain options. The result is that U.S. military forces can be targeted from the most forward forces all the way back to the homeland, which includes academia and industry that form the Nation’s defense industrial base.

MCDP 4 captures the challenges of this contested environment, explores the operational implications of this environment, and provides potential ways to address these threats. For example, it is unlikely that U.S. forces will always be able to project forces into a foreign country using large-scale commercial shipping (such as maritime prepositioning ships) in permissive littorals as they did in Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. Marines must develop capabilities, experiment with techniques, and train to move over distance and at scale while being attacked and disrupted by opposing forces.

MCDP 4 also explores how to create a resilient logistics system. While traditional security means such as hardening, recovery, and active defense remain valid, elements of avoidance, dispersed capabilities, and swarming provide additional ways to achieve the survivability necessary to sustain forces over time. This discussion includes a shift in the paradigm from efficiency to effectiveness exemplified by using supply webs versus supply chains.

The Joint Logistics Enterprise (JLEnt)
The revised MCDP 4 dedicates a chapter to explain how Marine corps forces interface with the larger Joint Force to sustain forces. The 1997 version emphasized the self-sufficiency of naval expeditionary forces. However, decades of combat experience demonstrated that sustaining forward forces over time requires significant Joint Force cooperation. Marine Corps logistics is never conducted in a vacuum and the ability to harness capabilities from international, interagency, and inter-Service sources are important to supporting any operation. Understanding the activities, capabilities, and limitations of the JLEnt enables Marines to leverage opportunities and material resources from the entire Nation.

Figure 2. Levels of war and logistics focus. (Figure provided by author.)

The demands of great power competition and globally-contested environments increase the need for Marine logistics efforts to be integrated within the larger JLent. In the future, Marines may be called to missions they have not performed in the past, particularly logistics operations that enable the Joint Force to get to the fight, sustain the fight over vast distances, and win. For example, Stand-in Forces may be the only node in a logistics system that can rearm or repair naval vessels or refuel joint and coalition aircraft.

Logistics at Each Level of War
Logistics activities vary significantly at each level of war. The original version of MCDP 4 explicitly focused on tactical logistics, while the revised version describes what activities need to be accomplished at each level of war, and who is responsible for conducting them.

Figure 3. Logistics function activities at each level of war. (Figure provided by author.)

Understanding how operational and strategic logistics activities influence the force and provide opportunities is increasingly important. Demands affected by the threat and environment are so great on the Joint Force that Marines may increasingly be asked to contribute to operational-level logistics efforts. The time horizons and funding considerations of strategic logistics require different skills and approach than those required for tactical logistics. The revised MCDP 4 includes an updated framework with examples of how activities vary at each level (Figure 3). This framework is intended to expose Marines to the wide array of activities required to sustain the force and provoke creative ways of executing them in more relevant or effective ways.

Figure 4. Warfighting functions. (Figure provided by author.)

Figure 3. Logistics function activities at each level of war. (Figure provided by author.)
Operations, Logistics, and Warfighting Functions
The revised MCDP 4 modifies how the relationship between operations and logistics is presented. Operations are the result of interplay across all warfighting functions. Each warfighting function is integral in both enabling and limiting every operation. Additionally, each warfighting function influences the others (Figure 4). For example, providing critical supplies to suffering people impacts the information aspects of humanitarian operations, to include even strategic messaging. Operational success is the result of the harmonious interactions of each warfighting function aligned to specific objectives.
MCDP 4 is written for every Marine, not just those with certain occupational specialties within the logistics community. Commanders, planners, and staff at each level must consider how logistics influences achieving goals and objectives. Plans that do not incorporate supply, maintenance, transportation, general engineering, and health factors risk being unfeasible, unacceptable, and un-executable. Logistics demands cooperation. Everyone plays a role in maintaining the combat power of the force.

The original MCDP 4 provided time-tested, combat-proven principles, yet it needed to be updated within the current warfighting context. The updated MCDP 4 includes significant and actionable concepts and ideas such as resilient supply webs versus supply chains, hybrid logistics and optionality, talent management, wargaming, and risk. This updated version also highlights the importance of installations as operational platforms for force generation, force deployment, and force sustainment. Several historical and fictional futuristic vignettes are used to broaden the reader’s perspective of logistics. This refreshed MCDP 4 brings to life the challenges of sustaining the force in a globally contested environment, within multiple domains, and across the competition spectrum.

MCDP 4, Logistics, challenges every Marine to read, think, and write about logistics. To this end, the Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics is spearheading efforts to modernize installation and critical infrastructure, invest in the people who sustain the force, diversify distribution capabilities, and develop concepts for moving and sustaining forces in contested environments. Efforts include a deliberate experimentation campaign plan to exercise, learn, and refine how we operate at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. Armed with an understanding of the challenges of the future war, Marines will overcome these challenges with their can-do attitude and relentless spirit, as they always have in the past.

1. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCDP 1, Warfighting,
(Washington, DC: 1997).
2. Gen David H. Berger, Force Design 2030 Annual
Update, (Washington, DC: May 2022).
3. Gen David H. Berger, MCDP 1-4, Competing,
(Washington, DC: December 2020).
4. MCDP 1, Warfighting.