Assuring the Tactical Sustainment of Land Forces on the Modern Battlefield

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This paper examines the evolving threat and necessary mitigations to enable the tactical sustainment of land forces between the corps support area and last mile resupply.

It postulates three challenges that increasing battlefield transparency and ubiquitous long-range precision fires pose to logistics:

  1. Logistics must enter the theatre of operations where infrastructure is concentrated, and so key sustainment nodes can be struck throughout operational depth.
  2. Because supply is projected from known points of origin, it is susceptible to pattern-of-life analysis, enabling highly disruptive targeting.
  3. Once forces are fixed in combat, the limited number of ground lines of communication to their positions makes them systemically vulnerable to isolation.

There are two processes involved in tactical sustainment: the flow of materiel forwards to resupply units; and the recovery of equipment and casualties rearwards. The principles driving tactical adaptation to ensure survivability of these functions are well established and well tested – dispersal, deception and convoys. Technology is transforming how these principles can be applied. For resupply, three technologies and approaches are critical.

  • The dispersion of caches throughout the rear support area can now be managed through digitised command and control (C2) and planning support tools to avoid concentrating supplies in logistics hubs.
  • The use of containers and mixed loads can create a uniformity and thus ambiguity to sustainment components that minimises the ability of the adversary to target the logistics structure efficiently.
  • The deliberate support to logistics elements from combat arms during last mile resupply to open windows for safe passage can enable safe delivery to the front. Given the constraints on how often this can be accomplished, it requires the accurate predictive push of materiel to be efficient.

Medical support is especially vulnerable. This is because of the electromagnetic signature of medical posts, combined with the decline in adherence to international humanitarian law as regards the protected status of hospitals. It is therefore necessary for medical support to:

  • Maximise the mobility of Role 2 hospitals by mounting their constituent parts on vehicles and maintaining modular capabilities.
  • Adapt tactics, techniques and procedures to enable surgery with intermittent relocation, to enable medical posts to continue to function in the indirect fire zone, ensuring damage-control resuscitation can be delivered within 60 minutes of injury.
  • Equipping and crewing Role 1 facilities to maximise the precision of triage to avoid saturating surgical capacity, bypass Role 2 for those who can be safely evacuated further to the rear on a longer timeline, and offer palliative care to those who cannot be saved.
  • Ensure that medical support has resilient C2 that can fully exploit the data necessary to coordinate dispersed operations.


Data is similarly critical to ensuring the survivability of repair and maintenance support:

  • The use of digital twins to conduct predictive maintenance on complex systems is a key tool for maximising the efficiency of forwards to support dispersed platforms.
  • For sophisticated components, platform modularity is critical in enabling sensors and other payloads to be swapped out, so that broken components can be repaired in the rear. For simple parts, additive manufacture can be used to minimise the number of unique spares that must be held at the rear of units and brought forwards.
  • For the repair sites themselves, deception is an increasingly important tool for improving survivability, as concealment is increasingly difficult.


Collectively, these measures can make a supply system robust, even under extensive surveillance. However, a sustainment system working in this way will still impose constraints on combat arms. It is therefore essential that the combat arms adjust their planning assumptions as regards tempo, the sustainable size of force packages, and the force protection they must offer to their service support arms if they are to sustain the fight.


Dr Jack Watling

Senior Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Military Sciences

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Si Horne

British Army Visiting Fellow

Military Sciences

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