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Increase The Size Of The FSSG: An Evolutionary Idea
CSC 1992
Title:  Increase the size of the FSSG: An Evolutionary Idea
Author: Major William S. Aitken, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: Even though the emphasis on mobile and rapid warfare
demands that the Marine Corps have a logistics capability
that is rapidly deployable and capable of supporting
sustained, large-scale, combat operations, at this time
Marine Corps logistics doctrine and organization does not
fully support this concept.
Background: The Marine Corps is entering a period of serious
troop reductions. As currently planned, all elements of the
Marine Corps will be reduced; the ground combat element, the
aviation combat element, and the combat service support
element. With the present reliance on task-organizing for
deployments and contingencies, the FSSG finds itself severely
limited during periods of large-scale or long-term
commitments. Current plans for the draw-down envision
combining many of the battalions within the FSSG. By mixing
the functions of combat service support, the FSSG will have
trouble rapidly responding to contingencies. Lessons learned
from Desert Storm noted the accomplishments of the FSSG, but
failed to mention the stress experienced by the units of the
FSSG.  Downsizing will increase the problem of organizing for
large-scale commitments, while affecting combat-readiness.
With all of the doctrinal and organizational changes taking
place, the Marine Corps needs to examine and change the way
that the FSSG is designed for deployment.
Recommendation: The Marine Corps should not draw down the
size of the current FSSG. It should increase the number of
personnel and establish permanent organizations that are
specifically designed to respond to large-scale contingencies
and prepared to provide quality combat service support.
Thesis:  Even though the emphasis on mobile and rapid warfare
         demands that the Marine Corps have a logistics
         capability that is rapidly deployable and capable of
         supporting sustained, large-scale, combat
         operations, at this time Marine Corps logistics
         doctrine and organization does not fully support
         this concept.
I.    Evolution of current logistics doctrine
      A. Need for responsive logistics
      B. Historical examples of logistics
      C. Logistics and long-term conflict
II.   Reasons for needing change
      A. Defining the threat
      B. Marine philosophy on readiness
      C. Task-organizing today
      D. Drawbacks to task-organizing
III.  Changing current doctrine
      A. Forming permanent CSSD's
      B. Training benefits
      C. Mobility benefits
      D. Contingency planning
IV.   Advantages to doctrinal change
      A. Role of entire FSSG
      B. Problems in Saudi Arabia
      C. Improved combat-readiness
      D. Improved support to combat element
                         ADMIRAL E. J. KING: to a staff
                         officer, 1942 (1:175)
     Admiral King and General Marshall certainly knew the
value of a well organized and effective logistics
organization and the accomplishments of all the services
during World War II have stood as premier examples for all
military leaders since that time. Today, the Marine Corps is
in a unique position to remember the past and to make changes
that will provide for responsive combat service support
whenever and wherever Marines deploy. Even though the
emphasis on mobile and rapid warfare demands that the Marine
Corps have a logistics capability that is rapidly deployable
and capable of supporting sustained, large-scale, combat
operations, at this time Marine Corps logistics doctrine and
organization does not fully support this concept. Improving
the Marine Corps organization for sustained combat service
support will ultimately improve the Marine Corps' ability to
sustain the nation's force-in-readiness during large-scale
contingencies. The Marine Corps publication, "CAMPAIGNING",
makes it clear that logistics planners must be flexible and
able to provide support that does not interfere with
operational freedom:
     Forces able to operate on a shoestring are less
     vulnerable to attacks against their logistical tails,
     are less dependent on a continuous high-volume
     logistical flow, and can operate on lines which would
     not support a large logistical apparatus.(5:81)
For the Marine Corps, any time that a division is called for
deployment it means that the commitment is large-scale.
Therefore, the Marine Corps must also be prepared to provide
large-scale combat service support.
     The Marine Corps is in a unique position to improve upon
an organization that has been recently combat tested. Even
with the success achieved by Marines in Operation Desert
Storm, now is not the time to settle down and think that the
current doctrine and organization of Marine Corps logistics
organizations is adequate for future large scale operations.
A brief review of military history shows that the science of
logistics is evolutionary in nature and that changes are
continuous. Marine Corps logistics and combat service support
has also seen changes through many years, An overview of some
significant logistics history lessons will help to reinforce
the notion of the evolutionary process while showing how the
nature of warfare is intertwined with the science of
     Throughout history, the belief that logistics planning
has taken a back seat to operational planning is actually
incorrect. Military history provides many examples of great
campaigns being planned with tremendous thought given to
logistics support. Napoleon went to great lengths to plan for
the support of his campaigns, particularly his Russian
campaign, by establishing formal lines of communication and
an organized transport service. During the American Civil War
the railroad came to be recognized for the contributions that
could be made in logistics planning - great stores of
supplies were moved all over the eastern United States. In
Germany, in the second half of the nineteenth century,
General Moltke, the great German strategist, devised a system
of deployment and re-supply based heavily on the use of
railroads. Both World Wars saw the birth of huge
organizations solely responsible for theater logistics.
During World War II, the planning that went into the
logistics support for the assault on France after the
Normandy breakthrough became legendary. England was turned
into one giant storage lot for the Allies. In Vietnam, the
Marines established large support bases that supported the
troops with large truck convoys and aviation support. The
supply bases were never required to move, even though they
would occasionally come under enemy attack. These support
bases remained in their same locations throughout the entire
time the Americans were involved in the war. However, the
concept of mobile combat service support became standard as
Marine aviation assets flew supplies all over the country,
allowing for greater operational mobility by the combat
     All of these examples have a common historical thread.
These campaigns and wars were long-term events requiring
sustained support to the combat elements. There was ample
time to plan and adjust the logistic support as the
operational situation dictated. The logistics support became
more mobile and campaign planners learned the importance of
including logistics in the planning process. In today's
world, with the demise of the Soviet Union, that known threat
to the United States has all but vanished, while the rest of
the world has become a more difficult place in which to plan
for expected contingencies. It is an environment where
American military forces will go to war as they are
configured and equipped at the time, and not always as they
would like. It means that units will need to be prepared and
organized for deployment in a manner that lends to rapid
mission accomplishment. There will not be time for
reshuffling of staffs and troops and commands. Task-
organizing will be viewed as something that must be kept to a
minimum. Logistics organizations will be required to be
prepared to deploy without a great deal of reorganizing and
to be prepared to accompany the combat elements without
delay. These organizations will deploy with the equipment and
materiel on hand and will not always have the luxury of time
to perfect the desired combat service support.
     The Marine Corps' philosophy on combat readiness is made
very clear in the Marine Corps publication FMFM 1,
"WARFIGHTING," with this statement:
     During times of peace the most important task
     of any military is to prepare for war. As the
     nation's rapid-response force, the Marine Corps
     must maintain itself ready for immediate em-
     ployment in any clime and place and in any type
     of conflict. All peacetime activities should
     focus on achieving combat readiness. This implies
     a high level of training, flexibility in
     organization and equipment, qualified professional
     leadership, and a cohesive doctrine.(4:41)
The Marine Corps must continuously strive to achieve the best
balance of assets and capability with the realities of the
budget process to ensure that Marines are prepared for war.
Properly organizing logistics organizations will provide the
capability to provide any sustainment needed by Marine
     Periodically the Marine Corps overhauls itself and
improves its combat capabilities. During this century Marine
leaders saw the wisdom of the amphibious assault and
organized the Fleet Marine Forces to support that doctrine.
After the drawdown of World War II, the Marine Corps once
again re-organized, with Congressional mandates, thus
streamlining the organization. Following the Vietnam conflict
the Marines reorganized the combat service support units into
more responsive Force Service Support Groups (FSSG) . Now,
after the Desert Storm experience, the Marine Corps is once
again looking at organizations and doctrine. It is a perfect
time to examine the effectiveness of current combat service
support doctrine, and to examine and fix problems that
occurred in the desert, paying particular attention to the
organization of the FSSG.
     Except for the recent Gulf War and small unit, short
duration operations, such as embassy evacuations, non-
combatant evacuation operations, and humanitarian assistance,
the Marine Corps has usually been involved with long-term
conflicts that lend themselves to large deployments of
logistics support capabilities that were usually stationary
in nature. These large depots were not envisioned to be
expeditionary at all. Today the Marine Corps is responsible
for responding to problems throughout the world. The
logistics that sustains such operations must be mobile and
light, with the ability to operate without a large logistical
tail. Supporting small operations is relatively easy, but
when the Marine Corps becomes involved in large operations,
the logistical organization becomes overwhelmed.
     At this time the Marine Corps' FSSG's are not
efficiently designed for sustained support to elements
involved in long-term, large-scale combat. They are, however,
well organized to provide short-term, intensive, combat
service support to small contingency forces. Current doctrine
dictates that the FSSG will task organize a combat service
support element (CSSE) to support whatever the contingency
and the combat elements require. FMFM 4-1 (DRAFT) "Combat
Service Support Operations," defines the concept of a task
organized CSSE:
     A task organized CSS element is a unit tailored to meet
     specific support requirements. Task organization
     is a quantitative and qualitative process used by
     commanders to best structure their assets to
     support the mission and concept of operations. The
     CSSE commander uses task organization, together
     with mission assignments and command
     relationships, as his primary tools for allocation
     and control of his capabilities.(6:2-4)
This concept works well with small deployments and short-term
contingencies, but severely strains the entire FSSG during
large deployments and long-term commitments. However, Marine
doctrine states that when an entire Marine division deploys
for combat, the entire FSSG will also deploy to provide
combat service support. While this has been proven to be an
excellent doctrine, it has also been demonstrated that the
current reliance on task-organizing for large combat
operations does not work well with the current structure of
the FSSG, resulting in a dispersion of combat service support
capability during a period when it is most needed. The
most serious problems which are experienced are the lack of
personnel and equipment. This occurs because the FSSG is
required to form combat service support detachments (CSSD)
from within its own organization, which cuts back on the
number of personnel available to the supporting FSSG
battalions. The CSSD's actually join with the combat elements
of the division to provide combat service support. The FSSG
that remains works to provide the CSSD's with needed supplies
and performs other missions as assigned. With personnel and
equipment from the supporting battalions of the FSSG being
used within the CSSD's, the remaining FSSG forces become
severely strained in their ability to accomplish assigned
missions. The ability to adequately draft and execute plans
is hampered by a lack of personnel. Planning becomes more of
a crisis response drill, with the FSSG acting in a
reactionary mode instead of being able to anticipate and plan
for future events. As can be expected, this decreases the
effectiveness of the FSSG.
     Another problem encountered with the process of task-
organizing is necessary preparation time. The time factors
involved in task-organization hamper the rapid deployment of
the FSSG. It is important that the Marine Corps look at the
organization of the FSSG to make evolutionary changes which
will enhance the capability of the FSSG in providing large-
scale and ,if needed, long-term combat service support to
elements involved with large-scale, long-term contingencies.
This reorganization can be accomplished so that there is a
minimal impact upon the personnel of the FSSG when task-
organizing becomes necessary.
     One solution to the problem of draining personnel and
assets from within the FSSG is to establish full-time combat
service support detachments that are equipped and ready to
operate, having the capability and needed mobility to support
mechanized combat forces. As a precedent for having pre-
established combat service support detachments, the FSSG
already has full-time organizations that support the six
month Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) deployments, called the
the MEU Service Support Group (MSSG) . These MSSG's have their
own tables of organization and equipment, and conduct
extensive training with the unit they support well in advance
of the deployment.  This allows for the various commanders to
work together and identify any problems or shortcomings
before the deployment.
     The FSSG should have a similar arrangement with the
CSSD's. During peacetime the commanders of the CSSD's could
work with the commanders of the division's maneuver elements,
usually the regiments, and provide combat service support
during training. While the likelihood of the Division and the
FSSG deploying on a large scale, as in the Desert
Shield/Storm scenario, is remote, the likelihood of deploying
a single infantry regiment with all of the required combat
service support is quite possible, considering the desire to
present overwhelming firepower to possible opponents.
     Having established CSSD's would cut down on the hustle
and confusion normally associated with the rapid assembling
of task-organized units. With permanent organizations,
contingencies can be planned for, as much as possible, and an
expeditionary environment can be maintained. The equipment
needed for each CSSD would be in place, minimizing the impact
upon the battalions of the FSSG. Yet, the most important
aspect of having permanent CSSD's would be in the
relationships between the supporting and supported units -
commanders of the units would know each other.
     A good example of how doctrinal task-organizing impacts
upon the FSSG is reflected in the formation of a Mobile
Combat Service Support Detachment (MCSSD) . This unit requires
a commanding officer, staff, and the various troops to
accomplish the functions of combat service support. The
equipment used to equip a MCSSD varies with the mission of
the supported combat element, but always requires the loan of
numerous trucks from within the FSSG to provide the MCSSD
with the required mobility. Considering that an MCSSD is
provided to each maneuver element of the Marine Division, the
establishment of two or three MCSSD's from within one FSSG is
a possibility. Since each of the MCSSD's must be staffed and
equipped from the assets of the FSSG, it becomes apparent
that task-organizing drains the effectiveness of the eight
     In a time of shrinking military budgets and the
reducing of forces, the proposition that the Force Service
Support Group should expand might seem unworthy of review.
Yet it should be remembered that aside from the CSSD's, the
FSSG and its battalions are kept quite busy performing the
functions of combat service support in a variety of
situations not directly related to the support of CSSD's.
Constructing Combat Service Support Areas and running
extensive computer centers, or maintaining huge supply
warehouses, are just a few of the functions that must be
accomplished in any theater of war. Reducing the size of the
current FSSG to incorporate new permanent CSSD's would only
reduce the existing capabilities of the FSSG. The goal is not
to reduce any capability, but to increase the combat-
readiness of the FSSG by eliminating turmoil during
preparations for combat.
     However, there is the argument that by increasing the
number of permanent units that belong to the FSSG the
overhead in headquarters personnel will be increased. Having
temporary organizations reduces this overhead. One serious
problem that was encountered by the two FSSG's that deployed
to Saudi Arabia was that they did not have enough officers of
the required grade to command and staff the newly invented
detachments. Consequently, the FSSG's had to go outside their
own organization to recruit officers for positions.
Understandably, this is not an ideal situation for any
deployment. Officers taking over newly formed units that have
not come from within the FSSG are not always knowledgeable of
the command structure and may not be comfortable with the
leaders and staff of the FSSG.  Conversely, the leaders of
the forming FSSG's may discover that they are uncomfortable
with the personnel that they have recruited from outside
their command. Obviously, personality conflicts could be
detected and detoured with advance preparation. By having
full-time CSSD's the FSSG's can quickly task-organize from
within, utilizing personnel already on hand, eliminating the
need to go outside the command, and reducing friction between
     At this time the Marine Corps is examining it's
warfighting doctrine and expanding the role of the Marine
Expeditionary Force commander and staff in future scenarios.
It is an evolutionary process that naturally follows on the
heels of a large Marine combat campaign. The concept of the
warfighting capability of the Marine Air Ground Task Force
(MAGTF) has once again been proven. The Marine Corps is also
looking at ways to improve the speed of the deployment of the
MAGTF and is in the process of developing doctrine that
streamlines the command and control of the MAGTF. With the
wisdom of joint campaigning demonstrated in the Persian Gulf,
the Marine Corps must maintain the capability to deliver
effective combat power when needed. In concert with this
philosophy is the need for prepared combat service support
organizations. The Marine Corps will not always have the
luxury of extensive host nation support, enjoyed in Saudi
Arabia. Therefore, the Marine Corps must be prepared to take
care of itself, independent of other services or other
nations, even in a joint-service environment. This requires a
well organized and capable logistics organization that is
trained and ready for combat.
     Another significant advantage to having permanently
established CSSD's is that these units will be "plugged in"
to the various logistics systems used by the Marine Corps to
provide combat service support. This will not only save time
in having to install these units into the various systems,
but will also have the advantage of having trained personnel
familiar with these systems. During peacetime the CSSD's will
be able to order supplies and repair parts and will receive
the supply status reports received by all other permanent
units, along with the ability to track their combat
     The suggestion of implementing new, permanent,
organizations in no way seeks to downplay the effectiveness
of task-organized and temporary units. That concept has
proven quite responsive for many years. The problem appears
when the FSSG is required to support large-scale commitments.
The effectiveness of the entire organization is reduced
because of the various detachments that must be formed. This
impacts on the remaining FSSG units, degrading their
capabilities. Having permanent CSSD organizations can serve
to speed the process of task-organization. Again, FMFM 1
serves to point out the Marine Corps philosophy with regard
to preparations for combat:
      To the greatest extent possible, Fleet Marine
      Forces must be organized for warfighting and then
      adapted for peacetime rather than vice versa.
      Tables of organization of Fleet Marine Force units
      should reflect the two central requirements of
      deployability and the ability to task-organize
      according to specific situations. (4:43)
      The Marine Corps faces an interesting problem in dealing
with its recent logistical success. Senior Officers returned
from Desert Storm glowing about the incredible tasks that
were performed by Marine Logisticians. The fact is that these
feats were performed with a great deal of effort. Many young
Marines and Sailors were worn out by the constant long hours
and lack of relief. Part of the problem was due to the
shortage of personnel experienced by the remaining battalions
of the two FSSG's that were in Saudi Arabia. Many of their
personnel were attached to the temporary CSSD's and were not
able to be replaced within the home organization. This should
be a major concern in the future when the issue of personnel
within the FSSG is raised. No unit can accomplish assigned
missions when its personnel are worn out. Another advantage
to having permanent CSSD's is the simple concept of
continuity. People will get to know each other, and when they
deploy, they will know each other. Such is not the case with
temporary organizations  Having people familiar with each
other is recognized as an important combat multiplier.
     Because the formulation of military doctrine and
organization is an evolutionary process, the Marine Corps
is looking long and hard at the current functions of the
FSSG. During this period of cutbacks the easiest, but
unwanted, solution is to curtail the logistical capabilities
of the FSSG. If Desert Storm proved anything to Marines, it
proved that good logistics is critical to the success of the
combat element. Establishing new organizations during a
period of downsizing may appear unnecessary, but keeping the
concept of expeditionary forces-in-readiness as the
cornerstone of thought shows that the better prepared the
FSSG is for large-scale deployments, the better the logistics
capability that can be provided.
     Desert Storm also demonstrated that unthinkable and
unpredictable events can happen that cause the large-scale
deployment of exceptionally large units. Too many Marines had
become comfortable with the concept of small-scale
deployments and had come to discount the possibility of an
entire FSSG deploying. With the Gulf War, most of two FSSG's
were required to provide combat service support to Marine
forces. This was a situation that was never really thought
about. While the deployment worked, in the future there is no
need to have Marines go through the same mistakes and
annoyances that were encountered with the Gulf deployment.
The simple solution is to prepare for the worst case. Trying
to envision a situation where the Marine Corps will again
experience such a large deployment is difficult, yet the
Marine Corps must be ready, and it must have the
organizations in place that are capable of responding to any
     The Marine Corps must not be overzealous in the desire
to reduce numbers when doing so will cut into the enormous
capabilities of the Force Service Support Group, thus
impacting upon the combat element's ability to close with and
successfully destroy any enemy of the future.
1. Heinl,  Colonel Robert D., Jr.(USMC Retired). "Dictionary
     Of Military And Naval Quotations.  Annapolis: United
     States Naval Institute,1966
2. Millett, Allan R. "SEMPER FIDELIS: The History Of The
     United States Marine Corps.  New York: Macmillan,1980
3. Peppers, Jerome G. "History Of United States Military
     Logistics: 1935-1985." Huntsville: Logistics Education
     Foundation, 1988
4. U.S. Marine Corps. Headquarters United States Marine Corps
     "FMFM 1: Warfighting." Washington, D.C.,1989
5. U.S. Marine Corps  Headquarters United States Marine Corps
     "FMFM 1-1: Campaigning." Washington, D.C.,1990
6. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Combat Development Command
     "FMFM 4-1: Combat Service Support Operations
     (Coordinating Draft) ." Quantico,1990
7. Van Creveld, Martin. "Supplying War: Logistics From
     Wallenstein To Patton." Cambridge: Cambridge University
     Press, 1977

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