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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part IV

Sustaining the Campaign

Chapter 12
Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations


Iron Mountains

Critics inside and outside the Defense community in the 1990s derisively labeled the Army’s traditional logistics system as the “iron mountain” concept. To ensure Soldiers and units had all the supplies and services they needed to conduct combat operations, each echelon of command, from company to division carried with it relatively large amounts of materiel and contained relatively robust service capabilities to sustain itself in combat. A huge number of CSS units and Soldiers in the Army’s so-called “tail” backed up those unit capabilities. In turn, the CSS support to the Army’s “teeth” were serviced and supplied by a robust industrial plant in the United States.

The deployment of combat and combat support units into a theater in early phases of a campaign was usually preceded by the delivery of CSS units and accompanying materiel over a period of months. These supplies created the so-called iron mountains that had to be built up before combat could begin. In this way, the vast majority of combat units could arrive in theater and could fall in on the logistics infrastructure already in place. The buildup before Operation DESERT STORM in 1991 is an excellent example of how the American Army employed this concept.2

The start of Phase III, Decisive Operations, was thus predicated on having stockpiled sufficient materiel and CSS units to sustain the intensity of modern combat. The Army accumulated large supply stores at logistical bases, airbases, or ports, and then moved provisions toward the front line from which combat units were supplied. For the most part, units sustained themselves on the battlefield with their internal logistical assets, which were then re-supplied by convoys to and from the nearest logistical base or node. As the front lines moved, mini-iron mountains moved to keep the length of the last leg of the system from exceeding prescribed distances. In similar fashion, maintenance and other integral parts of combat units were reinforced with greater capabilities as the distance from the front lines extended.

A significant part of the combat power of the US Army rested on its extensive CSS systems. Only in extreme cases since mid-1943 have US Army units had their operations significantly limited by a lack of logistical support. This system has great appeal to combat and combat support units because they had authority over enough CSS assets to fight without counting on logistics units outside of their control. One of the hallmarks of the American way of war was the Army’s ability to sustain its units in combat, which in turn allowed for an unrelenting application of combat power against enemies far less prepared for sustained operations. The system was redundant but very effective.

Critics believed this mass-based system placed too great an industrial and financial strain on the nation to sustain in peacetime, placed too much demand on the Navy and Air Force to deliver, and prevented rapid deployments and the rapid start of combat operations. Facilities to store the surplus had to be located in theater. Personnel were needed to staff and service the warehouses, while other personnel and resources were critical for moving supplies. This mass-based system had proven itself where the full energies of the United States’ industrial, technological, and economic might were focused on producing weapons, materiel, and supplies to support the war effort.3 But military thinkers who put forth theories about future conflicts in which combat would be short and decisive asked serious questions about the detrimental effects of relying on the iron mountain. The rapid defeat of Saddam Hussein’s army in DESERT STORM and the huge quantities of unused materiel that remained after the conflict seemed to reinforce this point of view.

Chapter 12. Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations

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