Cover: Advancing Combat Support to Sustain Agile Combat Employment Concepts

Advancing Combat Support to Sustain Agile Combat Employment Concepts

Integrating Global, Theater, and Unit Capabilities to Improve Support to a High-End Fight

Published May 23, 2023

by James A. Leftwich, Katherine C. Hastings, Vikram Kilambi, Kristin F. Lynch, Shannon Prier, Ronald G. McGarvey


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Research Questions

  1. How should the CS enterprise operate if communication networks are degraded and requests for resources cannot be transmitted to supply sources?
  2. What actions can be taken to mitigate against uncertainties in supply chain performance in contested environments?

The focus on efficiency in combatant command combat operations has driven peacetime logistics and sustainment processes to be more centralized in the U.S. Air Force and, in some cases, at the U.S. Department of Defense level. In some instances, the centralization placed decision authorities associated with the allocation and reallocation of resources outside the control of warfighting commands. Additionally, the move toward efficiency has created a lean supply chain that relies on assured transportation to rapidly deliver resources where needed based on demand signals from end-users. Capable adversaries, however, can disrupt the supply chain by degrading communications and limiting access to forward locations.

As Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) pursues evolving operational concepts of employment designed to improve operational resiliency, questions about the fragility of the combat support (CS) enterprise persist. In light of these questions, Headquarters PACAF asked RAND Project AIR FORCE to take a holistic view of the CS enterprise, including base, theater, and global resources, and explore different concepts that could be integrated in theater sustainment plans to support operations.

In this report, the authors decompose the CS enterprise from decision authority and resource characteristic perspectives and propose a framework that PACAF can use to consider the necessary elements of the CS enterprise for operating in a hybrid push-pull system as a means to mitigate uncertainty and adversary actions that challenge logistics support. The report also presents the cost of various resource buffer strategies for spare parts.

Key Findings

  • The CS enterprise, built on efficiency, relies on timely communication of asset requirements and on assured and responsive transportation, which today fails to achieve desired readiness rates and will likely be more challenged in a conflict with a near-peer adversary.
  • Processes for communicating resource status and replenishment needs will aid in mitigating CS enterprise disruptions resulting from adversary attacks; however, other actions will likely be necessary to support operational missions in a contested environment.
  • Operating the CS enterprise in conflict will require logisticians above the unit level to be fully aware of planned sortie demand and able to forecast required replenishment based on that demand.
  • Planning factors used to make posture decisions during competition may not accurately reflect the expected intensity of operations in a conflict with a near-peer adversary.


  • Each PACAF combat support functional area, in coordination with its enterprise functional community, should develop and practice tactics, techniques, and procedures for executing the logistics support plan in a communications-degraded environment.
  • PACAF should adopt a methodology to determine which assets in the CS enterprise should be pushed to forward operating locations and the rate and quantities that should be pushed if it becomes necessary to temporarily shift from a pull to a push system in a communications-degraded environment. The basis for such a methodology is provided in this report.
  • USAF and PACAF should consider a "partial buyout" buffer stock strategy to mitigate expected resource shortages for planned operations.
  • USAF should review the War and Mobilization Plan — Volume 5 planning factors used to compute readiness spares packages to ensure these factors reflect the intensity of operations outlined in PACAF's operations plan, including expected attrition.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Director of Logistics, Engineering, and Force Protection, Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces, and conducted by the Resource Management Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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