|Integrating Coalition Logistics at the Tactical
Level: The Combined Joint Distribution Cell
|by Lieutenant Colonel Courtney Taylor and
Captain Leonard B. Della-Moretta III
Operation Mountain Thrust, the largest offensive
operation in Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban in
2001, began on 15 May 2006 with shaping operations by units
of Combined/Joint Task Force-76 (CJTF–76) in Regional
Command South (RC South). These shaping operations created
an extraordinary strain on the coalition’s limited distribution
assets. To coordinate the assets from multiple coalition forces,
an organization was needed that could provide support at the
tactical level similar to that provided at the strategic and
operational levels by the U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM’s)
Deployment and Distribution Operations Center. The answer was
the Combined Joint Distribution Cell (CJDC). This prototype
organization was developed to enable the efficient use of constrained
coalition distribution assets and provide continuous synchronization
and sustainment throughout the operation in a complex combined-joint
|A French soldier mans his
weapon as an American C17 Globemaster approaches for a landing at Kandahar Airfield. Coordinating all coalition
logistics assets was a primary mission of the CJDC during Operation Mountain Thrust.
Building the CJDC
Before the CJDC could be designed and built, planners had
to identify the support it would be required to provide.
challenge was to identify which commodities could be leveraged
across the coalition.
Class I (subsistence) and water were obvious requirements,
so a class I commodity manager was included in the CJDC.
However, providing class III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants)
a few problems.
While United Kingdom forces use JP8—the standard American
fuel for tactical vehicles—most other European militaries
use diesel, and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) use
both diesel and unleaded gasoline. These differences dictated
that a fuel commodity manager would have to be added to the
CJDC. Because the Afghans were still developing their munitions
logistics capabilities, a class V (ammunition) commodity manager
also was included to assist in managing and coordinating ANSF
munitions. The last commodity manager added to the team was
a class IX (repair parts) manager. This manager was needed
because the harsh terrain and weather of Afghanistan and the
anticipated battle losses in the inevitable fights to come
would lead to a high demand for parts.
Identifying the personnel needed to distribute these commodities
became the next focus in organizing the CJDC. Because planners
lacked information on the routes and distances that coalition
forces would need cover in Operation Mountain Thrust, aerial
delivery would have to be the primary means of distribution.
Accordingly, an Air Force logistics planner was placed on
the CJDC staff to perform three roles—
Plan airdrops using the Containerized Delivery System.
Coordinate for fixed-wing
aircraft to deliver sustainment to Kandahar for Operation
Coordinate for rotary-wing aircraft to provide support for logistics operations.
The planners also included a host-nation trucking
section in the CJDC to coordinate for host-nation support;
this would streamline the process for supporting units by truck
and maximize the use of finite trucking resources. The host-nation
coordinator also served a second role: synchronizing and tracking
all coalition logistics movements.
structure of the Combined Joint Distribution Cell.
Once the CJDC was manned and deployed to support the maneuver operation, multiple
challenges arose, both anticipated and unanticipated. Four primary challenges
had to be overcome. These challenges stemmed from the fact that the CJDC was
a new organization that executed logistics in a radically new way.
The first challenge was rooted in the fact that, in a coalition military environment,
logistics support is, by doctrine, a national responsibility. This national
orientation resulted in the creation of stovepipe national support structures,
national logistics efforts, and blinded national logistics staffs to the capabilities
and operations of other coalition forces. The second challenge also was typical
of operations in a multinational environment: participating countries all placed “national
caveats” on their forces, restricting what they could or could not do.
Often, these caveats were polar opposites for the many countries working to solve
logistics issues. The third challenge resulted from the need for the CJDC, as
a new organization, to literally introduce itself, describe its capabilities,
and sell its services to the units that it was going to support. Finally—and
this would become an ongoing challenge
— the CJDC possessed no tasking authority over any assets; it could only
facilitate and coordinate.
The CJDC’s unique mission required close coordination among the CJDC;
the Afghan National Army (ANA); the Afghan National Police, the Combined/Joint
Operations Task Force-Afghanistan; the Canadian, British, and Dutch Armies
and Air Forces; U.S. and Australian Army aviation units; and the U.S. Air Force
Expeditionary Group and Air Terminal Operations Center. While the U.S. National
Support Element provided direct support to U.S. maneuver forces, the CJDC tied
all the entities together to leverage coalition logistics capabilities, using
economy of force, to meet all requirements in the most efficient manner.
In order to effectively support the warfighter, the CJDC focused on the five
tactical logistics imperatives: integration, anticipation, improvisation, responsiveness,
and continuity. These imperatives allowed the CJDC to coordinate support efficiently
across the full spectrum of operations.
Integrating all distribution assets is critical to meeting the command and
control challenges inherent in a multinational environment. Key personnel played
role in the effectiveness of the CJDC. These key personnel included the commander
of the 330th Transportation Battalion (Movement Control) (Airborne)—who
also served as the Joint Logistics Commander (Forward)—and S–3 staff,
a U.S. Air Force logistics officer, key commodity managers from the Joint Logistics
Command, the ANA Regional Command Assistance Group S–4, and British and
Canadian Army noncommissioned officers.
Before the CJDC was established, each coalition force was responsible for its
own logistics support. Few, if any, assets from one coalition force were being
used to support another. So integrating logistics assets from one nation to support
another broke new ground, and the CJDC initially faced many obstacles.
For instance, national caveats prevented the British from escorting host-nation
trucks and British rotary-wing aircraft from flying to non-British forward operating
bases (FOBs). (An FOB is a semipermanent camp that forces can establish rapidly;
it enables warfighters to extend their operational area while providing a defensible
perimeter and some minimal level of comfort.) The Canadians had no rotary-wing
aircraft, and their nearest fixed-wing aircraft were based outside of the Combined/Joint
Operations Area (CJOA). Still another example of the logistics difficulties facing
the CJDC was using U.S. fixed-wing aircraft to support a U.S. FOB that was 15
kilometers away from a British FOB that was supported by British rotary-wing
of logistics coordination among
the coalition partners
in Regional Command
South during Operation
Enduring Freedom 05–07.
Preparing the Battlefield
The CJDC began planning to synchronize all coalition distribution assets
by identifying what was available. The CJDC then began coordinating distribution
using all of the coalition forces’ logistics assets.
The process began to work immediately. All of the coalition forces’ national
support elements began coordinating directly with the CJDC for logistics-
distribution and combined-logistics operations. British C–130s and helicopters
began sustaining the U.S. 2–87 Infantry Battalion in the Baghran Valley.
U.S. fixed-wing aircraft began moving British commodities to Camp Bastion, while
Dutch C–130s began moving sustainment stocks to U.S. Forces at Tarin Kowt.
A Canadian C–130, based at Kandahar, conducted several aerial resupply
missions in support of U.S. Forces; these Containerized Delivery System missions
were the first aerial resupply missions conducted by Canadian Forces since
the Korean War.
For overland sustainment, the CJDC’s host-nation truck section coordinated
truck support for all nations, becoming the single point of contact for procuring
trucks to move rations, water, fuel, barrier materials, and major items.
A realistic and executable concept of support was paramount in this environment.
While developing the concept of support for Operation Mountain Thrust, the CJDC
anticipated that an intermediate staging base (ISB) would be required to support
combat logistics patrols along the ground lines of communication (GLOC). Forward
arming and refueling points were established along these routes to support distribution
efforts. An agreement between the U.S. and British Forces allowed for each nation
to be responsible for operating one forward arming and refueling point while
being allowed to share use of the other.
Some distribution challenges were not to be easily overcome. To illustrate
some of the challenges facing the CJDC, consider the following statistics—
Afghanistan is larger than Iraq—by 130,759 square miles—yet it has 22,126 fewer miles of paved roads.
Afghanistan has one-third as many intratheater C130 or equivalent fixed-wing airlift as are found in Iraq.
Afghanistan is completely landlocked, while Iraq has three water ports.
Afghanistan has one aviation brigade (including coalition assets), while Iraq has two U.S. Army aviation brigades and six additional U.S. Army aviation battalions.
These statistics illustrate the distribution limitations and challenges that had to be
overcome both by air and on the ground. Combat logistics patrols had not been used to a large extent
before Operation Mountain Thrust. Use of rotary-wing assets was limited by the need to meet already
existing sustainment requirements, and fixed-wing assets could not be used to their fullest extent
because of a lack of forward landing strips and an Afghan infrastructure that was inadequate at best
and nonexistent more often than not.
Container Delivery System (CDS) bundles fall out
of the back of a C–130 Hercules. CDS bundles
were one of the key ways that
Coalition Forces were kept supplied. (Photo by Senior
Airman Brian Ferguson, U.S. Air Force)
Executing Mountain Thrust
When the ground assault convoys of Operation Mountain Thrust
began to move, they had limited firm engineer data and intelligence
information on the routes to be traversed. The only information
available came from satellite imagery, standard 1:50,000-scale
maps, and aerial reconnaissance. The harshness of the terrain
faced by the operation cannot be overemphasized.
U.S. forces began moving from Bagram, Konar, and Orgun-E,
traveling between 300 and 700 kilometers to the provinces
of Oruzgan, Kandahar, and Helmand in southern Afghanistan.
Some units moved into areas that had not been occupied
by coalition forces during any previous part of Operation Enduring
Freedom. To ensure that the units had ample supplies on
hand for the initial occupation of their forward positions, the
CJDC coordinated to integrate host-nation trucks within
the task force’s movements. The host-nation trucks moved
rations, water, fuel, engineer equipment and light sets,
which enabled the task force’s organic vehicles and
forward support companies to move two ammunition basic
loads and other sensitive items.
As maneuver operations continued, it became clear that the
GLOC could not be secured on a consistent basis. The enemy
situation along the GLOCs prompted the implementation of
an improvised, multimodal hub-and-spoke distribution plan.
Supply commodities flowed via fixed-wing aircraft into
an ISB. Rotary-wing assets then were used for onward movement
of those supplies to their final destination. U.S., British,
and Canadian C–130s pushed assets to the ISB, and
British and U.S. helicopters completed the onward movement
ISB. Much of the cargo also was airdropped.
During decisive maneuver operations, the inevitable challenges
arose and the CJDC responded quickly with the required capabilities.
An example of these challenges was the recovery of a destroyed
Canadian light armored vehicle. The harsh terrain prevented
any Canadian assets from recovering the vehicle. U.S. and
Canadian forces executed a joint patrol, but successful recovery
of the vehicle eventually required a U.S. recovery vehicle.
The synchronization of all distribution assets served as
a combat multiplier. A prime example involved Task Force
Knighthawk, a multinational, mixed-asset aviation battalion
to which two Australian CH–47 cargo helicopters were
attached. This allowed for a seamless tasking chain that,
in turn, maximized lift assets across the CJOA. The CJDC’s
systems and processes provided more responsive support
while reducing the overall aircraft operating tempo, risks
and the logistics footprint.
Commodity and equipment use proved to be another hurdle to
overcome. Two prime examples included fuel sustainment and
the use of electronic countermeasure (ECM) devices. Fuel
sustainment was a challenge for all coalition partners. The
vast majority of fuel deliveries were conducted by host-nation
contracted carriers, but these deliveries unfortunately were
subject to considerable pilferage. At one point, almost half
of all fuel being pushed to the British was being stolen.
Of the fuel that reached its destination, only 80 to 90 percent
could be downloaded because so many fuel delivery vehicles
were in a state of disrepair. Coalition forces were unable
to solve the problem by internal means (such as stamping
forms and verifying signatures). The problem finally was
solved with the issuance of a
coalition-wide standing operating procedure that produced
reliable upload and download data. These data enabled the
contracting cell to charge for all missing fuel and deny
payment for the mission to a carrier missing fuel. A positive
side-effect was that the carriers began to enforce higher
standards of conduct on their drivers in order to protect
their profit margins.
The use of ECMs also required attention. Because of the
increasing reliance on improvised explosive devices, CJTF–76
directed that all elements operating outside of a base camp
or FOB use ECMs. For those coalition forces that had been
using ECMs for many years—primarily the U.S. and British
forces—this requirement was easy to implement. The
other coalition forces required assistance, which the CJDC
swiftly coordinated to provide. The Dutch, Canadians, and
Romanians did not have any ECM devices. To remedy this
dilemma, the U.S. loaned out ECM systems to each national
(in accordance with the Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement
[ACSA]) until their national sustainment lines could provide
organic systems. This solution had the added benefit of
making the ECMs of those three partners (whose areas of
bordered one another) completely compatible for joint and
Upon the successful conclusion of Operation Mountain Thrust,
the redeployment of assets also proved to be a challenge.
To mitigate the existing transportation shortfalls, the CJDC
coordinated assets to ensure synchronized support throughout
the battlefield. One instance involved coordination with
the Dutch Task Force for use of their lift assets to backhaul
containers, with the U.S. Task Force providing container-handling
support to the Dutch. Other agreements included transfer
of multiple 50,000-gallon fuel bags with hoses and couplings
to the Dutch at an outlying FOB, thus ensuring that bulk
petroleum operations would continue. These reciprocal agreements
were coordinated by the CJDC but documented through the use
of the ACSA.
The ACSA proved to be a great combat multiplier because it
allowed coalition and joint forces to use three different
means of compensation: monetary, reciprocal service or supply,
and reciprocal monetary-equivalent service or supply. This
allowed for services and goods to be provided to all coalition
members while streamlining the remuneration process. The
built-in flexibility of being able to provide compensation
through different means made cross-coalition support appealing
as well as cost and time effective.
In order to set the stage for the eventual transition of
the entire CJOA to the ANA, the CJDC conducted numerous coordination
and cooperation events. The two primary events involved ANA
riggers and senior officers from the ANA Central Movement
Agency (CMA). The ANA riggers worked side by side with U.S.
riggers to construct over 40 humanitarian assistance bundles.
These trained ANA soldiers provided a skill set that was
in short supply during the conduct of decisive operations.
The event with the CMA provided the ANA an opportunity to
observe and adopt the systems, processes, and procedures
of the CJDC. These two events had an impact across the spectrum
of operations. Strategically, the ANA was allowed to take
a step closer to assuming the full duties of the war; operationally,
the riggers prepared multiple bundles to be delivered by
Container Delivery System; and tactically, the CMA soldiers
were employed to directly support ANA units in the field.
Once the transition of authority from coalition nations to
the ANA begins in the near future, these skill sets will
ensure that the process is smooth and efficient.
The CJTF–76 Combined Joint Distribution Cell integrated
multiple coalition partners to sustain maneuver forces in
Operation Mountain Thrust, which gave the task forces operational
flexibility and the ability to maintain momentum throughout
their successful attacks. The CJDC used economies of scale
by integrating all coalition logistics assets at their disposal
while constantly anticipating requirements. The CJDC responded
well to the challenges of supporting mobile maneuver forces
in extremely austere locations with diverse resources while
gaining invaluable experience for upcoming coalition logistics
operations. Like CENTCOM’s Deployment and Distribution
Operations Center at the strategic and operational levels,
the CJDC provides an excellent model for future integration
of coalition logistics at the tactical level.
Lieutenant Colonel Courtney Taylor is the Commander of the
330th Movement Control Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade,
in Operation Enduring Freedom. He has served in troop leadership
and staff positions as a logistics officer in three divisions
and the 1st Corps Support Command. He holds an M.S. degree
in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology.
Captain Leonard B. Della-Moretta III is the Assistant Operations
Officer of the 330th Movement Control Battalion. A Transportation
Corps Officer who was branch detailed to the Infantry, he
holds a B.A. degree in political science and international
relations from the University