Q&A: USAF’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Engineering, and Force Protection

Lt. Gen. Warren D. Berry is the deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering, and force protection. His portfolio includes everything from aircraft readiness to base housing. Editorial Director John A. Tirpak spoke with Berry about new logistics concepts, air base defense, and managing the health of the Air Force’s facilities. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. You can also read more on Berry’s views on resilient and agile logistics in this December Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies forum paper.

Q. The Air Force has been talking a lot about agile combat logistics and logistics under fire. Are they the same thing?

A. Not quite, but they’re absolutely related. The National Defense Strategy gave us this operational problem, “Logistics Under Attack.” We’ve enjoyed years of being able to do resupply and replenishment with little resistance from an adversary, in a permissive or semi-permissive environment. That probably won’t be the case in the future. We understand that the threat will be both kinetic and nonkinetic.

We’ve coalesced around a concept of “persistent logistics.” It has three major lines of effort: posture, sense, and respond. Posture is how we set the theater, do prepositioned equipment, where we put war readiness materiel, and how we sustain it in advance of a potential fight. It’s about … preparing for that non-kinetic attack, disruptive technologies that can be brought to bear, about hardening some of our critical nodes and training Airmen to be more multi-capable; to do more than just their primary job. And it’s about helping our allies and partners, and recognizing the capabilities that they bring.

Then, sensing. We have a lot of data and a lot of information in the logistics space, but we don’t have the capability to catalog and clean it of spurious inputs and understand gaps in data integrity. There are unit codes that tell us what went wrong with a system, or a part, and we need to be able to collate that and turn it into information we can use.

The data are so voluminous that a person in the loop can’t possibly digest it all. We need to make it actionable, even predictive, so we know when the next failure is going to happen on an airplane and anticipate the parts that will be needed. So I need to sense the environment and use those data to help me know what’s going on, logistically.

We need digital modernization to get data that are far more useful to us. You might hear it called Log COP, which is Logistics Common Operating Picture. The goal is to get these data into a secure, resilient system that I can protect and have it available to senior decision-makers so we know the state of play in logistics at virtually any moment. The goal is actionable logistics intelligence that is both proactive and predictive.

Then, I need to respond. But, that response has to be at the speed of relevance to the warfighter, and respond with the broader logistics enterprise; our air logistics complexes, our organic capability, and our defense industrial base. The response may come from artificial intelligence and machine learning or it might be through a different distribution network, or responding in different ways to protect our assets that are deployed in theater. All of that is the conceptual framework for persistent logistics.

We’re looking at that now, and asking ourselves, where are the capability gaps, so we can go to the corporate Air Force to say, these are the capabilities we need to develop to logistically support the fight.

Q. And what are some of those?

A. Autonomous distribution, Agility Prime. We’re also looking at artificial intelligence to push parts to the field instead of waiting for the demand signal; particularly in a situation where communication is degraded. How do I mitigate that? Maybe I get into block-chain-like capabilities, that help me protect my data and give me more of a predictive capability.

There may also be gaps in personnel, training, and doctrine, that we need to fill.

Some we inherently know; others will come to light as we do more study. We may need new forms of distribution, but it has to be in context. In Europe, there’s a robust infrastructure; in the Pacific, you have that tyranny of distance. But, we’re pretty sure we need to do distribution a bit differently. Our logistics common operating picture isn’t where it needs to be.

I’m sure we’re going to find more gaps, such as in runway repair. Gaps in how we do supply kits and posture units with readiness spares packages, so they have what they think they’ll need for a certain duration of a fight. Those are a few.

Q. When will you have a roadmap for all of this?

A. We will finalize the Logistics Under Attack concept in the spring, and we’ll start the capability gap analysis after that. My goal is, by the end of ’21, have the capability gap analysis done so we can begin getting at the things we need.

Q. Pacific Air Forces said it’s examined every theater airfield for possible operating locations, and they’re thinking about a hub-and-spoke distribution concept as USAF moves toward quick deployments to austere fields. Are you involved with that?

A. The regional theater commanders are what I would call the “thought and experiment leaders,” but we are clearly part of that team. We’ve done some exercises, and learned that we need to rethink the footprint that we’re sending with the unit, in terms of the Airmen, and supplies, and equipment. We need to be a little lighter and leaner. Part of that is rethinking those spares packages, so that when a core unit goes to a hub, and then goes out to the spokes after that, they can be self-contained for a short amount of time.

Using all those airfields can really complicate the adversary’s targeting calculus; it gives us a lot more agility and unpredictability. But, I have to support that in a way that I’m not necessarily having to resupply, replenish, and support them on a near-continuous basis.

We need to understand what a multiskilled Airman looks like; what are the complementary skill sets we can really capitalize on, and then come up with a training plan so we don’t put a burden on each individual wing to develop that.

Q. As the Air Force develops this shell game concept, how will you defend these far-flung sites? The Army won’t have enough Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense or Patriots to cover everybody. Is the idea to just get in and get out quickly, or will you be taking some kind of organic defense with you?

A. I think it’s going to be both.

There’s no silver bullet—no best methodology—to protect the force once it’s in the fight. I have to assume there will be some theater protection, but some of our adversaries have pretty deep magazines, and maybe there will be leakage. 

I look at what I can control, and that means looking at it through the lens of point defense. Moving the force under the Agile Combat Employment concept helps with force protection. Beyond that, there’s a spectrum of opportunities to protect the base.

At the low end, it’s things we’ve done in the past: camouflage, concealment, and deception; being opaque about allowing our adversary to see what we’re doing.

Then, I’ve got to protect the perimeter. In many cases, we can rely on the host nation to do that.  It depends on the capability they have, but they’ll be engaged in this conflict as well. Protecting the perimeter also means I have to have situational awareness of the AOR (area of responsibility); sensors and detection capabilities, infrared. I have to give that, in greater volume, to my defenders.

And then I have to look at other capabilities I can put in their hands to counter small unmanned aerial systems.

Q. What’re the key things you need in the next three to five years?

A. I really need to give our defenders that broader battlespace awareness. To see further out, see the threats that are materializing, have command, control, and communications systems, Blue Force tracker, to evolve that capability to make it more robust for them.

Capability against Class 1-3 UAS, working with the Army as executive agent to get that capability in greater volume, that’s near-term.

Further out, it might be directed energy, lasers, that we can use to counter rockets and mortars and things of that nature. But that won’t be available to me in the next year or two.

Q. Do you feel like the Army is giving enough attention and resources to helping you in this regard?

A. Certainly for small counter-UAS, they are. We’ve been working very well with them in the Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office. It’s been pretty collaborative …to get common systems, open architectures so we can all plug in together and share the operating picture. And that feeds into the broader joint all-domain command and control conversation that we’re having. The experience has been pretty positive.

Q. This has been a landmark year for natural disasters: wildfires, hurricanes. What are you doing to harden bases against these calamities?

A. The poster child for air base resiliency efforts would be Tyndall (Air Force Base, Fla.], as a result of Hurricane Michael, and Offutt [Air Force Base, Neb.,] to a smaller degree, with the floods that happened there. We have some milcon projects there to rebuild resiliency to severe weather.

Congress has been very supportive … in our attempt to build Tyndall back to what we need, and not build it back to what we had. We’re taking a different approach to how we’re constructing the base. We’ve modified the design criteria to better account for high-category hurricanes. We’re taking into consideration more stringent design standards in flood plains … to handle 100-year floods.

But we’re also putting sensors on facilities, so I can do predictive maintenance—using the same idea we’re using with airplanes—and putting in smart systems to better control energy consumption.

Across the Air Force, our physical plant value is about $350 billion. I’m not going to be able to make all of it resilient and hurricane- and flood-proof overnight. But all of those design standards go into all our new … renovation and modernization projects.

After Hurricane Michael, Chief of Staff General [David] Goldfein commissioned a Severe Weather Readiness Assessment team to look at that, and treat severe weather as an adversary. They came up with 129 recommendations on how to do a better job, from forecasting to sheltering to evacuation timelines. We completed about 25 percent of that quickly; what I would call the “high reward, low difficulty” ones.  We’re working through the rest, but as you said, this was a heck of a year: We had 30 named storms. Based on some of the actions we took, we came out of it relatively unscathed. It’s not all about design standards, it’s about actions we can take in advance of severe weather. I think we’re on a good path.

Q. Are you comfortable with the resources going to upkeep of facilities, or is USAF digging an even deeper hole?

A. My business in the A4 is sustainment of both weapon systems and infrastructure. Would I like more funding in those areas? Absolutely. We have more mission in the Air Force than we have resources to do it all. So there’s some hard choices to be made.

But we do have an investment strategy to get after our infrastructure. It calls for investing in a different way that helps us get out of our maintenance backlog. We used to fix “worst first,” but in doing that, we put a lot of money toward failed facilities. We had little left over for more routine maintenance on facilities that were in good shape but needed attention. It was the equivalent of changing a couple of engines instead of doing a whole bunch of oil changes, and we kept getting behind the power curve.

Now we’re investing in what we call the “sweet spot” of a facility’s life cycle; putting more money into oil changes, if you will. We’re prioritizing funding for those facilities that are still good. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still putting money toward failed facilities, it’s just a shift in the priority and volume of dollars that go to each. And looking at whether I even need to recapitalize a particular building and maybe use that space differently, getting after a better footprint on the installation.

This is about understanding the inventory you have, the condition of each building and system within the building, and targeting dollars against systems that need repair but have not yet failed.