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Sustaining a Resilient Joint Force and Defense Ecosystem that Enables Integrated Deterrence Part 1 of 2


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Sustaining a Resilient Joint Force and Defense Ecosystem that Enables Integrated Deterrence Part 1 of 2

by Christopher J. Lowman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment

Integrated Deterrence entails working seamlessly across warfighting domains, theaters, the spectrum of conflict, all instruments of U.S. national power, and our network of alliances and partnerships. … To shore up the foundations for integrated deterrence and campaigning, we will act urgently to build enduring advantages across the defense ecosystem. 

2022 National Defense Strategy

Today’s rapidly changing strategic environment demands a deliberate and determined focus on sustaining the readiness of our weapon systems. Peer competitors increasingly hold at risk our defense ecosystem’s ability to deliver Warfighter support. Given the implications of peer competition and the priorities in the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS), our nation’s ability to deliver cost-effective readiness will determine our success in sustaining and strengthening U.S. deterrence. 

My focus, as the DoD’s top sustainer, is to build a resilient defense ecosystem that is fast, mobile, and lethal enough to enable the NDS goals of Integrated Deterrence and building enduring advantages for the future Joint Force. 

To realize this top-level defense priority, the DoD will address four challenges:

  1. We will pursue the ability to navigate and prevail through a Contested Logistics environment.
  2. We will secure our ability to deliver cost-effective weapon system readiness.
  3. We will maintain, modernize, balance, and align the Industrial Base across our network of organic, domestic, and international partner capabilities.
  4. Finally, we will leverage data and analytics to inform decisions that bring to bear the collective power of the Defense Industrial Base.

This article addresses the first two challenges, and a subsequent article (Part 2 of 2) will address the remaining two challenges.

The Defense Ecosystem 

The defense ecosystem comprises the DoD, the Defense Industrial Base, and the array of the private sector and academic enterprises that create and sharpen the Joint Force’s technological edge. The Defense Industrial Base includes public and private sector industrial capabilities delivering products and services (such as maintenance, repair, overhaul, and supply chain management) to sustain weapon systems.

Prevailing Through Contested Logistics

In recent decades, U.S. forces operated without much strategic risk to logistics. We operated from secure bases, got comfortable with large numbers of contractors in theater, and relied on contractor-provided distribution of critical supplies. Today, we face a new global reality—defined by “Contested Logistics”—with kinetic and nonkinetic disruptions that challenge our agility, flexibility, and survivability. To withstand and recover quickly from disruptions, the Combatant Commands must be postured with sufficient resources (e.g., munitions and fuel) to prevail in future fights characterized by speed and lethality. Integrated Deterrence demands that sustainment will no longer be “monolithic”—it must be distributed and responsive. 

Consider the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, where everything is highly distributed, and lines of communication are long. A significant portion of combat power will require resupplying underway to distributed combat operations or prepositioning of war reserve materiel globally to provide an initial capability. By using exercises that challenge assumptions about prepositioned supplies and equipment, and exploring ways to leverage strategic allies’ and partners’ logistics capabilities, we are stressing logistics support to identify gaps and weaknesses. We find that, to outpace our adversaries, we must shift from a “pull logistics” response framework to a predictive approach that anticipates demand and that will “push logistics” to the point of need. 


Navy Seaman Kyhri Adams repairs the internal drive shaft of an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean Sea

Navy Seaman Kyhri Adams repairs the internal drive shaft of an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean Sea, Aug. 14, 2022. 

Source: U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Hunter Day

In a contested environment, we cannot simply assume that logistics support is available. In fact, planning should assume the opposite. We should assume that support will be limited in scope and duration and require more time to reconstitute. 

While it is essential to build agility, survivability, and resiliency into our sustainment capabilities, designing weapon systems that require less support has compounding benefits for operating in a contested environment. I am a strong proponent of influencing system design for supportability early in the life cycle—to shift sustainment thinking “left.” This will have a twofold effect: First, prioritizing sustainment into weapon systems design and product support strategies (PSSs) will enable distributed maintenance and supply to reduce the logistics footprint. This approach will free up scarce resources, particularly logistics enablers such as aerial and surface fleet tankers, airlift and sealift, as well as intratheater connectors. Second, addressing weapon system supportability early in the design process is the best way to influence reliability, maintainability, and supportability design decisions. If systems are more durable, break less often, and can be repaired quickly, availability and readiness increase while cost and logistics footprints decrease. 

By treating sustainment attributes as essential performance requirements and not options, we will smartly accelerate advances in hypersonics, directed energy, and other technologies. We will get these capabilities and systems into the hands of our Warfighters as quickly as possible to address capability gaps and maintain a technological edge over our adversaries. 

These new technologies will likely bring unique sustainment challenges, placing even more emphasis on designing resilient, secure, and effective supply chains. These will withstand and recover quickly from disruption while illuminating and mitigating risks such as counterfeit parts, natural disasters, and climate change. Addressing these requirements early in the acquisition cycle ensures that systems meet Warfighter operational availability and reliability while optimizing operations and support (O&S) over the weapon system’s life cycle.

The role of the sustainment community 

Enabling effective execution of sustainment strategies and ensuring an effective materiel readiness posture will be the key to deterring future conflicts. The sustainment community plays a vital role in the strategic development of supply chains and the U.S. Industrial Base capability. We must consider the desired outcome for sustainment early in the life cycle of weapon systems to drive requirements that ultimately deliver sustainable, affordable warfighting capabilities.

Effective and Affordable Weapon System Readiness

Building and sustaining a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem requires institutional-level, sustainment-focused governance to jump-start and accelerate change. 

The current and future environment will favor those who can adjust and adapt to change. Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Within my organization, we are focused on meaningful, value-added change. We are identifying opportunities to influence weapon system readiness and operating and support cost drivers. This requires horizontal and cross-functional alignment to focus on systemic challenges and resource solutions that deliver the highest readiness return on investment. 

To drive change, I have chartered a new Sustainment Executive Steering Committee (SESC) as a forum for synchronizing strategies for maintenance, product support, and logistics policies, programs, and associated activities oversight. The SESC will look across portfolios and identify priorities, gaps, or conflicts, and harmonize requirements supporting the NDS. 

SESC outputs will inform the DoD’s sustainment inputs for the planning, programming, budgeting, and execution processes. The SESC will provide recommendations on sustainment equities to the appropriate higher level governance forums such as the Joint Logistics Requirements Review Board, Integrated Acquisition Portfolio Reviews (IAPRs), Focused Sustainment IAPRs, Joint Logistics Board, Defense Business Council, Industrial Base Council, or other appropriate forums. 

Another approach to weapon system readiness and cost driver management is a well-conceived and executed intellectual property (IP) strategy. For a new weapon system or major modification, contracting for “all of the data” is either unaffordable or unattainable—and rarely appropriate. As a department, we should build the appropriate data rights and options into our contracts, competitively priced and flexible enough to address future PSS changes. 

Advanced manufacturing is an example of the nexus between IP and sustainment. Data for advanced (e.g., additive) manufacturing, secured through appropriate license rights or fees (e.g., “IP as a Service”), to print parts on demand provide a competitive advantage to produce mission-critical parts in areas under attack or experiencing disruptive supply chains.

If systems are more durable, break less often, and can be repaired quickly, availability and readiness increase while cost and logistics footprint decrease.


To sustain a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem that enables Integrated Deterrence, we must have “all hands on deck,” with each member doing their part, as follows:

  • The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Military Component Headquarters will provide policy, tools, and training to enable a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem.
  • Program offices will prioritize sustainment early in weapon system design, collaborate with the Defense Industrial Base providers in designing resilient maintenance concepts and supply chains, and continue to focus on Warfighter needs.
  • DoD sustainment organizations (maintenance, supply, and tech services) will collaborate with program offices to align and synchronize capabilities to system designs and the approved PSS. They will continue to adopt new technologies and process improvements that deliver effective and affordable Warfighter support.
  • Industry partners’ assistance is needed in designing and implementing capable, reliable systems, and PSS that increase readiness and resilience and reduce costs. In DoD, we understand our partners’ need to earn a reasonable profit by satisfying shareholders and investing internally in research and development. The identification of how they can fill current and future capability and capacity gaps is essential for supporting flexible, agile, robust solutions to the Warfighter.
  • Allies and partners will see us leverage our shared values, and economic and geopolitical interests to establish mutually supporting industrial base capabilities and product support solutions that are integrated and interoperable, where possible.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Rather repairs a close-in weapon system aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in the Ionian Sea

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Rather repairs a close-in weapon system aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in the Ionian Sea, April 19, 2022. 

Source: U.S. Navy photo by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Crayton Agnew

Closing Thoughts

To meet the needs of our nation on its path forward into what President Biden describes as a “decisive decade,” we need to think differently about sustainment. To execute the central charge of the 2022 NDS to develop, combine, and coordinate our strengths to maximum effect—the core of Integrated Deterrence—we must build and sustain a resilient joint force and defense ecosystem that prevails within contested environments. We need to harness the power of new technologies and identify and address cross-cutting weapon system readiness and cost drivers. 

My next article will discuss the future of data-informed sustainment and the need to ensure the right balance of core logistics capabilities with private-sector sustainment providers. We need a team effort to build the resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem. Program offices, sustainment organizations, industry partners, and allies will each have a role and responsibility to think critically, embrace innovation and risk-taking, and make data-informed decisions that help realize Integrated Deterrence.

LOWMAN is the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment. He advises the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and oversees the Defense Logistics Agency and Defense Microelectronics Activity. After serving over three decades across the U.S. Army and the Joint Force, he performed the duties of Under Secretary of the Army in 2021-2022. Lowman holds an M.S. degree from the National War College and an M.B.A. from Monmouth University. 

The author can be contacted at [email protected]

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