Huston’s sixteen principles: assessing operational performance during Op Desert Storm

By Chris Paparone.

This article is interesting not only for its historical value, but in the way Chris Paparone utilised the sixteen principles of logistics derived from the classic American history of Army logistics, Dr James Huston’s The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953. The book was written soon after the conclusion of the Korean War (Huston was the US Army’s official historian) and the principles were subsequently adapted into US Army doctrine. The principles described are worth comparing against recent doctrine, and offer logisticians a good set of criteria to review events.

This article was originally published in US ‘Army Logistician’ (preceding ‘Army Sustainment’) soon after the lessons of Desert Storm starting spilling into the public domain. Following this operation there was a major shift in the way supply was conducted from a classic ‘push’ approach to a demand and distribution-based ‘pull’ method as applied in Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom in 2002 and 2003. In any case the lessons, and the method by which the problems of Desert Storm were examined, remain pertinent today. Editor.

In the Persian Gulf War, the XVIII Airborne Corps experienced the full spectrum of logistics, from deployment in an austere contingency environment, through the painstaking development of a mature, 126,000-soldier corps, to participation in a theater logistics structure that combined U.S. and host nation support systems. During the war’s ground offensive in February 1991, this support structure permitted the corps to maneuver over record distances and achieve operational and tactical objectives with great speed.

Looking back at the war, our logistics supremacy is clear. However, hindsight also allows us to measure our performance against time-tested tenets of logistics success: the 16 Principles of Logistics defined in the Army Strategic Logistic Systems Plan (which are derived from the principles described by Dr. James A. Huston in his historical study, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953). Using the 16 principles as our guide, I would like to share some observations my colleagues and I made while we served as staffers in the XVIII Airborne Corps during the Gulf War. The insights gained from this exercise may encourage logisticians to use the principles in planning and executing logistics support operations in future conflicts.

As a test of our logistics systems, the Gulf War ground offensive was very short. The real “logistics war” was fought during the 6 months of buildup that preceded the ground campaign. Our logistics offensive plans had to be executed several months before “G-Day;” preparations for Desert Storm had to be made during Desert Shield. For these reasons, I use the Principles of Logistics to look at our performance in a logistics continuum, without regard to the distinction often made between Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.


The United States took a deliberate risk, and violated the principle of equivalence, by deciding to deploy combat forces before building a satisfactory logistics support structure at either the corps or theater level. Our operational reach and our ability to conduct a mobile defense during the first 120 days after the President decided to send troops to Southwest Asia were hampered by our lack of combat service support (CSS) units and adequate supply stocks. More significant as a sign of the lack of equivalence, the XVIII Airborne Corps decided it was not prepared to mount an early, one-corps offensive, even when pressured by theater commanders to plan for such action.

The late arrival of critical corps CSS units demonstrated that our initial defensive strategy was governed more by deterrence and deception than sustainability. To distribute the limited supplies of fuel, ammunition, and subsistence, the corps used the limited number of available host nation trucks and a system of supply point distribution. Distributing supplies was complicated by the simultaneous need to defend a huge area: the eastern portion of Saudi Arabia, where the corps area of operations was 175 kilometers wide and 300 kilometers deep.

However, the principle of equivalence was not ignored when planning for the Desert Storm offensive campaign began. By that time, logistics and tactical considerations were on an equal footing in developing maneuver options and determining the feasibility of each course of action. Great care was taken to ensure that the mix of CSS elements was in proportion to the rest of the corps. And logistics factors were weighed carefully by the corps and the Army Central Command (ARCENT) commanders when they selected the best alternative for the attack.

An important aspect of the equivalence principle is the need to maintain a comparable grade structure between logistics commands and other commands. Equivalence of rank is found at division level: the commander of a division support command (DISCOM) is a colonel—the same rank as the commander of the divisional maneuver brigade the DISCOM supports. In the Persian Gulf War, the 1st Corps Support Command (COSCOM)—then the largest major subordinate command of the XVIII Airborne Corps, with over 22,000 assigned or attached soldiers—was commanded by a full colonel. (Fortunately, the Army has since recognized that the complexity and importance of the COSCOM warrants a commander of brigadier general rank. I believe that a COSCOM commander actually should be a major general, equivalent to a division commander.) In contrast, the commander of the theater-level 22d Support Command (SUPCOM), Major General (later Lieutenant General) William Pagonis, held a rank more appropriate for the commander of a corps-sized unit.

Materiel Precedence

This principle was clearly violated. Many units arrived in country weeks before their equipment, and CSS equipment was deployed as the last priority at all levels. Most difficult to overcome were the distribution problems created by a lack of medium trucks to sustain the corps while it was dispersed in defensive sectors.

With few exceptions, XVIII Airborne Corps combat units were equipped by mid-February 1991 with the newest and best materiel available. This was due to Herculean, though last-minute, materiel fielding efforts. Many CSS units, however, went to war either short of their authorized equipment, at a low authorized level of organization, or without the latest available technology.

Use of pre-positioned cargo ships from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was obviously a success story. These ships provided the first real sustainment package to the corps until shipments from the United States and Europe could be completed.

Forward Impetus

During its initial rapid deployment, with the exception of limited pre-positioned war reserves on the ships from Diego Garcia, the XVIII Airborne Corps received very little supply automatically pushed from wholesale depots. The “pull system” had to be employed in combination with pushes of preplanned sustainment supplies from the corps’ home station accounts at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The initial preplanned supply shipments (IPSS) mentioned in the corps’ Southwest Asia war plans never materialized.

Automatic resupply of fuel, rations, and ammunition was planned for the ground offensive. That the ground campaign was brief (only 100 hours) was fortunate, because most of the bulk fuel and common-user land transportation (CULT) cargo trucks were sent forward with the attacking forces as “rolling warehouses.” The corps’ general support (GS) base was virtually absent and unable to provide timely follow-on resupply. Also, supported units were slow in returning trucks, which caused much nail biting in the logistics community. At one point, to compensate for the truck shortages, we resorted to sending Saudi Arabian commercial fuel trucks over the Iraqi border to build sustainment forward, at great potential political and physical risk to host nation assets and civilian personnel.


Most of the medium truck companies deployed to Southwest Asia were equipped with M915 commercial-style tractor trucks and M872 40-foot semitrailers. Although these vehicles were appropriate for hard-surfaced roads, their inability to operate over land severely constrained the corps’ ability to resupply ammunition as planned. This lack of cross-country-capable trucks forced tactical planners to clear the only hard-surfaced road in the corps sector (Main Supply Route Texas), which also was the road most heavily defended by the Iraqi forces.

To gain a cross-country capability, the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) elected to trade M932 tractors from supporting nondivisional POL (petroleum, oils, and lubricants) truck companies for vehicles capable of hauling M872 ammunition trailers over land. The division judged that not having sufficient fuel delivered forward
was a lesser risk than not having enough ammunition forward. For the duration of the 100-hour ground offensive, a reported thirty 5,000-gallon tanker semitrailers remained unemployed because of the lack of cross-country-capable prime movers.

We also had too few organic heavy equipment transporters (HET’s) and lowboys to efficiently move the corps into position across long distances. The corps needed to make 1,508 moves with HET’s and 721 with lowboys to shift from its defensive positions to offensive tactical assembly areas (TAA’s), but it was equipped with less than 100 HET’s and even fewer lowboys. Fortunately, host nation and allied forces pitched in to assist our efforts to move the corps. This made the desired timing of the ground attack feasible.

For the offensive, many divisional internal supplies and equipment had to be moved west by CULT trucks. This was less the case with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and more so with the 82d Airborne Division and the mechanized forces of the 24th Infantry Division and the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. For example, the 82d Airborne Division required over 500 tactical cargo trucks to motorize 3 brigades of infantry. These trucks were provided from theater and 1st COSCOM assets. (They were replaced by less mobile and less reliable commercial 5-ton-equivalent trucks. Interestingly, these replacements were mostly Mercedes trucks, which were colorfully painted and nicknamed “circus trucks.”) The effect was to reduce the corps’ ability to stockpile supplies inland and provide off-road-capable resupply during offensive operations.


Late in the XVIII Airborne Corps’ preparation for defensive operations, several support areas were established with stocks of ammunition, fuel, water, and food. These areas were well dispersed and were placed logically to assume successive fallback positions if necessary.

In contrast, a degree of risk was accepted in placing large quantities of supplies forward in relatively small areas at unprotected corps and theater logistics bases to support offensive operations. The loss or denial of one of these log bases could have significantly impaired the offensive capability of ARCENT and Marine Central Command ground forces. Fortunately, our intelligence estimates correctly viewed enemy disruption of these bases as unlikely, especially in light of our overwhelming air superiority.


During the strategic deployment of the XVIII Airborne Corps, we found that our heaviest element, the 24th Infantry Division, closed in Saudi Arabia earlier than our lightest force, the 82d Airborne Division. This disparity occurred because the 24th Infantry Division made economical use of fast sealift, rather than piecemeal airlifting of its troops and equipment, and because the 82d Airborne Division had never planned on deploying by sea. We concluded that fast roll-on-roll-off ships were worth their weight in gold, but there weren’t enough of them.

During defensive preparations, we observed that many units stockpiled supplies to the point of hoarding. When we shifted west to prepare for the offensive, units abandoned or destroyed supplies while still in their defensive positions because they lacked transportation to move them. Waste made for an uneconomical transition to offense. We specified that priority of movement went to building up stocks forward as the corps moved to offensive TAA’s.

Arguably, we were not economical in using our limited number of CULT trucks when we started to move. Such a massive and rapid operational displacement of a large force had never been accomplished before; unfortunately, we did not make optimal use of our limited cargo-hauling capability. Three factors were primarily responsible for this failure—

· Unit cargoes were more than the minimum necessary to accomplish the mission. For example, units carried portable latrines and showers and containers of bottled, rather than bulk, water.

· Divisions were not as mobile as envisioned in doctrinal publications.

· We lacked the organization and long-distance communications needed to control the use of our CULT assets.


While we planned for defense and attempted to monitor the buildup of logistics assets and their employment, we lacked detailed logistics estimates at all levels. This deficiency was mostly due to the unknown disposition and arrival dates of major CSS units. By the time the 1st COSCOM closed in country, we already were planning and preparing detailed logistics estimates for the offensive campaign. As a result, estimates for the defense were neither fully completed nor properly documented in the XVIII Airborne Corps.

The logistics estimates prepared for the offensive campaign relied heavily upon the intelligence and operations estimates for obtaining realistic ammunition and fuel consumption forecasts, as well as data on capabilities and expected shortfalls in distribution. In most cases, ammunition and fuel consumption estimates were overstated, resulting in the commitment of too many corps assets to follow advancing maneuver elements. This error delayed sustaining resupply scheduled in support of future operations.

The corps’ logistics estimates showed a potential  deficit of 100 bulk fuel tractor-trailers to support the depth of operations expected. The actual fuel distribution shortfall came close to that forecast. We concluded that our carrying capacity was sufficient, but that we probably misallocated tanker assets that were with maneuver units. If the war had been longer, the additional tankers would have been needed to reduce risks in achieving operational reach.

The Army needs a faster and more accurate method for developing logistics estimates. FM 101-10-1, Staff Officers’ Field Manual—Organizational, Technical, and Logistical Data, does not provide data on time, distance, and consumption rates needed to develop realistic logistics requirements. Because of the lack of supply asset visibility—the result of a general ineffectiveness of logistics automated systems—we lacked current information needed for making supply and transportation estimates.


One of the XVIII Airborne Corps’ greatest strengths was the support provided by Air Force intratheater air assets. We used C-130 transports to move thousands of soldiers, many tons of rolling stock, and repair parts in preparation for the offensive. During our displacement from defensive positions to offensive TAA’s, 2,703 wheeled vehicles, 15,848 passengers, and 116 pallets were moved into place in just 14 days. In addition, we received outstanding aerial bulk fuel delivery service, which gave the corps significant operational flexibility.

Each day, the Air Force delivered from 100,000 to more than 120,000 gallons of fuel to Log Base Charlie, using a field landing strip constructed from a two-lane paved road by Army engineers . This remarkable capability—enough to sustain the daily minimal combat operations of the 101st Airborne Division—would have shifted forward into Iraq if the war had lasted longer. Ironically, we learned too late that the 101st DISCOM did not have the proper equipment and trained personnel to extract fuel at a forward air strip. Only the 101st Corps Support Group had that capability, and they were still located in Saudi Arabia at Log Base Charlie.

We have noted already our lack of flexibility in moving GS support and cross-country-capable distribution assets. Such assets were needed to support the follow-on offensive exploitation and pursuit operations that were planned.


Synchronizing logistics efforts at each level of support, from theater down to separate-brigade-sized units, was the single most difficult planning challenge. Written plans detailing the time and location of required support tasks had to be prepared and staffed at each level. Formal, documented plans were not available from echelons above corps (EAC). Most of our theater logistics plans were on Harvard Graphics slide presentations that changed from week to week. As a result, misunderstandings surfaced during the execution of SUPCOM commitments for transportation, fuel, and ammunition in support of the corps. Our corps commander had to go “toe-to-toe” with the SUPCOM commander more than once.

The corps faced the logistics challenges of planning and executing support for a major ground offensive while simultaneously conducting major materiel fieldings, supporting movement operations, securing logistics areas, maintaining aviation and wheeled assets, building and maintaining a usable road network, supporting multiple field landing strips and airports, and creating forward stocks of fuel (5.8 million gallons), ammunition (35,000 tons), and rations (more than 2 million meals and 1 million gallons of purified water). All in all, these activities were accomplished at the right time and place so the ground attack could proceed on schedule.


A significant lack of continuity existed when the 1st COSCOM was put together in theater during the Desert Shield buildup. Peacetime command and control arrangements were inadequate to handle a force structure comprising a host of active and reserve component units from all over Forces Command. Most of these units had never trained or been associated with what were now their wartime higher headquarters until they arrived in country. It is understandable that the 1st COSCOM commanders and staff experienced great difficulty in directing an organization that grew to four times its peacetime size. The ad hoc nature of the corps’ logistics organization led to numerous problems in standardizing standing operating procedures and in centrally managing critical assets.

Similar continuity problems arose with the ad hoc theater SUPCOM, later designated the 22d SUPCOM. This organization began as a small group of hand-picked officers from the continental United States (CONUS), augmented by soldiers from the U.S. Army Military Training Mission, Saudi Arabia. As time progressed, hundreds of soldiers flowed into Saudi Arabia from all over CONUS to form the improvised SUPCOM.

Although there were numerous examples of supply and maintenance training deficiencies that made the transition to war difficult, the most glaring problem was implementing procedures for organizational clothing and individual equipment (OCIE). Units traditionally obtained OCIE support from their installation central issue facilities, and they were ill-prepared to establish unit OCIE operations in the field.

Our ability to support mortuary affairs services was limited by the lack of trained personnel and equipment  available from both the active and reserve components. Although we processed only 21 remains, we felt we would have been unprepared to support the estimated 950 remains anticipated in corps plans.


There has been speculation that the United States could have forced Iraq from Kuwait earlier if we had possessed the increased strategic mobility needed to move our forces more rapidly into the theater. What we do know is that the 6 months we needed to move a two-corps army into position allowed Iraq the same amount of time to fortify its positions.

Shipments of desert camouflage uniforms (DCU’s) and other desert individual clothing and equipment were not accomplished fast enough to keep pace with the buildup or to replace items lost through normal wear and tear. Many XVIII Airborne Corps soldiers went for months without more than two sets of DCU’s. We observed that VII Corps troops never had enough DCU’s during the offensive operation—most wore the green battle dress uniform.


We mistrusted the reporting of logistics status at all levels during both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In fact, we suspected that some units distorted or misrepresented their logistics status on purpose in order to gain an advantage in the corps’ allocation of scarce resources. The aberrant reporting probably stemmed from a lack of confidence in the supply system, which was instilled in units when they received neither corps nor EAC support in the first 120 days. Abuse of the high-priority designator system for supply requisitioning also indicated lack of confidence and discipline in the supply system.

Another aspect of fixing logistics responsibility is forming a well-developed logistics concept of operation and a list of tasks specified by phase of the operation. Logisticians must painstakingly cross walk these tasks with the other battlefield operating systems and ensure that vertical coordination is conducted with staff planners at both higher and lower levels. We found execution at lower levels of support was much better than implementation at higher levels, which we attributed to a lack of adherence to specified tasks at higher levels and an ability to perform implied tasks at lower levels.

We found that responsibility was better fixed at lower levels of command because of the performance-oriented nature of the organizations and the sound doctrine that they had practiced at the combat training centers. Higher level oral, as opposed to written, commitments for support were subject to misinterpretation and were limited to what those involved could remember.

Unity of Command

One of our most frustrating experiences involved the command and control of CULT truck assets during the XVIII Airborne Corps’ displacement west. Emerging doctrine, practiced in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, calls for placing CULT trucks forward in corps support groups, while controlling their use from the corps movement control center (MCC). In effect, this doctrine calls for decentralized command and centralized control—not a very effective combination when attempting a large-scale operational maneuver.

Once they received mission taskings for trucks from the MCC, truck unit commanders could not control soldiers or equipment well because of the fragmentation of their organizations and the loss of unit integrity. Under the Army’s old doctrine, which called for placing CULT trucks under a transportation brigade, better command and control can be maintained and better use can be made of limited transportation assets. This point was brought home when we observed how the French forces’ HET’s were employed as a company element rather than piecemeal. While making multiple trips, including moving XVIII Airborne Corps assets, the French HET unit never missed a scheduled pickup or experienced a breakdown.

Another insight gained from our large-scale movement was that the corps MCC probably should be a major subordinate command of the corps headquarters and not the COSCOM. The functions of the MCC overlap greatly with other battlefield operating systems, and setting priorities for using CULT assets and making road movements must be supervised from the corps command post to ensure unity of command. The MCC commander should wear two hats: commander, when in the movement control and traffic management business, and corps transportation officer, when in a policy and planning role. The concept is similar to that already employed by other battlefield operating systems, such as the corps engineer acting as commander of the engineer brigade, the corps surgeon commanding the medical brigade, and the corps fire support officer commanding the corps artillery.


Good logistics results from good information. In the Gulf War, logisticians at all levels had to work very hard to communicate up and down the echelons of support. Fortunately, we were generally well supported by the signal community, which provided access to the multichannel and high-frequency systems we needed to pass logistics information at the division and support group levels.

The XVIII Airborne Corps required units to submit a daily logistics status report through materiel management center channels. The purpose of the report was  to provide each echelon of materiel management centers with the current status of supply, maintenance, transportation, and services at their supply support activities and direct support and GS units. The intent was that action would be taken at the appropriate level to correct deficiencies or assist units in obtaining required support. The report format was quite lengthy—the resulting corps compilation was 30 to 40 pages long—and we experienced erratic compliance. The overall system was unreliable and probably more of a bureaucratic nightmare than a useful tool.

The Army must develop a timely and reliable way to collect status information without creating a heavy burden on all concerned, as was the case in the Gulf. The method must be flexible enough to provide a varying scope of information that can be adjusted according to the tactical situation. For example, we needed less information during actual ground offensive operations than we did during the deployment and buildup of Desert Shield.

Related to the reporting problems was the inherent lack of compatible computer systems employed at materiel management centers. We constantly sought equipment density information, but because of property book variations, we had to use unreliable offline reporting. Requisitioning systems also varied, and older systems could not perform lateral searches for materiel or provide rollup data with the newer systems. The Standard Army Ammunition System was too slow to account for rapid issue of combat-configured loads (the same lesson learned from Operation Just Cause in Panama). Lack of dedicated communications data links contributed to the ineffectiveness of the automated systems.


The overall quality of the weapon systems, such as the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, Patriot missile system, M1A1 Abrams tank, and M2/3 Bradley fighting vehicle, and the ammunition employed by the corps was excellent. There were few, if any, “white elephants” in the inventory. The employment of Army Materiel Command logistics assistance officers throughout the theater and corps was essential to the quality of our steady-state maintenance and materiel fielding efforts.


We found that our logistics system is far from simple. The reason is the multitude and complexity of the weapon systems being supported on the battlefield. The great array of support units and automated systems required to support a corps with both light and heavy divisions creates an almost untenable structure for support. We found few uncomplicated processes that supported units could use to obtain relief. Logistics staffs were unquestionably the busiest staff elements in the theater. Of all the battlefield operating systems, CSS planning and execution required the most elaborate staff supervision.

We learned that to keep things simple, logisticians must focus on the most critical supply and distribution aspects of combat logistics; namely, fuel, ammunition, rations, repair parts, and movement control. Once these activities are under control, others can be tackled. The list of logistics issues is never wholly resolved but merely rolls on, as one issue after another surfaces. Simplicity is achieved when logisticians find an effective means of prioritizing the issues confronting them and then concentrate on finding solutions.

Proud as we are of the logistics accomplishments of the Gulf War, an evaluation of our logistics planning and performance measured against the Principles of Logistics may allow us to make smart changes in anticipation of future conflicts. Two major conclusions may be derived from this analysis. First, had Iraq attacked early in our buildup, our lack of sustainment might have become the reason for our defeat. Balancing the flow of sustainment with the strategic deployment of combat power—in other words, equivalence—would have been the lesson learned in that case.

Second, had the ground war exceeded 100 hours, the XVIII Airborne Corps (and hence the coalition forces) would have needed an unplanned operational pause to allow logistics to catch up to the combat advance. The immediate problem would have been the cycle time for GS fuel haulers: they could not travel long distances, back and forth, fast enough to maintain the momentum of our attacking forces. In reflection, this was clearly a risk; only the shortness of the ground war made offensive logistics support “feasible.”

Chris Paparone, COL, US Army retired, served 29 years as a logistician and since 2002 has been involved in the US Army military education system. He has a PhD from Penn State University. At the time this article was written, Chris was a Lieutenant Colonel  Quartermaster officer assigned as commander of the 47th Support Battalion (Forward), 2d Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of Operation Joint Guard. 

One thought on “Huston’s sixteen principles: assessing operational performance during Op Desert Storm

  1. Thanks for refreshing these thoughts Dave. That offensive campaign was a real challenge. Unfortunately, it was indecisive as we had unfinished political objectives that eventually led to more war which has morphed into today’s conflicted Middle East. I think the Iraq War began in 1990 and still bubbles 27 years later, never really having “decisiveness.” So, the US Army return to “decisive action” (a Wehrmacht term translated from interwar German doctrine), while “culturally comfortable” should be critically explored — maybe the old concepts are NOT sufficient.

    Liked by 1 person

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