The Commandant of the Marine Corps on Tuesday said the service needs to modernize its logistics capabilities at a much faster pace to keep up with its posture and threats, which ultimately could mean using unmanned vessels and artificial intelligence to move supplies around.

Logistics is the service’s pacing function “and we are far behind in terms of modernizing, understanding supply chains, going into the unmanned space like we ought to be. We’re way too far behind,” Gen. David Berger said during the National Defense Industrial Association’s virtual Expeditionary Warfare Conference on Feb. 8.

Berger described expeditionary mobility as the “entire menu from Light Amphibious Warships to an expeditionary platform that we have today” as all the capability that must be available to operators in the theater.

He said all options must be on the table so theater commanders can move their forces around and it must also be organic, meaning they are not dependent on moving logistics supplies from the continental U.S.

Berger said this kind of expeditionary concept was talked about and pushed 20 years ago without results but is moving to a necessity based on current operational concepts.

It is “really difficult. We don’t have a choice right now. We cannot, if we’re going to operate in a distributed manner like the force believes we have to, we have to now go into expeditionary energy because we will not be able to haul the petroleum around to fuel it all, you simply cannot. So we’re forcing ourselves to go there now where before it was ‘wow we should do that.’ Now it’s a necessity.”

This logistics modernization is particularly necessary for littoral mobility, moving between interconnected land and sea spaces.

“That’s, I think, the menu of airframes and surface vessels that we don’t have today that we need to be able to give the commander. So multiple choices, multiple ways to distribute and move their force inside an adversary’s collection kill chain. Got to do it fast inside that targeting cycle.”

Berger also said operational logistics integrated with the Navy supply chain need to be updated for current operations.

“If you were to lift up distributed operations and expeditionary advanced base operations and the stand-in force approach and apply an operational logistics umbrella over top of it, it would look different from the laydown today,” Berger said.

He said nobody has challenged the U.S military’s supply chains at the operational level in 70 years and they can no longer rely on things like a convoy of supplies across the ocean, as in World War II.

Berger argued what first must change is recognizing many of the resources the Navy-Marine Corps forces will need “are actually in the neighborhood. They were not there 70 years ago, hence we brought it from the continental United States. That’s not the case right now.”

This means parts, munitions, fuel and other required logistics items are, to some degree, available in the forward operating area, like in East Asia. 

“So our distribution network is going to look radically different than it did with the hub and spoke/bring it across the giant pond effort 70 years ago.”

Berger said specifically the means of transporting supplies must change and will probably not consist of large container ships dumping items on a beach. Instead, he envisions unmanned vessels driven by artificial intelligence-informed supply chain movement decisions. This would be overlaying a new artificial intelligence umbrella within operational logistics.

“Now I think you’re going to see a lot more smaller unmanned [vessels] with artificial intelligence overlaid on top of it that predicts where…forces are going to need certain sustainment items 48 hours from now,” the commandant said.