No silver bullets – enhancing the logistic forces of a small Army

By James Davis

The logistic implications of Multi Domain Battle might be a du jour topic, but it is a distraction for a small Army. The challenges envisaged by Multi Domain Battle are not unique and aspects will feature in any operation conducted in the future by Western militaries. Persistent, pervasive surveillance and continuous exposure to fires from air, land, the electromagnetic spectrum and sea have long-fuelled discussion of the relative advantages and disadvantages of dispersion and concentration. Unfortunately, the character of the next war is uncertain and therefore land forces cannot decide to concentrate or disperse preemptively. As David Beaumont rightly points out elsewhere; “it depends”.

Australian Army Director of research, Dr Albert Palazzo, describes how a flexible approach remains the best option for small armies as they prepare for this uncertainty. The exam question for any  small land force is how to judiciously, and at low resource cost, enhance the capabilities of logistic forces so that they best contribute to tactical, operational and strategic flexibility.

Exercise Predator's Run 2015
Photo by Australian Army – Exercise Predators Run 2015

Below are five ways in which logistics capabilities could be enhanced in a small army, as it applies to my own – the Australian Army:

Guarantee logistic support for contingency forces.  The Australian Army maintains contingency forces to support a variety of different tasks. Contingency forces shape and deter threats and buy time and – most importantly – manoeuvre space for follow on forces.   The contingency forces of the ADF will become increasingly joint, with land forces becoming increasingly oriented towards a developing amphibious capability.  This will only become more obvious as Army practices and exercises the amphibious capability in coming years. Unfortunately, logistic reviews of the past five years have avoided analysis of the logistics required to generate, deploy, employ and sustain the land component of the amphibious force.

Increase the Overlap between Combat and logistic (Combat Service Support Soldiers). Combat and Combat Service Support soldiers must provide redundancy for each other. First and second line units should include soldiers with a mix of technical and tactical skills. For example: a medic should possess tactical questioning skills, some armoured fighing vehicle drivers should have vehicle mechanic skills, and truck drivers should have the skills to operate heavy weapons. The Australian Army owns the training policy to allow this to be done efficiently, and I suspect the same applies to others armies. Increasing the skill ‘overlap’ will increase the self-sufficiency of combat units and increase the survivability of logistic units.

Educate leaders with regard to expeditionary logistics and mobilisation.  Army should champion an annual joint expeditionary logistics education activity for a broad audience; this could be a wargame, a symposium (such as the 2016 Australian Army Logistics Leaders Symposium) or a formalised sustainment walk.

Create and maintain logistic expertise. In the Australian Army, approximately 37% of Army field units are combat units, 37% are combat support units (such as engineers and intelligence specialists) and the remaining 25% are combat service support (logisticians) (yes, I admit I am missing a percent). Senior officer ranks, attendance on courses and exchanges should reflect these percentages rather than the present imbalance. A review of the current weighting of senior leadership might reveal some opportunities for change. In turn, the logistic community must develop more responsive tools to inform Army leaders regarding to the logistic implications of force structure and equipment changes. At present there are too many opinions and not enough data.

Enhance command and control. Agility derives from common understanding enabled by communications. To improve the agility of logistics units armies must deliver the training and equipment for logistic elements to use and protect command and control networks. The culture of logistic units must foster a relentless curiosity with regard to the location and intentions of the enemy and friendly units, and conduct sustainment planning accordingly.

There are no silver bullets, but all small armies must seek to take any action that improves their flexibility. Ready contingency forces, intellectual capacity and soldiers practiced in fighting and communicating remain reliable counters to uncertainty.

This post is an edited repost from James’ own blog, ‘The Armchair Colonel’ ; ‘No Silver Bullets – Enhancing Land Logistic Forces’ at http://armchaircolonel.blogspot.com.au . All opinions are his own, and do not reflect those of the Australian Army, or any other Australian Defence organisation.

As a cavalry officer, James brings a different perspective to understanding the challenges of sustaining forces on the modern battlefield. Such perspectives are vital for the study of logistics; bringing to mind what strategist Colin Gray once aptly noted; ‘they cannot know logistics who only logistics know’.

Remember, please share these five points as they are good starters to conversation. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@logisticsinwar) and Facebook (@logisticsinwar).

3 thoughts on “No silver bullets – enhancing the logistic forces of a small Army”

  1. One issue is the increasing contractorisation across Military Logistics. A necessity on many respects but one that undermines the ‘retain expertise’ element. It cuts away the depth in many areas, leaving the serving military with an increasingly thin veneer to work with. It also acts as a magnet to serving military logisticians, providing them.with career opportunities and further degrading the experience ‘bank’.

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  2. An interesting perspective and great to have a manoeuvre commander engaged in thought and discussion on logistics. I am not sure that past logistic reviews have ‘avoided analysis of the logistics required to generate, deploy, employ and sustain the land component of the amphibious force’. I would rather suggest the outcomes have been the result of significant resource constraints put in place from the outset, which has in turn limited the review teams from putting forward solutions that would meet the full requirements of the land and amphibious force.

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