Structuring logistics for unstructured war

By Chris Paparone.

In the October 2014 issue of The Journal of Military History, Robert W. Hutchinson published his illuminating article subtitled, “Wehrmacht Officers, the U.S. Army Historical Division, and U.S. Military Doctrine, 1945–1956.”  Hutchinson tells the story about how, “…over 700 former field and staff officers of the German Armed Forces…closely collaborated with the U.S. Army Historical Division to complete some 2,500 manuscripts describing the Wehrmacht’s experiences in World War II.”  These compilations centered on the concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver (konzept der verbundenen Waffen) and Decisive Action (entschlossenes Handeln) — I make the acronym “CAMDA” — developed by German military intellectuals during the interwar period and practiced on both fronts of the war in Europe.  These have been and are believed to be the hallmark concepts of modern warfare.  What makes these concepts remarkable is that they have served as the foundation for Army operational doctrine from post-WW II (FM 100-5) publications to the latest, 2016 edition (ADRP 3-0).

My concern is whether this nearly century-old operational concept focused on prosecuting modern mechanized warfare is a winning way to fight the conflicts we have experienced since WW II; after all, the Germans lost, yet the United States adopted Wehrmacht CAMDA concepts and has struggled with winning wars through Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.  Some might argue that Operation Desert Storm (1991) was a war decisively won with a variant of CAMDA (then called AirLand Battle), but I interpret that action as the beginning of a continuous conflict that is still unresolved in Iraq and its surrounding areas.  For logisticians, framing success with this modernist way of war is also problematic as I would argue the complexity of sustaining postmodern wars presents challenges that CAMDA style, high-tech logistics does not adequately address.  The assumption that CAMDA assures winning in a complex world remains as empirically unsubstantiated as does the assertion that if we can organize to arm, fuel, fix, supply, transport, and medically treat as an integral part of mechanized warfare, we can then well support postmodern warfare.

US Army_ Multi-domain battle

A now familiar US Army slide – but is it just a CAMDA concept?

Postmodern warfare is characterized as unstructurable — lacking the familiar structures of modern state-on-state conflicts, traditionally characterized as having a beginning and an end state (e.g., managing human and machine life-cycles), highly sophisticated administrative and logistical procedures and technologies, recognizable uniforms and other friend-or-foe markings, established military schools, doctrine-driven and disciplined- organizational performativity, high-tech system-of-systems integration of man and machine, capability to well-plan and control large-scale movements, and so forth.  Paradoxically, these structures derived from CAMDA are also what has made the United States, considered a modern global military power, into a comparatively impotent postmodern adversary.  CAMDA’s highly-developed, very expensive, sophisticated structures have seemingly disallowed more unstructured approaches to warfare and the correspondent logistics of postmodern conflict.

So what would be the organizing characteristics of modern versus postmodern warfare?  I offer a comparison chart:

Chart 2



My challenge to the reader is how to re-conceptualize logistics to support unstructured activities (the right side of the chart) when highly structured logistics systems are designed to support CAMDA (the left side of the chart)?

Editor’s additional question: given the discussion on this site and elsewhere concerning new concepts including ‘Multi-Domain Battle’, are we falling into a conceptual ‘CAMDA trap’?

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.

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5 thoughts on “Structuring logistics for unstructured war

  1. My sense is that the fundamental support operations formula of ‘Requirements – Capabilities = Shortfall’ is a reasonable start point to think through the implications of ‘unstructured war’. It may be that a formal Division organization with attached/assigned brigades might be the instruments chosen to achieve the military and political policy objectives. If a more appropriate task force for ‘unstructured war’ (think of some bundled mix of all branches, functions, capabilities) is developed, the basic support operations math still applies i.e. to sum the requirements and find the lowest risk ways of supporting the package to at least minimum mission essential standards. The principles of modern supply chain management are also helpful in characterizing the nature of the fight, and by using a combination of ‘sense and respond’ cycles of action, we try to evolve a logistic solution faster than the opponent. I believe that the sustainment principles hold up well in that environment because sustainment has arguably had to be the most adaptive of the war-fighting functions. We’ve survived on improvisational art, being the lowest priority in the food chain, and this has left us clever and resourceful (relatively) compared to the other WFFs. Thanks for making me think, as always ( (dlro, cgsc instructor, ft Leavenworth)

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  2. It is arguable as to how structured and unstructured warfare has been and now is. Large organisations need structure to some degree to be coherent, and warfare has always been complex and non-linear. Putting that aside I think we could agree that over-rigidity in warfare can be dangerous, and this is no less true for logistics. This might be surprising to some, as logistics can look bureaucratic in nature, with its systems and processes. Separating our operating process (the military equivalent of say our heart and lungs, which works to a set system) from military logistic problem solving. How many times in a planning exercise have you seen the doctrinal logistic template just rigidly laid out on the map in an automatic response, ignoring the complexity of both the problem and the plan?


  3. This is a very thought provoking article and one that begs the question, “Are we willing to change?” My assessment is that our logistical structures from the Strategic level to the tactical are designed for centralized control and therefore are a limiting factor in supporting the unstructured environment. I define logistical structures as encompassing the logistical operational, institutional and individual elements. As we begin to recognize that the operational setting in warfare is changing, we are beginning to make the assessments that our logistical architecture might need to change as well to support these new requirements. This brings us to a conflict between conventional thought versus unconventional and leads to a dichotomy between mission command and centralized planning/control. As we look at how we educate, develop and promote our personnel, we need to ensure that there are pathways for both the structured and unstructured warfare approach to succeed or we will truncate our system to a singular and circular approach that only develops group think and defers to the structured approach and hierarchical decision making. If we are truly willing to change and develop responses for the structured and unstructured warfare, we will need to review our DOTMLPF-P processes and ensure logistical priorities are forefront. We might have to address that our logistical organizations might be too lean to adapt to new mission sets or encumber units from doctrinal and linear designs to become experts at hybrid warfare support. Of course, there are tradeoffs in regards to restructuring and we simply need to address the right size of forces needed to meet the challenges of tomorrow. We will have to assess the cost benefit in regards to risk associated with these changes and apply SWOT analysis to aid in effectively designing a different approach. We also need to ensure our leader development matches this approach and assists with changing cultural norms. This is a radical approach to an organization that enjoys uniformity, structure and control but one that is imperative if we are to be successful at unstructured warfare. This bring us back to my question, “Are we willing to change?”


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