Future Logistician – framing a new approach

By Major General David Mulhall.

What do we need of our military logisticians in the future?  Or perhaps, what skills, attributes, experiences and education will best prepare logisticians to deliver outcomes in a Joint environment? An environment that is characterised by change; changes in war fighting concepts and capabilities, quantum leaps in our capacity to source and manipulate information, and the possibilities of artificial intelligence to improve our decision-making and management of system performance.

I had the great fortune while visiting the US last September to attend a thought-provoking presentation by the American political scientist, international relations scholar and specialist on 21st century warfare, P.W. Singer.  He posed a number challenging questions that day, but four ideas in particular resonated with me:

  • How do we prepare our logisticians to think about and develop future requirements beyond what we know currently?
  • How do we prepare our logisticians to best enable joint war-fighting in the Digital Age?
  • Our logistics enterprise needs to be relevant today and tomorrow in support of the Joint fight.
  • Organisations that are too lean are brittle to change and struggle to innovate.

These are of course big, sweeping ideas, but they are notions that might help frame our thinking about what we need of our future logisticians.  During a panel discussion that I hosted recently at Joint Logistic Command, a group of us explored these and related ideas. The high-quality discussion sought to address a number of important ideas as to how we develop our logisticians into the future; ideas relevant at Service and Joint levels, but also to all who constitute the Australian Defence logistics enterprise. The key ideas which emerged included:

  • Historically what have we done well as logisticians? Are we as good as we used to be?
  • Are we good at logistics in an operational setting? Can we easily adapt?
  • In this environment how do we incentivise innovation within our logisticians?
  • How does industry ‘do’ logistics? What can industry teach us and what can we teach industry?
  • What is the academic or intellectual contribution to the development of our logisticians? Do we need clearer development pathways and accreditation?
  • What linkages are there between logistics and capability, acquisition and sustainment? Can Joint logisticians perform in a wide range of appointments?
  • How do we ‘chunk up’ the way we think about logistics? Are we truly strategic in the way we think about logistics?
  • As logisticians, what can we actually change?
  • Do we have sufficiently robust pathways to develop logisticians? What formal education and training might we need?

Some of the common threads that emerged from the panel discussion were:

  • The need to ensure that we can best offer value to decision makers. 
  • The ability to apply sophisticated business analytics and thus leverage the benefits of ‘Big Data’.
  • Strategic thought and innovation. Development of these skills requires the logistician to work within what might be seen as conflicting goals: the needs of the service; talent management and personality traits. Commercial exposure can be helpful. Innovation must be rewarded.
  • Advocacy (the power of influence). We need support within and outside the Defence Community. We could easily lose (and arguably have lost) influence if we fail to contribute meaningfully at the decision makers table.
  • Commercial acumen. There is a need for some exposure to commercial skills. These could include change management, financial and contract management.
  • Pride and passion. Everyone has a role to play regardless of rank and experience. We need to energise people to play their part in Joint logistics over the course of their career. We need to instil greater pride in our value as logisticians
  • Operational logistics. We need to continue to demonstrate agility by operating and adjusting to a wide range of operational environments.

I have posed many questions here. Some are more easier to answer than others. All are important issues though, issues that Defence’s senior logisticians – civilian and military – are increasingly turning our minds to.  The issues are also likely to be relevant to developing the logisticians of other, like-minded, militaries and defence departments. Your thoughts, observations and analysis with respect to the points I have raised would be valued and will help frame a future approach. I very much look forward to the discussion.

Major General David Mulhall is Commander Joint Logistics Command, Australian Defence Force. He has commanded at all levels, including a Joint Task Force at his current rank. A full biography can be found here.

Logistics In War’s ‘Future Logistician’ series will be launched in early May, and is seeking submissions from military, academic and industry contributors by 30 April 2017. For full details, please read this post.

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