Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics – a new expedition, and new expectations

By David Beaumont.

This post continues the ‘Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics’ series, and is an abridged extract from a larger paper.

The operations in East Timor are commonly seen to be a litmus test of Army’s logistic capability, and the primary reason for a second wave of logistic transformation. Operation Warden certainly gave good cause for transformation, but the seeds for a range of logistic adaptations had been sown a number of years earlier. As mentioned in my last post, RTA Phase 2 trials would have tested Army’s capacity to deploy beyond Australian shores. A move towards preparing Army for offshore deployments had begun under the stewardship of Lieutenant General Frank Hickling, Chief of Army from 1998 to 2000, in response to the new Governments Australia’s Strategic Policy (ASP 97) yet within the context of RTA. Like many land forces of the post-Cold War period, considerable academic attention was being directed by Army to understanding expeditionary operations and maritime strategy. Through this, Army had begun a fundamental transformation of its orientation.[1] The first draft of the concept later known as ‘Manoeuvre Operations in the Littoral Environment’ was prepared around the time Army deployed on operations, and its implications for a variety of Army and Joint logistic capability programs.

The conceptual shift in Army transpired into Army’s capstone doctrine, Land Warfare Doctrine 1 – The fundamentals of land warfare (LWD-1), which outlined the principles of Army’s future expeditionary orientation.[2] It would later be continued through concepts including Entry by Air and Sea was developed by Army’s research directorate. This concept was eventually subsumed into the ‘Developing Doctrine’ LWD 3.0.0 – Manoeuvre Operations in the Littoral Environment (MOLE), finally acknowledged in doctrine in 2004. However, while the conceptual path to transformation in Army was relatively clear and rapid for a time, changes in Army’s logistic capabilities occurred at a far more measured pace.

Much attention at the highest levels in Defence was being directed towards resolving issues within strategic and operational-level logistics capabilities, as well as in the formation of the Defence Materiel Organisation. As a consequence little energy from the outside of Army was being directed towards logistics issues that were considered to be internal in nature. This being said, a number of key theatre capabilities residing within the Logistic Support Force were immediately reinforced, with five hundred positions to be funded with the 2000 review of Australian strategic policy. Experiments such as Headline 2000 were conducted with logistics in mind, with lessons learned continuing to filter into Army’s logistic capability programs.

There are two main reasons why logistic transformation along this line of effort began to stall, and with it the desire in Army to rapidly improve its logistics capabilities. Firstly, the Army’s attention shifted dramatically to deployments in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, following the ‘9/11’ attacks in New York. Although these were expeditionary operations, they had more in common with the peacekeeping operations conducted in the 1990s and other niche deployments than they did with Operation Warden. With forces deployed as specialised task units and operating independently from one another, sustainment was often achieved under coalition auspices, host-nation support or the use of contractors.

An Army-based Intermediate Staging Base supporting the early insertion of special forces into Afghanistan in 2001 evolved over the course of the decade into a relatively robust joint, national, theatre logistic unit that supported the reception, staging, onforwarding and integration activity of all ADF forces in the region and other tasks. However, the scope of its tasks and responsibilities paled in comparison to that of the Force Logistics Support Group of Operation Warden. Even though the importance of force-level logistics forces was confirmed by the deployment of this logistics unit, as tactical lessons filtered back from operations and began to influence doctrine and concepts the lessons of East Timor slowly diminished in relevance to logistic transformation; an echo of the same fate that befell the concepts of the 1990’s had at had the moment the first boots hit the ground in Dili during Operation Warden.

Secondly, experiences taken from operations in the Middle-east, combined with the Hardening and Networking (HNA) initiative, also changed the priorities for investment for a range of Army capabilities. Army had been reminded of the lethality of the contemporary battlespace by operations in the Middle-east, but also of the obsolescence of its vehicle fleet and communications measures. Consequently, Army’s attention in capability development shifted towards enhancing combat formations rather than specifically focusing upon the MOLE concept and logistic capability gaps relevant to coalition leadership or offshore operations in Australia’s immediate environment.

HNA did consider the lessons of past developmental programs ranging from A21 to MOLE and the ‘Army Objective Force’ program, as well as operational and historical analysis. However, battlegroup and internal-to-formation logistics capabilities became prioritised for investment, as did intellectual attention. HNA and successive programs including the Enhanced Land Force increased the size of Army, largely though raising the 7th Brigade to full-time capability and the addition of another infantry battalion. These initiatives also came at a cost; many of the five hundred positions identified to remediate logistic deficiencies were whittled away in the growth of combat forces as Army faced a new direction.

Army’s force modernisers did try to blend the ideas of maritime-based expeditionary warfare and other needs, and achieve transformed logistic capabilities designed for both. In 2002 Army’s Land Warfare Development Group responded to the absence of new logistics projects within the Defence Capability Plan with new initiatives to remediate capability gaps as part of the logistic review of the HNA  initiative.[3] Joint Project 126 – Joint Theatre Distribution System received attention in a Kellogg-Brown-Root review that quantified many of the requirements for logistic support for operations in the littoral environment.[4] In 2005, a second logistic study of HNA was undertaken, resulting in an ‘Army Capability Requirement’ which outlined the logistic requirements for the future battlefield. The opening statement of the ACR gave good reason to progress transformation, especially in terms of capability development:

The upgrade of existing Land-based systems, acquisition of new combat capability and developing concepts, such as NCW (network-centric warfare) and FLOC (Future Land Operating Concept), are likely to severely challenge the Army’s ability to provide CSS (combat service support) capability to support future warfighting in a disaggregated and complex battlespace. This proliferation of new combat capabilities is without commensurate improvement to CSS in the DCP (Defence Capability Plan) and it would be short-sighted to assume there will not be serious consequences without this appropriate investment (or development) in key areas.[5]

Soon after this document was released, and after a small expeditionary deployment to the Solomon Islands, in 2006 Army once again deployed to East Timor as part of Operation Astute. This operation was much smaller than Operation Warden had been, but it did confirm that logistic transformation was progressing. The arguments for reinforcing Army’s, and the ADF’s, expeditionary logistic capabilities had born fruit, and improvements in deployability had led the then Brigadier Mick Slater, as commander of the task force, to conclude, ‘we have largely solved the deployable logistic problem since 1999’.[6]

Slater noted that the ADF had ‘poured resources into rectifying the problems we had in getting water, POL [petrol, oils and lubricants] and key war stocks into theatre and sustaining ourselves away from our Australian bases’ and that 2500 people were sustained ‘superbly’.[7] Considering the coalition force deployed to East Timor was one-third the size of that during Operation Warden, it is understandable that the theatre-level logistic capabilities which had been reinforced in small numbers since 1999 would prove effective. Nonetheless, the validation Army received that the response to logistic weaknesses, underwritten by a growth of 3500 ‘enabling’ personnel since East Timor, had also diminished the need for further change.

Army’s concept writers and force designers turned their efforts towards the Middle-east operations in a series of Force Modernisation Reviews, set within the context of Adaptive Campaigning – Future Land Operating Concept. In the two conducted in the decade after HNA was announced, and operations in the Middle-east commenced, further changes to force design were promoted. This was complemented with a shift in approach for logistic-related capability projects. For example, Land 121, the replacement for Army’s transportation, encountered multiple design changes to account for the enhanced protection and other enhancements needed for the future battlefield. Investment into theatre logistics capabilities, logistics information systems and other logistic projects endured haircuts as other operational requirements, and expenses, had to be accounted elsewhere. With force designers leaning forward into the distant future, the absence of effective and acceptable transformation plans ensured any change in Army’s logistics was incremental.

This is not to say that major changes to Army’s logistic forces did not occur during this period, while attention was consumed with support operations. In fact, it was because of the need to force generate logistic capability for operations that the most significant changes in logistic force design occurred. Soon after Operation Warden had concluded, Army had begun to discuss in public a new logic for force design. This logic would have greater consequences for logistic transformation in Army than any concepts relating to an Army expeditionary, amphibious, orientation ever would. Army had long been concerned about the ability to rotate forces for sustained operations; a weakness that was complicated by numerous bespoke units, or specialised capabilities in Army. It  informed government as early as 2003 that:

‘The lack of any uniformly structured, trained and equipped brigades is the result of the necessity to deliver a broad range of capability outputs within funding constraints’.[8]

When launching HNA, and preparing to commit forces to Middle-eastern operations for an extended period, the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, described HNA as embracing an Army of ‘two’s’ to support deployment rotations.[9 Furthermore, he sought to establish a modular force in which operational formations could be designed as required, claiming that the Army ‘in barracks is not the Army that will deploy on operations’.[10]

Despite the earlier investment made by Army into the management of combat supplies, catering, medical support and other force enabling capabilities, the need to support Army’s emerging force generation model and sustained operations was creating a considerable strain. HNA established a force that could sustain a major brigade-level stabilisation operation, exemplified by Operation Warden 1999, but carried ‘risk’ into second rotation logistic forces; many of which were expected to be provided by military reserves or contractors. In addition, this force was underpinned by a Defence Capability Plan (DCP) which had funded logistics projects, a hope that was rapidly unravelling.

It was as a consequence of this pressure, and Army’s desire to reinforce its combat capabilities, that the centralisation of a number of capabilities began to be discussed in the higher committees of Army. In the health domain, structural personnel weaknesses encouraged the concentration of capability into the growing strategic agency, Joint Health Command. Other functions, such as catering, were considered secondary by Army’s senior leaders and reduced in size with personnel directed to other initiatives. Hollowness within combat supply capabilities could not be overcome. The question became where would this centralisation most effectively support the sustainment of the operations of the time?

The centralisation of these functions into Army’s force logistic brigade, 17th Combat Service Support Brigade (17 CSS Bde), occurred during 2011-12 in a contentious move. It was believed that by concentrating these elements in one formation that the force generation of these elements would be improved, and a minimum level of capability preserved. It was clear that no further resources were going to be directed to logistic capabilities so to bolster their capacity to support current operations in the short term.  Among the broader changes occurring under the scope of the spiritual successor to HNA, Plan Beersheba, a plan that sought to take HNA’s ‘army of two’s’ to one of ‘threes’ and rotate them through periods of higher readiness, the centralisation of hollow logistic capabilities within 17 CSS Bde therefore made sense. It allowed Army to prioritise these force logistic elements in accordance with the readiness status of the combat force; whether they were ready, readying or in a period of reconstitution known as ‘reset’.

This act showed that Army’s preference of the period was for a force structure based upon achieving preparedness requirements, rather than an operational concept which described how a land force might fight. In terms of logistics, like other functions, the organisational focus was on sustaining operations rather than radical movements in long-term force development. Various concepts came and went, including the 2014 issue of ‘Archipelagic manoeuvre’, a modernised version of MOLE, as a logic for Army’s future force structure, and a second iteration of the Future Land Operating Concept, and its supporting concepts. However, after quickly responding to the capability gaps that had emerged during Operation Warden, very few major changes to Army’s logistics had eventuated. Incremental changes were undertaken, and capabilities were being modernised, but they could hardly be described as transformational in their influence upon the development of new ideas, doctrines and other aspects of preparation for war as they applied to land force logistics.

While Army Headquarters was occupied with preparing for the future, Forces Command was undertaking a significant review of Army’s logistic capability in the context of the force-in-being. The centralisation of logistic capabilities into 17 CSS Bde may have been a watershed moment for an Army which typically held as much of its logistic capacity within its forward units as possible. However, at its core and as described above, it was simply a reflection of Army’s broader change processes. It was achieving the objectives of Plan Beersheba, but in an environment where the hollowness resident within certain logistic capabilities precluded anything other than centralisation. The final logistic review of the nominal ‘second wave of transformation’, however, sought to examine logistics in the context of a tactically-oriented concept once again. In 2013 the now Major General and Commander of Forces Command, Mick Slater, directed further work into the logistics capabilities of his Command.

Unlike what Lieutenant General Leahy proposed with respect to HNA, and perhaps even what Lieutenant General Morrison viewed of Plan Beersheba, Slater saw the newly formed ‘like’ combat brigades as a fighting formation. Following the preparation of the Concept of Employment of the Reinforced Combat Brigade (CONEMP) which proposed how it would fight, the Concept of Operations for Combat Service Support for the Reinforced Combat Brigade was prepared.This concept, now being implemented, has since resulted in the centralisation of logistic capabilities at the formation level and from the units, a significant shift that tested Army tradition and created ongoing controversy.  In an absence of additional resources, it has relied upon adjusting process rather than truly remediating capabilities long known to be vulnerable. However, this review has, perhaps, signaled a return to concept-driven force structure planning. With this in mind, it has given Army a good basis upon which to transform its logistics in the future.

This series will be concluded in a final post. David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, and the thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

[1] For example, the Land Warfare Studies Centre became a centrepiece for articulating Army’s future requirements. An example of its work is Evans, M., 1998, The role of the Army in a maritime concept of strategy, Working Paper, no. 101, Land Warfare Studies Centre, Australia

[2] Australian Army, 1999, LWD-1 Fundamentals of Land Warfare, Department of Defence,  Canberra.

[3] Land Warfare Development Group, Army Capability Requirement CSS 2012, Australian Army, Department of Defence, Australia, 2002 , (unclassified, available on the Defence Protected Network or on request)

[4] Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., Logistics over the short focussed study: milestone 2.2.4, Department of Defence, Australia, 2002, (unclassified, available on the Defence Protected Network on request)

[5] Australian Army, Army Capability Requirement – Combat Service Support 2015, Department of Defence, Australia, 2005, (unclassified, available on the Defence Protected Network or on request)

[6] Slater, M., ‘An interview with Brigadier Mick Slater, Commander JTF 631’ from Australian Army, Australian Army Journal, Vol 3. No. 2, Australian Army, Australia, 2006,p 11   (http://www.army.gov.au/~/media/Content/Our%20future/Publications/AAJ/2000s/2006/AAJ_2006_2.pdf)

[7] ibid., p 11

[8] Department of Defence, Submission 73, to Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, From Phantom to force: towards a more efficient and effective Army, Commonwealth of Australia, 2003

[9]   Leahy, P., 2004, ‘Towards the hardened and networked Army’ from Australian Army, Australian Army Journal, Vol 2. No. 1, Australian Army, Australia, 2004, p34(https://www.army.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1846/f/aaj_2004_1.pdf)

[10]  ibid.,

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