Six strategic challenges for Defence logistics – Part One

By Hayden Marshall.

Logistics In War is privileged to have been given permission by the author to publish a series of posts based upon a Discussion Paper written by the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Director-General Strategic Logistics, Air Commodore Hayden Marshall. You may remember his leadership insights from the post ‘Surviving your time as a military logistician’. In the interests of full disclosure, the paper was prepared to support the professional development of ADF logisticians at the rank of Wing Commander, Commander and Lieutenant Colonel and beyond, and was produced in the interests of stimulating discussion. It therefore does not reflect any official position.

For the purposes of this series of posts, the original paper has been divided into three parts, each of which contains two key issues relevant to Defence (strategic) logistics. Each is followed by questions as prompts for future consideration. The topics have been written with Australian Defence (ADF and Department) in mind, but you will find the themes equally applicable to other militaries and Defence departments.

Enjoy the articles, and we would like to hear your thoughts on the topics presented by Air Commodore Marshall.


As senior logistics officers in the ADF, you will soon (if not already) be placed into key positions that will require you to make important contributions to shape and influence Defence’s logistics capability to be ready to support our current and future military objectives. This will require you to develop new skills, improve your understanding of Defence priorities and gain a broader appreciation of the bigger picture.

The purpose of this discussion paper is to provide you with a collection of potentially unrelated, but relevant, future issues that you may encounter in your future roles. The paper should also generate a sense of urgency to encourage you to better prepare (or improve) your networks and connections to give you the opportunity to review and assess industry (or international) trends as potential opportunities for Defence. This will not be a simple task, but will be made easier with ongoing discussion and active debate amongst the Defence logistics community. Current indicators suggest that the Defence logistics system will need to be more flexible, more adaptable and more resilient than ever due largely to anticipated technological influences, which are already beginning to have an effect.

At the same time, many of the basic tenants of our logistics system will endure, as we will still need to purchase, transport, maintain, store and dispose of stuff – how we do it and how we make use of the best available tools will be the challenge. Through an assessment of the issues considered in this paper (and any others), against a clear understanding of performance requirements and operating constraints, you will need to determine if Defence should be a leader or a follower.

Digital Disruption 

Much is made of the trends in e-commerce and the influence on the supply chain. Many commercial customers are expecting same day delivery for consumables as part of a drive to reduce overhead costs; therefore delivery options need to be effective as stock holdings by users are often limited or non-existent. Amazon continues to explore the use of Drone delivery for small payloads within a limited range, with the realisation that it will be the price and timeliness that will capture the attention of customers. The use of ‘big data’ and ‘cloud’-based applications is becoming increasing prevalent as customers and suppliers understand the possibilities. An interesting quote from an industry observer:

‘It will be especially important for logistics managers to truly weigh up the benefits of leveraging supply chain information against the ability to implement improvements to their logistics strategy.’

Technology improvements will also see a focus on supply chain tools such as beacons and scanners to streamline retail purchasing transactions and monitor stock movements back to the warehouse. Real-time updates to inventories will offer improved situational awareness and the ability for timely intervention where required

The growing use of 3-D printers in commercial applications will have an impact for Defence logistics. The previous challenge of resupplying repair parts to forward deployed units will be replaced with the challenge of resupplying printing media (plastic and metal), along with the computer hardware and power systems necessary to operate industrial 3-D printers. Also 3-D printers require highly stable platforms to allow production of complex items to high tolerance levels, which may not be feasible for deployed units that are operating in austere conditions. The US Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is working on a program to ensure effective controls are in place for data packages that are only available to an endorsed network of commercial 3-D printers when they receive orders from US military units.

Access to reliable energy sources is necessary to operate current inventory management systems and supply chain hardware. Power outages in garrison or deployed locations already create problems and contribute to lost productivity. The criticality of logistics support to mission success will increase the need to ensure that appropriate back-up systems are in place to protect against accidental or enemy imposed disruptions to power supplies. Expanded use of power systems using alternative generating techniques (wind, solar, etc) may offer opportunities of “off-grid” solutions for both garrison and deployed situations.

Questions to consider: 

  • What are the trends from the retail/private sector that will have applicability in the military sector?
  • Is Defence well placed to monitor and understand future changes to supply chain management?
  • Who should be taking the lead to champion supply chain innovation in Defence?
  • Should Defence make more use of cloud-based opportunities for inventory management, as well as engagement with suppliers and coalition partners?

Cyber Security 

The “good news” stories associated with innovations in the supply chain generally have links to improved information management, computer software enhancements and more capable smart tools to deliver efficiency and effectiveness gains. The vulnerability of computer networks and smart devices to cyber attacks has received increased prominence, with several high-profile organisations subject to hacking and denial of service attacks. Many of our new Defence capability programs rely on participation in global logistics support programs which require an increased level of systems connectivity with external sources to process resupply requirements and provide critical performance data. The dynamic tension between open information systems to support timely data exchanges and the need for information security to protect national interests will be difficult to balance and will require significant work to understand relevant risks and mitigation measures.

We also need to be aware that potential adversaries are likely to have more than a passing interest in our logistics data. The successful aggregation of information from unclassified sources could provide insights into stockholdings and maintenance availability that could be areas of potential vulnerability or exploitation.

Questions to consider:

  • How does Defence ensure that commercial suppliers are adequately protecting their information networks?
  • What logistics information does Defence need to protect?
  • What are the implications for supply chain security resulting from potential cyber attack?

Part two will follow shortly.

2 thoughts on “Six strategic challenges for Defence logistics – Part One

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