Six strategic challenges – global logistics integration and the state of professional discourse

By Hayden Marshall.

In part one of ‘Six strategic challenges for Defence logistics’ Air Commodore Hayden Marshall describes how digital disruption and cyber threats are likely to change Defence logistics in the future. In part two, the challenges of globally integrated logistics and improving professional discourse are raised.

As described in part one, this article is an edited component of a larger 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


Globally integrated logistics

Our key alliance partner (USA) published a Joint Concept for Logistics (JCL) in Sep 15. The JCL “considers how an evolving Joint Logistics Enterprise could better support operations in a future characterised by the challenge of meeting unremitting strategic requirements with constrained military resources”. The concept proposes the use of globally integrated logistics to support future joint operations which will be characterised by the need to rapidly aggregate globally distributed forces to generate the required military effect. Globally integrated logistics is seen as the “capability to allocate and adjudicate logistics support on a global scale to maximize effectiveness and responsiveness, and to reconcile competing demands for limited logistics resources based on strategic priorities”. The logistics imperatives nominated by the US for the JCL are:

  • Global distribution network
  • Global readiness awareness
  • Responsive logistics planning capabilities

The realisation of this approach will likely require close engagement with coalition partners to identify opportunities to leverage logistics support from non-traditional sources. The recent increases in sealift and airlift capabilities in the ADF will not have gone unnoticed by the US, and whilst US military logistics capabilities are considerable, they may not always be positioned or available to meet responsiveness requirements.

Questions to consider:

  • What opportunities are potentially available for the ADF from the US JCL?
  • Does the ADF Joint Logistics Enterprise Strategy (2016-2021) – (ed. available to ADF members only – many apologies!) – offer sufficient direction to recognise US developments and develop complementary capabilities?

Valuing professional discourse

The pace and scope of technology-based changes that will impact supply chain operations in coming years will be significant. Maintaining overwatch will be important to ensure that the ADF continues to challenge itself and industry partners to pursue opportunities for strategic planning, innovation and continuous improvement. Commentary on Australian Defence logistics, internal and external, is very limited, so it is always intriguing to see a new title appear on news feeds. The recent Kokoda paper written by Gary Waters and AVM (Retd) John Blackburn, provided some interesting observations regarding the current state of Defence logistics and made recommendations regarding a lack of logistics strategy which in turn, inhibits efforts to emphasise the importance of Defence logistics to achieve Defence outcomes. The report starts with some very fundamental questions – what is Defence logistics and what does Defence logistics do? – which most Defence logisticians would expect are universally understood however, this would not appear to be case.

Waters and Blackburn also make a number of informed suggestions regarding future trends and drivers, as well as improvement opportunities. Interestingly, I have found no reference to follow-on discussions or debates in the Defence logistics community (or associated partners) that either support or challenge these ideas. Therefore, how do we value the contribution of these thoughts and ideas as they apply to the development of Defence’s logistics capability?

The value of public debate cannot be overestimated, provided that it is conducted in a professional manner. Effective debate provides the opportunity to consider credible options that may not be readily apparent and highlights areas that would benefit from informed research. Consequently, the field of operational research becomes increasingly important to be able to understand historical, political, economic and environmental factors as they apply to contemporary circumstances.

As another reinforcement of the struggle to gain main stream attention for defence logistics matters, a simple study was highlighted in a recent research paper.[1] The paper presented names of journals (US based) that had four or more articles indexed in ABI/Inform Global and Proquest Research Library-Business mentioning ‘military logistics’ or ‘defence logistics’ or defense logistics’ in the title, abstract, key words or text from 1952 to 2010. Details are shown below:

  • Air Force Journal of Logistics – 65 articles
  • Management Science – 15 articles
  • Military Medicine – 14 articles
  • Parameters – 11 articles
  • International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management – 10 articles
  • Journal of Business Logistics – 10 articles
  • Journal of the Operational Research Society – 9 articles
  • Public Administration Review – 8 articles
  • Journal of Public Procurement- 7 articles
  • Journal of Government Financial Management – 7 articles
  • National Contract Management Journal – 5 articles
  • IIE Transactions- 4 articles
  • Interface – 4 articles
  • Operations Research – 4 articles
  • The Journal of Military History – 4 articles

Of concern is the most prominent of the publications in terms of volume, Air Force Journal of Logistics, ceased publication in late 2012 with the disbandment of the Air Force Logistics Management Agency. Perhaps the “blogosphere” will replace traditional journals in the future and there appears to be plenty of room for new forums regarding defence logistics.

Questions to consider:

  • Should the ADF invest in targeted industry placements to gain an improved understanding of supply chain management from a commercial perspective?
  • Do ADF members understand the value of professional associations to enhance engagement with industry?
  • Where do you get your information to make sure that you are aware of contemporary logistics matters relevant to commercial and defence interests?


The final part will follow next week.

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.

[1] Keehan, YD, Rietjens, S, Tatham, P, Defence Logistics Special Issue Editorial: An Important Research Field in Need of Researchers, International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, Vol. 43, Issue 2, 2013, pp 80-96

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