LIW Editorial – taking the national support base ….. beyond the nation

By David Beaumont.

As a military logistician, the idea of integrating logistics as part of a coalition is hardly revelatory. Most Western militaries have spent the last twenty years of operations in lockstep with one another accepting that there are always a range of difficulties. Forces deployed in the Middle-east integrate life support, ammunition, distribution methods and modes, systems for obtaining local or contracted support – the list goes on. Integration is enabled by the employment of longstanding principles under arrangements defined by multi-national military arrangements such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or through mutual support arrangements established between partner nations who can count on each other to provide the right resources at the right time. This is a ‘pointy end’ view of the matter, and if you wanted to take a more strategic look at the picture, you can start considering common standards for equipment and procurement, and the methods by which these are negotiated. Consider arrangements such as the America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ABCANZ) program for land forces which also helps to enable integration on operations. From ‘logistics in support of operations’ to ‘logistics in support of capability’ as we in the Australian Defence Force describe, the integration with coalition partners is an essential part of contemporary military practice.

At its most strategic, the idea of a ‘national support base’ is being challenged by continued integration between likeminded nations at the industry policy level. A recent paper, National technology and industrial base integration,  published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) describes this in detail. The authors of this paper contend that the industrial base has been challenged by globalisation, where nations ‘cannot assume that all of the capabilities it needs will be found domestically’ or that defence technology can be controlled.[1] We only have to look at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program as a powerful example of this issue, where a consortium of nations has shared the burden of producing the platform. For nations such as the United Kingdom and Australia who have ties to nations with existing arrangements for the sharing of technology and industrial base capability (the United States and Canada specifically), the problem is even more acute. Their national defence effort depends upon access to technology, logistics support and supply that other nations must be willing to share. The paper presents detailed studies of the problems in enabling integration and promotes new ways of breaking down the barriers between countries.[2]

I won’t pretend that as a military officer I have a strong grasp of national industrial policy, nor does discussion of the paper or its issues comfortably sit in a blog that has historically focussed on operational logistics. The reason I felt the paper was worth sharing was because of the questions it raises. What is an appropriate level of integration between coalition partners? Do we understand the risks involved with sharing our ‘defence secrets’? What if national interests differ over specific issues? What defines what is essential for the national support base to produce? How can a collective industrial and technology base support military operations when all its constituents demand the operational priority? Most of all, what is the impact upon military strategy? The integration of national industrial and technological capacity in a global environment makes accessing the global commons more defining an influence on strategic decision making. After all, the fight to win in war is often a fight to win supply.

If you have any answers to these important questions for strategic logisticians, I would love to hear from you. The increasingly integrated nature of national technology and industrial bases is one of the more significant military logistics challenges of our time. We should give it our personal and professional attention.

* Editor’s note – a day after this post was published, a short piece from the Lowy Interpreter examined the difficulty of Australia generating a larger national defence industry. The article, here, is useful to read in conjunction with my piece. Can Australia benefit from reinforcing its defence industry (albeit in an export-focussed manner) while integrating internationally?

[1] McCormick, R., Cohen, S., Hunter, A., Sanders, G., National technology and industrial base integration, Center for Strategic and International Studies, https://www.csis.org/analysis/national-technology-and-industrial-base-integration, accessed 11 Mar 18, p 2

[2] ibid, start from p 54

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