Editorial: Continuing the discussion on sustaining self-reliance

By David Beaumont.

As mentioned in recent posts, and supported by the collaboration between The Central Blue and Logistics in War, the Williams Foundation hosted a day-long seminar on the topic ‘Sustaining Self-Reliance’. The term ‘self-reliance’ has a special meaning for the Australian Defence Force (ADF), being evoked in strategic policy and as principle applied across a variety of logistics functions and activities. At the seminar there was little pretence that a military of the size and resources of the ADF could sustain its strategic and operational ambitions independent of its allies. Nor should the ADF necessarily aspire to resource such levels of self-sufficiency in the short-term. Instead, ‘self-reliance’ was seen as a strategic goal that would enhance the options available to defence planners, as well as a means by which it could better contribute as a future coalition partner.

The seminar will be the subject of a series of reports to be found on the sites www.defense.info and www.sldinfo.com. Other articles will be published at The Central Blue and here as part of the #SelfSustain series. In support of the ongoing discussion, editorials here will also point out some of the commentary as the topic is explored online:

In Reshaping Australian industry as a part of enhanced self-reliance and sustainability’ author Robbin Laird from Defense.info contends that ‘[w]hat is required is a shift from the heavy reliance on commercial logistics solutions to more robust mobilisation ones.’ He cites a presentation given by Wing Commander Alison McCarthy which advocated innovative ways in which to better link industry and Defence relationships into a partnership. A similar approach was proposed by Lieutenant Colonel Kieren Joyce with respect to the introduction of unmanned autonomous systems into the Australian Army.

The second article of a specifically logistics bent was published by ADM in an article titled ‘Can the ADF sustain itself on operations‘. This article is a brief summary of the four presentations which constituted the logistics component of the seminar. It includes a brief, but very relevant, comment from presenter Donna Riva-Cain:

‘We must move beyond what I call our Middle-east sustainment mindset …. [b]asing systems were located in areas of safety. Global supply chains were free to transport to safe logistics, where the ADF supply chain then moved them across the theatre. Demand did not outstrip supply. Logistics systems were unaffected in cuberspace. Operations in the Middle-east were supported by traditional supply chains. We were not self-reliant, but our experience did not demand it.’

What of the future? I mentioned recently that to suborn logistics is out of step with the strategic reality facing Australia and the ADF. In viewing the presentations of the seminar, this view seemed to be confirmed. In forewarning the contents of my own presentation, and any further articles, which may follow:

‘If we are all serious about self-reliance, we must be serious and frank about the logistics limits of the armed forces, and the industry capacity of the nation. …. let’s continue the discussion by challenging some of the assumptions that we hold about logistics; that a coalition will underwrite our logistics operations, that the global market – designed for commerce not war – can offer us the surety of support we require, that we will have access to strategic mobility forces that even our allies believe they are insufficient in. No matter what type of war, there will be some things we must re-learn to do on our own. I am sure we can all here challenge ourselves and our beliefs – whether we were ever confident in these beliefs in the first place.’

Further commentary and articles relating to the seminar mentioned above will be referenced as soon as they are made available. If you would like to make your own comments, consider submitting an article to either this site or ‘The Central Blue’.

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