Building on bedrock or sinking into quicksand – a report on Sustaining Self-Reliance

By David Beaumont.

‘Supply chain security continues to occupy our minds as we intermingle our desire for national prosperity through global trade with our desire to prevent the loss of native capacity to build military capability, mobilise and sustain operations. In this environment it will take little effort for nations to exert influence, or strangle the capacity of a nation to respond to threats militarily. War won’t always begin when the first shots are fired.’

The full report of the recent Williams Foundation seminar High-intensity Operations and Sustaining Self-Reliance‘ was recently published at the website ‘Second Line of Defense’. Author Robbin Laird has included an amalgam of conference papers, interviews and comments as a comprehensive summary of the challenge of making a military – the Australian Defence Force – as self-reliant as practicable. Moreover, the report alludes to one of the most important national strategic questions to answer, ‘how militarily self-reliant must a nation be?’

It is self-evident, and often repeated here at Logistics in War, that these questions have logistics undertones. In many cases the problems of self-reliance are exclusively logistics in nature and won’t be solved by un-resourced strategies and hopeful thinking. Indeed much of the seminar was focussed upon industry and the way in which national economic power is transformed by logistics efforts into military combat power and potential. This point was emphasised in my own presentation at the seminar (pages 25 to 35 of the report). So too was the need to push forward the discussion for we are really at the beginning of it:

‘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 ……. However, 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 are confident in these beliefs in the first place.

If we do not, it is inevitable that we will compromise the plans and policies we create, if not the logistics process more broadly.

Moreover, any neglect prevents us from minimising the ADF’s possible weakness with sources of strength or comparative advantage. Present day convenience will likely cost the future ADF dearly. In fact, we may find that it is better that Australia has an ADF that can sustain, and therefore operate, some capabilities incredibly well at short notice rather than aspiring to a military that spreads its logistics resources across areas where the prospects of success are much lower. Whatever we do choose to do, it will be important to bring defence industry alongside the ADF as the partnership between the two truly determines what is practical in any war, and not just one in which ‘self-reliance’ is on the cards.’

With this in mind, I encourage you to read the sum of strategists, logisticians, public servants, military staff and industry partners in Robbin Laird’s comprehensive report ‘High-intensity Operations and Sustaining Self-Reliance’.


The image above is Joint Logistics Unit – Victoria’s Bandiana heavy vehicle maintenance facility conducts repairs and maintenance to Army vehicles such as the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle, M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carrier and the M777 155mm lightweight towed howitzer. 

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