Planting the right trees – logistics and its role in the ‘Phase Zero’ campaign

by Air Commodore Hayden Marshall (Ret’d).

In a previous life, I had the opportunity to become very familiar with operational planning and experience first hand the impact of logistics (positive and negative) on various phases of a planned or active military operation. I also started to hear increasing reference to Phase Zero as a distinct and important shaping phase in the lead up to the commitment of military forces to an operation and it became quickly apparent that logistics needs to be part of this discussion.

The use of Phase Zero as an element of military planning is credited to General Charles Wald, who in 2006, authored  “New Thinking at EUCOM: The Phase Zero Campaign” while he was the Deputy Commander US European Command. The paper discussed the need to recognise the difference between theatre security cooperation and traditional war fighting. The Phase Zero concept highlighted the importance of a range of measures to ensure that all elements of national power were being correctly focussed and applied to areas of potential threat. Phase Zero has since been formally recognised as part of US military doctrine and is defined as “those activities conducted in a ongoing, routine basis to enhance international legitimacy and gain multinational cooperation in support of defined national strategic and strategic military objectives”. 

For the military logistician, the carefully crafted road to war is often too short to enact required long-term preparations to allow the force-in-being to fully transition into an operational force that has available all capabilities – there are always plenty of compromises along the way. Consequently, improvements in advanced logistics preparation is critical to ensure that the most critical suite of capabilities is available (at the right time) and this can only be realistically achieved if logistics efforts are in work well before detailed operational planning has commenced.

Phase Zero efforts to date in Australia have largely focussed on joint interagency and multinational engagement efforts that seek to support diplomatic endeavours to maintain peace and cooperation in potential threat areas. The Australian Civil Military Centre, established in 2008, is a tangible example by providing an institutional platform to develop and deliver a range of support programs that work towards Phase Zero goals. More lately, Phase Zero discussions have turned towards understanding aspects that require long-term assessment in the information arena, both in an offensive and defensive context.

A Phase Zero focus on military logistics provides an opportunity for logisticians (military and commercial) to apply some structure and priority around development programs that may otherwise be regarded as “business as usual”. Many logistics support matters that are not resolved in Phase Zero will never likely be resolved, or delivered too late to be of any operational benefit. This must raise enough concern as to whether these matters deserve further attention  pre-crisis, or whether resources are reassigned to higher priority matters during one.

Building infrastructure, training staff, stock piling inventory, assessing alternative supply support arrangements and establishing meaningful relationships with suppliers all take time to develop, implement and test in conjunction with raise, train and sustain activities. Phase Zero is the best time to get this done before it’s too late. One of my favourite investment gurus, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame, best captured the essence of the importance of Phase Zero and deliberate planning in a quote where he observed that “someone is sitting the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago”. Trees are generally not planted in the heat of battle, but rather in quiet times where they have the chance to be sited in the right location and nurtured during their early years.

However, as David Beaumont has eloquently captured in several of his posts on the matter of readiness and preparedness recently, maintaining a focus on logistics readiness is seriously challenged when it gets to a point where it becomes overwhelming and impossible to support. Prominent military historians from Eccles to van Creveld have recognised turning points in history where efforts to enhance logistics readiness has provided no meaningful contribution and distracted focus from the required main effort. This was most likely due to logistics efforts being applied to cover all possible contingencies for extended periods of time with the expectation that this will provide a decent start point at the commencement of operational activities. Unfortunately, all it has done has been to produce a broad collection of mediocre and sub-standard results that have been of no real assistance and wasted valuable resources.

Ongoing development and changes to supply support arrangements associated with new military capabilities for all elements of the ADF will require significant changes as to how the ADF manages logistics support in the ‘national support base’ and deployed locations. Expanded and targeted use of experimentation is vital to identify how logistics needs to be delivered, but more importantly, should identify where efforts need to be directed in Phase Zero to deliver optimal outcomes. Once we effectively understand the basis of these supply support activities and their mission criticality, we can start to prioritise new programs and activities that will deliver the best logistics outcomes. This does not mean planting lots of “trees” everywhere, but rather taking considered action to ensure correct placement of the “trees” along with the resources needed to keep them healthy until needed.

Many years ago, Sun Tzu observed, “to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”  Structured and deliberate efforts in Phase Zero to improve the logistics capability of military forces works directly to strengthen and enhance the credibility of both offensive and defensive military plans and must be an credible deterrent (or threat) for potential adversaries. Similarly, strong alliances with other military partners is a key logistics enabler and if this aspect is not only strong, but obvious, it will also be pause for concern by any potential adversaries. Ideally, logistics should be seen as one of the strength’s of Australia’s centre of gravity.

At its most basic, if Phase Zero is about doing everything to prevent conflict from developing in the first place, logistics must have a key role. Future logistics developments must be guided by a clear and comprehensive understanding of the logistics support requirements needed to support the application of combat force.


Air Commodore Hayden Marshall retired from the PAF in March 2018 after 36 years of service in a range of logistics roles. He is currently enjoying plenty of recreational travel, sightseeing, golf, reading and reflecting on issues that may be of interest for the next generation of military logisticians.

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

One thought on “Planting the right trees – logistics and its role in the ‘Phase Zero’ campaign

  1. Planting of trees is a useful analogy to apply to phase zero thinking. However, we must be wary of not seeing the forest because of the trees. In the ADF’s case, the forest is a robust logistics system supporting the warfighter. The trees we plant, or in many cases revive, need to receive an appropriate allocation of our limited resources. Over the last decade we have reinvigorated our warehouse network, and are now focused on renewing our Defence Fuel and Explosive Ordnance networks. Our logistics information system is a particularly important area of our forest eco-system that will soon get some focused renewal, as will the logistics support arrangements of our new capabilities to achieve better supply chain integration. Overall I sense a heightened ADF appreciation of the importance of “trees” to get after our phase zero readiness, but we need to remain mindful of tending the whole forest, which extends to our Defence industry and coalition partners, in order to maximise our deterrent effect in a resource constrained environment.

    Liked by 1 person

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