Initiating a new national support approach – mobilising national logistics in the support of military operations

A submission to the 2022 Defence Strategic Review.

By David Beaumont

It is increasingly recognised that substantial adaptions to the preparedness of Defence, and Australia writ large, need to be made. Over the last decade important decisions made, and policy statements issued, commensurate to the changing nature of threats to Australia’s strategic interests. Organisations have been redesigned, inter-Departmental capabilities restructured, and capability investments made to enable national responses to potentially existential security challenges. The ability to operate in emerging domains such as ‘space’ and ‘cyber’, act in the ‘grey zone’, or investments in new technologies from hypersonic weaponry to automation and AI are seen as offsets to potential adversaries. The prospect of a war involving Australia is discussed openly, yet there is a growing realisation that less glamourous matters are impacting Defence’s ability to prepare for such potentialities. Supply chains are ‘strangling strategy’, with the movement of commodities so significant an issue that logistics is securitising.[1]  And yes, global supply is recognised as essential for the ‘creation and sustaining [of] combat capabilities’ and securing supply chains ‘makes securing them increasingly more important to operational success than the defence of lines of communication has ever been.[2] The integration between military and civilian sources of logistics and support are now extolled as underpinning the ADF’s ability to respond to crises in the future.[3]

A range of reports prepared over the last decade have recommended Western militaries adopt new approaches to logistics, as well as point to the role of civilian resources in preparedness and crisis responses. Examples have included the US Department of Defence’s ‘Defence Science Board’ 2018 report on ‘Survivable logistics’;  those produced by major civil fora such as the US tech-sector led Special Competitive Studies Project in 2022;  conference reports such as the 2019 Williams Foundation seminar on ‘Sustaining Self-reliance’; and others associated with Defence Mobilisation and preparedness planning activities.[4] The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, too, has brought national industrial mobilisation to the fore in terms of Ukraine responses to Russian aggression, but also in the context of European, US and other logistics support to Ukraine. 

The preparations undertaken by Australia to respond to military crises commend all to examine the effectiveness of the integration between Defence activities and the ‘national support base.’[5] This paper considers the ‘national support base’ as the sum of organic Defence capability (and not just capability resident in the military, but also the Department), support from coalition forces and host nations, and support (including service delivery) that is provided by national industry and infrastructure. Many constituents of the national support base are beyond Defence’s, and specifically the ADF’s, capacity to directly control, let alone influence without the assistance of other agencies and Departments in a whole-of-nation approach. Nonetheless, the strategic logistics capability available to the ADF from both organic and inorganic sources will act as a ‘shock absorber’ in a time of military crisis; it will be critical to strategic success that civil-military arrangements are in place such that Australia can respond when needed.[6]

Defence has the advantage of its history when it comes to understanding how it might tackle mobilisation and national support base integration into Australian Defence Force (ADF) logistics. The ADF considered the problem of how best to prepare the ‘national support base’ for the strategic uncertainty resident in the 1990s, and how it commenced the developments of concepts to enabled what we now call ‘force-expansion’, ‘force-scaling’ or even ‘mobilisation’. This paper presents the exemplar concept of national support as an approach upon which a future civil-military relationship in Australia is based.

Australian Army unit load ammunition containers in a warehouse ready for delivery to artillery soldiers for the safe transport and storage of projectiles in the field. *** Local Caption *** Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) together with BAE Systems Australia have delivered an essential ammunition capability to the Australian Defence Force three months ahead of schedule. The unit load ammunition containers (ULAC) are an essential support component of the Australian Army’s 155mm M777A2 howitzer canons. The successful delivery of the ULAC has been greatly beneficial for both the Army and BAE Systems Australia. ULAC are used by artillery soldiers in the field for the safe transport and storage of propellant and projectiles in training and operational environments. The containers were designed and produced in BAE Systems’ South Australian workshop. After initial testing in Adelaide and at Monegeetta some design modifications were required prior to full-scale production. The first batch of containers was accepted in May 2016, with the final batch coming off the assembly line in June 2016, well ahead of the contracted delivery date.

When Defence made mobilisation an agenda.

It has been over twenty years since Defence engaged in a deep, public, discussion on the role of the industry, if not the nation in its entirety, for the specific purpose of supporting defence mobilisation and the ADF’s logistics concepts. The 1997 Defence Efficiency Review (DER), a review now commonly associated with an over-ambitious efficiency agenda which led to near disastrous levels of logistics hollowness in an ADF on the cusp of twenty years of continuous operations, was a catalyst which brought a conceptual trend to reality. Changing strategic circumstances affecting Australia, a post-Cold War evolution in the character of warfare, and pressures on Federal expenditure necessitated Defence rethink its business. In acknowledging the diminishing size and structure of the ADF, the Review highlighted the important linkage to national resources and good planning, and subsequently enunciated a concept of ‘…structure for war and adapt for peace.’[7] 

Significantly, the DER recognised the possibility of potential challenges to Australian national interests, with special reference to the rapidity with which such intrusions can develop. The Review emphasised that “…better planning and management of civil-military relationships are thus essential to our future defence capability.”[8]  Echoing other strategic documentation of the time, the DER ‘Industry Policy Sub-Review team’ recommended that the HQ ADF reconsider its strategic logistics planning capability, and for national mobilisation to be considered coherently as a critical logistics issue. National Support Division (NSD) was ultimately established, with the Division principally formed to address national mobilisation through the concept of national support. The Division was all but a reestablishment of a Strategic Logistics Division in HQ ADF, a branch that had been disestablished some years before. However, and unlike its predecessor, the role of the NSD was to develop the concepts and conduct the engagement that would better harness the nation’s economic, industrial and societal strengths in support of the defence effort. This approach was also articulated in Australia’s Strategic Policy (1997), which emphasised the importance of a small force, like the ADF, having the ability to organise and draw upon the resources of the broader nation.[9]  

Following the publication of this strategic guidance, the Government released the Defence and Industry Strategic Policy Statement, which reiterates that the best defence for a nation is for the nation to wholly engage it in its own security.[10]  The statement, heavily influenced by NSD, went on to define the ‘national support base’ as encompassing “…the full range of organisations, systems and arrangements which own, provide, control or influence support to the ADF.  It includes all of Defence, other Government agencies, infrastructure, key services, and industry (including the Defence manufacturing sector).”[11] The framework that was introduced, endorsed by the Chiefs of Service Committee and the Defence Executive, saw policy outcomes as far reaching as:

  • The ADF being structured for war, and with a clear comprehension of the national support resources that were required for the full ‘spectrum of conflict’ and pattern of escalation.
  •  Those elements within the national support base that were intrinsic to Defence activities remained pertinent, adequate and, above all, prepared to support operations.
  • A culture would be established whereby industry and the wider civil infrastructure were considered integral to national defence capability and were managed accordingly.
  • Relationships would be maintained with allies and international support provides to complement support and sustainment available nationally.
  • Well-rehearsed mechanisms would be established that would assess the ability of the national support base to mobilise to meet the need, and plans developed to enable this to occur.
  • The ADF would enjoy priority access to critical national infrastructure when the contingency required it.

Of all the ‘pillars’ of the national support strategy, the most consequential was the issue of mobilisation. The national support concept was, in practice, a euphemism for a mobilisation concept; a graduated and nationally-focussed approach to escalating a response to strategic competition. Beyond the development of plans upon which the nation’s resources would be called upon to sustain the defence effort was the establishment of mechanisms to better coordinate resources in the response to significant national security threats. Furthermore, the strategy sought to shape civil capabilities to meet Defence’s needs for mobilisation and sustainment in a coherent process that was absent at the time. Finally, it was all underpinned by strategic-level arrangements with industry and infrastructure partners; arrangements which extended beyond Defence Industry policy to create a responsive national approach to meeting unpredictable future needs.

A concept which needs a new life

The National Support Division (NSD) was folded three years after its establishment, and the national support concept buried amid a Defence capability approach oriented towards materiel acquisition. The establishment of the Defence Materiel Organisation in 2001 saw the Division disbanded, with its functions reallocated across Defence. As a ‘bottom-up’ derived organisation resourced from the ADF, NSD lacked the institutional support that top-down direction from Government may have given. While assurances were given that the national support agenda would remain alive in successor organisations, there’s little evidence that it ever existed twenty years later. A small Directorate now exists within an under-resourced Joint Logistics Command’s Strategic Logistics Branch to deal with national support issues, and a variety of other divisions within the Defence attend to some of the activities that were once baked into the remit of an entire, albeit small, HQ ADF staff element.  Although the ADF might have a well-defined ‘strategic J4’ who advises the CDF on strategic logistics issues, and numerous senior leaders have reiterated the desire to better leverage national support for Defence activities and for increased levels of preparedness throughout the national support base, the ADF has a limited conception as to what strategic logistics entails.[12]

A new civil-military approach which considers preparedness at its core is needed. The flex within the strategic order, the constipation of acquisition and sustainment processes, the increasingly conspicuous vulnerabilities and capability gaps within defence industries, fractured international supply-chains, and problems with national infrastructure – there are a myriad of issues all of which greatly impact how the mobilisation of national responses in crises need to be managed. Recent media releases from Government attest to the importance of whole-of-nation, and specifically industrial, responses to potential crises. However, as the national support base effectively extends beyond borders, this national endeavour must also include international force posture and logistics considerations. There is always a need for likeminded nations to optimise the logistics arrangements between one another, because not even the mightiest can sustain major combat operations alone.[13] Furthermore, coordinated logistics cooperation with neighbours can be critical in shaping the security environment and assist greatly in ‘setting the theatre’ if competition and conflict are to come.

So where might Defence begin? First, it should settle on clear language to be used in a Government driven narrative about whole-of-nation defence. An inability to clarify the litany of terms, doctrine and jargon when the national support approach was originally proposed limited its acceptability within and without Defence. Furthermore, the anecdotal use of the term ‘mobilisation’ has failed to capture a more subtle approach to civil-military preparedness which entails a graduated levels of response to strategic challenges. A new narrative could be presented to Government in the wake of Defence’s mobilisation review currently underway and would help to guide whole-of-Government planning for military-based crises. An acceptable, modern, definition of national support might also be accompanied by clarity with respect to terms such as ‘force scaling’, ‘force expansion’, ‘mobilisation’, ‘surety’, ‘preparedness’ and even ‘strategic logistics’.[14] Such an approach to strategic logistics is consistent with the ADF definition’s contemporary definition of mobilisation being:

              ‘the process that provides the framework to generate military capabilities and marshal national resources to defend the nation and its interests. It encompasses activities associated with preparedness, the conduct of operations and force expansion. Mobilisation is a continuum of interrelated activities that occurs during the four phases: preparation, work-up, operations and reconstitution.’

Secondly, to enable the national support base to respond to a crisis it must be armed by a range of mechanisms that enable ‘it’ to better define what operational requirements it is supporting. This is not only fulfilled by an analysis by ‘force exploration’ undertaken within the Integrated Investment Plan, but a detailed study of strategic concepts for operations and the logistics requirements necessary for them to occur. Perhaps the most important task will be the aligning of processes, and strategic logistics activities to preparedness to ensure that national support arrangements can be facilitated as ‘business as usual’ rather than through ad hoc adaptions undertaken at a moment’s notice. Defence’s relatively new approach to the acquisition and sustainment of fuels and guide weapons are important achievements which show that new arrangements are possible.[15] Nonetheless, these achievements are merely a starting point for the reform that is necessary.

Thirdly, a range of policies and processes will need to be developed to enable concurrent, mutually-supporting, activity. It will be important to identify the right authorities to respond to each part of the collective problem. This understanding must also be accompanied with an acceptance that non-organic national support base capabilities are as vital to national security as the logistics and other military resources are; an acceptance that will go beyond the existing, albeit narrow, notion of industry as a ‘fundamental input into capability’ to fulfil improved capability acquisition plans.[16] Defence, inclusive of the ADF, already knows it has a great deal of internal work to undertake to make its mobilisation and preparedness arrangements reflective of potential strategic needs. This submission is not a reflection of any incapacity of Defence to prepare, and instead aims to co-opt a concept the ADF developed in the past for the benefit of the ADF in the present.

If Defence is to progress existing work about topics such as force expansion, let alone mobilisation, it must understand the level of national capability which presently exists to support the Defence effort in a time of emergency. Once it defines the strengths and weaknesses, limitations and constraints, of the national support base it can be proactive in working with national support base partners to resolve them. To do so will require an enhancement of existing modes of interaction, as well as assistant from other Government agencies and Departments with relevant experience and capability. A strategic plan will be vital ensure effectiveness. Without these efforts circumstances will work only to increase the disjunct which exists between the ADF ‘and that of the support base on which it depends.’[17] As written in 2021,

Instead, it is important that the ADF renew its concepts to leverage resources from elsewhere—potentially the national support base or alliance partners—in order to develop processes that will allow it to regain capacity after a significant strategic shock. This is not only about acquiring more materiel, ‘war-stocks’ and growing the size and scale of the ADF for that capacity; it is about efficiently managing resources in such a way that they are available at the time and place of need. Capability depth is likely to reflect the strength of civil-military relationships as much as it does materiel.[18]

Why national support matters now

A variety of Defence leaders have challenged members of the ADF, the Department, and partners to think through the problems associated with how national security needs might require all to adapt to the unexpected. So too have a range of commentators, in an array of articles and across different media. It is evident that a ‘big picture’, bold and imaginative strategic idea is needed; an idea that provides overarching principles and themes to guide planning and behaviour across the national support base. To that end Defence is armed with the benefits of corporate knowledge and a repository of information available within its own archives and captured in the diaspora of documentation that drives its daily business.

There is another reason that conceptualising, strategising and planning matters now: Western societies and their militaries are behind in their thinking. Concepts such as Chinese ‘civil-military’ fusion and a Government agenda which mandates dual-use technologies, are indicative of an increasingly sophisticated approach to military-national support base interactions on the part of our potential adversary. Such agenda help to create the conditions by which that nation can respond to its own crises or changes in the strategic environment. This is a whole-of-Government activity, an approach which includes industry partners and alliance partner involvement, as part of a holistic national security endeavour to confirm the strategic logistics basis upon which it will draw the strength to protect Australia’s national interests.


[1] Beaumont, D., Logistics and the strangling of strategy, 2017, Logistics and the strangling of strategy – Logistics In War

[2] Beaumont, D., Logistics and the strangling of strategy, 2017, Logistics and the strangling of strategy – Logistics In War

[3] Marles, R., Address to the Sydney Institute Annual Dinner Lecture, Speech, 14 November 2022, Address to the Sydney Institute Annual Dinner Lecture | Defence Ministers

[4] Defence Science Board, Task force on Survivable Logistics, report, November 2018; Special Comeptitive Studies Project, Mid-decade challenges to national competitiveness, 2022, SCSP-Mid-Decade-Challenges-to-National-Competitiveness.pdf; Llaird, R., The strategic shift and the reset for Australian Defence and Security, 2019, The Strategic Shift and the Reset for Australian Defence and Security – Second Line of Defense (sldinfo.com);

[5] The term ‘national support base’ is well-known in Australia, but the idea goes by different names in other countries. For example, the US national security community uses the term ‘defense technology and industrial base’.

[6] Beaumont, D. J., ‘The Debris of an Organisation’, Land Power Forum, 2021, Future Land Warfare Collection 2021: The Debris of an Organisation | Australian Army Research Centre (AARC)

[7] Report of the Defence Efficiency Review, Future Directions for the Management of Australia’s Defence, 10 March 1997, p 5.

[8] Report of the Defence Efficiency Review, p 6.

[9] Department of Defence, Australia’s Strategic Policy, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p 48.

[10] Department of Defence 1998, Defence and Industry Policy Statement, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p 1.

[11] Department of Defence 1998, Defence and Industry Policy Statement, p 8.

[12] The ‘strategic J4’ role is practiced by Commander Joint Logistics Command (CJLOG), though the responsibility and term has fallen out of use in recent years.  CJLOG’s consensus-building role within the  ‘Defence Logistics Enterprise’, a construct developed to bind Defence logistics efforts together, is ostensibly a substitute though has limited connection to operational performance and preparedness.

[13] Ashurst, T., & Beaumont, D., Logistics interoperability, deterrence and resilience – why working as allies matters now more than ever, 2020, Logistics interoperability, deterrence and resilience – why working as allies matters now more than ever – Logistics In War

[14] Australian Defence Force Publication 4 – Mobilisation and preparedness includes many of these terms but there are anomalies and contradictions within the definitions.

[15] Hellyer, M. ‘Cracking the missile matrix: the case for Australian guided-weapons production’, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2021, Cracking the missile matrix: the case for Australian guided-weapons production | The Strategist (aspistrategist.org.au); Leben, W., ‘Can Australia’s munitions supplies stand up to the demands of war’, The Strategist, 9 Nov 2022, Can Australia’s munitions supplies stand up to the demands of war? | The Strategist (aspistrategist.org.au)

[16] Department of Defence 2016, Defence Industry Policy Statement, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p 19

[17] National Support Mobilisation Concepts, Developing the strategy for national support mobilisation – a research paper, National Support Division, Department of Defence, Canberra, 1999, p 7

[18] Beaumont, D. J., ‘The Debris of an Organisation’, Land Power Forum, 2021, Future Land Warfare Collection 2021: The Debris of an Organisation | Australian Army Research Centre (AARC)

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