By David Beaumont
National Defence: Defence Strategic Review was released to the public on 24 April 2023, to a defence ‘community’ only too eager to scrutinise the document for its consequences on the ADF’s capability mix. The paper, of course, covers a swathe of topics and concepts. It describes the reasons that a change to Defence’s pattern of business is necessary while doing, as reviews must do, extolling that Australia’s circumstances have changed. Unfortunately, and because there is only so much material that can be covered in a single document, National Defence’s readers might be left uncertain as to what the topics and concepts of the document mean, and what must be done by Defence accordingly.
There is an important emphasis on the ADF’s logistics capabilities, functions and concepts in National Defence – more than usual when compared to other Government policy documents of recent years. Moreover, the traditional focus on logistics through the lens of capability acquisition and sustainment has – perhaps – transitioned a more helpful narrative concerning the role of logistics and national-level preparedness. However, and because the overall conversation about logistics is so muted, with so little written, and it being a topic people tend to think is quite technical and conceptually uninfluential, it’s easy for those conversing about National Defence to fail to engage with the logistics implications of the paper.
Logistics and force posture
National Defence requires the ADF to develop a northern Australia network of bases ‘to provide a platform for logistics support, denial and deterrence’ (p19). This requirement centres on the mechanics of basing by focussing on air bases, shipyards and barracks – all of which must be dispersed and part of a resilient network with in-built redundancy to enable integrated defence. Fuel and ammunition feed into the discussion of force posture, and the importance of exercises to build ‘preparedness including minimum viable improvements in key areas’ is also clear (pp 78-80).
Logistics is the connective tissue of force posture, ensuring the viability of forces by the timely (and time-dependant) provision of personnel, materiel, stores and supplies. Force posture is underpinned by supply chains, distribution and the technical systems – military and civilian – that ensure that the right ‘stuff’ gets to the right location. It is underpinned by stockholding concepts that ensure sufficient resources are kept, transport management plans and policies and concepts for working with national partners when needed. Force posture without the logistics arrangements to allow such connections to be made is little more than window-dressing with respect to strategic threats. In other words, it is imprudent to rush forward to force posture outcomes if the logistics arrangements required cannot be produced.
It will also be critical for the ADF to consider concepts relating to force projection: from receiving forces at particular locations, equipping and preparing them for deployment or movement, to consolidating forces at forward locations relative to threats, and the command and control measures required to ensure this happens in a well-coordinated and efficient manner. Points and ‘mounting’ locations should be chosen to act as places where logistics control can be exerted at a time of crisis; where headquarters can manage the influx of civilian and military resources necessary to support subsequent military operations.
The relationship between logistics and preparedness
National Defence offers a clear signpost that there is a need for Defence, if not the Nation, to reconsider how it views preparedness and its relationship with logistics (p81). The idea of accelerated preparedness speaks to concepts such as mobilisation, force scaling and force expansion. These are ideas that are fundamentally logistics-related in their nature and is counter to the tendency to assume that having forces available at the outset of a conflict is a realistic measure of overall preparedness. The rotational models of force preparedness used to sustain operations in the Middle-east over the last two decades have tended to obscure the logistics problems which must be resolved by the Government, and ADF, in the years ahead. That there should be a ‘reshaping and growth of the national and Defence logistics and health workforce … to improve national resilience’ is recognition of stranglehold of logistics on what the ADF can and cannot do at a time of need (p81).
Importantly, the idea of Accelerated Preparedness, recognises the essentiality of the national support base, and national resilience, to military performance. Guided-weapons and fuel enterprises are the tip of a proverbial iceberg with respect to the type of national support arrangements needed to insure logistics sovereignty. However, and in my view more importantly, Accelerated Preparedness requires an investment in the ability of the ADF to enunciate the circumstances under which engagement on strategic logistics issues should be managed, and relationships developed.
The idea of national support should not surprise readers of Logistics in War, it being a topic of frequent discussion topic on this site and raised in a submission to the Defence Strategic Review. National support speaks to a consolidated, preparedness-centric, approach to strategic logistics in the ADF, but also presents a substantial opportunity for the ADF to reinforce its strategic logistics ‘muscles’ by better integrating what it does in the context of whole-of-nation logistics capability and capacity. Although National Defence recommends – in principle – the creation of a National Support Division, what will be most important in the immediate future is how responsibilities and accountabilities within the ADF – for national support is an ADF responsibility as it deals with its preparedness requirements – help the ADF logistical prepare.
Theatre logistics system
A section on ‘theatre logistics’ in National Defence is arguably more practically relevant to ADF in the short term, though to resolve capability gaps in ADF logistics capability and capacity will require a long-term program. The recognition that Government, and Defence, must reinvest in Defence logistics and health capacity is instructive to a more serious view of preparedness than in the past – as alluded to above. Theatre-level logistics is described in terms of the military supply-chain, with important national support overtones; it will be important that strategic and theatre logistics approaches are developed in a unified fashion. This is, of course, a normal goal for logistics planners to have.
One of the habitual challenges to the reform of logistics relates to how it is managed, let alone funded, in military organisations. As prospective logistics systems are complex and complicated, with multiple owners who have different resourcing and management priorities, it can be difficult for militaries to coherent approach the redevelopment of their logistics processes. It is possible that the emphasis given to guided weapons and fuel creates another wedge between organisations, and a potential source of friction to be managed in a crisis. However, that National Defence identifies two Commanders – Joint Logistics and Joint Health – as requiring ‘adequate resourcing’ can only be seen as an important reinforcement of their role in the context of ADF preparedness.
There is much to infer from National Defence: Defence Strategic Review, and important pieces of context missed in the public version of the document. However, at face value, the direction given to Defence clearly associates logistics with Defence preparedness and even national resilience. This is extremely positive, especially in comparison to other policy statements issued over the last two decades. Naturally, there is a way to go to realise the intention of the document as many sceptical commentators point out. From the perspective of a logistician, however, it’s safe to say they’re at an important interlude.
A change in the way Defence preparedness and logistics is being considered in reviews is underway. Richard Betts, in Military readiness: concepts, choices and consequences describes preparedness as coming from a choice about the balance between ‘investment’ and ‘consumption’ (Betts, p 45). National Defence, in many ways, is recognising that Defence must rebalance its approach to preparedness to the latter from the former. Ideas such as ‘minimum viable capability’ based on capability delivery in the ‘shortest possible time’ are incredibly significant for planners and logisticians in Defence to grasp (p 20). It is unlikely that a transfer of funds and interest from acquisition to methods to scale and improve sustainability will be all that is needed; there is a cultural and change management aspect to the reform of Defence logistics that will be required to fully leverage the time available.
As we conceptualise how Defence works to better prepare itself for the threats considered in National Defence, it is worth remembering the idea of logistics preparedness. Anything that is developed must be done so with the appropriate plans and policies in mind, the organisation structured appropriately and resourced needed, with logistics capabilities well resourced and integrated, and with a regime of exercising and assessments conducted to ensure that the ADF is responsive, and its operations are sustainable. This must be achieved while Defence reforms in the wake of National Defence, and in a state of heightened preparedness. There is nothing in National Defence that will be easy to implement, or in its implementation be free of angst. Nonetheless, the document does present an opportunity to achieve important – vital – outcomes for Defence that must be taken. The success of ADF operations in the future may depend on it.
National Defence: Defence Strategic Review can be downloaded here.
 Betts, R., Military readiness: concepts, choices and consequences, The Brookings Institution, USA, 1995