Logistics in War and national resilience – join the final series!

By David Beaumont.

Logistics in War began 2020 by announcing that it would focus on preparedness and national resilience. This approach reflected the interests of the principle author and editor, but also a fairly robust conversation about the idea of ‘national resilience’ and the role of the military within it. The topic was being discussed freely in Australia, communicated in articles on topics ranging from national fuel supplies, to the increasing securitisation of geoeconomics, to the posture of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and so on. The idea of national resilience as it applies to natural disasters has been a government interest since 2011; the concept was formally addressed by the Federal Department of Home Affairs and has since resulted in partnered planning across a broad church of government and non-government agencies including Defence.

Amid a catastrophic bushfire season, a climate-change influenced disaster that saw the Australian Governor-General ‘call-out’ the ADF’s reservists in a ‘peacetime’ first, national resilience became immediately topical. This unforeseen event revealed societal ‘unreadiness’ to severe events, just as it prompted questions about how and for what the ADF was prepared for.

National resilience became much, much more than a side-bar conversation in March. The coronavirus pandemic morphed very rapidly from ‘just’ a global health crisis to a matching global economic cataclysm. As nations closed for business, shut their factories and prevented all travel, the vulnerability of modern-day prosperity – at least from a Western perspective – was revealed. The topic of national resilience also morphed into something new; cries for national self-sufficiency now confounded political leaders seeking a return to a familiar path to prosperity.

The situation should be causing military minds some nervousness as the very same fragility affecting commercial goods is also a problem for military forces who are dependant upon these supply lines to be prepared. There has always been a profound entanglement between war and trade.

Enough has been said about the link between logistics and preparedness here to know that national resilience matters.  It matters because military success hinges on the reliable access to products, services and people, mobilised from within the resources of the national economy. Established properly, sources of national resilience can create situations of considerable strategic advantage or even serve ‘strategic offset’.

Reliable national supply gives opportunities for national security decision makers, and in the military context ensures that personnel and materiel are in the condition that their nation expects them to be. A resilient nation can speedily and efficiently direct resources to military operations if the government desires. This effect can also be achieved in partnership with other militaries and nations, sharing such resources to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. In other words, a nation and its military with reliable access to what it needs can respond quicker to a broader range of events and sustain its operations for longer.

Over the next six months, Logistics in War will finish with a series examining this fitting topic and its importance to the military aspects of national power. By December this year Logistics in War will have contributed over one hundred and twenty articles concerning the influence of logistics on warfare. Many of these articles have sought to show how logistics, the bridge from the economy to the battlefield, wields its power over military decisions, preparedness, strategy and tactics. The idea of national resilience is, of course, becomes vitally important to militaries by virtue of its connection with preparedness and warfare through logistics.

Now is your opportunity to contribute to an important discussion – whether it be writing from an Australian perspective or from that of a partnering nation. If your not so inclined to write about logistics, well that’s fine too! The topic is important, so get in contact at logisticsinwar@outlook.com of you would like to join in.

Logistics In War in 2020 – resilience and the future of logistics

By Editor.

It is the purpose of this blog to instigate and inspire, continue and create, a discussion on military logistics that is so often sorely lacking. Logistics in War’s vision is to be broadly applicable; to reflect the many different approaches to logistics as practiced by different military Services, the Joint domain, and militaries of all persuasions.

Logistics is not only a problem for the military. There is a role for the government official, bureaucrat and policy maker, the industrialist, the professional. Their efforts constitute a part of the greater whole despite the differences in modes of thought or methods of action. Rules and procedures will vary for each, as will the language used to convey ideas and concepts. For the military soldier or officer, or the defence public servant, they will exist in a field of military business unlike any other; where such a range of methods and activities will infringe upon their own daily activities in preparing forces or sustaining operations. But it is in the national interest that all who contribute to the logistics process – the ‘bridge’ between the economy and combat forces – be sensitive to the many needs, interactions and ideas that define the process. This requires effective communication and awareness.

Logistics can appear a tangled obscure mess, a system of activities both complex and complicated. It is difficult to find principles and rules of thumb that guide planners or mobilise national economic capability to military ends. Context contorts the expected into reality. There are no definitive sources of information confirming what works in every instance, so we must approach the topic with a broad frame of mind, seek information from one another, and explore ideas from various sources. Theory is important. Experience is valuable. Histories are vital. Concepts are critical. All help in the understanding of relationships – cause and effect – that supports good decision making in peace and war.

Logistics in War will continue to publish articles in 2020 – its fourth year. The principle theme of 2020 is operational and strategic resilience of military forces. The site will also endeavour to publish articles concerning the ‘modernisation’ of military logistics – capability development and technological opportunities that will make a difference to the way in which militaries will operate.

More generally, the site aspires to be a ‘space’ where ideas about military logistics can be published, and a means to share valuable knowledge across a broad community.  Arrangements to share posts relating to logistics are being pursued, and a pace of articles will be maintained. I encourage all to contribute.  The site maintains a significant social media presence, its articles widely read, and provides an opportunity to stimulate professional debate and discussion.

Best wishes for the year ahead.





Logistics interoperability, deterrence and resilience – why working as allies matters now more than ever

By Todd Ashurst and David Beaumont.

In 2018, Australia and the United States finished celebrating ‘100 years of Mateship,’ noting our distinguished history of operating alongside each other since World War I. A key factor of success in our early engagement was thanks to logisticians. Ever-resourceful and seeking to give commanders and their combat operations the best chance of success, logisticians drove a support culture across the Western Front and enabled cooperation and combined arms action on the battlefield. This has continued throughout the decades to the point that it is rare that the two armies do not support nor assist in sustaining one another at the tactical and operational level whilst deployed. Doing so has offered opportunities, force multipliers, and enabled ‘coalitions of the willing’ that might not have existed had partners had to operate independently. As a consequence, we invest considerable time and effort discussing and improving combat service support (CSS) interoperability through forms like Army-to-Army staff talks, as well as many other regional; engagements, with outcomes ensuring increased effectiveness, efficiency, and preparedness.

While the emphasis toward CSS supportability has served both armies well for the last twenty years, it has potentially limited our view of interoperability to standardizing doctrine, preparing interoperability handbooks, and enabling tactical integration. This emphasis must now expand to face the needs of the next twenty years. We believe that in a contested and competitive strategic environment, at a time where preparedness will differentiate a relevant military from one not so, true logistics interoperability will be a strategic strength. Both the U.S. and Australia, and their partners, need to now concentrate on concepts, behaviours, and agreements which create resilience and redundancy through integration and opacity of strategic sustainment capability and capacity. What follows are a few ideas that our armies should consider as they modernize to meet the needs of the future.

Why is strategic logistics interoperability important to us now?

Strategic logistics underwrites preparedness by resourcing the military machine (and therefore future options of military commanders) while tying directly into the economic power of the nation-state. The logistics and sustainment arrangements made now determine what is practically possible when military options are ultimately required by governments. This understanding is of vital importance, as we are unsure where and when military power will be required. The Australian army recently released the futures statement Accelerated Warfare in recognition of the strategic uncertainty Australia faces, with the Chief of Staff of the Army describing partnerships as a way of contributing to success in times of competition. Effective logistics supports the development of offsets and deterrence pre-crisis and empowers flexible responses during one. Military partnerships exponentially improve the depth of logistics capacity available, creating force posture options that may not have existed before, shape regional capability, and influence long-term commitment through the sharing of organic and non-organic national industrial capability. Interoperable and integrated logistics networks, capabilities and systems can be leveraged to create situations of tremendous advantage.

Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman, combatant command director for Logistics and Engineering at U.S. Central Command, recently wrote on the importance of strategic logistics. “Nothing creates the flexibility for deterrent options and decision space more than national logistics that are underpinned by a vibrant, thriving economy that in turn is linked to partners and allies …” (p21.) He saw this outcome being delivered through preparing the environment with regional partners and ensuring the right coalition resources were in the right place at the right time; and by pursuing opportunities to strengthen alliances such that partners are able to provide one another support. Partners who conceive of logistics as a shared capability can more flexibly “develop, produce, deploy, distribute, store, and execute the acquisitions, logistics and distribution that underpin successful deterrence.” More specifically, interoperable forces will have greater redundancy and resilience in allowing a response than they might ever have had alone.

It is easier, of course, to provide a case for improved logistics interoperability than it is to deliver it. There are numerous barriers to logistics interoperability. The Australian and U.S. armies, as well as other partners, operate an enormous range of different materiel with different sustainment requirements. They’re bound by different procedures and constraints, some of which are based upon government industry and economic policies. Each defence force has different priorities, demonstrably different capabilities and capacities, and unique needs that must be met. Aligning multiple strategic logistics systems to work effectively without disrupting that of a partner is unequivocally an art. Improving the way a coalition may sustain itself, as difficult as it is, is a reflection of a capacity of that coalition to be operationally meaningful, if not sustainable. What follows are suggestions on where the Australian and U.S. armies may wish to start.

How can we improve resilience, redundancy, and relationships through strategic logistics interoperability?

Firstly, we can look at the direct benefits to the Australian and US armies through interoperability. It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that the first step to achieving greater logistics interoperability is to embrace strategic self-reliance. There are two principle reasons why this is the case. The first is that each army must ensure its bespoke capabilities are appropriately supported such that coalition resources do not become essential for these capabilities to be operationally useful. Secondly, a level of self-reliance is warranted to ensure that when forces do deploy, they can be sustained effectively until the coalition’s strategic sustainment system is active. The objective in both cases is that neither army becomes a logistics liability for the other, but better coordinates effort where it is most required.

Partnered armies must be prepared to share knowledge concerning logistics capabilities and resources and must signal one another when a shared supply chain is likely to be required. Strategic risks must be examined collectively, and both armies must be open about problems that afflict the supply-chains and processes that impact upon the materiel each army depends upon. This will assist in identifying areas in which each army can best contribute, with resources and responsibilities earmarked for later use. Triggers and demand signals might also be agreed upon, allowing partners new ways to alert each other to logistics needs or opportunities. All this must be exercised; it is noteworthy that the Australian and U.S. armies do not presently share a major strategic logistics exercise in which to consider how they might respond, together, in a crisis. Without testing the collaborative logistics enterprise, it will be difficult to conclude where the most pressing problems to address are.

Integrated approaches to sustainment should, where possible, become normal. Interoperable acquisition and sustainment programs would see planning increasingly global but provision potentially local. Investment or clear demand signals of sovereign industries to credibly contribute to meeting coalition as well as national demands would support the development of regional capability, providing alternative and potentially shorter supply chains. This would also makes it easier to assure delivery. A new approach to intellectual property (IP) rights is warranted, allowing for greater flexibility within a coalition and transparency across the supply chain writ large. This may require both armies to accept a greater level of risk in their materiel worthiness regimes to allow for greater sharing in componentry or commodities. But this risk is rewarded by diversifying supply chains for common parts manufacture, repair, or refurbishment providing greater strategic resilience and operational sustainability. Perhaps it is time to move beyond industry resource base recognition to combined planning and execute national industry options in order to become a truly shared, integrated endeavour. If one nation struggles with insufficient capacity to manufacture or produce, then clear demand signals and ready IP access would enable trusted nations to supplement supply chains for each and other trusted allies.

Neither the U.S. or Australian army, nor the defence forces they belong to, can achieve these outcomes without government policy in support. Political and policy levers must be in place to set in motion endeavours that manifest in interoperability outcomes. Negotiation will be required between governments to facilitate non-indigenous support of materiel. Barriers will need to be reduced, especially those that influence export controls or any other regulation that constrains the ability of either army from establishing business arrangements with the other. The corollary is that more flexible regulations will need to be put in place to allow defence industries to work across national borders. This will induce greater sharing between defence industries underpinning land forces, enabled by policies allowing the sharing of technologies, techniques, and skills between the partner nations. Strategic logisticians must provide a way forward to governments on these issues.

Finally, we can look to interoperable strategic logistics as a way of supporting national and regional security. Success in regional strategic competition must include a logistics component. Logistics, as a critical component of ‘setting the region’ in that it normalizes consultative and respectful long-term behaviour, supports the capacity of regional partners to sustain themselves and helps with the establishment of economic infrastructure. For example, Australia has recently established a $1 billion (Australian dollar) export financing agency to assist developing regional industries. In doing so, mutually beneficial supply chain options are created, and a grounding in logistics interoperability can be established. Similarly, continued effort towards refining ‘Mutual Logistics Support Arrangements,’ ‘Standing Offer Panels,’ and host-nation support arrangements can also enhance the capability of regional partners and any military coalition.

The environment is such that we need to not only broaden our views on what constitutes the ‘national support base’ or ‘defence technology and industrial base,’ but create action to enable the benefits of close national relationships. If strategic requirements necessitate us imagining greater interoperability, it is similarly important that the same apply to the leveraging of national industrial capability and capacity. As we wrote above, it is important that the Australian and U.S. armies are able to operate independently, and with national resources available to suite the contingencies and crises that demand this approach. However, it is equally important that we have considered how national resources can be better integrated to more effectively and efficiently respond to threats to shared interests. A coalition can ill-afford ‘logistics fratricide’ by competing for available resources, driving up costs and increasing supply chain risks, particularly when seeking the support from allies and partners critical to success in a time of competition.

Interoperable logistics

Interoperable logistics creates strategic resilience and responsiveness. However, it will not be improved unless we take time to resource its achievement. The U.S. and Australian Armies, and their many partners, have concluded that interoperability is operationally important. All have a proud legacy in supporting one another on a wide variety of operations. It is important that interoperability should now take an increasingly strategic tone at a time where we are preparing for the next operation. Improved strategic logistics interoperability is not a way to avoid the development costly logistics capabilities. It’s a way that partners can support one another more readily, giving them options before, during and post-crisis that they may not have had before. In a particularly competitive strategic environment, this approach is not only important but patently necessary, and a means to gain advantage over potential adversaries.

Even as a smaller military with a lower scale of logistics capabilities, the Australian Army can meaningfully contribute to a broader coalition effort especially within its immediate geographic region. It may be possible that another partner deploying nearby can more readily draw upon Australian resources to avoid vulnerable global supply chains, and vice versa. A strategically wise approach to interoperability is one in which problems are shared, resources efficiently planned, and key acquisition and sustainment are decisions are made such that the right support is delivered, in the right place, as fast as practically possible. Logistics interoperability will create a new source of leverage at a time when every strategic advantage may just make a tremendous difference.

This article was originally published in the Jan-Mar edition of the US Army’s ‘Army Sustainment’ professional journal as ‘Logistics interoperability, a value asset, strategic enabler’. It was originally published here in January 2020 with permission and can also be found here. 

Strategic risks and the vulnerability of the munitions supply-chain

By Mike Lima.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to global supply chains. The pandemic has shown us the fragility of commercial supply chains; it gives us a reason to think about what a disruption to supply chains might have for the outcomes of military operations. This article will focus on one particular commodity that is strategically significant to all militaries that if disrupted in war severely constrains the likelihood of operational success.

 Ammunition often dictates the duration and intensity of war against an adversary. To prevent a shortage of ammunition during combat munitions must be amassed as far forward as safely possible and delivered to the forward line of troops. Global supply chains provide the means to move munitions to the destination using a combination of military/commercial vessels and infrastructure. Various problems at critical points can easily disrupt these assets, including manufacturing, transportation, and intermodal terminals.

Supply Chains

Supply chains provide the transportation and production of raw materials into finished products and include producers, warehouses, transportation companies, distribution centers, and vendors. In the case of munitions, they are created in manufacturing plants and arsenals, and then stored and distributing from depots to armed forces. The military customer at the end of this transaction requires ammunition for training, day-to-day operations, and during a crisis, combat load for missions. If ammunition and explosives are not where and when they are needed, it is disruptive to Defence Forces’ planning and execution.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a global impact, with ‘stay at home orders’ initiated to prevent the spread of the virus. This has seen disruptions to commercial supply chains of around 75 percent.  The interruption in supply can easily translate to the defence sector, especially during times of conflict or escalation, leading up to a conflict where munitions would need to move through the global supply chain at a rapid pace. Munitions are a unique commodity of supply and are vastly different than other military classes of supply, such as food, construction material, repair parts, or major end items. This is due to the hazardous nature of the items which require special handling and storage. Issues in the munitions supply chain may happen in various points in this complex system.


The munitions industrial base is a segment of a nation’s defence industrial base and the primary producer of military munitions. The forms of the munitions industrial base take up many forms and depend on the country. One example is the Australian Strategic Domestic Munitions Manufacturing contract, which allows industry access to government-owned/contractor-operated (GOCO) facilities to produce the most critical explosives and ordnance. Another is the United States, with GOCO manufacturing plans also has a sizeable organic category of production facilities which comprises government-owned/government-operated (GOGO). While there may be numerous production facilities throughout a nations’ munitions industrial base, there are fiscal restrictions that prevent redundant production of military-specific manufacturing.

 An illustration is the Defence Mulwala Facility, a vital manufacturing site of military propellants and high explosives in Australia, and the munitions facility at Benalla, Victoria, which uses the explosives in their products. Similarly in the United States, Lake City Army Ammunition Plant is the primary provider of small-arms ammunition for the military and over 99% of all small-arms ammunition for the United States Army. These two examples highlight the dependency on just one facility as the main source for a military-specific product. While production in unique military products does not attract private industry, and private firms are more concerned with items that can be used by the commercial and military sectors. The dependency can exaggerate disruptions in the supply chain when there are significant issues.

Major problems, such as industrial accidents, can easily halt production.  Lake City Army Ammunition Plant had an accident in 2017, with subsequent investigations uncovering safety concerns and an unreported explosion. These accidents not only halt production, but they also require an extensive restructuring of processes that take time to develop and implement. It is also a possibility that these single points of production may be susceptible to other forms of distributions. Such as terrorism, as seen at Pensacola Naval Air Station, or as seen with COVID-19 cases in large meatpacking plants where workers stand close together and performing simple repetitive tasks. As Defence and Government facilities have learned from these experiences, there are still out of ordinary disruptions that can produce unforeseen repercussions that must be mitigated further along the supply chain.


The primary means of munitions transportation to the port of departure is road and rail. Continuing with the two national examples of Australia and the United States, the countries use Australian Code for the Transport of Explosives by Road and Rail, and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 49—Transportation, respectively. Both regulations provide strict requirements for marking of packages, vehicles and transport containers, requirements for the documentation, and that of storage and segregation. The national regulations are extremely detailed and specific to munitions rather than as seen with general cargo; these regulations demand strict adherence to explosive safety measures.  Transportation from exporting ports to the national receiving port is by air or sea and have specific requirements both nationally and for international commerce. Internationally the regulations are chiefly, Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code and International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations, respectively, for maritime and air transport.

Disruptions in transportation are the most flexible as different modes of transportation may be used if there are constraints in one mode or replacement transportation used if the primary method cannot. For the United States, it includes the ability to use intermodal standards based on operational needs and have interoperability and interchangeability to optimize defence distribution. With the usage of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) of Dangerous Goods Containers, used with Australian Container Roll-Out Warehousing System (CROWS) or the United States Container Roll-Out Platform (CROP). Together, the containers with munitions aboard ships with a cargo-carrying capacity of more than 27,870 square meters can proceed to a terminal for sea transportation. Vessel ships are abundant, but ammunition ships in defence forces are few, with their numbers often proving a constraint in planning for operations.

Intermodal Terminals

Intermodal terminals do not have the flexibility to handle disruptions in munitions supply chains. In Australia, explosives limits are legislatively mandated, and some ports are not suitable for the operations of any quantity of explosives due to populated areas with the infrastructure of schools and hospitals. For sea transport operations from Defence maritime facilities are accomplished following Manual of NATO Safety Principles for the Transport of Military Ammunition and Explosives. While shipments of containerized ammunition through state/commercial wharves are conducted using Australian Standard AS 3846. Shipments can only go out or into ports with approved explosives limit handled at terminals.

The Australian Port Authority of New South Wales provides class 1 explosive import and export separation distances, and Net Explosive Quantity (NEQ) limits permitted aboard ship for specific terminals. Multi-Purpose (Navy) Wharf-Eden berth requires 689 metres separation distance to “Protected Place” for 30,000 kg Net Explosive Quantity (NEQ) permitted aboard ship for Hazard Classes 1.1, 1.5 & 1.6. The NEQ is quite small compared to other parts of the Australian continent, or other nations. Port Alma, near Rockhampton, is the designated east coast port of Australia for large quantities of Class 1 explosives and ammonium nitrate cargo with a limit of 1,500 tonnes of explosives. The explosives’ limits are requested by the port authority or operator to the Chief Inspector of Explosives and approved for each port. The strict adherence to these limits is essential and can severely damage the infrastructure of the munitions supply chain.

The consequence of a failure to respect these limits can be shown in an incident at Chinese Tianjin city’s port, where an explosion of 49,000 tons of highly toxic chemicals, including ammonium nitrate in a warehouse. The explosion destroyed buildings and surrounding infrastructure, while debris shot into the adjacent area. The damage was extensive and created a massive disruption to the port city. While not as extensive simple accidents, such as the shutdown of Morehead City Port, North Carolina, United States, and the evacuation of residents from punctured containers of highly explosive material. The spectrum of accidents can range from the unfortunate death of individuals to simple evacuation.

Catastrophic accidents, or the outcomes of any form of disruption at critical locations of the likes described here, will have far-reaching repercussions. As we’ve seen with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on private manufacturing, disruptions and key points in global supply chains can have far reaching effects. Exponential disruption creates systemic vulnerabilities if continuity plans are not in place. These continuity plans must include working with, promoting, and growing a commercial defence industry that can be called upon during a call to arms.


Global supply chains primarily involve the manufacturing, transportation, storage facilities, and the terminal infrastructure for products to make it to the end-user. Manufacturing of munitions is stored in bulk to ensure there are enough for training and combat operations.  The munitions supply lines during the war can easily be affected by external influences other than typical supply issues such as shortage of raw material. Accidents, terrorism, and pandemics in critical locations at times can create significant problems throughout munitions supply chains that have strategic impacts. Present supply chains that do not have redundant systems and have a limited number of carriers and approved terminals are the most vulnerable. Nations must develop the infrastructure and plan for alternatives sources, and respect the risks. The outcome of large-scale combat operations will depend on the ability of nations to move ammunition through global supply chains; these supply-chains are essential components of military resilience.

Michael Lima, D.B.A., is an Ammunition Warrant Officer and has served 21 years in the United States military and over eight years as an adjunct instructor.  He can be found on Twitter @Mike_k_Lima or LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/limamike10/ and provides pro bono consulting in munitions and explosives safety on mikelimaconsulting.org

Logistics, Digital Transformation and Future Logisticians

By Peter Layton.

In his seminal work, Logistics in the National Defense, Henry Eccles writes: “Logistics is the bridge between our national economy and the actual operations of our combat forces in the field.” It’s a pithy description that gets to the heart of the matter, stimulating thinking. Crucially the bridge has two ends: one in society and the other at the frontline. This post concerns the former: the end located within the national support base. That end of our logistic bridge needs to start transforming.

The Australian national support base is changing. Digital transformation is impacting Australia’s major seaports, supermarket chains, package distribution, construction industry and even deep into our homes. The path that such transformation can take is becoming evident in Australia’s mining industry, a world-leader in digital transformation. A recent study sees the application of digital technology in this industry sector across this decade in three stages.

In today’s mining industry many companies have embraced automation involving individual, semi-autonomous vehicles developed as proprietary products by a handful of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and which are not interoperable. By 2025, mines will include smart sensors, autonomous vehicles, limited self-learning systems and some equipment from different OEMs that can operate together. By 2030 and beyond, mines will feature autonomous machines working with other autonomous machines to complete tasks. Open source platforms will integrate readily with other similar platforms allowing machine-to-machine communications and real-time data exchange so they can self-learn and make decisions. Imagine if Defence’s facilities could be like that?

Keeping up with the surrounding society is not necessarily a good argument for Defence logistics embracing digital disruption. However, it does raise the likelihood that by 2030 Defence’s facilities may be lonely outposts of 20th Century technology in a 21st Century world. The capabilities of the digitally transformed Australian defence national support base will need to be dumbed down when crossing the wire into Defence’s facilities. With such incompatibilities, Defence overall will be unable to obtain the full benefits of the fourth industrial revolution. Technological stagnation will cost. The end of Henry Eccles’s defence logistics bridge that is embedded in Australian society might be a technological antique.

As we all know, the numerous Australian industry sectors are embracing digital transformation principally to improve productivity; the ‘doing more with less’ mantra. The application of advanced digital technologies to defence facilities would be similar in that the aim would be to generate greater logistics power from fewer numbers of people. Defence always wants – and often needs – to do more than its limited size military, civilian and contractor workforce can allow.

Digital transformation involves combining numerous new technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), big data, cloud computing, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, robotics, 3D printing and human augmentation. Operating together, these technologies can generate more than the sum of the parts, boosting the capability and impact of each technology far more than if they are used in isolation. This can create exponential change, where the rate of change rapidly escalates as more and more new technologies join the mix. The next fifteen years could be an exciting period of non-linear change on Eccles’s logistics bridge.

The future integrated defence base might then be envisaged as a complicated machine comprising deeply interconnected hardware, software and humans. Such a machine metaphor will doubtlessly appeal to engineers but logisticians may find it less alluring. That may be a mistake, as state-of-the-art warehouses are in some respects miniature versions of what future facilities might be. Logisticians working in this specialty field may be in front: they may be the harbingers of a digital defence facility spring.

Warehouses have traditionally involved mainly manual, ‘blue collar’ occupations with some limited management positions. However, with manual occupations being transformed through digital technology, this balance shifts. The future warehousing staff will need to be skilled in the operation and maintenance of machines rather than in receiving goods, sorting, stacking, loading and delivery themselves. State-of-the-art warehouses already feature real-time monitoring of inventory; real-time ordering using technologies such as AI machine learning, the cloud, big data and IoT; order picking by advanced robotics; and stock movement by autonomous vehicles. Some warehouses are now embracing 3D printing to meet the numerous, but erratic, one-time requests for spare parts and so save on carrying large part inventories for older equipment. Logistics control towers have been introduced that integrate digital information from numerous sources and use big data analytics to provide a real-time ‘big picture’ of the complete supply chain, including transportation activities. Logistics drone delivery is in the final trial stage in several industries (including in Australia) and there is now movement towards human augmentation through logistics staff using advanced wearables and exoskeletons.

In the civilian world, the logistics’ workforce is becoming more specialised, requiring widespread digital literacy and involving new occupations. Given this technological push, there are several key roles future defence logisticians may be working in including:

  1. systems of systems networks,
  2. big data and machine learning,
  3. robotics and autonomous vehicles,
  4. augmented workforce technologies including exoskeletons,
  5. 3D printing, and
  6. electrification.

For those working on today’s defence facilities having such technologies present in the workplace might sound like science fiction and a matter for the distant future. They are though being applied today elsewhere across Australia. Why not also in Defence? It means that future logisticians will need different knowledge, skills and attributes; perhaps like the table below suggests:


Continuing Requirement Greater emphasis needed in future
Technical expertise (balanced equally across hardware and software aspects) Human-focused, big picture systems of systems thinking
Problem definition

Problem solving

Problem finding, including critical thinking and design thinking

Creativity and innovation

Digital intelligence


We are hoping all this stimulates your thinking about what future logisticians might be doing, should be doing and how they could be trained and educated. A new publication from the Air Power Development Centre, Surfing the Digital Wave, goes into much greater depth on all these issues. It uses airbases as a hook to grab the reader. However, the basic ideas apply across all the Australian national support end of Eccles’s logistics bridge.

The ideas in this post and publication are a minor part of the work of a small Air Force review team busily thinking about the future of logisticians across the next ten years and beyond. The team would like to hear your ideas, especially if you have new insights and certainly if you disagree with the future just painted. They may be found at: AIRFORCE.ENGLOGSWR@defence.gov.au Please contribute and join the logistician revolution.

Dr Peter Layton is a Visiting Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University and a RAAF Reserve Group Captain. He has extensive aviation and defence experience and, for his work at the Pentagon on force structure matters was awarded the US Secretary of Defense’s Exceptional Public Service Medal. He has a doctorate from the University of New South Wales on grand strategy and has taught on the topic at the Eisenhower College, US National Defence University. For his academic work, he was awarded a Fellowship to the European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy. He is the author of the book Grand Strategy.

The logistics of autonomous systems – the consequence of transformed logistics

By David Beaumont.

‘Logistics and autonomous systems – the promise of transformed logistics’ concluded that the prospective use of autonomous systems for military logistics was a matter of the imagination. Western militaries, including the Australian Defence Force (ADF), have been exploiting semi-autonomous systems for years. It is only a matter of time before robotics and other associated technologies revolutionise warfare to the point the militaries must transform. The article, however, also concluded with the observation that the biggest problem to face militaries is not in the choice of the systems to employ, and where to use them, but from the increasing reliance militaries will have on their technology. This reliance will not only transpire into changes to the logistics needs of armies, navies and air forces, but could very well lead to substantive organisational change.

There has been very little conversation as to what the implications of this robotic revolution will be on the logistics of modern militaries – the ‘logistics of autonomy’. Many writers have effusively seen robotics as changing the characteristics of militaries and transforming in the way they go to war. There are ample discussions on the ethics in the use of autonomous weapons, and volumes of promising statements on how robotic weapons and equipment will create new opportunities and risks. Just as the invention of the internal combustion engine changed the logistics needs of armies, and the invention of power flight created an entirely new military domain of war, technological-induced transformation always comes with significant changes to way such military forces are sustained.

Motorisation, mechanisation, flight, rocketry and computing elevated the importance of mechanics, petroleum operations, munitions specialists and supply specialists to the wars of the last 120 years. Better materiel and training to the soldier, sailor and airman helped to ‘thin’ the battlefield; technology allowing each combatant able to bring more and more firepower to bear on the enemy than the previous military generation. However, this increase in the use of technology has created a commensurate increase in logistics support; creating an ‘interminable contest’ between the teeth and ‘tail’ that the ‘teeth’ is losing.[1] The centre of gravity for military forces is in the process of moving from the battlefield and to the supply depots, bases, ports and defence infrastructure in ‘rear echelons’ and what the Australian Defence Force calls the ‘national support base’.

The shift from the human to machine will only accelerate this transformation. Militaries using autonomous weapons will, if we are optimistic about the technology, look very different in twenty, thirty years in the future. But there’s a dark side to technology-centric transformation. It can create tremendous complexity for forces that rush to bring in service capabilities. If the goal is to remove humans from ‘dull, dirty and dangerous work’ in the combat zone, the cost will be likely be borne in the establishment of new organisations and systems to sustain autonomous weapons on the ocean, in the field and in the air.

The military workforce will also have to change to reflect the technical need. Although we might want to call the future an ‘age of automation’, we could also call the coming period the ‘age of the engineer’. This situation is somewhat ironic in that one of the primary goals for automating logistics is to lower the number of personnel invested in logistics tasks. It is instructive that the invention of computers – so essential for modern military logistics – has not achieved much in stemming the growth in the ‘tail’ of modern militaries. We are far from removing logisticians from the battlefield.

Militaries will need engineers, uniformed or civilian, in abundance. The current generation of autonomous battlefield systems are ‘brittle’, not particularly adaptable and easily break down. In the context of armies, this problem reflects the difficulty for machines that lack the manoeuvrability of a human being. The situation is better for military aviation and naval uses where the impact of environment is much less. All systems are at presence sensitive to conditions, and need routine attention – and most aren’t capable of self-care.

This is not to say that militaries need to expand their organic logistics capabilities at this point. Military logistics always extends into the economy – more specifically the nation’s industrial base – and the integration of industry into the routine sustainment of new autonomous systems will remain important. It is quite clear that industry partners will have to continue to work closely, if not intimately, with Army, Navy and Air Force to provide the technical support and expertise that is traditionally difficult for the military to generate independently. It is also clear that we need to have a conversation about how skills may be transferred into the military workforce if needed in a crisis, or how autonomous systems might be sustained and repaired in conflict zone.

Army Autonomous Systems Demonstration

Perhaps we can combat the ‘less-positive’ effects of automation by focussing on the notion of disposable military robots. It’s tempting to think that we can abandon a robot when it is damaged or no longer in use; it appeals to our sense that there is a real possibility that we can remove humans from danger and replace them with something of lesser value. We must, however, be realistic with our aspirations. Until production lines run so large that costs are driven down, or newer technologies are found that dramatically lower costs, it will be inevitable that we treat autonomic systems with the same level of care we do any other form of exquisite, and expensive, technology.

It will not only be militaries that will need to transform as autonomy supplants humans. There is a tremendous opportunity for defence industry to step into a gap that has been unfilled since the dying days of the national electronics industry in the 1980s. If we are to embrace the use of autonomy in the ADF as a credible alternative to the human combatant, it will be highly advantageous for the military to have a national industry behind it. A dependency on foreign componentry and construction can become a strategic risk – especially as global supply chains are contested or limited resources shared. I suspect we will find electronics and componentry join ammunition and fuel as a marker of strategic resilience in due course. In the meantime, we will need to be careful about accelerating into autonomy else we embark upon a costly sham with unviable capabilities in combat.

Perhaps this will necessitate us having a conversation about Australian innovations and their identification as a matter of strategic value and a target of regulation. Most innovations in autonomous systems will come from the private sector, and in many cases, will be available to the highest bidder. A pessimistic view of the future suggests we need preserve whatever advantage we can, and – as a nation – we might have to balance our commercial and strategic interests. With autonomy firmly on the horizon for the ADF and other advanced militaries, it seems clear that we must initiate this discussion now.

The point of this article was not to dismiss technology, but to elicit discussion. Autonomous systems will be essential to the ADF of the future. It will create new options at all levels of war, improve the capacity of a defence force pressured by its relative size, and give us new opportunities to exploit. The technology behind automation is an area where Australia can generate a strategic advantage if it chooses to; we have a high standard of education, a population thriving with high stands of technology use, and a long track-record of innovation as a nation. We have an ADF prepared for change and actively seeking partners to overcome many of the challenges, and take advantage of new opportunities, that are raised in this article.

We all know how rapidly the technology around automation is evolving. The sooner Defence, industry and the wide range of technology partners work on overcoming the logistics limitations of autonomy the better. This way we will realise the potential of the technology, rather than bring into being capabilities or systems that are too exquisite to be practically employable let alone sustainable. This is an enduring problem with introducing new technology into defence forces in a time of relative peace, where there is always a temptation to made expedient decisions to introduce new capabilities without the funding or capacity to support it. Provided comprehensive plans are developed well in advance, the ‘logistics of autonomy’ is another area of opportunity to give the ADF a new advantage.

[1] Macksey, K., For want of a nail: the impact on war of logistics and communications, Brasseys, UK, 1989, p 1

Logistics and autonomous systems – the promise of transformed logistics

The popular discussion on autonomy in warfare is constrained to either describing the advantages of introducing autonomous systems for ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ work, or articulating the limitations of their use (including ethical limitations). Logistics can be filled with a myriad of routine tasks, but the last twenty years of war in the Middle-east have proven that the life of a logistician can be as perilous as any other. Automation offers military logisticians tremendous advantages and has to be a part of their future. The collective imagination has run wild with all sorts of autonomic systems that can complement the logistics capabilities we have, filling deficiencies in force structure or providing greater capacity.

It’s a fallacy to think military logistics is only now advancing on an automation. Military logisticians, alongside industry counterparts, have utilised automation in their daily business for nearly sixty years. The Information Age gave the Logistics Domain the advantage of computing power. Provisioning, supply chain planning and functions requiring calculation are entirely automated, much as you would find in any modern business. At a more tangible level, and as we all know, much of the ADF’s materiel is produced by machine. In the future we will see these machines, even production, pushed forward into combat forces. It is conceivable, if not outright probable, that we will see robots intrinsic to battlefield repair and production in the future.

The opportunities for automation in logistics are virtually limitless, only requiring technology and entrepreneurship to deliver results that will have demonstrable effects on operations. This article survey automation in logistics and highlight areas of promise for military logistics. A following article will discuss a more important topic – instead of autonomy of logistics, this second article will look at the logistics of autonomy. In other words, the article would look at how transformative technology will be practically sustained. Understanding the logistics of autonomous systems will factor in any decisions about whether the technology will be useful to militaries at all.

The use of autonomy for decision support (usually in the context of targeting) has been incredibly popular a topic; the ADF and coalition militaries operating such a density of disparate detection systems and information that we are approaching a point where artificial intelligence is needed to process it all. To a logistician, this is not a particularly new problem. Logistics information systems have been essential to commercial and military logistics since the invention of computers, and have enabled the archetypical complex system – the commercial supply chain – to be analysed to excruciating detail. These systems allow the military logistician to identify where personnel and materiel are, where they should be, what priority they are to be moved and to whom resources should be allocated. Above all else, these information systems have meant we require less logisticians behind computers.

Alternatively, and because autonomous systems enable us to more efficiently prioritise and allocate resources through analytics, we can create greater capacity in the military supply chain or other logistics functions. When greater logistics capacity is found, this naturally means more options open up for the strategist or tactician. The use of information-age technology has helped us overcome what has been described as ‘the logistics snowball’ – the propensity of poorly planned and executed logistics to expand logistics requirements as more and more people are directed to problem solving. The opportunities on offer to us with future forms of artificial intelligence are tremendous and must continue to be exploited.

But this is not just about getting the most out of the supply chain. Vehicle ‘health and usage monitoring systems’ and other technologies enable decisions about capabilities to be made at a faster tempo than ever. It’s been a rocky journey with the systems – for example, the ‘Autonomic Logistics Information System’ for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has received a significant upgrade to overcome highly-publicised problems – but this really is a new era of information management and problems are inevitable. For these systems to offer the most to military logisticians, there is the issue of data management that we must eventually come to terms with – who owns it, when it can be used and for what reason – including ownership of the algorithms that may ultimately make decisions formerly the purview of military commanders.

The most important area for innovation within the Logistics Domain remains in improving decision support through logistics information systems. In technical terms, this is the logistics ‘control network’, and it is armed by supply-chain analytics. Most militaries cannot afford to be inefficient with the capabilities and resources that are on offer, and an efficient control network underpins logistics effectiveness. Most high-level post-operational reports undertaken by the ADF, or by external agencies viewing its performance, identify logistics information systems as requiring investment.[1] In the future artificial intelligence could see substantial improvements in the way logistics is managed, and will continue to both help reduce complexity as well as improve situational awareness.

Why is this the case? Firstly, the complexity of military supply chains has expanded with globalisation, increased civilianisation and outsourcing of logistics capability, and with the sharing of capability across coalition partners. New information systems, appropriately secure, will help us garner where risks lie such that timely plans can be developed. Shortages could be better avoided. Costs could be better understood. Supply through multiple levels of producers and manufacturers can be accurately tracked thereby alerting the military to risks relating to the manufacture of capability. Secondly, autonomous systems may have the computational power to predict and automatically react to ensure the right product is at the right place at the right time. This will assist in signalling industry as to where supply deficiencies lie, and can support mobilisation processes when strategic crises first appear.

It is important to be aware of the risks. Cyber threats are persistently targeting global business, so Defence must prepare itself during the transformation of its logistics capability. In a 2018 testimony to the US Senate, the Commander of US Transportation Command General Darren McDew, highlighted the cyber domain as ‘being the greatest threat to our military advantage.’ Malicious state and non-state actors are already targeting vulnerable, largely unprotected, commercial systems linked in with barely protected military logistics systems. This threat was verified in the Defence Science Board 2019 report on ‘Survivable Logistics’. Why would a hostile target a hardened, highly classified decision-support and command and control network, when a soft underbelly is already presented to them? A vulnerable logistics control network will cost militaries dearly.

I am optimistic for the technology in any case. It is unequivocally the best solution to the logistics problem of our time – productivity. Logistics autonomy gives us greater capacity to do more with less, or better still, much more with the same. It simplifies something that would otherwise be highly manpower intensive. There are considerable financial advantages to Defence and Government if such capabilities are programmed and funded, and military advantages that might just contribute to the elimination of the large logistics footprint within an operational area.

The second area worthy of our attention looking into an ‘autonomous future’ is ‘last-mile logistics’. There is no better target than a logistics target, for so many things are underpinned by supply getting to where it is needed whether it be in the air, on the land, or in the ocean. Naturally, these last legs of the military supply chain are always the most dangerous for personnel. Autonomous vehicles are obvious solutions to the problem of having to put people into perilous danger. There are a range of options to automate at this level; pairing autonomous systems with operators and logisticians in human-machine teams, or fully independent robotic systems.

Autonomous systems may also give commanders new options in the forward areas of combat. Small, agile, vehicles and aerial systems might contribute to supporting smaller and dispersed teams for a variety of logistics tasks. This will add flexibility to the combat force, and potentially increase the ‘mass’ of logistics capability available. There might be no need to use manned aircraft for refuelling, thus enabling a longer period of persistence in the air. The same could apply in the maritime environment. Medi-vac could be conducted using unmanned vehicles. There are limitless options available. The choice is now as simple as deciding to invest and make these capabilities to become a reality.

I have highlighted two areas of opportunity as we look at the way autonomy can offer advantages to the military logistics and force writ large. These thoughts, though at risk of becoming wishful thinking, are intended to suggest that there are significant possibilities available to militaries who invest in logistics autonomous systems. However, before technologists leap at this future, it will be important that they consider how these complicated pieces of equipment operate and are sustained. The real challenges of the robotic future are not going to be in finding the right systems to use. That only takes imagination, engineering and funding. The challenges will emerge from an ever-increasing reliance on technology than exists today. This reliance could change militaries entirely.

Part two – the logistics of automation – will be posted shortly.


[1] See Australian National Audit Office, Management of Australian Defence Force deployments to East Timor, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2002, https://www.anao.gov.au/sites/default/files/anao_report_2001-2002_38.pdf?acsf_files_redirect, p 62

How much stuff is enough?

by Air Commodore Hayden Marshall (Ret’d)

 In my new found (and very welcomed) capacity as an observer of life, I was agog (amongst others) at the recent behaviour of consumers and the “hoard mentality” that gripped the psyche of a significant number of people in response to COVID19 fears. What was the basis of their concerns? What were the indicators/warnings of an impending supply shortage? Why were some many people behaving in a manner that potentially jeopardised the welfare of others and for no apparent reason? There was no logic to the unprecedented demand for basic consumer goods that was later replicated in increased demand for selected pharmaceutical goods and packaged alcohol.

Despite the pleas from the major supermarket chains that there were no supply issues, consumer hoarding continued at dangerous levels. Interestingly, supermarket shelves remained well stocked with razors, deodorant and shampoo – obviously good grooming is not considered to be an essential feature in a post-apocalyptic world. The primary desire to protect Number One at the potentially expense of others appears to have been the primary motivator, regardless of strong and well supported messages from senior officials.

 Consequently, I read with fascinated interest David Beaumont’s recent post “Toilet Paper and Total War”, which unfortunately also refreshed a number of other instances in recent history where competition for limited resources to support military activities led to a series of unintended consequences. I recall that pricing for building materials in Dili (Timor-Leste) reflected the influence of an extended presence of the United Nations and several large deployed western military forces, which not only impacted the local population and there ability to procure basic needs, but also the capacity of the Timor-Leste Government to fund important redevelopment programs. The ADF also found itself on the wrong side of a bidding war for ferry services during OP RAMP when Canada managed to guzzump an Australian ferry contract for the movement of Australian personnel from Lebanon to Cypress during a peak in internal hostilities – fortunately the impact was limited, but the risk to the safety and security of Australians was very real.

The desire to hoard goods is a natural default position, given the potential consequences of failure, regardless of the impact on others. In most instances, limits to budgets and storage capacities prevent hoarding to a great extent. So why do we see hoarding behaviour on operational deployments? In most instances, the shackles of budgets and storage capacities are removed and the demand requirements from deployed forces are often subject to less scrutiny. If the operational commander endorses the requirement, the enabling organisations will make sure that the material/service (and some) is made available as a priority. A lack of confidence in the capability of the supply chain by operational commanders to deliver timely results often results in a “store forward” mandate, regardless of downstream consequences.

I recall instances where repair pipelines were thrown into complete disarray due to formal direction to “store forward” unrealistic quantities of critical spares and repair parts – just in case. While the immediate operational requirement was perceived to have been satisfied, the long-term sustainment of the capability was often compromised to a significantly detrimental extent.

 Whilst I understand that in most operational situations the “enemy vote” needs to influence stock holding considerations, the answer is not always to “store forward”. Those who were intimately involved in the redeployment of Australian combat elements from Afghanistan in 2013 will have no troubles in citing examples of huge stockpiles of stuff that were created through over ordering, poor stock management, risk adverse planning and a failure to recognise changing security conditions. All the accumulated stuff had to be managed through a variety of redeployment options at not inconsiderable time and cost. At the time the demands that were placed that lead to this inflation in stock holding levels, were other solutions given due consideration, or was the fact that stock was available off-the-shelf given priority before other options where effectively assessed? The obvious absence of competition from other operational imperatives made some decisions a little easier.

 So how do we build sufficient confidence into the supply chain to avoid the implications of contradictory behaviours that artificially burden deployed elements with sustainment liabilities that are greater than their assigned capability? The key is effective data analysis, trusted modelling tools and a systematic approach that provides total visibility across the entire supply network. This will support an effective demonstration of probable outcomes during the planning phase based on selected COAs, supported by an ability to intervene where required. The “just in case” requirement is often applied without a full understanding of the implications. Whilst it is nice to be prepared for everything, this comes at a considerable cost that may well have been avoided where an effective assessment of history and predictive (intelligence) data can support other options.

 The obvious need to routinely exercise the logistics system in parallel with the exercising of deployable military capabilities is paramount in order to effectively influence (and inform) tactical, operational and strategic logistics outcomes to an extent where (future) operational commanders have a full appreciation of the extent of logistics issues. Otherwise, the default option of “operational hoarding” to satisfy immediate command interests will continue to prove to be both expensive and unsustainable. The last time I checked, the global supply of “magic fairy dust” was in very limited availability.

 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 unable to enjoy recreational travel, sightseeing and golf, but is spending his time in isolation catching-up on reading and reflecting on issues that may be of interest for the next generation of military logisticians.

Winning the war for prosperity – the military, supply chain security and the post-pandemic world

By David Beaumont.

Supply chain security is the concept which encompasses the programs, systems, procedures, technologies and solutions applied to address threats to the supply chain and the consequent threats to economic, social and physical well-being of citizens and organised society. – World Bank, 2009

Deborah Cowen’s book, The deadly life of logistics, describes the intertwined relationship between commercial logistics and security. ‘With logistics comes new kinds of crises, new paradigms of security’, Cowen opens, describing how the global logistics enterprise developed from Second World War experience has been employed by government and business to define the modern world.[1] The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to end the fragile order of international supply and industrial production for the short term at least. This event has direct existential and strategic consequences for Western militaries, but also requires them to be part of national economic responses.

This article is an attempt to consider a few aspects of this ‘new world’. It is an attempt to describe its implications for national security as it pertains to supply and industry, and otherwise initiate a conversation about how Western militaries might prepare for the post-COVID-19 future.

Supply chain security came upon us in the last decades of the twentieth century. A confluence of factors started the way the new world did its business. Globalisation was well in train, but economies adjusted to the opening of borders. During the 1980’s, a wave of deregulation washed over the Western world and formerly protected national economies were exposed to global forces.

Production shifted to those regions of the world where costs were low, and global supply chains became the veins of a system of wealth generation that stretched across the planet. A ‘revolution in logistics’, one shared by business and the military, was accelerated by ‘just in time’ view of supply. More stuff was moving, more quickly and to more destinations. It was a time of tremendous economic opportunity for those countries in a position to take advantage. Good were cheaper and freely available.

Supply chain security was not an idea developed by militaries to chart threats; it is an economic concept which looks to surety of commercial supply. It was conceived as a concept to recognise emerging vulnerabilities to normal patterns of human (Western human, mind you) existence. It has become militarised over time, a consequence of expeditionary wars in the Middle-east, the blurring of civil and military production in industries such as electronics, and in consideration of new challenges to the existing global order.

There are numerous ways in which militaries have experienced this problem and concept, two of which I will describe here.

Firstly, like everyone else, governments and their militaries became wedded to lower-cost procurement options which were enabled by low-cost international production and transportation. Military hardware could be produced in countries where manufacturing costs were low. The supply lines established to sustain military hardware criss-cross the globe, through geographic regions that now include real or potential ‘battlezones’ versus the depots and production facilities within the national support base.

Secondly, and perhaps even unwittingly, national strategic interests morphed to reflect the realities of global trade. Access to resources half the world a way mattered. Access to markets, or to industrial capacity elsewhere mattered. This was not just a concern for military logisticians who were interested in where sources of ammunition and parts may originate, but for those interested in protecting domestic prosperity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered home the fragility of global prosperity. It is now naïve to think that geoeconomics and commerce is not a national security issue. It probably is the national security issue of our time, the driving force behind a veneer of ‘hard power’ concerns and other military-strategic problems. Prosperity is what nations ultimately strive to protect. Geography, influence, options for force posture are second-order issues that are made relevant by the desire to protect prosperity. While military strategists haven’t been particularly fixed on global economics, the problem of supply chain security has certainly been fixed on them.

Problems crept up on a new generation of Western national security and military planners slowly. Operations off the ‘horn’ of Africa to protect traffic from Somali pirates gave way to concerns about ‘anti-access, area-denial’ weaponry on significant maritime choke-points, which in turn gave way to the implications of man-made island building in the South China Sea, and cyber-attacks on defence industry. People understood the strategic implications of trade, but now its importance was re-emerging, almost subliminally, in often unrelated discussions.

Sources of production were also becoming a critical part of the conversation. Volcanic eruptions in Iceland in 2010 and the Fukashima nuclear accident created shudders throughout the global economy, and all soon learned how vulnerable the connective tissue of the World truly was. Localised disruption to manufacturing now had global effects.

The economic cataclysm wrought by purposeful government decisions to slow the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new blend of the economic and military. An alarming lack of resilience in the commercial systems society has created for itself has been revealed. Military logisticians were already becoming increasingly concerned with the implications of limited sources of supply for the purposes of the armies, navies and air forces they belonged to. Now this problem has moved beyond a challenge to military supply and into challenges to ‘normal’ human patterns of existence.

Although admittedly a guess, it seems a certainty to me that the strategic calculus about supply-chains, along with concerns for national resilience, will change. It must change if nations want greater control over factors that influence resilience. This will have considerable implications for what militaries must do for their nations, if not how they create capability in the first place.

Furthermore, the nature of military and industrial / economic relationships in Western countries will necessarily evolve. Militaries receive sizable budgets for the purpose of preparedness for war, and it is evident that governments will turn to the military to deliver some return during a time of national crisis. Militaries around the world are performing tasks they were patently not expecting to be performing; from supplementing hospitals to producing medical supplies. However, militaries are being seen to offer governments a point of leverage into the national economy. Defence activities such as procurement and capability development can be rushed ahead – albeit inefficiently and with excessive costs – of timelines to stimulate some form of local economic activity. At one end of the spectrum planned expenses will simply be brought forward. At the other end, it is possible that future capability decisions will be seen to renew, even re-establish, national industries that have withered since globalisation accelerated.

As we are seeing with the recent declaration of the US President Trump to invoke the Defence Production Act (DPA), governments are willing to co-opt existing military systems and processes to deliver economic outcomes. This is an opportunity that must be taken if the situation demands it. In the case of the DPA, an Act conceived to support mobilisation, industry is being directed to produce commercial products for national security purposes. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, and as nations recover, it will be critical that defence planners consider ways in which seemingly natural links between the military and national support base can be appropriately leveraged for highly unusual crisis as is being witnessed right now. Defence industry policy and other Acts of government can be the bedrock upon which national security responses can be formed.

It may be that at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and after the economic recovery erases our memory of the cost of deliberately causing international trade to seize, behaviours and the interests of military and other national security organisations will return to normal. Now, amid a pandemic, it seems incredulous to suggest life will be so kind. National security is fundamentally about the preservation of normality, and militaries will have an important role in assisting their society assure it.

It is an unwritten rule of military logistics start preparing for the time in which forces will return home just as they arrive on a military operation. Perhaps it is time to start planning now for ‘what comes next’, and to reconsider the national security implications of the globalised international economy. Speaking of Western military forces, they will look out on a world that faces great uncertainty as nations strive to quickly regenerate their wealth and ensure prosperity. They will be viewed as institutions of order and support, and their people as a symbol of assurance. But they must also start thinking

[1] Cowen, D., The deadly life of logistics: mapping violence in global trade, University of Minnesota Press, USA, 2014, p1

Toilet paper and total war – the psychology of shortages and what it means for resilience

By David Beaumont.

The lessons that prepare defence forces and government institutions for crisis responses need not come from history books. Lessons can come from extrapolating what we witness every day; from events that capture tangible and intangible aspects of sustaining normal life. From natural disasters to global pandemics, Australia has had a tumultuous beginning of the year. This time has been socially, economically and politically testing. The impact of this turbulence on essentially fragile national logistics, commerce and industry capability is starkly evident and has forced the nation to consider its national resilience. The difficulty experienced in obtaining basic household products – toilet paper for example – as consumers buy in preparation for a state of quarantine that may never come, as trite an issue as it may be, starkly demonstrates how critical human behaviour is in the calculus. It is a perfect analogy with which to consider military preparedness and strategic resilience.

People naturally gravitate towards the idea that strategic resilience is about maintaining a buffer for emergencies. Inevitably, and for sensible reasons, the topic of national reserves or stocks (or, in the military’s case, ‘war stocks’) is raised. Enough stockholdings of strategically significant commodities is critically important for national resilience, just as they are for military operations. The absence of stock is, however, only the ‘front-end’ of the problem in a major crisis. In some cases, the maintenance of unnecessary stock levels may actually detract from preparedness and resilience; vast quantities of inappropriate strategic reserves consume money and other resources that can be used in other critical areas. Buffers, insurance and assurance (through planning and governance) are important for resilience, but there are intangible factors that need to be understood.

In military logistics, the greatest behaviour-based harm to logistics performance relates to trust that the logistics system will deliver, and from the impact of ‘psychological effects induced by the [original] deficiency.’[1] Even if the situation improves commanders will ‘certainly place pressure on their planners and on their own superiors to insure future adequacy of support.’[2] Commanders and logisticians at all levels will arbitrarily increase their demands, and others will do their best to meet the new requirement. Hoarding will occur. The military organisation – perhaps even government and industry – will rapidly try to respond to rapidly growing military requirements.

This sounds like a good problem to have; while having surplus production and availability certainly beats dealing with systemic shortages, logistics ‘scaling’ rarely occurs without problems. This ‘under-planning / over-planning’ sequence generally results in oversupply; wasting transport, clogging warehouses, limiting strategic mobility and costing resources that the force can’t spare.[3] It was a problem recently seen in the initial operations of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was one reason for the ‘iron mountains’ of Operation Desert Storm over a decade earlier. If production or availability cannot increase, an inefficient transfer of resources from one area of the battlefield to the other can upend strategy. In these circumstances it becomes difficult for planners to direct resources to the right place, and what can be termed ‘brute force logistics’ – get as much as you can to the place what you believe is of the greatest need – comes.

The parallel with what is going on now with COVID-19 (coronavirus), or what was seen in the shortages of air purifiers and face masks during the Australian bushfire crisis this year, is clear. Australian consumers are fearful. A normally stable balance of supply and demand is upset by events, with consumer behaviour in panic-buying magnifying the problem. The ‘world’ is only at the beginning of its industrial and supply-chain response to the virus. Given that it is likely to have a pandemic on its hands, the production, transfer and management of resources globally is, quite obviously, going to be chaotic.

We’re waiting to find out what happens next. Some economists are predicting the global production output loss to enter the trillions of dollars, with global economic conditions likely to become recessionary. It is also possible that a huge multi-lateral economic response will lead to a version of the ‘under-planning / over-planning sequence.’ Governments may launch economic stimulus packages to deploy funding and offset a precipitous decline in trade. While I won’t pretend to know the answer as to what might happen in a pandemic situation, the ideas of military logistics can offer a window through which to observe the situation. We can, however, use the events before us as a window of our own to consider military preparedness.

What if the scenario was a military crisis rather than a response to natural disaster or pandemic? Imagine we were talking about spare-parts or precision weapons rather than face-masks or toilet paper. The simultaneous draw upon shared industrial resources by coalition partners might create ‘runs’ on necessary resources and stocks, for without these stocks military forces will be little more than a short-term buffer against the encountered strategic shock. Preparedness systems fail, logistics processes collapse, and command struggles to regain control. The purpose of Martin Van Creveld’s Supplying War seems to be found in displaying militaries in disarray, and Richard Betts writes of the ‘unreadiness’ of the US military as its first tradition in the book Military Readiness: concepts, choices, consequences.[4]

The ADF has experienced this ‘tradition’ in the past. Two examples in recent Australian military history spring to mind. The first was during the deployment of International Forces East Timor in 1999 when a massing coalition force drained the city of Darwin of hardware and deployable consumables, necessitating an ad hoc and inefficient procurement plan to be developed. The second was during the deployment of the US-led coalition to Iraq in 2003 where because Australia lacked the competitive buying power to procure commercial airlift to support the deployment, it arranged with the US that its Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) would facilitate airlift.

What if the scenario was severe still, and a level of national mobilisation required? Naturally we would see proportionally severe exacerbation of the problems above. Histories of the First and Second World war attest to the problem of over-mobilisation; where the rush to put personnel in the field, on the ocean and in the air outpaces the capacity of industry to provide them with the materiel of war. The increasing sophistication of modern weaponry, the high standard of materiel modern militaries expect themselves to operate with, the presence of an increasingly specialist workforce, and with lean force structures characteristic of periods of structural demobilisation, will make an incredibly difficult resilience challenge for a modern Western military.

The first losses of battle make the demand for materiel much more critical than the demand for manpower. It takes years to establish production runs capable of supporting the largest forces, especially as the manpower draw to the military draw is the same as to industry. But when industry starts to fulfil the need, it tends to do so in such excess that it is wasteful and a needless draw on limited national resources. The wrong things are produced at the wrong time and delivered to the wrong place.[5] The systems of prioritisation and allocation fail, and in the rush to do something good, the best intentions create unforeseen and unwanted problems.

Logistics and preparedness are defined by ‘tangibles’ and ‘intangibles’. These two factors conspire to create complex systems that are difficult to control, especially when the impact of human decisions and behaviours is taken to account. Until we have quantum computers and artificial intelligence to do the thinking for us, the best we may be able to do is research, study and observe the events before us. What we may witness in consumer behaviour in highly unusual situations is like what might be witnessed with respect to ‘military behaviour’ in a war or a military crisis. As ultimately innocuous as a consumer run on toilet paper might be to us now, the situation does tell a story as to how we might see our military logistics systems act in a time of strategic shock. Understanding how they may act ultimately underwrites military preparedness and, in the case of strategy and national power, creates the national resilience that ultimately determines success in war.

[1] Eccles, H., Logistics in the national defense, The Stackpole Company, USA, 1959, p 109

[2] Ibid., p 109

[3] Ibid., p 109

[4] See Van Creveld, M., Supplying War, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2004 (4th edition); Betts, R., Military readiness: concepts, choices, consequences, Brookings, USA, 1995

[5] It was these observations of the Second World War that led Eccles to develop his theory of the logistics snowball, often caused by the under-planning, over-planning sequence.

Preparing for preparedness – how should we begin?

By David Beaumont.

Logistics readiness refers to the ability to undertake, to build up and thereafter to sustain, combat operations at the full combat potential of forces.[1]

Logistics readiness is not just a matter of prioritising Defence resources. Of course additional funding and attention can improve the capability and capacity of any military force to sustain itself in peace and on operations. Preparedness metrics, strategic goal-setting and policy making also help. However, as logistics is a comprehensive system of activities and tasks, logistics readiness can only be assured by combining effective resource use with efficient processes, good governance, well-designed organisations with articulated authorities, and a willingness to address often unglamorous issues. Moreover, the attitude of commanders and leaders, logisticians and staff planners to comprehensively and critically assess the Defence organisation – a ‘blue force analysis’ – also influences the logistics system to function as intended. When capability and attitude are misaligned, and where understanding is deficient, it is inevitable that the investment of time, effort and resources into military readiness is wasted.

In Part One of this series asking the question, ‘how much readiness is enough?’ I described the interplay between logistics and readiness. Part Two offered examples where militaries get it right, and a number of examples where events did not transpire as well as they might. These articles might suggest to some that any attempts to devote time to addressing logistics readiness are likely to fail. For those that do, consider what might have happened without the attempt? Strategic responsiveness would suffer, and a slow mobilisation process to correct a lack of effort and rigour in peacetime could result.

The first step towards improving logistics readiness is recognising that it is a product of routine and organisational behaviour, as much as it is about the appropriate allocation of resources to assigned strategic goals and the development of capabilities. This takes the matter well beyond basic preparedness requirements such as the identification of commonly used, but routinely compromised, preparedness metrics including ‘notices to move’ for logistics forces and capabilities. Logistics readiness is a function of total organisational performance and efficiency.

Logistics readiness is therefore achieved by addressing six key factors that are applicable at all levels – from the strategic to the tactical. These factors are as follows:

Balance between logistics and combat resources and elements. You cannot escape a discussion on logistics capability without raising the concept of the ‘tooth to tail’. Defence organisations habitually compare combat forces to support forces. At times, these organisations can consider support forces as ‘non-core’ to operational outcomes. In the Australian example, this ratio has featured in every review of Defence undertaken in the forty years since the ADF was formed. As the ADF’s deployment to East Timor described in Part Two showed, it’s very difficult to get a balance between logistics and combat forces right.  Force structure requirements can change with different ‘demand, dependency, duration and distance.’

Eccles argued that ‘no problem presents more difficulty than trying to determine in advance the most efficient balance of logistics resources and combat forces that will be needed for any campaign’.[2] In reality, however, we don’t tend to start with the right question in the first place. What we should be asking before we embark on any ‘tooth to tail’ discussion is ‘how do we deliver the most combat potential or firepower at the time and place of our choosing, and in such a state we will be successful?’ Rather than a ‘tooth to tail’, perhaps we really have an ‘arm and a spear’.

As Dr Peter Layton wrote a very good summation of ‘balance’ for ASPI in 2013;

The planned duration of a war is an important consideration, although it can be very different from the actual duration, as recent conflicts have amply demonstrated. If a short war is anticipated, the focus can be on the ‘teeth’ as the ‘tail’ is much less important. The combat force becomes a ‘one-shot wonder’ with little in reserve or in the training pipeline. For a long war, a larger and more costly logistic system needs to be built up, a training system maintained while combat is underway and sufficient trained personnel held in reserve to allow rotations into theatre.’

We have to be realistic about solutions to resolving military force structure problems, as the answer cannot be a trite ‘add more logistics troops’. There’s no easy answer to achieving the right balance, especially when defence funding cannot be increased and more staff or capabilities directed to the task. As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated we are finding our capacity to perform organic support functions diminishing. Our ‘tail’ now incorporates partners whose efforts are instrumental to our successes, and for our operations in the future, we will have to develop plans, policies and arrangements to ensure that a high standard of logistics readiness and operational flexibility is maintained.

Logistics plans and policies. Assuming we do get the force structure balance right, we must also introduce the doctrine, plans and policies to use it appropriately. We must be serious about the possible wars of the future and start developing concepts and doctrine to suit. Governance and logistics reliability and assurance frameworks which ensure strategic and tactical concepts are viable depend on this analysis. This effort shouldn’t be dismissed as bureaucracy, as it is the basis for accurate logistics planning – the quality of which determines exactly what resources will be needed and when. In the case of rapid force projection, there will simply not be the time to redesign logistics systems without severely disrupting the way in which the force will deploy. Sometime adaptation will win us victory, other times it will do quite the opposite.

There are a few areas that do require additional attention. As I inferred earlier, one area most militaries are grappling with is the changing nature of its workforce and the integration of its intrinsic sustainment capabilities within the national economic infrastructure. We’re good at working with partners, but a technology-centric future force will have to be informed by good policies and doctrine that supports the flexible and scalable logistics support we require operationally. If logistics readiness is maintained through organisation stability, it is appropriate that plans and policies be developed to accommodate rapid changes to that stability.

Logistics organisation. Most large restructures of Defence organisations – such as the First Principles Review – are heavily influenced by the need to more efficiently and effectively organise logistics processes. In the wake of the First Principles Review, Defence has made progress in the way it modernises as a joint force. Defence and the ADF has adapted to operational needs over twenty years, and has a well-established ‘joint logistics enterprises’, an appointed strategic logistician and medical officer with articulated responsibilities, and Services who have acceptability responsibility for raising, training and sustaining the operational components of the joint force.

Time will tell how effective this organisation will be. In the meantime, we should study its strengths and weaknesses, and the how and why of its present design. This is because organisation influences the flow of information and will impact upon the quality and number of logistics staff devoted to the different tasks and efforts. Moreover, it will enable us to identify the right responsibilities for each component of the logistics process; given there is no one owner for logistics within Defence, accountability and authority are incredibly important.

Materiel readiness. It may be self-evident, but the state of our equipment has as much an influence on preparedness as that of our people. Militaries ‘limp’ to war. The reason they do is what Dr Robert Betts describes as the ‘paradox of more is less.’ The act of staying in a state of heightened readiness is not only expensive, but it can result in ‘evanescence and self-destruction.’ Readiness literally consumes a military waiting for war. There comes a point where materiel and personnel become run down, supplies are exhausted and organisations are pushed to their limits. Sometimes the best thing a preparing military might do is wait otherwise limit the use of its capabilities if it wants its technologies to be available when they are required.

Logistics organisation must be tested. It is impossible to understand logistics constraints and limitations if they lie un-examined. All militaries enjoy large-scale exercises, simulations and desk-top analyses but very rarely do they focus upon the logistics process. When a logistics exercises does occur, they are often confined to bespoke activities with limited participation, or results ignored for the questions they raise. In writing Logistics In the National Defense seventy years ago, and even after the lessons of the Second World War, Eccles described that ‘[t]oo seldom have the reports of these exercises included a realistic appraisal of the logistics problems and situations that would have been encountered under wartime conditions’.[3] Most logistics activities conducted during exercises primarily occur such that the exercise can actually be conducted!

It is important that when exercises do occur that opportunities are taken to assess logistics performance, especially in the preparation for these training events. Logistics is sufficiently complex that it is only through observing the system in action that gaps be identified and risks adequately prepared for.

Professional culture: Finally, and most importantly, logistics readiness is underpinned by the acceptance that it is a ‘shared problem’ that is only solvable through the mutual efforts of commanders and logisticians. Many documented problems experienced in ADF responses in the latter have of the 1990s and early 2000’s came from conspicuous, self-admitted, failures in the sharing of knowledge. Information and concerns become vital when managing risks; and managing risks is what military preparedness systems are fundamentally about. When any future force is designed, or as operational concepts and plans developed, it is essential that conceptual problems are clearly articulated and issues shared widely. This sets expectations and better prepares one another for challenges when they inevitably arrive.


Specifics will change in war, but effective logistics readiness can make a combat force worth the organisational effort to raise or comprise it’s design entirely. Too many highly professional militaries have dismissed logistics readiness as a higher-order issue, and operations did not proceed as well as they might have otherwise. There is always a temptation to focus attention inward and on what militaries such as our own do very well – preparing the elements at the forward edge of the operational area so that they may be re as ready as practicable. Yet doing so risks compromises with respect to the preparedness of the logistics ‘system’ as a whole, or creates a logistics process that is inefficient or ineffective due to poor practices and inadequate discipline across the military. Either way, the ability of force to rapidly respond to a crisis or threat will be constrained as a consequence.

There is a need for a much more detailed study of logistics readiness than the three articles of this series allows. That being said, most militaries already know where their problems lie. Readiness cannot be treated as a ‘buzz-word’ in a professional force. Actionable recommendations and actions have to eventuate in a future discussion about preparedness, conducted in a strategic environment where threats are indeed ‘accelerating’ in scale and magnitude. I can only emphasise that effective logistics readiness comes from a realistic appraisal of force structure, sensible operational concepts and doctrine, good policies and governance, and above all, an acceptance that our logistics problems require all to work together to solve. It must be supported by adequate resourcing, an investment of technology that is sorely needed, and with a critical mind applied to practices that might have to change as we face the future.

We may never know of the command decisions that might have changed wars had the impact of logistics on preparedness been better articulated and overcome prior to war beginning. In this regard, we start to venture into the realm of strategic decision making. In this realm logistics truly defines opportunities and choices, and can often be the true measure of whether a military is ready for combat.

Almost never will all logistics requirements be satisfied in an exact balance, and as long as this is true, and as long as military operations are governed by the finite, some phase of logistics is bound to be a limiting factor.

               Dr James A. Huston, Sinews of War

This is an edited adaption of a presentation given at the Australian Defence Force conference ‘Rapid Force Projection’ in April 2019. It has substantially altered to suit the format here.

The thoughts are those of the author alone.


[1] See Eccles, H., 1959, Logistics in the National Defense, The Stackpole Company, USA, p 290 available courtesy of the USMC here.

[2] Eccles, p 291

[3] Eccles, p 300