Transforming Australian Army logistics to support the Joint Land Force

By David Beaumont.

To start 2018, LIW is pleased to announce the release of ‘Transforming Australian Army logistics to support the Joint Land Force’, a paper shaped by the discussion of logistics on LIW during 2017. Published by the Australian Army’s Research Centre, the paper comprehensively examines compelling operational reasons for a new agenda of change – from newly developed operational concepts to other imperatives for transformation. With permission from Army, the announcing article reads:

There is need for the Australian Army and its logisticians to address the transformation of its logistics capabilities, concepts and processes now. This is not only because Army must look to the future and the ever-changing face of war, nor is because of revelations gained through nearly twenty years of operational experiences. It is not just because the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, asked his senior logisticians to lead a ‘revolution’ in late 2016 or that Army’s balance of forces between the ‘tooth’ and the ‘tail’ are unbalanced. Army needs a transformation of its logistics, now, because of the intractable nature of change as its applies to logistic modernisation. It needs to reinvigorate a stalled evolution of its logistics capabilities and capacities by making transformation less of an extraordinary activity, and part of the daily business of Army logisticians and planners.  It is because Army must be ‘primed’ for the real revolution in logistics that comes with a modernising Army; Army’s logisticians ensuring the ADF’s land force is well-prepared and optimised to accept the benefits of future technology, process and concepts.

Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics to support the Joint Land Force addresses the topic of logistic transformation in two parts. To establish the context behind which transformation should be examined in the future, the monograph will first outline Army’s track record with transforming logistics in an historically-based narrative. The changes described have been a combination of those imposed upon Army, but also the consequence of operational experiences. During the 1980’s and 1990’s a strategy in which the defence of Australia was a force structure and operational concept determinant shaped the way in which logistics in Army would be conducted. However, it was a series of reviews by successive Labor and Coalition Governments to, as part of the Australian Defence Force, over-exuberantly cut its ‘tail’ to fund its ‘teeth’. The flaws in this approach resulted in a harrowing experience in deploying to East Timor in 1999, and Army considered its logistics strengths and weaknesses in considerable detail. However, the transformation of Army logistics largely stalled as operational imperatives changes with successive operations in the Middle-east, and with managing organisational change occupying much of Army’s time in garrison.

In the second part of Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics, four challenges facing logistic transformation will be discussed. These four challenges will articulate why transformation is necessary, and suggest ways in which such transformation should occur. Ideas relevant to future wars will be discussed, including emerging operational concepts relevant to the provision of logistics in contested environments, including recent discussions concerning ‘Multi-domain battle’ and ‘5th generation warfare’. Doctrinal ideas will be challenged, and alternative concepts proposed. However, the monograph will not prescriptively outline the detail; this is the work of the concept developers, doctrine writers and those logisticians and commanders who will ultimately lead the implementation of transformation plans. Instead Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics focuses upon observations and conclusions about the direction of transformation, proposes how problems may be prevented in the future, and identifies operational and non-operational issues that must be overcome in future transformative efforts. Moreover, it contends that the Australian Army’s logistics community must lead its own agenda in this period, else others will do the leading for it.

Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics exists because there is need for public discussion on the topic of logistic transformation simply because the subsequent consideration of the problem will be directly relevant to successful change. This is because the real problem facing the transformation of the Australian Army’s logistics is not that Army does not know the problems or the solutions, although the monograph describes these issues. Army has already spent considerable time and planning effort to identify the issues which need resolution. Rather, the monograph asserts that it is the manner and means by which transformation in logistics has occurred that is the central issue.  As Army ventures into a period of considerable change, both environmental and in terms of opportunities offered by new capabilities, it is time that logistic transformation becomes a focal point about which Army’s evolution continues.

You can find Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics to support the Joint Land Force here.


The five most popular ‘Logistics In War’ posts of 2017

By David Beaumont.

‘Logistics In War’, with well over sixty original posts, had an arguably successful first year of publishing.  With 2017 drawing to a close, I am proud to present the five most read articles of the year. I do so with the caveat that with the growth of the site, the earliest articles drew less views than those released later in the year. That being said, there should be no surprises for regular readers ……

#5 – ‘Thinking small – the importance of small team logistics operations’ by Steven Mencshelyi

In ‘Thinking small – the importance of small team logistics operations’, Australian Army officer Steven Mencshelyi commends tactical logisticians to become better practiced in sub-combat team operations. Why is this important? Steven considers that sustaining small combat elements operating in a dispersed tactical environment will require logisticians to rethink how they currently operate. Orchestration and tempo will become defining considerations for sustainment operations conducted by small logistics teams that lack the scale necessary to sustain all combat operations at once. A great article that directs attention for aspiring logistics commanders…..

#4 – ‘The roots of readiness – the six logistics factors defining strategic choice’ by David Beaumont

‘The roots of readiness – the six logistics factors defining strategic choice’ highlights an fact that appears, at first glace, self-evident. It is less important that military forces are available than they are actually employable. The assumption that a force is employable because of its  pre-determined ‘notice to move’ is proven unfounded when, as has been the case incredibly frequently in history, substantial logistics weaknesses exist elsewhere. This article looks towards six criteria that underpin ‘logistics readiness’; the mutual understanding between commanders and logistics staff, the balance between combat and supporting forces across a force, the quality of logistics plans and policies, the nature of organisation, materiel readiness, and the quality by which the logistics forces are exercises in peacetime.

#3 – ‘Logistics and the strangling of strategy’ by David Beaumont

This post was one of a smaller number of posts which looked at logistics and its relationship to strategy. It recognises that logistics systems and supply chains are not only an influence on the formulation of strategy, but in many cases an outright determinant. Furthermore, the contemporary fixation on high-velocity, nominally ‘efficient; and globalised supply-chains have introduced significant operational challenges that strategists are only coming to realise. It cites a number of recent studies of operations in Afghanistan to support its thesis, concluding with a realisation that we are in an era where logistics has been recast from an issue of economy and commerce to one fundamental to the security of nations.

#2 – ‘Establishing an ‘unequal dialogue’ between the logistician and the commander’ by Steve Cornell

Steve Cornell, a serving British Army officer and commanding officer, made an apt comparison between Eliot Cohen’s ‘unequal dialogue’ between military commanders and political masters to the relationship necessary between logisticians and their commanders. Logisticians must understand the minds of their commanders, but with a robust dialogue, their perspective must also be reflected in their commander’s thinking. Steve helpfully identifies three questions for commanders and three for logisticians that provide a good starting point in establishing an effective relationship. Implicit in this is shared trust, a factor emphasised in this years most popular post …

Most popular post for 2017 – ‘The trust deficit – why do we expect logistics to fail us?’ by Gabrielle M. Follett

As an Australian Army combat service support battalion commander, Gabrielle Follett was well-placed to discuss the issue of trust between tactical commanders and logisticians. She observed a general cultural scepticism as to the ability of logisticians to operationally deliver, and witnessed an assumption made by many ‘that the logistics system is almost certainly going to fail us’. This lack of faith generates what Follett calls a ‘trust deficit’. The ‘trust deficit’ is seen to be compounded by an unwillingness to accept that logistics, like combat, is subject to the influence of many factors, but also a mentality whereby ‘trust is good, but control [of resources] is better’. Yet, Follett incisively argues, logisticians must also demonstrate competence, or quantifiably expose shortfalls so that resources to remediate them can be won.

Posts you should read

In addition to the five most popular posts, there a few editorial recommendations to avail you of five minutes of your time. These posts are thematically linked – with strategic logistics leadership the focus. Please excuse the self-selection!

  1. Future logistician – framing a new approach‘ by Major General David Mulhall. Why? It’s always useful to keep in mind where strategic leadership is heading.
  2. The realities of logistics and strategic leadership: lessons from the ADF’s senior-most logisticians‘ by David Beaumont. Why? The post provides a list of succinct anecdotes and lessons relevant to understanding institutional logistics.
  3. Surviving your time as a military logistician‘ by Air Commodore Hayden Marshall. Why? The post gives ‘mantras’ for logisticians to survive – if not thrive – within the institutional and operational environment.
  4. Intellectual irrelevance and ownership of logistics‘ by David Beaumont. Why? Take a read – the article attests to why LIW exists.
  5. A Logistics in War Primer: how we make a sustainable and balanced force‘ by David Beaumont. Why? It describes the importance of logistics considerations in force design though two case studies – the US Army development of its SBCT capability, and the Australian Army’s recent history of change.

Thanks to all contributors for supporting LIW, and making 2017 a success!


MV-22 EX TS17

USMC MV-22 Osprey during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2017 – Photo by Department of Defence







Burning incense at a new altar – a year of ‘Logistics In War’

By David Beaumont.

Thank you for your patronage of Logistics In War and the interest given to the works of authors who have invested personal time and effort to write about a subject of profound importance to military readiness and operational performance. The engagement achieved across a wide variety of logistics issues, told from the perspective of a range of military experiences in different militaries and contexts, has been an incredibly positive sign. The contributions made to the site, done so from a genuine and honest desire to improve upon current practices in militaries, point to a conception of logistics as a not just a technical issue, but a matter of growing concern across many militaries and within their institutions. It is also a sign of military professionals seeking organisational transformation, and innovative ways in which improvements to logistics practices might achieve leaps in operational performance. With this in mind, it is worth reflecting on this professional interest in logistics and the reason why it is important to us right now.

Fifty years ago Richard Leighton and Robert Coakley, authors of the US Army official history Global Logistics and Strategy 1940-43 saw military thought clinging to two ‘Clausewitzian’ ideas:

‘that the primary function of the soldier is to use the tools of war in combat, not to fashion or provide them, and that material forces have not yet diminished the role of courage, leadership and the arts of command’.[1]

They asserted that such principles have been under strain since the industrialisation of war, and the integration of technological improvements into forces that offered the modern combatant access to unparalleled firepower. Secondly, courage and leadership were seen to be ‘losing the power to override heavy materiel odds’.[2] The victor in operations was the one that could effectively and efficiently utilise its logistics capacity to bring the most combat power it could to the battlefield. The importance of the individual combatant in battle was diminishing given the power of machinery and combat mass, with troops becoming increasingly employed in mobilisation and sustainment activities. Thus the Second World War was seen to be the tipping point where the more personnel were engaged in sustaining combat than participating in front-line combat. The ‘tail’ in contemporary campaigns now well outweighs the ‘teeth’, whether it be constituted by military personnel, contractors and industrial partners.

We are a generation of military professionals that continues to ‘burn incense at Clausewitz’ altar’, with a continuing emphasis on the human dimension of war, the weight of leadership and the role of the combatant.[3] I argue that this view of warfare is being revealed as increasingly incomplete and  inadequate other than in terms of basic principles. The philosophical basis for the Western way of war emerged well before logistics was seen to be ‘nine-tenths of the business of war’, and where availability supply was less of a determinant of operational tempo, shock and firepower.[4] That there is only one chapter out of the one-hundred and twenty-five in OnWar with specific discussion on logistics is instructive of the limitations of this text. His contemporary, Antoine Jomini considered logistics as a principle component of the theory of war, yet also offered very little description on the topic. But this is typical of the works of the time where the problems of large-scale warfare were prevalent. It should not, however, be typical of ours. Our interest in logistics must mirror that directed to strategy and tactics in an age where the latter are often determined by the former.

In complete contrast to the lukewarm professional and academic interest directed to the concepts of military logistics, we find logistics activities dominate much of what militaries, and their personnel, do daily. In war, logistics is the acme of strategy in the use of movements and supply to generate decisive combat power. Through the actions of commanders in control of a process of intertwined activities spanning national industry right to the passing of ammunition between soldiers in combat, military forces achieve their operational potential and firepower. This ensures combat forces are not just available; it will determine that they are employable. Logistics factors influence so many things from the amount of dispersal a force can achieve to their rate of advance, and the myriad of tactical options that a commander might have before him or her. No commander will perform effectively without full cognisance of the simultaneously constraining yet enabling characteristics of their forces’ logistics capacity.

The importance of logistics in the ‘business’ of Defence is even greater. Logistics factors are central to the development of the preparedness of forces as achieved through the six characteristics of logistics readiness – mutual understanding between commanders and their logisticians, the balance between logistics and combat resources and elements, effective governance, logistics organisation, materiel readiness, and through the testing of the logistics system. Military staff of all persuasions must deal with the complexity of logistics during the introduction of modern capabilities, the integration of military activities with industry support, and the realisation that no one person or organisation can maintain and sustain forces without the help of many others. Matters of money and policy, institutional behaviour and leadership make every member of the staff a logistician in one form or another, and every leader a resource manager. To expand upon Major General Julian Thompson’s idea, logistics is truly the lifeblood of military activity in peace, as much as it is in war.

The problem with logistics is that its importance is often recognised in principle, but eyes tend to glaze over when the subject is discussed in any detail. Just as it is important that this attitude to logistics concerns changes, it is similarly important that the language of logistics also changes to facilitate a more effective engagement. Commander and logisticians must avoid the temptation to discuss logistics issues from the basis of it being only a technical enterprise; where complex process and policies tend to obfuscate issues. With the increasing technological sophistication of militaries there is a real risk that logistics functions might splinter into fiefdoms of technical expertise, exacerbating difficulties in achieving integrated logistics outcomes throughout the military organisation. Secondly, if logistics considerations are to be given the attention they deserve, the positioning of logistics staff within the bureaucratic and planning staff will be vital to ensuring that their concerns are heard at the appropriate level. Logistics functions must not be housed in areas of defence forces where it is easy that their leaders are ignored. Fortunately, for Australian readers, I am glad to say that this problem appears to be lessening as a concern for the ADF and its Services.

There is certainly still a way to go with respect to logistics as a core pillar of professional military education and training, and a matter for regular professional discussion, but the prognosis is generally good. Logistics leaders want to take an innovative approach with respect to elevating it as a subject. As a logistics community we must go beyond the intent; the importance of logistics to the military organisation will be directly correlated to the way in which logisticians describe why it should be so. Succeeding in changing opinion will similarly be correlated to the personal and collective effort devoted to the task. The approach taken by all contributors to Logistics In War during 2017, however, is a positive indicator of the growing engagement within (and outside of) the professional community with respect to logistics in a contemporary context. It is certainly hoped that the discussion continues in 2018. The importance of logistics to operational and institutional outcomes is ever increasing, and I thank the Logistics In War community for playing its part.

[1] Leighton, R. & Coakley, R., Global logistics and strategy 1940-1943, The War Department, USA, 1954, p 10

[2] Ibid., p 10

[3] Ibid., p 9

[4] Van Creveld., M., Supplying War, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2nd edition, 2004, p 180

The realities of logistics and strategic leadership: lessons from the ADF’s senior-most logisticians

By David Beaumont.

Through the course of 2017, and because of my academic research, I have been extremely fortunate to interview a range of senior military officers and public servants. These officials were responsible for key decisions with respect to the transformation of logistics as it applied to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Department of Defence during a period of major transformation lasting twenty years. Through anecdotes, insights and the narration of history valuable lessons were given by these leaders with respect to a wide variety of strategic issues in Defence logistics. Moreover, these conversations and interviews confirm the real transition that military personnel face as they stare, mid-career, at their future in Defence bureaucracy, into an environment where the definition achieved in operational planning is not possible, and where institutional functions and logistics processes are completely integrated through the span of the strategic level.

This post is a collation of pertinent points imparted through these conversations. They are general in nature, raw in content, deliberately unattributed and paraphrased. Although discussed in the context of strategic logistics they are broadly applicable, and many are clearly relevant to effective strategic leadership. This reflects the inseparability of logistics from the institutional activity which defines the strategic level of defence forces. Moreover, the factors and issues described here deal with the complexity of generating institutional strategy (as distinct from a military or operational strategy) and leadership within a complex environment.


  • Strategy is a concept of relating means to end; it is complex and subtle and is about thinking, vision, learning as opposed to planning. It involves choices and trade-offs and consequently is much about decision what not to do as deciding what to do.
  • Realised strategy is usually a combination of what was intended and what was learned along the way.
  • The key to understanding policy, strategy and concepts is to be found in knowing who the formulator is and what he or she is about.

Strategic failure

  • Strategic failures emerge when ‘thinkers’ are separated from ‘doers’, ‘strategists’ from ‘planners’ and ‘soft data’ from ‘hard data’. It occurs when strategy is neither understood nor communicated effectively, organisational capabilities and resources are not linked to strategy, and people’s competencies do not reflect strategy. This is often the case with respect to logistics.
  • Strategic failure occurs when there are poor linkages between strategy, goals, budgets and performance measures. The quality of linkages can often be seen in the substance of logistics activities and processes. Similarly, strategic failure can occur when circumstances change but strategy and plans do not.
  • The risk of strategic failure exists when excessively complex implementation plans are developed which emphasise control rather than personal accountability, and are issued ‘fire-and-forget’.
  • Cultural clashes, Service and departmental rivalries, and internal institutional politicking increase the risk of strategic failures and prevent the resolution of many strategic problems.

The strategic basis for capability

  • The basis for capability is enshrined in Government endorsed strategic policy but will change because of changed strategic circumstances, technological enhancements, doctrinal leaps, the planned withdrawal date of equipment, and the availability of replacements.
  • The introduction of capability has traditionally been influenced by a number of intellectual capital shortfalls including conceptual and analytical skills, policy writing skills bureaucratic skills, systems engineering, financial management and corporate risk management.

The realities of capability development and sustainment of materiel and capability

  • All logistics processes at the strategic level are joint; moreover they require military and public service input
  • Military advice is always tested and compared with the views of others. Contestability is at the core of decision making, and decisions which emanate from the military aren’t always trusted.
  • All strategic processes must observe probity, transparency and efficiency in dealing with public money.
  • Institutional decision making is primarily concerned with financial management and the balance of competing demands for limited investment and sustainment funds.
  • It is highly development upon multi-functional teams and effective committee work.
  • Effective processes relevant to the generation and sustainment of capability must reflect a Defence perspective rather than parochial – usually Service – interests.
  • The protagonists (Services and the Department) have diverse and sometimes irreconcilable cultural backgrounds. This is the reality of a large organisation with many competing requirements imposed upon it. Mutual understanding, however, can be achieved and should always be aspired to.
  • Symbols are prolific, and much of what happens is ‘theatre’ that gives legitimacy to logistics and capability processes, as well as other decisions.
  • Rather than using intuition to inform decisions, people often retreat behind analysis to avoid choosing between difficult options. This is especially the case with logistics. Even if analysis is used to inform judgements, decisions at the highest level will tend to be intuitive and influenced by a range of factors.
  • The control of logistics resources, especially in capability development, is influenced significantly by the desire to attain and exercise power within the institution. Logistics processes can be highly adversarial and mutually destructive – especially in the context of readiness – or highly cooperative and constructive although not without the need to resolve ‘creative conflict’.
  • Changes in financial guidance are an especially ‘capricious influence’.
  • Opinions always outnumber facts.

The nature of public service involvement

  • Public servants have an institutional memory and know how to work both the official and unofficial bureaucratic organisation.
  • They are analytical rather than doctrinal, and possess good policy skills.
  • Public servants know ‘words are bullets’ and can bring a broader perspective to any logistic process and a capacity to look at things with a ‘fresh eye’.

The nature of military involvement

  • Military staff are, in general, not well prepared for operating within an institutional bureaucracy. There are few, if any, other roles in society where the mental attitudes cultivated for operations are so different from those required for long term policy making.
  • In order to present the ‘military’ view of a problem in a judicious and ultimately successful manner, military professionals must understand the total concerns of the problem. Many of these concerns are not ‘military’ in their origin, or consideration.
  • Military staff must be more dispassionate about their work, especially when it is criticised.
  • Officers do not have good conflict resolution, lobbying or negotiating skills. This is the biggest source of success or failure for military officers operating at the most senior levels of defence organisations.

The expansive nature of logistics, as a process that straddles activity from the acquisition and sustainment organisations operating at the strategic level of militaries to the tactical units deployed on operations, often means that logisticians encounter the problems of strategic leadership early in their careers. Many of the issues they face are inseparable with the general functioning of a military prior to its operational use; as such, they must be understood. As cited by Nicholas Jans in the excellent study The Chiefs, ‘if they [strategic leaders] do not clearly understand the nature of the entity they are to lead, how can they possibly lead wisely?’[1] The collected thoughts summarised here provide a brief insight to revelations achieved after years of Service, in circumstances where logistics leaders have been required to embrace radical transformations to the way in which logistics process occur. However, I argue, they are unequivocally timeless and should be held in high regard by those who aspire to any success at the strategic level, and as a logistician more broadly.

[1] Leonard Wong and Don Sider cited in Nicholas Jans, The Chiefs: a study of strategic leadership, Commonwealth of Australia, 2013, p 90 []

The future of strategic mobility by air – reconciling expectations with the capacity to deliver

By Jobie Turner.

In my earlier post, I argued that the expectations being placed upon air power to deliver strategic mobility outweigh its capacity to operationally deliver. Yet air transportation will remain an essential way of sustaining combat forces in the future battlefield; a necessary way if the future battlefield will be as dispersed and fluid as is being argued by military concept writers around the world. Given the limited sustainment capability of airlift, what can be done to match expectations with expected practice?  Many Service concepts have called for autonomous aircraft, hybrid airships, or disposable delivery solutions such as long-range airdrop to deliver more goods into the future battlefield.  While these concepts will help and are worthy of study, they do offer any additional capacity to air mobility forces unless they complement that which exists already. Perhaps an alternative may be found in the way air transportation capabilities are used.

More immediately feasible than unproven delivery technologies is to use the current aircraft inventory in different ways.  One possible avenue is using airlift aircraft as gas stations to land, off-load fuel, and then move to other locations.  The US and its allies already have experience with these types of logistics operations. In Afghanistan, the US military has devised numerous methods to deliver fuel to outposts isolated from ground transportations and to supply fuel for air operations by pumping gas out of aircraft with engines running.[1]  In a further example, the US Air Force has devised concepts to fuel and load fighter jets using C-17 aircraft in austere environments.[2] These three examples illustrate that fuel can be delivered and quickly, eliminating long download times and shrinking the amount of equipment required to move the fuel off airplanes.  Although inefficient, fuel delivery by air may offer the best chance to capitalize on the flexibility of delivery through the air without further burdening the system with new delivery methods.

Another possibility is working on new and innovative methods for moving cargo on and off aircraft.  The quicker cargo can either be distributed or loaded, the less time cargo assets will spend under threat and the more cargo can be delivered over time.  Possibilities include “floating pallets” or exoskeletons which magnify human strength, allowing fewer personnel to move heavier cargo.[3]  While such solutions are unproven, they are much less expensive than acquiring further aircraft that are used inefficiently.  One defense research study concluded that improved distribution of cargo off of the airfield, through technological improvement, had the potential to increase throughput by 84%.[4]

Finally, and most importantly, the US military must rely even more heavily on allies and partners for access—both physical access and access to commercial markets.  Despite modern technology the cost of air transportation remains high in terms of its financial expense and in terms of the time it takes to move massive quantities of materiel. The more goods, equipment, and combat capability that can be provided by allies, the less that will be needed to move into theater.  In addition, locally-based commercial avenues can provide cheaper and more efficient methods of supplying war—especially in situations where the environment is more permissive—freeing up organic combat assets, especially those that fly, for non-permissive missions.[5]  US forces have learned this lesson well in Afghanistan, at one point shifting the burden of delivers to Afghanistan away from tenuous supply lines of Pakistan and through Europe into Central Asia and finally the north of Afghanistan.[6]  Simple as it may seem, the more resources that can be won locally, the greater the options for strategic mobility as provide by air there will be.

The ability of airlift to carry the day in future warfare is uncertain.  Logisticians and planners must recognize this fact and approach future logistical challenges with a realistic eye on what is possible.  For now, and into the near future, delivery by air brings agility but not the capacity of other modes of transportation. However, through innovation and new approaches to logistics it is possible that air mobility capacity can be increased without the need for increased numbers of aircraft.

Jobie Turner is an officer in the United States Air Force with operational experience in C-130 cargo aircraft.  The views expressed are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. He can be followed on Twitter @vicuslargo

[1]Erin McClellan, “Mobility Guardian provides valuable C-130 hot defueling training,” (accessed 01 Oct 2017); Charles Q Brown Jr and Charles G Glover III, “Untethered Operations:  Rapid Mobility and Forward Basing are Keys to Airpower’s Success in the Antiaccess/Area-Denial environment,” Air & Space Power Journal 29, no. 3 (2015).

[2] See  “Untethered Operations:  Rapid Mobility and Forward Basing are Keys to Airpower’s Success in the Antiaccess/Area-Denial environment.”

[3] Steven Scott Byrum, “Downloading Deterrence:  The Logic of Logistics of Coercive Deployment on US Strategy,” (Air University, 2015), 58 and 62.Byrum uses an illustrative example of two soldiers pulling a pallet weighing 9500 pounds off an aircraft with no assistance from forklifts or cargo loaders.

[4] Ibid., 58.

[5]Rafael Torres Sanchez, Military Entrepreneurs and the Spanish Contractor State in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)..  For an historical example, See Chapter IV for a specific case-study in which the commercial market was able to provide more sustenance for the Spanish invasion of Mallorca than the military system.

[6] Andrew C. and Thomas Anderson Kuchins, “Central Asia’s Northern Exposure,” The New York Times, August 4, 2009.  This article gives the broad overview of the Northern Distribution Network and explains its origin.

The Australian Defence Force and industry support to operations – is it time for a new ‘national support agenda’?

By David Beaumont.

In 2016, the Australian Government released its 2016 Defence White Paper and the supplemental Defence Industry Policy Statement. Industry Statements signify Government intent to Australian Defence industry, and like strategic policy, combine hyperbole with requirements for change. In this case Government – in extolling the self-evident nature of industry as a ‘fundamental input to capability’ – sought closer collaboration between Defence and industry through the development of a native shipbuilding program, to support capability acquisition and sustainment for other major programs, as well as the enhancement of the commercial support on offer to Defence. The Statement also introduced the notion of a ‘Sovereign Defence Industry Capability’, an industrial resource of such vital concern to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) that it must be maintained if not controlled for the purposes of national defence. What the Statement didn’t do, however, was to detail a new path for industry in the context of supporting actual ADF operations.

This issue is one among many examined by Dr Stephan Fruhling, Australian National University, in a recent paper ‘Sovereign Defence Industry Capabilities, Independent Operations and the Future of Australian Defence Strategy.’ As part of the ‘Centre of Gravity’ series of papers, the purpose of its analysis of the idea of ‘sovereign defence industry capabilities’ is to provide strategic policy recommendations, of which there are three.[1] All three are aligned to addressing aspects of the issue of industry support to ADF force structure, and most importantly, operations:

  1. Industry capabilities must relate to scenarios which apply to the force structure of the ADF, ‘not just consider industry as a collection of industry fundamental inputs into capability’.
  2. Australia needs to look beyond a peacetime industry dependence on the US. While reliance was avoided because of the strategic policy orientation of ‘self-reliance’, ‘we must now also move to confront our dependence on US resupply in high-intensity operations’.
  3. Industry will be crucial to enable ADF operations in defence of Australia in the ‘era of long-range precision strike’. This includes the establishment of battle-damage repair capabilities in industry, as well as arrangements for ‘domestic base support’.

Fruhling notes that these ideas are ‘not what the Government had in mind’ with its industry statement. However, they are legitimate concerns that should be echoed in strategic and industry policy calculus. If the Government requires the ADF to be able to operate with any independence from coalition sources of tactical logistics support, the idea of independence should also apply at the strategic level, and with industry in mind.

It is also tremendously worthwhile to consider this issue from the perspective of Defence in its engagement with industry. The role of Defence, and the ADF in particular, in industry policy largely boils down to the articulation of the strategic or operational requirements, and the effective integration of national industrial infrastructure into ADF operations and daily business. This integration is enabled by policy and governance, and through consistent organisational behaviour. Defence presently engages with industry through a multiple of channels, with key agents being the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), Joint Logistics Command (JLC) and a variety of other groups, units, functions, including the Services, responsible for their own component of the logistics process. Each agency or group has its own objectives and requirements, and the approach is demonstrably fragmented. In the past, however, the ADF has concertedly sought a corporate solution to the problem.


Land 400 Phase 2

Contenders for Army’s future combat reconnaissance vehicles undergoing air portability trials. Photo by Department of Defence.


In the late 1990’s the ADF pursued a ‘national support agenda’, a strategic approach to its engagement with industry for ‘ the application of all the resources of the Nation to maximise the defence capability of Australia’.[2] The need for a national support strategy had been born out of reforms as early as the 1980’s, and given greater emphasis as a consequence of the downsizing of the ADF’s organic logistics support capabilities which followed. Industry’s ability to support ADF operations was conceptualised, and tested – albeit in a haphazard and ultimately inadequate way – during the major exercises of the time. The idea of national support culminated with the raising of the National Support Division (NSD) in 1997 during the Defence Reform Program. This Division was a fundamental refocussing of a downsizing Strategic Logistics Division of Headquarters ADF, and was to ‘broaden, shape and improve national and international capabilities to better enable the force generation, mobilisation and sustainment for the ADF.’[3] For just over two years NSD developed concepts and policy which reflected strategic-level logistics at its most essential; extracting support from the national economy for the benefit of military outcomes.

With the creation of the Defence Materiel Organisation in 2000, NSD was disestablished with its functions split between the ADF’s capability staff, Strategic Policy Division and the newly raised Joint Logistics Command. This decision came with questionable timing given it was soon after the ADF’s deployment to East Timor in 1999, an operation during which numerous issues with the quality and capacity of national support available could be seen. Only a year later the Departmental-level Defence Committee agreed to the raising of Strategic Logistics Branch in JLC to better progress national support issues, though some of Defence’s senior leaders considered this was merely a temporary solution to the problem. JLC continues to lead in this area, but across the wider Defence organisation the strategic concept of national support has greatly diminished in its potency. The focus now sits on supporting the ADF’s operations at hand, acquisition and sustainment rather than the how and why of mobilising industrial capacity to suit operational sustainability as a strategic concept. By 2003 and the deployment of ADF forces to support coalition operations in Iraq, where much commercial support was obtained through coalition partners and industry engagement was predominantly focussed upon the rapid acquisition of supplies and equipment, strategic engagement for long-term policy objectives was becoming a strategic side-show.

With industry being declared a ‘fundamental input into capability’, perhaps it is time for a new national support agenda. Such an approach will complement evolving strategic and industry policy as depicted in Fruhling’s paper. This does not necessarily mean further wholesale organisational change is required; a succession of changes in the organisation of Defence has already contributed to the degradation of a strategic approach to industry over the last decade. Concepts have been forgotten and policy compromised with entities like the NSD having little time to prove their worth to the ADF. However, it is logical to review authorities and accountabilities, and to reinforce areas responsible for considering industrial capacity and mobilisation on the basis of a purportedly new paradigm in defence-industry relations. It is especially necessary given the increasing engagement of industry as a supplement or complement to military capability, as is being currently postulated through several initiatives being progressed by the ADF’s Services. Finally, it is necessary simply because of its immense importance to any future considerations of how the nation might mobilise in a future war. The ADF may be prepared to launch an operation, but without industry similarly responsive the weight of national power cannot easily be brought to bear.

Just as Fruhling points out that there is much more to ‘sovereign defence industry capability’ to be explained if Government requires the ADF to conduct independent operations, there is also a need for Defence to reinvigorate its approach to engagement with industry to enable effective outcomes in these future missions. The development of proficiencies for military and civilian logisticians and others to engage with industry, or reconsidering the manner and means by which industry is approached, remain important to this end. However, it is also important for logisticians and leaders to approach the matter comprehensively, fully cognisant that national support to operations is one of considerable professional relevance. As the ADF’s strategic and operational logistics ‘tail’ comprises a greater commercial component, the effective engagement of the ‘sovereign defence industry capability’ must be second nature to logisticians and others in Defence. A strong institutional narrative regarding the integration of industry with all Defence activities, and in particular military operations, must become a priority. In the context of Stephan Fruhling’s view on the future of Australian defence strategy, the ADF’s success in strategically independent operations will be a clear reflection of the quality of this vitally important relationship.

[1] These paraphrased points are summarised at Fruhling, S., Sovereign Defence Industry Capabilities, Independent Operations and the Future of Australian Defence Strategy, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific, 2017, p 2

[2] As approved by Steering Committee, July 2001, from the Inspector General Division, Progress in pursuing the national support approach, Portfolio Evaluation Report, Department of Defence, 2001, p2-1.

[3] Ibid., p 2-7

Underpinning asymmetric advantage: USAF airlift when strategic mobility is at risk

By Jobie Turner.

The true asymmetric advantage the US military possess is the capability and capacity of its logistics.  The supply and transportation means at the disposal of the joint force have great breadth and depth.  US Transportation Command, in the assigned role as the mobility provider for war, has 1,203 aircraft and 379 ships at its disposal, between organic and commercial assets.[1]  On the supply side, the Defense Logistics Agency is at the pointy end of a $34 Billion enterprise, undergirded by the largest economy in the world.[2]  Outside of the United States, the military relies heavily on a vast network of allies and partners who provided bases and support to assist in the projection of US forces.   Norms and standards of shipping by sea and air traffic, allow goods, services and by extension military assets, flow unimpeded over large parts of the globe.  The translation of this logistic support into broader strategic interests is clear:  since the end of the Second World War the United States and its allies have been able to move to war mostly unabated and undeterred.

Although the joint force possesses modern delivery methods (e.g. fast jet transportation) and vast command and control facilities, the system in total bears a striking resemblance to that established at the end of the Second World War.  For the US military and their joint partners, moving to war and supplying battle tends to move in a standard ‘Hub and Spoke’ model like those laid out in the classic work “Logistics in the National Defense” by Henry Eccles.[3]  In this model, the personnel and material move from the United States to larger bases and are then distributed to ever smaller locations as required by the mission.  The ‘Hub and Spoke’ system allows for efficiency, reserve capacity, and the ability to predictively schedule sustainment.  This system has done much to underpin US strategic goals—whether deterrence, influence, or other—and it will not last.

The System is at Risk

Joint Operational Environment 2016-2046 characterizes the future geopolitical realm by ‘contested norms’ and ‘persistent disorder’, a situation which includes direct challenges to the global commons.[4] Individual service studies and those of partner allies back up the same thesis.[5]  What does this mean for logistics?  Future long-range weapons, geopolitical ambitions, and the willingness for nation-states to challenge the rules-based order of the global commons may halt the ability of the joint force to move to war and supply itself. In short, the entire system that underpins US power projection is at risk.

Given the implications from the assessment of the future environment, there are many concepts that seek to address these concerns.  For example, the US Army’s Multi-Domain Battle White Paper states, ‘adversaries will also exploit perceived U.S. weaknesses such as time and distance for force deployment and vulnerable logistics nodes and command and control networks.’[6]   In addition, the Air Force Future Operating Concept states, ‘[t]eams can aggregate to produce mass when required or be distinct, disparate assets, depending on the required domain control effects.’[7]  As these two examples imply, future warfare requires disaggregation of combat power to avoid detection and destruction, and then concentration when needed to produce operational effect.  This operational construct will ripple down into the transportation requirements for war. The approach where large bases are seen as hubs with static smaller bases as spokes will be insufficient to the task.  The future world of logistics will require speed, precision, and flexibility.   There is an unwritten expectation that mobility will be underwritten by airpower.



USAF C17 during a recent joint forcible entry exercise; photo by USAF


Challenges and Opportunities by Air

Aircraft can move at great speed, airdrop with exquisite precision to need, and change destination locations mid-flight.  While this agility outpaces movement by land and sea, it is also lacking in capacity.  For example, a C-17 can be loaded, fly from CONUS to a point half-way across the globe in under 3 days, while a cargo ship can take up to 40 days to make the same journey.  However, while it takes 1 to 2 large cargo ships to deliver the equipment for a single US Army Brigade that same equipment would require 330 C-17 missions to complete the movement. In sum, the entire fleet of C-17s in the inventory of US and its coalition allies could deliver the contents of one cargo ship.[8]  This makes aircraft uniquely suited to carry things that are light in weight, smaller in size, and valuable—like personnel for example—while ships and ground transportation carry the rest.[9]  In fact, over 90% of military cargo delivered from the CONUS goes by sea.[10]  Airlift and ground transportation both rely on the cargo provided from the sea to large ports as the supply mechanism for delivery forward to smaller bases.

If future warfare demands more distributed operations, with more bases and more movement across the battlefield, airlift will be central to overcoming sustainment problems. There will be an expectation that airlift will substitute when ground lines of communication are cut, and other distribution capabilities are unable to keep up with the pace of operations.  We should not forget its own limitations, however.  Despite the size of the USAF, delivery by the air will not be able to handle the logistics requirements of even just one US Army brigade for more than a few days.[11]  Furthermore, operations along contested lines of communication will themselves require offensive air operations and the use of vast amounts of fuel, munitions, parts, and supplies as well.  Airlift can do much in the short term, but in no way can it, sustain a major operational campaign alone.

Airlift has always offered militaries adaptability and flexibility, and has been critical to the maintaining of operational tempo. At this juncture, however, it is important that ambition doesn’t outweigh reality. An expectation of unfettered airlift support may become a core weakness of emerging operational and tactical concepts. The enabling of national advantages in logistics capacity will therefore require new ways of thinking about airlift.

Jobie Turner is an officer in the United States Air Force with operational experience in C-130 cargo aircraft.  The views expressed are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. He can be followed on Twitter @vicuslargo

[1] USTRANSCOM, “About USTRANSCOM,”  These are steady-state numbers and do not reflect the surge aircraft available under Civil Reserve Airlift Fleet activation.

[2] Defense Logistics Agency, “DLA At a Glance” (accessed 01 Oct 17)

[3] Henry Eccles, Logistics in the National Defense (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institue Press, 1997), 62 and 236.  These pages give a good visual of how logistics flows from strategic to tactical, flowing from larger bases and organizations to small units.

[4] The Joint Staff, “Joint Operating Environment 2035:  The Joint Staff in a Contested and Disorderd World,” (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2016), ii.

[5] See United States Air Force, “Air Force Strategic Environment Assesment 2016-2036,” (Washington, DC: HQ United States Air Force, 2016); United States Marine Corps, “Futures: 2030-2045,” (Washington DC: USMC, 2016).

[6] United States Army, “Multi-Domain Battle: Combined Arms for the 21st Century,” (accessed 01 Oct 2017).

[7] United States Air Force, “Air Force Future Operating Concept,” (Washington, DC: HQ Air Force, 2015), 18.

[8] Government Accounting Office, “Options for Strategic Military Transportation Systems,” (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2005), 16-17.

[9] Smaller aircraft, such as C-130s and helicopters, follow the same trend.  They are fast transportation assets with limited capacity.

[10] Darren Mcdew, “On the State of the Command” (paper presented at the Testimony Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2017), 8.

[11]Colin Clark, “Not enough C-17s, Tankers, or Ships for Hot War: TRANSCOM,” (accessed 01 Oct 17).. Gen McDew, the USTRANSCOM commander, recently stated that “We can do 200 C-17s…We do not have the capability I wish we had”