Burying the hero – how logistics and readiness changed war

By David Beaumont.

This is part two of a three-part series on logistics and logistics readiness.

In ‘The water in the well – how much logistics readiness is enough?’ I described the idea of logistics readiness as the ability of a military force to build up and sustain combat power at their full potential. Logistics, as a process, is the system of activities which begins in the economy and fills the ‘well’ with ‘water’. Through capability acquisition and integration with the national support base, through multiple Defence and military echelons, right to the battlefield; ineffective activities at any stage along this long line will compromise the logistics readiness of the force as a whole.

That’s the theory. In practice, however, attempts by militaries to develop logistics readiness have led to mixed results. Too few commanders have realised that logistics readiness underpins their strategies, or defines capabilities or the way their forces will fight. Some get it right, and base strategies on the capacity given to forces by their sustaining echelons, bases or auxiliary vessels. This article looks at how logistics readiness has shaped military success and failures, created the nature of operations, and most certainly the capacity of militaries to be viable as a force.

Well before petroleum and gunpowder, logistics grasped on armies and their expeditions. Donald Engels, in Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, echoes the words of Major General J.F.C. Fuller in his biopic of Alexander; supply was the basis for operational – if not strategic – mobility.[1] Alexander’s approach to logistics readiness shaped strategy, and the design of a force that could achieve such a strategy.[2] Engels attributes the successes of the Macedonian advance through Asia due to a focus upon movements to and from sources of supply, a reduction in the number of horses on campaigns to reduce logistics requirements, insisting troops carried as much of their own equipment as possible, and eliminating the practice of soldiers deploying with family members accompanying.[3] It was an expeditionary army designed with logistics in mind.

Roman advances through Europe and Asia similarly show what logistically ready armies can achieve. Jonathon Roth in The logistics of the Roman Army at war (264 BC – AD 235) argued that the Roman’s success didn’t just come from military culture, training or weaponry. Rome’s ability to provision large armies and shift resources at continental distances was the preeminent factor in the projection of military power. It came from the organisation of servants, soldiers, infrastructure and an expansion based upon access to private markets. Logistics drove the strategy of the most powerful nation of the time. In fact the logistician might have been more important than the strategist given that ‘the necessities of military supplies influenced and often determined the decision of Roman commanders at war.’[4]

The military profession became more aware of the link between a new conception of logistics, readiness, organisation and force projection as our root theories of war were written. Clausewitz’s survey of history, as well as the Napoleonic Wars, led him to write that ‘[t]he end for which a soldier is recruited, clothed, armed and trained, the whole object of his sleeping is simply that he should fight at the right place and the right time’.[5] In his chapter describing the ‘problem of supply’ he articulated that the means of supply could change the ‘form and factor’ of operations.[6] What was possible was shaped by what was immediately practical.

Clausewitz’s contemporary, Jomini, articulated that logistics occupied a leading position in the organisation and execution of strategy and tactics, and that logistics was not just the purview of staff, but of generals. In getting ‘men and materials’ to the front, logistics was centrally concerned with how war was forced upon an enemy. For example, Napoleon’s ability to organise his Army on the basis of administrative necessity by dividing it to support local subsistence shows cognisance of logistics concerns in designing the French Army – at least until he seemingly ignored it all and nearly led his armies to their end.

The transformation in the way that war was being fuelled and fought was definitive in logistics moving from the margins to one of the most significant influences upon success. No longer could a commander assume that the soldier could survive by foraging off the land. Supply was no longer part of a Clausewitzian ‘paper war’ but shaped important strategic and tactical choices. Technology – from the rifle, steam engine, gun to the internal combusting engine had changed the ways armies operated. But military commanders were increasingly pressured with logistics constraints when commanding these soldiers on the battlefield. Technicians began to be required in readiness, and forces designed around their logistics echelon.

Somewhere on the Eastern and Western Fronts of the First World War technology and logistics, hand in hand, buried heroic ideas of the soldier under spent ammunition cases, sacks of fodder, and equipment requisition orders. Industrialised, globalised, warfare saw the supply lines increasingly become the ‘how’ which shaped the ‘what’. We remember the First World War for its ‘storm troops’, the guns, aircraft and tanks, and the doctrinal revolution which gave us early combined arms tactics and intellectual reform in some militaries. But it was also won by raw economic power transformed through military logistics processes into tangible combat potential and eventual military strength. Industry had always been inseparable from warfare, but now the importance of it being ready prior to the first shots of war was blatant.

Supply continually occupied the minds of planners. Initially low levels of logistics readiness prevented strategic responses, despite the arms race that had preceded the war. This cost lives as it was much quicker to deploy soldiers into the field than it was to arm them properly. Initial ammunition shortages limited the ability of the British and allies to crack the Germans front-line; once mobilisation drove industry to full production two years later the problem shifted to one of available distribution capability. It took three years for the British to get in place before the guns could truly be unleashed.

Martin Van Creveld’s Supplying War describes that it was the mobility afforded by motorisation which logistics to the fore in war. The moment fuel was fed into an engine, the motorised or mechanised force became an arm of its logistics capability. Stalin reflected on the Second World War summing it by stating ‘the war was decided by engines and octane.’[7] Churchill exclaimed ‘above all, petrol governed every movement’. Fleet Admiral Ernest King, in 1946 to the US Secretary of the Navy, noted the Second World War as ‘variously termed as a war of production and a war of machines,’ but, ‘whatever else it is … it is a war of logistics.

In a world of rockets and torpedoes, aircraft and submarines, where superpower interests went global, force posture, mobility and preparedness made the connection between war and logistics more obvious. Logistics readiness was reflected in the ability to move forces at transcontinental distances, or through well-supplied forward positions and propositioning fleets of ships. Manuel DeLanda went so far to assert ‘modern tactics and strategy would seem to have become a special branch of logistics’ in 1991.[8] His statement was timely; in the same year the world witnessed a US-led coalition taking six months to move the US military’s strategic reserve to the Gulf region to set an operation which could be won in 100 hours in motion.

Operational deception and airpower might have been important in winning the war. In reality it was seven million tons of supplies and 5.2 billion litres of fuel that gave the ‘left hook’ of Operation Desert Storm form. The supply of refined fuels to Operation Desert Storm was that large, and the speed it was required so fast, it was highly unlikely that the operation could have occurred anywhere else in the world. Logistics readiness was a product of lucky strategic timing in this case. American logistics resources were at their zenith in the waning years of the Cold War, and the US had yet to comprehensively draw down its positions and supplies to reflect a new ‘peace’. General William ‘Gus’ Pagonis, the US Army logistics architect, popularised this episode as ‘moving mountains’ in his best-selling book.[9]

Treading into a time where strategic manoeuvre and mobility was vaunted, Western militaries recognised that the real purpose of logistics was to bring as much power to bear at any one point. The greater the level of logistics readiness, the easier it was to mobilise forces, and the easier it was to deliver a decisive outcome. Unfortunately, logistics readiness could no longer be based on the luxury of heightened resourcing and with the benefits of the forward positions of the Cold War had provided. Western militaries had to be mobile and lean, as had Alexander the Great’s centuries earlier, with a sustainment infrastructure capable of impossible flexibility.

In the US a ‘revolution in military affairs’ not only set in but was matched by a ‘revolution of logistics’ which sought to replace mass with velocity, where the ‘iron mountains’ of Desert Storm were replaced by a belief that adaptive distribution systems could supply a force in the necessary time. Logistics transformation was about reducing the logistics footprint.[10] The 1990s were a time where deregulation saw military organisations embracing organisational reform to reduce the cost of their back of house functions.

New business methods, outsourcing of organic capability, better professional skills and new technology characterised an approach to logistics that was believed to be cost efficient, but would also improve the mobility of the operational force. Rather than logistics readiness being underpinned by copious quantities of war-stocks or believed to be ‘bloated’ support organisations, Western militaries leapt at the possibility for a logistics system that employed what we viewed as ‘best-business practice’ and delivered the right resources, to the right place, at the right time. Logistics readiness would be underpinned by distribution rather than supply; computer-powered information networks that could tell what needed to be where and when rather than inefficient dumps of supplies ordered in sequential echelons of support.

Ambition met reality south of Baghdad. In 2003 the US Army halted for an operational pause outside An Najaf.[11] Though the advance faltered in a desert storm of ‘biblical proportions’, such a pause was patently necessary as the combat force simply outran their supply lines. The promise of a logistics revolution gave way to the age-old impact of operational tempo without adequate supply. Some units lacked water, others food, certain commodities of ammunition had been all but consumed. There were insufficient vehicles to support the dispersed force, and the combination of a command desire to keep the force lean and a ‘just-in-time’ strategic approach to logistics flirted with disaster.

The communications systems essential for command decision-making on the priority and allocation of logistics resources were incoherently spread throughout the force in an abortive modernisation program. Had the wars intensity been maintained beyond the thirty-day mark, even the most powerful military might have run out of ammunition. The ability to project sustained military power over extended periods of time required quantities of the materiel of war that militaries had, ironically, fought so hard to keep from the theatre.

At the time this was happening, the ADF and Defence as a whole, was emerging from its own catharsis. In fact, the organisation was reforming itself about logistics and command problems which emerged in its own operational experiences. Operation Stabilise / Warden in East Timor in 1999 required a rapid response, but the logistics organisation to underpin the deployment had been incapable of anything other than operating in a state of permanent crisis.

Twenty-year old assumptions about what constituted the readiness of the ADF’s logistics – assumptions that had driven force structure and preparedness choices right from the interface with industry to the tactical approach to logistics in the operational area – were challenged and widely reported. The preceding two decades of force rationalisation saw many of the capabilities which enabled a rapid response reduced to woefully inadequate dimensions for the ADF’s largest operation since the Second World War.

Two decades after this operation, the ADF is a very different organisation. Substantial capability gaps were overcome in the years after East Timor, and over the period the West moved its attention to operations in the Middle-east. Will it be enough to prepare the ADF for future operations, even war? It’s incredibly hard to predict whether it will be logistically ready for its next operation. As this article shows, readiness is a consequence of context and even the most adept military and Defence professionals can be surprised by an unpredictable world.

You might infer from this article that logistics readiness is so elusive a topic that it’s pointless trying to speculate how war might be like, or what aspects of the logistics ‘well’ we should work to make more resilient. Perhaps we should rely on our personal experience and judgement, and hope we can get it right? That’s arguably more risky an approach than attempting to predict the future and trying to design and resource a logistically ready force. An in-depth examination of any of the cases mentioned earlier would attest to this fact. It’s therefore critical to ask the question ‘how much logistics readiness is enough?’ while we’ve got the opportunity to do so.

In Part Three, I’ll articulate a framework to help us when we do.


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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

 

[1] Engels, D., 1978, Alexander the Great and the logistics of the Macedonian Army, University of California Press, USA, p 1

[2] Ibid., see Chapter 1 ‘The Macedonian Army’ for a detailed description.

[3] Ibid., p 119

[4] Roth, J., 1999, The logistics of the Roman Army at war (264 BC – AD 235), Brill, USA, p 279

[5] Clausewitz, C. von, On War, edited by Howard, M. & Paret, P., 1976, Princeton University Press, USA, p95

[6] Ibid., p 330

[7] Cowen, D. The deadly life of logistics, University of Minnesota Press, USA, 2014, p29

[8] De Landa, M., 1991, War in the age of intelligent machines cited in Cowen, D. The deadly life of logistics, University of Minnesota Press, USA, 2014, p 30

[9] Pagonis, W., 1994, Moving mountains: lessons in leadership and logistics from the Gulf War, Harvard Business Review Press, USA

[10] Ransom, D., Logistics transformation – reducing the logistics footprint, Strategy Research Project, US Army War College, USA, 2002, pp 2-3 at https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a404441.pdf

[11] See Pelz, E., Halliday, J., Robbins, M. and Girardini, K., Sustainment of Army forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom: Battlefield logistics and effects on operations, RAND Corporation, 2005 at https://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG344.html

The water in the well – how much readiness is enough?

By David Beaumont.

One of Martin Van Creveld’s most contentious, and subsequently debated, themes of Supplying War related to the persistent inability, if not unwillingness, of various militaries to adequately structure and prepare themselves for the rigours of sustained combat. Others have seen this as a consequence of unrealistic expectations being made of logistics capability, the inability of logisticians to argue a case for investment, the general unwillingness of the organisation to accept their advice once offered, and the widespread misreading of the significance of lift and sustainment capabilities to numerous operational scenarios.

Logistics is one of those topics where it easy to get lost in the magnitude of largely organisation-spanning problems. Strategic logistics issues can be so impenetrable, and the difficulty in bringing the many Defence and partner organisations required to resolve them so high, that it’s difficult to know where to begin. The risks accepted in not beginning are, of course, high and err towards a professional negligence that ultimately costs time, resources and people at the time of a future war.

Militaries routinely encounters cross-roads where decisions regarding structure, posture and preparedness must be made. Some can be made ‘in-stride’ and are ultimately superficial in nature, or so internally focussed they are largely inconsequential to its capacity to respond to the crises before it. Others, unfortunately, are the consequence of significant logistics readiness issues that must be addressed if forces are to be strategically relevant. These issues determine whether the capabilities militaries spend so much effort in acquiring and developing have the capacity to be useful, or pose a liability. The also influence how quickly they might respond.

Western militaries are waking to these problems. A major report to senior US Defence leadership recently cited significant shortfalls in the capacity of the US to project military power. It’s worth dwelling on what it found. Firstly, it recommended conducting realistic wargames and exercises to reflect threats and the capability of the ‘logistics enterprise’ to respond. Secondly, it advocated to ‘protect, modernise and leverage’ the mobility ‘triad’ of ‘surface, air and prepositioning’. Thirdly, it articulated the need to protect logistics data which is particularly vulnerable to espionage and manipulation. Finally, it recommended that the US must increase its funding to logistics programs to make anticipated future joint operating concepts viable. At present, they aren’t.

We are witnessing strategic competition and threats are ‘accelerating’ in scale and significance. Nations are jockeying for the freedom to move and act without contest. Militaries are asking themselves, ‘what does it take to undertake an expansion of forces?’ and others are investigating mobilisation. It is self-evident that militaries must be prepared for conflict, and responsive to crises that do not require the exchange of gunfire. But now, just as there was immediately after the Cold War ended, uncertainty prevails. In this lead-up to whatever comes these militaries will inevitably find that many of their strategic problems are logistics in nature; the substance which really gives a combat force its form.

Logistics and preparedness

Logistics is an easy idea to conflate, as is anything to do with preparedness or readiness. These ideas can mean different things to different people.

Logistics is not just a mere ‘enabler’, nor is it a collection of capabilities that is appropriately resourced and nurtured assure that a military is ‘logistically ready’. The answer to our logistics problems could very well come from a greater allocation of Defence resources to some notable deficiencies we have in deployable logistics capabilities. But it’s also important to understand that this only addresses the simplest part of the problem. This is because:

Logistics is a system of activities, capabilities and processes that connect the national economy to the battlefield; the outcome of this process is the establishment of a ‘well’ from which the force draws its combat potential or actual firepower.

Logistics is a consequence of many actions and many things. As I’ve discussed at Logistics in War over recent weeks, logistics relies upon activities within the military and in the national support base. It involves mobilising resources from the nation and moulding these resources to national strategic requirements and military effort. This complexity makes it difficult to find the right place to direct attention to, who is responsible for coordinating this attention, and what the nature of any reinvestment should be at any given point in time.

Equally confusing is the concept of ‘logistics readiness’:

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] It is the ‘water’ within the ‘well’ .

Achieving a ‘logistically ready’ force is the sum effort of many activities undertaken in peace – from the efficacy of the modernisation program, the economic resources available for defence activities, the way in which materiel is procured and sustained, the strength of defence industry and national support base in general, and the processes and policies set in place so that Government, policy-makers and military commanders can control economic and logistics processes. It truly is a national activity, and one that Defence leaders must be stewards of.

I’m sure you’ll agree that it is incredibly difficult to identify how much ‘logistics readiness’ is enough when – as the current Australian Chief of Defence Force, General Angus Campbell once said – the act of providing one bullet to the front-line might require one hundred logisticians and numerous capabilities on the path from the factory, through multiple Defence echelons over the course of weeks before it even gets into the unit magazine.

Nonetheless, ‘how much logistics readiness is enough?’ has been a question not too far from the lips of capability managers and commanders since war began. It’s a question that hits at the heart of strategic policy, if not national military strategy. It has been a question asked because any form of preparedness, whether it be coached in terms like ‘logistics readiness’ or not, is costly an investment in resources. A prepared military is a sizable investment for any nation to have.

Preparedness takes personnel, funding and time from where we would really like to see them go. It can cost capability development and modernisation programs underway as funds are directed to capability sustainment or to assured resupply of stocks. We must, sometimes, resource preparedness at the expense of better equipment or new weapons, however reluctantly we do so. A soldier serves little purpose if they are unarmed and without supplies. Therefore, it is important that we are efficient in how we establish the preconditions for readiness, but avoid the consequence of creating significant logistics risks that manifest in real problems on the battlefield.

Part Two, in coming days, will turn to history to show how difficult it is to tread this particular line.

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

This is an edited adaption of a presentation given at the Australian Defence Force conference ‘Rapid Force Projection’ in April 2019. It has been adjusted significantly to suit the format here. Imagery courtesy of Department of Defence.

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

Mobilisation in the Information Technology Era

By Peter Layton.

Artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, robotics, cloud computing. The information technology (IT) revolution rolls on, progressively changing the world. The revolution is most obvious to us professionally in areas like the digital battlespace and fifth generation warfare concepts but also individually in our smart phones, chat rooms and social media accounts. There is however, an overlooked area where these aspects intersect and that is mobilisation. It’s a dry term albeit fundamental. Mobilisation involves “being ready to execute a specific operation”. It’s at the core of everything the Australian Defence Force (ADF) does.

Mention mobilisation and people instantly think of world wars, gigantic factories churning out military hardware on a vast scale and society wide conscription. In reality, any ADF operation where more personnel, money or material is required than the normal peacetime rate of effort involves some form of mobilisation: selective, partial, within government or national. It’s simply the process of moving from preparedness to being able to undertake and complete a particular operation.

The IT revolution has now reached a stage where it could potentially markedly change how the ADF thinks of, prepares for and undertakes mobilisation. That’s the good news. Worryingly there is also a dark side where hostile states or non-state actors could now use mobilisation as a weapon against us.

The upside is embodied in the emerging fourth industrial revolution (4IR). With the 4IR cluster of hyper-connected IT technologies, ADF personnel could directly design or request one-of-a-kind items on the internet, electronically pass this to an advanced manufacturing plant, negotiate schedules, arrange delivery and manage on-going maintenance and sustainment. This is the exciting world of three-D printing where production batch sizes can be small or on-demand without impacting production efficiency. F-35 stealth fighter parts and drones are being produced this way while the US Naval Air Systems Command has already approved some 1000 printed parts for fleet use. With the fourth industrial revolution, units in the field, at sea or when deployed to distant bases could print their own spares, becoming semi-independent of the logistics supply chain. Maintenance spares resupply might become a connectivity issue, not a transportation one.

The concept of prototype warfare extends these notions into being able to optimise the equipment being manufactured on an almost continuous basis. The time lag between new challenges arising and technological responses to these could drop dramatically. Intriguingly, this might not just be mobilising for strategic challenges but also tactical ones: “consider the implications if a commander had the ability to select from a catalogue of weapon systems while planning for a mission and they were manufactured based on her specifications.”

However, there are issues. 4IR involves extensive networking and close integration between all participants including across national boundaries, company and bureaucratic hierarchies and life-cycle phases. Such collaboration requires using common standards but there is no agreement on these. The outlook is for several 4IR ‘islands’ across the globe each with different standards that will not necessarily interconnect seamlessly. The ADF’s mix of US, European and Australian defence equipment may create some real 4IR interface problems. These might be best addressed early on in the acquisition and initial logistic support phases of bringing new equipment into service.

Moreover, printing equipment and parts to order may be technically feasible but will the original equipment manufacturers allow their intellectual property to be used in such a way? They may prefer the ADF wait several months – or even years- to allow them to supply required spares. Support contracts would need reconceptualising to take full advantage of the 4IR mobilisation possibilities. The converse probably also holds: the equipment acquired will need to be designed and built under 4IR to provide the optimum mobilisation potential. Mobilisation demands might drive our future force structure.

Thinking more broadly, the issue with intellectual property is that companies don’t want their competitors to learn their trade secrets. The ADF though is not a business competitor. Companies might agree to license the ADF to hold and use 4IR digital data on all the spares able to be rapidly replicated to the appropriate certified standard using advanced manufacturing techniques. Importantly, holding such data in Australia would help overcome worries about timely global connectivity – including from cyber attack – in times of conflict. Its’ use though might be problematic as items from a very large number of companies might need manufacturing. To sufficiently reassure all the various companies about IP protection, the ADF might need to build and operate its own advanced manufacturing facility: a back to the future vision of reinvented national arsenals?

On the negative side of the IT revolution is that external powers can use the new technologies to prevent Australian governments’ mobilising the public to support ADF military operations. Worse, these powers could try to mobilise the Australian people against the government or the ADF. Both could be achieved by meddling in Australian society through accessing our personal devices and social media pages.

There seem three broad types of strategy an attacker might use with simplest being inducing chaos. The Russian approach is to amplify divisive social issues by employing a wide-ranging disinformation attack across a nation’s political spectrum. Whether any particular groups are supportive of Russian policies is irrelevant, the aim is instead to drive them to being more confrontational towards others.

The second strategy is supporting some useful domestic group albeit technically harder. Now however, big data, artificial intelligence and social media is making large-scale manipulation of sizeable interest groups feasible. This is all quantitatively quite different to the small-scale targeting of susceptible individuals by ISIS using human-intensive techniques.

The third and most difficult strategy is changing people’s minds. This strategy includes acting top-down through ideational leaders and here big data, data mining, micro-targeting and deep fakes offer new technological solutions to locating and influencing key individuals.

The Russians have always thought deeply about military affairs and how to exploit technological developments and changes in the character of war. Now they are focussing on mobilising the people against their governments. Drawing on perceived lessons from the Arab Spring and the colour revolutions, Russian thinkers contend countries can now be readily destabilised, almost on command. In early March Russian General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov declared that: “The information sphere…provides opportunities for remote, covert influence…on the population of the country, directly affecting the state’s national security. That is why the study of issues of preparation and conduct of informational actions is the most important task of [contemporary] military science.”(Google Translate)

Talking about social mobilisation may seem arcane. However, with external social disruption operations seemingly likely for the foreseeable future, thought needs to be given to responses. Greater efforts to build legitimacy and craft persuasive strategic narratives may be needed.

Our fundamental ideas about mobilisation are being challenged under the impact of the IT revolution. Impacting all of us, this is an area deserving our close attention.


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.

This article was originally published at ‘The Forge’ and is done so here with permission. 

National support now – how Defence might prepare the national support base for a future war – Part Two

By David Beaumont.

Other than times of clear national emergency, the Australian population does not perceive national security as a ‘bread and butter’ issue … For its part, Defence generally persists in categorising its peacetime and contingency engagements with the civil infrastructure as discrete entities rather than only as variations of the level of support it requires.

Addendum to the Report of the Defence Efficiency Review, Chapter 8, p 172

In Part One of ‘A new narrative for the mobilisation of a nation’ I described the concept of national support, and the creation of an Australian Defence Force (ADF) agency responsible to deliver on the concept. National support gives the self-evident notion that the national support base is intrinsic to the conduct of military operations coherency. A national support concept was created in the 1990s to show how the ADF and Defence writ large would, in theory, see the national support base better integrated into the conduct of military operations. The Defence Reform Program of 1997 led to the creation of a Headquarters ADF National Support Division (NSD) to oversee national support and better posture the military, if not the nation, for a time of strategic uncertainty in which responsiveness and adaptability of strategic logistics processes and capabilities were vital. We are in a very similar time, and Defence has very similar needs. The concept of national support has a place in this period.

Here, in Part Two, a way forward is described.

The National Support Division (NSD) was folded three years after its establishment, and the national support concept it’s represented buried within a new organisational dynamic. The establishment of the Defence Materiel Organisation in 2001 saw the Division disbanded, and its functions reallocated across Defence. While assurances were given that the national support agenda would remain alive in successor organisations, there’s little hard evidence that a unitary concept for national support ever existed twenty years later.

One major problem faced by Defence in reconsidering national support comes with the fact that the accountabilities and responsibilities for delivering an output are dispersed within Defence. A directorate exists within a Joint Logistics Command’s Strategic Logistics Branch to deal with national support issues; with other tasks performed within the Strategic and Intelligence, and International Policy Divisions of the Department; Capability, Acquisition and Sustainment Group; and a variety of other across Defence. Although the ADF might have a well-defined ‘strategic J4’ to advise the Chief of the Defence Force on strategic logistics issues, and numerous senior leaders desire better national support for Defence activities and increased levels of preparedness throughout the national support base, the increasing impetus we see given to national support base coordination should be accelerated.

There is reason enough to have another look at the concept of national support, even without prompts from Defence senior leaders. The strategic order is in flux, Western nation’s previously unimpeded strategic freedom of action is under pressure, acquisition and sustainment processes are constipated, vulnerabilities and gaps within defence industries and national infrastructure are increasingly conspicuous – the list goes on. Strategic planning is now required to overcome these impediments to create a national support base and Defence enterprise that is responsive to rapidly changing strategic circumstances. As the national support base effectively extends beyond borders, this national endeavour must also include international force posture and logistics considerations. There is always a need for likeminded nations to optimise the logistics arrangements between one another, because not even the mightiest can sustain major combat operations alone. Furthermore, coordinated logistics cooperation with neighbours can be critical in shaping the security environment and assist greatly in ‘setting the theatre’ if competition and conflict are to come.

So where do we begin? As mentioned above, and a problem with the original formulation of national support, Defence and its partners need to settle on the litany of terms, doctrine and jargon that will inevitably shape later conversations. An acceptable, modern, definition of national support might also be accompanied by clarity with respect to terms such as ‘force scaling’, ‘force expansion’, ‘surety’, ‘preparedness’ and even ‘strategic logistics’.[1] Perhaps we might even want to ponder the implications of the current ADF definition of mobilisation before a concept of national support takes shape:

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

This use of mutually acceptable terms will help to remove confusion in the interaction between agencies, partners and others. In doing so it will help in attempts to identify the right authorities to respond to each part of the collective problem. This understanding must also be accompanied with an acceptance that non-organic national support base capabilities are as vital to national security as Defence logistics and other military resources. This acceptance goes beyond the too narrow notion of industry as a ‘fundamental input into capability’.[2] Wars are won by whole-of-nation efforts, not military activity alone. Although Defence may begin as the stewards of the idea of national support, there will be a point where any resolution to this systemically national problem will have to driven by others.

Defence, inclusive of the ADF, has a great deal of internal work to undertake. It might start by reviewing what NSD tasks and functions should be afforded a second life. It will have to identify who is responsible for delivering these national outcomes. Secondly, to enable the national support base to respond to a crisis Defence must be armed by a range of mechanisms that enable ‘it’ to better define what operational requirements it is supporting. Perhaps the most important task will be the aligning of processes, and strategic logistics activities in particular, to collective needs. In other words, internal to Defence activities will need to be seen as not only as meeting capability and preparedness requirements, but as tools that can shape and mould the national support base to meet the unforeseen.

A rigorous, well-crafted and sensitive communication strategy will be required, as will cultural reform, because national support is a concept that can be influenced by Defence but not wholly owned. It is a national security issue. Finally, if Defence is serious about the need to consider topics such as force expansion, let alone mobilisation, it must understand the level of national capability which presently exists to support the Defence effort in a time of emergency. Once it defines the strengths and weaknesses, limitations and constraints, of the national support base it can be a proactive partner working with others to resolve them.

Why national support matters now

A variety of Defence leaders have challenged members of the ADF, the Department, and partners to think through the problems associated with how national security needs might require all to adapt to the unexpected. For example, the idea of ‘force-scaling’, as advocated in the Australian Army, has many connotations for those national support base partners who contribute to military success. [3] Defining what ‘force-scaling’ is the first step! It is, however, only one thought among many that needs to be properly integrated in a ‘big picture’ strategic idea; an idea that provides overarching principles and themes to guide planning and behaviour across the national support base. To that end Defence is armed with the benefits of corporate knowledge and a repository of information available within its own archives and captured in the diaspora of documentation that drives its daily business.

All of this aside, there is another reason the conceptualising, strategising and planning matters now. Western societies and their militaries are behind in their thinking about it. Concepts such as Chinese ‘civil-military’ fusion, a Government agenda which mandates dual-use civil and military technologies to be developed, reflect a mobilisation of the Chinese national support base. It is part of ‘setting the theatre’ by creating the conditions by which that nation can respond to its own crises or changes in the strategic environment. It shows evidence of a plan, or at the least, an approach to whole-of-nation efforts. Although the outcome may be demonstrably different, Defence and its partners should similarly work in a holistic national security endeavour to confirm the strategic logistics basis upon which it will draw the strength to protect Australia’s national interests. After all, it may just be that Australia is already within what is commonly known as ‘strategic warning time’. It will be too late to begin planning after any crisis carries the nation away.

David Beaumont can be found online @davidblogistics. The views here are his own.


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

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

[3] See Australian Army, Chief of Army Strategic Guidance 2019, Commonwealth of Australia, 2019, p 15

A new narrative for the mobilisation of a nation – how Defence might prepare the national support base for a future war – Part One

‘Logistics in War’ and the ‘Central Blue’ are jointly publishing the #selfsustain series. In this first of two posts on the relationship between Defence and the national support base, David Beaumont examines how these issues were addressed in post-Cold War uncertainty.

By David Beaumont.

 The role of industrial preparedness in military strategy is anomalous. Prospectively, the role is almost always ignored by military planners;  retrospectively it is agreed that industrial preparedness was either vital for success or instrumental in defeat.

– John R. Brinkerhoff[1]

Over the last two decades, the national security paradigm has transitioned from the perception that the preservation of national interests is the sole purview of the military. There have recently been important decisions made, including in Australia, commensurate to the changing nature of threats to national, and certainly strategic, interests. Organisations have been redesigned, inter-Departmental capabilities restructured, and investments made to enable national responses to potentially existential security challenges. These are important changes that offer nations such as Australia the ability to respond swiftly to specific types of threats. The ability to operate in emerging domains such as ‘space’ and ‘cyber’, act in the ‘grey zone’, or investments in new technologies from hypersonic weaponry to automation and AI, are among the ways we might choose to act. As timely and interesting as these areas are, the greatest opportunities, offsets and risks for a time of increasingly acute strategic competition might lie in areas of less glamour, but greater seriousness, to the outcomes of an existential strategic crisis.

Wars are not won by armies, navies and air forces; they are won by nations or groups. In recent discussions – such as the Defence Science Board’s analysis of the US’s ‘joint logistics enterprise’, the recent Williams Foundation examination of ‘Sustaining Self-reliance’, and the exhortations of senior military leaders as to the state of ‘readiness’ in defence industry – we are drawn to substantial issues relating to the capacity of Western nations to mobilise the ‘national support base’. What exactly is the ‘national support base ’?[2] The ‘national support base’ is the sum of organic Defence capability (and not just capability resident in the military, but also the Department), support from coalition forces and host nations, and support that is provided by national industry and infrastructure. It is the available strategic logistics capability, including that which is inorganic to the military, that ,properly empowered, acts as a ‘shock absorber’ when a nation encounters a military threat.

This article, and Part Two which follows, briefly examines the way the Australian Defence Force (ADF) considered the problem of how best to prepare the ‘national support base’ for the strategic uncertainty resident in the 1990s, and how it commenced the developments of concepts to enabled what we now call ‘force-expansion’, ‘force-scaling’ or even ‘mobilisation.’ From this point, the article looks at what we might do with the concept of national support. Too often is this concept dismantled into its component parts, with aspects of organic (to Defence) and inorganic logistics capability considered mutually exclusive. Before we even start a discussion on how to best prepare the nation for the strategic competition it is most likely already in, we must take the time to establish an understanding of what national support is, and what it will require to mobilise the ‘national support base’. As I have argued previously, perhaps it is time for a new national support agenda.

When Defence made mobilisation an agenda.

It has been over twenty years since Defence engaged in a deep, public, discussion on the role of the industry, if not the nation in its entirety, in military preparedness and defence. The 1997 Defence Efficiency Review (DER), now commonly associated with cementing near disastrous levels of logistics hollowness within an ADF on the cusp of twenty years of continuous operations, was a catalyst which brought a conceptual trend to reality. Changing strategic circumstances affecting Australia, a post-Cold War evolution in the character of warfare, and pressures on federal expenditure necessitated Defence rethink its business. In acknowledging the diminishing size and structure of the ADF, the DER highlighted the important linkage to national resources and good planning, and subsequently enunciated a concept of ‘…structure for war and adapt for peace.’[3]

Significantly, the DER recognised that the preparedness of military capability was not just born from a direct threat of armed attack. Instead, it emphasised the possibility of potential challenges to Australian national interests, with special reference to the rapidity with which such intrusions develop. In hindsight, this view seems ironic given the deleterious consequences of the subsequent Defence Reform Program on military readiness. Notwithstanding history’s lessons, the DER subsequently emphasised that “…better planning and management are thus essential to our future defence capability.”[4] The review argued that in modern warfare it is too late to prepare for an event after already occurred.

The DER recommended that a National Support Division (NSD) be established and that this Division address the concept of national support. The Division was all but a reestablishment of a Strategic Logistics Division in Headquarters ADF, a branch that had been disestablished some years before. However, and unlike its predecessor, the role of the NSD role was to develop the concepts and conduct the engagement that would better harness the nation’s economic, industrial and societal strengths in support of the defence effort. This approach was also articulated in 1997’s Australia’s Strategic Policy (ASP), which emphasised the importance of a small force like the ADF having the ability to organise and draw upon the resources of the broader nation.[5]

Following the publication of the ASP, the Government released the Defence and Industry Strategic Policy Statement, which reiterated that the best defence for a nation is for the nation to wholly engage it in its own security.[6] The statement went on to define the ‘national support base’ as encompassing “…the full range of organisations, systems and arrangements which own, provide, control or influence support to the ADF. It includes all of Defence, other Government agencies, infrastructure, key services, and industry (including the Defence manufacturing sector).”[7]

The key deliverable for the NSD was a foundation concept that lay beneath all policy and activities relating to the Defence engagement with its support partners. As a concept developed in tandem with partners across multiple Departments and sectors of the Australian economy, it would articulate how best Defence could leverage all forms of national and international resources. Looking back on the idea of national support, it seems an eminently sensible method to approach an issue relevant to Defence today. The framework that would be introduced, endorsed by the Chiefs of Service Committee and the Defence Executive, saw outcomes as far reaching as:

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

Of all the ‘pillars’ of the national support strategy, the most instrumental was the issue of mobilisation. This was not mobilisation as evoked in the First and Second World Wars, but a graduated and nationalised approach to escalating a response to strategic competition. This response might ultimately end in prosecuting war. Beyond the development of plans upon which the nation’s resources would be called upon to sustain the defence effort was the establishment of mechanisms to better coordinate resources in the response to significant national security threats. Furthermore, the strategy sought to shape civil capabilities to meet Defence’s needs for mobilisation and sustainment in a coherent process that was absent at the time. Finally, it was all underpinned by strategic-level arrangements with industry and infrastructure partners; arrangements which extended beyond Defence industry policy to create a responsive national approach to meeting unpredictable future needs.

A concept which needs a new life

Twenty years ago Defence created a concept and an organisation that promised to enhance military preparedness and operational performance. The idea of national support, and the presence of NSD, worked to close the gap between the national support base and the ADF. In doing so, it was believed that Defence and the nation would be better prepared in a time of strategic uncertainty, with both positioned to adjust to necessity and sustain a military campaign in the event of surprise. National support is an idea that could find a home now, in a strategic moment where the spectre of strategic competition could very well turn into something more substantial. As much as Defence, the nation and its industries, and many other things have moved on since the 1990s, there are considerable consistencies. It is because of these consistencies that we might want to look back on national support with renewed attention and think about how we might start the journey to better preparing Defence and the nation for a future war.

Part Two will endeavour to do just that.


[1] Brinkerhoff, J.R., ‘The strategic implications of industrial preparedness’ from US Army War College, Parameters, Summer 1994, p1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far from Sanctuaries: Sustaining a Fifth-Generation Fight in the Indo-Pacific

By Donna Cain-Riva.

‘ Logistics In War’ and ‘Central Blue’ are jointly publishing the #selfsustain series. We welcome Mrs Donna Cain-Riva to ‘Central Blue’ and ‘Logistics In War’ to provide her valuable insights into how the Royal Australian Air Force is considering the #selfsustain challenges of operating a fifth-generation force in a competitive Indo-Pacific. This post is an adaptation of Mrs Cain-Riva’s presentation at the Williams Foundation’s #selfsustain seminar, held in Canberra on 11 April 2019.

Over the last few years, Logistics Branch – Air Force has pursued a dedicated effort to understand and respond to the sustainment challenges posed by operating a fifth-generation force in an increasingly challenging Indo-Pacific. This post summarises my views on the key challenges this effort has considered, and provides some insight into the Air Force’s response.

In 2030, air power projection locations in the Indo-Pacific, and our air bases across the entire national support base will not be sanctuaries. Future adversaries will have the ability to reach out and touch us anywhere in the world – physically and virtually. Sustaining fifth-generation capabilities in a future conflict will challenge every tenet of the logistics and sustainment enterprise designed to support them – from tooth to tail.

We must look critically at our sustainment and support constructs, and challenge our current paradigms of sustainment policy and practice. Our success depends on our ability to think differently, to think creatively, and to act with agility. We must redefine the notion of ‘self-reliance’ – take a contemporary, and arguably a realistic view, and understand the nuances and inter-dependencies between sovereign and collective self-reliance as part of a global alliance structure.

As the strategic outlook changes, and we introduce fifth-generation capabilities, we have an opportunity to redefine how we can enhance and sustain sovereign Defence capabilities through deep and enduring alliance and regional relationships. An integrated strategy— that identifies the priority capabilities that Australia must be able to sustain or sustainability contribute to— will give us the reach, flexibility and resilience to operate independently or as part of a combined operation in a high-end, high intensity conflict.

The Need to Change our Mindsets

So what does all this mean for sustaining a fifth-generation fight in the Indo-Pacific? For starters, it means moving beyond our current, or what I refer to as our ‘Middle East’ sustainment mindsets. With few exceptions, we have been, and continue to be, successful in sustaining our capabilities on operations. But if we are honest with ourselves, the prevailing threats were asymmetric, and far removed from the National Support Base and domestic Air Force bases.

A central component of the logistics scheme of manoeuvre prior to major operations in the Middle East was the build-up of support forces and infrastructure across the region. These hubs became a network that could be called upon to support a number of different operations, and were augmented by significant coalition, commercial and host nation support. Basing locations for Air Force systems were, for the most part, located in areas of relative safety. Air lines of communication flowed freely across the battlespace. Global supply chains were free to transport goods to agreed points within host nations. ADF supply chains would then distribute supplies across the theatre, largely uncontested.

Contracted commercial platforms supplemented ADF airlift capability and transported equipment directly into theatre. We leveraged coalition contracts for support, including for fuel and force sustenance at major bases. Demand generally did not out-strip supply and our operational rate of effort was tempered by known sustainment limitations. Operational contingencies did not demand more from our sustainment system than it could reasonably satisfy.

Logistics information systems were unaffected by cyber threats and data passed between deployed locations and the national support base with ease. The requirement to highly classify and protect logistics data was limited.

Operation Okra challenged Defence capabilities across the spectrum but it did so in the context of a theatre with established basing, distribution, supply chains and theatre networks. And no one was shooting at us! In sum, we were not self-reliant in the Middle East, but we did not need to be. The future may be different.

Characteristics of Future Conflict

So what are the changes when we look to the future with a focus on the Indo-Pacific? To put some context around the need for enhanced sovereign Defence capability, it is important to discuss the strategic environment; a changing landscape shapes every acquisition and sustainment decision.

In a high-end, high-intensity conflict, adversaries will seek to deny us access to physical and virtual areas of interest. This will likely commence well before the ‘red flag’ goes up. Adversaries will seek to hinder our ability to enter the area of operation; will contest our freedom of operational manoeuvre; will disrupt our supply chains; and challenge our defensive systems with multi-axis effects coordinated across all domains.

The distinction between ‘grey-hull’ and ’white-hull’ warfare will become increasingly blurred. A high-intensity conflict could be initiated with little warning; fought at a considerably faster tempo, and higher levels of risk to capability and the force.

Our air bases, deployed and at home, are likely to come under attack. Vectors may include; disruption to the logistics systems and communication networks, interdiction or sabotage of supplies and services essential for base functions and capability sustainment, and physical threats that will have increased range, speed, accuracy and lethality.

New Ways of Operating

A fifth-generation Air Force will operate differently in this environment. The viability of our new and emerging fifth-generation operating concepts are critically dependant on enhancing our combat support and sustainment capabilities, including enhancing sovereign options. Our advantage can no longer be based on the capabilities we possess, but rather, how we employ them. Agile and adaptive operating concepts will exploit temporal windows of opportunity to project and employ air power. We must build a network of power projection and basing options across the region to enable the necessary operational reach, flexibility and persistence. This must be underpinned by a resilient sustainment network that can rapidly respond to war-fighter needs.

This entails leveraging our natural geographic strengths, building infrastructure, growing regional partnerships, enhancing coalition engagement and cooperation, and developing synchronised sustainment strategies with our allies, as an integrated part of our deterrence posture. Australian Industry has a critical role to play.

We must be confident that we can BASE – FUEL – ARM – FIX – SUPPLY and MOVE the force in a high-end, high-intensity conflict sustainably.

Enhancing sovereign Defence capabilities for Collective Self-Reliance

We do not face these challenges alone. Our coalition partners and allies are equally challenged, and this presents an opportunity to enhance sovereign capabilities within a collective framework. Enhancing sovereign options, through collective self-reliance will help us to mitigate risk and manage our vulnerabilities, and offers Australia Industry exposure to broader markets and higher demand profiles.

Acknowledging Australia’s limited resourcing capacity for self-reliance, we must establish priorities for sustainable sovereign capability development. There is significant opportunity across the combat support, logistics and sustainment enterprise to enhance our collective self-reliance. The following are a few areas I believe worthy of consideration:

Firstly, BASING the force. We must think beyond military bases and consider how we develop a network of power projection locations within the national support base and across the region. Defence is investing significantly in infrastructure and facilities to support the Air Force’s new capabilities. We must continue to modernise and harden our infrastructure, as well as train and exercise to fight for, and recover our bases. Passive defence measures offer an opportunity for innovation. What does the next generation of camouflage, concealment and deception measures look like? How can we leverage emerging technology to rapidly initiate flexible or dispersed operations to preserve and protect the force?

Higher levels of risk may also challenge our high-reliance on contracted personnel to augment combat support forces. Perhaps it is time to reconsider service delivery models in order to ensure these arrangements can rapidly transition from a peacetime to wartime setting.

ARMING the force. The Air Force is pursuing enhanced munitions integration with our coalition partners. Interoperability objectives associated with munition preparation and aircraft loading are the first steps. But Australia could also play a greater role in the global development, production and testing of next generation missile capabilities. Improving trade relationships, combined with our key coalition partners stated objectives to leverage partner capabilities, enable us to challenge current export constraints and extant agreements that may limit our current role.

FUELLING the force. Australia relies heavily on imports for a significant portion of refined petroleum products. Are we confident in the ability of the market to surge and supply if regional stability and security degrades? We must seek to exploit emerging energy opportunities or enhance our sovereign energy production. Investment and innovation in fuel infrastructure, delivery modes, storage capacity, reserve fuel holdings, and diversification of the fuel supply chain are all worthy of further consideration.

SUPPLYING the force. Increasing the surety of supply and service by sustaining our capabilities through increased organic means, with reach back to indigenous and sovereign industrial capabilities, is a noble objective. But is this realistic where complex and diverse global supply chains dominant the landscape? There is significant opportunity to exploit advanced manufacturing and emerging technologies to disrupt traditional and geographically dispersed supply chain constructs, and to minimise the impact of shocks.

We must start by understanding where we carry supply chain risk and vulnerabilities. From a cyber vulnerabilities perspective, a significant portion of Defence supply chains are managed by commercial entities that may not be held to the same cyber security standards as the Department of Defence. Australian industry and the commercial entities that support the production, supply, warehouse and distribution of our equipment have a role to play in becoming more cyber aware.

FIXING the force. Global supply chains present many maintenance and support opportunities for enhanced self-reliance. The Air Force is pursuing enhanced maintenance integration across common platforms with our coalition partners. Interoperability objectives associated with aircraft repair and cross-servicing’s are progressing. But Australia could also play a greater role in supporting regional maintenance hubs, as well as component manufacture, repair, overhaul, and the provision of engineering services.

By 2035 the global pool of F-35’s will be around 3000. As the global support solution continues to mature and evolve, including the establishment of regional maintenance facilities in Australia, there will be many more opportunities for Australian Industry to enhance its role.

MOVING the force. Agile and adaptive deployment objectives will drive smaller expeditionary logistics packages, requiring responsive resupply and distribution to meet dynamic operational needs. We must seek to optimise volumetrically, and exploit advances in technology and automation to develop modular, tailorable, scalable and lean force packages.

COMMAND the force. There are many opportunities to leverage emerging technology and innovation in order to enhance command and control, situational awareness, and to provide visibility of logistics capabilities and resource availability across the battlespace. Enhanced logistics command and control, supported by a common operating picture, will enable the sustainment enterprise to ‘sense and respond’ to dynamic needs. We must exploit and leverage advances in sensing technology, data analytics and artificial and augmented intelligence to predict, anticipate and respond rapidly to operational needs. This will provide us the power to process increasing volumes of complex operational and logistics information generated by fifth generation platforms and systems.

Conclusion

We require a broader understanding of the combat support, logistics and sustainment challenges we face if we are to prevail against increasingly complex and lethal threats. Logistics will be targeted, and our air bases will not be sanctuaries. These are global challenges, and they require a global response. This is an opportunity for Australian industry to expand its role as part of a collective self-reliance framework . We must harness the opportunity to strengthen our coalition and allied partnerships, enhance our relationships and access within the region, build shared capacity and capability; and in turn, enhance our sovereign Defence capabilities.

Mrs Donna Cain-Riva is the Director of Future Logistics Capability – Air Force. The opinions expressed are hers alone, and do not reflect the views of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.

Building on bedrock or sinking into quicksand – a report on Sustaining Self-Reliance

By David Beaumont.

‘Supply chain security continues to occupy our minds as we intermingle our desire for national prosperity through global trade with our desire to prevent the loss of native capacity to build military capability, mobilise and sustain operations. In this environment it will take little effort for nations to exert influence, or strangle the capacity of a nation to respond to threats militarily. War won’t always begin when the first shots are fired.’

The full report of the recent Williams Foundation seminar High-intensity Operations and Sustaining Self-Reliance‘ was recently published at the website ‘Second Line of Defense’. Author Robbin Laird has included an amalgam of conference papers, interviews and comments as a comprehensive summary of the challenge of making a military – the Australian Defence Force – as self-reliant as practicable. Moreover, the report alludes to one of the most important national strategic questions to answer, ‘how militarily self-reliant must a nation be?’

It is self-evident, and often repeated here at Logistics in War, that these questions have logistics undertones. In many cases the problems of self-reliance are exclusively logistics in nature and won’t be solved by un-resourced strategies and hopeful thinking. Indeed much of the seminar was focussed upon industry and the way in which national economic power is transformed by logistics efforts into military combat power and potential. This point was emphasised in my own presentation at the seminar (pages 25 to 35 of the report). So too was the need to push forward the discussion for we are really at the beginning of it:

‘If we are all serious about self-reliance, we must be serious and frank about the logistics limits of the armed forces, and the industry capacity of the nation ……. However, let’s continue the discussion by challenging some of the assumptions that we hold about logistics; that a coalition will underwrite our logistics operations, that the global market – designed for commerce not war – can offer us the surety of support we require, that we will have access to strategic mobility forces that even our allies believe they are insufficient in. No matter what type of war, there will be some things we must re-learn to do on our own. I am sure we can all here challenge ourselves and our beliefs – whether we are confident in these beliefs in the first place.

If we do not, it is inevitable that we will compromise the plans and policies we create, if not the logistics process more broadly.

Moreover, any neglect prevents us from minimising the ADF’s possible weakness with sources of strength or comparative advantage. Present day convenience will likely cost the future ADF dearly. In fact, we may find that it is better that Australia has an ADF that can sustain, and therefore operate, some capabilities incredibly well at short notice rather than aspiring to a military that spreads its logistics resources across areas where the prospects of success are much lower. Whatever we do choose to do, it will be important to bring defence industry alongside the ADF as the partnership between the two truly determines what is practical in any war, and not just one in which ‘self-reliance’ is on the cards.’

With this in mind, I encourage you to read the sum of strategists, logisticians, public servants, military staff and industry partners in Robbin Laird’s comprehensive report ‘High-intensity Operations and Sustaining Self-Reliance’.


The image above is Joint Logistics Unit – Victoria’s Bandiana heavy vehicle maintenance facility conducts repairs and maintenance to Army vehicles such as the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle, M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carrier and the M777 155mm lightweight towed howitzer.