The value of a moment – logistics and the acceleration of war

By David Beaumont.

‘Future advantage will lie with the side who can ‘own the time’ and best prepare the environment.’

–        Lieutenant General R Burr, Chief of Army, Accelerated warfare, 08 Aug 18

What is the value of a moment? Thomas Kane – writing of the ‘quartermaster’s claim’ on war – notes this ‘value’ depends on the skill of commanders, the strength of forces and the will of troops. However, he concedes, ‘the side that manages to act first has greater freedom to choose the time, place and manner of the battle.’[1] Logistics might not be a competitor to strategy or tactics, but it most certainly helps determine ‘which side will have the most options available’; to seize advantage, if not define the way in which wars might be waged.[2] In return, different styles of war require different forms of logistics. The intended speed of action, the distance and dispersal of forces expected, the types of weapons used and the nature of specific units can create very unique requirements which must be planned and prepared for. Finally, technology plays an important part in determining both logistics capabilities, and the requirements which will ultimately sustain the force.

The ‘value of a moment’ is becoming an important in an age of increased, and clearly overt, strategic competition between a range of state and non-state actors. Maintaining military advantage, if not the relevance of military forces, purportedly requires new ways of thinking about warfighting.  The Australian Army, like its contemporaries, is exploring ideas while sitting at the cusp of very significant strategic, technological and institutional changes. The short ‘Futures Statement’ titled Accelerated Warfare cites that we now live in an ‘era of increasing competition’, identifying four strategic pre-eminent challenges.

–        Firstly, Australia’s region is the site of considerable strategic competition and dynamic diplomatic, informational, economic and military action. This conforms to the increasingly advertised notion that the spectrum of conflict, from peace to war, is becoming increasingly blurred by competitors who are exploiting Western disadvantages and ‘strategic seams’. The ability of forces to sustain and project forces, overcoming distance and achieving persistence over time, is a critical aspect of military capability. Force posture, access to local resources in partner nations, the sharing of such resources in coalition, and strategic transportation underwrite a credible military response.

–        Secondly, military threats have become even more obviously asymmetric then they have recently been, as state and non-state actors exploit technology to strike at military vulnerabilities. Precision weapons and ‘swarming’ and low cost capabilities make concentrated (historically speaking) force postures vulnerable, and risk the brittle Western military force structures based upon high-cost, few-in-number but ‘bleeding-edge’ capability. Gaining ‘access’ and persisting on the battlefield, if not acting in a ‘anti-access, area-denial’ approach itself, will define the Army approach to warfighting. In this environment of rapid action and destruction the capacity of the logistics system to reconstitute itself and replenish combat forces and their potential will determine who gains the initiative.

–        Thirdly, the ability for militaries to use technology to rapidly increase the speed at which decision are made, using centralised information more effectively to assure ‘decision superiority’, commends a new warfighting philosophy. This has explicit connotations for logistics capabilities, where decision making is critical for efficiency, if not transformation in general. The longstanding goal to replace quantity of supply with quality of information, if achieved, will enable decision-makers and commanders to efficiently reallocate resources. The speed of logistics decision making will contribute to operational sustainability.

–        Finally, the military ‘domains’ are blending further with the increasing reach of firepower, and where even ‘space’ and ‘cyber’ influence emerging battlefields. As the US Army Chief of Staff recently remarked, war will become a ‘perfect harmony of intense violence’. Networks and effective integration, as described throughout 2017 on Logistics in War, will be critical to this end. In a multi-domain environment, the blending of the battlefield and the strategic logistics system will predominate. Threats, such as cyber, will strike at vulnerabilities often outside of the military’s purview. Effective integration across the logistics system – partnerships with other militaries, in the Joint force, with industry – create efficiency and improve responsiveness.

The moment the Army began to consider time and the owning of initiative, the importance of logistics capability and capacity was elevated as a function of combat performance. The moment it considered the important of persistence in response, as a factor, logistics capability and capacity became essential.

EX Predator's Run 18

The response

The selection of a name for the emerging Army concept – Accelerated Warfare – is instructive as to the capabilities the Army might seek to develop in the future, and the operational concepts and doctrine which may also be produced. Like other armies, the Australian Army will likely seek to improves its command and control systems, acquire new weapons that give it an ability to influence operations on the land and from the land, continue to improve its survivability, and engage in vital international engagement tasks with regional partners so to ensure strategic stability is preserved. Logistics transformation is briefly mentioned as a requirement for technological transformation, alongside force structure, future investment and mobilisation (or the ability of the Army to ‘scale’ in size and capability to meet an unforeseen or predicted threat). But what is the different form of logistics required to sustain a different type of warfare?

At the strategic level, the ‘value of a moment’ will be increased by a logistics system that is well prepared and flexible, with its constituent elements modular and structured in such a way that they can be easily reallocated and reprioritised. A more nuanced approached to partnering, especially with industry and the Joint Force – largely responsible for the ADF’s strategic logistics approach to operations – will be vital in this preparedness. Prior to conflict, the Australian Army should consistently invest in engagement with partner nations. This includes working with the Joint Force in the development of logistics arrangements that reduce the logistics forces and sustainment stocks required to support operations. Most importantly, it should invest ensure that there is parity in those very things that enable responsiveness in decision-making, so that the ‘speed of logistics’ can match the ‘speed of battle’.

Operationally, the Army must look to efficient ways to set, sustain and collapse theatres. Logistics forces must be designed to be expeditionary, rapidly deployable, and once again, modular. To protect vital, developing, anti-access / area-denial weapons and persistent land operations, the role of the combat force may become secondary and a protective force, bringing with it new logistics requirements. Theatre logistics capabilities will need to be easily dispersible and supporting an ‘austere’ fighting culture that must be rediscovered by the joint land force. This will allow the joint land force, as a whole, to do what no other force can – persist in the operational area. Operational mobility must be emphasised at all stages, enabling the projection of military power to where it is needed, but also to avoid suppression, destruction and defeat. Time will be on the side of the mobile.

EX Predator's Run 18

An Australian Army HX77 truck from the 1st Combat Service Support Battalion delivers a load of blank ammunition to a 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment combined arms team in preparation to begin training activities under Exercise Predators Run 2018. *** Local Caption *** The landscape west of Port Augusta became a hive of activity as the 1st Brigade undertook its pinnacle training activity for 2018 – Exercise Predators Run. Held from 3-28 September2018 at the Cultana Field Training Area, South Australia, the exercise required a unit of the 1st Brigade combine to split into multi-discipline combat teams and complete a series of scenario based “lanes” which encompass a wide range of military tasks. These tasks included the march to advance, obstacle crossing, attack, peace support and defensive live fire. More than 2,500 soldiers were involved in the exercise conducted over three weeks.

Finally, the operational needs will make the tactical logistics requirements particularly challenging. Small logistics footprints will demand an improvement in the ability to prioritise and allocate resources, and with the ability to move with speed and to disperse and coalesce whenever support is required. Interdiction must be prepared for, prevented or avoided, for if the logistics footprint of the force is to be minimised, the capabilities that are deployed will be individually more important to the battlefield outcome. Technology must be exploited to offer scale, with equipment such as unmanned and robotics systems enabling the land force to do more at a lower operational risk. Flexibility, adaptability and tempo will become the defining traits of logistics capabilities and the system which sustains the ‘accelerated’ battle.

As I have said before in the context of predicting future war, all, some or none of the above may eventually apply. Nonetheless, if we accept the well-founded assumption that a new approach to joint warfighting is required, and ‘owning time’ is its main feature, we must also accept the role of logistics in determining the ‘value’ of a moment. Accelerated warfare, and the discussion and concepts which are likely to emerge in the Australian Army, offer us a chance to reflect on the changing character of war and potential threats that forces might face. It is self-evident that the logistics considerations which will ultimately impact on any response, considerations which reflect the role logistics has on timing and tempo, will need to be foremost in our minds:

‘One should understand the supply factor as a piece in the strategic jigsaw puzzle. By itself it means little, but one can assemble other pieces around its edges until the overall picture takes shape. Logistics helps determine which side will be able to mount the type of warfare it is best fitted to win. Thus, logistics takes its place in strategy as an arbiter of opportunity.’[3]

–        Thomas Kane, Military logistics and strategic performance

[1] Kane, T., Military logistics and strategic performance, p 8

[2] Ibid., p 9

[3] Kane, T., Military logistics and strategic performance, p 10

Logistics and the strangling of strategy

By David Beaumont.

Logistics has long been recognised as vital to a force, but when inefficient a constraint on that force’s freedom to manoeuvre. However, the impact of logistics on strategy is just as significant and ultimately more profound. The modern fixation on high-velocity, nominally ‘efficient’, and usually ‘globalised’ supply chains have introduced significant operational challenges that many strategists fail to fully realise. Indeed, it was recently argued that the Australian Defence Force has yet to fully understand the consequences of an approach to logistics that now permeates its methods of sustaining capabilities and operations. This is for two reasons. One, it is hard to ascertain where single points of failure are in global supply chains for the purposes of creating and sustaining combat capabilities. Two, the nature of these supply chains makes securing them increasingly more important to operational success than the defence of lines of communication has ever been.

Logistic systems and supply chains, and the concepts that drive their formation, are as influential on strategy at least as much, if not more, than strategy should be in determining them. Writers in strategic theory have long known this, although few read works of military theory beyond the most appealing components. While military staff college students and university graduates world-wide know of Clausewitz’s ‘trinity’, or could debate ‘ad nauseum’ the meaning of ‘centre of gravity’, it is rare to see a reflection of his chapter on supplying war and its influence on strategy. Clausewitz, although not overwhelmingly interested in issues of ‘paper war’, knew the irrevocable relationship logistics had with strategy and tactics. In his later editions of On War, those that included his revelations on supply, Clausewitz regarded logistic matters to presage operational ones, if not strategy itself; “questions of supply can exert on the form and direction of operations, as well as the choice of a theatre of war and the line of communication.”[1] 

Modern war shows no evidence to support any contradiction of Clausewitz’s view. Instead, the view now seems beyond theory and stands as an enduring law. Major conflicts and battles have been fought over lines of communication or to secure new routes since war began, and we now look at access to distant regions of the world for national vitality, supply chain security, or lines of communication for potential enemies on the move. Now militaries possess capabilities, such as the incoming F-35 Joint strike Fighter, which are built from numerous suppliers (90 major suppliers with respect to the case in point) supported by production from around the globe. Such complexity conspires with other supply chain risks to create strategic weaknesses that can compromise the materiel, force posture and preparedness decisions of militaries.

Geographer Deborah Cowen’s recent book The Deadly Life of Logistics cites the rise ‘logistics cities’ from the FOB’s transitioned from military establishment in places such as Iraq, and the importance of logistic infrastructure and production as a determinant of war as well as the sustainment of forces far away. Strategic interests converge on these vital points, and logistics has truly regained its hold on strategy. Europe is now a stage for forward force posturing and build-up; re-emerging as a method to reduce the logistic risk for forces that would otherwise have to launch from homelands to prospective conflict zones. Elsewhere the supply chains themselves are the cause for concern. We increasingly fear the loss of access to the global commons, and the threat of contests in places such as the South China Sea, North Africa and the Middle-east against potential foes with increasing capability and desire to interdict what fuels war, reducing both strategic and logistic maneuverability and options. Logistic vulnerabilities expressed in movements and supply have arguably heralded an end to the post-Cold War ‘expeditionary age’ where Western forces could easily, and relatively rapidly, range the globe to combat emergent threats.

Supply-graphicstory

Supply routes to Afghanistan and Iraq, 2011. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

In terms of operations, the vainglorious attempt to reduce the impact of logistics on strategy, operations and tactics seems to have created new, or morphed old, problems. This paradox was demonstrated throughout Western campaigning in Afghanistan, an operation where virtually every wont could be satisfied and austerity, at least it was believed, could be avoided. The unprecedented outsourcing of logistics functions was intended to enhance operational flexibility for offensive operations by allowing task relief for military logistic elements, achieve national development objectives so to promote local economic growth, but most importantly, reduce the scale of military logistic forces in theatre. Professor Derek Gregory claims this tremendous transfer of risk funded years of warlordism and corruption, where strategic convenience counter-productively drew away resources better employed directly in support of the deployed force. Furthermore, insurgent destruction of civilian contracted convoys and international disputes with Pakistan very quickly showed that even commercial supply chains needed to be protected and war didn’t agree with the planners view of logistics being out of sight, and out of mind.

As the nature of war changed, and the risk to transport convoys became increasingly concerning, new solutions were sought to sustain dispersed forces. Stockpiling was impossible, and remained undesirable. War is quite clearly ironic, as many of the alternatives on offer proved as ultimately inefficient as the ‘iron mountains’ they were designed to obviate. The nature of problems simply changed. From 2006 to 2011 the USAF record of airdrops in Afghanistan had increased from 3.5 million lbs to over 80 million lbs annually, with around 40% of FOBs supplied directly from air; air elements that were frightfully expensive to operate and sustain themselves. At the height of such operations, each gallon of fuel cost $400 USD to deliver. Furthermore, it could only be sustained because of the easily obtainable regional fuel resources. Gregory cites Captain Albaugh from the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron who aptly described these air operations, “we’re going to burn a lot of gas to drop a lot of gas”.

What does this mean for the people expected to develop future sustainment plans? School of Advanced Military Studies student, Major Martha Granger, in her 2003 analysis of three Afghanistan campaigns (pdf), noted logistics is never easy and there must be balance between ‘iron mountains’ and the lean force. This is a message that is often muted behind the effusion about modern forms of military logistics, even within the US military that has more reason than any other to understand the impact of logistics on operations. In analysing the US Navy concept of ‘seabasing’ the Congressional Budget Office outlined ideas from fleets of a dozen vessels per brigade of marines to airships providing sustainment to deployed forces; each idea addressing the problem of forward positioning logistics yet introducing significant operational challenges the US military, with its arsenal of ship to shore connectors, has yet to completely respond to. One wonders whether the idea that large logistics footprints, seen to be a constraint to tactical and operational manoeuvre, can ever be obviated by technology or conceptual solutions.

Preceding The Deadly Life of Logistics, and in another paper, Deborah Cowen wrote that we are moving to an era where ‘logistic space’ has been recast from an environment of economic and commercial costs to one which has significant implications for security. In a more visceral sense, in viewing logistics as a system of ‘adding value’ through the reduction of stock holdings or volume – counterpoised against an increasing demand for velocity – nations and the militaries that protect them are becoming increasingly vulnerable to anything that interferes with or interdicts this flow. This is occurring at the same time militaries are becoming greater consumers, and harder to keep combat effective in the field. For armed forces, the vulnerabilities created in this situation apply to both decision making in strategy and in the conduct of actual operations. Plans can be tweaked to better control and adjust the way logistics responds to these conditions, but planners must also be aware of the outcomes of doing so. Perhaps out desire to unshackle our dispersed operations from ‘iron mountains’, or other constraints of logistics, only leaves military planners with new challenges, some even greater, than what they were initially hoping to overcome.

This post is an updated and substantially edited version to the authors article at the Australian Army’s Land Power Forum. The original can be found at https://www.army.gov.au/our-future/blog/logistics/beyond-the-iron-mountain-the-paradox-of-efficient-logistics David Beaumont is editor of ‘Logistics In War’. The thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

 

[1] Clausewitz, C., On War, Howard, M., & Paret, P. (translated and edited), Princeton, USA, 1976, p 338

Industry integration – a new approach and attitude to Army logistics

This article was originally published in the Australian Defence Business Review ‘Land Forces 2018’ edition (September-October) and is posted here with permission. ADBR can be found at www.adbr.com.au.

By David Beaumont.

Logistics is the stored potential of a military force, and industry is the battery from which energy is drawn. For Army to be successful operationally, the integration of logistics and industry is vital.

One military theorist compared logistics to a bridge between the national economy and the battlefield, one where raw materials, goods and services are shaped through relationships and processes to achieve military outcomes. Industry is where logistics begins.

Yet there is a tendency to define the relationship between industry and Army (and Defence writ large) in terms of the introduction-into-service and sustainment of materiel, or in the provision of essential services that keeps an organisation of 45,000 soldiers ready.

The delivery of impressive new capabilities including combat and support vehicles, communications and information systems, and soldier combat equipment certainly focuses the attention of Army staff and their industry partners. This activity, though fundamentally important, reflects a portion of the relationship between Army and industry.

But we can’t forget that when Army deploys, industry contributes as a partner by supporting and resourcing Army’s logistics. This also means that when Army prepares for operations, defence industry should embark on its own activities to offer the surety that Army needs.

New Capability

Readers would likely be familiar with the Australian government’s policy direction relating to Defence and Industry.

The 2016 Defence White Paper and the supplemental Defence Industry Policy Statement continued the long tradition of following strategic intent with industry policy. Together, these documents extolled the self-evident role of industry as a fundamental input to capability (FIC),and sought to stimulate a closer collaboration between Defence and industry.

The relationship between Defence and industry may have initially been defined by the headline National Shipbuilding Plan, but there are now other projects which have the potential to capture the limelight.

Two of these, the LAND 121 program to deliver modern transport and the LAND 400 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle, have brought the engagement between Army and industry to the fore. These programs have been linked to the idea of a ‘sovereign defence industry capability’, which simplified, is an industrial resource of such vital concern to the ADF that it must be maintained if not controlled for the purposes of national defence.

Army’s relationship with industry is not only measured by these two projects, or the many other programs to modernise the military that are currently underway. The way in which materiel is sustained and Army’s activities supported, is an equally important concern.

New Scenarios

This point was recently raised in a 2017 paper by the Australian National University’s Dr Stephan Fruhling who, in his ‘Sovereign Defence Industry Capabilities, Independent Operations and the Future of Australian Defence Strategy’, wrote of three key issues with the current paradigm of strategic thinking about industry.

Fruhling first notes that 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”. The relationship between industry and Army, as well as the industry options that are available and cost-effective can have a very significant bearing on force structure decisions.

This is especially the case with respect to logistics activities. For example, commercial activities might be leveraged to provide an operational effect. Army might ask whether it needs to invest in its own capabilities or arrange for stock or capability to be provided by industry ‘just-in-time’. How Army and industry prepares for this scenario is fundamentally important.

Secondly, and continuing from this point, 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, he says “we must now also move to confront our dependence on US resupply in high-intensity operations”.

Global supply chains, now defined by producing commodities as they are required, can be extremely vulnerable to disruption or exhaustion, severely curtailing operations. We can be certain that if our strategic partner places a significant demand upon global commodities, the opportunity for a smaller military to resupply itself will be much less than we might hope. Industry must be ready.

Finally, Fruhling recognises that industry will be crucial to enable ADF operations in defence of Australia in the “era of long-range precision-strike”. This includes considering battle-damage capabilities in industry, as well as arrangements for “domestic base support”. In this case, Australian defence industry would have an incredibly important role in the repair and re-equipping the deployed force.

New Risks

These big strategic ideas about the industry contribution to future military operations are highly important. The devil is in the detail when ‘Sovereign Defence Capabilities’ are considered. There are, however, a few emerging questions with respect to the relationship between industry and militaries that should also be reflected upon by Army’s industry partners.

As alluded to above we are in an environment where supply chains supporting Army capability are global and complex, meaning many risks to sustainment can be hidden.

Army’s industry partners could help to reduce the opaque nature of these supply networks so we can better understand what is being produced and where. The digitisation of Army’s logistics systems, binding battlefield communications systems with modern enterprise resource planning, will come a long way to de-mystifying the supply chain. Industry might want to consider how it can innovatively contribute to solutions which give Army clarity.

Similarly, the ever-changing strategic environment will also require industry to seriously consider the scenarios in which Army, and the ADF, will approach it for support. Industry should think about its role in supporting an Army that must scale the size of its operations. Can production be increased, and can additional services be provided in the event of strategic surprise? Are there fundamental capacity issues or supply-chain problems in the sovereign defence industries that might curtail operations or limit how Army operates?

Furthermore, how can industry support in areas that Army does not have the capacity to provide itself, such as in specialist logistics, communications and other capabilities? There are real opportunities here for enterprise, where Army and industry can work together to overcome capability gaps.

Finally, there might also be a requirement to challenge the commercial notions of intellectual property, rights and propriety when it comes to a national crisis. If the maintaining of Army’s capabilities becomes financially non-viable to industry, it is essential that Army can repair and sustain its own equipment. This will be particularly important as equipment ages and nears the end of its life-cycle.

New Relationships

Of course, Army must also contribute to the relationship, and has its own obligations to industry. The relationship starts with clear and considerate language, realistic requirements and an appreciation of the commercial requirements that influence industrial capacity. Army must work persistently at all levels to effectively engage with industry partners.

Army has not always been a good partner. Some thirty years ago and in a time of the mass-outsourcing of Defence capability, Army was particularly combative in its relationship with industry. At times, its requirements can be so specific that competition and innovation in industry is stifled. This is not necessarily the case now, and industry engagement activities such as Land Forces 2018 support a renewed and active dialogue.

Army’s staff, and especially its logisticians of which a substantial portion of the service is comprised, must be trained to be able to meaningfully engage with industry and improve service delivery. We are increasingly seeing the integration of industry into Army’s daily life to the extent that commercial operations must be of a second nature to logisticians and others in Defence.

Army should continue to develop its institutional narrative and a plan that articulates its relationship with industry, and in doing so, helpfully define the future relationship. The partnership between Army and defence industry goes well beyond enduring the success of acquisition programs and product delivery. It is a partnership that is incredibly important for the success of Army in the operational environment.

As an idea, Sovereign defence industry capability should most certainly be expanded beyond its current definition to the sustainment of operations and the many other roles that defence industry performs to support an ‘Army in Motion’. Industry partners who are serious about their role in support Army’s operations and activities must consider some significant contemporary challenges.

However, Army must continue its aspiration to be a better partner with Industry; if it is not, there is little chance Army’s logistics requirements will be efficiently, and effectively, met.

David Beaumont is a serving Army officer and the thoughts here are his own. 

‘The furthest, the weakest’ – how logistics creates national power

By David Beaumont.

This article follows-up last week’s post on logistics in deterrence. 

The nature and characteristics of strategic competition has been given new life in recent months. Theorists, writers, military professionals and many others are looking for indicators of strategic activity, some obvious and some not so conspicuous. One of the more abstract ideas prevalent in this discussion is the concept of national power. The Lowy Institute recently described ‘power is a relational quantity’.[1] It gives a point of reference between two or more nations in their capacity to exert influence upon one another. It is unsurprising to see that military capability forms one of eight measures of power used in an outstanding statistical reference produced recently by the Lowy Institute – the Asia Power Index. The ability to apply military power to influence strategic decision making, if not through direct and forceful coercion, is an ultimate expression of national strength. In a time of persistent conflict and heightened competition between States, military power is becoming increasingly important – so much so that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff have developed a new concept defining its use in the competitive environment outside of armed conflict.

The importance of logistics, an internal military activity which raises and sustains forces operationally, to military power is self-evident. Its influence, however, is also highly understated. At the risk of sounding overly critical of Lowy’s impressive resource, the ability of an ‘armed force to deploy rapidly and for a sustained period’ probably deserves a greater weighting than 10% of total military capability. John Louth once wrote of a widespread tendency to misread the significance of lift and sustainment to operational scenarios.[2] In part one of a series of posts – Defining strategic competition – when logistics becomes a strategic weaponI outlined logistics factors are at the heart of military capability and power, if not military credibility. What use are sophisticated combat platforms when they cannot be sustained, replaced or repaired, deployed in an acceptable timeframe or readied for war? The threat of use of these capabilities as a means of coercion, or their actual use operationally, is compromised when logistics matters fall by the wayside. Approaching military capability and power from the basis of an understanding of likely sustained effectiveness rather than the potential of a platform is therefore the acme of military preparedness.

The Lowy Institute is certainly not alone in analysing the nature of military power. This article examines military power from the position of a theorist who saw geography and logistics as central to his vision of national power. Kenneth Boulding, in Conflict and defense, saw power ultimately defined by how it can be practically used; military power (or strength in Boulding’s own terms), in this case, is a function of the cost of transporting it to and from the conflict space or operational area.[3] Geography, naturally, plays a leading role in determining exactly how much of a nation’s military power can be brought to bear upon an adversary. The further one nation has to operate from its bases, the longer and more complex are its lines of communication, and the less strength it can put into the field.[4] In mapping the proximity and power relationship as the loss of strength gradient, Boulding also showed the dilemma that ‘expeditionary’ militaries face when they consider the relationship between force structure and posture. Either you forward position your troops to make the task of sustaining them easier, or you maintain a capable, logistically sustainable, expeditionary force. One of the most important strategic policy decisions for any military, therefore, is to rationalise (perhaps even cost) the trade-off between force posture and the development of rapidly deployable capabilities.

Boulding’s theory primarily looked at the relationship from the perspective of transportation capability counterbalanced against the capacity to deliver firepower from afar. He would later argue that the importance of forward basing was diminishing because the ‘cost’ of transportation, measured in speed and danger to deploying forces, was reducing and there had been ‘an enormous increase in the range of the deadly projectile’ through airpower and rocketry.[5] The closure of American and partner overseas military bases in the wake of the Cold War, the subsequent expansion of expeditionary forces in many militaries, and striking expeditionary successes by these forces since the 1991 Gulf War could be seen as part of this trend. That is, until the dramatic reversal of strategic fortune as the ‘cost’ of transportation increased with ‘anti-access, area-denial’ threats, and a competitive force posture approach of rising (or ‘re-rising’) military powers. Distance, once again, became important to the military mind. Western militaries now face a considerable reduction in their freedom for strategic manoeuvre, and the inevitable rebalancing between force posture and developing expeditionary capability accordingly. It is unsurprising that a recent USPACOM exercise highlights the vital importance of strategic and operational lift in this environment.

Strategists and logisticians alike need to be innovative at this time. Not only must they plan for the significant challenge of projecting force into a threat zone against a potentially highly-capable adversary, but they must do so at a time where heavier forces with greater sustainment burdens are make transportation more difficult. While reflecting on abstract measures of power, whether it be the Lowy Institute’s Index or Boulding’s theoretical model, we can’t forget that what really matters is not the size of a distant force, but the relative military power that can be generated against an adversary in a given period. Strategic mobility is therefore a major factor, but the ability to generate military strength in any location also depends on many other logistics inputs.

Transportation capacity, the ability to efficiently deliver materiel, the capacity to minimise sustainment requirements, the physical characteristics of equipment, and the ability to procure support locally ….. all are equally relevant to generating military power at a time and place of one’s choosing. One need only refer to Kenneth Privratsky’s Logistics in the Falklands War: A case study in expeditionary warfare to get a sense of the logistics factors at play. Logistics austerity is now an operational necessity, and the luxuries military forces are used to in many circumstances will simply compromise military strength operationally. Similarly, it is imperative that Western militaries seriously work at reducing their logistics bill or making strategic mobility a higher priority in capability decisions.

The mobilisation of logistics resources and the ability to sustain forces in a distant area is thus important to any conception of national military power. It is important that these concerns are not understated. When considering how wars might unfold, or how military forces might be used to coerce outside of armed conflict, perhaps it is best to start with a thorough logistics analysis of how such forces are to be sustained. Strategic concepts and policies that rely upon assessments of relative strengths between one’s own nation and a potential adversary would greatly benefit from the results. As will the generation of military capabilities that will be expected to provide the means of national military power; capabilities that will be expected to traverse the divide and go to war.

This article was originally published at LIW in early 2018.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer. The thoughts here are his own. The title is construed from Boulding’s book, Conflict and Defense, p 231.

[1] Lowy Institute, Asia Pacific Index 2018 Methodology, https://power.lowyinstitute.org/downloads/Asia-Power-Index-Methodology.pdf, p3 [accessed 15 May 18]

[2] Louth, J., ‘Logistics as a force enabler’ from RUSI Journal, June / July 2015, vol. 160, no. 3, Royal United Services Institute, UK, 2015, p 60

[3] Boulding, K., Conflict and defense, Harper & Brothers, USA, 1962, p 78

[4] Ibid., p 231.

[5] Cited in Webb, K., ‘The continued importance of geographic distance and Boulding’s loss of strength gradient’ from Comparative Strategy, University of Reading, UK, 2007, p 295. Strategic weapons such as those defined by the Lowy Institute as ‘signature weapons’ are a notable exclusion here – these include such things as nuclear weapons and the strategic use of cyber capability.

Is logistics the ultimate conventional deterrent?

By David Beaumont.

The Royal Australian Air Force, now armed with the fifth-generation fighter and other impressive air capabilities guided by a wholesale transformation strategy – Plan Jericho, has recently debated the need for a joint strike capability. This debate is being litigated through the Williams Foundation who are running a seminar on the topic during August 2018. 

‘The Central Blue’ – the Foundation’s online forum – has kindly published my contribution, an adaption of earlier work, on how logistics can act as a deterrent. I share it with you here as well. Don’t forget to follow ‘The Central Blue’ on all forms of social media.

Nations are naturally competitive, and one of the principle roles for standing militaries is to deter others from undertaking military action within this competition. Recently Western militaries have contended that adversaries, real and potential, do not always distinguish peace and war. In the recently released Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff argue that the ‘binary conception’ of peace and war is now obsolete, and a ‘competition continuum’ now applies.[1] Now these same Western militaries recognise they must act in times other than in armed c onflict, offsetting the strengths of other nations or groups who have a very different interpretation of what defines war. Deterrence, afforded by a range of military capabilities, is a core strategy taken within this offsetting. Although nuclear weapons may give an alternative, there is no deterrence, however, without logistics. This is because logistics, where military activity meets the national economy, leads strategy by making the intent to use force reality. Indeed, it is military logistics activity which truly defines a nations capacity to respond militarily to its challenges, and most certainly to deter adversaries – realistically – in a competitive environment.

Logistics and strategy are inseparable, each meaningless without the other. Logistics was ‘invented’ in war and has always had a ‘deadly life’.[2] The architecture of global supply chains, siphoning national wealth through geographic areas of immense strategic interest to nations and others, are focal points for national action. ‘Logistics cities’, major trade hubs and economic routes attract the interest of Governments and have become of immense strategic value. All arms of Government can be seen in action, using diplomatic, informational, military and economic means to shape how both commercial and military logistics might be applied to their favour. 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. Important military hardware such as the Joint Strike Fighter is underpinned by global arrangements, fragile supply chains and shared industrial capabilities that expose militaries to new areas of risk. 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 might begin and end with logistics.

Logistics might be at the heart of strategy and competition, but its role in deterrence is understated. John Roth’s work on the logistics of the Roman Empire saw military success a factor of the capacity to provision over long distances, and not just because of military culture and training.[3] Having the ability to sustain forces effectively was both a tactical and strategic weapon. Highly potent legions armed with modern weaponry gave the Romans victory in battles, but logistics gave them Empire. The ability to project forces throughout Europe and Asia was recognised by others, and conflict sometimes avoided as a consequence. Two thousand years later the same concept applies; beyond nuclear weapons it is the capacity of the mighty US military to project and sustain itself on a global scale that deters potential adversaries, and it is why Cold War exercises such as REFORGER and the contemporary alternatives such as Operation Atlantic Resolve are vital at a time of increasing competition. Core to deterrence are the capabilities most military women and men enjoy talking about; strike aircraft, long range artillery and naval task groups. But it is logistics that determines the circumstances of their use; the time it takes for arming, when and where refuelling may occur, and how quickly the detritus of battle can be repaired. And so, amid the force posturing and acquisition programs, most Western militaries are now devoting attention to how their military logistics organisations sustaining these capabilities perform.

The proximity of forces also works to deter, if only because it reduces the logistics ‘cost’ of supporting operations. Economist Kenneth E. Boulding proposed the ‘loss of strength gradient’, in Conflict and Defense: a general theory, as a theory to define the relationship between geography and military power for the purpose of conflict and deterrence. [4]  Boulding’s theory primarily looked at the relationship from the perspective of transportation capability counterbalanced against the capacity to deliver firepower through strike capabilities from afar. He later argued that the importance of forward basing was diminishing because the ‘cost’ of transportation, measured in speed and danger to deploying forces, was reducing and there had been ‘an enormous increase in the range of the deadly projectile’ through airpower and rocketry.[5] Strike capabilities, especially those emanating from the then 3rd-generation air domain, led him to this revelation.

The non-nuclear deterrence of the late twentieth century came from mobility and long-distance firepower. The closure of American and partner overseas military bases in the wake of the Cold War, the subsequent expansion of expeditionary forces and long-distance strike capabilities in many militaries, and startling tactical successes by these forces since the 1991 Gulf War reflect this trend. That is, until the dramatic reversal of strategic fortune as the ‘cost’ of transportation increased with ‘anti-access, area-denial’ threats, and a competitive force posture approach of rising (or ‘re-rising’) military powers. Distance, once again, became important to the military mind. As did the cost of maintaining the expensive, modern, strike capabilities procured to pierce the enemies operational shield. Western militaries now face a considerable reduction in their freedom for strategic manoeuvre, and the inevitable rebalancing between force posture and developing expeditionary and strike capability accordingly.

Beyond the unequivocal nature of logistics in force posture or capability development there are the most important logistics factors in strategic competition of all. Though the degree may differ given the circumstances, nations are always mobilised. The manner by which the logistics process can translate national economic power into tactical combat potential is a reflection of a national capacity to compete, deter, and to demonstrate an ability to militarily respond. Industry policy and the organisation of strategic logistics capability, the appointment of commanders to oversee sustainment and the presence of mobilisation plans and doctrine, reveal much about the quality of any military offset.  If you don’t believe that these comprise the ultimate joint strike weapon, it is impossible to argue that they aren’t essential to those strike capabilities that you do. These are not areas we typically look at when we consider deterrence, but they will discriminate between the successful and unsuccessful in the earliest stages of conflict when it comes.

For these reasons we will see competition and military deterrence play out in different ways, and for reasons that are often logistical in nature. One nation might build an island where there was none before, while another will procure air mobility platforms or ships for afloat support to support their strike capabilities. Others will examine force posture from first principles, while another will establish arrangements and agreements that might support a friendly force at short notice. Militaries might be restructured so that the acquisition and sustainment of capability improves preparedness, or eventual operational performance, more effectively. Just as there will be an unending competition in the development offensive and defensive capabilities between nations, so too will there be unending shifts in the way opposing military forces will offset one another through logistics means. It will not always be about new aircraft, tanks and ships. It will always be about how these strike and other combat capabilities are sustained.

Effective deterrence requires effective logistics. The threat of armed conflict is always a factor in strategic competition, but logistics capacity and capability are an important, if understated, part of the calculus. This must be kept in mind by those procuring the next generation of equipment that ostensibly serves as a deterrent to others. If we are to have a military deterrent, underpinned by impressive strike capabilities, it must also be underpinned by a logistics system that can support them. It may be easy to see the beginning of conflict in national economic systems, but it can also be seen in the seriousness given to shoring the gaps with respects to military logistics and more specifically, the sustainment of capabilities. Strategy has been rapidly becoming an appendix of logistics, if it hasn’t been so all along, and logistics activities can be profoundly important well before the ‘conflict continuum’ approaches its zenith in armed conflict.  This applies to deterrence where logistics, and potential logistics capacity, can sway the mind of a potential adversary. And when armed conflict does eventuate, it will be as much about the fight to supply – the defence of the supply chain and the efficiency of the logistics process – as it is about winning on the battlefield.

[1] US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint concept for integrated campaigning, March 2018, http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/concepts/joint_concept_integrated_campaign.pdf?ver=2018-03-28-102833-257, p 4, 7

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

[3] Roth, J., The logistics of the Roman Army at war, BRILL, USA, p 279

[4] Boulding, K.E. Conflict and defense: a general theory, Harper and Brothers, USA, 1962, pp 260-262

[5] Cited in Webb, K., ‘The continued importance of geographic distance and Boulding’s loss of strength gradient’ from Comparative Strategy, University of Reading, UK, 2007, p 295. Strategic weapons such as those defined by the Lowy Institute as ‘signature weapons’ are a notable exclusion here – these include such things as nuclear weapons and the strategic use of cyber capability.

This article is an adaption of ‘Defining-strategic competition – when logistics becomes a strategic weapon’ posted April 2018. The views are the authors alone.

 

 

Decision-forcing cases for logistics: practicing logisticians to overcome ‘wicked problems’

By Bruce Gudmundsson.

Ed. note: on occasion, LIW examines the art of training and educating logisticians. LIW is privileged to have Dr Bruce Gudmundson, USMC University, discuss a teaching method very relevant to training leaders in ways to overcome ‘wicked problems’ in war. A link to his site can be found here.

A military logistician is a study in contrasts.  On the one hand, he is a custodian of public property.  As such, his cardinal virtues are thrift and efficiency.  On the other hand, he takes part in the waging of war, the most wasteful of all human activities.  Sometimes he must think like the manager of a large business.  At other times, he must look at the world through the eyes of a warrior.

A military logistician can easily find ways to plumb particular portions of his paradoxical profession.  The shelves groan, after all, under the weight of books about business management and military operations.  Board games on both subjects abound.  And, when his eyes grow tired, a logistician can profit from any one of a growing array of podcasts on martial and commercial topics.  The one thing that the military logistician cannot so easily do is find activities that help him engage the whole of his métier.

 The great exception to this rule is provided by the decision-forcing case.  Also known known as a ‘historical immersion problem,’ a decision-forcing case is an exercise in which participants take on the role of an actual person who, at some point in the past, was faced by a particularly challenging problem.  In that role, participants compose, and, if called upon by the facilitator, propose practical solutions to that problem.  This leads to a discussion (known as a ‘Socratic conversation’) in which participants critique, refine, and build upon those proposals. 

 One such decision-forcing case, ‘The Road to Habbaniya’, places participants in the shoes of Brigadier John Joseph Kingstone of the British Army, an officer who, in the spring of 1941, was charged with leading a heavily reinforced brigade to link up with the beleaguered garrison of a Royal Air Force base in Iraq.  The first problem set before the participants is a calculation of the number of 3-ton trucks needed to carry the food, water, fuel, and ammunition needed to move the column for a distance of more than 900 kilometers.

 This problem is not as straightforward as it might seem.  In addition to making allowances for maintenance, breakdowns, and security, the participants playing the role of Brigadier Kingstone must factor in the supplies needed by the trucks that carry the supplies for the column, as well as the supplies needed by the additional trucks that carry the supplies for the trucks, and so on.  As might be expected, participants rarely achieve consensus on the number of 3-ton trucks needed to get Brigadier Kingstone’s column to its objective.  Indeed, each time this decision-forcing case is taught, the solutions offered by participants differ considerably, with the largest estimate reliably exceeding the smallest by a factor of two or even three.

Once the participants have shared their calculations with each other, the facilitator of ‘The Road to Habbaniya’ provides them with a detailed description of the solution arrived at by the historical protagonist.  This ‘historical solution’, which includes a reconstruction of Brigadier Kingstone’s calculations, allows participants to compare their own thinking with that of ‘the man on the spot’.  In particular, it gives participants an opportunity to identify the assumptions that support their plans. 

‘The Road to Habbaniya’ is a two-problem exercise.  That is, the presentation of Brigadier Kingstone’s calculations is followed by a surprise, a development that requires the complete recasting of both the original plan of operations and the logistical scheme for supporting it.  Thus, participants enjoy a second opportunity to work through the cycle of devising, describing, and defending courses of action, followed by a second historical solution.  (As several fine books have been written about the operation in question, this sometimes takes the form of an invitation to visit the library.) 

A decision-forcing case drawn from the annals of the South Atlantic War of 1982, one called ‘Commando Logistics Regiment’, presents participants with a comparable conundrum.  This problem puts them in the boots of Lieutenant Colonel Ivor Hellberg, officer commanding the unit charged with providing material support to the landing force sent to the Falkland Islands at the start of that conflict, the 3rd Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines.  Optimized for service in northern Norway, the Commando Logistics Regiment was organized in a way that made extensive use of both motor transport and reservists.  However, as the shipping available to transport the 3rd Commando Brigade had little space for trucks and the government of the United Kingdom had decided to refrain from calling up reservists, Lieutenant Colonel Hellberg found himself engaged in a great deal of design work.  In particular, he had but a few hours to decide which elements of his command he would take with him on his 13,000-kilometer journey to the other side of the world, and which he would have to leave behind. 

A third decision-forcing, ‘The Hunt for Geronimo’, involves no motor transport at all.  Set in 1885, it asks participants to make a plan for supporting an ad hoc unit charged with a delicate diplomatic mission.  Composed of units of the United States Cavalry, companies of Apache Scouts, and civilian contractors, the improvised battalion will have to cross an international border, make a journey of some 800-kilometers through the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, and, quite possibly, provide both aid and protection to a group of indigenous people who are being hunted by mercenaries in the service of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  To further complicate matters, there will be little in the way of host nation support and few opportunities to acquire fodder for cavalry horses along the way. 

Like many of the classroom exercises used in the training of military logisticians, all three of these decision-forcing cases ask participants to do a great deal of arithmetic.  They are, to borrow a phrase from American Marines of the twentieth century, “stubby pencil drills.”  At the same time, they require those taking part to make sense of a unique situation and, having done so, design a solution that is custom-tailored to the peculiarities of the problem being faced.  In other words, these three decision-forcing cases require logisticians to engage some of the many contradictions at the heart of their particular art.

Bruce’s work can be found here, a portal to resources for any military professional seeking to document and used decision-forcing cases (case method studies) in education.

Bruce Gudmundsson served as a truck driver, logistics clerk, and logistics officer in the United States Marine Corps.  Currently working as an historian and case teacher in Quantico, Virginia, he is the author of, among many other things, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 4:  Logistics.  Between 2007 and 2017, Dr. Gudmundsson held the Case Method Chair at the Marine Corps University.

Realising the sustainable joint land force

By David Beaumont.

Two decades ago, as Western militaries confronted a new strategic paradigm with declarations that a ‘revolution in military affairs’ was underway, the US Army Chief of Staff General Reimers declared:

‘There will not be a revolution in military affairs unless there is a revolution in military logistics’ (1996)

This view, since paraphrased or made contemporary by Reimer’s successors and many others, reflects a truism in military transformation. If militaries are neglectful of the logistics process, or fail to adequately invest or adapt their logistics capabilities, they are likely to fail in their preparations for war. This is because logistics is vital in establishing the potential of a force, but also ultimately contributes the means by which firepower and shock is delivered to critical places at the right time to meet strategic and tactical objectives.[1]

I was fortunate to be invited to present on the Australian Army’s approach to logistics transformation and development at a recent Australian Army Research Centre (AARC) Seminar. The paper ‘Transforming Australian Army Logistics to support the Joint Land Force’ provides a history of logistics transformation, and describes several imperatives that will influence how the joint land force might be sustained in the future. This paper, however, could not cover all concerns. The AARC seminar introduces a fifth imperative to the discussion, the cost of logistics – sustainment – must be reduced, so that logistics resources can be redirected to other areas that require attention and repair.

Transformation occurs every day in Army through many overt and unseen efforts. In recently issued Commander’s Statement titled ‘An Army in Motion’, the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Burr writes that Army must ‘be ready now, while concurrently becoming future ready’ and that Army must also ‘transform’ to capture future opportunities. It will be important that logisticians articulate what problems need resolving, aggregate the efforts being undertaken under a binding narrative, and devote effort to this objective. However, if we are serious about transformation – and we should be – the effort must be shared by all in Army with organisational and operational reforms pursued.

The AARC Seminar, Realising the sustainable joint land force, concludes with a proposed strategy for the transformation of Army logistics. I believe that the question to be answered is ‘how does the joint land force improve its logistics capability and capacity at a lower cost?’ Pursuing this question on overall productivity is not about seeing logistics efficiencies as a ‘bill payer’; when we have done so in the past we have found savings tend to be less than anticipated, and that there are always unintended operational consequences of change. Instead, we should seek efficiencies to enable the redirection of our efforts to areas that need reinforcement or as described above, repair.

The three core outcomes of my proposed strategy are to ‘reduce the footprint’, ‘improve logistics readiness’ and to ‘reduce the cost of logistics’. I outline these areas of effort in the Seminar. While a strategy to proceed with change is advocated to unify effort and prepare Army for the transformative influences of technology and other factors, it is also important that we increasingly accept change is a positive influence and adapt organisational culture as a consequence.

A video recording of the Seminar can be found here.

The slide deck with full details of the proposed strategy can be found here or on request.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer. The thoughts here are his own.

[1] Huston, James A., Sinews of War: Army Logistics, 1775-1953, University Press of the Pacific, USA, 2004, 2nd edition, p 655