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

Over the next month we’ll be publishing a number of popular posts on as broad a range of topics as possibleThe next two posts outline the imperative to rethink how the ‘national support base’ is incorporated into defence. 

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.

What we need to be. Building the Defence logistician – Part Two

By David Beaumont.

Over the next month we’ll be publishing a number of popular posts on as broad a range of topics as possible. This transcript is the final half of a speech given at the 2018 Australian and New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference. The session was titled ‘The Future Logistician’.

The first half can be found here.

What we need to be

The fundamental nature of logistics and the complicated organisational history of Australian Defence conspire against the development of logisticians. They are reasons that none of us will ever truly master logistics. None of us can be trained to the depth we require; the attempts that Defence has made over the last thirty years of effort have achieved the best that could be expected, but we all know that it is still not enough. As a Chief Instructor of a training institution, I can vouch that we are doing as much as is practically possible with the resources we have to prepare logisticians for the future.

Looking into the future, there are four key traits relevant to our future successes.

Firstly, and as I am sure you all agree, our logisticians must have a wide variety of experiences across the logistics enterprise. We must accept that technical skills are at the foundation of performance as logisticians. There is a difference between a technician and a logistician, however. The former is defined by their deep professional knowledge. The latter – the logistician – by their capacity to integrate a variety of specialised functions into the desired operational outcome.  Without broad experience we fail to appreciate context and nuance, and remain technical specialists of ultimately niche functions.

Secondly, logisticians must be able to analyse the system in both operational planning and in program development. We are in a paradigm that seeks to replace inventories with information – stock on hand versus a supply-chain responsiveness enabled by knowledge management. Technologies such as enterprise resource planners, machine learning and AI offer us considerable opportunities. But we must not forgo the capacity for systemic thinking to machines or make information management so specialist a function it is no longer possible to provide advice based on judgement and set by the context.

Thirdly, because effective logistics requires collective effort, logisticians must be consensus builders. This applies to the interactions among ourselves as well as with those we support. This has proven difficult to achieve in environments and times where authorities have been spread throughout the organisation, and where priorities and emphasis in responsibility have not been given.

Finally, logisticians must accept their professional, intellectual, responsibilities. We must own our own problems, be responsible for our solutions and proactive in intellectual leadership and engagement. There are many instances where we have not and have paid the price accordingly. Passion and courage of conviction are essential to preserve, if not enhance, capability.

I would also like to offer a few more qualified thoughts on professional requirements. Lieutenant General William Tuttle, a former US Army G4 during the ‘revolution of military logistics’, describes five principles for the professional development of logisticians in his book Defense logistics for the 21st century:

  1. Accountability. Logisticians must understand logistics deeply and be held to be account. This the basis of a professional approach. Accountability should not be feared as it is an opportunity to take ownership of a problem that might otherwise have been confounded by complex inter-organisational relationships.
  2. Continuously shared knowledge. We should be clamouring for shared knowledge and should be equipped and trained to make the most of technology and efficient processes. Yet, and as I have stated earlier, we must also ensure that we remain capable of being systemic thinkers, to be prepared through experience and education that enables us to rely upon an insight or a ‘hunch’.
  3. Know commercial business practices. This should be self-evident to any logistician conscious of the dramatic changes in acquisition and sustainment. I propose that training needs to be less idiosyncratic, and well-designed in its own ‘professional continuum’. Logisticians don’t just need a procurement course; they need a PME environment which informs them about issues such as industry policy and requirements, national support, acquisition and sustainment, different types of commercial relationships, relationship building and management.
  4. Exploit comparative advantage through coalition logistics, but also through working with one another. Logistics is, as I have argued, a shared endeavour.
  5. Simplicity. This should follow from all other professional development experiences, all of which should contribute to simplify management, command and control and funding arrangements. Whatever we do, we must focus on simplification because if the logistics process we are responsible for is complex, it will become inefficient and ineffective.

What we might become

Although a ‘professionalisation’ agenda is not new to logisticians, with training, education and professional standards a topic for logistics leadership within Services, Groups and the Joint domain, there have been several reasons we have been unable to capitalise on a gaining momentum and interest in logistics. Insufficiency of resources is an obvious factor and the priority of effort in Defence significant influences our capacity to deliver outcomes for the benefit of Defence capability. However, just as there are desired behavioural attributes for the future logistician, so too are their potential areas of risk which might impede change and development.

Firstly, we have routinely resorted to organisational change and discussing the profession without reshaping processes to suit the proposed new order. This allows sources of power to be maintained, ultimately leading to a reversion in behaviour. There have been circumstances where we have sought to reshape processes and create efficiencies without changing the organisation or profession enough.

This leads onto my second point. If we are going to use technology to improve our performance or enable efficient processes, we must be prepared to change organisational culture. Workarounds rarely create efficiencies. For example, abortive attempts to introduce logistics information systems technology and tracking in the past have resulted from choices made by logisticians based on our own comfort. One wonders if the same will happen when new enterprise resource planning software is brought into use.

Thirdly, we might choose not to invest the considerable time and effort required to support a nascent approach to joint professional military education, or support reform in individual training conducted throughout the organisation. It is easy to generate a framework to support professional development; we have to follow through with developing the training and education that we know our logisticians need. Without doing so, however, training will be largely idiosyncratic, and we will maintain an over-reliance on experience and career management to solve professionalisation issues.

Fourthly, we must work to develop to a shared vision that reflects the reality of how logistics works as a system connecting the national economy to the battlefield. The elevation of any one component of the process over another risks upending it all, or creating complexity, inefficiency and waste. Engage with the leadership of Defence institutions with your mind on the logistics process as a whole.

Finally, and perhaps because of these risks, we may simply remain unmoved as the rest of the world changes. What is the point of any attempts to better position the future logistician if we don’t consider the future? What is the environment we are going to operate in? What does the future combat force look like, and what is the consequence of this outlook on logistics performance and requirements?

Making the future Defence logistician 

We must accept that overinvesting in one group is not the answer. Talent management is undoubtedly important to any organisation. But our efforts in mentoring, leadership and our training and education regime must not be focussed on the select few. A few, brave, logistics heroes will not overcome problems caused or perpetuated by an undertrained and underprepared workforce. One of the leading factors in operational underperformance – if not the expansion in the number of logistics personnel required on operations – is that the workforce lacks the skills to perform their tasks as efficiently as they can.

It is unsurprising that I might advocate that a synchronised approach to PME is essential. Joint courses, at the very least, offer an opportunity for logisticians of different backgrounds to learn to work together. There is momentum gathering with respect to joint education and training for logisticians; we should support this endeavour as it is a real opportunity to do something beneficial for the future.

Any approach must focus on setting behaviours, and providing experience, training and education. Mentorship must be offered, and leadership given. Technology should be embraced, but we must also provide the skills and approach to use it appropriately. It must emphasise collective effort, for the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Finally, it must all staff to be mobile, but also well prepared for different roles within a incredibly broad logistics enterprise.

We have a bright future, and it is always a good time for us to consider how we can shape it for our own benefit, and those that follow on from us. In this venture it is not important for us all to be the same. Different proficiencies, different subjects of professional mastery, different expertise; these bring with them a distinct perspective that is relevant in finding the best ways to solve problems. What really matters is how we make the most of these differences from a professional perspective. Logisticians must bring together the technical experts, synthesise their efforts, and guide their tasks to completion.

The logistician

‘In each of the functional categories there is an extensive technical literature. In each, the technical staff specialist is essential. However, there is a subtle distinction. The technical specialist is chiefly interested in perfecting the importance of that particular speciality in which he makes his professional career. On the other hand, the commander and logistics officer must always be thinking of how a variety of specialised functions can be most effectively combined in accomplishing the mission of the command. It is not a question of exclusiveness in thinking, it is rather a question of relative emphasis and primary responsibility.’

               – Rear Admiral Henry Eccles, Logistics in the National Defense, pp 55-56

Being a logistician is difficult. As logisticians we have faced innumerable organisational pressures and felt the brunt of decades of rationalisation and cost cutting. As logisticians we deal with an immensely challenging pan-organisational and operational problem that can only be dealt with through trust and competency. As logisticians we know we need to invest in training and education but are faced with too many choices about where our attention (and the little resources available) should be directed.

We are told how volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous the contemporary operating and enterprise environment is, yet an approach to adequately prepare seems elusive or impossible. The problem seems so vast, the prospect of success so small, or the future for logisticians believed to be so bleak and unappealing, that the effort to progress might simply be viewed as a waste of time in our already busy lives.

As I said above, being a logistician is difficult. Yet we can make it easier for ourselves; as leaders we are obliged to make being a logistician easier for those that follow us. If you cut the hyperbole, this is what the professionalisation ‘journey’ is about. Just as effective logistics is a shared endeavour, so should our approach to professionalisation – the creation of the future logistician – be a collective effort. Common language, concepts and ideas will be vital. Leadership will be vital.

As we think about the future, and our role within it, I ask you to consider a few things.

It is of vital importance to us to understand that regardless of how logistics functions are assigned or divided, or categorised by naming conventions in doctrine, they remain logistics functions and they must be performed by qualified personnel. These functions must be supervised and coordinated by senior officers and Defence logisticians who not only understand the full implications of their responsibilities, but also the relationships involved therein.

For those with leadership responsibilities within logistics, you must not be exclusive in your thinking, and be willing to give emphasis and primary functions to those elements within the logistics process that need it. To do this requires a broad experience of the enterprise and a capacity for systems thinking, but also self-development and a desire to learn about the organisation. It requires our logisticians to be consensus-builders, and while we may not always agree with one another, we should do so respectfully and accept the reasons why we think differently from one another.

Secondly, I fundamentally believe we are in an environment of considerable opportunity. Logisticians are being listened to, and logistics issues are being addressed with greater seriousness than ever before. This has not always been the case. Two decades ago, logistics was certainly discussed – but it was in terms of rationalisation and unhealthy levels of commercialisation, and it was not necessarily because logisticians were driving the agenda. Similarly, Defence logisticians have long discussed professionalisation, training and education but had either been un-resourced or had difficulties in leading and implementing change.

Sources of leadership were disempowered by organisational confusion and change on a level that surpasses what we are experiencing today. We are much better prepared to engage with military commands, partners from other areas of Government or industry given nearly twenty years of continued operational experience which has improved Defence-level awareness of logistics issues.

So, we must be more than professional stewards. We must be professional leaders. This requires us to distinguish what being a logistician is versus what a technocrat might be. It requires us to assess and understand the environment in which we exist so that our knowledge can be applied. It requires us to adapt the professional standard to meet the environment, but also those we support. Finally, it requires us to align our professional development systems to produce experts with the right experience at the right time.

In answering the question ‘how we got here’, I hoped to inculcate a sense that now is the time to act on those issues we know need fixing. There is time available to think through what we need to prepare ourselves as Defence logisticians. We shouldn’t squander this operational pause and relative organisational calm. It is an exciting time, the future is promising, and we should treat it as such! Apply the effort now to meaningfully advance on issues relating to collective professionalisation, training and education. Make the most of the step-change in capability that will come with new tools and technology. I have no doubt that if this opportunity is not taken, the moment will prove fleeting and any transformation we intend will ultimately be compromised.

 

How did we get here? Building the Defence logistician – Part One

By David Beaumont.

Over the next month we’ll be publishing a number of popular posts on as broad a range of topics as possible. This transcript is the first half of a speech given at the 2018 Australian and New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference. The session was titled ‘The Future Logistician’.

So, how did we get here? What does it mean to be a logistician now, and what will a future logistician look like? These are big questions. Impossibly big questions.

To have a sense of a ‘profession’ you must first have an idea of what I mean by the term ‘we’. Everyone in the room is probably quite confident that they have a definition of what a logistician is; whether you agree with one another is another question. Are we talking about military staff only, does the definition include acquisition specialists, what about health professionals, and are we interested in Service logisticians operating at the tactical level?

Perhaps we could start by questioning what logistics is. We often choose to define a logistician in terms of a discrete capability. Logistics, much like strategy and tactics, is a process or a way of thinking. It is a comprehensive behaviour that combines science and art to achieve an outcome – the creation and sustainment of combat forces. Behind logistics is theory and practice, a confluence of activities that takes the raw material – often literally – and creates combat capability and actual firepower.

About the logistician – the logistician is the one that controls this activity, comprising many technical specialities at different levels of Defence, or facilitates the activities of others outside the enterprise. This might include industry partners, research institutions and other organisations. The logistics discipline is defined by systemic thinking, technical competencies, complexity, a balance between logistics organisation and command requirements, collective effort in a shared endeavour; but as we all know, in an environment usually defined by organisational disruption, resource limitations, lack of investment, tremendous oversight and sometimes even contempt, and without a doubt inter-agency conflict.

Now that I say it, it does sound like a difficult business to be in!

Why we are, what we are

It is a difficult business to be in. It is a business that has, in the context of Australian Defence at least, endured tremendous change in recent years. How did we get here, and where did the contemporary logistician come from?

Fortunately for you all, I won’t be giving a long and detailed history of logistics in warfare. Allow me to summarise two or three hundred years of major developments in creating and sustaining deployed forces by telling you that logistics has become increasingly important to the fulfilment of strategy. The industrialisation of war, invention of steam and later combustion engines, the electronic age, the post-WW2 invention of modern business science – all have contributed to increasing the importance of the logistician. Of course, with increased importance comes expectations and alongside these important technological, technical and theoretical changes have been investigations as to the role of logisticians in war, and what professional skills are required.

Let’s put the topic in our own context and in terms of our own experiences.  The first thing I will say is that we all come from different parts of the Defence organisation, but I feel quite confident in saying that the modern Defence logistician was born nearly thirty years ago.

This is not just because the senior-most members of the audience have been in the Services for about that long! It is because the world was changing, strategy was changing, and logistics was consequently changing. The spectre of great power conflict was receding, and force posture adjusting. The US commenced demobilisation, and forward positions underwritten by war-stocks and strategic reserves, supported by a supply-centric methodology and process, became untenable. Defence budgets began to decline, and strategy redeveloped to suit a ‘peace dividend’. Our militaries were faced by considerable pressure as modernisation and ‘block obsolescence’ required a substantial capital expenditure, and personnel expenses were beyond the capacity of defence forces to sustain.

Government pressure accelerated the rationalisation of strategic logistics systems, Services chose to bear the brunt of pressure in their logistics organisations and mass commercialisation began to occur through programs such as the Commercial Support Program. The 1991 Commercial Support program and 1997 Defence Efficiency Review (DER) had profound consequences for the ADF and Department. As General David Hurley describes in Nicholas Jans’s The Chiefs (p54), without a compelling intellectual argument to counter, outsourcing and commercialisation irrevocably changed the logistics and organisational landscape. Logisticians were compelled to be more efficient, and the language of the time echoed ‘best business practice’. Increased industry involvement and other factors created new professional requirements.

Operational experiences, set in this strategic and organisational climate, accentuated the evolutionary path. American performance in the 1991 Gulf War, an operation which truly showed how importance logistics was to the ability of a military to prosecute a war quickly, was a catalyst for even more reform. The ‘iron mountains’ that enabled a tremendous success in this war were perceived to be the vestiges of outdated supply-based concepts, and with the ‘revolution in military affairs’ came the ‘revolution in military logistics’ (RML). RML, originating in the US military, desired a revolution in process, organisation and skills relevant to logisticians. Professional pathways were efficiently amalgamated, distribution-based logistics instituted, centralisation emphasised, and the military and public service logistician increasingly compared to their private sector equivalents. These changes became a phenomenon among most Western militaries, who substantially adjusted their logistics force structures. This period truly defined the approach logisticians would take for the next twenty-five years.

This period resulted in a significant transfer of skills as jobs formerly performed by military logisticians were increasingly performed by public servants and industry partners. The establishment of the first truly joint logistics command in Support Command Australia as a key outcome of the DER was not just to improve the ADF’s operational effectiveness. Commander Support Command Australia, Lieutenant General Des Mueller, was directed to centralise, consolidate and outsource many strategic logistics functions. The subsequent consolidation of SCA, National Support Division and the Defence Acquisition Organisation into the Defence Materiel Organisation over the 2000-01 period cemented the expectations of whom would perform what.

These were immensely significant changes a decade in the making, conducted in a time of strategic and organisational turbulence we have not seen since. In my own Service, the training of military logisticians – reformed during the 1996 creation of the Army Logistics Training Centre – was largely focussed on military logistics operations. With this, the expectation of military logisticians to perform certain strategic and operational functions had certainly diminished. I don’t want to overstate the importance of these changes at the individual training level, but they were important indicators of the shifting ‘professional tide’ in terms of the expectations placed upon logisticians.

The operations came quickly, and with little opportunity to bed in changes. East Timor was an immensely challenging experience for the ADF and its coalition partners, but before adequate responses to capability and professional gaps could be addressed, we were part of a new coalition in the Middle-east. Much of the impetus to reform Defence logistics in an operational or professional context withered away. Keeping the pace with these operations was organisationally difficult, especially for those in the DMO which as was assailed by successive reviews. In the ADF, infant joint organisations stagnated as resources were directed to sustaining combat forces. Reform was attempted in the Air Force, and Army focussed upon relatively significant changes in its organisational structure and capability. There was little time to invest in professional development, little time to do much else than support the sustainment of operations, and few resources and people available to give substance to the intent of successive logistics commanders.

Why we are, where we are

The Defence logistician is built by training systems primarily focussed on tactical command or technical ability, an amorphous approach to professional military education, an over-reliance on experience, in an environment of fractured professional leadership, and often because of good luck.

Thirty years of change, including two decades of sustained operations, has impeded the development of a coherent approach to professionalisation. It has made it exceptionally difficult to approach skilling and technical expertise as a collective, and a variety of professional workarounds have consequently emerged. The preparation of logisticians is done so within federation of like-minded individuals. Although the Defence organisation may be increasingly centralised and joint in nature, its collective approach to professional development and training is immature. The shifting organisation has traditionally separated natural sources of leadership and made ownership of the ‘professional problem’ unclear. Without advocacy and engagement, gains achieved in logistics performance and capability development have been limited. Reform within the Services, sometimes because of responding to operational deficiencies and others in recovery from the lean 1990s, also meant some efforts undertaken in the enterprise had diverged from another. These points of divergence have been exacerbated by operational experiences.

The last decade and a half has been one in which the enterprise has done the best it can. However, while we have focussed on supporting individual achievement through an overemphasis on posting experiences (operational service, secondments and other activities) – the approach to training and educating the collective has been lacking. This approach has affected the basic level of competency of Defence logistics staff. We do not have a systemic approach to preparing Defence logisticians; a good training system is present, especially for our junior military members, but there is no agreed upon model to take the most junior military and public servant logistician to senior appointments. This is a symptom of fractured professional leadership and, for some time, no clear ‘owner’ of the task to prepare logisticians at the enterprise level.

A complex task

Our history reveals much about the reasons why the contemporary logistician ‘looks’ and ‘acts’ the way they do, what skills they possess, and how they relate to one another.

Of course, it is not the only reason we – as logisticians – are where we are. Logistics is an enormous problem. It is simply impossible to adequately prepare the logistician for the full range of tasks, employment opportunities and requirements across the full breadth of the Defence enterprise. A logistician, even at a junior level, faces a challenge that other career paths in military organisations will not be exposed to until senior ranks. It is massively complex, and to be successful as a logistician requires you to be able to navigate a substantial portion of the institution. It is an activity that begins with the national economy, with policy making and resourcing, and ends with the delivery of materiel and personnel to the combat force fighting at the forward edge of the battlefield. It comprises and enormous number of functions across the breadth of Defence – Department and ADF – performed by large numbers of technical specialists, generalist officers and public servants, industry partners and contractors and officials.

Slide1

The graphic above shows the generic logistics functions that are performed within the Defence enterprise. These functions are divided into two main areas. The bottom half of the slide shows that logistics is concerned with the development of the means for, and the sustainment of, military operations. It comprises a substantial proportion of the tasks a Defence logistician is expected to perform, as well as a number performed by others.

The second area relates to the formulation of strategy, including policy, and military tactics. You might think logisticians are only responsible for the provision of staff advice, but the real important work of the strategic logistician is in this space where their work sets in motion the Defence approach to industry policy and engagement, national support, acquisition inputs into strategy and other planning responsibilities. Logisticians are not the sole owners of these problems, but they are quite clearly critical in traversing the spectrum.

Success in this environment requires us all to understand which areas require emphasis given circumstances, and where the authority for decision making and activity lies. This, unfortunately, is hardly an easy task!

The second part of this transcript will be posted soon.

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

What an operation twenty years ago can tell us about preparedness now – lessons from INTERFET in 1999

By David Beaumont.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) went to East Timor in 1999 armed with luck and sustained by the outstanding initiative and resolve of its personnel. The logistics system, in contrast, was cobbled together from the remnants of twenty-five years of unceasing organisational change. It is difficult to avoid the feeling that the successful outcome of the International Forces East Timor (INTERFET) operation was achieved despite the state of logistics in the ADF, not because of it.

The ADF lacked the logistics resources, organic or those from civilian or international sources, to fulfil the requirements of a realistic approach to preparedness prior to the operation. Its joint command and control mechanisms were in their infancy, and the ADF’s strategic logistics and acquisition organisations were in the throes of major upheaval. The ADF had smart people, well-intentioned leaders both military and civilian, and was supported as best as possible from a Department that grappled with a complex and complicated mix of national circumstances in preceding years.

The ADF’s preparedness prior to this operation has been scrutinised through reports and analysis, at levels range from tactical to committees of Government. The lessons learned, or still waiting a resolution, have either morphed into what is thought to be daily business for Defence. We are fortunate in that an Official History of the INTERFET operation is being written. Similarly, the occasional articles such as Brigadier (retd) Mick Kehoe’s series at Logistics In War, remind us that there are pertinent personal stories from the past that remain eternally relevant to the soldier, sailor or airman. It’s always a good time to reflect upon messages from the past.

This article will describe the impact of strategic resourcing and logistics problems on operations. It will give a general sense of the traps the ADF and others fell into prior to leading this important coalition force. The problems of the ADF deployment in East Timor were not only because of the characteristic confusion caused by an unforeseen operation. Many preparedness problems had their origins in a long line of innocuous decisions made for the best of reasons. These had significant second-order consequences. A few will be outlined here.

Policy and concepts are important, but economics (and money) is everything

The hollowness and general inadequacy of the ADF’s logistics support was not a result of any strategy concept or policy including the ‘defence of Australia’ concept outlined in the policy document ‘Defence of Australia 1987’. Any operation defending the Australian north-west demanded was a difficult logistics enterprise, as highlighted by exercises such as the long-standing ‘Kangaroo’ series. A lack of logistics preparedness was a consequence of national economics, fifteen years of financial pressures on Defence, and a paradigm of Governmental outsourcing of functions considered enablers to combat forces.

From the moment that the strategic policy paper ‘Defence of Australia 1987’ (DOA) was published, the Australian defence budget began to tighten and senior decision makers in Defence had to compromise the strategic concept they were promoting. Four years after the document was aired, Australia was in the worst recession since the Great Depression and any chance that the funding ambitions to realise an ADF capability of delivering what DOA advocated were dashed.

Defence was compelled by Government to cut its costs. 1991, a year in which Recession was declared by Government, was a fateful one. It was the first year since the White Paper’s release that the ADF’s force structure was examined in detail. All planners in the review knew the commercialisation of Defence’s organic logistics and support agencies had to be accelerated to lower annual Defence costs. The report ‘Defence and the Community’ by former Secretary Alan Wrigley (Wrigley Report) advocated greater use of national industry for Defence needs, with a subsequent Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC) agreeing.

The 1991 Force Structure Review and the accompanying outsourcing program known as the ‘Commercial Support Program’, as well as the Howard Government’s 1996 Defence Efficiency Review and 1997 Defence Reform Program, substantially cut the logistics capabilities of the three Services. An assumption in all cases had been made that industry would – without any coherent prompts from Government or Defence – fill any short-notice operational needs. But there was another reason that the ADF’s logistics capabilities were in a parlous state by 1999.

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Beware paying for future capability with present-day preparedness

The cuts made to logistics capabilities had been a part of a long-term trend that had become unstoppable. Substantial components of the ADF’s organic logistics capability that existed well within the national support base operating messes and canteens, bases, supply depots, distribution services and numerous other functions had been systematically reviewed, assessed and outsourced. There was a belief, at the time, that though these services could be legitimately outsourced the depth of the logistics capability within the ADF would suffer as a consequence.

Defence leaders, however, had little choice other than to support these initiatives. Despite the intense funding pressures, ADF combat capabilities had to be modernised out of a period of ‘block obsolescence’. From ANZAC-class frigates to combat aircraft to Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMV); capabilities essential for the ADF’s combat capacity were being acquired and funds to these programs had to be protected. The size of the combat force had to be preserved as best as it could, though even these elements of the three Services couldn’t escape a portion of the personnel cuts.

Government and Defence broke one of John Collins principles of preparedness by failing to ensure present and future preparedness were in proper balance. The ‘consumption’ of the ADF’s enablers to fund long-term capability objectives would inhibit the ADF’s ability to respond to the unforeseen. But there were other areas of concern. One prominent issue related to the inadequate stockholdings of materiel and supplies for contingencies. After twenty years of trying, the ADF did not have an adequate supply of stores, equipment and vital consumables such as ammunition immediately prior to East Timor.

Paul Dibb, as a Deputy Secretary, could not entice the Services to spend their funds on adequate stockholdings in the early 1990’s to support the strategic concept he advocated prior to DOA87. Nor could successive Assistant Chief of Defence Force – Logistics (ACLOG), the then ‘strategic J4’, do the same afterwards despite policies and preparedness plans being created. Strikingly, these were exceptionally capable individuals; Major-General John Grey served as ACLOG during the 1991 force structure review and was promoted immediately afterwards to Chief of the General Staff.

The ADF, as part of Defence, ended up taking steps in the opposite direction by implementing a policy of ‘direct unit funding’. This approach to supply entailed unit commanders procure commonly available items from local civilian sources (i.e. hardware stores etc.). The concept sounded logical when conceived, and it reduced the need for units to hold stocks. It also reduced the need for costly deep storage. As forces consolidated in Darwin in 1999 these advantages were soon forgotten.

Units concentrated with inadequate stocks to sustain the operations planned for them in East Timor, and commercial supplies in Darwin were unavailable in the quantities required for a force that eventually exceeded 10000 personnel. Procurement of essentials was eventually transferred to Sydney, where the operational supply-chain eventually began. Thus, a decision made to reduce Defence costs had created a preparedness liability and required correction at the time the supply-chain should have been functioning effectively.

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Effective logistics control requires organisational stability

The timing of peacekeeping operation into East Timor could not have been worse for Defence. As described earlier, the preceding fifteen years were organisationally tumultuous. As if the manipulations of the ADF’s logistics echelons wasn’t enough, the constant shifting of accountabilities and authorities with Defence magnified the uncertainty.

Since the Sanderson Review of 1989, the ADF had gained and lost a two-star ‘Assistant Chief of Defence Force Logistics’, replaced it with a two-star National Support Division to steward the ADF – national support base relationship, and created a two-star ‘Support Command Australia’ and ‘Joint Logistics Command’ out of Service Logistics Commands. With the size of the ADF decreasing, similar levels of turbulence were also seen within the Services and elsewhere in the Department of Defence. Operational-level command was less than a decade old, and the ADF lacked experience in planning major operations.

The ability of ADF commanders or logisticians to make high-quality decisions about logistics resources, or to coordinate support obtained from industry, international partners or elsewhere in the national support base, had been unintentionally damaged by the time of Operation Warden. Responsibilities for various levels of logistics had yet to be set by practice, command was diffuse, and control over logistics processes was conflicted. This manifested in range of issues during the mounting of the force, emblemised by the chaos witnessed in Darwin.

There was no appointed ‘strategic J4’ for the ADF with the ACLOG position disestablished, and Head National Support Division (HQ NSD) in HQ ADF was appointed as the CDF’s logistics advisor well under the operation was underway. Joint Logistics Command, merely two years old, lacked the proficiency and capacity to support the mounting of the force in Darwin. There was little choice but to rely upon available the single-Service logistics systems (predominantly Army’s Logistics Support Force) and employ ad-hoc arrangements to get by.

OP ASTUTE

Force posture is critically important, but is irrelevant if it is only defined by the forward positioning of troops

Would these problems have been as severe had a greater portion of the force positioned in Northern Australia early? Perhaps, with some important caveats. Established military force posture is an outcome of answering ‘how much time does it take to get the most military ‘power’ to a given point in a given time?’. Forces are positioned in advance of military operations because it eliminates the time otherwise taken by transporting them.

Forward forces alone, however, are not enough. It should be self-evident that access to logistics support, ‘supply-chains’ and maintenance sites also ensure personnel and machines practically useful at the point of need. Industry and national infrastructure must be available, especially in the case of deploying a force. As established above, this was not the case in Darwin in 1999.

The relationship between industry and defence forces are typically focussed upon the acquisition and sustainment of materiel and specific services. This focus reflects, perhaps rightly, the nature of defence funding. However, it is also critical that concepts in which the national support base is ‘leveraged’ to support military operations are discussed.

In 1999, despite twenty years of intellectual investment in concepts for the defence of Australia, despite the establishment of NSD in HQ ADF to develop the plans and policies to marshal ‘national support’ for ADF operations, and despite military exercises, it concerned many at the time that Australia was ill-prepared for a sizable military force in its north let alone ready to project it much further than the shoreline. Risk was accepted from Government to the ADF that Australia would never need to enact policy or test its concepts.

Could defence industry made greater contributions during the East Timor crisis? They were involved at all levels, but as with the ADF, industry partners lacked the capability or capacity that was needed at short notice. Transportation services supported the deployment, telecommunications companies deployed, and a range of businesses offered opportunities to share the burden of military operations alongside the ADF’s logistics forces. The challenge was coordinating these inputs. At the time policy intent was not matched by ADF doctrine about ‘employing civilians in the theatre’ and the arrangements and capacities necessary to make the most of an otherwise health Defence-industry relationship wasn’t there.

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Conclusion

In considering the points this article makes it is important to remember just how unexpected the INTERFET deployment was, and that Defence worked tirelessly to make the operation the success it became. Similarly, it was a time of seemingly incredible difficulty for senior leaders in the ADF and elsewhere who had to make fundamental force structure and preparedness decisions, fully aware that no one could adequately advise them on the operational costs of their decisions.

This article is therefore not to criticise but to critique; to look to history to determine how best military leaders and civilian officials can best posture the military when the nature of future operations is unknown. It is an example which reminds them of the importance of every decision they make as the second-order consequences may have ramifications well beyond the considered strategic horizon.

The INTERFET deployment is a potent reminder of the intrinsic link between logistics and overall preparedness. Twenty years have passed since the operation and many of the problems have been addressed by the ADF and others across the national security community. A period of consistent operational commitments since INTERFET has created an experienced defence force that should be able to avoid a recurrence of the severe problems in preparedness experienced in 1999.

However, as operations are unique, we really can’t be too sure that the future ADF will avoid the problems which afflicted INTERFET. What is important that the ADF, and those that support it, now look for warning signs in preparedness that emerge from time to time. Risk acceptance is expected in defence planning, and it is impossible to prepare for every conceivable military circumstance.

The best option is to have a logistics process that can adapt quickly and effectively. For the ADF in 1999, this was not the case. Only time will tell if it is now.


The thoughts are those of the author alone.

The ‘So What’ of my experiences in East Timor – Reflections on East Timor by a Logistics Unit Commander Part 4

By Brigadier Michael Kehoe (Retd).

“In the two decades since the Australian deployment to East Timor as part of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET), much has been written about the operation predominantly from the national and military strategic perspectives. This focus is not surprising given Australia’s decision to act decisively in the immediate neighbourhood in a leadership role, and the nature and scale of the intervention, remains unparalleled since Federation.   At the operational and tactical level, East Timor may not be a great case study for combat arms officers however for the logistician, there are lessons to be learned at every level from the Commander Joint Logistics down to the private soldier. As the operation recedes into history, we need to ensure the key lessons identified do not also fade.”

 – from Reflections on East Timor by a Logistics Unit Commander – twenty years on 

Editor’s note – this article continues with the experiences of the then Commanding Officer, 10th Force Support Battalion (10 FSB), deploying to East Timor (now Timor Leste) as part of the INTERFET operation. Part One can be found here, Two here and Three here.


 

There is probably no ‘eureka’ moment or significantly controversial recommendation as a consequence of my experiences in East Timor. Rather, I think I can only reinforce the views or intuitive thoughts of the reader. What follows is hopefully a small number of take-aways for future leaders thrown into a military contingency for which they are unprepared for.

You will never be fully prepared; the trick is to be better prepared than the adversary. From a supply chain perspective, the ADF will never be fully prepared to launch into a short-notice, major operation the size of the East Timor deployment. However, that doesn’t mean that leaders at every level should not strive to squeeze every ounce of preparedness out of the organization. Australia will always be in a state of competition with a number of countries; this is the nature of the international system. Competition can quickly morph into conflict or war through miscalculation or malicious intent. If you think this view pessimistic, you are not a student of history. As an ADF, we will go to the next fight with the force we have, not the force we’d like. Despite that, logisticians at every level must never rest in pushing to have the force as fully prepared as possible. This drive must be led, and visibly led, by CJLOG but a key message in that drive is that logistics is a command responsibility, not just a logisticians responsibility.

Don’t be fooled by Readiness Notice. The start of any operation has always been characterized by confusion about the strategic end-state, Clausewitzian friction, excessive secrecy and compartmentalization, stove-pipe planning and an expectation that forces will be moving immediately once a political decision is made. It was the case for LTCOL Lou Brumfield when he deployed the 1 RAR Battalion Group to South Vietnam in 1965 and for LTCOL David Hurley and the 1 RAR Battalion Group deploying to Somalia in the early 1990s. Official and unit histories comment on preparation being hampered by compartmented planning, reduced readiness, and problems with the supply system, both stock availability and responsiveness. It was the same for the Australian forces deploying to East Timor in September 1999, and when you’re ‘first in’ it will always be the case. To mitigate some of the inevitable difficulties, Commanders at every level need to engender a mindset of individual and unit readiness quite separate to official readiness. A useful question for every Troop, Squadron and Battalion Commander to ask his subordinates: ‘Are there any standing impediments that would prevent you going home from work today, picking up your field equipment and echelon bag, and deploying tomorrow?’ A similar question can be applied to organisations. ‘If I was tasked to deploy my (insert organisation) tomorrow, what equipment and non-combat supplies do I lack?’ The Commander must then strive to do something about the issues identified as a result of those questions.

Talking doctrine may seem dull but it’s vital. The Army does not devote sufficient effort and priority to what should be seen as our body of knowledge on how Army intends to operate. Doctrine establishes a common frame of reference including tools (physical and intellectual) that leaders can use to frame and solve problems. We need a balance of principles and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP’s). Doctrine is not always prescriptive but it is authoritative and a start point in addressing issues, particularly the design of individual and collective training. The principles, anchored in real case studies for context, should foster proactive leadership and initiative. TTPs are essential for logisticians who, due to the reality of peacetime constraints, rarely get to practice the full range of their skills. If we’re not prepared to post the right people to these important doctrine appointments then we need to find another way.

Logistics staff capacity needs to be addressed.   The capacity of the logistic planning staff in the Deployable Joint Force Headquarters and Brigade headquarters needs to be increased. Logistics staff in these headquarters cannot both contribute to operations planning, and simultaneously conduct the breadth of logistic planning required with their current manning levels. I saw smart, professional and hard-working officers simply swamped by the size and tempo of the planning task and lack of capacity in their respective staff areas.

Training.   I am less confident about recommending changes to training given a decade has passed since I transferred from the ARA.   Somehow, we must find a way to educate and train our people in theatre level general support tasks that are rarely practiced in times of peace. The ones that come to mind are:

  • Air and Sea ‘Point of Disembarkation’ operations:
    • Personnel reception and staging.
    • Transit area operations.
    • Bulk handling.
  • Force supply planning.
  • Force supply operations.
    • Fresh rations receipt, bulk break and distribution.
    • Bulk aviation and ground fuel operations including fuel quality testing
    • Theatre level receipt storage issue, testing and EOD.
  • Supply chain management incorporating Joint Operations District.
  • Personnel Services including postal, cash office, amenities, personnel tracking (into and within theatre).
  • Cost-capture.
  • Mortuary Affairs.
  • Logistics Over the Shore.

A combination of simulation and regular exercising of these capabilities is the answer but the key challenge is for commanders to make this a priority. And this is more than the biennial Exercise Talisman Sabre.

Recognition. The honours, awards and commendation system has been reviewed since 1999. However I’m not convinced that some of the constraints around awards in warlike operations have been adequately resolved. It was difficult with the guidance I was operating under in 1999 to adequately recognize the officer or soldier who achieved a satisfactory result, but did so in spite of the circumstances not because of them. I’m referring to inadequately trained people, a lack of appropriate tools and systems, competing priorities and unreasonable time demands. Clausewitz again comes to mind: ‘Just as the simplest and most natural of movements, walking, cannot easily be performed in water, so in war it is difficult for normal efforts to achieve even moderate results.’[1] A number of my subordinate commanders did an outstanding job in achieving what they did but that doesn’t read well in a draft citation. I suspect this will always be a challenge for the future commander.

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Conclusion

The relevance of these reflections of an operation now two decades ago depends largely on the circumstances of the reader. As a story for a story’s sake it is of no value. However, there is the potential for these words to contribute, in some small way, to contemporary discussion, debate and thinking in the areas of logistics and leadership.

Sixty years ago, Rear Admiral (Retd) Harry Eccles observed:

In war, mistakes are normal; errors are usual; information is seldom complete, often inaccurate, and frequently misleading. Success is won, not by personnel and materiel in prime condition, but by the debris of an organization worn by the strain of campaign and shaken by the shock of battle.

The objective is attained, in war, under conditions which often impose extreme disadvantages. It is in the light of these facts that the commander expects to shape his course during the supervision of the planned action.[2]

I can identify with some of this however the ADF could not use the excuse of ‘the strain of campaign and shock of battle’. As the ANAO audit somewhat timidly observed, the structures, systems and processes were not up to it.

Every operation has challenges and I don’t pretend to claim my experience was more difficult than others, but it was my experience. I formed a view, reinforced when I was Commander 17 Brigade, that the initial phase of any operation was the most fraught, and will always be the case. Hopefully, the commanders and staff officers of the future will ensure they are as well prepared as possible for the next contingency and if this paper provides some help in that regard, I will be well satisfied.


Brigadier Michael (Mick) Kehoe served in a wide range of Australian Army and Joint appointments throughout his long and distinguished career. He is currently advising the UAE defence force professional military education program. 

Images from Department of Defence.

[1] Carl von Clausewitz, ‘On War’, ed. and translated Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, 1976, p.120.

[2] Eccles, H.E, ‘Logistics in the National Defence’, Stackpole & Co, USA, 1959

Swinging into action – reflections on East Timor by a logistics Unit Commander Part Three

By Brigadier Michael Kehoe (Retd).

“In the two decades since the Australian deployment to East Timor as part of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET), much has been written about the operation predominantly from the national and military strategic perspectives. This focus is not surprising given Australia’s decision to act decisively in the immediate neighbourhood in a leadership role, and the nature and scale of the intervention, remains unparalleled since Federation.   At the operational and tactical level, East Timor may not be a great case study for combat arms officers however for the logistician, there are lessons to be learned at every level from the Commander Joint Logistics down to the private soldier. As the operation recedes into history, we need to ensure the key lessons identified do not also fade.”

 – from Reflections on East Timor by a Logistics Unit Commander – twenty years on 

Editor’s note – this article continues with the experiences of the then Commanding Officer, 10th Force Support Battalion (10 FSB), deploying to East Timor (now Timor Leste) as part of the INTERFET operation. Part One can be found here and Two here.


 

Once we were on the ground and established in Dili the full capability of the unit swung into action. We were augmented with B vehicle transport assets from 9 Force Support Battalion (FSB) and later in the deployment, some additional Unimogs from 1 Combat Services Support Battalion (CSSB). There were many issues that arose to make life difficult, the majority of which I put down to a lack of realistic training for this type of unit[1] and Clausewitzian organizational friction. When we returned to Australia, I tasked an officer (who did not deploy with us) to take our War Diary and write a Command Post Exercise using the Battalion Ops Log to build in the many Lower and Higher Control problems with which unit operations staff would have to deal.

He could not believe the number and nature of small mistakes, errors, misjudgements and wrong assumptions that collectively made even simple tasks difficult. Clausewitz noted that no military unit can be thought of as a single or solitary piece, ‘each part is composed of individuals, every one of whom retains his potential for friction.’ Discussion of these are best left for unit reunions but I will raise three: real-estate allocation, lack of flexibility when it came to regrouping, and recognition. I chose these because I was personally involved in each.

Real-estate

Appropriate sites to deploy in Dili were scarce. I arrived a couple of days after D-Day with a recon group late in the afternoon and the following day set about siting the unit. The Port was ‘vital ground’ given our role but there was neither room nor appropriate facilities for all elements of the unit within the Port area. We ended up scattered around city which made for both C3 and security challenges. What was frustrating at the time was the seemingly haphazard nature of allocation. I was surprised when one site I’d looked at, and confirmed with HQ INTERFET, was subsequently occupied by soldiers from another unit when I returned resulting in a tense and short discussion with the relevant Brigade Commander.

I returned to HQ INTERFET to the officer who had allocated me the site and demanded it be fixed. Needless to say, I lost. For a while I felt I was living my own Melian Dialogue and 10 FSB was the Melians. With the main body of the unit not far behind me, confirmed appropriate locations were essential. We subsequently found another area and this time I embraced my inner Athenian and tasked my MP Platoon Commander to have his soldiers immediately occupy the site and not move until relieved by the incoming sub-unit designated.

The other real-estate friction that arose was the Port. I knew that at some point, we would have to hand over the Port to the UN authority. The Port was going to enable seaborne trade which would be the life-blood of the new nation but in the short-term, it was enabling the life-blood of the INTERFET force. I recall a couple of short (and probably terse) discussions with an officer from the Maritime Component HQ who was seeking to impose a joint doctrinal solution to management of the Port that would see the majority of 10 FSB elements moved out.

I felt he wasn’t seeing the bigger picture and that to move 10 FSB from the Port would rob us of the scarce hard-stand facility needed and require significantly more assets, particularly terminal clearance transport, to manage the flow of supplies coming into the country. I was also annoyed at what I saw as a somewhat high-handed approach by the individual. Ultimately we stayed put but I didn’t win any friends in the Maritime Component. And in retrospect, I could have handled the issue in a more collegiate fashion but as is often the case when people are working hard, under pressure and tired, it’s easier said than done.

Unwillingness to Regroup Assets

A reality of operations, regardless of the type, is the need for the Commander to regroup assets as the operation unfolds, often to optimize the employment of scarce assets. A unit or formation which may have enjoyed the direct support of certain supporting arms or services during one phase, might find those assets redirected elsewhere given the nature or tempo of the next phase.

There was a period relatively early in the deployment when 10 FSB’s lack of B vehicles and drivers was impacting our ability to provide the required support. We had picked up a range of second and third line support tasks for an increasing number of largely coalition forces and I had been told clearly that more vehicles and drivers from Australia would not be forthcoming. My transport sub-unit commander suggested we approach 3 CSSB to see if excess capacity in their Transport Squadron could be utilized by us, under an appropriate C2 arrangement and for a finite time.

There had been unofficial discussion at field-grade officer level and the Squadron Commander was keen to help (I got the sense they were underutilized in their core role). Unfortunately, the absolute refusal by Bde staff to even consider the proposal meant we had to persevere with a range of sub-optimal solutions. I found this lack of flexibility enormously frustrating and contrary to the principles of war.

I admit the problem was exacerbated by my decision to not allow 10 FSB Mack Trucks with trailers to travel east from Dili. I had travelled the road myself and the volume of civilian and military traffic, the lack of a verge or safety barriers, and the tight turns and steepness of the grades led me to conclude a fatal accident would be simply a matter of time. I sought permission to have MPs exercise route control during a window of time, restrict civilian traffic and allow trucks with trailers to travel one-way during this window. The proposal was denied.

I know the drivers of the Transport Troop were disappointed and the Troop Commander made it pretty clear he felt I lacked confidence in his soldiers’ skills and was micro-managing his business. The skill of the military drivers was not my main concern but rather the local civilian vehicles which were invariably poorly driven, grossly overloaded and patently unroadworthy. An accident with a fully laden Mack and trailer combination would have had multiple fatalities   I stuck to my decision and I was pleased to get to the end of the deployment with no 10 FSB vehicles involved in an accident on that difficult stretch of road.

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Docked at Dili Port, Image by Department of Defence

Recognition

While this was an ‘in-theatre’ issue, it is obviously a command and leadership issue rather than logistics but nonetheless an issue worth mentioning. Towards the end of the deployment, the Commanding Officers of the Force Logistics Support Group (FLSG) were asked to nominate appropriate people for recognition through the Honours, Awards and Commendations system. I sought nominations from my subordinates, held a unit Honours and Awards board and went through each nomination carefully. I also personally wrote up a small number of nominations.

Once the dust had settled and the INTERFET force had redeployed to home locations the list was released from Government House. I was delighted to see Corporal Lee-Anne McClenahan from the Terminal Troop had been awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service. However, she was the only one who was recognized in the formal Honours and Awards list. The other well-deserving officers and soldiers I had nominated missed out. Some were recognized through the Commendation system but others missed out altogether.

The sense that I, as the CO, was unable to carry the argument for my people to achieve appropriate recognition left a bitter aftertaste. There were moments of consolation, particularly when the Australian Active Service Medals arrived in the unit in November 2000 about three weeks before my tenure concluded, and at a unit parade, sub-unit commanders were able to personally present the medals to the soldiers with whom they’d deployed.

In January 2002, the unit was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation and later that year a number of veterans no longer posted to the unit, got to Townsville to see the unit presented the award by the CDF, General Peter Cosgrove. I was both proud and humble in equal measure to be part of the group and to be there on the day however a group award in no way negates the case for individual recognition and I remain disappointed that certain key officers and soldiers missed out.


Brigadier Kehoe’s experiences will conclude in a final article shortly.

Brigadier Michael (Mick) Kehoe served in a wide range of Australian Army and Joint appointments throughout his long and distinguished career. He is currently advising the UAE defence force professional military education program. 

Images from Department of Defence.

[1] I have mentioned the issues with the Supply capability. An additional example was the Terminal Troop. Not only had the Terminal capacity been reduced to a Troop in previous years, they had not unloaded a hatched ship in over five years. During the unit’s deployment the soldiers unloaded over 100 such ships.

Planning to sustain the force – Reflections on East Timor by a Logistics Unit Commander Part Two

By Brigadier Michael Kehoe (Retd).

“In the two decades since the Australian deployment to East Timor as part of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET), much has been written about the operation predominantly from the national and military strategic perspectives. This focus is not surprising given Australia’s decision to act decisively in the immediate neighbourhood in a leadership role, and the nature and scale of the intervention, remains unparalleled since Federation.   At the operational and tactical level, East Timor may not be a great case study for combat arms officers however for the logistician, there are lessons to be learned at every level from the Commander Joint Logistics down to the private soldier. As the operation recedes into history, we need to ensure the key lessons identified do not also fade.”

 – from Reflections on East Timor by a Logistics Unit Commander – twenty years on

Editor’s note – this article continues with the experiences of the then Commanding Officer, 10th Force Support Battalion (10 FSB), deploying to East Timor (now Timor Leste) as part of the INTERFET operation. 


 

Provisioning the force

Supplying any force requires an understanding of ‘provisioning’ and ‘stockholding’. To say these were done poorly is an understatement. At the tactical level, effective supply support results from the provision of appropriate in-service items of supply necessary for the identified force to conduct the operation. Without getting into too much detail, the logistic planners require crucial information from the Joint Military Appreciation Process including a dependency and anticipated rates of effort from which usage rates are derived. From this point, logistic planners can assess stockholding levels and locations, transport assets required and warehousing infrastructure needs.

Obviously there’s a symbiotic relationship. Logistics both enables and constrains the operational plan but the key is that operations and logistic planning must be synchronized at every level. ‘Surprise’ is a great principle of war but is not a good principle of planning. Suffice to say that 10 FSB, my unit, had none of the essential information ingredients to plan and build the logistics information systems infrastructure to enable the appropriate third line supply support to the force. In that crucial pre-deployment time, other than HQ INTERFET and 3 Bde (-), we really had no visibility of the force dependency.

As the combined Australian and coalition force built up, force elements just got swept up, included in our growing list of dependencies and the operation rolled remorselessly on.  Of course we expect our people to be flexible, to ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’, and they did this magnificently. However people are part of a wider logistic system that could not react in the quick time-frame wanted.  Criticism that 10 FSB took the wrong provisioning information into theatre is misguided.  Any District we took would have been wrong given the lack of key information. We built the plane in flight with predicable outcomes.

When addressing supply, I must mention the Operational Viability Period (OVP) concept. The OVP ‘…is the period immediately following deployment during which forces must maintain self-sufficiency until the logistic resupply system is in place to conduct replenishment.’ This system requires a layered approach meaning each level (section, sub-unit, unit, formation, force) carries with it a degree of inherent sustainability. This allows supply elements and units appropriate time to stop their support in one location, pack up, relocate, set-up and recommence support.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in the initial deployment phase. I recall one unit submitted over 300 high-priority demands in the 14 day period before they deployed, all for items they arguably should have held at unit level. The supply system was swamped with high-priority demands for every item imaginable, both in-service and those requiring procurement action, and the demands kept coming during and after units deployed. Combat units particularly had fallen into a very austere mindset exacerbated by short exercises where soldiers and unit-level Q staff were able to be self-sufficient for the duration.   Additionally, no logistics units held  stock remotely near the requirement.  In many cases, this resulted from deliberate decisions by Fleet Managers seeking to manage peace-time budgets; an unenviable task I acknowledge.

Staff Capacity

Ten years before the INTERFET operation, Army had considerable deployable logistic staff capacity and capability. The Commanders in the headquarters of Divisional Transport, Supply and Electrical and Mechanical Engineering were both commanders in their own right and staff officers, known as ‘Advisers’, for the Divisional Headquarters.  Their staff crunched the numbers and came up with the Distribution Plan, the Supply Plan, Repair and Recovery Plan and so on for the next operation or phase of the campaign.  These plans were issued as Orders or Annexes to Orders and importantly, were issued under the authority invested by the Divisional Commander. For example, Commander Divisional Transport had the authority, responsibility and resources to plan, direct and execute the Distribution Plan on behalf of the Divisional Commander.

When these units were disestablished to form Brigade Administrative Support Battalions in the 1990s, the staffs at the brigade headquarters were not increased to off-set the elimination of that capacity. Army now lacked a considerable logistics planning capacity, replaced with units designed to only perform in accordance with higher direction from the Brigade planning process and subsequent orders. This has a significant impact on the ability of headquarters to plan logistics operations.

Fast forward to 1999. We had a particularly lean Division Headquarters with a Personnel / Logistics branch (J1/4 branch) trying to contribute to the operations planning process, conduct parallel logistic planning for the combined joint task force of an unknown size and composition, and get itself in a position to deploy.   At the same time, a Force Logistic Support Group headquarters (HQFLSG) was pulled together from across the ADF, but this had no experience as a team, no SOPs, equipment or establishment and also had to get themselves to East Timor and into the fight.

Not surprisingly, the deployed logistics system (in the broadest sense of the term) lived hand-to-mouth for about the first two months. Ultimately, the in-theatre support arrangements that had developed in the first couple of months were formalized by the operations staff at HQFLSG and a range of orders were issued under the authority of Commander FLSG in his capacity as Joint Logistics Component Commander.

3 CER building a bridge near Maliana

Individual Readiness

In the lead up to the deployment, I was heartened by the professional approach taken by the soldiers. In deploying the unit we crashed through readiness notice and in many cases worked around the clock to get ready for a deployment of which the nature, dependency and duration were largely unknown. To borrow liberally but not literally from Donald Rumsfeld, ‘You go to war when you’re told, not in accordance with your readiness notice.’

As I moved around the unit and spoke to sub-units and platoons and spoke about the expected duration of our deployment, I told them to plan on nine months and I could tell a number of soldiers swallowed hard at my estimate. Privately I felt it would be less than that for most, but I wanted to get people in the right mindset. This would not be like a month-long exercise in the local training area.

I recall one reassuring example of a young NCO who was either a single mother or her husband was in another high readiness unit; I now don’t recall. Her response, relayed to me through her sub-unit commander was gold. ‘That’s fine Sir. I just need a couple of days to fly my kids to Adelaide, settle them in with my mother and I’ll be back and good to go’.

Why did 10 FSB deploy, and 9 FSB supoport Darwin operations?

I was recently asked my view on the decision to send my unit to Dili and the 9th Force Support Battalion (9FSB) to Darwin. 9 FSB was a partner battalion within the Logistics Support Force (now the 17th Sustainment Brigade), with both battalions supporting land forces in the main. I was surprised by the question; at no stage during the lead up or during the deployment had anyone sought my opinion. To me, it was self-evident and my boss – Brigadier Jeff Wilkinson – got it right. Some flesh on the bones of this comment:

During the INTERFET operation, both units anchored the supply ‘bridge’ between Darwin and the area of operations. Key tasks for both units were mainly but not exclusively supply chain management tasks.  Ideally, joint, strategic, Support Command elements including a Joint Logistics Unit in Darwin should have anchored the Australian end of the bridge with augmentation from elsewhere in Support Command (uniform, APS or hire-assets). However, this Command was newly formed an ill-prepared for the task of supporting the mounting of the force. In the absence of that, some other organisation needed to.

Although a joint operation, RAN had no suitable organisation and although RAAF had the Combat Support Group, whether Air Force would have been capable or interested in doing the job was doubtful; whether the question was ever put to them I don’t know. Ultimately, I suspect Commander LSF as the appointed theatre ‘Logistics Component Commander’ knew he had to find a solution from within the assets he controlled.

At the time, 9 FSB was structured similarly to the 9 Transport Regiment. It lack no capacity to supply beyond its own needs and lacked certain capabilities normally associated with third line support. 10 FSB, on the other hand, had under command a:

  • Combat Supply Coy (for rations and water, fuel and ammunition);
  • Supply Coy (other commodities);
  • Local Purchase capability;
  • Water Transport and Terminal Squadronincluding an Amphibious Beach Team;
  • Postal Unit;
  • Third line Workshop Platoon that knew the 3 Bde dependency (and to my recollection, the only third line workshop element in the Army); and
  • Battalion HQ that had a habitual relationship with 3 Bde.

These comments are not a criticism of 9 FSB. The battalion did sterling work in Darwin, having deployed there at short notice, eventually replacing 10 FSB in Dili in late February 2000 with little respite in between. What Army really needed was Support Command to step up and own the ‘Darwin problem’. It would be a few years yet before the joint force could support a force as large as INTERFET became.


Brigadier Kehoe’s experiences will continue over coming articles at Logistics in War.

Brigadier Michael (Mick) Kehoe served in a wide range of Australian Army and Joint appointments throughout his long and distinguished career. He is currently advising the UAE defence force professional military education program. 

Images from Department of Defence.