As the ADF awaits the release of the 2023 Defence Strategic Review, change management has become a topic du jour. This article was posted some time ago, but the lessons contained within are pertinent now.
In late 2017 I published a post of anecdotes, observations and lessons given by senior officers contacted through the course of academic research. These insights were given by logisticians, but not always, and pointed at many of the issues transforming Defence logistics over a period of nearly thirty years. The conversations continued throughout 2018 and continued to highlight significant, strategic, challenges which define Defence organisations even today.
The points below are raw, deliberately unattributed and paraphrased. Although discussed in the context of strategic logistics they are broadly applicable, and many are clearly relevant to effective strategic leadership.
Logisticians and the ‘spirit of the age’
Defence logistics has been in a paradigm shift for the last thirty years. These times are difficult because of the pace of change, the absence of an equilibrium, people get ‘lost’ and do not know how to proceed. Outdated ideas become a refuge.
‘The role of industrial preparedness in military strategy is anomalous. Prospectively, the role is almost always ignored by military planners but retrospectively; it is agreed that industrial preparedness was either vital for success or instrumental in defeat.’
It is increasingly recognised that substantial adaptations to the preparedness of Defence, and Australia writ large, need to be made. Over the last decade important decisions made, and policy statements issued, commensurate to the changing nature of threats to Australia’s strategic interests. Organisations have been redesigned, inter-Departmental capabilities restructured, and capability investments made to enable national responses to potentially existential security challenges. 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 seen as offsets to potential adversaries. The prospect of a war involving Australia is discussed openly, yet there is a growing realisation that less glamourous matters are impacting Defence’s ability to prepare for such potentialities. Supply chains are ‘strangling strategy’, with the movement of commodities so significant an issue that logistics is securitising. And yes, global supply is recognised as essential for the ‘creation and sustaining [of] combat capabilities’ and securing supply chains ‘makes securing them increasingly more important to operational success than the defence of lines of communication has ever been. The integration between military and civilian sources of logistics and support are now extolled as underpinning the ADF’s ability to respond to crises in the future.
A range of reports prepared over the last decade have recommended Western militaries adopt new approaches to logistics, as well as point to the role of civilian resources in preparedness and crisis responses. Examples have included the US Department of Defence’s ‘Defence Science Board’ 2018 report on ‘Survivable logistics’; those produced by major civil fora such as the US tech-sector led Special Competitive Studies Project in 2022; conference reports such as the 2019 Williams Foundation seminar on ‘Sustaining Self-reliance’; and others associated with Defence Mobilisation and preparedness planning activities. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, too, has brought national industrial mobilisation to the fore in terms of Ukraine responses to Russian aggression, but also in the context of European, US and other logistics support to Ukraine.
The preparations undertaken by Australia to respond to military crises commend all to examine the effectiveness of the integration between Defence activities and the ‘national support base.’ This paper considers the ‘national support base’ as 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 (including service delivery) that is provided by national industry and infrastructure. Many constituents of the national support base are beyond Defence’s, and specifically the ADF’s, capacity to directly control, let alone influence without the assistance of other agencies and Departments in a whole-of-nation approach. Nonetheless, the strategic logistics capability available to the ADF from both organic and inorganic sources will act as a ‘shock absorber’ in a time of military crisis; it will be critical to strategic success that civil-military arrangements are in place such that Australia can respond when needed.
Defence has the advantage of its history when it comes to understanding how it might tackle mobilisation and national support base integration into Australian Defence Force (ADF) logistics. The 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’. This paper presents the exemplar concept of national support as an approach upon which a future civil-military relationship in Australia is based.
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, for the specific purpose of supporting defence mobilisation and the ADF’s logistics concepts. The 1997 Defence Efficiency Review (DER), a review now commonly associated with an over-ambitious efficiency agenda which led to near disastrous levels of logistics hollowness in 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 Review highlighted the important linkage to national resources and good planning, and subsequently enunciated a concept of ‘…structure for war and adapt for peace.’
Significantly, the DER recognised the possibility of potential challenges to Australian national interests, with special reference to the rapidity with which such intrusions can develop. The Review emphasised that “…better planning and management of civil-military relationships are thus essential to our future defence capability.” Echoing other strategic documentation of the time, the DER ‘Industry Policy Sub-Review team’ recommended that the HQ ADF reconsider its strategic logistics planning capability, and for national mobilisation to be considered coherently as a critical logistics issue. National Support Division (NSD) was ultimately established, with the Division principally formed to address national mobilisation through the concept of national support. The Division was all but a reestablishment of a Strategic Logistics Division in HQ ADF, a branch that had been disestablished some years before. However, and unlike its predecessor, the role of the NSD 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 Australia’s Strategic Policy (1997), 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.
Following the publication of this strategic guidance, the Government released the Defence and Industry Strategic Policy Statement, which reiterates that the best defence for a nation is for the nation to wholly engage it in its own security. The statement, heavily influenced by NSD, 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).” The framework that was introduced, endorsed by the Chiefs of Service Committee and the Defence Executive, saw policy 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 consequential was the issue of mobilisation. The national support concept was, in practice, a euphemism for a mobilisation concept; a graduated and nationally-focussed approach to escalating a response to strategic competition. 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
The National Support Division (NSD) was folded three years after its establishment, and the national support concept buried amid a Defence capability approach oriented towards materiel acquisition. The establishment of the Defence Materiel Organisation in 2001 saw the Division disbanded, with its functions reallocated across Defence. As a ‘bottom-up’ derived organisation resourced from the ADF, NSD lacked the institutional support that top-down direction from Government may have given. While assurances were given that the national support agenda would remain alive in successor organisations, there’s little evidence that it ever existed twenty years later. A small Directorate now exists within an under-resourced Joint Logistics Command’s Strategic Logistics Branch to deal with national support issues, and a variety of other divisions within the Defence attend to some of the activities that were once baked into the remit of an entire, albeit small, HQ ADF staff element. Although the ADF might have a well-defined ‘strategic J4’ who advises the CDF on strategic logistics issues, and numerous senior leaders have reiterated the desire to better leverage national support for Defence activities and for increased levels of preparedness throughout the national support base, the ADF has a limited conception as to what strategic logistics entails.
A new civil-military approach which considers preparedness at its core is needed. The flex within the strategic order, the constipation of acquisition and sustainment processes, the increasingly conspicuous vulnerabilities and capability gaps within defence industries, fractured international supply-chains, and problems with national infrastructure – there are a myriad of issues all of which greatly impact how the mobilisation of national responses in crises need to be managed. Recent media releases from Government attest to the importance of whole-of-nation, and specifically industrial, responses to potential crises. However, as the national support base effectively extends beyond borders, this national endeavour must also include international force posture and logistics considerations. There is always a need for likeminded nations to optimise the logistics arrangements between one another, because not even the mightiest can sustain major combat operations alone. Furthermore, coordinated logistics cooperation with neighbours can be critical in shaping the security environment and assist greatly in ‘setting the theatre’ if competition and conflict are to come.
So where might Defence begin? First, it should settle on clear language to be used in a Government driven narrative about whole-of-nation defence. An inability to clarify the litany of terms, doctrine and jargon when the national support approach was originally proposed limited its acceptability within and without Defence. Furthermore, the anecdotal use of the term ‘mobilisation’ has failed to capture a more subtle approach to civil-military preparedness which entails a graduated levels of response to strategic challenges. A new narrative could be presented to Government in the wake of Defence’s mobilisation review currently underway and would help to guide whole-of-Government planning for military-based crises. An acceptable, modern, definition of national support might also be accompanied by clarity with respect to terms such as ‘force scaling’, ‘force expansion’, ‘mobilisation’, ‘surety’, ‘preparedness’ and even ‘strategic logistics’. Such an approach to strategic logistics is consistent with the ADF definition’s contemporary definition of mobilisation being:
‘the process that provides the framework to generate military capabilities and marshal national resources to defend the nation and its interests. It encompasses activities associated with preparedness, the conduct of operations and force expansion. Mobilisation is a continuum of interrelated activities that occurs during the four phases: preparation, work-up, operations and reconstitution.’
Secondly, to enable the national support base to respond to a crisis it must be armed by a range of mechanisms that enable ‘it’ to better define what operational requirements it is supporting. This is not only fulfilled by an analysis by ‘force exploration’ undertaken within the Integrated Investment Plan, but a detailed study of strategic concepts for operations and the logistics requirements necessary for them to occur. Perhaps the most important task will be the aligning of processes, and strategic logistics activities to preparedness to ensure that national support arrangements can be facilitated as ‘business as usual’ rather than through ad hoc adaptions undertaken at a moment’s notice. Defence’s relatively new approach to the acquisition and sustainment of fuels and guide weapons are important achievements which show that new arrangements are possible. Nonetheless, these achievements are merely a starting point for the reform that is necessary.
Thirdly, a range of policies and processes will need to be developed to enable concurrent, mutually-supporting, activity. It will be important to identify the right authorities to respond to each part of the collective problem. This understanding must also be accompanied with an acceptance that non-organic national support base capabilities are as vital to national security as the logistics and other military resources are; an acceptance that will go beyond the existing, albeit narrow, notion of industry as a ‘fundamental input into capability’ to fulfil improved capability acquisition plans. Defence, inclusive of the ADF, already knows it has a great deal of internal work to undertake to make its mobilisation and preparedness arrangements reflective of potential strategic needs. This submission is not a reflection of any incapacity of Defence to prepare, and instead aims to co-opt a concept the ADF developed in the past for the benefit of the ADF in the present.
If Defence is to progress existing work about topics such as force expansion, let alone mobilisation, it must understand the level of national capability which presently exists to support the Defence effort in a time of emergency. Once it defines the strengths and weaknesses, limitations and constraints, of the national support base it can be proactive in working with national support base partners to resolve them. To do so will require an enhancement of existing modes of interaction, as well as assistant from other Government agencies and Departments with relevant experience and capability. A strategic plan will be vital ensure effectiveness. Without these efforts circumstances will work only to increase the disjunct which exists between the ADF ‘and that of the support base on which it depends.’ As written in 2021,
Instead, it is important that the ADF renew its concepts to leverage resources from elsewhere—potentially the national support base or alliance partners—in order to develop processes that will allow it to regain capacity after a significant strategic shock. This is not only about acquiring more materiel, ‘war-stocks’ and growing the size and scale of the ADF for that capacity; it is about efficiently managing resources in such a way that they are available at the time and place of need. Capability depth is likely to reflect the strength of civil-military relationships as much as it does materiel.
Why national support matters now
A variety of Defence leaders have challenged members of the ADF, the Department, and partners to think through the problems associated with how national security needs might require all to adapt to the unexpected. So too have a range of commentators, in an array of articles and across different media. It is evident that a ‘big picture’, bold and imaginative strategic idea is needed; an idea that provides overarching principles and themes to guide planning and behaviour across the national support base. To that end Defence is armed with the benefits of corporate knowledge and a repository of information available within its own archives and captured in the diaspora of documentation that drives its daily business.
There is another reason that conceptualising, strategising and planning matters now: Western societies and their militaries are behind in their thinking. Concepts such as Chinese ‘civil-military’ fusion and a Government agenda which mandates dual-use technologies, are indicative of an increasingly sophisticated approach to military-national support base interactions on the part of our potential adversary. Such agenda help to create the conditions by which that nation can respond to its own crises or changes in the strategic environment. This is a whole-of-Government activity, an approach which includes industry partners and alliance partner involvement, as part of a holistic national security endeavour to confirm the strategic logistics basis upon which it will draw the strength to protect Australia’s national interests.
 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’.
 Department of Defence, Australia’s Strategic Policy, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p 48.
 Department of Defence 1998, Defence and Industry Policy Statement, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p 1.
 Department of Defence 1998, Defence and Industry Policy Statement, p 8.
 The ‘strategic J4’ role is practiced by Commander Joint Logistics Command (CJLOG), though the responsibility and term has fallen out of use in recent years. CJLOG’s consensus-building role within the ‘Defence Logistics Enterprise’, a construct developed to bind Defence logistics efforts together, is ostensibly a substitute though has limited connection to operational performance and preparedness.
This article concludes the discussion started here.
Things will go wrong in competition, conflict, and full-scale war. Winning will be about resilience, recovery and response as much as it is about being prepared for well-informed, but sadly speculative, conflict scenarios that planners may have contemplated in advanced. ‘Adaptiveness’ will be a necessity at the outset of a conflict, but the idea should not be a compensator for self-induced, lazy, policies and procedures designed to suit a more convenient peacetime routine. Well trained and adaptable people involved in national defence will be crucial to success, but they cannot be a crutch to allow organisations to limp through the first stages of any conflict. Resilience must be resourced in advance, staff organisations designed to be flexible, plans and policies prepared, and concepts for bringing the military and other organisations necessary in national defence to their full potential tested. Together these factors become the shock absorbers for the response which accounts for the ‘things going wrong’, and act as a springboard for what follows.
Those responsible for preparedness planning, not just within the joint force that is the ADF, but across Government should recognise that capability is only one part of the preparedness equation. Preparedness is about timing and understanding what can be done when; it is about reconciling forecasting and immediate needs with usually long-term processes for generating military capability. Belligerents in war don’t wait for capability lifecycles to manifest and operational concepts to mature. They look for opportunities to cause the most havoc at the expense of the other. What truly matters in preparedness is the latent capacity available at any one time to give the force the ability to resist to shock, face losses, and use what remains in a response that counters the strategic advantage held by an aggressor. Moreover, winning requires fortitude, mental acuity, courage, and a leadership attitude based upon problem solving, endurance, hopefulness, and opportunity seeking. These traits enable decision makers the capacity to look beyond the first salvos of war while amid chaos, redirecting the means available to eventually turn the tide of war to the positive. However, there are other important factors the ADF might consider.
Firstly, the ADF must continue to work towards greater organisational flexibility so that it can adapt rapidly to strategic shocks. With ‘Mobilisation Reviews’ and Service reforms to preparedness systems underway, it is clear that planners across the ADF are attuned to the need. However, before placing too much dependence on flexible organisational designs and the ADF’s already robust approach to command and control, the ADF should seek to accurately understand what it can and can’t do within various plausible time horizons. As renowned Australian strategist Desmond Ball wrote, ‘it is not the force-in-being or the current order-of-battle that is relevant, but the mobilised force with which the adversary would have to contend.’ As described throughout this article, capability should not be equated to readiness. Capability programs should be sequenced with force posture changes and aligned to preparedness systems. This creates a situation where decision makers can identify points of preparedness risk and potential vulnerabilities over time. Furthermore, this means that when surprise comes, ADF planners understand which parts of the force can act and when. The idea of ‘scalability’ as recently seen in some Service strategic doctrine must enter the day-to-day conversation of the ADF’s preparedness and operational planners. Scalability reflects the ability of the ADF to adjust its size and shape outside of the ‘heartbeat’ of its force development and capability acquisition programs.
Secondly, the ADF should seek to create depth in its capabilities and create capacity and sustainability rather than simply acquiring the best technology that can be bought. This will both enable it to better handle the inevitable losses of a conflict and deliver scale such that the ADF is more able to respond across multiple areas of vulnerability. Noone really knows exactly what combination of capabilities are needed in advance of war. But it is not realistic – at least not yet – for the Defence budget to grow to accommodate every plausible permutation of ships, aircraft and soldiers. Instead, it is important that the ADF renews its concepts to leverage resources from elsewhere – potentially the national support base or form alliance partners – in order to develop processes that will allow the ADF regain capacity after a significant strategic shock. This is not only about acquiring more materiel, ‘war-stocks’ and growing the size and scale of the ADF for that capacity; it is about efficiently managing resources such that they are available at the time and place of need. Capability depth will likely reflect the strength of civil-military relationships, as much as it does materiel.
Thirdly, all in the ADF must become aware that the force-in-being is not an end state in of itself. The ADF of today is unlikely to be the force that will reconstitute, recover and respond out of the initial stages of any conflict. It will be even less capable of remaining the same if substantial damage is done to the ADF in the initial engagements of the war. Outside of smaller contingencies, the ADF can, without foreign assistance, initially only provide ‘holding forces’ to provide an immediate response and defend the most vital resources. It in the largest conflicts and worse scenarios, the ADF exists to create time for the winning force to mobilise. The time for which the ADF must be prepared to ‘hold’ in a high-intensity conflict could be considerable given the time it takes to activate industry to higher levels of production, and for the nation to bring more resources to bear. Calculations undertaken in the 1970’s suggested that it would take no less than two and a half years to expand an Army, for example, from 50000 regular and reserves to a multi-divisional force capable of continental defence of 150000. Quite clearly this means that everything the ADF has already achieved in the context of a ‘total workforce’ approach to its operations is far short of what is required in war.
To worry only about preparing for that moment at which conflict is initiated or a crisis begins creates risks that could lead to strategic failure. Preparedness planners, whether in the military or without, must look beyond this moment and into the possibilities of the war which follows. Australia’s next war will not be won by an ADF in its ‘prime’, but one that has been scarred and beaten down yet recovers to claim victory. It is important that the ADF be psychologically and materially prepared for the surprise and shock of the beginning of war.
Debris of an organisation aimed to provide a vision of preparing for war. While war may appear unlikely that does not excuse us misrepresenting it as something easy to prepare for. If the the future outlined in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update rings true, it is important that the ADF’s planners consider casualties, losses and destruction inflicted on the ADF in the early stages of a future war as they design the responses, if not the capabilities, that the ADF possesses.
Capability solutions and extra resources are not sufficient to ensure that the ADF can win the next war. Planners at all levels, from combat units to strategic headquarters, must also consider the arrangements and attitudes that will enable and ensure a considered and effective response to a crisis. It is fortunate that the ADF is has more operating and planning experience than likely adversaries and has planning underway in response to the threats recent strategic policy advice highlights. Nevertheless, the challenges are vast and consequential. Crucially, if planners do not grasp that the next war may not be short, the ADF will waste the precious preparation time that it currently has. It could build resilience, depth and expansion capacity. Without these, in the next war, the ADF will surely fail.
This article was originally published in the compendium of papers ‘Designing the future: thinking about joint operations’ by the Australian Army’s Future Land Warfare Branch. The compendium includes a wide range of interesting essays written by those responsible for conceptualising the Australian Army’s future.
‘In war, mistakes are normal; errors are usual, information is seldom complete, often accurate, and frequently misleading. Success is won, not by personnel and materiel in prime condition, but by the debris of an organisation 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.’
From Sound Military Decision, United States Naval College, 1942
Wars are usually longer than expected and are rarely fought in accordance with the plans made by military planners at their outset. Australian experiences in the Middle-east over nearly two decades remind us that war shapes itself around ever-changing contexts. The ‘new dawn’ of ‘grey-zone’ conflict, a reflection of the age-old reality that nations consistently seek to preserve strategic interests and prosperity with resources they have, reminds us that competition is not confined to a staccato of disparate actions. Success in competition requires resilience, persistence, presence and sustainability. This truism applies to conflict. The fighting in war occurs in ebbs and flows as adversaries play advantages and disadvantages until victory is assured. However, in an affliction common to Western preparations for future war, there is tendency for planners to limit their imagination to the first salvos. This creates the situation where the really difficult part of war is not prepared for – how a military organisation likely left in dysfunction and ruin at war’s outset – recovers, reconstitutes and responds. It is rare that these planners, considering the capability needs that will make the ADF successful in its operations, think as to exactly how the ‘debris of an organisation’ can succeed.
This central purpose of this paper is to challenge the reader, as a heuristic, to consider how the ADF should prepare for the consequences of the first phases of intense conflict. It is a paper that talks to the ideas of resilience, response and recovery; ideas that do not normally feature in preparedness plans and operational concepts. The first part of this paper applies examples to articulate concepts and ideas relevant to understanding the reality of war. From this point, the paper applies informed assumptions to paint a picture of how a contemporary, nominally conventional, conflict might unfold. The paper then concludes with several basic principles that could be employed to guide future preparedness and contingency plans.
What a war might look like – an assumption-based depiction of a future war
Competition, including conflict and warfare, is about the control of circumstances to give an advantage – potentially an irrevocable advantage – in the context of strategic requirements. Preparedness and operational plans, however, often start with an ending in mind and are accompanied by a confident assertion that they are enough to get to the desired end-state. Though planning is useful, as the adage suggests, plans can be written such that they become virtual ‘straw-men’ arguments where assumptions and facts result in an outcome that is, in reality, possible only in someones imagination. Such plans fail to capture the dynamics of competition and conflict, and adjustments become necessary to exploit successes and recover from destruction or inevitable failures. War is not a finely tuned balance of cause and effect, but a consequence of actions in a system that is ever changing. It is necessary for us in the ADF to prepare for the confluence of events that inevitable occur over a longer term than we envisage. Historian Cathal Nolan’s The Allure of Battle is a testament to the truism that ‘[w]inning the day of battle is not enough. You have to win the campaign, then the year, then the decade.’
The ADF, if called upon to respond to a significant attack upon Australian interests, must be prepared for a situation in which its plans are found wanting, its capabilities caught in moments of relative ‘unpreparedness’, and its force posture offset by an enemy’s own strategic mobility and firepower. It is safe to say that Australia is not a revisionist power, employing aggressive military activities to address its strategic requirements. This means that if it is involved in conflict, even war, it will likely not have the time to prepare itself as best as we often assume it might. One study of twentieth-century conflicts since 1939 found that the average time between the ‘first indication of war and the firing of the first shots has been 14.3 months’, with smaller-scale contingencies around 10.6 months and that there ‘is a 50% probability that conflict can occur in less than four months.’ These timings show how quickly conflict can occur, and the folly of the assumption often reflected in Defence planning that Australian will have ten years of warning time before major conflict.
There is every chance that a twenty-first century conflict will occur faster, with the first signs of conflict buried in geopolitical tensions already at play. The ADF, like Australia, will likely be surprised by the attack, or surprised by the speed at which peace gives way to war. Furthermore, and because adversaries naturally target weaknesses, in the initial phases of any conflict the ADF would likely be facing weapons and dangers that offset whatever strengths may be hastily generated by the joint force. The systems employed by the joint force will be targeted using weapons purpose built for the task, upsetting the processes of command and control that we think are our pathway to victory in a new age of war. Agility will be denied. Strengths will be bypassed, or even prove vulnerabilities, to an adversary that has chosen the time of opportunity to strike.
So, history repeatedly reminds us that militaries usually go to war ‘unprepared’. It also reminds us that militaries often go to war disorganised, having to adapt rapidly to circumstances well beyond the expected. Martin van Creveld, writing about logistics, saw that ‘…. most armies appear to have prepared their campaigns as best they can on an ad hoc basis, making great, if uncoordinated, efforts to gather the largest possible number of tactical vehicles, trucks of all descriptions, railway troops etc., while giving little, if any, thought to the ‘ideal’ combination that would have carried them the furthest.’ The ADF’s experiences in East Timor during Operation Stabilise in 1999 hold true to this view; in this operation – a peacekeeping operation – disorganisation resulted in tremendous inefficiencies and near-exhaustion of the operational ADF. So it is not only the effects of the enemy that the ADF need be prepared for, but also the failures baked into organisational structures which remain hidden until the moment of crisis.
We need only look at the events of late 2019 and 2020 and the confluence of bushfires, pandemics, and geostrategic tensions to show how organisations and other groups respond to the foreseen but unanticipated. The idea of ‘national resilience’ – not a new idea by any means – was revisited as fires denied the population basic services and a pandemic denied the population toilet paper. Complex supply interdependencies, combined with stock minimisation in the name of efficiency, amplified the impact of localised catastrophe. Trust in societal systems, trust in supply and trust in leadership declined in these events as individuals feared for their livelihoods if not lives. As Robin Dunbar wrote in ‘The Mandarin’ recently, human behaviour during the COVID-19 crisis highlighted ‘a strong tendency to prioritise the short term at the expense of the future.’ The evident absence of coherent plans for action over the length of the crisis exacerbated uncertainty.
The events of 2020 are a euphemism for the impact of the initial phases of future war, where surprise may conspire with inadequate planning to sow confusion, compromise plans, and results the loss of resources and lives. The reliance of the ADF on familiar command process and organisational behaviours that provide comfortable peace-time routine will be shaken by the need for frenetic activity and ad hoc changes as forces mobilise. War will come across multiple domains simultaneously, with the ADF responding to direct attack, while potentially involved in a range of non-military civil defence responses as national infrastructure becomes a site for conflict. Supply-chains will be interdicted and used as a point of leverage, denying the capacity of the ADF to scale as effectively as it might. Exquisite capabilities could be revealed as inhibitors to capacity-building for a joint force that somehow must create additional combat force mass in the short term.
Eventually whole-of-nation activity will be brought to bear as all elements of national power work more effectively with one another. The nation will bind diplomatic, informational, military, economic and other activities to strategic effect. Similarly, the ADF will bind a joint effort, gaining momentum, into coherent operations across all domains of war. Coalition partners will be increasingly involved, share resources, and develop war plans to achieve the next strategic objectives. Combat intensity might drop as the contest stabilises, the effects of surprise dissipate, forces focus upon repair and reconstitution instead of the offense, equipment is unavailable and lines of communication are interdicted. Adversaries may attempt to de-escalate, especially if nuclear and strategic weapons could be used, but competition to control the strategic environment and retain strategic mobility in all domains is likely to continue.
An ADF that endures will be quite different to the one that started the war. The characteristics of any war, whether it be small-scale localised operations or a fight for national survival, will shape the capabilities and capacities required by the joint force. ‘Seed’ capabilities – those which exist in relatively small numbers in a peacetime force to preserve skills and an emergency capability such as the Army’s tanks or certain combat aircraft and ships – will form the basis upon which a larger ADF will expand from. It is more likely than not that the ADF, reacting to a wartime adversary, will evolve to be fundamentally different to the one that is conceptualised in current capability development programs. Shaping factors will include war-time economic conditions and choices that the Australian Government, enacting domestic policies and working in partnerships with other Departments, has made. A host of variously complicated and complex issues will impact how national power manifests into military outcomes. The ADF will have had to expand its training capacity, logistics, and invest in new capabilities to create strategic advantages. This will likely be achieved in partnership with allies, each of which may also be suffering the adverse consequences of the initial engagements of the war.
These scenario parameters offer a different focus for envisaging the next conflict that Australia faces. While they merely offer a heuristic employed to test and tease out ideas, they do help to remind us that there is much more to war than we tend to consider in concepts and preparedness planning. Furthermore, it also illustrates that preparedness is not just about readiness, but also the resilience and the capacity of the ADF to recover after a conflict-induced catastrophe. If, as the 2020 Defence Strategic Update suggests, that the likelihood of conflict is increasing in an ‘disorderly’ and ‘dangerous’ geostrategic climate, it is prudent that the ADF comprehensively reflects upon the purpose of preparedness, and what it might truly deliver the ADF during a conflict. The question remains, however, how might the ADF best prepare itself?
Part two will be published shortly.
This article was originally published in the compendium of papers ‘Designing the future: thinking about joint operations’ by the Australian Army’s Future Land Warfare Branch. The compendium includes a wide range of interesting essays written by those responsible for conceptualising the Australian Army’s future.
 Author unknown, Sound military decision, US Naval College, USA, 1942, p 198 from Eccles, H., Logistics in the national defense, The Stackpole Company, USA, 1959
 Babbage, R., ‘Ten questionable assumptions about future war in the Indo-Pacific’, from Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1.,
 A heuristic is an approach to problem-solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect or ration, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. See ‘Heuristic’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuristic, [accessed 27 Sep 2020]
 Nolan, C., The Allure of Battle, Oxford University Press, UK, 2019, p 4
 Speedy, I.M. ‘The Trident of Neptune’, Defence Force Journal, 1978, pp 7-16 cited in Ball, D., Problems of mobilisation in defence of Australia, Phoenix Defence Publications, Australia, 1979, p 13
 Department of Defence, 2020 Defence Strategic Update, Commonwealth of Australia, Australia, 2020, p14
 Van Creveld, M., Supplying War, 2nd Edition, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2004, p236
 Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), 2002, Management of Australian Defence Force deployments to East Timor, Audit Report No. 38, Department of Defence, Australia, para 4.130, p 87
This article was recently published at http://www.defense.info and has been reproduced here with permission. It is based upon an interview which followed a recent Williams Foundation Seminar on Next Generation Autonomous Systems.The two articles discussing ‘Sustaining machines’ can be found here and here.
At the recent Williams Foundation Conference on Next Generation Autonomous Systems, Col. Beaumont, Director of the Australian Army Research Centre, focused on the intersection between logistics and support innovation and automation and autonomous systems. He expanded upon his presentation and provided a two part series of articles, which we put together into a single piece, which brought together his core argument.
Much like Marcus Hellyer did in his presentation to the seminar, he argued that autonomous systems are not ends in and of themselves, but must be seen as part of a wider force structure modernization effort. He warned: “It is important to be aware of the risks. Cyber threats are persistently targeting global businesses, so Defence must prepare itself during the transformation of its logistics capability.”
Aware of the risks, how do we shape a way ahead for transformed logistics? I had a chance to follow up with Col. Beaumont during a phone discussion in April 2021 to discuss how he saw the way ahead. It was clear from looking at his presentation that Beaumont highlighted the role of better information systems and the internet of things as a core way ahead to shape a more effective logistics support system.
As Beaumont started the discussion: “The new automation and autonomous systems technologies offer great promise and provide valuable tools which will be adopted more widely over time. You don’t want to get seduced by technology to the point that you’re taken down some rabbit warrens that create risks in themselves. I see automated tools as providing for serious strategy change in a relatively short period of time, rather than overemphasizing what autonomous platforms can quickly provide.”
By shaping more capability to use information tools, automation tools associated with the Internet of Things allows is for reshaping the template for logistics support. As that template is worked, the ecosystem is created within which further ability to leverage next generation automated systems is enhanced. It is a question in some ways of putting the cart before the horse.
Beaumont highlighted that “even as simple an effort to implement enterprise business tools but to do so within a deployable system is a key advancement which allows us to shape a more effective way ahead. In large part it is about building sensor networks within an overall logistics system and finding ways to tap into those networks to provide for more effective decision support and for these new systems to enable better domain knowledge throughout the logistics enterprise.”
“It is about taking those sensor networks and having the computing tools which enable you to be able to rapidly predict or act without direct human intervention to enable decisions with regard to doing the right thing in the right place at the right time to support the force from a logistics point of view.”
His focus clearly is upon shaping a logistics enterprise system which can use automation and information more effectively to drive better tactical and strategic decision making with regard to logistical support.
What we have already seen in practice is the challenge of overcoming cultural and organizational barriers to do so. We have seen in some militaries over-reliance on commercial IT systems which leaves their logistics system vulnerable to adversary cyberattacks. We have seen in the case of a new enterprise support system like the F-35 resistance to change in order to use the information generated by the enterprise system to change the configuration of logistics support itself.
As Beaumont put it: “To use a new system effectively, you have to develop the processes that truly can leverage the new system. One has to combine all sorts of different organizational factors to get the innovation which new technologies for support can provide, whether that be organizational redesign, or making sure the right people are trained to do it, and different specialties may be required as well to leverage the new technologies as well.”
New technology is not a bromide that solves anything. You actually have to think about usability to the force. You have to think about finding ways that technology actually empowers the force rather than just simply disrupts it. It is often called disruptive technology, but that’s not a positive thing if it’s so disrupts if you have actually reduced the capability of the force to fight. That’s hardly innovation.
We then turned to the question of how autonomous systems could be introduced into the Australian Army with a real benefit for the force and expanding its operational capabilities. From the logistics side, the challenge is two sided – how to you bring these assets into an operational environment? How do you service them? How do they help rather than burden? How can they provide logistical support for a deployed force most effectively?
The Australian Army is certainly experimenting with a number of autonomous systems, but the logistics side of this is a key part of shaping the way ahead, both in terms of enhancing the demand for logistical support and providing for logistical support.
We discussed one area where it might make a great deal of sense to get the kind of operational experience where such systems could be introduced and supported without introducing excessive risk to the combat force, namely, in support of HADR missions. A HADR mission involves moving significant support forward from either an air or sea delivered force. How might autonomous systems be used to assist in moving relief supplies to the right point and the right time? How might deployable “internet of things” automated information systems be set up to manage the flow of supplies to the right place and at the right time?
Beaumont noted that at the Williams Foundation Seminar “there seemed to be a wide consensus upon the importance of experimenting with these new systems to determine how best to use them.”
In short, Beaumont highlighted the near term opportunities to use new enterprise system approaches and technologies to reshape the logistics enterprise system and in so doing shape the kind of template which was conducive to further changes which autonomous systems could introduce.
In part two of ‘Sustaining Machines’, the discussion moves onto the ‘logistics of autonomy’. Or, in other words, how are forces that include autonomous systems generated and sustained. Militaries using autonomous weapons will, if we are optimistic about the technology, necessarily look very different in twenty, thirty years in the future. It is largely self-evident that bringing new technology into military organisations is challenging. What isn’t often acknowledged is how impactful this technology may be on the characteristics of the military organisation. The introduction of technology can have hidden consequences which are rarely apparent until the technology is in use. New ways of doing business will be needed, organisations redesigned and policies created. Naturally, it’s important that these outcomes are prepared for.
Firstly, military logistics in war will be different – it is going to change in a way that hasn’t been seen since the combustion engine was introduced. Motorisation, mechanisation, rocketry and flight have already elevated the importance of specialist mechanics, petroleum operations, munitions specialists and supply specialists. So too has the act of providing better materiel and training to each combatant – the battlefield has been ‘thinned’ with each able to bring greater firepower to bear on the enemy than the previous generation, but the logistics per unit cost of the combatant has also increased. Conventional military forces are not getting logistically ‘lighter’, and despite the desires of hopeful force designers, are unlikely to do so with automation. The centre of gravity for military forces is inextricably moving from the battlefield and to the supply depots, bases, ports and defence infrastructure – the ‘rear echelons’ – as new technologies such as autonomous systems beckon. We’ve got to appreciate what this means in the context of opportunities, risks and vulnerabilities.
Secondly, the introduction of complex systems and machines will transform the way militaries will organise.
I wrote here, citing Chris Demchak, of the introduction of the M1A1 Abrams tank to the US Army forty years ago as an illustration of the problem. It’s good analogy on the impact of technology on military logistics systems and organisations writ large. This was a tank designed to leverage technology and be less personnel-intensive, with a lower maintenance bill, simple to operate and decisive in combat. It was simple to operate, but proved difficult to repair and sustain. It could not be repaired without the OEM involved, and the technology often mystified even them. The US Army responded by procuring new testing equipment, and created new technical specialities to handle repair. The level of technology required for the tank made the supply of parts for it challenging. Unexpected costs and the insufficiency of repair parts to support the tank ensured supply was handled with such scrutiny that an entire logistics bureaucracy was created. This generational change in equipment meant that US Army now has an incredibly effective tank with no real peer, but it was not an easy introduction into service.
Militaries will have to prepare for the same with the introduction of autonomous systems. This will not be a venture without significant implications for the transformation of the militaries over coming decades. It will not be a venture that can be rushed into without understanding the risks, and we must recognise that we’re at the beginning of this challenge. This challenge will require Defence to experiment, discuss about and tinker with these truly revolutionary capabilities, but it must also consider new concepts and policies to better integrate these capabilities into the organisation.
Thirdly, the logistics liability for operating these systems must be understood. Separating military robots and battlefield automation from the rest of the discussion, it’s pretty clear that we’re at the infancy of tactically useful systems that can be employed en masse. At the moment, and especially in the Land Domain, many battlefield systems are ‘brittle’, not particularly adaptable and easily break down.This reflects the difficulty for machines that lack the maneuverability of a human being, or have difficulties operating in close proximity to them. The situation is better for military aviation and in the maritime context. It will be some time yet before the ‘medic’ is replaced with the ‘mechanic’. But when they are, militaries will have to be respectful that the act will be transformational in the military workforce – especially with Army where this problem will be acute. It may even be aggravated by a human-machine ‘teaming’ approach where both forms of combatant are employed.
Perhaps we can combat the ‘less-positive’ effects of automation by focussing on the notion of disposable military robots. It’s tempting to think that robots can be abandoned when it is damaged or no longer in use; it appeals to our sense that there is a real possibility that humans can be removed from danger and replaced with something of lesser value. It’s patently a present day unreality save in very small-payload logistics operations. Until production lines run so large that costs are driven down, or newer technologies are found that dramatically lower costs, it will be inevitable that we treat autonomous systems with the same level of care we do any other form of exquisite technology. Nonetheless, it is likely that this problem will be overcome with time, technology and effort.
Fourthly, the link between the military and industry partners will necessarily be closer than ever. Larger logistics requirements do not always require larger military logistics organisations, but it does mean militaries need to be better at incorporating civilian resources into their operations. Military logistics always extends into the economy – more specifically the nation’s industrial base – and autonomy necessarily means that the integration of industry into the routine sustainment of new capabilities will remain important. It is quite clear that industry partners will have to continue to work closely, if not intimately, with armed forces to provide the technical support and expertise that is traditionally difficult for the military to generate independently. The workforce both generate is one that is shared irrespective of whether a uniform is worn or not. It is also clear that a conversation about how skills may be transferred into the military workforce if needed in a crisis must be had, or how autonomous systems might be sustained and repaired in conflict zone.
This leads onto the final topic I wanted to cover on the logistics of autonomy. It is not lost on most readers that there is a tremendous opportunity for defence industry to step into an electronics industry gap is only beginning to be filled. If we are to embrace the use of autonomy in militaries such as the Australian Defence Force as a credible alternative to the human combatant, it will be highly advantageous for the military to have a national industry behind it. A dependency on foreign components and construction can become a strategic risk – especially as global supply chains are contested or limited resources shared. I suspect that electronics and componentry join ammunition and fuel as a marker of strategic resilience in due course. In the meantime, all will need to be careful about accelerating into autonomy else we embark upon a costly sham with unviable capabilities in combat.
Perhaps this necessitates us having a conversation about innovations and their identification as a matter of strategic value and a target of regulation. Most innovations in autonomic systems will come from the private sector, and in many cases, will be available to the highest bidder. This could even discount any investments that Governments may make into the sector. A pessimistic view of the future suggests we need preserve whatever advantage we can, and – as a nation – we might have to balance our commercial and strategic interests. Australia’s stake in autonomous systems development is an important one, with strategic implications. With autonomy firmly on the horizon for the ADF and other advanced militaries, it seems clear that we must initiate this discussion now.
This article, I admit, is a smorgasbord of ideas. Logistics is first and foremost about practicality, and it is important to ensure autonomous systems that are introduced do what is intended. There’s good reason for an investment in autonomous systems in the short term; they certainly offer a way to overcome some of the structural shortcomings faced by the military in terms of ‘mass’ and an ability to operate as efficiently and effectively as we need to be. But we must not race to failure. Militaries cannot afford to let autonomous systems become a capability ‘drag’ by not being diligent. Automation will create new options at all levels of war, improve the capacity of a defence force pressured by its relative size, and give us new opportunities to exploit. The technology behind automation is an area where Australia can generate a strategic advantage if it chooses to; we have a high standard of education and a long track-record of innovation as a nation. Western militaries, in general, prepared for change and actively seeking partners to overcome many of the challenges, and take advantage of new opportunities, that have been raised here.
We all know how rapidly the technology around automation is evolving. The all work on overcoming the logistics limitations of autonomy the better. Technical and conceptual discovery must occur at pace. This way the potential of the technology will be realised, rather capabilities or systems that are too exquisite to be practically employable, unsustainable, or offer little in being part of a strategic offset, result. This is an enduring problem with introducing new technology into defence forces in a time of relative peace, where there is always a temptation to make expedient decision and mortgage the future as a consequence.
The popular discussion on autonomy in warfare is constrained to either describing the advantages of introducing autonomous systems for ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ work, or articulating the limitations of their use (including ethical limitations). In terms of ‘logistics’, we can focus on how automation promises to distribute more things to more combatants more quickly, replaces forces in the field, or help us to be more productive and economical with our resources. Automation offers military logisticians tremendous advantages and has to be a part of their future.
The opportunities for automation in logistics are virtually limitless, only requiring technology and entrepreneurship to deliver a generational change to military technology. It becoming easier to find such opportunities given the vibrancy of the industry sector, and the enthusiasm robotics presently generates in defence circles. Rather than go through all of these opportunities, this article and the one which follows describes the capability that brings all of the pieces of an autonomous logistics system together – what we call the control network. This is a strategic capability which must be invested in.
Part two discusses the ‘logistics of autonomy’. What does the introduction of autonomous systems mean with respect to generating and deploying military forces? This is an important topic because to properly introduce autonomous systems into the military, we best be prepared for organisational change, cultural change and necessarily closer relationships between the military and industry. In other words, I’m going to talk briefly on how we might make the capabilities we intend to develop practically useful and sustainable.
Automated and autonomy in logistics
The military use of autonomous systems conjures the vision of multi-domain technologies connected together in a mutually-supporting ‘kill web’. Swarmed drones, larger UAS, submersibles and other capabilities operating automatically and nominally without human influence (maybe even interference). Though the technology is revolutionary, the idea is not; the “kill web” is to combat operations what the logistics control network is to framework which sustains the operations. This network uses sensors to make decisions about what is moved where. As militaries introduce more and more autonomous systems into service, many of them to fulfill logistics tasks, the importance of this network cannot be understated.
We’ve had an automated logistics control network for decades. Logistics information systems – with all their benefits, liabilities and risks – have been essential to commercial and military logistics since the invention of computers. They have allowed the archetypal complex system – the commercial supply chain – to be analysed to excruciating detail. There is nothing stopping militaries becoming an ‘Amazon’ given the technology that is on offer; provided it is militarised and reflects the needs of fully deployable system that can function in a crisis. Naturally, as armed forces explore the use of autonomous systems, they will also have to explore the use of automation to truly leverage the opportunities autonomy will deliver.
Let’s militarise the idea. Effective logistics information systems enable these forces to more efficiently prioritise and allocate resources by leveraging sensor-based analytics, thereby creating additional capacity in the military supply chain and other logistics functions. When greater logistics capacity is found, this naturally means more options open up for the strategist, tactician or capability manager. Incorporate scalable, swarming, logistics UAS or autonomous convoys into this system and a remarkable level of efficiency might be possible.
The use of information-age technology has helped address what has been described as ‘the logistics snowball’ – the propensity of poorly planned and executed logistics to expand logistics requirements as more and more people, and more and more resources, are directed to problem solving. The opportunities on offer to us with future forms of autonomous systems are tremendous and will undoubtedly continue to be exploited. But we must ensure that whatever logistics autonomous systems are introduced that they are introduced with a backbone control network that makes the whole effort worthwhile.
Automated, not autonomous, logistics is probably where the best return of investment of the defence dollar lies.
Automated systems remove the guesswork out of logistics – militaries can get a truer sense of our capability and capacity at any given point in time. Vehicle ‘health and usage monitoring systems’ and other similar technologies are exemplars of this. They enable decisions about capabilities to be made at a faster tempo than ever. It’s been a rocky journey with the systems – for example, the ‘Autonomic Logistics Information System’ for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has received a significant upgrade to overcome highly-publicised problems – but this really is a new era of information management and problems are inevitable. For these systems to offer the most to military logisticians, there is the issue of data management that we must eventually come to terms with – who owns it, when it can be used and for what reason – including ownership of the algorithms that may ultimately make decisions which were formerly the purview of military commanders.
Information, extrapolated into data, provided by these systems, is strategically vital. The complexity of military supply chains has expanded with globalisation, increased civilianisation and outsourcing of logistics capability, and with the sharing of capability across coalition partners. Automated logistics, appropriately secure, will help us garner where risks lie such that timely plans can be developed. Shortages could be better avoided. Costs could be better understood. Supply through multiple levels of producers and manufacturers can be accurately tracked thereby alerting the military to risks relating to the manufacture of capability. Secondly, autonomous systems may have the computational power to predict and automatically react to ensure the right product is at the right place at the right time. This will assist in signalling industry as to where supply deficiencies lie, and can support mobilisation processes when strategic crises first appear.
It is important to be aware of the risks. Cyber threats are persistently targeting global businesses, so Defence must prepare itself during the transformation of its logistics capability. In a 2018 testimony to the US Senate, the Commander of US Transportation Command General Darren McDew, highlighted the cyber threat to logistics as ‘being the greatest threat to our military advantage.’ Malicious state and non-state actors are already targeting vulnerable, largely unprotected, commercial systems linked in with barely protected military logistics systems. This threat was verified in the Defence Science Board 2019 report on ‘Survivable Logistics’. Why would a hostile target a hardened, highly classified decision-support and command and control network, when a soft underbelly is already presented to them?
Though there are threats to the automation of our military supply chains, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives. It is unequivocally the best solution to the logistics problem of our time – productivity. Logistics autonomy fundamentally gives armed forces greater capacity to do more with less, or better still, much more with the same. It simplifies something that would otherwise be highly manpower intensive. But think of what can be done when an advanced predictive AI is aligned with a scalable autonomic distribution system? It can provide new vectors to deliver battlefield resources to the point at need, at a lower risk to human life. There are considerable financial advantages to Defence and Government if such capabilities are programmed and funded, and military advantages that might just contribute to the elimination of the large logistics footprint within an operational area.
Part two follows shortly. The second part moves on to the ‘logistics of autonomy’, describing how autonomous systems will not only change logistics, but change the very way militaries operate.
In 2018, Australia and the United States finished celebrating ‘100 years of Mateship,’ noting our distinguished history of operating alongside each other since World War I. A key factor of success in our early engagement was thanks to logisticians. Ever-resourceful and seeking to give commanders and their combat operations the best chance of success, logisticians drove a support culture across the Western Front and enabled cooperation and combined arms action on the battlefield. This has continued throughout the decades to the point that it is rare that the two armies do not support nor assist in sustaining one another at the tactical and operational level whilst deployed. Doing so has offered opportunities, force multipliers, and enabled ‘coalitions of the willing’ that might not have existed had partners had to operate independently. As a consequence, we invest considerable time and effort discussing and improving combat service support (CSS) interoperability through forms like Army-to-Army staff talks, as well as many other regional; engagements, with outcomes ensuring increased effectiveness, efficiency, and preparedness.
While the emphasis toward CSS supportability has served both armies well for the last twenty years, it has potentially limited our view of interoperability to standardizing doctrine, preparing interoperability handbooks, and enabling tactical integration. This emphasis must now expand to face the needs of the next twenty years. We believe that in a contested and competitive strategic environment, at a time where preparedness will differentiate a relevant military from one not so, true logistics interoperability will be a strategic strength. Both the U.S. and Australia, and their partners, need to now concentrate on concepts, behaviours, and agreements which create resilience and redundancy through integration and opacity of strategic sustainment capability and capacity. What follows are a few ideas that our armies should consider as they modernize to meet the needs of the future.
Why is strategic logistics interoperability important to us now?
Strategic logistics underwrites preparedness by resourcing the military machine (and therefore future options of military commanders) while tying directly into the economic power of the nation-state. The logistics and sustainment arrangements made now determine what is practically possible when military options are ultimately required by governments. This understanding is of vital importance, as we are unsure where and when military power will be required. The Australian army recently released the futures statement Accelerated Warfare in recognition of the strategic uncertainty Australia faces, with the Chief of Staff of the Army describing partnerships as a way of contributing to success in times of competition. Effective logistics supports the development of offsets and deterrence pre-crisis and empowers flexible responses during one. Military partnerships exponentially improve the depth of logistics capacity available, creating force posture options that may not have existed before, shape regional capability, and influence long-term commitment through the sharing of organic and non-organic national industrial capability. Interoperable and integrated logistics networks, capabilities and systems can be leveraged to create situations of tremendous advantage.
Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman, combatant command director for Logistics and Engineering at U.S. Central Command, recently wrote on the importance of strategic logistics. “Nothing creates the flexibility for deterrent options and decision space more than national logistics that are underpinned by a vibrant, thriving economy that in turn is linked to partners and allies …” (p21.) He saw this outcome being delivered through preparing the environment with regional partners and ensuring the right coalition resources were in the right place at the right time; and by pursuing opportunities to strengthen alliances such that partners are able to provide one another support. Partners who conceive of logistics as a shared capability can more flexibly “develop, produce, deploy, distribute, store, and execute the acquisitions, logistics and distribution that underpin successful deterrence.” More specifically, interoperable forces will have greater redundancy and resilience in allowing a response than they might ever have had alone.
It is easier, of course, to provide a case for improved logistics interoperability than it is to deliver it. There are numerous barriers to logistics interoperability. The Australian and U.S. armies, as well as other partners, operate an enormous range of different materiel with different sustainment requirements. They’re bound by different procedures and constraints, some of which are based upon government industry and economic policies. Each defence force has different priorities, demonstrably different capabilities and capacities, and unique needs that must be met. Aligning multiple strategic logistics systems to work effectively without disrupting that of a partner is unequivocally an art. Improving the way a coalition may sustain itself, as difficult as it is, is a reflection of a capacity of that coalition to be operationally meaningful, if not sustainable. What follows are suggestions on where the Australian and U.S. armies may wish to start.
How can we improve resilience, redundancy, and relationships through strategic logistics interoperability?
Firstly, we can look at the direct benefits to the Australian and US armies through interoperability. It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that the first step to achieving greater logistics interoperability is to embrace strategic self-reliance. There are two principle reasons why this is the case. The first is that each army must ensure its bespoke capabilities are appropriately supported such that coalition resources do not become essential for these capabilities to be operationally useful. Secondly, a level of self-reliance is warranted to ensure that when forces do deploy, they can be sustained effectively until the coalition’s strategic sustainment system is active. The objective in both cases is that neither army becomes a logistics liability for the other, but better coordinates effort where it is most required.
Partnered armies must be prepared to share knowledge concerning logistics capabilities and resources and must signal one another when a shared supply chain is likely to be required. Strategic risks must be examined collectively, and both armies must be open about problems that afflict the supply-chains and processes that impact upon the materiel each army depends upon. This will assist in identifying areas in which each army can best contribute, with resources and responsibilities earmarked for later use. Triggers and demand signals might also be agreed upon, allowing partners new ways to alert each other to logistics needs or opportunities. All this must be exercised; it is noteworthy that the Australian and U.S. armies do not presently share a major strategic logistics exercise in which to consider how they might respond, together, in a crisis. Without testing the collaborative logistics enterprise, it will be difficult to conclude where the most pressing problems to address are.
Integrated approaches to sustainment should, where possible, become normal. Interoperable acquisition and sustainment programs would see planning increasingly global but provision potentially local. Investment or clear demand signals of sovereign industries to credibly contribute to meeting coalition as well as national demands would support the development of regional capability, providing alternative and potentially shorter supply chains. This would also makes it easier to assure delivery. A new approach to intellectual property (IP) rights is warranted, allowing for greater flexibility within a coalition and transparency across the supply chain writ large. This may require both armies to accept a greater level of risk in their materiel worthiness regimes to allow for greater sharing in componentry or commodities. But this risk is rewarded by diversifying supply chains for common parts manufacture, repair, or refurbishment providing greater strategic resilience and operational sustainability. Perhaps it is time to move beyond industry resource base recognition to combined planning and execute national industry options in order to become a truly shared, integrated endeavour. If one nation struggles with insufficient capacity to manufacture or produce, then clear demand signals and ready IP access would enable trusted nations to supplement supply chains for each and other trusted allies.
Neither the U.S. or Australian army, nor the defence forces they belong to, can achieve these outcomes without government policy in support. Political and policy levers must be in place to set in motion endeavours that manifest in interoperability outcomes. Negotiation will be required between governments to facilitate non-indigenous support of materiel. Barriers will need to be reduced, especially those that influence export controls or any other regulation that constrains the ability of either army from establishing business arrangements with the other. The corollary is that more flexible regulations will need to be put in place to allow defence industries to work across national borders. This will induce greater sharing between defence industries underpinning land forces, enabled by policies allowing the sharing of technologies, techniques, and skills between the partner nations. Strategic logisticians must provide a way forward to governments on these issues.
Finally, we can look to interoperable strategic logistics as a way of supporting national and regional security. Success in regional strategic competition must include a logistics component. Logistics, as a critical component of ‘setting the region’ in that it normalizes consultative and respectful long-term behaviour, supports the capacity of regional partners to sustain themselves and helps with the establishment of economic infrastructure. For example, Australia has recently established a $1 billion (Australian dollar) export financing agency to assist developing regional industries. In doing so, mutually beneficial supply chain options are created, and a grounding in logistics interoperability can be established. Similarly, continued effort towards refining ‘Mutual Logistics Support Arrangements,’ ‘Standing Offer Panels,’ and host-nation support arrangements can also enhance the capability of regional partners and any military coalition.
The environment is such that we need to not only broaden our views on what constitutes the ‘national support base’ or ‘defence technology and industrial base,’ but create action to enable the benefits of close national relationships. If strategic requirements necessitate us imagining greater interoperability, it is similarly important that the same apply to the leveraging of national industrial capability and capacity. As we wrote above, it is important that the Australian and U.S. armies are able to operate independently, and with national resources available to suite the contingencies and crises that demand this approach. However, it is equally important that we have considered how national resources can be better integrated to more effectively and efficiently respond to threats to shared interests. A coalition can ill-afford ‘logistics fratricide’ by competing for available resources, driving up costs and increasing supply chain risks, particularly when seeking the support from allies and partners critical to success in a time of competition.
Interoperable logistics creates strategic resilience and responsiveness. However, it will not be improved unless we take time to resource its achievement. The U.S. and Australian Armies, and their many partners, have concluded that interoperability is operationally important. All have a proud legacy in supporting one another on a wide variety of operations. It is important that interoperability should now take an increasingly strategic tone at a time where we are preparing for the next operation. Improved strategic logistics interoperability is not a way to avoid the development costly logistics capabilities. It’s a way that partners can support one another more readily, giving them options before, during and post-crisis that they may not have had before. In a particularly competitive strategic environment, this approach is not only important but patently necessary, and a means to gain advantage over potential adversaries.
Even as a smaller military with a lower scale of logistics capabilities, the Australian Army can meaningfully contribute to a broader coalition effort especially within its immediate geographic region. It may be possible that another partner deploying nearby can more readily draw upon Australian resources to avoid vulnerable global supply chains, and vice versa. A strategically wise approach to interoperability is one in which problems are shared, resources efficiently planned, and key acquisition and sustainment are decisions are made such that the right support is delivered, in the right place, as fast as practically possible. Logistics interoperability will create a new source of leverage at a time when every strategic advantage may just make a tremendous difference.
This article was originally published in the Jan-Mar edition of the US Army’s ‘Army Sustainment’ professional journal as ‘Logistics interoperability, a value asset, strategic enabler’. It was originally published here in January 2020 with permission and can also be found here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to global supply chains. The pandemic has shown us the fragility of commercial supply chains; it gives us a reason to think about what a disruption to supply chains might have for the outcomes of military operations. This article will focus on one particular commodity that is strategically significant to all militaries that if disrupted in war severely constrains the likelihood of operational success.
Ammunition often dictates the duration and intensity of war against an adversary. To prevent a shortage of ammunition during combat munitions must be amassed as far forward as safely possible and delivered to the forward line of troops. Global supply chains provide the means to move munitions to the destination using a combination of military/commercial vessels and infrastructure. Various problems at critical points can easily disrupt these assets, including manufacturing, transportation, and intermodal terminals.
Supply chains provide the transportation and production of raw materials into finished products and include producers, warehouses, transportation companies, distribution centers, and vendors. In the case of munitions, they are created in manufacturing plants and arsenals, and then stored and distributing from depots to armed forces. The military customer at the end of this transaction requires ammunition for training, day-to-day operations, and during a crisis, combat load for missions. If ammunition and explosives are not where and when they are needed, it is disruptive to Defence Forces’ planning and execution.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a global impact, with ‘stay at home orders’ initiated to prevent the spread of the virus. This has seen disruptions to commercial supply chains of around 75 percent. The interruption in supply can easily translate to the defence sector, especially during times of conflict or escalation, leading up to a conflict where munitions would need to move through the global supply chain at a rapid pace. Munitions are a unique commodity of supply and are vastly different than other military classes of supply, such as food, construction material, repair parts, or major end items. This is due to the hazardous nature of the items which require special handling and storage. Issues in the munitions supply chain may happen in various points in this complex system.
The munitions industrial base is a segment of a nation’s defence industrial base and the primary producer of military munitions. The forms of the munitions industrial base take up many forms and depend on the country. One example is the Australian Strategic Domestic Munitions Manufacturing contract, which allows industry access to government-owned/contractor-operated (GOCO) facilities to produce the most critical explosives and ordnance. Another is the United States, with GOCO manufacturing plans also has a sizeable organic category of production facilities which comprises government-owned/government-operated (GOGO). While there may be numerous production facilities throughout a nations’ munitions industrial base, there are fiscal restrictions that prevent redundant production of military-specific manufacturing.
An illustration is the Defence Mulwala Facility, a vital manufacturing site of military propellants and high explosives in Australia, and the munitions facility at Benalla, Victoria, which uses the explosives in their products. Similarly in the United States, Lake City Army Ammunition Plant is the primary provider of small-arms ammunition for the military and over 99% of all small-arms ammunition for the United States Army. These two examples highlight the dependency on just one facility as the main source for a military-specific product. While production in unique military products does not attract private industry, and private firms are more concerned with items that can be used by the commercial and military sectors. The dependency can exaggerate disruptions in the supply chain when there are significant issues.
Major problems, such as industrial accidents, can easily halt production. Lake City Army Ammunition Plant had an accident in 2017, with subsequent investigations uncovering safety concerns and an unreported explosion. These accidents not only halt production, but they also require an extensive restructuring of processes that take time to develop and implement. It is also a possibility that these single points of production may be susceptible to other forms of distributions. Such as terrorism, as seen at Pensacola Naval Air Station, or as seen with COVID-19 cases in large meatpacking plants where workers stand close together and performing simple repetitive tasks. As Defence and Government facilities have learned from these experiences, there are still out of ordinary disruptions that can produce unforeseen repercussions that must be mitigated further along the supply chain.
The primary means of munitions transportation to the port of departure is road and rail. Continuing with the two national examples of Australia and the United States, the countries use Australian Code for the Transport of Explosives by Road and Rail, and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 49—Transportation, respectively. Both regulations provide strict requirements for marking of packages, vehicles and transport containers, requirements for the documentation, and that of storage and segregation. The national regulations are extremely detailed and specific to munitions rather than as seen with general cargo; these regulations demand strict adherence to explosive safety measures. Transportation from exporting ports to the national receiving port is by air or sea and have specific requirements both nationally and for international commerce. Internationally the regulations are chiefly, Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code and International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations, respectively, for maritime and air transport.
Disruptions in transportation are the most flexible as different modes of transportation may be used if there are constraints in one mode or replacement transportation used if the primary method cannot. For the United States, it includes the ability to use intermodal standards based on operational needs and have interoperability and interchangeability to optimize defence distribution. With the usage of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) of Dangerous Goods Containers, used with Australian Container Roll-Out Warehousing System (CROWS) or the United States Container Roll-Out Platform (CROP). Together, the containers with munitions aboard ships with a cargo-carrying capacity of more than 27,870 square meters can proceed to a terminal for sea transportation. Vessel ships are abundant, but ammunition ships in defence forces are few, with their numbers often proving a constraint in planning for operations.
Intermodal terminals do not have the flexibility to handle disruptions in munitions supply chains. In Australia, explosives limits are legislatively mandated, and some ports are not suitable for the operations of any quantity of explosives due to populated areas with the infrastructure of schools and hospitals. For sea transport operations from Defence maritime facilities are accomplished following Manual of NATO Safety Principles for the Transport of Military Ammunition and Explosives. While shipments of containerized ammunition through state/commercial wharves are conducted using Australian Standard AS 3846. Shipments can only go out or into ports with approved explosives limit handled at terminals.
The Australian Port Authority of New South Wales provides class 1 explosive import and export separation distances, and Net Explosive Quantity (NEQ) limits permitted aboard ship for specific terminals. Multi-Purpose (Navy) Wharf-Eden berth requires 689 metres separation distance to “Protected Place” for 30,000 kg Net Explosive Quantity (NEQ) permitted aboard ship for Hazard Classes 1.1, 1.5 & 1.6. The NEQ is quite small compared to other parts of the Australian continent, or other nations. Port Alma, near Rockhampton, is the designated east coast port of Australia for large quantities of Class 1 explosives and ammonium nitrate cargo with a limit of 1,500 tonnes of explosives. The explosives’ limits are requested by the port authority or operator to the Chief Inspector of Explosives and approved for each port. The strict adherence to these limits is essential and can severely damage the infrastructure of the munitions supply chain.
The consequence of a failure to respect these limits can be shown in an incident at Chinese Tianjin city’s port, where an explosion of 49,000 tons of highly toxic chemicals, including ammonium nitrate in a warehouse. The explosion destroyed buildings and surrounding infrastructure, while debris shot into the adjacent area. The damage was extensive and created a massive disruption to the port city. While not as extensive simple accidents, such as the shutdown of Morehead City Port, North Carolina, United States, and the evacuation of residents from punctured containers of highly explosive material. The spectrum of accidents can range from the unfortunate death of individuals to simple evacuation.
Catastrophic accidents, or the outcomes of any form of disruption at critical locations of the likes described here, will have far-reaching repercussions. As we’ve seen with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on private manufacturing, disruptions and key points in global supply chains can have far reaching effects. Exponential disruption creates systemic vulnerabilities if continuity plans are not in place. These continuity plans must include working with, promoting, and growing a commercial defence industry that can be called upon during a call to arms.
Global supply chains primarily involve the manufacturing, transportation, storage facilities, and the terminal infrastructure for products to make it to the end-user. Manufacturing of munitions is stored in bulk to ensure there are enough for training and combat operations. The munitions supply lines during the war can easily be affected by external influences other than typical supply issues such as shortage of raw material. Accidents, terrorism, and pandemics in critical locations at times can create significant problems throughout munitions supply chains that have strategic impacts. Present supply chains that do not have redundant systems and have a limited number of carriers and approved terminals are the most vulnerable. Nations must develop the infrastructure and plan for alternatives sources, and respect the risks. The outcome of large-scale combat operations will depend on the ability of nations to move ammunition through global supply chains; these supply-chains are essential components of military resilience.
Michael Lima, D.B.A., is an Ammunition Warrant Officer and has served 21 years in the United States military and over eight years as an adjunct instructor. He can be found on Twitter @Mike_k_Lima or LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/limamike10/ and provides pro bono consulting in munitions and explosives safety on mikelimaconsulting.org
In his seminal work, Logistics in the National Defense, Henry Eccles writes: “Logistics is the bridge between our national economy and the actual operations of our combat forces in the field.” It’s a pithy description that gets to the heart of the matter, stimulating thinking. Crucially the bridge has two ends: one in society and the other at the frontline. This post concerns the former: the end located within the national support base. That end of our logistic bridge needs to start transforming.
The Australian national support base is changing. Digital transformation is impacting Australia’s major seaports, supermarket chains, package distribution, construction industry and even deep into our homes. The path that such transformation can take is becoming evident in Australia’s mining industry, a world-leader in digital transformation. A recent study sees the application of digital technology in this industry sector across this decade in three stages.
In today’s mining industry many companies have embraced automation involving individual, semi-autonomous vehicles developed as proprietary products by a handful of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and which are not interoperable. By 2025, mines will include smart sensors, autonomous vehicles, limited self-learning systems and some equipment from different OEMs that can operate together. By 2030 and beyond, mines will feature autonomous machines working with other autonomous machines to complete tasks. Open source platforms will integrate readily with other similar platforms allowing machine-to-machine communications and real-time data exchange so they can self-learn and make decisions. Imagine if Defence’s facilities could be like that?
Keeping up with the surrounding society is not necessarily a good argument for Defence logistics embracing digital disruption. However, it does raise the likelihood that by 2030 Defence’s facilities may be lonely outposts of 20th Century technology in a 21st Century world. The capabilities of the digitally transformed Australian defence national support base will need to be dumbed down when crossing the wire into Defence’s facilities. With such incompatibilities, Defence overall will be unable to obtain the full benefits of the fourth industrial revolution. Technological stagnation will cost. The end of Henry Eccles’s defence logistics bridge that is embedded in Australian society might be a technological antique.
As we all know, the numerous Australian industry sectors are embracing digital transformation principally to improve productivity; the ‘doing more with less’ mantra. The application of advanced digital technologies to defence facilities would be similar in that the aim would be to generate greater logistics power from fewer numbers of people. Defence always wants – and often needs – to do more than its limited size military, civilian and contractor workforce can allow.
Digital transformation involves combining numerous new technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), big data, cloud computing, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, robotics, 3D printing and human augmentation. Operating together, these technologies can generate more than the sum of the parts, boosting the capability and impact of each technology far more than if they are used in isolation. This can create exponential change, where the rate of change rapidly escalates as more and more new technologies join the mix. The next fifteen years could be an exciting period of non-linear change on Eccles’s logistics bridge.
The future integrated defence base might then be envisaged as a complicated machine comprising deeply interconnected hardware, software and humans. Such a machine metaphor will doubtlessly appeal to engineers but logisticians may find it less alluring. That may be a mistake, as state-of-the-art warehouses are in some respects miniature versions of what future facilities might be. Logisticians working in this specialty field may be in front: they may be the harbingers of a digital defence facility spring.
Warehouses have traditionally involved mainly manual, ‘blue collar’ occupations with some limited management positions. However, with manual occupations being transformed through digital technology, this balance shifts. The future warehousing staff will need to be skilled in the operation and maintenance of machines rather than in receiving goods, sorting, stacking, loading and delivery themselves. State-of-the-art warehouses already feature real-time monitoring of inventory; real-time ordering using technologies such as AI machine learning, the cloud, big data and IoT; order picking by advanced robotics; and stock movement by autonomous vehicles. Some warehouses are now embracing 3D printing to meet the numerous, but erratic, one-time requests for spare parts and so save on carrying large part inventories for older equipment. Logistics control towers have been introduced that integrate digital information from numerous sources and use big data analytics to provide a real-time ‘big picture’ of the complete supply chain, including transportation activities. Logistics drone delivery is in the final trial stage in several industries (including in Australia) and there is now movement towards human augmentation through logistics staff using advanced wearables and exoskeletons.
In the civilian world, the logistics’ workforce is becoming more specialised, requiring widespread digital literacy and involving new occupations. Given this technological push, there are several key roles future defence logisticians may be working in including:
systems of systems networks,
big data and machine learning,
robotics and autonomous vehicles,
augmented workforce technologies including exoskeletons,
3D printing, and
For those working on today’s defence facilities having such technologies present in the workplace might sound like science fiction and a matter for the distant future. They are though being applied today elsewhere across Australia. Why not also in Defence? It means that future logisticians will need different knowledge, skills and attributes; perhaps like the table below suggests:
Greater emphasis needed in future
Technical expertise (balanced equally across hardware and software aspects)
Human-focused, big picture systems of systems thinking
We are hoping all this stimulates your thinking about what future logisticians might be doing, should be doing and how they could be trained and educated. A new publication from the Air Power Development Centre, Surfing the Digital Wave, goes into much greater depth on all these issues. It uses airbases as a hook to grab the reader. However, the basic ideas apply across all the Australian national support end of Eccles’s logistics bridge.
The ideas in this post and publication are a minor part of the work of a small Air Force review team busily thinking about the future of logisticians across the next ten years and beyond. The team would like to hear your ideas, especially if you have new insights and certainly if you disagree with the future just painted. They may be found at: AIRFORCE.ENGLOGSWR@defence.gov.au Please contribute and join the logistician revolution.
Dr Peter Layton is a Visiting Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University and a RAAF Reserve Group Captain. He has extensive aviation and defence experience and, for his work at the Pentagon on force structure matters was awarded the US Secretary of Defense’s Exceptional Public Service Medal. He has a doctorate from the University of New South Wales on grand strategy and has taught on the topic at the Eisenhower College, US National Defence University. For his academic work, he was awarded a Fellowship to the European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy. He is the author of the book Grand Strategy.