Choosing forces in a crisis – logistics and the art of strategic decision making

By David Beaumont.

‘The quartermasters claim on history may, at its root, lie in the effect of logistics on timing …… the longer a nation requires to bring its force to bear, the more time its enemies have to seize whatever objectives they consider desirable.’
– Thomas Kane, Military Logistics and Strategic Performance

In 2017 there was much rhetoric, and undoubtedly planning, for significant military operations in the North Asian region. Such public discussion tends to focus the military mind on modern tactics and technology, and gives cause to exercise new operational concepts. It also compels them to reassess the preparedness of forces. There has been an understandable proliferation of military articles describing the need for forces to be ready, including logistics forces essential for any operational response. The impact of logistics on strategic decision making is much less discussed, as is the way logistics factors ultimately shape the choice of forces and strategy for a possible conflict.

When militaries are surprised, or a contingency operation is required, logistics capability and capacity is one of the most significant influences on the nature of the response. I will go so far, as I have done so before at Logistics in War, to argue logistics leads strategy in these instances. It shapes decisions and command direction, determining what is practical and most certainly what is possible. As Kane’s comments above identify, logistics reveals itself in timing and the ‘overcoming’ of geography, in preparedness, mobility and other areas. Moreover, logistics factors – enabling and constraining – determine the nature of the military commitment itself. For all the investment we, as military professionals, might make into understanding the art and science of tactics and strategy, it means very little when plans unravel as the cold truth of logistics factors which inform the way in which forces are actually employed.

The reality is that the impact of logistics on strategy and preparedness is easily found. That is, if you choose to look for it. In a contingency response by a military it is abundantly clear. This is because logistics features in many of the activities that establish the preparedness of forces, or when the established preparedness methods fail to match the operational requirement, logistics limitations and constraints begin to influence and decisions that strategic leaders might make. One of the most important issues for strategic leaders is the identification of forces required as a response to a contingency plan or unforeseen circumstance, as this in itself influences the strategy in which will be used. This article will briefly touch on three of the most relevant aspects which might influence the nature of any commitment.

Firstly, we see the impact of logistics in the preparedness methods undertaken during peace. Most Western militaries have applied a ‘force-generation’ model that has suited two decades of continuous military operations. Simply put, this approach identifies relevant capabilities to be ready for a specific period of time, resources and sustains them accordingly, before transitioning this level of preparedness to another element at a later time. I hope to discuss an often seen alternative, a ‘force-expansion’ model, at a later time. Although the model usually includes a ‘certification’ process to validate that the force is ready, at its core the preparedness model is concerned with the apportionment of resources to where it is needed to ensure that a force is ready to deploy. When a force-generation model is ‘broken’ to suit a contingency, significant logistics risks are incurred as a forces race to improve materiel standards, personnel requirements, indent for stores and equipment and so forth. These logistics risks are always factors in the decision making of leaders, the strategy chosen and the forces employed to successfully implement it.

Secondly, we see the impact of logistics in the decision making concerned with the choices of forces. In the case of contingencies, especially at times where the determination of a level of commitment is a freedom of action, logistics problems in areas such as materiel readiness can be avoided by an appropriate choice of forces. This is a feature of contributions made by smaller militaries to coalitions. Often specific capabilities that can be sustained by a coalition supply-chain or a national effort are chosen for the commitment. As an example, the ADF has historically contributed Special Forces, specific air force capabilities, naval shipping and other valuable but niche capabilities at the outset of conflicts given the relative ease by which they can be deployed or sustained once in the field. It is also why we tend to see less land combat forces deploy earlier, as they often prove more difficult to bring to a heightened state of preparedness and sustainable combat capability. This factor was a major consideration as to when the Australian Army deployed its Light Armoured Vehicles to Iraq, and conventional forces into Afghanistan.

Thirdly, there are a range logistics problems and issues that weigh on the minds of senior leaders as they decide upon operational options. These concerns reflect the accepted doctrinal view that strategic activity is predominantly concerned with logistics and intelligence. In most cases, they are consistent across many operations as seen in the decision making about Australian commitments to East Timor in 1999, Iraq operations in 2003 and to a variety of humanitarian assistance operations over the last decade:

– What are the arrangements to evacuate nationals, and how does this impact deployment of forces?
– What are the financial costs to increasing preparedness?
– How much time is required to increase the preparedness level as it applies to stockholdings of repair parts and consumables?
– What are the consequences of increasing preparedness to the existing force generation process?
– What is the availability of strategic (war) commodities such as fuel and natures of ammunition, and what constraints exist in terms of access to global supply?
– How fast can forces deploy with available transportation capabilities, or those obtained through industry or from coalition partners?
– What are the constraints on mobilising specific components of the Reserve capability (such as medical specialists)?
– What is the national support capacity and capability to support military operations?
– What logistics activities can we perform ourselves, or what do we need to ask for?

These questions by no means represent an exhaustive list. Moreover, they were considerations for commitments other than a major conflict scenario. When such a major war is initiated logistics additionally shapes discussions and choices about force expansion and mobilisation, the exposure of supply to interdiction by the adversary, the defining of an operational area, and mobilising national industrial capacity. Having the right strategic and logistics command architecture to enable sensible decisions to be made is an essential criteria for success in the subsequent war. Strategic leadership will be nearly completely focussed on identifying, appropriating and ultimately employing resources to ensure that any strategy will be successful.

An understanding of logistics has always been an essential component of effective ‘generalship’ and staff planning at the strategic level. Decisions on strategy and force commitment depend upon it. This is not an excuse for logisticians to be lazy, as their actions in contributing to preparedness give strategic decision makers a freedom of choice given the availability of resources. Colin Gray, a modern-day doyen of strategy who most readers will be familiar with, closes his introduction to Kane’s book with the ‘the key to offensive success is not the mindless maximisation of supply, but rather the timely reliability of sufficient supply, yielding the opportunity for the art of strategy to show its true magic’. This reminds us of the obligations of both strategist and logistician to understand each other’s work, and the role each plays in establishing the strategic options from which leaders can choose.

Australian Army Logistics Training Centre Fiction and Imagery Competition

The driving visions and ideas for Australian Army logistics development have been remarkably consistent for some time. If this same vision is applied, now, it is likely any future modernisation will fail to keep at pace with technology and trend, and even the changing character of warfare. Fortunately, you can help the Australian Army visualise and think differently about the near future, and the battlefields it may face!

The Australian Army Training Centre, the ‘home of military logistics’ for the Australian Army, is holding an inaugural writing and multimedia competition. The purpose of this competition is to apply imagination and innovation to overcoming possible logistics and warfighting problems, and to introduce new ideas into the force development process.

A short introduction to the competition from the Training Centre:

The Australian Defence Force is modernising rapidly, with emerging technologies and operating methods presenting opportunities to significantly enhance capability. To ensure this modern force is appropriately sustained into the future, the ADF’s logistics capabilities cannot afford to be left behind. The Army Logistic Training Centre is looking for writers and multimedia artists who want to contribute to visualising the future of logistics. Submissions can be works of fiction, live action or animated movies, or still images.

We will publish and promote the winners on the Army Logistic Training Centre SharePoint site and selected social media channels, including The Cove and Logistics in War. All submissions will be provided to the Future Land Warfare Branch of Army Headquarters for possible consideration in concept development and experimentation.

A full copy of the entrant criteria can be found courtesy of ‘The Cove’ right here.

The most important details are as follows:

  • Competition submissions may be a short fiction (up to 1800 words), a three minute multimedia production or still imagery that visualises military logistics in the period 2025-2040.
  • Each entrant may submit one entry only, in English
  • A prize will be for the taking by Australian Defence Force participants.
  • Entries are to be submitted to hqaltc-fiction&imagerycompetition@defence.gov.au
  • Entries close 1600 h Monday 9 July 2018.
  • The most innovative efforts will be provided to Army’s Future Land Warfare Branch for consideration in future force development.

Good luck, and don’t forget to view the full details above!

Defining strategic competition – when logistics becomes a strategic weapon

By David Beaumont.

We are in an era of strategic competition. Then again, we have always been in an era of strategic competition. Recently Western militaries have contended that adversaries, real and potential, do not always distinguish peace and war. In the recently released Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff argue that the ‘binary conception’ of peace and war is now obsolete, and a ‘competition continuum’ now applies.[1] Now these same Western militaries recognise they must act in times other than in armed conflict, offsetting the strengths of other nations or groups who have a very different interpretation of what defines war. The reality is that they have always been acting within a competitive environment through a variety of measures. Above all else is logistics, which begins where military activity meets the national economy, and fundamentally leads strategy and any intent to use force. Indeed, it is military logistic activity which truly defines a nations capacity to respond militarily to its challenges, and most certainly to deter adversaries in a competitive environment.

The logistics systems which sustain nations and their military forces have always had a ‘deadly life’.[2] The architecture of global supply chains, siphoning national wealth through geographic areas of immense strategic interest to nations and others, have become focal points for national action. ‘Logistics cities’, major trade hubs and economic routes attract the interest of Governments and have become of immense strategic relevance. All arms of Government can be seen in action, using diplomatic, informational, military and economic means to shape how both commercial and military logistics might be applied to their favour. Supply chain security continues to occupy our minds as we intermingle our desire for national prosperity through global trade with our desire to prevent the loss of native capacity to build military capability, mobilise and sustain operations. In this environment it will take little effort for nations to exert influence, or strangle the capacity of a nation to respond to threats militarily. War won’t always begin when the first shots are fired.

Strategic competition has always been defined by logistics, and the credibility of a nation to deploy and sustain force is important not just for strategy, but for deterrence. John Roth’s work on the logistics of the Roman Empire saw military success a factor of the capacity to provision over long distances, and not just because of the virtue inherent in Roman military culture and training.[3] Having the ability to sustain forces effectively was both a tactical and strategic weapon. The ability to project forces throughout Europe and Asia was recognised by others, and conflict in a competitive environment sometimes avoided as a consequence. Two thousand years later the same concept applies; it is the capacity of the mighty US military to project itself on a global scale that deters potential adversaries, and it is why Cold War exercises such as REFORGER and the contemporary alternatives such as Operation Atlantic Resolve are vital at a time of increasing competition. It is also why aligned militaries watch intently as adversaries in competition develop new ways to move their forces or restructure their military logistics organisations.

The proximity of forces also works to deter and change the nature of competition, if only because it eliminates the challenge of strategic transportation from the equation. As economist Kenneth E. Boulding proposed with his idea, the ‘loss of strength gradient’, in Conflict and Defense: a general theory it is the overcoming of distance (but also time) through transportation which really determines relative military power against an adversary.[4] If it is impossible to project force from a homeland in a meaningful way, the next option for a motivated nation is to stockpile military resources locally or – better still – posture forces as close to national borders as is practical. These bases can be defensive, but most certainly also offensive, in nature. Behind the obviousness that a great source of competitive advantage comes from having ‘boots on the ground’ near a national border is the reality that the strategic thought process which led them to be in that location is largely, if not entirely, a response to logistic analysis.

Force posture or capability development are important in strategic competition, but the way in which nations mobilise logistics is vital. Though the degree may differ given the circumstances, nations are always mobilised and the logistics system takes resources from the economy to create military capability. In peace this system is generally stable and allosw for predictable results. When uncertainty becomes prevalent, or a crisis begins, this logistics system must be altered to direct economic and logistics resources to where they are most required. An adaptable system of mobilisation is thus an important criteria in any strategic offset. The manner by which the logistics process can translate national economic power into tactical combat potential is a reflection of a national capacity to compete, deter, and to demonstrate an ability to militarily respond. Therefore the presence of robust industry policy, the organisation of strategic logistics capability, the appointment of commanders to oversee sustainment and the presence of mobilisation plans and doctrine, attest to the likelihood of future military success.  These are not areas we typically look at when we consider how belligerents may compete, but they will certainly discriminate between the successful and unsuccessful in conflict.

And so we see competition play out in different ways, and for reasons that are often logistical in nature. One nation might build an island where there was none before, while another will procure air mobility platforms or ships for afloat support. Others will examine force posture from first principles, while another will establish arrangements and agreements that might support a friendly force at short notice. Militaries might be restructured so that the acquisition and sustainment of capability improves preparedness, or eventual operational performance, more effectively. Just as there will be an unending competition in the development offensive and defensive capabilities between nations, so too will there be unending shifts in the way military forces will offset one another through logistic means. At the height of non-armed competition, these changes in logistics systems will manifest in mobilisation.

As I mentioned above, wars won’t always begin when the first shots are fired.  The threat of armed conflict is always a factor in strategic competition; logistics capacity and capability is an important part of the calculus. It is vital in making a military a credible threat. It may be easy to see the beginning of conflict in national economic systems, but it can also be seen in the seriousness given to logistics within militaries, and in the context of how logistics informs, or conforms to, national strategic objectives. Strategy has been rapidly becoming an appendix of logistics, if it hasn’t been so all along, and logistics activities can be profoundly important well before the ‘conflict continuum’ approaches its zenith in armed conflict. And when armed conflict does eventuate, it will be as much about the fight to supply – the defence of the supply chain and the efficiency of the logistics process – as it is about winning on the battlefield.

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


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

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

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

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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

Strategy

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

Strategic failure

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

The strategic basis for capability

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

The realities of capability development and sustainment of materiel and capability

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

The nature of public service involvement

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

The nature of military involvement

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

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

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer and these thoughts are his own. This article was originally posted in November 2017.

[1] Leonard Wong and Don Sider cited in Nicholas Jans, The Chiefs: a study of strategic leadership, Commonwealth of Australia, 2013, p 90 [http://www.defence.gov.au/ADC/Publications/Chiefs/TheChiefs.pdf]

Training the Australian Army’s logistics officers – a new LIW series

By David Beaumont.

Logistics in War has contended with the topic of training, and the preparation of logisticians for a variety of operational and garrison possibilities. Readers have been the beneficiary of insights – but also asked poignant questions – in posts from several senior logisticians of the Australian Defence Force, including the Commander of Joint Logistics Command Major-General David Mulhall and his former deputy Air Commodore Hayden Marshall which focus on professionalisation. Contributors from the US Army’s Logistics University, Chris Paparone and George Topic, have also described operational complexities and new training requirements that should be attended to as a consequence. Others have been more specific to the challenge of training such as Michael Lane who describes the need for logisticians to be better prepared for the most likely events they will face. New proficiencies and the development of ‘commercial acumen’ are desired by author Carney Elias, and methods are provided accordingly.

The individual training regime for logisticians as they progress through their careers should be naturally interesting to a military reader, especially the logisticians. Numerous authors have argued that the ‘revolution in logistics’ which began in the US Army in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War was the beginning of an immense shift in the training paradigm for the military logistician. Lessons from this conflict filtered into allied armies and defence forces, as did an increased desire to leverage experience from the commercial sector with the deregulation of national economies in Western countries of the time. Now these same militaries face an uncertain future where the regularity of operations in the Middle-east is diminishing as the focus for the preparation of soldiers and officers. Most are undertaking reviews of training and education to accommodate new pressures and advocate for a change in training direction. This scenario now applies to the Australian Army, and the training of its logistics officers.

The Australian Army’s Suite of Logistics Officers Courses (SOLOC) has been the focus of successive reviews and training needs analyses since the 1996 formation of the Army Logistics Training Centre (ALTC). These reviews have examined the content of courses through a range of analytical methods and have prompted modernisation accordingly. At other times, substantial changes to organisational responsibilities for training logistics officers have resulted in necessary adaptions to the purpose, structure and learning objectives of these courses. These changes have included the disestablishment of Integrated Logistics Division (ILD) at ALTC, and the subsequent consolidation of all logistics officer training at the Army School of Logistics Operations in 2004. This move reflected a desire to move from the goal of training for integrated logistics, complemented by technical training conducted at Corps schools, to a model which emphasised training for ‘combat service support’ or ‘logistics’ operations. There is no clearer sign of this focus than the parallel and shared training conducted between the Logistics Officers Intermediate Course and the Combat Officers Advanced Course, the premier tactics course of the Australian Army.

The Ryan Review, launched in 2016 and twenty years after the formation of ALTC, argued that the Army’s individual training systems are ‘world-class’ when contemporary operational and force generation requirements were considered. The current focus on CSS and logistics operations in the SOLOC has certainly proven to be effective in preparing Army’s logistics officers for professional challenges in both operations and garrison. This view is also reflected on the perceptions revealed in analyses conducted of the SOLOC. The 2017 evaluation of the SOLOC contended that most respondents involved in the qualitative assessment of courses believed that course content was satisfactory, and that training was generally hitting the mark. Earlier reviews also supported the view that the SOLOC was providing skills and knowledge relevant to the workplace despite various content and scheduling issues, and occasional concerns with assessment methods. These observations confirm that the SOLOC is sufficient for Army, and the ADF’s, training requirements.

It has, however, been fifteen years since the SOLOC was reviewed from the basis of ‘first principles’. Since ASLO’s creation, logistics officer courses have been modified idiosyncratically to reflect new requirements. This has seen a diverse range of course content managed into the existing framework, complicating the training of officers at the O2 and O3 ranks and compressing the time available for basics to be explored in depth. There is disagreement as to the focus of each course, whether it is on the basis of a ‘level of war’ explored, or the unit, formation or organisation each is to focus upon. Some Corps have added modules of training the courses conducted centrally to address perceptions of technical deficiency among logistics officers.  There are now new needs that the Australian Army logistician must be prepared for as Army undergoes a significant transformation in its combat capability – as I wrote in a major paper and subsequent post on contemporary training challenges. But most importantly, and as the Ryan Review found for training more generally, the absence of a coherent strategic approach to the training of logistics officers prevents the overcoming of potential, and some real, proficiency and education gaps.

Logistics in War is seeking contributions on the topic of individual training of logisticians. Although the primary area of interest for this future series of posts is the Australian Army logistics officer, any contributions would be warmly received. You may choose to examine training requirements, future technology, the training context or different problems and proposed solutions. International contributions are certainly desired. Many of the problems in training experienced by the Australian Army are problems shared elsewhere, and we can all learn from one another. If you are a soldier or officer of a like-minded military, or have a considered view on the topic, please contact via logisticsinwar@outlook.com . Contributions are desired by the end of May, with posts to be published soon after. Thanks, in advance, for your interest!

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

 

LIW Editorial – taking the national support base ….. beyond the nation

By David Beaumont.

As a military logistician, the idea of integrating logistics as part of a coalition is hardly revelatory. Most Western militaries have spent the last twenty years of operations in lockstep with one another accepting that there are always a range of difficulties. Forces deployed in the Middle-east integrate life support, ammunition, distribution methods and modes, systems for obtaining local or contracted support – the list goes on. Integration is enabled by the employment of longstanding principles under arrangements defined by multi-national military arrangements such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or through mutual support arrangements established between partner nations who can count on each other to provide the right resources at the right time. This is a ‘pointy end’ view of the matter, and if you wanted to take a more strategic look at the picture, you can start considering common standards for equipment and procurement, and the methods by which these are negotiated. Consider arrangements such as the America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ABCANZ) program for land forces which also helps to enable integration on operations. From ‘logistics in support of operations’ to ‘logistics in support of capability’ as we in the Australian Defence Force describe, the integration with coalition partners is an essential part of contemporary military practice.

At its most strategic, the idea of a ‘national support base’ is being challenged by continued integration between likeminded nations at the industry policy level. A recent paper, National technology and industrial base integration,  published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) describes this in detail. The authors of this paper contend that the industrial base has been challenged by globalisation, where nations ‘cannot assume that all of the capabilities it needs will be found domestically’ or that defence technology can be controlled.[1] We only have to look at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program as a powerful example of this issue, where a consortium of nations has shared the burden of producing the platform. For nations such as the United Kingdom and Australia who have ties to nations with existing arrangements for the sharing of technology and industrial base capability (the United States and Canada specifically), the problem is even more acute. Their national defence effort depends upon access to technology, logistics support and supply that other nations must be willing to share. The paper presents detailed studies of the problems in enabling integration and promotes new ways of breaking down the barriers between countries.[2]

I won’t pretend that as a military officer I have a strong grasp of national industrial policy, nor does discussion of the paper or its issues comfortably sit in a blog that has historically focussed on operational logistics. The reason I felt the paper was worth sharing was because of the questions it raises. What is an appropriate level of integration between coalition partners? Do we understand the risks involved with sharing our ‘defence secrets’? What if national interests differ over specific issues? What defines what is essential for the national support base to produce? How can a collective industrial and technology base support military operations when all its constituents demand the operational priority? Most of all, what is the impact upon military strategy? The integration of national industrial and technological capacity in a global environment makes accessing the global commons more defining an influence on strategic decision making. After all, the fight to win in war is often a fight to win supply.

If you have any answers to these important questions for strategic logisticians, I would love to hear from you. The increasingly integrated nature of national technology and industrial bases is one of the more significant military logistics challenges of our time. We should give it our personal and professional attention.

* Editor’s note – a day after this post was published, a short piece from the Lowy Interpreter examined the difficulty of Australia generating a larger national defence industry. The article, here, is useful to read in conjunction with my piece. Can Australia benefit from reinforcing its defence industry (albeit in an export-focussed manner) while integrating internationally?

[1] McCormick, R., Cohen, S., Hunter, A., Sanders, G., National technology and industrial base integration, Center for Strategic and International Studies, https://www.csis.org/analysis/national-technology-and-industrial-base-integration, accessed 11 Mar 18, p 2

[2] ibid, start from p 54

Have a spare 30 minutes?

By David Beaumont.

Joe Byerly, in an excellent post at his blog ‘From the Green Notebook’, reminds us of the importance of continual reading. He promotes 20-30 minutes of reading in a day (or night) as part of a ‘consistent practice of self-study’.  Reading about logistics, the difficulties encountered in sustaining and moving armies, should be part of this study. Yet very few people know about the important works on military logistics or know where to start. I am often asked by people which logistics books I would recommend to anyone who might be time-poor, or had only just made the decision to start reading on the topic. Byerly’s piece compelled me to answer this question properly (if a little evasively).

I maintain the view given at the time I was questioned; it ‘depends what you are after’. Because logistics is a process that includes so many different functions from the tactical to the national-economic, it is experienced in different ways by different people. Furthermore, with the term ‘logistics’ being so conflated, it is hard to find one particular book which describes logistics holistically. For those in capability development, logistics is about efficiency, production and acquisition, whereas those in tactical formations see logistics as a variety of ‘small’, yet all-too-often ‘big’, things that give the formation the capacity to fight. A book such as Clements, The Lieutenant Don’t Know, therefore examines an experience of logistics worlds apart from Eccles, Logistics in the national defense.

With this in mind, I thought I should summarise what might be learned from what I feel are the most important works on military logistics. The choice with respect to relevancy is therefore your own. I have already gone a substantial part of the way here to outlining the basic principles of the literature, but for the sake of identifying who might benefit the most from reading each text:

  1. From Clausewitz, On War, the strategist will learn how logistics determines the ‘form or factor’ of operations.
  2. From Jomini, The Art of War, the commander will see how logistics is the ‘means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics’.
  3. From Thorpe, Pure logistics, the commander will see way in which logistics ‘sets the stage’ for operations.
  4. From Eccles, Logistics in the national defense, the strategic logistician will learn of the processes of connecting the economy to the battlefield. The operational commander will learn that logistics requires control and oversight for it to be efficient and effective.
  5. From Macgruder, Recurring logistics problems as I have observed them, the tactical commander will be shown the importance of well-trained logistics troops, and that time is won in conflict by having effective advance / forward logistics early.
  6. From Van Creveld, Supplying War, you will be persuaded that strategy is second to logistics in modern war. However, because militaries rarely plan on this basis, logistics often seems ‘an overcoming of a series of difficulties’.
  7. From Lynn, Feeding Mars; Thomspon, Lifeblood of War, the operational and tactical commander will learn how contextual logistics is, and the need for adaptation in battle.
  8. From Huston, Sinews of War, the tactical and operational commander or logistician will learn of major principles of logistics as it applies to delivering ‘firepower or shock’, based upon a comprehensive study of centuries of conflict. Pagonis, Moving Mountains is a natural complement.
  9. From Macksey, For want of a nail, the commander and logistician will learn of the expansion of the ‘tail’ as compared to the ‘tooth’ with new technologies, and that logistics is fundamentally about affecting mobility (and thus time and space).
  10. From Tuttle, Defense logistics for the 21st century, the logistician will learn of the modern inputs to logistics capability and how they relate to expeditionary warfare.
  11. From Kane, Military logistics and strategic performance, the strategist will learn how logistics creates the circumstances for strategy and tactics, and is the ‘arbiter of opportunity’.
  12. From Engels, Alexander the Great and the logistics of the Macedonian army, and Roth, The logistics of the Roman army at war, the strategist will see how the basis of their work is found in logistics.
  13. From Cowen, The deadly life of logistics, the strategist will see how the geography of logistics, supply chains in all their complexity, govern national interest and strategic policy.
  14. From Privatsky, Logistics of the Falklands War, all will learn how logistics truly is the arbiter of strategy, how it defines operations and that it is critical to tactical success – especially in expeditionary warfare.

The books I have briefly described above are independently valuable, and each contribute their own perspective to a vital aspect of war. Some readers are likely to value certain books over others, or different books entirely. However, I have found the list reflects the most important to how I have formed my opinion and understanding of logistics. After reading, and re-reading, the list of books above, I was left with the following conclusions about logistics:

  1. Logistics is essentially moving, supplying and maintaining forces. It is above all else concerned about the practical existence of forces as distinct from their employment.
  2. Logistics, as a process, connects the economy to the battlefield. In raising and sustaining forces, logistics comprises a vast proportion of a military’s time.
  3. Logistics is the application of time and space factors to operations. It is concerned with what can be moved and when. It is therefore the substance of strategy, and ‘sets the stage’ for tactics.
  4. Logistics is a self-sustaining system of many elements and countless, often contextual, inputs. If left ‘uncontrolled’ in war it has a tendency to grow inefficient, and in doing so, forces allocated to logistics tasks swell in size.
  5. War can be prepared for, and in this capacity, logistics influences all options. However, once battle commences, it is virtually impossible to plan logistics efficiently. ‘Brute force’ logistics often prevails.

Each book on logistics, including those many I have not mentioned here, deserves to be read. Twenty to thirty minutes of reading about military logistics is such a small proportion of time to devote to a topic so fundamentally relevant to success in war.

What can you expect? You will be left concerned with repetition of problems throughout history, and certainly the propensity of armies to outrun their means of supply with regularity. But you will also be left with a sense of the ingenuity of logisticians, commanders and soldiers to overcome logistics issues through a variety of means unforseen prior to war. You will see how logistics does indeed shape how forces will fight, and that logistics leads strategy to its ultimate conclusion.

But most of all, you will also be left to question why so few of these works are on professional reading lists.

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