Is logistics the ultimate conventional deterrent?

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

Logistics and strategy are inseparable, each meaningless without the other. Logistics was ‘invented’ in war and has always had a ‘deadly life’.[2] The architecture of global supply chains, siphoning national wealth through geographic areas of immense strategic interest to nations and others, are focal points for national action. ‘Logistics cities’, major trade hubs and economic routes attract the interest of Governments and have become of immense strategic value. All arms of Government can be seen in action, using diplomatic, informational, military and economic means to shape how both commercial and military logistics might be applied to their favour. Supply chain security continues to occupy our minds as we intermingle our desire for national prosperity through global trade with our desire to prevent the loss of native capacity to build military capability, mobilise and sustain operations. Important military hardware such as the Joint Strike Fighter is underpinned by global arrangements, fragile supply chains and shared industrial capabilities that expose militaries to new areas of risk. In this environment it will take little effort for nations to exert influence or strangle the capacity of a nation to respond to threats militarily. War might begin and end with logistics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

By Bruce Gudmundsson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Realising the sustainable joint land force

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A video recording of the Seminar can be found here.

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

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

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

A ‘Logistics in War’ primer: Logistics and the art of command

By David Beaumont.

For commanders, the objective and purpose of logistics is to establish and subsequently sustain the combat effectiveness of forces. Logistics shapes strategic and tactical decision making, and is an influence on the conduct of the operational art. However, commanders, and the ‘command climate’ they generate, can also have a profound influence of the efficiency of logistics. Through the authority we afford military leaders, the actions and decisions of commanders give logistics structure and control the human behaviours which contribute to inefficient logistics. Their attitudes are powerful influences on the preparedness of the logistics system. Trust, the ‘under-planning, over-planning’ response and other factors are raised as challenging phenomenon that must be addressed in war.

The second ‘Logistics in War’ primer, Logistics and the art of command, aims to challenge misconceptions we may have about logistics, and its relevance to commanders and their decisions.

‘Logistics is about winning battles and wars by assuring the existence of combat power, therefore underpinning much of what a commander must do, and what decision he or she must make. The responsibility for efficient logistics lies with the commander – at whatever level from the junior leader to the field marshal – who prioritises and allocates resources to create the situation which gives her or him the greatest combat potential and freedom of action. This component of the operational art postures the combat force in such a way that tactical objectives are actually achievable.’ 

You can find the primer here.

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

Originally published February, 2018.

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

By David Beaumont.

This transcript is the final half of a speech given at the 2018 Australian and New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference. The session was titled ‘The Future Logistician’.

The first half can be found here.

What we need to be

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

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

Firstly, and as I am sure you all expect, our logisticians must have a wide variety of experiences across the logistics enterprise. Of course, we must accept that even our most general officers and public servants will have some areas of expertise. Without experience we fail to appreciate context and nuance, and remain technical specialists of an important, but ultimately niche, function.

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

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

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

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

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

What we might become

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

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

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

Thirdly, we might choose not to invest the considerable time and effort required to support a nascent approach to joint PME, or support reform in individual training conducted throughout the organisation. It is easy to generate a framework to support professional development; it is much harder to sustain the conduct of courses. Without doing so, however, training will be largely idiosyncratic, and we will maintain an over-reliance on experience and career management to solve professionalisation issues.

Fourthly, without a shared and consistent approach on major issues affecting logistics we are likely to see a deterioration of capability. There are few opportunities to intervene in strategic decision making, and for the benefit of ADF capability, when logisticians are engaged, they must ensure that the engagement is made meaningful.

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

Making the future Defence logistician 

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

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

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

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

The logistician

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

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

Being a logistician is difficult. As logisticians we have faced innumerable organisational pressures and felt the brunt of decades of rationalisation and cost cutting. As logisticians we deal with an immensely challenging pan-organisational and operational problem that can only be dealt with through trust and competency. As logisticians we know we need to invest in training and education but are faced with too many choices about where our attention (and the little resources available) should be directed. We are told how volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous the contemporary operating and enterprise environment is, yet an approach to adequately prepare seems elusive or impossible. The problem seems so vast, the prospect of success so small, or the future for logisticians believed to be so bleak and unappealing, that the effort to progress might simply be viewed as a waste of time in our already busy lives.

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

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

It is of vital importance to us to understand that regardless of how logistics functions are assigned or divided, or categorised by naming conventions in doctrine, they remain logistics functions and they must be performed by qualified personnel. These functions must be supervised and coordinated by senior officers and Defence logisticians who not only understand the full implications of their responsibilities, but also the relationships involved therein. For those with leadership responsibilities within logistics, you must not be exclusive in your thinking, and be willing to give emphasis and primary functions to those elements within the logistics process that need it. To do this requires a broad experience of the enterprise and a capacity for systems thinking, but also self-development and a desire to learn about the organisation. It requires our logisticians to be consensus-builders, and while we may not always agree with one another, we should do so respectfully and accept the reasons why we think differently from one another.

Secondly, I fundamentally believe we are in an environment of considerable opportunity. Logisticians are being listened to, and logistics issues are being addressed with greater seriousness than ever before. This has not always been the case. Two decades ago, logistics was certainly discussed – but it was in terms of rationalisation and unhealthy levels of commercialisation, and it was not necessarily because logisticians were driving the agenda. Similarly, Defence logisticians have long discussed professionalisation, training and education but had either been un-resourced or had difficulties in leading and implementing change. Sources of leadership were disempowered by organisational confusion and change on a level that surpasses what we are experiencing today. We are much better prepared to engage with military commands, partners from other areas of Government or industry given nearly twenty years of continued operational experience which has improved Defence-level awareness of logistics issues.

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

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

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

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

By David Beaumont.

This transcript is the first half of a speech given at the 2018 Australian and New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference. The session was titled ‘The Future Logistician’.

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

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

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

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

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

Why we are, what we are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we are, where we are

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

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

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

A complex task

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

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

Slide1

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

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

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

The second part of this transcript will be posted soon.

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

The Australian Defence Force and industry support to operations – is it time for a new ‘national support agenda’?

By David Beaumont.

This is the final post from the LIW archives on strategic logistics and logistics challenges prior to the Australia & New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference.

In 2016, the Australian Government released its 2016 Defence White Paper and the supplemental Defence Industry Policy Statement. Industry Statements signify Government intent to Australian Defence industry, and like strategic policy, combine hyperbole with requirements for change. In this case Government – in extolling the self-evident nature of industry as a ‘fundamental input to capability’ – sought closer collaboration between Defence and industry through the development of a native shipbuilding program, to support capability acquisition and sustainment for other major programs, as well as the enhancement of the commercial support on offer to Defence. The Statement also introduced the notion of a ‘Sovereign Defence Industry Capability’, an industrial resource of such vital concern to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) that it must be maintained if not controlled for the purposes of national defence. What the Statement didn’t do, however, was to detail a new path for industry in the context of supporting actual ADF operations.

This issue is one among many examined by Dr Stephan Fruhling, Australian National University, in a recent paper ‘Sovereign Defence Industry Capabilities, Independent Operations and the Future of Australian Defence Strategy.’ As part of the ‘Centre of Gravity’ series of papers, the purpose of its analysis of the idea of ‘sovereign defence industry capabilities’ is to provide strategic policy recommendations, of which there are three.[1] All three are aligned to addressing aspects of the issue of industry support to ADF force structure, and most importantly, operations:

  1. Industry capabilities must relate to scenarios which apply to the force structure of the ADF, ‘not just consider industry as a collection of industry fundamental inputs into capability’.
  2. Australia needs to look beyond a peacetime industry dependence on the US. While reliance was avoided because of the strategic policy orientation of ‘self-reliance’, ‘we must now also move to confront our dependence on US resupply in high-intensity operations’.
  3. Industry will be crucial to enable ADF operations in defence of Australia in the ‘era of long-range precision strike’. This includes the establishment of battle-damage repair capabilities in industry, as well as arrangements for ‘domestic base support’.

Fruhling notes that these ideas are ‘not what the Government had in mind’ with its industry statement. However, they are legitimate concerns that should be echoed in strategic and industry policy calculus. If the Government requires the ADF to be able to operate with any independence from coalition sources of tactical logistics support, the idea of independence should also apply at the strategic level, and with industry in mind.

It is also tremendously worthwhile to consider this issue from the perspective of Defence in its engagement with industry. The role of Defence, and the ADF in particular, in industry policy largely boils down to the articulation of the strategic or operational requirements, and the effective integration of national industrial infrastructure into ADF operations and daily business. This integration is enabled by policy and governance, and through consistent organisational behaviour. Defence presently engages with industry through a multiple of channels, with key agents being the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), Joint Logistics Command (JLC) and a variety of other groups, units, functions, including the Services, responsible for their own component of the logistics process. Each agency or group has its own objectives and requirements, and the approach is demonstrably fragmented. In the past, however, the ADF has concertedly sought a corporate solution to the problem.

In the late 1990’s the ADF pursued a ‘national support agenda’, a strategic approach to its engagement with industry for ‘ the application of all the resources of the Nation to maximise the defence capability of Australia’.[2] The need for a national support strategy had been born out of reforms as early as the 1980’s, and given greater emphasis as a consequence of the downsizing of the ADF’s organic logistics support capabilities which followed. Industry’s ability to support ADF operations was conceptualised, and tested – albeit in a haphazard and ultimately inadequate way – during the major exercises of the time. The idea of national support culminated with the raising of the National Support Division (NSD) in 1997 during the Defence Reform Program. This Division was a fundamental refocussing of a downsizing Strategic Logistics Division of Headquarters ADF, and was to ‘broaden, shape and improve national and international capabilities to better enable the force generation, mobilisation and sustainment for the ADF.’[3] For just over two years NSD developed concepts and policy which reflected strategic-level logistics at its most essential; extracting support from the national economy for the benefit of military outcomes.

With the creation of the Defence Materiel Organisation in 2000, NSD was disestablished with its functions split between the ADF’s capability staff, Strategic Policy Division and the newly raised Joint Logistics Command. This decision came with questionable timing given it was soon after the ADF’s deployment to East Timor in 1999, an operation during which numerous issues with the quality and capacity of national support available could be seen. Only a year later the Departmental-level Defence Committee agreed to the raising of Strategic Logistics Branch in JLC to better progress national support issues, though some of Defence’s senior leaders considered this was merely a temporary solution to the problem. JLC continues to lead in this area, but across the wider Defence organisation the strategic concept of national support has greatly diminished in its potency. The focus now sits on supporting the ADF’s operations at hand, acquisition and sustainment rather than the how and why of mobilising industrial capacity to suit operational sustainability as a strategic concept. By 2003 and the deployment of ADF forces to support coalition operations in Iraq, where much commercial support was obtained through coalition partners and industry engagement was predominantly focussed upon the rapid acquisition of supplies and equipment, strategic engagement for long-term policy objectives was becoming a strategic side-show.

With industry being declared a ‘fundamental input into capability’, perhaps it is time for a new national support agenda. Such an approach will complement evolving strategic and industry policy as depicted in Fruhling’s paper. This does not necessarily mean further wholesale organisational change is required; a succession of changes in the organisation of Defence has already contributed to the degradation of a strategic approach to industry over the last decade. Concepts have been forgotten and policy compromised with entities like the NSD having little time to prove their worth to the ADF. However, it is logical to review authorities and accountabilities, and to reinforce areas responsible for considering industrial capacity and mobilisation on the basis of a purportedly new paradigm in defence-industry relations. It is especially necessary given the increasing engagement of industry as a supplement or complement to military capability, as is being currently postulated through several initiatives being progressed by the ADF’s Services. Finally, it is necessary simply because of its immense importance to any future considerations of how the nation might mobilise in a future war. The ADF may be prepared to launch an operation, but without industry similarly responsive the weight of national power cannot easily be brought to bear.

Just as Fruhling points out that there is much more to ‘sovereign defence industry capability’ to be explained if Government requires the ADF to conduct independent operations, there is also a need for Defence to reinvigorate its approach to engagement with industry to enable effective outcomes in these future missions. The development of proficiencies for military and civilian logisticians and others to engage with industry, or reconsidering the manner and means by which industry is approached, remain important to this end. However, it is also important for logisticians and leaders to approach the matter comprehensively, cognisant that national support to operations is one of considerable professional relevance. As the ADF’s strategic and operational logistics ‘tail’ comprises a greater commercial component, the effective engagement of the ‘sovereign defence industry capability’ must be second nature to logisticians and others in Defence. A strong institutional narrative regarding the integration of industry with all Defence activities, and in particular military operations, must become a priority. In the context of Stephan Fruhling’s view on the future of Australian defence strategy, the ADF’s success in strategically independent operations will be a clear reflection of the quality of this vitally important relationship.

[1] These paraphrased points are summarised at Fruhling, S., Sovereign Defence Industry Capabilities, Independent Operations and the Future of Australian Defence Strategy, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific, 2017, p 2

[2] As approved by Steering Committee, July 2001, from the Inspector General Division, Progress in pursuing the national support approach, Portfolio Evaluation Report, Department of Defence, 2001, p2-1.

[3] Ibid., p 2-7

David Beaumont is a serving military officer, and the thoughts here are his own. This article was originally posted in 2017.