Burying the hero – how logistics and readiness changed war

By David Beaumont.

This is part two of a three-part series on logistics and logistics readiness.

In ‘The water in the well – how much logistics readiness is enough?’ I described the idea of logistics readiness as the ability of a military force to build up and sustain combat power at their full potential. Logistics, as a process, is the system of activities which begins in the economy and fills the ‘well’ with ‘water’. Through capability acquisition and integration with the national support base, through multiple Defence and military echelons, right to the battlefield; ineffective activities at any stage along this long line will compromise the logistics readiness of the force as a whole.

That’s the theory. In practice, however, attempts by militaries to develop logistics readiness have led to mixed results. Too few commanders have realised that logistics readiness underpins their strategies, or defines capabilities or the way their forces will fight. Some get it right, and base strategies on the capacity given to forces by their sustaining echelons, bases or auxiliary vessels. This article looks at how logistics readiness has shaped military success and failures, created the nature of operations, and most certainly the capacity of militaries to be viable as a force.

Well before petroleum and gunpowder, logistics grasped on armies and their expeditions. Donald Engels, in Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, echoes the words of Major General J.F.C. Fuller in his biopic of Alexander; supply was the basis for operational – if not strategic – mobility.[1] Alexander’s approach to logistics readiness shaped strategy, and the design of a force that could achieve such a strategy.[2] Engels attributes the successes of the Macedonian advance through Asia due to a focus upon movements to and from sources of supply, a reduction in the number of horses on campaigns to reduce logistics requirements, insisting troops carried as much of their own equipment as possible, and eliminating the practice of soldiers deploying with family members accompanying.[3] It was an expeditionary army designed with logistics in mind.

Roman advances through Europe and Asia similarly show what logistically ready armies can achieve. Jonathon Roth in The logistics of the Roman Army at war (264 BC – AD 235) argued that the Roman’s success didn’t just come from military culture, training or weaponry. Rome’s ability to provision large armies and shift resources at continental distances was the preeminent factor in the projection of military power. It came from the organisation of servants, soldiers, infrastructure and an expansion based upon access to private markets. Logistics drove the strategy of the most powerful nation of the time. In fact the logistician might have been more important than the strategist given that ‘the necessities of military supplies influenced and often determined the decision of Roman commanders at war.’[4]

The military profession became more aware of the link between a new conception of logistics, readiness, organisation and force projection as our root theories of war were written. Clausewitz’s survey of history, as well as the Napoleonic Wars, led him to write that ‘[t]he end for which a soldier is recruited, clothed, armed and trained, the whole object of his sleeping is simply that he should fight at the right place and the right time’.[5] In his chapter describing the ‘problem of supply’ he articulated that the means of supply could change the ‘form and factor’ of operations.[6] What was possible was shaped by what was immediately practical.

Clausewitz’s contemporary, Jomini, articulated that logistics occupied a leading position in the organisation and execution of strategy and tactics, and that logistics was not just the purview of staff, but of generals. In getting ‘men and materials’ to the front, logistics was centrally concerned with how war was forced upon an enemy. For example, Napoleon’s ability to organise his Army on the basis of administrative necessity by dividing it to support local subsistence shows cognisance of logistics concerns in designing the French Army – at least until he seemingly ignored it all and nearly led his armies to their end.

The transformation in the way that war was being fuelled and fought was definitive in logistics moving from the margins to one of the most significant influences upon success. No longer could a commander assume that the soldier could survive by foraging off the land. Supply was no longer part of a Clausewitzian ‘paper war’ but shaped important strategic and tactical choices. Technology – from the rifle, steam engine, gun to the internal combusting engine had changed the ways armies operated. But military commanders were increasingly pressured with logistics constraints when commanding these soldiers on the battlefield. Technicians began to be required in readiness, and forces designed around their logistics echelon.

Somewhere on the Eastern and Western Fronts of the First World War technology and logistics, hand in hand, buried heroic ideas of the soldier under spent ammunition cases, sacks of fodder, and equipment requisition orders. Industrialised, globalised, warfare saw the supply lines increasingly become the ‘how’ which shaped the ‘what’. We remember the First World War for its ‘storm troops’, the guns, aircraft and tanks, and the doctrinal revolution which gave us early combined arms tactics and intellectual reform in some militaries. But it was also won by raw economic power transformed through military logistics processes into tangible combat potential and eventual military strength. Industry had always been inseparable from warfare, but now the importance of it being ready prior to the first shots of war was blatant.

Supply continually occupied the minds of planners. Initially low levels of logistics readiness prevented strategic responses, despite the arms race that had preceded the war. This cost lives as it was much quicker to deploy soldiers into the field than it was to arm them properly. Initial ammunition shortages limited the ability of the British and allies to crack the Germans front-line; once mobilisation drove industry to full production two years later the problem shifted to one of available distribution capability. It took three years for the British to get in place before the guns could truly be unleashed.

Martin Van Creveld’s Supplying War describes that it was the mobility afforded by motorisation which logistics to the fore in war. The moment fuel was fed into an engine, the motorised or mechanised force became an arm of its logistics capability. Stalin reflected on the Second World War summing it by stating ‘the war was decided by engines and octane.’[7] Churchill exclaimed ‘above all, petrol governed every movement’. Fleet Admiral Ernest King, in 1946 to the US Secretary of the Navy, noted the Second World War as ‘variously termed as a war of production and a war of machines,’ but, ‘whatever else it is … it is a war of logistics.

In a world of rockets and torpedoes, aircraft and submarines, where superpower interests went global, force posture, mobility and preparedness made the connection between war and logistics more obvious. Logistics readiness was reflected in the ability to move forces at transcontinental distances, or through well-supplied forward positions and propositioning fleets of ships. Manuel DeLanda went so far to assert ‘modern tactics and strategy would seem to have become a special branch of logistics’ in 1991.[8] His statement was timely; in the same year the world witnessed a US-led coalition taking six months to move the US military’s strategic reserve to the Gulf region to set an operation which could be won in 100 hours in motion.

Operational deception and airpower might have been important in winning the war. In reality it was seven million tons of supplies and 5.2 billion litres of fuel that gave the ‘left hook’ of Operation Desert Storm form. The supply of refined fuels to Operation Desert Storm was that large, and the speed it was required so fast, it was highly unlikely that the operation could have occurred anywhere else in the world. Logistics readiness was a product of lucky strategic timing in this case. American logistics resources were at their zenith in the waning years of the Cold War, and the US had yet to comprehensively draw down its positions and supplies to reflect a new ‘peace’. General William ‘Gus’ Pagonis, the US Army logistics architect, popularised this episode as ‘moving mountains’ in his best-selling book.[9]

Treading into a time where strategic manoeuvre and mobility was vaunted, Western militaries recognised that the real purpose of logistics was to bring as much power to bear at any one point. The greater the level of logistics readiness, the easier it was to mobilise forces, and the easier it was to deliver a decisive outcome. Unfortunately, logistics readiness could no longer be based on the luxury of heightened resourcing and with the benefits of the forward positions of the Cold War had provided. Western militaries had to be mobile and lean, as had Alexander the Great’s centuries earlier, with a sustainment infrastructure capable of impossible flexibility.

In the US a ‘revolution in military affairs’ not only set in but was matched by a ‘revolution of logistics’ which sought to replace mass with velocity, where the ‘iron mountains’ of Desert Storm were replaced by a belief that adaptive distribution systems could supply a force in the necessary time. Logistics transformation was about reducing the logistics footprint.[10] The 1990s were a time where deregulation saw military organisations embracing organisational reform to reduce the cost of their back of house functions.

New business methods, outsourcing of organic capability, better professional skills and new technology characterised an approach to logistics that was believed to be cost efficient, but would also improve the mobility of the operational force. Rather than logistics readiness being underpinned by copious quantities of war-stocks or believed to be ‘bloated’ support organisations, Western militaries leapt at the possibility for a logistics system that employed what we viewed as ‘best-business practice’ and delivered the right resources, to the right place, at the right time. Logistics readiness would be underpinned by distribution rather than supply; computer-powered information networks that could tell what needed to be where and when rather than inefficient dumps of supplies ordered in sequential echelons of support.

Ambition met reality south of Baghdad. In 2003 the US Army halted for an operational pause outside An Najaf.[11] Though the advance faltered in a desert storm of ‘biblical proportions’, such a pause was patently necessary as the combat force simply outran their supply lines. The promise of a logistics revolution gave way to the age-old impact of operational tempo without adequate supply. Some units lacked water, others food, certain commodities of ammunition had been all but consumed. There were insufficient vehicles to support the dispersed force, and the combination of a command desire to keep the force lean and a ‘just-in-time’ strategic approach to logistics flirted with disaster.

The communications systems essential for command decision-making on the priority and allocation of logistics resources were incoherently spread throughout the force in an abortive modernisation program. Had the wars intensity been maintained beyond the thirty-day mark, even the most powerful military might have run out of ammunition. The ability to project sustained military power over extended periods of time required quantities of the materiel of war that militaries had, ironically, fought so hard to keep from the theatre.

At the time this was happening, the ADF and Defence as a whole, was emerging from its own catharsis. In fact, the organisation was reforming itself about logistics and command problems which emerged in its own operational experiences. Operation Stabilise / Warden in East Timor in 1999 required a rapid response, but the logistics organisation to underpin the deployment had been incapable of anything other than operating in a state of permanent crisis.

Twenty-year old assumptions about what constituted the readiness of the ADF’s logistics – assumptions that had driven force structure and preparedness choices right from the interface with industry to the tactical approach to logistics in the operational area – were challenged and widely reported. The preceding two decades of force rationalisation saw many of the capabilities which enabled a rapid response reduced to woefully inadequate dimensions for the ADF’s largest operation since the Second World War.

Two decades after this operation, the ADF is a very different organisation. Substantial capability gaps were overcome in the years after East Timor, and over the period the West moved its attention to operations in the Middle-east. Will it be enough to prepare the ADF for future operations, even war? It’s incredibly hard to predict whether it will be logistically ready for its next operation. As this article shows, readiness is a consequence of context and even the most adept military and Defence professionals can be surprised by an unpredictable world.

You might infer from this article that logistics readiness is so elusive a topic that it’s pointless trying to speculate how war might be like, or what aspects of the logistics ‘well’ we should work to make more resilient. Perhaps we should rely on our personal experience and judgement, and hope we can get it right? That’s arguably more risky an approach than attempting to predict the future and trying to design and resource a logistically ready force. An in-depth examination of any of the cases mentioned earlier would attest to this fact. It’s therefore critical to ask the question ‘how much logistics readiness is enough?’ while we’ve got the opportunity to do so.

In Part Three, I’ll articulate a framework to help us when we do.


This is an edited adaption of a presentation given at the Australian Defence Force conference ‘Rapid Force Projection’ in April 2019. It has been adjusted significantly to suit the format here.

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

 

[1] Engels, D., 1978, Alexander the Great and the logistics of the Macedonian Army, University of California Press, USA, p 1

[2] Ibid., see Chapter 1 ‘The Macedonian Army’ for a detailed description.

[3] Ibid., p 119

[4] Roth, J., 1999, The logistics of the Roman Army at war (264 BC – AD 235), Brill, USA, p 279

[5] Clausewitz, C. von, On War, edited by Howard, M. & Paret, P., 1976, Princeton University Press, USA, p95

[6] Ibid., p 330

[7] Cowen, D. The deadly life of logistics, University of Minnesota Press, USA, 2014, p29

[8] De Landa, M., 1991, War in the age of intelligent machines cited in Cowen, D. The deadly life of logistics, University of Minnesota Press, USA, 2014, p 30

[9] Pagonis, W., 1994, Moving mountains: lessons in leadership and logistics from the Gulf War, Harvard Business Review Press, USA

[10] Ransom, D., Logistics transformation – reducing the logistics footprint, Strategy Research Project, US Army War College, USA, 2002, pp 2-3 at https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a404441.pdf

[11] See Pelz, E., Halliday, J., Robbins, M. and Girardini, K., Sustainment of Army forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom: Battlefield logistics and effects on operations, RAND Corporation, 2005 at https://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG344.html

The water in the well – how much readiness is enough?

By David Beaumont.

One of Martin Van Creveld’s most contentious, and subsequently debated, themes of Supplying War related to the persistent inability, if not unwillingness, of various militaries to adequately structure and prepare themselves for the rigours of sustained combat. Others have seen this as a consequence of unrealistic expectations being made of logistics capability, the inability of logisticians to argue a case for investment, the general unwillingness of the organisation to accept their advice once offered, and the widespread misreading of the significance of lift and sustainment capabilities to numerous operational scenarios.

Logistics is one of those topics where it easy to get lost in the magnitude of largely organisation-spanning problems. Strategic logistics issues can be so impenetrable, and the difficulty in bringing the many Defence and partner organisations required to resolve them so high, that it’s difficult to know where to begin. The risks accepted in not beginning are, of course, high and err towards a professional negligence that ultimately costs time, resources and people at the time of a future war.

Militaries routinely encounters cross-roads where decisions regarding structure, posture and preparedness must be made. Some can be made ‘in-stride’ and are ultimately superficial in nature, or so internally focussed they are largely inconsequential to its capacity to respond to the crises before it. Others, unfortunately, are the consequence of significant logistics readiness issues that must be addressed if forces are to be strategically relevant. These issues determine whether the capabilities militaries spend so much effort in acquiring and developing have the capacity to be useful, or pose a liability. The also influence how quickly they might respond.

Western militaries are waking to these problems. A major report to senior US Defence leadership recently cited significant shortfalls in the capacity of the US to project military power. It’s worth dwelling on what it found. Firstly, it recommended conducting realistic wargames and exercises to reflect threats and the capability of the ‘logistics enterprise’ to respond. Secondly, it advocated to ‘protect, modernise and leverage’ the mobility ‘triad’ of ‘surface, air and prepositioning’. Thirdly, it articulated the need to protect logistics data which is particularly vulnerable to espionage and manipulation. Finally, it recommended that the US must increase its funding to logistics programs to make anticipated future joint operating concepts viable. At present, they aren’t.

We are witnessing strategic competition and threats are ‘accelerating’ in scale and significance. Nations are jockeying for the freedom to move and act without contest. Militaries are asking themselves, ‘what does it take to undertake an expansion of forces?’ and others are investigating mobilisation. It is self-evident that militaries must be prepared for conflict, and responsive to crises that do not require the exchange of gunfire. But now, just as there was immediately after the Cold War ended, uncertainty prevails. In this lead-up to whatever comes these militaries will inevitably find that many of their strategic problems are logistics in nature; the substance which really gives a combat force its form.

Logistics and preparedness

Logistics is an easy idea to conflate, as is anything to do with preparedness or readiness. These ideas can mean different things to different people.

Logistics is not just a mere ‘enabler’, nor is it a collection of capabilities that is appropriately resourced and nurtured assure that a military is ‘logistically ready’. The answer to our logistics problems could very well come from a greater allocation of Defence resources to some notable deficiencies we have in deployable logistics capabilities. But it’s also important to understand that this only addresses the simplest part of the problem. This is because:

Logistics is a system of activities, capabilities and processes that connect the national economy to the battlefield; the outcome of this process is the establishment of a ‘well’ from which the force draws its combat potential or actual firepower.

1. The Bridge ADF

Logistics is a consequence of many actions and many things. As I’ve discussed at Logistics in War over recent weeks, logistics relies upon activities within the military and in the national support base. It involves mobilising resources from the nation and moulding these resources to national strategic requirements and military effort. This complexity makes it difficult to find the right place to direct attention to, who is responsible for coordinating this attention, and what the nature of any reinvestment should be at any given point in time.

Equally confusing is the concept of ‘logistics readiness’:

Logistics readiness refers to the ability to undertake, to build up and thereafter to sustain, combat operations at the full combat potential of forces.[1] It is the ‘water’ within the ‘well’ .

Achieving a ‘logistically ready’ force is the sum effort of many activities undertaken in peace – from the efficacy of the modernisation program, the economic resources available for defence activities, the way in which materiel is procured and sustained, the strength of defence industry and national support base in general, and the processes and policies set in place so that Government, policy-makers and military commanders can control economic and logistics processes. It truly is a national activity, and one that Defence leaders must be stewards of.

I’m sure you’ll agree that it is incredibly difficult to identify how much ‘logistics readiness’ is enough when – as the current Australian Chief of Defence Force, General Angus Campbell once said – the act of providing one bullet to the front-line might require one hundred logisticians and numerous capabilities on the path from the factory, through multiple Defence echelons over the course of weeks before it even gets into the unit magazine.

Nonetheless, ‘how much logistics readiness is enough?’ has been a question not too far from the lips of capability managers and commanders since war began. It’s a question that hits at the heart of strategic policy, if not national military strategy. It has been a question asked because any form of preparedness, whether it be coached in terms like ‘logistics readiness’ or not, is costly an investment in resources. A prepared military is a sizable investment for any nation to have.

Preparedness takes personnel, funding and time from where we would really like to see them go. It can cost capability development and modernisation programs underway as funds are directed to capability sustainment or to assured resupply of stocks. We must, sometimes, resource preparedness at the expense of better equipment or new weapons, however reluctantly we do so. What we think will decrease readiness, might just be the thing that matters in an emergency response. A soldier serves little purpose if they are unarmed and without supplies. Therefore, it is important that we are efficient in how we establish the preconditions for readiness, but avoid the consequence of creating significant logistics risks that manifest in real problems on the battlefield.

Part Two, in coming days, will turn to history to show how difficult it is to tread this particular line.

[1] See Eccles, H., 1959, Logistics in the National Defense, The Stackpole Company, USA, p 290 available courtesy of the USMC here.

This is an edited adaption of a presentation given at the Australian Defence Force conference ‘Rapid Force Projection’ in April 2019. It has been adjusted significantly to suit the format here. Imagery courtesy of Department of Defence.

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

Book release – ‘Feeding Victory’ – Jobie Turner

By editor.

You may have read a number of posts by Colonel Jobie Turner, USAF at Logistics in War and on other sites. Jobie has written on the criticality of strategic transportation (specifically air mobility) to contemporary concepts here, and its future here. We are keenly waiting on the impending release of his book – Feeding Victory: innovative military logistics from Lake George to Khe Sanh. It gives me great pleasure to advertise his book; works on logistics are few with the last major release being Major General Ken Privratsky’s Logistics in the Falklands War: A case-study in expeditionary warfare in 2017. A summary of the book is:

“An army, Lewis Mumford once observed, “is a body of pure consumers”—and it is logistics that feeds this body’s insatiable appetite for men and materiel. Successful logistics, the transportation of supplies and combatants to battle, cannot guarantee victory but poor logistics portend defeat. In Feeding Victory, Jobie Turner asks how technical innovation has affected this connection over time—whether advances in technology, from the railroad and the airplane to the nuclear weapon and the computer, have altered the critical relationship between logistics and warfare, and, ultimately, geopolitical dynamics.

            Covering a span of three hundred years, Feeding Victory focuses on five distinct periods of technological change, from the pre-industrial era to the information age. For each era, Turner presents a case study: the campaign for Lake George from 1755-1759; the Western Front in 1917; the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942; the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-1943; and the Battle of Khe Sanh in 1968. In each of these cases, the logistics of the belligerents were at their limit because of geography or the vast material needs of war. With such limits, the case studies give a clear accounting of the logistics of the period, particularly with respect to the mode of transportation, whether air, land, and sea, and reveals the inflection points between success and failure.  

            What are the continuities between eras, Turner asks, and what can these campaigns tell us about the relationship of technology to logistics and logistics to geopolitics? In doing so, Turner discovers how critical the biological needs of the soldiers on the battlefield, tended to overwhelm firepower, even in the modern era. His work shows how logistics aptly represent technological shifts from the Enlightenment to the dawn of the twenty-first century, and how, in our time, ideas have come to trump the material forces of war.”

The book can be pre-ordered for a 20 Feb 20 release at online books stores. It looks to be a great publication.

Making ‘self-reliance’ meaningful – preparing the military to operate alone

By David Beaumont.

The concept of ‘self-reliance’ has resurged in over the last few years.  I use the term ‘concept’ with meaning to separate ‘self-reliance’ from strategic doctrine. It truly is an abstract term and can mean a lot of different things to different commentators. On one hand it harks back to the Australian strategic policy of the post-Vietnam War years, but it has also been raised in recent debates about the limits of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) capability, or even the nations defence industrial capacity.  This narrow focus of this article is on the materiel aspects of ‘self-reliance’, and provides a starting point for a conversation that the ADF must have.

Discussions about self-reliance or military interoperability, like many other conversations among defence planners, infrequently begin with a conversation on supplies, maintenance and repair, or other logistics functions or capabilities. Often these conversations end when the scale of the logistics problem is revealed. Interest in ‘war-stocks’ has grown with commentators showing scepticism of the capacity of globalised supply chains to deliver. The ability of a military to conduct operations independently of another’s aid is intrinsically linked to the capacity to prepare, move, supply and support that force. But it would be a mistake to think that the ADF can go into a future large-scale conflict, especially one that tests the upper limits of its capabilities, without the support of others.

Australia’s military logistics is intertwined with the strategic fortunes of its coalition partners. Much of the ADF’s weapons, ammunition and components are acquired from other nations. We’re increasingly witnessing major capability programs producing weaponry in partnership with others. Interoperability  is exceptionally important for Australia and its allies to function with flexibility. It builds resilience within a coalition by creating new options for sustaining forces, and contributes to deterring potential aggressors who might otherwise act against an isolated nation. Naturally, even more effort should be applied towards improving interoperability.

It is, of course, prudent to be as self-reliant as practicable. The Second World War proved, even in a coalition conflict there will be times the ADF will need to ‘go it alone’ and sustain itself as our allies resources are drawn elsewhere. We should expect the same in the future. Uncertain times – where threats can manifest themselves quickly and from unforeseen quarters – require the military to be as prepared as possible to react at short notice. Waiting for a friend to provide the necessary supplies to deploy may be impossible. 

It is therefore important for planners and policy makers to understand, right now,  what the limits to self-reliance are. How else can good strategic decisions be made if the limits of the ADF’s combat effectiveness and sustainability are misunderstood?

Part of the problem with the contemporary discussion on national self-reliance is that it has been dominated by monumental problems; problems that are beyond the ability of most to influence. National fuel supplies, prioritised sovereign defence industries and national manufacturing capacity, economic resilience in an era of globalisation; these contemporary, popularised, topics give us pause to consider major national security concerns in a time of increasing strategic competition. They have been topics of interest to Australian governments and strategists for decades, beyond the period in which self-reliance was ensconced in the strategic doctrine of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, and to the interwar period where lessons from the First World War reminded them to be prepared for national mobilisation.

The ADF, its partners in academic, industry and government, are at a point where they can afford to be specific. Commentators should help to reduce problems to the point that are actionable by the groups that can devote time and effort to resolving the problems of self-reliance. Importantly, this discussion must tread into the deep, dark, recesses of Defence modernisation with questions asked as to how long our impressive new capabilities, from the RAAF’s F-35 to the Army’s Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle, can endure on the battlefield of the future when our friends are far away. This article will briefly touch upon some areas which the professionally interested will have to tread.

Logistics has long been regarded as a crucial component of military capability, and the supply and support given to armed forces a major constituent of operational success. Logistics constraints and strengths can shape strategy, determine the form and means of operations, and if given nothing more than a passing glance by military commanders and civilian planners, will prevent combat forces from ever achieving their full potential in the air, and on the sea and land.

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As we seek to answer the question, ‘what can we achieve on our own?’, a really difficult question to answer, solutions to our logistics problems and concerns must be front and centre. A suborned view of logistics in this discussion about self-reliance is way out of step with the strategic reality facing the ADF. In engaging with this reality we might see that logistics is, in fact, a strategic capability in its own right.

What are the big logistics challenges to confirming our limits and freedoms of action in terms of self-reliance then? I’ve already mentioned some of the primary national security and strategic concerns above. Without necessarily delving too deep into national security infrastructure, what is arguably more important are the political and policy levers which set in motion the national endeavours that ultimately manifest in military logistics.

In recent years we’ve seen defence industry policy renewed alongside strategic policy, we’ve seen the Services develop close and valuable ties with industry partners, and we’ve seen a commitment to sovereign defence industries. Only time will tell whether this will be enough in a time of significant crisis. It may be a time to seriously question what full or partial industrial mobilisation might entail for the nation – or more importantly how to actually do it. Many years ago the Minister for Defence held a ‘War Book’ which set the ground rules for the process of mobilisation at the highest national levels; while a War Book or a revised approach to national security apparatus might be worth considering, this should not stop the military from developing its own plans if it must ‘go it alone’. In fact, it is it’s job.

A productive first step may be found in the understanding of exactly how long the ADF can sustain itself for certain contingencies based upon the resources it has at hand now. At the military strategic level, the ADF’s capacity for ‘self-reliance’ will be measured in the time it can sustain operations without replenishment from other quarters. If it lacks the warstocks or support capabilities to sustain its materiel, the capacity of the global supply chain to support the operational requirements will be crucial. There are some commodities essential for our way of war that we can’t produce nationally such as precision weapons and ammunition.

The problem for Defence is that it is very difficult to determine how self-reliant the ADF might be while global supply-chains are opaque and Australia lacks the levers and economic scale to advantageously intervene in global markets. It may be that in a time of crisis traditional boundaries such as intellectual property rights will need to be challenged, industry capacity seconded to defence interests, and projects redirected in new directions at very short notice (see here). At the very least ADF and industry should discuss how industry ‘scales’ in parallel with any adjustment in the roles, tasks and size of the fielded force.

It’s impossible to talk about coordinating this activity without commenting on the nature of strategic logistics control in the Defence organisation. Because the problems are large, the ways in which concerns on self-reliance will be addressed will invariably be pan-organisational in nature. Commander Joint Logistics Command might be the CDF’s ‘strategic J4’ or key logistics commander, but he or she must partner with the Capability, Acquisition and Sustainment Group, Estate and Infrastructure Group, the Services and others within what’s called the ‘Defence Logistics Enterprise’. Further into the military organisation, there are operational commands and those headquarters responsibility for preparing force (what might be called ‘force-generation’). Then there are a range of other units and users of resources.

Each organisation naturally has a different perspective as to what ‘self-reliance’ means, and there is always a risk that Defence will have difficulty identifying where its preparedness risks and opportunities truly lie in this context. Quite clearly the analysis of what the ADF’s ‘logistics limits’ are requires a coherent effort with solutions achieved through mutually supporting activities conducted across the organisation.

In the 1990’s, the ADF developed a prescriptive ‘Defence Strategic Logistics Planning Guide’ – a ‘Chiefs of Service Committee’ level document – that provided explicit guidance to each organisation contributing to national defence. This guide was based upon the ‘Chief of Defence Force’s Operational Readiness Document (CORD)’ that stipulated the scenarios the ADF should prepare for, and hinted at what resources would be required.  Perhaps a similar guide, issued at the highest level,  before embarking on any future analysis.

The strategic level challenges to self-reliance might fundamentally shape whether the ADF could perform in the way intended, but we can’t forget the challenges to operational self-reliance either. The most significant operational-level challenge to self-reliance, I argue, is with respect to strategic mobility. The ADF regularly seeks operational-level support in terms of intelligence and a wide range of capabilities that a military of our size simply could not realistically produce.

Perhaps there will be a time in which very long-distance fires will overcome the geography between Australian and an adversary, but until they do to a level that satisfies the desired military outcome strategic mobility capabilities will be continue to be critical to the ADF. Until then, the ADF’s strategic mobility will be critical to achieving a persistent response (whether that be on land or at sea) to an offshore threat.

Lift aircraft, helicopters, watercraft are all necessary if the ADF operates anywhere within Australia’s immediate region. Most of our partners declare their own paucity in strategic mobility capacity which suggests that even if our future conflicts are shared, we might still need to invest heavily in order to meet our own requirements.

On top of the mobility capabilities themselves, the aircraft and the ships and the contracted support we can muster from the nation, we cannot forget the ‘small’ enablers that support a deployed force. In our recent campaigns in the Middle-east, we have been heavily dependent upon our coalition partners for the subsistence of our forces. There is a real risk that our operational habits may have created an environment which gives false expectations of the logistics risk resident within the ADF, especially when it comes to conducting operations without coalition support.

As the Services look to their future force structure, it will serve them well to scrutinise not only those capabilities essential for basic standards of life, but the wide spread of logistics capabilities are essential complements to their major platforms. These include over-the-shore logistics capabilities for amphibious operations, expeditionary base capabilities as well those elements of the force that receive, integrate and onforward soldiers, sailors and airmen and women into the operational area. These will enable the ADF to sustain forces that are working with neighbours, create force posture options, and give the ADF the flexibility to manoeuvre to where its forces are required.

You don’t have to deeply analyse Defence logistics to understand that self-reliance is underpinned by the ADF’s – if not the nations – capacity to sustain and support its operations. The comments here are certainly not revelatory, nor are the allusions to the limits of ADF’s capability particularly surprising. For the ADF to be effective in a major war there is still a way to go yet, irrespective of whether it deploys within a coalition or not.

There is every chance that even if the ADF does deploy as part of a coalition, it will still be necessary for it to have a capacity to support itself. It is understandably important that we have a conversation about the limits to self-reliance in the current time of peace and think deeply about establishing the policy infrastructure and organisational arrangements that will enable us to make good judgements on what the ADF can or can’t do alone. Without doing so we risk logistics capability being reveals as a constraint on ADF operations, not a source of opportunity and the well from which the joint force draws its strength to fight.


This article is an expansion of an article originally published at ‘The Central Blue’ in 2019.

 

Logistics interoperability, deterrence and resilience – why working as allies matters now more than ever

By Todd Ashurst and David Beaumont.

In 2018, Australia and the United States finished celebrating ‘100 years of Mateship,’ noting our distinguished history of operating alongside each other since World War I. A key factor of success in our early engagement was thanks to logisticians. Ever-resourceful and seeking to give commanders and their combat operations the best chance of success, logisticians drove a support culture across the Western Front and enabled cooperation and combined arms action on the battlefield. This has continued throughout the decades to the point that it is rare that the two armies do not support nor assist in sustaining one another at the tactical and operational level whilst deployed. Doing so has offered opportunities, force multipliers, and enabled ‘coalitions of the willing’ that might not have existed had partners had to operate independently. As a consequence, we invest considerable time and effort discussing and improving combat service support (CSS) interoperability through forms like Army 2 Army staff talks, as well as many other regional; engagements, with outcomes ensuring increased effectiveness, efficiency, and preparedness.

While the emphasis toward CSS supportability has served both armies well for the last twenty years, it has potentially limited our view of interoperability to standardizing doctrine, preparing interoperability handbooks, and enabling tactical integration. This emphasis must now expand to face the needs of the next twenty years. We believe that in a contested and competitive strategic environment, at a time where preparedness will differentiate a relevant military from one not so, true logistics interoperability will be a strategic strength. Both the U.S. and Australia, and their partners, need to now concentrate on concepts, behaviours, and agreements which create resilience and redundancy through integration and opacity of strategic sustainment capability and capacity. What follows are a few ideas that our armies should consider as they modernize to meet the needs of the future.

Why is strategic logistics interoperability important to us now?

Strategic logistics underwrites preparedness by resourcing the military machine (and therefore future options of military commanders) while tying directly into the economic power of the nation-state. The logistics and sustainment arrangements made now determine what is practically possible when military options are ultimately required by governments. This understanding is of vital importance, as we are unsure where and when military power will be required. The Australian army recently released the futures statement Accelerated Warfare in recognition of the strategic uncertainty Australia faces, with the Chief of Staff of the Army describing partnerships as a way of contributing to success in times of competition. Effective logistics supports the development of offsets and deterrence pre-crisis and empowers flexible responses during one. Military partnerships exponentially improve the depth of logistics capacity available, creating force posture options that may not have existed before, shape regional capability, and influence long-term commitment through the sharing of organic and non-organic national industrial capability. Interoperable and integrated logistics networks, capabilities and systems can be leveraged to create situations of tremendous advantage.

Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman, combatant command director for Logistics and Engineering at U.S. Central Command, recently wrote on the importance of strategic logistics. “Nothing creates the flexibility for deterrent options and decision space more than national logistics that are underpinned by a vibrant, thriving economy that in turn is linked to partners and allies …” (p21.) He saw this outcome being delivered through preparing the environment with regional partners and ensuring the right coalition resources were in the right place at the right time; and by pursuing opportunities to strengthen alliances such that partners are able to provide one another support. Partners who conceive of logistics as a shared capability can more flexibly “develop, produce, deploy, distribute, store, and execute the acquisitions, logistics and distribution that underpin successful deterrence.” More specifically, interoperable forces will have greater redundancy and resilience in allowing a response than they might ever have had alone.

It is easier, of course, to provide a case for improved logistics interoperability than it is to deliver it. There are numerous barriers to logistics interoperability. The Australian and U.S. armies, as well as other partners, operate an enormous range of different materiel with different sustainment requirements. They’re bound by different procedures and constraints, some of which are based upon government industry and economic policies. Each defence force has different priorities, demonstrably different capabilities and capacities, and unique needs that must be met. Aligning multiple strategic logistics systems to work effectively without disrupting that of a partner is unequivocally an art. Improving the way a coalition may sustain itself, as difficult as it is, is a reflection of a capacity of that coalition to be operationally meaningful, if not sustainable. What follows are suggestions on where the Australian and U.S. armies may wish to start.

How can we improve resilience, redundancy, and relationships through strategic logistics interoperability?

Firstly, we can look at the direct benefits to the Australian and U,S, armies through interoperability. It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that the first step to achieving greater logistics interoperability is to embrace strategic self-reliance. There are two principle reasons why this is the case. The first is that each army must ensure its bespoke capabilities are appropriately supported such that coalition resources do not become essential for these capabilities to be operationally useful. Secondly, a level of self-reliance is warranted to ensure that when forces do deploy, they can be sustained effectively until the coalition’s strategic sustainment system is active. The objective in both cases is that neither army becomes a logistics liability for the other, but better coordinates effort where it is most required.

Partnered armies must be prepared to share knowledge concerning logistics capabilities and resources and must signal one another when a shared supply chain is likely to be required. Strategic risks must be examined collectively, and both armies must be open about problems that afflict the supply-chains and processes that impact upon the materiel each army depends upon. This will assist in identifying areas in which each army can best contribute, with resources and responsibilities earmarked for later use. Triggers and demand signals might also be agreed upon, allowing partners new ways to alert each other to logistics needs or opportunities. All this must be exercised; it is noteworthy that the Australian and U.S. armies do not presently share a major strategic logistics exercise in which to consider how they might respond, together, in a crisis. Without testing the collaborative logistics enterprise, it will be difficult to conclude where the most pressing problems to address are.

Integrated approaches to sustainment should, where possible, become normal. Interoperable acquisition and sustainment programs would see planning increasingly global but provision potentially local. Investment or clear demand signals of sovereign industries to credibly contribute to meeting coalition as well as national demands would support the development of regional capability, providing alternative and potentially shorter supply chains. This would also makes it easier to assure delivery. A new approach to intellectual property (IP) rights is warranted, allowing for greater flexibility within a coalition and transparency across the supply chain writ large. This may require both armies to accept a greater level of risk in their materiel worthiness regimes to allow for greater sharing in componentry or commodities. But this risk is rewarded by diversifying supply chains for common parts manufacture, repair, or refurbishment providing greater strategic resilience and operational sustainability. Perhaps it is time to move beyond industry resource base recognition to combined planning and execute national industry options in order to become a truly shared, integrated endeavour. If one nation struggles with insufficient capacity to manufacture or produce, then clear demand signals and ready IP access would enable trusted nations to supplement supply chains for each and other trusted allies.

Neither the U.S. or Australian army, nor the defence forces they belong to, can achieve these outcomes without government policy in support. Political and policy levers must be in place to set in motion endeavours that manifest in interoperability outcomes. Negotiation will be required between governments to facilitate non-indigenous support of materiel. Barriers will need to be reduced, especially those that influence export controls or any other regulation that constrains the ability of either army from establishing business arrangements with the other. The corollary is that more flexible regulations will need to be put in place to allow defence industries to work across national borders. This will induce greater sharing between defence industries underpinning land forces, enabled by policies allowing the sharing of technologies, techniques, and skills between the partner nations. Strategic logisticians must provide a way forward to governments on these issues.

Finally, we can look to interoperable strategic logistics as a way of supporting national and regional security. Success in regional strategic competition must include a logistics component. Logistics, as a critical component of ‘setting the region’ in that it normalizes consultative and respectful long-term behaviour, supports the capacity of regional partners to sustain themselves and helps with the establishment of economic infrastructure. For example, Australia has recently established a $1 billion (Australian dollar) export financing agency to assist developing regional industries. In doing so, mutually beneficial supply chain options are created, and a grounding in logistics interoperability can be established. Similarly, continued effort towards refining ‘Mutual Logistics Support Arrangements,’ ‘Standing Offer Panels,’ and host-nation support arrangements can also enhance the capability of regional partners and any military coalition.

The environment is such that we need to not only broaden our views on what constitutes the ‘national support base’ or ‘defence technology and industrial base,’ but create action to enable the benefits of close national relationships. If strategic requirements necessitate us imagining greater interoperability, it is similarly important that the same apply to the leveraging of national industrial capability and capacity. As we wrote above, it is important that the Australian and U.S. armies are able to operate independently, and with national resources available to suite the contingencies and crises that demand this approach. However, it is equally important that we have considered how national resources can be better integrated to more effectively and efficiently respond to threats to shared interests. A coalition can ill-afford ‘logistics fratricide’ by competing for available resources, driving up costs and increasing supply chain risks, particularly when seeking the support from allies and partners critical to success in a time of competition.

Interoperable logistics

Interoperable logistics creates strategic resilience and responsiveness. However, it will not be improved unless we take time to resource its achievement. The U.S. and Australian Armies, and their many partners, have concluded that interoperability is operationally important. All have a proud legacy in supporting one another on a wide variety of operations. It is important that interoperability should now take an increasingly strategic tone at a time where we are preparing for the next operation. Improved strategic logistics interoperability is not a way to avoid the development costly logistics capabilities. It’s a way that partners can support one another more readily, giving them options before, during and post-crisis that they may not have had before. In a particularly competitive strategic environment, this approach is not only important but patently necessary, and a means to gain advantage over potential adversaries.

Even as a smaller military with a lower scale of logistics capabilities, the Australian Army can meaningfully contribute to a broader coalition effort especially within its immediate geographic region. It may be possible that another partner deploying nearby can more readily draw upon Australian resources to avoid vulnerable global supply chains, and vice versa. A strategically wise approach to interoperability is one in which problems are shared, resources efficiently planned, and key acquisition and sustainment are decisions are made such that the right support is delivered, in the right place, as fast as practically possible. Logistics interoperability will create a new source of leverage at a time when every strategic advantage may just make a tremendous difference.

This article was originally published in the Jan-Mar edition of the US Army’s ‘Army Sustainment’ professional journal as ‘Logistics interoperability, a value asset, strategic enabler’. It is published here with permission and can also be found here. 

Logistics In War in 2020 – resilience and the future of logistics

By Editor.

It is the purpose of this blog to instigate and inspire, continue and create, a discussion on military logistics that is so often sorely lacking. Logistics in War’s vision is to be broadly applicable; to reflect the many different approaches to logistics as practiced by different military Services, the Joint domain, and militaries of all persuasions.

Logistics is not only a problem for the military. There is a role for the government official, bureaucrat and policy maker, the industrialist, the professional. Their efforts constitute a part of the greater whole despite the differences in modes of thought or methods of action. Rules and procedures will vary for each, as will the language used to convey ideas and concepts. For the military soldier or officer, or the defence public servant, they will exist in a field of military business unlike any other; where such a range of methods and activities will infringe upon their own daily activities in preparing forces or sustaining operations. But it is in the national interest that all who contribute to the logistics process – the ‘bridge’ between the economy and combat forces – be sensitive to the many needs, interactions and ideas that define the process. This requires effective communication and awareness.

Logistics can appear a tangled obscure mess, a system of activities both complex and complicated. It is difficult to find principles and rules of thumb that guide planners or mobilise national economic capability to military ends. Context contorts the expected into reality. There are no definitive sources of information confirming what works in every instance, so we must approach the topic with a broad frame of mind, seek information from one another, and explore ideas from various sources. Theory is important. Experience is valuable. Histories are vital. Concepts are critical. All help in the understanding of relationships – cause and effect – that supports good decision making in peace and war.

Logistics in War will continue to publish articles in 2020 – its fourth year. The principle theme of 2020 is operational and strategic resilience of military forces. The site will also endeavour to publish articles concerning the ‘modernisation’ of military logistics – capability development and technological opportunities that will make a difference to the way in which militaries will operate.

More generally, the site aspires to be a ‘space’ where ideas about military logistics can be published, and a means to share valuable knowledge across a broad community.  Arrangements to share posts relating to logistics are being pursued, and a pace of articles will be maintained. I encourage all to contribute.  The site maintains a significant social media presence, its articles widely read, and provides an opportunity to stimulate professional debate and discussion.

Best wishes for the year ahead.

 

 

 

 

The realities of logistics and strategic leadership – Part 2

By David Beaumont.

Over the next month we’ll be publishing a number of popular posts on as broad a range of topics as possible.

In late 2017 I published a post of anecdotes, observations and lessons given by senior officers contacted through the course of academic research. These insights were given by logisticians, but not always, and pointed at many of the issues transforming Defence logistics over a period of nearly thirty years. The conversations continued throughout 2018 and continued to highlight significant, strategic, challenges which define Defence organisations even today, and point at the transition leaders must make 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’.

The disclaimer provided in 2017 applies:

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.

Logisticians and the ‘spirit of the age’

Defence logistics has been in a paradigm shift for the last thirty years. These times are difficult because of the pace of change, the absence of an equilibrium, people get ‘lost’ and do not know how to proceed. Outdated ideas become a refuge.

The ‘age’ is defined by the mobility of people and knowledge, dispersal of production, changing customer expectations, technological bypasses for conventional processes, short product (capability) cycles that are used for strategic advantage, cross-functional and networked organisations, alliances in shared efforts.

Trends of this ‘age’ include the move from strategic planning to strategic thinking, structure to process, physical assets to the integration and use of knowledge, single to multi-skilling, and hierarchy to networks.

The behaviours required for success in this age are cooperation rather than confrontation, cross-functional versus functional, integrated opposed to aligned, and collaborative rather than autonomic.

Success in logistics, as in any venture in this time, requires Defence to be able to take information stored passively in people’s heads and to make it accessible, actionable, useful and explicit. This applies to human and organisational knowledge.

Logistics in the Defence context:

The logistics viewpoint is essentially that of the commander, not of technical specialists.

The cardinal sin of logistics is over-insurance.

Defence financial management is a major limiting factor on progress in all areas, especially logistics. Poor standards of management and inappropriate accountability will compromise preparedness.

Defence is a command economy where resources are allocated, and capabilities are developed, in an environment distinctly different from the corporate environment. There are no market forces, no profit imperative, no capital market test, and consequently, surpluses and deficiencies are inevitable.

The single-most important relationship (human or not) in Defence is between the capital and operating (sustainment and discretionary) budget. Strategic transformation orbits this relationship, as does force structure, capability and preparedness.

Defence logistics activity is, for the reasons above, not a high-performance activity. Areas of excellence are discrete, and often temporary.

Many logistics managers do not realise they are running a business. Many leaders do not provide these managers with the skills to do so.

The concept of a ‘core organisation’ is foreign to a military culture that often links ownership with capability. In the tactical environment, this plays out in approaches to command and control. In the strategic environment, this plays out in organisational fragmentation. In the logistics environment, this plays out in how logistics managers perform as a body of essential staff, surrounded by contractors and others.

Longstanding logistics knowledge shortfalls exist in supply chain management, financial management, performance management, quality management, technical configuration management, risk management, competitive tendering and contracting. A lack of knowledge in systems engineering exacerbates logistics inefficiencies and other knowledge deficiencies.

Logistics, and the management of Defence

Senior officers are prepared to manage training and operational activities, but are rarely prepared to manage militaries as large, public-sector, institutions. Not only have they been ill-prepared in terms of managerial competencies, but they are often saddled with outdated management systems.

Because of the upbringing of military officers, there can be a tendency of some to consider senior management and logistics as a peripheral task. The problem is that at its foundations, Defence is a business like any other.

Most senior officers are not developed with an understanding of logistics other than how it applies to the combat force. Defence has never really settled on the question, ‘how much should they really know?’

Culture and change

The Defence strategic ‘sub-cultures’ which impact on performance could be summarised through the terms ‘warrior’, ‘policy’, ‘technology’ and ‘management’. Each can be categorised further in Services, Groups and organisations at all levels. Successful change requires leaders to actively avoid destroying sub-cultures, instead harnessing them through common goals and aligned objectives. Furthermore, it requires the diversity in thinking by ensuring teams are built on a span of ‘sub-cultures’.

In the context of Defence culture, external ideas – though completely appropriate – might be impossible to realistically implement. For this reason, it is important that ideas are ‘adapted’, not ‘adopted’.

Successful reforms in Defence logistics have been brought about through culture building (the difficult part), process and structure design (the easy part), and competency development (the forgotten part).

The objective of change in logistics should be to resolve excessive and sustained pressure on people, gaps in workforce competencies and to overcome highly decentralised decision making more than any other reason.

Senior leaders have a choice when embarking upon their agenda – do they conduct a brutal, sweeping, transformation or do they strive for continuous improvement? Transformation is pursued through a grand plan, initiated with a ‘big bang’, and usually aimed at a reduction in costs. Continuous improvement initiates experimentation and evolution but can include consolidation and the development of competencies.

The fact that transformation in logistics, and in other areas of Defence, is often imposed is revealing. Long term change in logistics, however, should be continuous in nature.

The difference between ‘brutal’ transformations and continuous improvement can be seen in the implementation. Transformation is led through direction, adjustments to process and structure and external advice is used to provide solutions (consultants and others). Continuous improvement is defined by a participative approach, building new cultures, and is supported by external agents.

The key to success in delivering change in Defence organisations is action. Too many have been taught to talk, too few have been taught to act.

The ‘knowing-doing gap’ is a result of:

  • Not knowing what the problem is. This is a consequence of poor strategic communication, but also a willingness to listen.
  • Perceptions of disempowerment, whether this be real or not. Disempowerment can be bred or defeated through leadership and example.
  • Change is difficult and frightening, and the effort costs individuals.
  • The propensity to compromise progress with talk; long and loud, ridden with platitudes and cliché. Language and engagement can be used to delay.

‘Smart-talk’ is negative and destructive. Be cautious of when pessimism sounds profound, and optimism sounds superficial.

Complex language is never better than simple words. Fashionable terms that no one really understands, or ill-defined questions, make progress difficult. However, never confuse ease of comprehension with ease of implementation.

Emotional intelligence is critical for organisational success. It is defined by self-awareness, self-control and the ability to suspend judgement, empathy, motivation and social skills. Credible leaders:

  • Face up to their personal strengths and inadequacies, beliefs and prejudices.
  • Reflect on their own reasoning (self-awareness).
  • Explore the reasoning of others (empathy).
  • Make their own reasoning visible through communication in all forms (social skills).

One emotionally unintelligent person among a group of competent individuals can lead to incompetent group performance.

Conclusion

Logistics might be nine-tenths of the business of war, but it is virtually all the business of peace. Defence logisticians must recognise who and why they are, and what they need to become. Yet, as described above, logistics is a command perspective – and not a technical viewpoint. It is defined by approaches to leadership, to change, and by the vagaries of human behaviour.  My conversations confirmed that many senior leaders had wished they had known more about organisations or thought of logistics differently. It was evident that most problems they encountered related to organisational management more than they did to stewarding the logistics capabilities and organisations under their care. In fact, many of the issues which burned in contention among the junior and mid-ranking staff, issues including force-structure, organisational design and policy, merely smouldered in the minds of senior staff and commanders. Solutions came from commanders and logisticians thinking about how technical, specialised, functions could be effectively combined, and the way in which processed and organisation could be bent through changes to culture.

 

The realities of logistics and strategic leadership: lessons from the ADF’s senior-most logisticians – Part 1

By David Beaumont.

Over the next month we’ll be publishing a number of popular posts on as broad a range of topics as possible.

I have been extremely fortunate to interview a range of senior military officers and public servants through the course of academic research in 2017. 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.

[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]

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

By David Beaumont.

Over the next month we’ll be publishing a number of popular posts on as broad a range of topics as possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EX Predator's Run 18

The response

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

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

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

EX Predator's Run 18

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

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

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

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

–        Thomas Kane, Military logistics and strategic performance

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

[2] Ibid., p 9

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

National support now – how Defence might prepare the national support base for a future war – Part Two

By David Beaumont.

Other than times of clear national emergency, the Australian population does not perceive national security as a ‘bread and butter’ issue … For its part, Defence generally persists in categorising its peacetime and contingency engagements with the civil infrastructure as discrete entities rather than only as variations of the level of support it requires.

Addendum to the Report of the Defence Efficiency Review, Chapter 8, p 172

In Part One of ‘A new narrative for the mobilisation of a nation’ I described the concept of national support, and the creation of an Australian Defence Force (ADF) agency responsible to deliver on the concept. National support gives the self-evident notion that the national support base is intrinsic to the conduct of military operations coherency. A national support concept was created in the 1990s to show how the ADF and Defence writ large would, in theory, see the national support base better integrated into the conduct of military operations. The Defence Reform Program of 1997 led to the creation of a Headquarters ADF National Support Division (NSD) to oversee national support and better posture the military, if not the nation, for a time of strategic uncertainty in which responsiveness and adaptability of strategic logistics processes and capabilities were vital. We are in a very similar time, and Defence has very similar needs. The concept of national support has a place in this period.

Here, in Part Two, a way forward is described.

The National Support Division (NSD) was folded three years after its establishment, and the national support concept it’s represented buried within a new organisational dynamic. The establishment of the Defence Materiel Organisation in 2001 saw the Division disbanded, and its functions reallocated across Defence. While assurances were given that the national support agenda would remain alive in successor organisations, there’s little hard evidence that a unitary concept for national support ever existed twenty years later.

One major problem faced by Defence in reconsidering national support comes with the fact that the accountabilities and responsibilities for delivering an output are dispersed within Defence. A directorate exists within a Joint Logistics Command’s Strategic Logistics Branch to deal with national support issues; with other tasks performed within the Strategic and Intelligence, and International Policy Divisions of the Department; Capability, Acquisition and Sustainment Group; and a variety of other across Defence. Although the ADF might have a well-defined ‘strategic J4’ to advise the Chief of the Defence Force on strategic logistics issues, and numerous senior leaders desire better national support for Defence activities and increased levels of preparedness throughout the national support base, the increasing impetus we see given to national support base coordination should be accelerated.

There is reason enough to have another look at the concept of national support, even without prompts from Defence senior leaders. The strategic order is in flux, Western nation’s previously unimpeded strategic freedom of action is under pressure, acquisition and sustainment processes are constipated, vulnerabilities and gaps within defence industries and national infrastructure are increasingly conspicuous – the list goes on. Strategic planning is now required to overcome these impediments to create a national support base and Defence enterprise that is responsive to rapidly changing strategic circumstances. As the national support base effectively extends beyond borders, this national endeavour must also include international force posture and logistics considerations. There is always a need for likeminded nations to optimise the logistics arrangements between one another, because not even the mightiest can sustain major combat operations alone. Furthermore, coordinated logistics cooperation with neighbours can be critical in shaping the security environment and assist greatly in ‘setting the theatre’ if competition and conflict are to come.

So where do we begin? As mentioned above, and a problem with the original formulation of national support, Defence and its partners need to settle on the litany of terms, doctrine and jargon that will inevitably shape later conversations. An acceptable, modern, definition of national support might also be accompanied by clarity with respect to terms such as ‘force scaling’, ‘force expansion’, ‘surety’, ‘preparedness’ and even ‘strategic logistics’.[1] Perhaps we might even want to ponder the implications of the current ADF definition of mobilisation before a concept of national support takes shape:

the process that provides the framework to generate military capabilities and marshal national resources to defend the nation and its interests. It encompasses activities associated with preparedness, the conduct of operations and force expansion. Mobilisation is a continuum of interrelated activities that occurs during the four phases: preparation, work-up, operations and reconstitution.’

This use of mutually acceptable terms will help to remove confusion in the interaction between agencies, partners and others. In doing so it will help in attempts to identify the right authorities to respond to each part of the collective problem. This understanding must also be accompanied with an acceptance that non-organic national support base capabilities are as vital to national security as Defence logistics and other military resources. This acceptance goes beyond the too narrow notion of industry as a ‘fundamental input into capability’.[2] Wars are won by whole-of-nation efforts, not military activity alone. Although Defence may begin as the stewards of the idea of national support, there will be a point where any resolution to this systemically national problem will have to driven by others.

Defence, inclusive of the ADF, has a great deal of internal work to undertake. It might start by reviewing what NSD tasks and functions should be afforded a second life. It will have to identify who is responsible for delivering these national outcomes. Secondly, to enable the national support base to respond to a crisis Defence must be armed by a range of mechanisms that enable ‘it’ to better define what operational requirements it is supporting. Perhaps the most important task will be the aligning of processes, and strategic logistics activities in particular, to collective needs. In other words, internal to Defence activities will need to be seen as not only as meeting capability and preparedness requirements, but as tools that can shape and mould the national support base to meet the unforeseen.

A rigorous, well-crafted and sensitive communication strategy will be required, as will cultural reform, because national support is a concept that can be influenced by Defence but not wholly owned. It is a national security issue. Finally, if Defence is serious about the need to consider topics such as force expansion, let alone mobilisation, it must understand the level of national capability which presently exists to support the Defence effort in a time of emergency. Once it defines the strengths and weaknesses, limitations and constraints, of the national support base it can be a proactive partner working with others to resolve them.

Why national support matters now

A variety of Defence leaders have challenged members of the ADF, the Department, and partners to think through the problems associated with how national security needs might require all to adapt to the unexpected. For example, the idea of ‘force-scaling’, as advocated in the Australian Army, has many connotations for those national support base partners who contribute to military success. [3] Defining what ‘force-scaling’ is the first step! It is, however, only one thought among many that needs to be properly integrated in a ‘big picture’ strategic idea; an idea that provides overarching principles and themes to guide planning and behaviour across the national support base. To that end Defence is armed with the benefits of corporate knowledge and a repository of information available within its own archives and captured in the diaspora of documentation that drives its daily business.

All of this aside, there is another reason the conceptualising, strategising and planning matters now. Western societies and their militaries are behind in their thinking about it. Concepts such as Chinese ‘civil-military’ fusion, a Government agenda which mandates dual-use civil and military technologies to be developed, reflect a mobilisation of the Chinese national support base. It is part of ‘setting the theatre’ by creating the conditions by which that nation can respond to its own crises or changes in the strategic environment. It shows evidence of a plan, or at the least, an approach to whole-of-nation efforts. Although the outcome may be demonstrably different, Defence and its partners should similarly work in a holistic national security endeavour to confirm the strategic logistics basis upon which it will draw the strength to protect Australia’s national interests. After all, it may just be that Australia is already within what is commonly known as ‘strategic warning time’. It will be too late to begin planning after any crisis carries the nation away.

David Beaumont can be found online @davidblogistics. The views here are his own.


[1] Australian Defence Force Publication 4 – Mobilisation and preparedness includes many of these terms but there are anomalies and contradictions within the definitions.

[2] Department of Defence 2016, Defence Industry Policy Statement, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p 19

[3] See Australian Army, Chief of Army Strategic Guidance 2019, Commonwealth of Australia, 2019, p 15