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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

You can find the primer here.

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

Originally published February, 2018.

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

By David Beaumont.

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

The first half can be found here.

What we need to be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we might become

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the future Defence logistician 

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

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

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

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

The logistician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we are, what we are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we are, where we are

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

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

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

A complex task

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

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


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

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

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

The second part of this transcript will be posted soon.

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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid., p 2-7

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

Six strategic challenges for Defence logistics

By Hayden Marshall.

In 2017, Logistics In War was privileged to have been given permission by the author to publish this essay. It is especially relevant to participants of the Australian and New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference and others elsewhere. Air Commodore Hayden Marshall was, at the time of writing this article, the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Director-General Strategic Logistics at Joint Logistics Command . You may remember his leadership insights from the post ‘Surviving your time as a military logistician’. The paper was originally prepared to support the professional development of ADF logisticians at the rank of Wing Commander, Commander and Lieutenant Colonel and beyond, and was produced in the interests of stimulating discussion and thought on a number of questions. It therefore does not reflect any official position.


As senior logistics officers in the ADF, you will soon (if not already) be placed into key positions that will require you to make important contributions to shape and influence Defence’s logistics capability to be ready to support our current and future military objectives. This will require you to develop new skills, improve your understanding of Defence priorities and gain a broader appreciation of the bigger picture.

The purpose of this discussion paper is to provide you with a collection of potentially unrelated, but relevant, future issues that you may encounter in your future roles. The paper should also generate a sense of urgency to encourage you to better prepare (or improve) your networks and connections to give you the opportunity to review and assess industry (or international) trends as potential opportunities for Defence. This will not be a simple task, but will be made easier with ongoing discussion and active debate amongst the Defence logistics community. Current indicators suggest that the Defence logistics system will need to be more flexible, more adaptable and more resilient than ever due largely to anticipated technological influences, which are already beginning to have an effect.

At the same time, many of the basic tenants of our logistics system will endure, as we will still need to purchase, transport, maintain, store and dispose of stuff – how we do it and how we make use of the best available tools will be the challenge. Through an assessment of the issues considered in this paper (and any others), against a clear understanding of performance requirements and operating constraints, you will need to determine if Defence should be a leader or a follower.

Digital Disruption 

Much is made of the trends in e-commerce and the influence on the supply chain. Many commercial customers are expecting same day delivery for consumables as part of a drive to reduce overhead costs; therefore delivery options need to be effective as stock holdings by users are often limited or non-existent. Amazon continues to explore the use of Drone delivery for small payloads within a limited range, with the realisation that it will be the price and timeliness that will capture the attention of customers. The use of ‘big data’ and ‘cloud’-based applications is becoming increasing prevalent as customers and suppliers understand the possibilities. An interesting quote from an industry observer:

‘It will be especially important for logistics managers to truly weigh up the benefits of leveraging supply chain information against the ability to implement improvements to their logistics strategy.’

Technology improvements will also see a focus on supply chain tools such as beacons and scanners to streamline retail purchasing transactions and monitor stock movements back to the warehouse. Real-time updates to inventories will offer improved situational awareness and the ability for timely intervention where required

The growing use of 3-D printers in commercial applications will have an impact for Defence logistics. The previous challenge of resupplying repair parts to forward deployed units will be replaced with the challenge of resupplying printing media (plastic and metal), along with the computer hardware and power systems necessary to operate industrial 3-D printers. Also 3-D printers require highly stable platforms to allow production of complex items to high tolerance levels, which may not be feasible for deployed units that are operating in austere conditions. The US Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is working on a program to ensure effective controls are in place for data packages that are only available to an endorsed network of commercial 3-D printers when they receive orders from US military units.

Access to reliable energy sources is necessary to operate current inventory management systems and supply chain hardware. Power outages in garrison or deployed locations already create problems and contribute to lost productivity. The criticality of logistics support to mission success will increase the need to ensure that appropriate back-up systems are in place to protect against accidental or enemy imposed disruptions to power supplies. Expanded use of power systems using alternative generating techniques (wind, solar, etc) may offer opportunities of “off-grid” solutions for both garrison and deployed situations.

Questions to consider: 

  • What are the trends from the retail/private sector that will have applicability in the military sector?
  • Is Defence well placed to monitor and understand future changes to supply chain management?
  • Who should be taking the lead to champion supply chain innovation in Defence?
  • Should Defence make more use of cloud-based opportunities for inventory management, as well as engagement with suppliers and coalition partners?

Cyber Security 

The “good news” stories associated with innovations in the supply chain generally have links to improved information management, computer software enhancements and more capable smart tools to deliver efficiency and effectiveness gains. The vulnerability of computer networks and smart devices to cyber attacks has received increased prominence, with several high-profile organisations subject to hacking and denial of service attacks. Many of our new Defence capability programs rely on participation in global logistics support programs which require an increased level of systems connectivity with external sources to process resupply requirements and provide critical performance data. The dynamic tension between open information systems to support timely data exchanges and the need for information security to protect national interests will be difficult to balance and will require significant work to understand relevant risks and mitigation measures.

We also need to be aware that potential adversaries are likely to have more than a passing interest in our logistics data. The successful aggregation of information from unclassified sources could provide insights into stockholdings and maintenance availability that could be areas of potential vulnerability or exploitation.

Questions to consider:

  • How does Defence ensure that commercial suppliers are adequately protecting their information networks?
  • What logistics information does Defence need to protect?
  • What are the implications for supply chain security resulting from potential cyber attack?

Globally integrated logistics

Our key alliance partner (USA) published a Joint Concept for Logistics (JCL) in Sep 15. The JCL “considers how an evolving Joint Logistics Enterprise could better support operations in a future characterised by the challenge of meeting unremitting strategic requirements with constrained military resources”. The concept proposes the use of globally integrated logistics to support future joint operations which will be characterised by the need to rapidly aggregate globally distributed forces to generate the required military effect. Globally integrated logistics is seen as the “capability to allocate and adjudicate logistics support on a global scale to maximize effectiveness and responsiveness, and to reconcile competing demands for limited logistics resources based on strategic priorities”. The logistics imperatives nominated by the US for the JCL are:

  • Global distribution network
  • Global readiness awareness
  • Responsive logistics planning capabilities

The realisation of this approach will likely require close engagement with coalition partners to identify opportunities to leverage logistics support from non-traditional sources. The recent increases in sealift and airlift capabilities in the ADF will not have gone unnoticed by the US, and whilst US military logistics capabilities are considerable, they may not always be positioned or available to meet responsiveness requirements.

Questions to consider:

  • What opportunities are potentially available for the ADF from the US JCL?
  • Does the ADF Joint Logistics Enterprise Strategy (2016-2021) – (ed. available to ADF members only – many apologies!) – offer sufficient direction to recognise US developments and develop complementary capabilities?

Valuing professional discourse

The pace and scope of technology-based changes that will impact supply chain operations in coming years will be significant. Maintaining overwatch will be important to ensure that the ADF continues to challenge itself and industry partners to pursue opportunities for strategic planning, innovation and continuous improvement. Commentary on Australian Defence logistics, internal and external, is very limited, so it is always intriguing to see a new title appear on news feeds. The recent Kokoda paper written by Gary Waters and AVM (Retd) John Blackburn, provided some interesting observations regarding the current state of Defence logistics and made recommendations regarding a lack of logistics strategy which in turn, inhibits efforts to emphasise the importance of Defence logistics to achieve Defence outcomes. The report starts with some very fundamental questions – what is Defence logistics and what does Defence logistics do? – which most Defence logisticians would expect are universally understood however, this would not appear to be case.

Waters and Blackburn also make a number of informed suggestions regarding future trends and drivers, as well as improvement opportunities. Interestingly, I have found no reference to follow-on discussions or debates in the Defence logistics community (or associated partners) that either support or challenge these ideas. Therefore, how do we value the contribution of these thoughts and ideas as they apply to the development of Defence’s logistics capability?

The value of public debate cannot be overestimated, provided that it is conducted in a professional manner. Effective debate provides the opportunity to consider credible options that may not be readily apparent and highlights areas that would benefit from informed research. Consequently, the field of operational research becomes increasingly important to be able to understand historical, political, economic and environmental factors as they apply to contemporary circumstances.

As another reinforcement of the struggle to gain main stream attention for defence logistics matters, a simple study was highlighted in a recent research paper.[1] The paper presented names of journals (US based) that had four or more articles indexed in ABI/Inform Global and Proquest Research Library-Business mentioning ‘military logistics’ or ‘defence logistics’ or defense logistics’ in the title, abstract, key words or text from 1952 to 2010. Details are shown below:

  • Air Force Journal of Logistics – 65 articles
  • Management Science – 15 articles
  • Military Medicine – 14 articles
  • Parameters – 11 articles
  • International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management – 10 articles
  • Journal of Business Logistics – 10 articles
  • Journal of the Operational Research Society – 9 articles
  • Public Administration Review – 8 articles
  • Journal of Public Procurement- 7 articles
  • Journal of Government Financial Management – 7 articles
  • National Contract Management Journal – 5 articles
  • IIE Transactions- 4 articles
  • Interface – 4 articles
  • Operations Research – 4 articles
  • The Journal of Military History – 4 articles

Of concern is the most prominent of the publications in terms of volume, Air Force Journal of Logistics, ceased publication in late 2012 with the disbandment of the Air Force Logistics Management Agency. Perhaps the “blogosphere” will replace traditional journals in the future and there appears to be plenty of room for new forums regarding defence logistics.

Questions to consider:

  • Should the ADF invest in targeted industry placements to gain an improved understanding of supply chain management from a commercial perspective?
  • Do ADF members understand the value of professional associations to enhance engagement with industry?
  • Where do you get your information to make sure that you are aware of contemporary logistics matters relevant to commercial and defence interests?

Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) 

Modern military theorists, encouraged by the ideas of William Lind, are citing the emergence of a new generation of warfare whereby sovereign states are losing their monopoly on war and future conflict will be linked to cultural, not sovereignty issues. The legitimacy of states will be challenged, wars will be undeclared and the contest will be more about the supremacy of ideas as opposed to traditional territory battles.

Third generation warfare is based on “blitzkrieg” or manoeuvre warfare following World War I. The tactics of speed and surprise to “bypass and collapse” enemy forces represent a significant challenge for military logisticians with high reliance on decentralised logistics to support dispersed forces. Therefore, what are the challenges of 4GW that need to be addressed by today’s (and tomorrow’s) logisticians?

An interesting observation by Parag Khanna, an international relations commentator, in his recent book where he suggests that supply chains and connectivity, not sovereignty and borders, will be the organising principles of humanity in the 21st century.[1] For both military strategists and logisticians, the challenge to understand supply chains and their dependencies will be important however, further consideration will need to be given to understand interests of other parties in the same supply chains.

With this in mind, how well do we understand our own supply chains? Through the work of Parag Khanna, I was introduced to some very interesting research by DHL through their Global Connectedness Index. The annual report provides a series of graphical representations of global trade volumes, information exchanges and financial transactions. These views confirm Australia’s vulnerability due to distance and stark economic realities as to where priorities lie. For a fee, there are some software products (e.g. Sourcemap) that provide end-to-end mapping of your supply chain that could provide a new perspective to identify risks and opportunities.

Questions to consider:

  • What measures need to be considered to ensure that supply chains are appropriately protected, as distinct to traditional military approaches of considering SLOCs, GLOCs and ALOCs?
  • Do our preparedness assessments appropriately consider supply chain variables?
  • Should the ADF be investigating the applicability of supply chain mapping tools?

Fifth Generation Hardware 

The ADF is presently undergoing the most significant recapitalisation of defence capabilities since WWII, across all three Services. Legacy fleets of hardware are being replaced by newer and far more capable equipment that will be managed under very different maintenance/support regimes. The recent announcement of the Naval Shipbuilding Plan provides a very clear indication of the proposed scale of industrial development activity that will significantly reshape capabilities in the two key shipbuilding locations of Henderson (WA) and Osborne (SA). The “industrial ecosystems” that will emerge in these locations are likely to present new opportunities for logistics support options.

The new defence equipment has less failures (comparatively) and periodic maintenance (preventative) does not need to be undertaken with the same level of frequency. The logistics support requirements for the future force will be fundamentally different to the logistics support requirements of the current force. Increased use of technology for systems diagnostics will ensure that maintenance activities are given clear direction and priority. In turn, supply support will be better informed of required stockholding levels. New materials offer improved protection and resilience for defence equipment. For many components, there is no intent to repair any damages, as it is cheaper and quicker to replace with new items. Nanotechnology is offering further opportunities for improvements in electronics, medical therapies, energy utilisation and environmental remediation that will also reshape logistics support requirements. Increased use of artificial intelligence will progressively replace many areas currently prone to error and bias that currently lead to sub-optimal results. In short, the future looks to be very bright.

Questions to consider:

  • What does this mean for the disposition of logistics support activities in the National Support Base?
  • What logistics support activities will continue to be performed by military personnel?
  • How do we make the transition to 5th generation logistics support?
  • Do we really understand the extent of change on the horizon for logistics support that is associated with new technologies that are no longer in the world of science fiction, but are today’s reality?

The six strategic challenges for Defence logistics

The list of challenges/issues/opportunities is not exhaustive – the intent of this and preceding posts is to stimulate thought and discussion – with a view to identifying other internal or external influences. Many of these issues are bigger than Defence, but we will need to develop plans that clearly identify how we intend to respond, along with an assessment of resources required to respond to the challenge. As a community, we need to develop the necessary policies, processes and tools that will provide operational commanders with the confidence that the Defence logistics system will be sufficiently resilient and responsive to support mission requirements. Increased levels of confidence provide the ability to more fully explore new and emerging opportunities to optimise the supply chain in all circumstances, while clearly understanding risks and vulnerabilities.

Hayden Marshall is a Logistics Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve, with considerable experience as a tactical, operational and strategic logistics commander and planner. At the time of writing this article he was Deputy Commander of the ADF’s Joint Logistics Command.

[1] Khanna, P., Connectography: Mapping the Global Network Revolution. 2016

Tyranny of the Easy Button: Finding Balance Between Contract & Organic Logistics

By Jessica McCarthy.

The third in a series of posts relevant for senior logisticians as they consider the future at the Australian and New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference. In this article, US Army logistician Jessica McCarthy examines a challenging, contemporaneous, issue for many Western militaries – how much contractor support is enough? 

This article was originally prepared in collaboration with ‘Over The Horizon: Multi-domain operations and strategies’, a blog which asks the question, ‘what comes after the Joint and inter-agency constructs?’ A great site containing forward-thinking articles examining the character of contemporary and future warfare, it is well worth following. 

Like many armies before it, the US Army has utilized the employment of civilians to enhance its operations throughout its history. Operationally engaged around the globe, the US military finds itself increasingly stretched to meet an intense and broad set of demands. With an increased operations tempo and cuts to budgets and force size, military contractors have shifted from supplemental to operational necessity. Contract support in both garrison and contingency environments is now not only common, but also expected by commanders. With this excess, however, has come increasing dependence on contract support as well as a decrease in utilization of organic military logistics both on and off the battlefield. The result is a growing military logistics experience gap, presenting readiness challenges for future battlefields on which contract support may not be a viable option. At some point, the money that enables contractor support will vanish or the military will be asked to fight in locations where contract companies cannot follow. Proper balance between contract support and organic logistics forces is imperative to ensure the US Army’s ability to meet the future demands of a multi-domain battlespace.

How We Got Here

While utilization of contractors is as old as war itself, the US military’s utilization of contractors grew significantly during the Vietnam War and continued to gather momentum through Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to 1992, the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), largely considered a contingency option of last resort until this time, grew in utilization as operational tempo increased, changing how the military relied on contracting support. Key considerations that led to the increase included:

–        the ability to respond to a major regional conflict,

–        the political sensitivity of activating guard and reserve forces,

–        the lack of Host Nation Support Agreements,

–        and the desire to maintain a relatively low US force presence.

With these in mind, contracting on the battlefield soon became more accessible and more acceptable, leading to contractor mission creep, as well as creep in the rules governing their use.

Soon, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs began asking if the Army may be using contractors without adequate consideration for the impact to military logistics readiness.

Mission Creep

While contractors do not participate directly in executing or planning military operations, they do fulfil needs essential to combat operations, and those needs seem to have grown over time. In particular, during periods of increased restrictions on the presence of military forces, reduced force numbers, and increased operations tempo, the Army turns to use contractors. With manpower limitations and increases in combat demands, Army leaders use contractors to provide logistics support to allow the military to focus on their kinetic missions. Operational commanders would much rather fill their ranks with combat forces instead of force sustainers.

Following the Cold War, reliance on contractors increased when the Department of Defense (DoD) cut logistic and support personnel. It became a slippery slope: the more the DOD relied on contracting, the more it lost in-house capability, leading to even further reliance on contractor support. In 1992, to bridge these growing gaps, the Army awarded the LOGCAP program to Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) and began using it to support Army deployments and other contingencies almost immediately.

Since that time, LOGCAP support has expanded in quantity and scope. Under that first 1992 LOGCAP contract, KBR went on to support US Operations in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, and Rwanda. In 1997, DynCorp won the LOGCAP II contract, supporting missions in the Philippines, Columbia, Ecuador, Haiti, East Timor and Panama. In 2001, under LOGCAP III, support returned to KBR which supported expanding operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Djibouti, Jordan, Kenya, Uzbekistan and Georgia.

During this time, KBR conducted the largest government services contract in US history with a previously unimaginable scope and scale. For instance, the major types of services provided by the LOGCAP III contract included:

  • Airfield operations
  • Ammunition storage and supply
  • Base camp operations
  • Communications and information technology
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Firefighting services
  • Fuel distribution
  • Morale, welfare, and recreation
  • Transportation

In the initial phases of these operations, military commanders had reduced budgetary constraints for contract support, allowing the steady growth of support requirements. The result was a substantial growth in LOGCAP operations along with the corresponding growth in costs: In operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans, contractors have comprised approximately 50% of DOD’s combined contractor and uniformed personnel workforce in country.

Furthermore, with contractor utilization becoming more commonplace on the battlefield, commanders began expecting similar support at home during exercises. During large-scale military exercises, it is typically less labour intensive for the military to outsource things like field feeding, lodging, and transportation of equipment. It saves headaches and late nights for the planners and sustainers, making it an easy choice for them to support. Unfortunately, these challenges are precisely the point of exercise training. This is the time for sustainers to hone their craft so that they become capable and confident in their ability to accomplish their mission.

Midway Image

Rules Creep

In the 1950s, a Federal Government policy stated that Federal departments and/or agencies should not be in competition with the private sector. Since then, there have been numerous revisions and amendments culminating in the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Circular A-76. A-76 outlines the guidelines and procedures to determine whether an activity should be performed with Government personnel or contracted out. Generally speaking, there are three procedural areas under A-76 that have evolved in interpretation over time to enable the growth of contractor support. The first has to do with the reliability of the calculations used to determine the savings generated. The second is the inadequate oversight capacity of the Federal Government over contractors. Lastly, it is difficult to determine the line between what is outsource-able and what is an “inherently governmental function.” As a 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted, reliance on contractors to support core missions places the DOD at risk for contractors to perform inherently governmental functions and results in the DOD losing vital capabilities.

Initially intended as a “last resort option,” contractors were to be used only after military and host nation support fell short in their ability to fulfil requirements. Soon, the guidance changed so that “LOGCAP, long considered the ‘source of last resort,’ can, per policy and doctrine, be requested when it is the ‘best value’ support option based on mission specific METT-TC factors.” This verbiage leaves much open for interpretation, especially when discussing the best value of services based on mission-specific factors. The application of LOGCAP is not affected by cost, if the justification is deemed reasonable.

Rebalancing and Rebuilding Organic Logistics

While contractors are an essential component to sustaining the Army, the US military desperately needs to set a new organic-to-outsourced logistics balance if it wants to ensure readiness for future conflict. Future conflicts will be not only be more complicated, but more complex, with land forces fighting in dispersed locations to create effects in multiple domains, while defending against multi-domain attacks. This environment requires a more agile and dynamic organic-to-outsourced logistics balance.

The question is how to determine the right mix of forces and contracted support to complete a mission in the most effective and efficient manner. Often, contracted logistics support may be the easiest choice. However, it is not a perfect fit for every mission nor does it provide the right solution for all skill and manpower shortages it is employed against. Like all things, when the military uses contract support in military operations, leaders need to evaluate the risks and benefits of each decision. Using a contractor does not ensure the desired performance in the same manner as using an organic Army asset. A key consideration in finding balance is recognizing that the Army and the contractor have inherently different interests. Army leaders must not forget its current and future core interests, balancing today’s logistical demands against maintaining a force capable of sustaining itself on austere future battlefields.

In addition, having the ability to use contract logistics support does not release sustainers from being able to perform their mission-essential tasks. For the US Army, the three sustainment warfighting functions are: logistics, personnel services, and health service support. All other warfighting functions (mission command, intelligence, movement and manoeuvre, fires, protection, and engagement) depend on their successful accomplishment in whatever threat context the Army is engaged in. Today’s military sustainers must have a strategic eye for what future battlefields will look like and how to shape and develop their force to meet the demand. They must find a balance between organic and contract-provided support that does not compromise the Army’s future logistics capabilities.

The US Army must revitalize its ability to support and sustain future operations while balancing the fiscal responsibilities of using contractors with the readiness benefits of maintaining organic logistics capabilities. In part, this means decision makers must roll back the mission and guidance creep described above, opting for increased utilization of organic logistics functions. Above all, sustainers must emphasize the importance of re-developing the processes, procedures, techniques, and training at the tactical level. Organic sustainment must be challenged and empowered to experiment, advance, and refine their craft during exercises just as their battlefield counterparts do. Ultimately, units must strive to enhance Operational Reach, Freedom of Action, and Prolonged Endurance across what could be a long, austere, and contested line of communication in a future fight.

One of the primary reasons cited for the DOD’s increasing use of contract support is “the need to compensate for a decrease in the size of the force and a lack of expertise within the military services.” In order for the Army to decrease spending on operational contracts and continue its global coverage, the military would need to increase instead of drawing down and fill the knowledge gaps they have created. Until recently, the Army was working to drawdown its force to 450,000 active-duty troops by the end of 2018. In March 2017, the Army announced it would instead grow from its force size of about 466,000 to 476,000 by 30 September 2017. An overall increase in troop numbers is promising, but it remains to be seen how much of that increase will benefit the sustainment community. Further, even if sustainment troop numbers were bolstered, it will still take considerable time to build the knowledge base Army Logisticians once had.


There is no argument that the US Army requires contract support to enhance its capabilities, especially when actively engaging in numerous roles throughout the globe. However, creep in both contractor mission and guidance on their utilization is eroding the Army’s logistical core competencies and degrading requisite skills and knowledge. Having the ability to use contract support to ease logistic operations does not release sustainers from being able to perform their mission-essential tasks. In future expeditionary operations, especially due to multi-domain considerations, it is unlikely the Army will be able to rely as heavily, if at all, on the abilities of contractors. Sustainers must have confidence in their ability to execute sustainment missions without contracted support. As Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee describes, “this means working on the fundamentals and doing those things that we have gotten away from over the past 15 years.” Sustainment does not just appear on the battlefield, or even in the area of operation. Without exercising the action of sustainment with organic logistic elements, the capability will continue to atrophy until the US military is unable to support itself in the future fight. The contractor logistics easy button may not be available on future battlefields; it is time the Army prepared for the hard work of sustaining the fight in that emerging context.

 Jessica McCarthy is a logistics officer in the United States Army and is a graduate of the Multi-Domain Operational Strategist program at the USAF Air Command and Staff College.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Surviving your time as a military logistician

by Hayden Marshall.

Ed. – With the Australian & New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference in one week, LIW will revisit several recent posts on logistics at the strategic (and enterprise) level, or within joint organisations. 

It is no wonder that logisticians are regarded as a humourless bunch for they have spent many years living in fear of Alexander the Great’s wrath (and his successors) that famously declared that the logisticians would be the first to be slain if the campaign fails. The prospect of a slaying often has the ability to sharpen one’s focus at the expense of missing the bigger picture. Our success as military logisticians rests directly with our ability to quickly and decisively understand the needs and requirements of our commanders. This can also prove to be challenging at times as commanders sometimes communicate in a manner or language that differs from our own and at times, under less than ideal conditions. Nevertheless, one must persevere and perhaps the best way for the logistician to regain the right trajectory is to adopt a couple of logistics mantras.

The inane value of a mantra is that it can be extremely flexible in its application and its pithiness can often be the key to capturing the understanding of a diverse, and sometimes, eclectic audience. This collection of logistics related mantras (which are my own) is offered for entertainment, debate and to perhaps to help lift the shroud that sometimes confuses how we apply our trade.

Logistics mantra #1: It depends.

This is not meant to be a cop-out, but rather an important recognition that variables make an incredible difference in the world of logistics. Accordingly, it is very important to ensure that the full extent of the situation is clearly understood. If not, the potential for a dissatisfied commander and a confused logistician is high, which will only lead to tears and an interesting conversation about future career options. To successfully address this mantra requires tact, diplomacy and sometimes the ability to read minds to support the development of feasible options. The military logistician must also clearly identify risks and threats to ensure that orders/instructions are made on an informed basis. Experience over many campaigns (successes and failures) will help to prepare one to recognise where more initial planning effort is required.

Logistics mantra #2: Are you sure?

The delivery of military logistics support is not achieved without the expenditure of resources – time, people, money, etc. Getting something for nothing does not ring true in any significant military activities, so before any reasonable amount of logistics resources are committed to a course of action, it is worth checking that commanders are aware of the full extent of impending liabilities. Importantly, this is not meant to suggest that one questions or attempts to second guess the authority of the commander, but rather recognises that it is not uncommon to have competing demands for scare resources. Therefore, effective prioritisation is required to ensure that scarce resources are applied in a manner that generates the best outcome. Gifted as some commanders are, they may likely require some additional assistance to understand logistics capabilities and capacity limitations to help to avoid an ugly outcome. Careful examination of requirements and discussion with the commander is important to get the right balance against the classic trade-offs of time, quality and cost.

Logistics mantra #3: It’s never simple; there’s always complexity.

If military logistics was simple, then everybody would be doing it and I could have spent the umpteen years I studied logistics doing something else. Simplicity is a principle of war to ensure the application of clear logic and skills to ensure that concepts, plans and instructions are presented in a manner that avoids confusion. Military logistics problems that appear to be simple often quickly spin into major dramas before you know it. This is largely due to the reality that the successful delivery of logistics solutions requires collaboration and coordination across multiple entities, many of which will be outside of your direct control. Giving a problem appropriate respect will allow the military logistician to project an image of calmness, whilst working furiously in the background to leverage from an extensive professional network to deliver results. People may think that Sun Tzu was thinking about combatants when he contended – keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. I suggest that he had been closely observing his logisticians and the manner in which they skillfully applied their trade.

Logistics mantra #4: Logisticians should laugh.

This has absolutely nothing to do with logistics and draws directly on an effective appreciation of psychology. The disarming effects of laughter (at an appropriate juncture!) can remove tension in a group and help to improve interaction. All being well, this should lead to better outcomes. A little bit of humour can also assist to reinforce the notion that perhaps the current concept being considered does not have a snowball’s chance of success from a logistics perspective. Humour also has the innate ability to encourage other parties to join the discussion and offer valuable input, where previously they were potentially intimidated or afraid to offer a view. In other words, humour can be an important leveler and bring key issues back to a more sensible perspective. Plus it also makes the work environment a bit more enjoyable.

Since the time of the Romans, and perhaps beforehand, the application of logistics has been a challenge for all concerned. The essential nature of military logistics and the need for skilled professionals to support the execution of successful military operations is rarely questioned. However,  it is sometimes necessary to remind folks to not take logistics for granted. The skillful use of a mantra (or two) has the ability to focus the attention of logisticians and commanders to maintain effective lines of communication to avoid confusion, misunderstanding and incorrect assumptions, all of which could lead to professional embarrassment or more adverse consequences. The occasional laugh helps to put things into perspective and while not in keeping with Alexander the Great’s description of his logisticians, the injection of humour at the right time can break the tension and help all parties get to the essence of the problem.

Do you have a mantra (or two) that you find helpful in the successful application of logistics?

Hayden Marshall is a Logistics Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, with considerable experience as a tactical, operational and strategic logistics commander and planner. He prepared this article while Deputy Commander, Joint Logistics Command, Australian Defence Force.