Start. Just Start – PME and the fear of writing.

By Rebecca Marlow.

Through the Logistics in War and over the past two years Dave Beaumont has been challenging logisticians to think and write about their profession. It is important to our profession that we have a robust discussion and challenge perceptions and conceptions there may be about our trade. Earlier this year he challenged all logisticians to write, which had me ponder, ‘why don’t we?’ Sounds easy right? We’re all subject matter experts and we have opinions. We also have a wealth of experience. This could have come from a deployment, or as a consequence of serving in the different units and headquarters of the military. Why then is it so hard write? What is it that stops us from tapping away at the keyboard and delivering our hard-won wisdom to the masses?

Logistics in War is one of a number of Australian resources that have sprung up over the past three years encouraging readers to invest in their own professional development, usually under the banner of ‘professional military education’ (PME). PME is not specifically tied to our career progression model, and I believe that it is really about encouraging all ranks to self-improve; becoming ‘better’ at their core roles and is of ‘essential value’ to paraphrase the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr. This interest in professional mastery is not restricted to military circles, and I have observed that many professions have started to take an interest, especially in the last decade or so.

The way in which Army ‘delivers’ its PME has changed significantly from when I was a junior Captain. The days of being assigned a reading and delivering a power point presentation on some supposedly relevant topic in the Mess as part of the Regiments’ training program for officers are but a distant memory. The proliferation of blogs, podcasts, websites and Facebook groups attest to the interest in PME across the globe.  This ‘Prezi’ at Grounded Curiosity just shows how big the network really is, and where unofficial PME can be found. As Army’s operational tempo reduces, its focus is returning to the education and professionalisation of our Army and not only ‘doing the job’. This is not about pseudo-intellectualism, but reflects the need to prepare one another for whatever possibility might come. PME is one way we can do this individually.

To make the most of PME, to encourage a conversation and ideas, I believe that we need to embrace both reading and writing aspects. Reading and expanding personal knowledge is easy; publishing a reading list is easy. I believe an aspect of true professional leadership is in the sharing of knowledge, and without writing and analysis of what we are reading we do not make the most of what we read. No one of us understands the whole picture and it is in the sharing their views that we can seek the contribution of others to make our own vision a little clearer.

There is opportunity in a group training environment to use writing to alleviate the group think that inevitably arises in discussion groups. Asking students to write an anonymous piece on their understanding and having others lead discussions on the article is one good method of training. Why should it be anonymous? I think that the reason people don’t write, don’t contribute to the sharing of knowledge, is because of fear. If all ideas can be discussed and presented without the fear of being proven less knowledgeable than we’d like, we might see a true ‘contest of ideas’. We might see a greater sharing of knowledge which could have more of an impact on our collective understanding of the issues that are viewed as important, or even change our understanding of what is actually important. By doing this even the quietest, most introverted person in the group has the ability to contribute to the conversation. Being quiet does not make a person’s ideas any less valid.

Thus I return to my earlier question, why then is it so hard to write? For myself it is fear. Fear that I actually have no idea what I’m talking about. Fear that my peers will laugh at my feeble attempts to articulate my ideas. Fear that, in fact, I am completely, totally and utterly wrong. What then is the solution? Start. Really, that is it. Just start. Write for yourself, write like no one is reading, because really, at the end of the day it is you that you are writing for. While there may be truth in ‘If nobody reads it, what’s the point?’ it is your own professional development and your own improvement as an officer and leader that you are seeking. It is your own ideas and understanding that you are unpacking and getting it down on a page will enhance your own understanding of what it is that you do. Sharing those thoughts and ideas may prompt someone else to do the same and grow our collective understanding and knowledge.

Rebecca Marlow is a serving Army officer.

Underwriting preparedness – considering the logistics of the future preparedness system

By David Beaumont.

One of the fundamental questions to answer when preparing a military for war is ‘are the capabilities on hand prepared for X?’. As mentioned in Limping to war: preparedness and its paradoxes,  Dr Thomas Galvin of the US Army War College proposes this question with the routine of military life in mind; the generating of forces, individual and collective training, assessing capabilities through preparedness management systems and conducting the frequent remedial actions to resolve temporary ‘gaps’ in capability. These ‘gaps’ might have come as a consequence of degrading materiel availability, the transition between outdated and newly acquired equipment, personnel issues among many other concerns. More insidious is the impact of the ‘paradox of more is less’ where training and other activities are ‘paid through evanescence and self-destruction’ as people and things tire.

The problems which appear in making ‘capabilities on hand prepared for X‘ are usually things that can be treated easily. Astute defence planners will flex and change the organisation to manage risk, reinvest where required or make decisions on force structure to address core problems. The Australian Army recently went through this process only recently with Plan Keogh, an activity that addressed personnel and materiel ‘hollowness’ throughout the combat and supporting force. What is less easy to treat is the logistics system which underpins the generation of capability. As I have said many times before, the quality of the logistics support given to a military is the sum of innumerable parts. From industry participants, to joint commands, to departmental agencies, to the combat forces, preparing and sustaining forces is a virtually incomprehensibly large activity. The actions of these participants is bound by policy and orders, command direction and doctrinal behaviour.

‘Logistics readiness’ is at the heart of military preparations for the unforeseen, especially for those militaries who consider themselves to be ‘expeditionary’ in nature. It has to be considered, and considered deeply, as the Australian Army thinks about its preparedness. The six characteristics of logistics readiness – mutual understanding between commanders and their logisticians, the balance between logistics and combat resources and elements, logistics plans and policies, logistics organisation, materiel readiness, and the requirement to test the logistics organisation – determine what is practically possible at the outset of war. Behind every major warfighting exercise, such as the recent Exercise Talisman Sabre or the successive multinational exercises underway in Europe, the logistics system is tested. Other exercises are more explicit in assessing readiness such as the ADF’s Exercise Northern Shield which requires a short notice response for a sizable military force into Australia’s inhospitable north west. The logistics system is tested even if in exercise planning uncomfortable truths relating to logistics capability are avoided to ensure the activity can proceed.

Collective training exercises are the culminating events for the ‘certification’ of forces, activities which nominally confirm the readiness of forces for potential operations, but they also reflect the preparedness culture of a military. Too often do these events miss assessments of the components of logistics readiness –  matters which are difficult to assess properly without time and resources. Instead those interested in preparedness look towards models to make the best judgements they possibly can about logistics readiness, or establish preparedness cultures that shape how logistics readiness is considered.  This article proposes two models – force availability and force employment-based models – and the impacts these models might have on preparing the military logistics system for war.

In supporting continuous operations for nearly two decades many Western militaries have adopted a preparedness model which emphasises force availability. This approach advocates an adaptable, modular, force structure which offers strategic planners options for whatever operational commitments eventuate. It is usually executed within a ‘force generation’ model whereby different units rotate into different stages of readiness, thereby allowing for lead-up training and the allocation of resources to enable them to prepare. For example, the Australian Army’s Plan Beersheba, culminating with the standardisation of the force structure of its three regular brigades and the inception of the ‘Force Generation Cycle’, offers the contemporary joint force commander a broad spectrum of combat and support capabilities that can be task organised as required. It is an exceptionally useful approach for long periods of sustained levels of operational activity where the mission requirements are relatively well known and an effective organisational routine can be established. Furthermore, because of its routine nature the costs of maintaining preparedness can be more easily determined than other models.

The logistical complexities of this approach to preparedness are well known to the militaries. To employ a modular force structure properly, you must have a good sense of the ‘slice’ of logistics capability that is required per combat unit across all levels of the organisation and resource, organise and train this ‘slice’ accordingly. Determining what constitutes a ‘slice’ is not easy given the basic assumption of this preparedness model is that forces are inherently modular, structures changeable, and capabilities scalable in terms of their size and capability. Yet if this ‘slice’ is not prepared and resourced adequately, force structures will be imbalanced, ad-hoc logistics arrangements will likely be required for operations, and the materiel readiness of logistics force elements will be compromised. It is ironic that a preparedness model based upon force availability is usually enacted because logistics resources are limited (and not just logistics capabilities) and require prioritisation. In this case, and as currently practiced in most Western militaries who are aware of the insufficiency in their enabling capabilities, the proportionally smaller number of enabling logistics resources and capabilities will be kept at a state of higher readiness for longer periods of time.

A second issue for logisticians relates to the administrative burden incurred in the constant variations of preparedness across the force.  The rotations of the usually limited fleets of vehicles and equipment, prioritisation of supply, and the changes in terms of the effort required to sustain and maintain combat forces in garrison as the preparedness cycle changes demands a high standard of logistical scrutiny. The greater the scrutiny required, the greater the managerial overhead that is needed. This scrutiny is not just a problem for the Services that may enact force availability preparedness systems, but other logistics agencies and units within the joint force that will be expected to contribute to the sustainment burden. Few Services would be able to provide anything other than a general overview of the many different Defence agencies and inputs, including support from industry with respect to maintenance of equipment or the supply of stores, that are ultimately involved in preparedness.

Alternatively, a  force employment model might be used as a defining methodology for preparedness although can be complement to the force availability method. This approach applies a range of arbitrary decisions on a preparedness scenario, made in the context of what capabilities are on hand for that particular scenario. It is there a gamble on the future, and is strongly linked to Galvin’s second question of preparedness, the problem of force modernisation and capability creation, ‘are the right capabilities on hand for X?’. 

The choice of scenario can be defined by strategic events or problems, or to enable a specific operational response such as a strategic mobility goal or a notional operational ‘type’. The former approach is a staple in forward planning for militaries, being practiced every day through exercises and training, and considered in concept planning and experimentation. It enables detailed logistics planning to occur, supports the tailoring of forces including the requisite logistics capabilities. For the logistician, planning is simpler as many predictions relating to distance, demand, dependency, destination and duration can be assumed and with greater confidence. Furthermore, it allows for the development of logistics processes that are suited to the required rates of effort and throughput.

Amphibious Task Group: Road to War

There are obvious risks in developing logistics systems to suit discrete activities and distinct operational scenarios. Although planners may have a good sense of what the future might entail, it is impossible to have a perfectly accurate vision of future warfare which enables an efficient and effective logistics system to be developed. The establishment of an efficient logistics system for one scenario may be viewed as a significant compromise when other problems are considered. The same applies for logistics readiness. It is usually impractical to do what most would like to do; prepare for the most severe event (such as near peer conflict) and develop a robust and adaptable logistics system that meets the challenge. This is prohibitively expensive in a time of peace as it requires the development of huge ‘warstocks’ and reserves, large logistics units across the joint force and a ready industrial sector that can quickly respond to military needs. Compromises are commonplace with this form of planning and while we might find combat forces are being rehearsed and prepared for certain contingencies, logistics capabilities are left relatively undeveloped and at lower levels of preparedness.

There is another form of scenario-based planning that is highly useful for drawing out logistics readiness problems that may otherwise lie hidden; to incorporate strategic mobility goals within the preparedness model. Rather than only identifying what forces might be available in a certain space of time, this approach considers what time a force becomes fully combat effective in an operational area. This naturally requires planners to have a good sense of logistics readiness because such readiness directly translates into a reduction in the time taken for combat forces to be effective. An example of this approach, as discussed in ‘Adapting Atlas: the cost of combat power part two’, is the US Army’s Stryker capability, a capability originally based upon an objective to deploy a Stryker brigade combat team anywhere on the globe in under 96 hours.

Mobility-based preparedness planning is useful for logisticians because it forces planners to consider the most logistically challenging phases of an operation – typically the mounting, deployment and early combat operations phases – as well as the movements and transportation of forces. Given transportation is often the most major limiting logistics factor on the conduct of operations, considering it as the means of achieving a mobility goal is highly important to producing realistic conclusions about force preparedness. Nonetheless, the usefulness of mobility objectives in planning suffers from the same problems afflicting any other form of scenario-based preparedness planning.

Militaries will define themselves on the basis by which they structure and prepare themselves, but they nearly always combine preparedness methods. For example, the Australian Army applies a ‘force generation cycle’ but also requires its ready elements to be prepared for a certain intensity of combat, and other elements on a force availability basis for domestic contingencies. It is unlikely that there will ever be a different situation.  Unfortunately for logisticians this approach to preparedness makes it difficult for militaries – especially at the strategic level of defence forces – to achieve a high standard of ‘logistics readiness’. Different approaches create complexity, and complexity challenges logistics systems that depend on certainty to be efficient and productive. It therefore becomes crucial for planners to understand what risks are being accepted in taking this approach, as it is equally important for them to focus upon those aspects of logistical readiness which will offer future commanders the most operational options.

What are the consequences if they do not? Firstly, the requirements of commanders across the military may vary thus confusing requirements and the mutual understanding between logisticians and commanders consequently. Secondly, it disrupts the logic which prescribes the right balance between logistics and combat resources and elements. Thirdly, it increases the quantity of policies and plans required to enable effective and efficient logistics processes, as well as making it impossible to establish the most efficient and optimised logistics organisation. Varying requirements make the allocation of resources to achieve materiel readiness difficult, especially in cases where numerous combat capabilities are afforded high priority. Finally, it makes it especially challenging to exercise and assess the logistics system when there is little certainty as to most important preparedness requirements. This issue exacerbates the issues generated by the avoidance of exercising logistics-intensive activities in many military exercises. In sum, logistics readiness is compromised, as is the preparedness of the entire force.

If militaries were exceptional at preparing themselves for war, we would not see the chaos and confusion that characterises the outset of conflict repeated throughout military history. Instead, a high standard of logistics readiness would ensure sustainment problems were addressed swiftly and effectively. Logistics friction would be non-existent. There would be no ‘logistics vacuum’ whereby the quality of sustainment degrades significantly immediately after war begins and until logistics forces can reconstitute. The fact is, however, militaries have been given a hard task in preparing for war. Every option taken in preparedness planning has connotations for logistics processes and readiness, and not all outcomes are positive. There is no obvious solution to logistics readiness until just before the first shots are fired, and much of the uncertainty is removed from the planning equation. By then, unfortunately, the die is cast and outcomes are set. At this point the question becomes ‘how resilient and effective are our combat forces actually going to be because of the logistics readiness that was achieved?’

This is an update of a LIW article, ‘Problems with preparedness – why we always seem logistically unprepared for war’, published in 2017.

Every logistician must write

By David Beaumont.

Logistics in War has been online for two years. This post, shared with the Australian Army’s ‘Cove’, gives three reasons why military professionals should write. It is based upon experiences learned from those eighteen months. The three reasons to write apply to logisticians in particular, for if logisticians are to be taken seriously, they must come, seriously, to the debate. Writing is valuable, and valued.

In 2017 Major-General Chris Field wrote of two reasons to write; education and humility. His insights were based on a view that ‘standard officer training, education and experience’ was not enough and that ‘doing more was a personal responsibility’. He regards ‘humility’ as coming from the recognition you do not know as much as you think you know, and that writing and learning lessens the gap between the two. I have read many articles on why, as a member of the profession of arms, it is important that we write. To be frank, I have felt that more people have been recently writing about writing and emphasising the importance self-paced professional military education than engaging in debate and discussion within military circles. However, I found Major-General Field’s comments articulated the two fundamental reasons I write, but probably more importantly, allude to the importance of self-research and self-education. I would like to offer some additional points for you to consider.

Before I do, and at the risk of self-indulgence, it is worth understanding where I have come from as a writer. Like Major-General Field, I have written extensively on my chosen topic area – military logistics – through blogs, journal articles and academic-level papers. While I get personal satisfaction in developing a deep understanding for the subject area, I have also found the writing has been professionally important to raise and discuss issues that may otherwise have remained cloistered away in an obscure logistics-oriented conference. I think the introduction to Logistics in War says it enough:

‘The conclusion is irresistible that the military themselves know next to nothing about logistics’.– United States Marine Corps Colonel George C Thorpe, Pure Logistics, 1917.

Logistics In War’ seeks to instigate and inspire, continue and create, a professional discussion on military logistics that is sorely lacking. Furthermore, ‘Logistics In War’ supports the development of an international community of military logisticians that can share ideas, concepts and useful material in an insightful, courteous and professional manner reflective of the values of the militaries and Defence organisations that its readers may serve in.

The act of writing, and experiences which followed, have absolutely confirmed to me that Army and Defence wants to read. It wants to learn, and where it might not have the capacity to innovate or alleviate systemic problems, it wants to understand where risks lie. Sometimes Army just wants to know what the question should be! This is especially relevant to the topic of logistics which has the real potential to destroy our operational plans, disrupt tactical execution and challenge Army’s sustainment budget if we fail to give it the attention it deserves. Although individuals may not see the value in writing, at an organisational level, I have found nothing but support from the Service and in Defence more broadly. With this in mind, I would like to introduce three ideas as reasons to professionally write.

It brings greater understanding, and from understanding, professional relevance

The importance of researching and writing as an activity of personal professional military has been described ad nauseum. It fills the gaping hole in our professional knowledge that the individual and collective training on offer can never overcome. Army will try to offer us all experiences as a compensation for the inability to prepare people any other way as they assume particular appointments, or ascend to higher ranks. However, this is usually not enough. The research and writing process, as Major-General Field describes, comes a substantial part of the way to identify gaps in knowledge, enabling us to respond to those gaps accordingly.

It is to your own personal benefit that you write. You will gain authority and respect for eloquent and literate debate on issues, demonstrating your competence in the most public of ways. Occasionally you will get a personal email of support, or contacted by a distinguished reader who offers you an encouraging word. Army desires writers from within the profession of arms, and has been quite active in recent years in facilitating constructive and considerate debate on a variety of topics. It is therefore a great time to contribute. Writing can be your opportunity to leave a mark on the Army, and a way in which you will be recognised for a permanent contribution to the profession of arms.

To write is to convince and influence

Another important reason to write is to influence and to convince others to see your point of view. In this regard there is a place for contemporary short form articles (blogs) just as there is for much longer and detailed papers and books. I believe we are in a time where both are required to balance quality and depth of content with the accessibility. If you seek to engage with, and ultimately convince, as broad an audience as possible, be prepared to do both. However, there is little doubt that a well-researched paper creates a greater gravity, and its contents considered with greater seriousness.

Don’t worry yourself with a fear that your work is not being read. I have had many conversations with people who contend that papers rarely get read, and that we should instead focus on making writing more accessible. The recent explosion of blogs including my own Logistics in War, professional military education sites such as The Cove, and other forms of ‘accessible’ writing are all part of this trend. Even then, there is always a niggling doubt as to whether material is being read, including in those times when social media analytics reinforces your concerns as to whether your work may be popular or not.

The ‘accessibility’ of your writing, however, is only partially relevant. What matters is who reads it, and the way in which your writing convinces. Reliability, quality and depth of information is often more important to an audience, especially if that audience is testing your credibility. Furthermore, it may matter more to convince and influence others and the organisation if greater effort is applied to your research and writing. If you are trying to improve your own ability, practice with short articles and work towards the long-term goal of producing a more substantial work. Writing, like most things, is a skill that you can improve.

It is part of organisational renewal

Writing for yourself is important for your own education. Writing to improve that of others is contributing to your profession. We are raised, and often measured, as officers by our ability to convince others through inspiration and engaging with our soldiers at a personal level. This is an essential aspect of command, which is rightly and irrevocably about people. Although memories and reputation follow us all through our military careers, the improvement of the profession of arms requires something more permanent. There is nothing more permanent than words when it comes to communication, especially when those words synthesise problems through research and lead to alternative points of view than the normal. Rather than convincing individuals, your team, even your formation, with writing you are contributing to something much larger.

If we no longer take the time to research and write, our understanding of war will diminish, history’s lessons forgotten, and our exploration of the future will be left to others. Army would be in a state of decline, bereft of intellectual debate or direction, and unable to break the hold of myopic ideas and outdated concepts. The Chief of Army recently challenged Army’s senior leaders (and by extension, all in Army) to consider what Army’s next ‘big idea’ should be. Discussion may be important, but the debate must be manifested on paper and by electrons if it is to encourage a broad-based renewal and stimulate collective involvement and critique. Many of Army’s senior leaders have already contributed to public discussion and support those that write. Take that as a hint that there is no better time than the present to contribute to blogs, journals or larger research papers which can influence, even if only in a small way, the future of Army.

David Beaumont is a serving Army officer. The thoughts here are his own. It was originally published in October 2018.

Call for submissions: #Selfsustain and High-Intensity Operations

Logistics In War is proud to partner with the Sir Richard Williams Foundation team at The Central Blue in publishing a series examining high-intensity operations and sustaining self-reliance.

On 11 April 2019, the Foundation will be holding a seminar examining this topic. The aim of the seminar, building on previous seminars and series looking at #jointstrike and #highintensitywar, is to establish a common understanding of the importance and challenges of sustaining a self-reliant Australian Defence Force in a challenging environment. In support of the seminar, The Central Blue will run a #selfsustain series to generate discussion and enable those that cannot attend the ability to gain a perspective on the topic.

Do you have thoughts on what #selfsustain means for Australia and its region? We want to hear from you!

Australia’s pursuit of self-reliant defence has always posed a number of challenges. However, competition – both healthy and unhealthy – in the Indo-Pacific is accelerating and intensifying, posing new tests and presenting new opportunities for the concept of self-reliance. Further, the increased sophistication and interdependencies of Australia’s defence capabilities have made self-reliant operations and sustainment more complex. The Williams Foundation seminar in April anticipates these challenges by focusing on the impact of high-intensity operations on self-reliance.

A more challenging environment demands deeper thinking and explication of what self-reliance means for Australia’s defence. Two principles appear apparent. Firstly, self-reliance must be sustainable if it is to be credible and, secondly, self-reliant sustainment must be coordinated across public and private sectors as well as with partner nations. Beyond these two principles, however, greater clarity is needed concerning the breadth and depth of sustainable self-reliance in Australian defence policy and the goals that it seeks to achieve.

Informed by clearer objectives, Australia’s self-reliance priorities must be evaluated in aggregate such that resourcing decisions can be informed by their overall impact on Australia’s freedom of action as well as their benefits for specific sectors. However, this aggregate picture is difficult to grasp when self-reliance can range from huge infrastructure projects, such as supporting the construction of new submarines, to small grants encouraging new research and development in Australian universities, through to the development of new operational logistics concepts that capitalise on emerging manufacturing techniques.

The #selfsustain series coordinated through The Central Blue, as well as the seminar, will seek to explore these issues thoroughly. Definitive answers are unlikely – but perhaps a better idea of the critical questions that must be explored will begin to emerge.

We welcome contributions leading up to the seminar to help shape the discussion, but we are also keen to read about how the seminar shaped attendees’ thinking after the event.

We encourage submissions from students, academics, policymakers, service personnel of all ranks, industry, and from others with interest in these issues

To help get you started, we pose the following topic suggestions:

  • What key insights regarding sustainable self-reliance can be drawn from previous conflicts and operations?
  • What are the impacts of Australia’s geography for sustainable self-reliance?
  • What role do domestic industry and commercial enterprise play in self-reliance?
  • What aspects of Australian Defence Force capabilities and operations should be priorities for sustainable self-reliance?
  • What roles should sustainment and enabling of partners play in Australian concepts of self-reliance?
  • In what areas can sustainable Australian self-reliance best contribute to partner relationships?
  • Is mutual or collective self-reliance within an alliance possible?
  • How do emerging technologies potentially enable or disrupt sustainable self-reliance in Australian?
  • How does the introduction of advanced technology systems affect self-reliance?
  • What are the unique challenges of sustainable self-reliance in a knowledge economy and for Information Age warfare?
  • What workforce challenges does self-reliance pose?
  • In what areas can sustainable Australian self-reliance best contribute to partner relationships?

We hope these suggestions provide some food for thought and prompt some discussion. We would love to hear your ideas on what issues should be explored as part of the #selfsustain series. If you think you have a question or an idea that would add to the discussion or know someone who might, contact us at thecentralblue@gmail.com.

Alternatively, you can always contact logisticsinwar@outlook.com. And remember – this issue matters to logisticians and commanders of all Services, and the questions answered in the context of many different militaries.


This editorial was originally published at The Central Blue, and has been slightly modified to suit this format.

Limping to war

Preparedness and its paradoxes

By David Beaumont.

‘Over time we lost strategic agility. Our units became hollow. Our ability to operate away from the Australian support base degraded dangerously. Our capacity to generate, sustain and rotate forces eroded. The tremendous efforts of all of the Australian Defence Force in East Timor concealed these deficiencies in the Army’s capabilities. But we learnt some important lessons during that deployment. We needed increased readiness, enhanced mobilisation capabilities, more and better strategic lift, improved logistics, improved engineering capability, better mobility, improved long-range communications and an ability to win water, distribute fuel over the shore as well as improved stevedoring and medical services.’

Chief of Army LTGEN Peter Leahy, 2004[1]

The importance of a high-level of preparedness to a military is self-evident. An unprepared military offers political leaders few options, corrupts strategy, is inefficient and ineffective, and poses a national risk. The term ‘preparedness’, or those associated with it such as ‘readiness’, is never far from the vernacular of senior military leaders – and rightly so.[2] It is mentioned as the first of five priorities within the Australian Army’s ‘Army in Motion’ narrative, just as it’s virtually the only priority for the incoming US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley (saying, in 2016, ‘there is no number two’). Given the frequency preparedness, readiness and other associate terms have been mentioned in recent years, it’s hard to avoid thinking that Western militaries have some pretty serious problems. For example, American commentators go so far as saying there is a ‘crisis’ in flagging a range of contemporary preparedness problems within the US Department of Defense including aviation incidents, capability gaps created with lower Defence budgets, and inadequate logistics support to the fielded force.

All militaries can be picked apart leaving deficiencies to be found, and some of these deficiencies might be particularly significant. But the reason these deficiencies are becoming problematic, and preparedness emphasised as an issue, is because of the changing nature of the perceived imminent threat. A comprehensive study such as the Final Report of the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Survivable Logistics, one which looks at the roots of preparedness in the logistics infrastructure of the US military, was really only possible when a potential adversary – either Russia or China – could be identified as being capable of ‘catastrophic destruction of military supply chains and deployment of personnel and materiel’. As those militaries who fought the coalition counter-insurgency wars of the Middle-east adjust to new strategic realities, new preparedness requirements have understandably manifested with capability gaps emerging as a consequence. Given it is virtually impossible to design an armed force that can perform every conceivable type of military mission, it’s understandable that preparedness would become a major problem at this time of strategic transition.

Being definitive about threats or objectives certainly helps in answering the question ‘is the military prepared?’ Nonetheless, it remains a question that is difficult to answer. As with logistics, there is no single owner of the preparedness problem and different agencies, commanders and Defence leaders will often view preparedness outcomes as it applies to themselves and their organisations. In practice, and as highlighted by Dr Thomas Galvin of the US Army War College, the question we are really asking two ‘rolled into one.’ [3]

The first – the one that military preparedness systems typically answer – is ‘are the capabilities on hand prepared for X?’ This is what daily life in the military is all about; generating forces, individual and collective training, assessing capabilities and conducting remedial activities to correct any problems or deficiencies. Galvin’s second question is ‘are the right capabilities on hand for X?’ As Even though the capabilities on hand might be ready, they might not be the right ones for the situation. Thus what we might call ‘modernisation’ or ‘capability management’, a process which applies prediction through acquisition, plays its part.

I contend there is actually a third question which may be extrapolated from the other two. The ‘logisticians question’ and one recognised in the doctrine of many militaries, is ‘can those capabilities be sustained for X?’ Planners may have predicted the characteristics of the war before them, with capabilities ready to meet the threat, but the ability to deploy and support those forces will ultimately determine their worth. The reason this is important is shown in the exceptions and qualifications given to recent operational successes. For example, it is widely accepted that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had little logistics capacity to sustain a large second-rotation force after intervening in East Timor in 1999. Similarly, a RAND report highlighted that while the US Army was nominally ready for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, there were real limits to the time in which high-intensity operations could be sustained – luckily, these limits were not tested.

Deployment_Limping to War.jpg

To answer the three questions requires different information, applied in different processes, usually with different management systems, with different decisions made by different leaders who value aspects of the problem in different ways. The ‘convergence’ of these questions can determine the success of the entire system of preparedness. This is because different preparedness requirements can be a source of competition for resources; modernising the right capabilities might come at the literal expense of the logistics resources needed to sustain them properly, or having the capabilities available at any given point of time. It’s a competition at the heart of perennial debates about funding the ‘teeth’ or the ‘tail’, the retention of ‘seed corn’ capabilities in militaries where the prospect for their use is low, and why periods of ‘bloc’ replacement of capabilities – right now for the ADF – are real risk periods for Defence organisations. This convergence might, in fact, be the strategic centre-of-gravity and the penultimate point of internal-to-Defence decision making and risk management. It is also what most strategic organisational restructures – such as the ADF’s 1997 Defence Efficiency Review, many of the acquisition and sustainment reforms undertaken in the 2000’s, or the more recent First Principles Review – are really about.

Preparedness systems are tension-ridden to the point of having paradoxical features. For the reasons mentioned earlier, trade-offs are common, and over a myriad of issues. For example, by limiting the issue of equipment or training to components of the force it might be possible to achieve greater things in other areas deemed higher priority. More significant is the paradox of ‘more is less’, where the desire to train in a way that approximates operations is paid through ‘evanescence and self-destruction’.[4] Routine exercises and training can achieve high standards of preparedness, at least for a time. There comes a point, however, where human energy is consumed, machinery is run-down, supplies exhausted and the performance of units begins to drop.[5] Accidents occur as risk tolerance increases and people and organisations are pushed to their limits to achieve results. Compromises made across the force create varied standards of preparedness, or obviate true assessments of certain capabilities, systems and processes.

Perhaps it is inevitable that militaries limp to war. At the very least it’s unsurprising that Martin Van Creveld could conclude that ‘most armies appear to have prepared their campaigns as best they can on an ad hoc basis’ in his assessment of logistics performance.[6] War is against the strategic planner when it comes to preparing forces. At any stage a Defence force might get any one of the three preparedness questions ‘wrong’, with consequences for the allocation of resources, interest or time. Alternatively, they could simply prepare for the wrong circumstance – or pretend they can prepare to a high standard for anything – and the entire preparedness equation can produce inadequate answers. The consequence of this could range from a delay to mobilisation as industry and Defence work together to fill a capability gap, or generate supplies and stocks to resource capabilities adequately, right to operational and potentially strategic capitulation.

The lesson from history is military staff have better uses for their time than imagining detailed ‘blueprints for victory’ well in advance of conflict.[7] Instead they should be focussed on the dull yet critical problems of mobilisation, identifying changing contexts, developing potential solutions to address preparedness challenges, and understanding the risks and limitations of any alternative options. Just trying to develop a coherent sense of the many variables that affect preparedness or mobilisation for war is challenge enough for any Defence leader and their staff appointed to the task; a problem made more difficult with the diffusion of responsibility for preparedness across strategic headquarters and commands. Peacetime should be spent establishing the organisational and logistics agencies and structures that enable a smooth(er) transition into conflict. There is no guarantee that the architects of strategy will heed the results of planning as events outpace the products of industrious minds, or proclivities and politics prevail. But the gruelling staff-work entailed in preparedness planning might just be enough to win in war.

There has never been a fine line between peace and war to simplify our preparedness and mobilisation decisions, nor will opponents wait until each other is ready for the fight. It’s clearly important to take preparedness out of the headlines and give the topic the attention it deserves. Indeed, this is why Logistics in War will focus on preparedness in 2019 – for many preparedness problems are grounded in logistics. This article has touched on several of the important concepts concerning preparedness, but as we know from previous articles, there are a whole range of factors which influence preparedness outcomes. The reality is that all actions within a military lead to preparedness outcomes, bar the warfighting itself. This means that it is well worth the effort to make sense of the issue today to not only advise senior civilian and military leaders, but to avoid the costs of poorly made strategic choices.

If you would like to contribute on this vital topic, please contact us at logisticsinwar@outlook.com

The thoughts here are those of the author, and do not represent any official position. David Beaumont can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics or LinkedIn. Images by the Australian Department of Defence.


[1] ADDP 00.2 Preparedness and Mobilisation, Department of Defence, Australia, p4-4, available at defence.gov.au/adfwc/Documents/DoctrineLibrary/ADDP/ADDP_00_2_preparedness_and_mobilisation.pdf

[2] In Australian doctrine, preparedness comprises ‘readiness’, the availability of a capability at a given point in time, and ‘sustainability’ which considers how long that capability can maintain the necessary level combat power. Terms vary in different militaries, and it’s always important to confirm definitions when discussing preparedness.

[3] Galvin, T., Military Preparedness, US War College, USA, 2005, p 1; available at https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/PDFfiles/PCorner/MilitaryPreparedness.pdf

[4] Betts., R., Military readiness: concepts, choices, consequences, Brookings, USA, 1995, p 70

[5] Ibid. p 70

[6] Van Creveld, M., Supplying War, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2004, p 236

[7] Betts., p 235

The LIW articles you should read – a 2018 retrospective

By David Beaumont.

As 2018 draws to a close, a year in which Logistics In War consolidated, it’s a good time to reflect on what were the most popular or relevant articles to the readers. Before I mention the articles, I thought it best to also reflect on the key themes covered on the site this year.

In Hoping and planning for the best: understanding war without logistics I outlined three themes for Logistics In War in 2018.  Firstly, the blog would continue its exploration of how strategy, tactics and logistics aligned in contemporary military operations. Secondly, articles would examine the professional needs of logisticians as they faced an uncertain future, and a time in which logistics factors for Western militaries are increasingly recognised as preparedness constraints and limitations. Finally, and with the preceding thought in mind, the blog would examine strategic preparedness and the way forces prepare for war.

These themes were complemented by other topics which sought to capture the thoughts of the moment. Such areas of interest included the relationship between militaries and industry, strategic planning, and emerging concepts such as the Australian Army’s Accelerated Warfare. The topics may have been broad, but I feel this breadth helped in response to the problem I described in that early 2018 article:

‘We are now in a paradigm of logistics that requires the military professional to adapt once more. Commanders wait pensively at the mercy of supply lines, hoping that the ability to operate austerely will return to their forces. Logistics efforts over the last decade have been defined by managing global supply shortages, complex distribution systems, a reliance on industry to act at short notice to meet procurement requirements and adapt products and services, and with little appreciation of the role that logistics would eventually play in shaping strategy and tactics. Will the next decade of operations display the same characteristics? If greater political and military value is given to logistics readiness and other topics prior to operations, perhaps not. The problem is that in a highly constrained discussion about logistics, our study of war is patently ‘incomplete at best, false at worst’. In a professional discourse flooded by strategists and tacticians, the academic and professional component invested in understanding logistics seems infinitesimally small. With inadequate knowledge of logistics and its timeless relationship with strategy and tactics it is understandable that we so often grossly underestimate its influence.’

There were, of course, a number of articles worth mentioning in particular. This may be because they were widely read or shared (the best achieving a share of over 2500 reads), initiated robust discussions on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or are simply editor / author ‘picks’. Why not revisit these articles?

  1. Bruce Gudmundsson’s Decision Forcing Cases for logistics: practicing logisticians to overcome ‘wicked problems’Bruce has been leading the use of case-method studies, now ‘decision-forcing cases’, at the Marine Corps University. In this article, he distils his experience and suggests how such ‘cases’ might be used in training.
  2. On the topic of training and professionalisation, How did we get here – building the Defence logistician: part one and What we need to be – building the Defence logistician: part two articulate the way in which the modern Defence (perhaps the term ‘strategic’ should be used) logistician is, and should be, created. These articles commend the need for professional leadership and an investment in education; taking advantage of a positive environment for professional transformation to make headway in preparing logisticians for the future.
  3. Defining strategic competition – when logistics becomes a strategic weapon, also shared at The Central Blueengages with the topic of strategic competition and the role logistics capability and capacity plays in giving militaries a competitive edge. Logistics gives options, strategic choices and above all, an ability for a military to respond to a prospective threat.
  4. The ability of a nation to launch an expeditionary military response is discussed further in ‘The furthest, the weakest – how logistics and distance influence national power. With all the talk concerning modern precision weaponry and strategic effects initiated by a range of new technologies and capabilities, all that really matters strategically is how much firepower can be delivered as quick as possible to an area of operation. This is a logistics dilemma.
  5. Finally, One hundred logisticians, one bullet and designing the future logistics system describes how important it is for militaries to have a coherent logistics strategy underpinning strategic preparedness. This article was one of the last from 2018, but was quite popular with ideas which resonated beyond the subject military (Australian Army).

As mentioned above, these articles are recommended reads for different reasons. In any case they should stimulate your own thoughts about logistics and how it influences preparedness and warfare. Moreover, as was my hope in establishing Logistics In War, the articles might just encourage you to contribute to this site – or any other – that nurtures a constructive discussion and momentum for positive change in militaries, as well as supporting the professionalisation of military logisticians.

Best wishes, and have a great start to 2019. Enjoy the articles!

—-

From Every logistician must write:

‘If we no longer take the time to research and write, our understanding of war will diminish, history’s lessons forgotten, and our exploration of the future will be left to others. Army would be in a state of decline, bereft of intellectual debate or direction, and unable to break the hold of myopic ideas and outdated concepts. The Chief of Army recently challenged Army’s senior leaders (and by extension, all in Army) to consider what Army’s next ‘big idea’ should be. Discussion may be important, but the debate must be manifested on paper and by electrons if it is to encourage a broad-based renewal and stimulate collective involvement and critique. Many of Army’s senior leaders have already contributed to public discussion and support those that write. Take that as a hint that there is no better time than the present to contribute to blogs, journals or larger research papers which can influence, even if only in a small way, the future of Army.’

Where competition, modernisation and capability meet

By David Beaumont.

Thankyou, once again, for supporting Logistics In War. The last year has been one in which logistics has featured in debates on strategic competition, advancements in modernisation, and with discussions on the professionalisation of logisticians. The site appears to have found its niche, filling a gap ‘somewhere’ between strategy, defence institutional performance and modernisation. I sincerely wish I had the capacity to do more, but if the feedback I have received is a measurement of success, I think Logistics In War is in a ‘good place’. The purpose of the site remains true to last year – it exists to discuss logistics, contest ideas and to generate professional awareness of a subject that generally garners interest after the fact. I hope it has met your expectations.

Advocacy and engagement is always important. One wonders, however, whether the real problem with logistics is in the way it is thought about, or at the very least, described. Western militaries have had such profound experiences of war over the last century or so that they could be expected to have moved on from the longstanding traditions and ideas about logistics. They have adapted and learned, but in many ways, logistics remains a very ‘industrial’ topic. No matter the lessons learned, it is still very difficult for militaries to admit, as J.F.C Fuller once did, that logistics is ‘the basis of strategy and tactics’ and tread further from centuries-old doctrinal roots.[1] It will be this way while logistics remains an ancillary science, a technique, an adjunct capability, or an activity practiced by cloistered specialists. It will be this way without a language that moves beyond contemporary doctrine and its focus on movement and maintenance. Most importantly, it will be this way while it remains an idea owned only by logisticians. Logistics is a problem for commanders who must take active interest in preparing and sustaining their forces in war; commanders who are – quite rightly – the decision-maker and operational arbiter. For this reason, logistics sits alongside strategy and tactics as one of the pre-eminent components of the art of war. It is part of the art of command.

It will likely be some time before the military’s intoxicating fascination with strategy is matched with one for logistics, and where we will see military reading lists hold authors such as Thorpe and Eccles with the same regard as Clausewitz and Thucydides. Militaries would do well to do so, for though war’s nature might be eternal, its characteristics have long since changed from the circumstances which gave us On War. Strategic competitors adjust force posture and preparedness, deciding whether to position forces proximate to potential adversaries, or invest in strategic transportation to improve expeditionary mobility. The building of islands, the nature of armaments, the forward deployment of forces and even the arrangements which allow nations to operate on one another’s territories are evidence of the stranglehold logistics has over contemporary strategy. Supply chains are now areas of great strategic risk, where the seams of the economy and military are vulnerabilities to be exploited by adversaries using cyber capabilities and other forms of intrusion.

Just as strategic competition has grown as a defining theme for the military mind, so too has the dramatic transformation underway in militaries. The wave of modernisation breaks over forces as they recapitalise for future conflicts, and we are increasingly realising that our logistics requirements are so vast, supply lines so complex and opaque, preparedness needs so critical, and that our form and function has irrevocably changed. Costs are so high to acquire materiel that militaries are consuming sustainment budgets in the early stages of procurement. New fighters and ships are becoming that difficult to sustain that strategic partnerships between like-minded nations are support their economic maintenance; these partnerships immensely relevant to the formation of strategic policy and conceptions of national strategic risk. In the pursuit of ‘increased lethality’ even the once humble soldier has become so well-equipped that new logistics burdens have emerged. The proverbial ‘Rubicon’ will be truly crossed once automation and robotics truly delivers. The time in which the ‘teeth’ could survive on the battlefield without a substantial ‘tail’ is long gone, and likely never to be seen again.

The future is not to be feared, but the logistician must adapt to the times. Into the mix comes the prospect of a new information-age, substantially changing the way forces are comprised and sustained. The future for logistics is one where supply is replaced by information, where knowledge enables decisions which lead to the right resource being dispatched to the right place at the right time. Logistics will be a vital part of the ‘digital spine’ which binds the force together. This basic idea has been at the core of innovation in logistics since the 1990s, captured in concepts such as ‘distribution-based logistics. We are, without a doubt, in a period where technology can meet our ambitions. In the future, more will be possible. Consider how artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will revolutionise logistics whether it be through automated warehousing, unmanned casualty evacuation or instantaneous data-sharing to support tactical logistics activity. Think about what the average logistician will be doing in this environment. Just as we are seeing the need for ‘integrators’ in the command and control function, staff who assist commanders by combining multi-domain effects into coherent tactical actions, we might need to see the logistician as a system manager and integrator.

While there is opportunity, there is also risk. There are options available for militaries to greatly improve the efficiency of their logistics and contribute to their combat potential and readiness as a result. They must, however, choose to make the investment. Unfortunately, capability programs which include updates to logistics information systems, equipment and personnel tracking, and more significant pieces of logistics equipment critically required, are often considered low priority in comparison to what you might see included in a list such as the ‘Big Six’. Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) offers a cautionary tale (see here) with respect to the partial implementation of logistics technology, where the digital logistics control network caused as much confusion as it solved problems. Logistics situational awareness is a critical capability for an effective, modern, military let alone a way in which commanders can be given information to assess operational risk. In exploring new technologies such as AI, we might – as US Army’s Director of the Army Capability Integration Centre – Lt. Gen. Wesley recently remarked – actually find that our biggest capability opportunities will come from their roll-out in the logistics domain.

So, it appears there are problems aplenty. I mention four different – albeit linked – areas and issues for logistics communities to grapple with not because they reflect failures on the part of militaries, or irreconcilable gaps in capability. My purpose is to highlight four areas in which, as a collective, we might consider. They are topic areas that are waiting for professional logisticians to claim, promoting new ideas and thoughts which lead to quality solutions. In doing so, we can make our own organisations and military forces more efficient, and as a consequence, more effective. Undoubtedly there are many more areas that as professional logisticians or interested military commanders we can be investigate, or themes we can engage with. Participating in discussion, or working to inform others such as decision-makers, is a way in which logisticians can contribute to mastering their own destiny. Thankyou for supporting Logistics In War throughout 2018, and being part of this promising future.

The thoughts here are those of the author, and do not represent any official position.

[1] JFC Fuller, The generalship of Alexander the Great, Wordsworth Editions, Ware, 1998, p 52