Far from Sanctuaries: Sustaining a Fifth-Generation Fight in the Indo-Pacific

By Donna Cain-Riva.

‘ Logistics In War’ and ‘Central Blue’ are jointly publishing the #selfsustain series. We welcome Mrs Donna Cain-Riva to ‘Central Blue’ and ‘Logistics In War’ to provide her valuable insights into how the Royal Australian Air Force is considering the #selfsustain challenges of operating a fifth-generation force in a competitive Indo-Pacific. This post is an adaptation of Mrs Cain-Riva’s presentation at the Williams Foundation’s #selfsustain seminar, held in Canberra on 11 April 2019.

Over the last few years, Logistics Branch – Air Force has pursued a dedicated effort to understand and respond to the sustainment challenges posed by operating a fifth-generation force in an increasingly challenging Indo-Pacific. This post summarises my views on the key challenges this effort has considered, and provides some insight into the Air Force’s response.

In 2030, air power projection locations in the Indo-Pacific, and our air bases across the entire national support base will not be sanctuaries. Future adversaries will have the ability to reach out and touch us anywhere in the world – physically and virtually. Sustaining fifth-generation capabilities in a future conflict will challenge every tenet of the logistics and sustainment enterprise designed to support them – from tooth to tail.

We must look critically at our sustainment and support constructs, and challenge our current paradigms of sustainment policy and practice. Our success depends on our ability to think differently, to think creatively, and to act with agility. We must redefine the notion of ‘self-reliance’ – take a contemporary, and arguably a realistic view, and understand the nuances and inter-dependencies between sovereign and collective self-reliance as part of a global alliance structure.

As the strategic outlook changes, and we introduce fifth-generation capabilities, we have an opportunity to redefine how we can enhance and sustain sovereign Defence capabilities through deep and enduring alliance and regional relationships. An integrated strategy— that identifies the priority capabilities that Australia must be able to sustain or sustainability contribute to— will give us the reach, flexibility and resilience to operate independently or as part of a combined operation in a high-end, high intensity conflict.

The Need to Change our Mindsets

So what does all this mean for sustaining a fifth-generation fight in the Indo-Pacific? For starters, it means moving beyond our current, or what I refer to as our ‘Middle East’ sustainment mindsets. With few exceptions, we have been, and continue to be, successful in sustaining our capabilities on operations. But if we are honest with ourselves, the prevailing threats were asymmetric, and far removed from the National Support Base and domestic Air Force bases.

A central component of the logistics scheme of manoeuvre prior to major operations in the Middle East was the build-up of support forces and infrastructure across the region. These hubs became a network that could be called upon to support a number of different operations, and were augmented by significant coalition, commercial and host nation support. Basing locations for Air Force systems were, for the most part, located in areas of relative safety. Air lines of communication flowed freely across the battlespace. Global supply chains were free to transport goods to agreed points within host nations. ADF supply chains would then distribute supplies across the theatre, largely uncontested.

Contracted commercial platforms supplemented ADF airlift capability and transported equipment directly into theatre. We leveraged coalition contracts for support, including for fuel and force sustenance at major bases. Demand generally did not out-strip supply and our operational rate of effort was tempered by known sustainment limitations. Operational contingencies did not demand more from our sustainment system than it could reasonably satisfy.

Logistics information systems were unaffected by cyber threats and data passed between deployed locations and the national support base with ease. The requirement to highly classify and protect logistics data was limited.

Operation Okra challenged Defence capabilities across the spectrum but it did so in the context of a theatre with established basing, distribution, supply chains and theatre networks. And no one was shooting at us! In sum, we were not self-reliant in the Middle East, but we did not need to be. The future may be different.

Characteristics of Future Conflict

So what are the changes when we look to the future with a focus on the Indo-Pacific? To put some context around the need for enhanced sovereign Defence capability, it is important to discuss the strategic environment; a changing landscape shapes every acquisition and sustainment decision.

In a high-end, high-intensity conflict, adversaries will seek to deny us access to physical and virtual areas of interest. This will likely commence well before the ‘red flag’ goes up. Adversaries will seek to hinder our ability to enter the area of operation; will contest our freedom of operational manoeuvre; will disrupt our supply chains; and challenge our defensive systems with multi-axis effects coordinated across all domains.

The distinction between ‘grey-hull’ and ’white-hull’ warfare will become increasingly blurred. A high-intensity conflict could be initiated with little warning; fought at a considerably faster tempo, and higher levels of risk to capability and the force.

Our air bases, deployed and at home, are likely to come under attack. Vectors may include; disruption to the logistics systems and communication networks, interdiction or sabotage of supplies and services essential for base functions and capability sustainment, and physical threats that will have increased range, speed, accuracy and lethality.

New Ways of Operating

A fifth-generation Air Force will operate differently in this environment. The viability of our new and emerging fifth-generation operating concepts are critically dependant on enhancing our combat support and sustainment capabilities, including enhancing sovereign options. Our advantage can no longer be based on the capabilities we possess, but rather, how we employ them. Agile and adaptive operating concepts will exploit temporal windows of opportunity to project and employ air power. We must build a network of power projection and basing options across the region to enable the necessary operational reach, flexibility and persistence. This must be underpinned by a resilient sustainment network that can rapidly respond to war-fighter needs.

This entails leveraging our natural geographic strengths, building infrastructure, growing regional partnerships, enhancing coalition engagement and cooperation, and developing synchronised sustainment strategies with our allies, as an integrated part of our deterrence posture. Australian Industry has a critical role to play.

We must be confident that we can BASE – FUEL – ARM – FIX – SUPPLY and MOVE the force in a high-end, high-intensity conflict sustainably.

Enhancing sovereign Defence capabilities for Collective Self-Reliance

We do not face these challenges alone. Our coalition partners and allies are equally challenged, and this presents an opportunity to enhance sovereign capabilities within a collective framework. Enhancing sovereign options, through collective self-reliance will help us to mitigate risk and manage our vulnerabilities, and offers Australia Industry exposure to broader markets and higher demand profiles.

Acknowledging Australia’s limited resourcing capacity for self-reliance, we must establish priorities for sustainable sovereign capability development. There is significant opportunity across the combat support, logistics and sustainment enterprise to enhance our collective self-reliance. The following are a few areas I believe worthy of consideration:

Firstly, BASING the force. We must think beyond military bases and consider how we develop a network of power projection locations within the national support base and across the region. Defence is investing significantly in infrastructure and facilities to support the Air Force’s new capabilities. We must continue to modernise and harden our infrastructure, as well as train and exercise to fight for, and recover our bases. Passive defence measures offer an opportunity for innovation. What does the next generation of camouflage, concealment and deception measures look like? How can we leverage emerging technology to rapidly initiate flexible or dispersed operations to preserve and protect the force?

Higher levels of risk may also challenge our high-reliance on contracted personnel to augment combat support forces. Perhaps it is time to reconsider service delivery models in order to ensure these arrangements can rapidly transition from a peacetime to wartime setting.

ARMING the force. The Air Force is pursuing enhanced munitions integration with our coalition partners. Interoperability objectives associated with munition preparation and aircraft loading are the first steps. But Australia could also play a greater role in the global development, production and testing of next generation missile capabilities. Improving trade relationships, combined with our key coalition partners stated objectives to leverage partner capabilities, enable us to challenge current export constraints and extant agreements that may limit our current role.

FUELLING the force. Australia relies heavily on imports for a significant portion of refined petroleum products. Are we confident in the ability of the market to surge and supply if regional stability and security degrades? We must seek to exploit emerging energy opportunities or enhance our sovereign energy production. Investment and innovation in fuel infrastructure, delivery modes, storage capacity, reserve fuel holdings, and diversification of the fuel supply chain are all worthy of further consideration.

SUPPLYING the force. Increasing the surety of supply and service by sustaining our capabilities through increased organic means, with reach back to indigenous and sovereign industrial capabilities, is a noble objective. But is this realistic where complex and diverse global supply chains dominant the landscape? There is significant opportunity to exploit advanced manufacturing and emerging technologies to disrupt traditional and geographically dispersed supply chain constructs, and to minimise the impact of shocks.

We must start by understanding where we carry supply chain risk and vulnerabilities. From a cyber vulnerabilities perspective, a significant portion of Defence supply chains are managed by commercial entities that may not be held to the same cyber security standards as the Department of Defence. Australian industry and the commercial entities that support the production, supply, warehouse and distribution of our equipment have a role to play in becoming more cyber aware.

FIXING the force. Global supply chains present many maintenance and support opportunities for enhanced self-reliance. The Air Force is pursuing enhanced maintenance integration across common platforms with our coalition partners. Interoperability objectives associated with aircraft repair and cross-servicing’s are progressing. But Australia could also play a greater role in supporting regional maintenance hubs, as well as component manufacture, repair, overhaul, and the provision of engineering services.

By 2035 the global pool of F-35’s will be around 3000. As the global support solution continues to mature and evolve, including the establishment of regional maintenance facilities in Australia, there will be many more opportunities for Australian Industry to enhance its role.

MOVING the force. Agile and adaptive deployment objectives will drive smaller expeditionary logistics packages, requiring responsive resupply and distribution to meet dynamic operational needs. We must seek to optimise volumetrically, and exploit advances in technology and automation to develop modular, tailorable, scalable and lean force packages.

COMMAND the force. There are many opportunities to leverage emerging technology and innovation in order to enhance command and control, situational awareness, and to provide visibility of logistics capabilities and resource availability across the battlespace. Enhanced logistics command and control, supported by a common operating picture, will enable the sustainment enterprise to ‘sense and respond’ to dynamic needs. We must exploit and leverage advances in sensing technology, data analytics and artificial and augmented intelligence to predict, anticipate and respond rapidly to operational needs. This will provide us the power to process increasing volumes of complex operational and logistics information generated by fifth generation platforms and systems.


We require a broader understanding of the combat support, logistics and sustainment challenges we face if we are to prevail against increasingly complex and lethal threats. Logistics will be targeted, and our air bases will not be sanctuaries. These are global challenges, and they require a global response. This is an opportunity for Australian industry to expand its role as part of a collective self-reliance framework . We must harness the opportunity to strengthen our coalition and allied partnerships, enhance our relationships and access within the region, build shared capacity and capability; and in turn, enhance our sovereign Defence capabilities.

Mrs Donna Cain-Riva is the Director of Future Logistics Capability – Air Force. The opinions expressed are hers alone, and do not reflect the views of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.

Building on bedrock or sinking into quicksand – a report on Sustaining Self-Reliance

By David Beaumont.

‘Supply chain security continues to occupy our minds as we intermingle our desire for national prosperity through global trade with our desire to prevent the loss of native capacity to build military capability, mobilise and sustain operations. In this environment it will take little effort for nations to exert influence, or strangle the capacity of a nation to respond to threats militarily. War won’t always begin when the first shots are fired.’

The full report of the recent Williams Foundation seminar High-intensity Operations and Sustaining Self-Reliance‘ was recently published at the website ‘Second Line of Defense’. Author Robbin Laird has included an amalgam of conference papers, interviews and comments as a comprehensive summary of the challenge of making a military – the Australian Defence Force – as self-reliant as practicable. Moreover, the report alludes to one of the most important national strategic questions to answer, ‘how militarily self-reliant must a nation be?’

It is self-evident, and often repeated here at Logistics in War, that these questions have logistics undertones. In many cases the problems of self-reliance are exclusively logistics in nature and won’t be solved by un-resourced strategies and hopeful thinking. Indeed much of the seminar was focussed upon industry and the way in which national economic power is transformed by logistics efforts into military combat power and potential. This point was emphasised in my own presentation at the seminar (pages 25 to 35 of the report). So too was the need to push forward the discussion for we are really at the beginning of it:

‘If we are all serious about self-reliance, we must be serious and frank about the logistics limits of the armed forces, and the industry capacity of the nation ……. However, let’s continue the discussion by challenging some of the assumptions that we hold about logistics; that a coalition will underwrite our logistics operations, that the global market – designed for commerce not war – can offer us the surety of support we require, that we will have access to strategic mobility forces that even our allies believe they are insufficient in. No matter what type of war, there will be some things we must re-learn to do on our own. I am sure we can all here challenge ourselves and our beliefs – whether we are confident in these beliefs in the first place.

If we do not, it is inevitable that we will compromise the plans and policies we create, if not the logistics process more broadly.

Moreover, any neglect prevents us from minimising the ADF’s possible weakness with sources of strength or comparative advantage. Present day convenience will likely cost the future ADF dearly. In fact, we may find that it is better that Australia has an ADF that can sustain, and therefore operate, some capabilities incredibly well at short notice rather than aspiring to a military that spreads its logistics resources across areas where the prospects of success are much lower. Whatever we do choose to do, it will be important to bring defence industry alongside the ADF as the partnership between the two truly determines what is practical in any war, and not just one in which ‘self-reliance’ is on the cards.’

With this in mind, I encourage you to read the sum of strategists, logisticians, public servants, military staff and industry partners in Robbin Laird’s comprehensive report ‘High-intensity Operations and Sustaining Self-Reliance’.

The image above is Joint Logistics Unit – Victoria’s Bandiana heavy vehicle maintenance facility conducts repairs and maintenance to Army vehicles such as the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle, M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carrier and the M777 155mm lightweight towed howitzer. 

Editorial: Continuing the discussion on sustaining self-reliance

By David Beaumont.

As mentioned in recent posts, and supported by the collaboration between The Central Blue and Logistics in War, the Williams Foundation hosted a day-long seminar on the topic ‘Sustaining Self-Reliance’. The term ‘self-reliance’ has a special meaning for the Australian Defence Force (ADF), being evoked in strategic policy and as principle applied across a variety of logistics functions and activities. At the seminar there was little pretence that a military of the size and resources of the ADF could sustain its strategic and operational ambitions independent of its allies. Nor should the ADF necessarily aspire to resource such levels of self-sufficiency in the short-term. Instead, ‘self-reliance’ was seen as a strategic goal that would enhance the options available to defence planners, as well as a means by which it could better contribute as a future coalition partner.

The seminar will be the subject of a series of reports to be found on the sites www.defense.info and www.sldinfo.com. Other articles will be published at The Central Blue and here as part of the #SelfSustain series. In support of the ongoing discussion, editorials here will also point out some of the commentary as the topic is explored online:

In Reshaping Australian industry as a part of enhanced self-reliance and sustainability’ author Robbin Laird from Defense.info contends that ‘[w]hat is required is a shift from the heavy reliance on commercial logistics solutions to more robust mobilisation ones.’ He cites a presentation given by Wing Commander Alison McCarthy which advocated innovative ways in which to better link industry and Defence relationships into a partnership. A similar approach was proposed by Lieutenant Colonel Kieren Joyce with respect to the introduction of unmanned autonomous systems into the Australian Army.

The second article of a specifically logistics bent was published by ADM in an article titled ‘Can the ADF sustain itself on operations‘. This article is a brief summary of the four presentations which constituted the logistics component of the seminar. It includes a brief, but very relevant, comment from presenter Donna Riva-Cain:

‘We must move beyond what I call our Middle-east sustainment mindset …. [b]asing systems were located in areas of safety. Global supply chains were free to transport to safe logistics, where the ADF supply chain then moved them across the theatre. Demand did not outstrip supply. Logistics systems were unaffected in cuberspace. Operations in the Middle-east were supported by traditional supply chains. We were not self-reliant, but our experience did not demand it.’

What of the future? I mentioned recently that to suborn logistics is out of step with the strategic reality facing Australia and the ADF. In viewing the presentations of the seminar, this view seemed to be confirmed. In forewarning the contents of my own presentation, and any further articles, which may follow:

‘If we are all serious about self-reliance, we must be serious and frank about the logistics limits of the armed forces, and the industry capacity of the nation. …. let’s continue the discussion by challenging some of the assumptions that we hold about logistics; that a coalition will underwrite our logistics operations, that the global market – designed for commerce not war – can offer us the surety of support we require, that we will have access to strategic mobility forces that even our allies believe they are insufficient in. No matter what type of war, there will be some things we must re-learn to do on our own. I am sure we can all here challenge ourselves and our beliefs – whether we were ever confident in these beliefs in the first place.’

Further commentary and articles relating to the seminar mentioned above will be referenced as soon as they are made available. If you would like to make your own comments, consider submitting an article to either this site or ‘The Central Blue’.

5th-generation energy for 5th-generation air power

Editorial Note: On 11 April 2019, the Sir Richard Williams Foundation is holding a seminar examining high-intensity operations and sustaining self-reliance. 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 and Logistics in War will be publishing a series of articles. In this article, Nicholas Parker examines fuel security and potential impacts on a 5th Generation Air Force.

By 2025 the Royal Australian Air Force will operate a fleet of technologically advanced 5th generation aircraft. However, in modernising the RAAF capability, an inadequate amount of attention has been afforded to the fuel and energy infrastructure that supports these assets. In order to ensure these 5th generation capabilities are employed to their fullest, Air Force must capitalise on new and emerging energy technologies that enhance the support provided by air bases.

Australia currently enjoys what it thinks to be a high degree of liquid fuel security. Reports released by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism assert that Australia’s market based approach, ready access to the global and regional markets for crude oil and petroleum products, and efficient supply management by industry, has delivered secure, reliable and adequate liquid fuel supplies. Australia’s guiding principle is that energy markets should be left to operate freely, without unnecessary government intervention. To date, this approach has met the current operational requirements of Air Force and those of the broader domestic economy.

Whilst there are economic benefits to this approach, it discounts current trends in competition for energy sources and market dominance, threats to supply infrastructure, the impact of natural disasters and geopolitical uncertainty (especially in the Indo-Pacific region). An inadequate appreciation of these trends has created complacency resulting in a ‘stove-piped’ Australian energy policy; policy that does not appreciate the complexity inherent in future energy infrastructure systems. Consequently, energy security and supply is viewed through a ‘singular lens’; whereby the focus has been on discrete energy types with discrete global supply chains that are disparate, separately managed, and (most significantly) vulnerable.

Consider the following statistic: Currently 90% of Australia’s fuel supplies are imported; 40% as crude oil and the remaining 60% as refined fuels. In contrast to other developed nations, Australia is alone in its total reliance on ‘market forces’ to ensure secure access to the global fuel supply chain. Furthermore, Australia has no Government-owned strategic oil or fuel reserves, and does not mandate minimum stock holding requirements for the fuel refining / importing industry. These oversights induce significant logistics and operational risks to the delivery of Air Force capability. Should a significant supply disruption occur within key sea lines of communication (SLOC) within the Indo-Pacific (e.g., natural disaster, accident, commercial failure, act of terror or war), Australia’s capacity to provide fuel for its 5th generation Air Force is immediately jeopardised.

The National Strategy for Energy Security, developed by the United States Energy Security Leadership Council, offers a range of recommendations to counter the challenges created as a result of the current global security environment. The National Strategy is the preeminent document on the topic of energy security and calls on the US government to fundamentally strengthen a combination of energy security measures (Energy Security Leadership Council, 2016), including:

a.                   Support, rather than hinder, innovation in energy technology;

b.                   Major reductions in crude oil consumption by increasing domestic energy production;

c.                   Reforms to energy-related regulations; and

d.                   Transform the domestic distribution section so that oil is no longer its primary fuel.

Australian energy policy makers must undertake policy reform that is reflective of the US approach, appreciating that the challenges and opportunities in energy security are global in nature, and remain cognisant of the significant implications an approximate policy approach has for Australia’s national security. To date, energy policy pundits have been relatively silent to the 2016 Defence White Paper’s acknowledgement of the strategic influence of energy supply chains and energy security on national defence. Whilst energy requirements and subsequent security has never been a key driver behind Australian defence policy, the Defence White Paper does raise the requirement to “improve Defence’s fuel resilience”. Further, when reviewing a critical infrastructure bill in March 2018, the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security made the following recommendation: “The Department of Home Affairs in consultation with Defence and the Department of the Environment and Energy need to review and develop measures to ensure Australia has a continuous supply of fuel to meet national security priorities.”

Adequate, reliable and economically competitive energy to sustain Air Force 5th generation capabilities and infrastructure must be seen as shared responsibility between Government and the Australian energy industry. The importance of a strong Government-industry partnership in addressing energy security challenges in the long-term cannot be understated. In the interim, however, there are a number of practical measures that Air Force and the wider Australian Defence Force can undertake to fortify the energy requirements of a 5th generation Air Force. These include:

a.                   Advancing the development of energy technologies by integrating contractual efficiencies for their use in warehousing and distribution contracts. In particular, create incentives for the purchase and use of medium and heavy-rigid distribution vehicles that use advanced fuel sources[1].

b.                   Use an Air Force and energy industry partnership to create performance-based advanced fuel standards in order to reduce traditional fuels consumption. Accelerating the adoption of advanced fuel systems[2] into 5th generation aircraft and military vehicles will reduce the logistics and operational risks to Air Force capability associated with the use of traditional fuels.

c.                   Empower Estate and Infrastructure Group to pursue efficiencies in airbase energy infrastructure with a view to create completely self-reliant airbases through, for example, the use of solar and wind systems.[3]

d.                   To support the aforementioned recommendation, establish an Air Force ‘Energy Security Research Grant’ to fund research and development in advanced fuel technologies for use in 5th generation aircraft, military vehicles and airbases.

e.                   Build an international consensus amongst Australia’s coalition and regional partners on the importance of shared responsibility and coordinated action to deal with future energy security challenges.

Air Force cannot remain ignorant to the interdependency of energy and national security as long as it remains heavily dependent on traditional fuels to power its 5th generation aircraft, military vehicles, and airbases. Despite a current abundance of supply, such dependence introduces operational risks and critical vulnerabilities to 5th generation air power. While innovation in advanced fuel technologies will require years to mature, through the combination of measures proposed in this article, Australia will move toward being more energy secure, and more self-reliant.

Flight Lieutenant Nicholas Packer is a Logistics Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. Nicholas is currently posted to RAAF Base East Sale as an instructor at the RAAF Officer Training School mentoring newly commissioned officers through their 17 week ab initio course. The views expressed are his alone and do not reflect the opinion of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.

[1] Advanced fuel sources are distinct from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power systems. Examples of advanced fuel sources include biodiesel, hydrogen cell, electric-hybrid, ethanol, natural gas and propane.

[2] Development of advanced fuel systems for use in motorsport has demonstrated high technical performance can be achieved from advanced fuel sources.

[3] There are a range of academic studies that have highlighted the value of hydrogen and pumped hydro-systems to store energy generated by solar and wind systems (Blackburn, Energy Security: Is there a problem?, 2018).

Delving into the dark recesses – how do we sustain self-reliance?

By David Beaumont.

Logistics has long been regarded as a crucial component of military capability, and the supply and support given to armed forces a major constituent of operational success. Logistics constraints and strengths can shape strategy, determine the form and means of operations, and if given nothing more than a passing glance by military commanders and civilian planners, will prevent combat forces from ever achieving their full potential in the air, and on the sea and land. As we seek to answer the question, ‘what can we achieve on our own?’, a really difficult question to answer, solutions to our logistics problems and concerns must be front and centre. A suborned view of logistics in this discussion about self-reliance is way out of step with the strategic reality facing the Australian Defence Force (ADF). In engaging with this reality, we might see that logistics is, in fact, a strategic capability in its own right.

What are the big logistics challenges to confirming our limits and freedoms of action in terms of self-reliance then?

Visit ‘The Central Blue’ here to continue!

On 11 April 2019, the Sir Richard Williams Foundation is holding a seminar examining high-intensity operations and sustaining self-reliance. 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 and Logistics in War will be publishing a series of articles.


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.