Planning to sustain the force – Reflections on East Timor by a Logistics Unit Commander Part Two

By Brigadier Michael Kehoe (Retd).

“In the two decades since the Australian deployment to East Timor as part of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET), much has been written about the operation predominantly from the national and military strategic perspectives. This focus is not surprising given Australia’s decision to act decisively in the immediate neighbourhood in a leadership role, and the nature and scale of the intervention, remains unparalleled since Federation.   At the operational and tactical level, East Timor may not be a great case study for combat arms officers however for the logistician, there are lessons to be learned at every level from the Commander Joint Logistics down to the private soldier. As the operation recedes into history, we need to ensure the key lessons identified do not also fade.”

 – from Reflections on East Timor by a Logistics Unit Commander – twenty years on

Editor’s note – this article continues with the experiences of the then Commanding Officer, 10th Force Support Battalion (10 FSB), deploying to East Timor (now Timor Leste) as part of the INTERFET operation. 


Provisioning the force

Supplying any force requires an understanding of ‘provisioning’ and ‘stockholding’. To say these were done poorly is an understatement. At the tactical level, effective supply support results from the provision of appropriate in-service items of supply necessary for the identified force to conduct the operation. Without getting into too much detail, the logistic planners require crucial information from the Joint Military Appreciation Process including a dependency and anticipated rates of effort from which usage rates are derived. From this point, logistic planners can assess stockholding levels and locations, transport assets required and warehousing infrastructure needs.

Obviously there’s a symbiotic relationship. Logistics both enables and constrains the operational plan but the key is that operations and logistic planning must be synchronized at every level. ‘Surprise’ is a great principle of war but is not a good principle of planning. Suffice to say that 10 FSB, my unit, had none of the essential information ingredients to plan and build the logistics information systems infrastructure to enable the appropriate third line supply support to the force. In that crucial pre-deployment time, other than HQ INTERFET and 3 Bde (-), we really had no visibility of the force dependency.

As the combined Australian and coalition force built up, force elements just got swept up, included in our growing list of dependencies and the operation rolled remorselessly on.  Of course we expect our people to be flexible, to ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’, and they did this magnificently. However people are part of a wider logistic system that could not react in the quick time-frame wanted.  Criticism that 10 FSB took the wrong provisioning information into theatre is misguided.  Any District we took would have been wrong given the lack of key information. We built the plane in flight with predicable outcomes.

When addressing supply, I must mention the Operational Viability Period (OVP) concept. The OVP ‘…is the period immediately following deployment during which forces must maintain self-sufficiency until the logistic resupply system is in place to conduct replenishment.’ This system requires a layered approach meaning each level (section, sub-unit, unit, formation, force) carries with it a degree of inherent sustainability. This allows supply elements and units appropriate time to stop their support in one location, pack up, relocate, set-up and recommence support.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in the initial deployment phase. I recall one unit submitted over 300 high-priority demands in the 14 day period before they deployed, all for items they arguably should have held at unit level. The supply system was swamped with high-priority demands for every item imaginable, both in-service and those requiring procurement action, and the demands kept coming during and after units deployed. Combat units particularly had fallen into a very austere mindset exacerbated by short exercises where soldiers and unit-level Q staff were able to be self-sufficient for the duration.   Additionally, no logistics units held  stock remotely near the requirement.  In many cases, this resulted from deliberate decisions by Fleet Managers seeking to manage peace-time budgets; an unenviable task I acknowledge.

Staff Capacity

Ten years before the INTERFET operation, Army had considerable deployable logistic staff capacity and capability. The Commanders in the headquarters of Divisional Transport, Supply and Electrical and Mechanical Engineering were both commanders in their own right and staff officers, known as ‘Advisers’, for the Divisional Headquarters.  Their staff crunched the numbers and came up with the Distribution Plan, the Supply Plan, Repair and Recovery Plan and so on for the next operation or phase of the campaign.  These plans were issued as Orders or Annexes to Orders and importantly, were issued under the authority invested by the Divisional Commander. For example, Commander Divisional Transport had the authority, responsibility and resources to plan, direct and execute the Distribution Plan on behalf of the Divisional Commander.

When these units were disestablished to form Brigade Administrative Support Battalions in the 1990s, the staffs at the brigade headquarters were not increased to off-set the elimination of that capacity. Army now lacked a considerable logistics planning capacity, replaced with units designed to only perform in accordance with higher direction from the Brigade planning process and subsequent orders. This has a significant impact on the ability of headquarters to plan logistics operations.

Fast forward to 1999. We had a particularly lean Division Headquarters with a Personnel / Logistics branch (J1/4 branch) trying to contribute to the operations planning process, conduct parallel logistic planning for the combined joint task force of an unknown size and composition, and get itself in a position to deploy.   At the same time, a Force Logistic Support Group headquarters (HQFLSG) was pulled together from across the ADF, but this had no experience as a team, no SOPs, equipment or establishment and also had to get themselves to East Timor and into the fight.

Not surprisingly, the deployed logistics system (in the broadest sense of the term) lived hand-to-mouth for about the first two months. Ultimately, the in-theatre support arrangements that had developed in the first couple of months were formalized by the operations staff at HQFLSG and a range of orders were issued under the authority of Commander FLSG in his capacity as Joint Logistics Component Commander.

3 CER building a bridge near Maliana

Individual Readiness

In the lead up to the deployment, I was heartened by the professional approach taken by the soldiers. In deploying the unit we crashed through readiness notice and in many cases worked around the clock to get ready for a deployment of which the nature, dependency and duration were largely unknown. To borrow liberally but not literally from Donald Rumsfeld, ‘You go to war when you’re told, not in accordance with your readiness notice.’

As I moved around the unit and spoke to sub-units and platoons and spoke about the expected duration of our deployment, I told them to plan on nine months and I could tell a number of soldiers swallowed hard at my estimate. Privately I felt it would be less than that for most, but I wanted to get people in the right mindset. This would not be like a month-long exercise in the local training area.

I recall one reassuring example of a young NCO who was either a single mother or her husband was in another high readiness unit; I now don’t recall. Her response, relayed to me through her sub-unit commander was gold. ‘That’s fine Sir. I just need a couple of days to fly my kids to Adelaide, settle them in with my mother and I’ll be back and good to go’.

Why did 10 FSB deploy, and 9 FSB supoport Darwin operations?

I was recently asked my view on the decision to send my unit to Dili and the 9th Force Support Battalion (9FSB) to Darwin. 9 FSB was a partner battalion within the Logistics Support Force (now the 17th Sustainment Brigade), with both battalions supporting land forces in the main. I was surprised by the question; at no stage during the lead up or during the deployment had anyone sought my opinion. To me, it was self-evident and my boss – Brigadier Jeff Wilkinson – got it right. Some flesh on the bones of this comment:

During the INTERFET operation, both units anchored the supply ‘bridge’ between Darwin and the area of operations. Key tasks for both units were mainly but not exclusively supply chain management tasks.  Ideally, joint, strategic, Support Command elements including a Joint Logistics Unit in Darwin should have anchored the Australian end of the bridge with augmentation from elsewhere in Support Command (uniform, APS or hire-assets). However, this Command was newly formed an ill-prepared for the task of supporting the mounting of the force. In the absence of that, some other organisation needed to.

Although a joint operation, RAN had no suitable organisation and although RAAF had the Combat Support Group, whether Air Force would have been capable or interested in doing the job was doubtful; whether the question was ever put to them I don’t know. Ultimately, I suspect Commander LSF as the appointed theatre ‘Logistics Component Commander’ knew he had to find a solution from within the assets he controlled.

At the time, 9 FSB was structured similarly to the 9 Transport Regiment. It lack no capacity to supply beyond its own needs and lacked certain capabilities normally associated with third line support. 10 FSB, on the other hand, had under command a:

  • Combat Supply Coy (for rations and water, fuel and ammunition);
  • Supply Coy (other commodities);
  • Local Purchase capability;
  • Water Transport and Terminal Squadronincluding an Amphibious Beach Team;
  • Postal Unit;
  • Third line Workshop Platoon that knew the 3 Bde dependency (and to my recollection, the only third line workshop element in the Army); and
  • Battalion HQ that had a habitual relationship with 3 Bde.

These comments are not a criticism of 9 FSB. The battalion did sterling work in Darwin, having deployed there at short notice, eventually replacing 10 FSB in Dili in late February 2000 with little respite in between. What Army really needed was Support Command to step up and own the ‘Darwin problem’. It would be a few years yet before the joint force could support a force as large as INTERFET became.

Brigadier Kehoe’s experiences will continue over coming articles at Logistics in War.

Brigadier Michael (Mick) Kehoe served in a wide range of Australian Army and Joint appointments throughout his long and distinguished career. He is currently advising the UAE defence force professional military education program. 

Images from Department of Defence.


Reflections on East Timor by a logistics unit commander – twenty years on

By Brigadier Michael Kehoe (Retd).

In the two decades since the Australian deployment to East Timor as part of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET), much has been written about the operation predominantly from the national and military strategic perspectives. This focus is not surprising given Australia’s decision to act decisively in the immediate neighbourhood in a leadership role, and the nature and scale of the intervention, remains unparalleled since Federation.   At the operational and tactical level, East Timor may not be a great case study for combat arms officers however for the logistician[1], there are lessons to be learned at every level from the Commander Joint Logistics down to the private soldier. As the operation recedes into history, we need to ensure the key lessons identified do not also fade.

My decision to write something on this topic was prompted by two factors. First, it’s important to learn lessons not only from your own experience but also the experiences of others. This is especially important in the profession of arms as, thankfully, we are not ‘in the fight’ or the same fight, all the time. If we can avoid mistakes by learning from the experience of others, we have a better chance of prevailing when called upon. Second, in the business of the profession of arms, writing ‘places our personal analysis of our unique profession in public view. When writing, our ideas, thoughts and statements are open for debate, criticism and often enhancement by other military and non-military professionals. This…in small measures, contributes to contemporary military discussions and thinking.’[2]

What will follow is not a theoretical exposition, nor a comprehensive evaluation of the mission on which I was involved. It is, as the title suggests, some reflections of my experience as Commanding Officer 10th Force Support Battalion (10 FSB) during those tumultuous months in 1999-2000 and some thoughts on the ‘So what?’ question. I would add two additional qualifications:

My professional library, East Timor-era notebooks and other primary source materials are currently in storage in Canberra. If you feel I am wrong in any recollection of an issue or event, you may be right. I recall Sir Michael Howard commenting that for his first military history project, he chose to research and write the history of his Regiment during a period when he knew almost all the characters and had been involved in most of the Regiment’s key engagements during WWII. Ironically, he found this work the most difficult and he was often amazed by what he thought he knew but didn’t, and the stark differences in opinions about what happened, even among eye-witnesses. Consequently, I’ll simply say that while I cannot hope to tell the whole truth, I have endeavoured to tell nothing but the truth.

I also acknowledge that like everything to do with the character of war, the planning and execution of operations have evolved and will continue to evolve. Issues that bedevilled us 20 years ago may well be solved. Digitization, miniaturization, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics and the integration of these are just some of the known developments that might solve these issues.

I know of at least one talented officer with whom I deployed 20 years ago, doing outstanding work in the area of logistics information and other management systems. I’d be delighted if he told me that all is under control, however notwithstanding technical advances, adversaries have a way of adapting. A deployed force, particularly in the land domain, will always require smart, responsive and hardened combat service support delivered by soldiers who can crew weapon systems and fight; not just in self-defence but with the ability to manoeuvre and deliver effects as part of a wider mission.

The ADF’s inability to learn lessons from planning and executing logistics support to operations in the 1990s is well documented.[3] While these deployments were small in comparison to East Timor, most of the problems that arose with INTERFET had surfaced in some way during previous ADF deployments to Somalia (1993) and Bougainville (1997-2002) and there was ample opportunity for an appropriate lessons learned process to be applied. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen and it is a matter of public record that ‘when the East Timor crisis developed, Defence’s logistic structures, systems and processes did not prove suitable to support the military deployment. It is my aim to provide you with a few observations and experiences as to why this was the case.


How we prepared


Doctrine should be our professional body of knowledge and the foundation for the three pillars of professional learning: formal individual education and training; collective training; and self-development. LTGEN John Coates[1] once said, ‘essentially doctrine is method…if doctrine is uncertain, how does an Army train and for what?’

Logistics doctrine in the late 1990s was poor and reflected the flawed thinking of the Defence of Australia dogma and was not a sound, coherent body of professional knowledge. I recall the relevant Military Land Warfare ‘Logistics’ volume had diagrams with lines of communication represented by broad arrows connecting the industrial heartland of Australia’s south to joint force areas of operation in the north of Australia.

These arrows swept smoothly, seamlessly and inexorably from ubiquitous ‘Log Units’ via multiple modes of transport across boundaries, through Points of Entry to tactical level formations and units. It all seemed, in a diagrammatic sense, wonderfully simple. I don’t recall off-shore scenarios, nor any significant discussion of information management systems for supply chain visibility, or for managing and tracking personnel into and out of the theatre; both were significant issues during the INTERFET deployment.

I’ve always liked the UK analogy of doctrine being like a handrail to guide your way. Thirty years in uniform and another decade working in the professional military education space has reinforced for me the value of sound, well-written doctrine and the absolute danger of doctrine which is out of date, plagiarized without thought from another country, turgid in its flow and poorly expressed. Some US doctrine may as well be written in a foreign language. Doctrine needs to be written in plain English, neither overly prescriptive or too abstract.

The old debate about what we want from doctrine ─ broad conceptual guidance or detailed procedures ─ was supposed to be addressed with a tiered approach where ‘procedural’ doctrine was to be covered by Land Warfare Procedures providing tactical-level details and fundamental skill-sets in a clear context, for the execution of tasks down to the lowest levels. But that had not been implemented fully by 1999 and particularly in Supply Support, there was a dearth of appropriate doctrine on which to anchor training.

Following the introduction of the Standard Defence Supply System (SDSS) – a contemporary logistics information system – we were effectively asleep at the wheel regarding the science and practice of provisioning, and there was no acknowledgement of the challenges of asset visibility in a complex supply chain which experience from the 1990s had shown we were not capable of controlling.

Logistic Preparedness

The ANAO report concluded our logistics systems were not prepared to support the operation undertaken. Nor was 10 FSB and, as Commanding Officer, I bear full responsibility.   There were no excuses but there were reasons. In 1999 the role of 10 FSB was to provide third line or General Support to a nominated dependency within an area of operations. When the unit was raised in 1998, the waters were muddied by its dual role as a fourth line logistic support unit in the North Queensland region for Support Command-Australia. Unfortunately, in the supply support capabilities of the unit, there was lack of clarity as to what was deployable and what was not.

The non-combat supplies organisation was ‘Equipment Company’, a predominantly non-deployable element focused primarily on their Support Command task with a significant number of civilian storemen. Additionally, the management of Classes 1, 3 and 5 was done by ‘Combat Supplies Company’ which included barracks responsibilities for the North Queensland-based dependency units. This sub-unit also included a number of civilian APS employees but nothing clearly indicated how we might manage the ‘worst case’ – 10 FSB deployed on operations and a significant proportion of the peacetime dependency remaining in North Queensland, or if deployed, other units replacing them in North Queensland. These Support Command-Australia tasks provided useful technical training opportunities but had a transactional, junior rank emphasis rather than a deeper, supply planning focus.

This dual role was not news to anyone and had been the situation since the 2nd Field Supply Battalion was raised in Townsville in the 1980s. A former CO of that Battalion said to me later when reflecting on these difficulties, ‘senior people just could not envisage an East Timor-type scenario where Australia would carry such a substantial load for logistics support.’

I was fortunate to work for a Commander Logistics Support Force (LSF) – Brigadier Jeff Wilkinson – who ‘got it’ and gave me clear direction on priorities and importantly, top cover. In the first few months of my tenure, I deployed the Battalion, including BHQ, to the field and this shook out cobwebs and allowed new sub-unit commanders to identify and iron out the basic wrinkles. Shortly afterwards, I recall a rather tense visit to the unit by the Support Commander – then Major General Des Mueller –  who left me in no doubt that in the area of fourth line logistic support, 10 FSB was ‘the worst performing business unit’ when viewed through Support Command metrics.

In the first few months of my tenure I decided to put up my hand for an Army establishment review that might bring resolution to these issues. This was a dangerous course of action as the 1990s was replete with horror stories of a ‘razor gang’ approach by Army Headquarters Establishment Review teams and I was well aware that a possible outcome may be a reduction in uniformed positions and no resolution to the fundamental problem.

As it turned out, the East Timor deployment and the subsequent decision to raise the Joint Logistic Unit – North Queensland largely resolved the issue.

Brigadier Kehoe’s experiences will continue over coming articles at Logistics in War.

Brigadier Michael (Mick) Kehoe served in a wide range of Australian Army and Joint appointments throughout his long and distinguished career. He is currently advising the UAE defence force professional military education program. 

Images from Department of Defence.


[1] I always saw myself as a Combat Service Support officer rather than a logistician and believe the differences are significant. However, for simplicity I’ll use the term logistics.

[2] Chris Field, ‘Two Reasons Military Professionals Must Write’, The Cove, 10 April 2018, available at <>, accessed 20 May 2019.

[3] I direct those interested to the work of Colonel (Retd) Dr Bob Breen who continues to be a great friend of the ADF in his capacity as a scholar.

[4] Australian National Audit Office report, Management of Australian Defence Force Deployments to East Timor, 20 March 2002.

Planting the right trees – logistics and its role in the ‘Phase Zero’ campaign

by Air Commodore Hayden Marshall (Ret’d).

In a previous life, I had the opportunity to become very familiar with operational planning and experience first hand the impact of logistics (positive and negative) on various phases of a planned or active military operation. I also started to hear increasing reference to Phase Zero as a distinct and important shaping phase in the lead up to the commitment of military forces to an operation and it became quickly apparent that logistics needs to be part of this discussion.

The use of Phase Zero as an element of military planning is credited to General Charles Wald, who in 2006, authored  “New Thinking at EUCOM: The Phase Zero Campaign” while he was the Deputy Commander US European Command. The paper discussed the need to recognise the difference between theatre security cooperation and traditional war fighting. The Phase Zero concept highlighted the importance of a range of measures to ensure that all elements of national power were being correctly focussed and applied to areas of potential threat. Phase Zero has since been formally recognised as part of US military doctrine and is defined as “those activities conducted in a ongoing, routine basis to enhance international legitimacy and gain multinational cooperation in support of defined national strategic and strategic military objectives”. 

For the military logistician, the carefully crafted road to war is often too short to enact required long-term preparations to allow the force-in-being to fully transition into an operational force that has available all capabilities – there are always plenty of compromises along the way. Consequently, improvements in advanced logistics preparation is critical to ensure that the most critical suite of capabilities is available (at the right time) and this can only be realistically achieved if logistics efforts are in work well before detailed operational planning has commenced.

Phase Zero efforts to date in Australia have largely focussed on joint interagency and multinational engagement efforts that seek to support diplomatic endeavours to maintain peace and cooperation in potential threat areas. The Australian Civil Military Centre, established in 2008, is a tangible example by providing an institutional platform to develop and deliver a range of support programs that work towards Phase Zero goals. More lately, Phase Zero discussions have turned towards understanding aspects that require long-term assessment in the information arena, both in an offensive and defensive context.

A Phase Zero focus on military logistics provides an opportunity for logisticians (military and commercial) to apply some structure and priority around development programs that may otherwise be regarded as “business as usual”. Many logistics support matters that are not resolved in Phase Zero will never likely be resolved, or delivered too late to be of any operational benefit. This must raise enough concern as to whether these matters deserve further attention  pre-crisis, or whether resources are reassigned to higher priority matters during one.

Building infrastructure, training staff, stock piling inventory, assessing alternative supply support arrangements and establishing meaningful relationships with suppliers all take time to develop, implement and test in conjunction with raise, train and sustain activities. Phase Zero is the best time to get this done before it’s too late. One of my favourite investment gurus, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame, best captured the essence of the importance of Phase Zero and deliberate planning in a quote where he observed that “someone is sitting the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago”. Trees are generally not planted in the heat of battle, but rather in quiet times where they have the chance to be sited in the right location and nurtured during their early years.

However, as David Beaumont has eloquently captured in several of his posts on the matter of readiness and preparedness recently, maintaining a focus on logistics readiness is seriously challenged when it gets to a point where it becomes overwhelming and impossible to support. Prominent military historians from Eccles to van Creveld have recognised turning points in history where efforts to enhance logistics readiness has provided no meaningful contribution and distracted focus from the required main effort. This was most likely due to logistics efforts being applied to cover all possible contingencies for extended periods of time with the expectation that this will provide a decent start point at the commencement of operational activities. Unfortunately, all it has done has been to produce a broad collection of mediocre and sub-standard results that have been of no real assistance and wasted valuable resources.

Ongoing development and changes to supply support arrangements associated with new military capabilities for all elements of the ADF will require significant changes as to how the ADF manages logistics support in the ‘national support base’ and deployed locations. Expanded and targeted use of experimentation is vital to identify how logistics needs to be delivered, but more importantly, should identify where efforts need to be directed in Phase Zero to deliver optimal outcomes. Once we effectively understand the basis of these supply support activities and their mission criticality, we can start to prioritise new programs and activities that will deliver the best logistics outcomes. This does not mean planting lots of “trees” everywhere, but rather taking considered action to ensure correct placement of the “trees” along with the resources needed to keep them healthy until needed.

Many years ago, Sun Tzu observed, “to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”  Structured and deliberate efforts in Phase Zero to improve the logistics capability of military forces works directly to strengthen and enhance the credibility of both offensive and defensive military plans and must be an credible deterrent (or threat) for potential adversaries. Similarly, strong alliances with other military partners is a key logistics enabler and if this aspect is not only strong, but obvious, it will also be pause for concern by any potential adversaries. Ideally, logistics should be seen as one of the strength’s of Australia’s centre of gravity.

At its most basic, if Phase Zero is about doing everything to prevent conflict from developing in the first place, logistics must have a key role. Future logistics developments must be guided by a clear and comprehensive understanding of the logistics support requirements needed to support the application of combat force.

Air Commodore Hayden Marshall retired from the PAF in March 2018 after 36 years of service in a range of logistics roles. He is currently enjoying plenty of recreational travel, sightseeing, golf, reading and reflecting on issues that may be of interest for the next generation of military logisticians.

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

Committing to preparedness, and the balance between ‘all of it’ and ‘just enough’

By David Beaumont.

Logistics In War has been exploring preparedness and logistics in a series of articles over the last three months. The role of logistics in preparedness is self-evident. However, while we know that this is the case, it has been difficult to rationally or accurately state why it is or ‘how much logistics is truly enough?’. On one hand, it is tempting to answer ‘all of it’. It certainly helps to have ample logistics support at the outset of a crisis or in response to a contingency, but it is also wise to use resources sparingly and at the time their value is highest. Alternatively, it is also tempting to answer ‘just enough’. Yet giving this answer also requires a tremendous ability for insight as to future requirements. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. This series on logistics and preparedness aimed to allow for a gross calibration of the truth; before concluding the series with a few thoughts on major shortcomings in preparing militaries for their operations, let’s recap the previous posts.

The water in the well – how much logistics readiness is enough?’ started with why logistics is an understated yet central feature in the contemporary discussion about strategic competition. We’re in a time where commentators are discussing strategic logistics from the resilience of defence industry to the way in which modern capabilities are integrated into forces; from force posture to the marshalling of strategic resources such as fuel and ammunition. The ability for a military to respond quickly depends upon its ability to mobilise resources, national support base capability and to give support where it is required, as soon as it is required. This is the playground of logisticians who attempt to control a ‘system of activities, capabilities and processes that connect the national economy to the battlefield’, establishing a ‘well’ from which the force draws its combat potential or firepower. Together, with a range of others who contribute in the policy-space to the commanders who provide direction and intent, they establish logistics readiness being:

The ability to undertake, to build up and thereafter to sustain combat operations at the full potential of forces.

So, how successful have militaries been at working out a satisfactory level of logistics readiness? In part two of the series, ‘Burying the hero – how logistics and readiness changed war, we confirmed that in the context of Western militaries the answer is a reserved ‘well enough’. Perhaps the conclusion is that these Western militaries have learned that logistics increasingly influences operations as forces become more technical, as combat power per person increases, and force projection is incredibly logistically demanding. The assumptions we make based upon our views of the sustainment requirements of earlier wars might not meet the new requirements of militaries that are simply getting more resource-intensive and difficult to sustain. I encourage you to read the article to see the important trend driving the sustainment of militaries at play.

Part three, ‘Preparing for preparedness – how should we begin?’, summarises six factors that should be considered to have any chance of meeting a high standard of logistics readiness. Militaries must get the force balance right – and the ‘tooth to tail’ ratio is important. We do, however, have to recognised that the ‘tooth’ and the ‘tail’ does not just constitute capability organic to militaries. Secondly, they must have the right plans and policies in place to support effective planning. More on this later. Thirdly, they must understand that ‘militaries limp to war’ meaning materiel readiness must be managed so that equipment and supplies are available when required. Fourthly, the logistics organisation must be exercised and be the subject of experiments which qualify risks. Finally, militaries must have a professional culture that shares knowledge and risks. They must be able to work with partners to clearly articulate issues and develop solutions collegiately.

Return of HMAS Farncomb to FBW

In concluding the series, I thought I would address some of the major problems and shortcomings that prevent effective and efficient solutions regarding logistics readiness. Arguably, they are problems germane to preparedness more generally. Quite a few issues are raised through previous articles, so the focus here will be on resourcing readiness. Furthermore, they relate to how requirements are articulated so any investment is worthwhile.

Rational decision-making concerning preparedness suffers when the operational requirements guidance for the logistics system is inadequate. There comes a point where vacillating about the likelihood of a contingency or crisis starts to consume readiness, or when a concept full of non-committal jargon detracts from efficient logistics planning. This problem is exacerbated by inadequate or compromised logistics information systems and analytical tools that would normally be used to react effectively and efficiently to any requirements given, or contingency requirements encountered. Because logistics is a product of context, the more specific any guidance given, the better. There is good reason to give it, even discounting the operational or preparedness needs. When guidance is imprecise there is little reason for logistics system to be refined by military organisations, nor the logistics system held to the strategic requirements desired.

Secondly, it is reasonable that military leaders – even Governments – ask what the value of an investment in logistics preparedness gives them. This is a question that is often considered in terms of the maintenance of reserve stocks of materiel where the value is not always evident to senior decision-makers. These leaders must make trade-offs with respect to Defence resources and vacuous analysis provided by logisticians and others offers nothing to them in decision-making. It is not easy to answer this question without giving logistics capability and outputs a value such that comparisons can be made. This value might be set by preparedness policy, or other logistics plans and policies that prioritise the maintenance of capability. Whatever the case, any tools used to assist decision-makers must also provide the means to express the value or impact of logistics shortfalls.

Thirdly, logistics communities need to be able to respond well to external scrutiny. This means that they must be able to explain any rationale or justification for maintaining a high state of logistics readiness above all other factors. The series concluding here shows that this is not an easy thing to do. Irrespective, logisticians must be able to demonstrate the value of logistics readiness in a way that is operationally meaningful. Without doing this, how else can it be expected that an investment in logistics is meaningful?

Finally, there is the problem of contingency in logistics readiness. There has been a tendency in recent times to confuse major strategic supply chain issues with the day-to-day problems with supporting short-notice responses to contingencies. It is incredibly tempting to view readiness with the glaring light shining from the huge problems blinding out the many smaller challenges before militaries. National fuel supplies, global supply chain vulnerabilities and other vitally important issues in an environment of increased strategic competition cannot be let to obscure the things that are most likely needed a short-notice for the highly credible contingencies that might be faced. The things that matter most of the time will be high-use supplies and commodities, transport, pool items, communications equipment; the list is virtually endless. But it is an important list as tedious a list of logistics tasks it may be.

I hope you have enjoyed the series on preparedness and logistics. Preparedness is an organisational responsibility, but it plays on the mind of logisticians the most. It is important to understand the links between the two, and the fault lines that may lead to an unready force. This is the difference between a military that is able, and one that is little more than an ornament.

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

Preparing for preparedness – how should we begin?

By David Beaumont.

Logistics readiness refers to the ability to undertake, to build up and thereafter to sustain, combat operations at the full combat potential of forces.[1]

Logistics readiness is not just a matter of prioritising Defence resources. Of course additional funding and attention can improve the capability and capacity of any military force to sustain itself in peace and on operations. Preparedness metrics, strategic goal-setting and policy making also help. However, as logistics is a comprehensive system of activities and tasks, logistics readiness can only be assured by combining effective resource use with efficient processes, good governance, well-designed organisations with articulated authorities, and a willingness to address often unglamorous issues. Moreover, the attitude of commanders and leaders, logisticians and staff planners to comprehensively and critically assess the Defence organisation – a ‘blue force analysis’ – also influences the logistics system to function as intended. When capability and attitude are misaligned, and where understanding is deficient, it is inevitable that the investment of time, effort and resources into military readiness is wasted.

In Part One of this series asking the question, ‘how much readiness is enough?’ I described the interplay between logistics and readiness. Part Two offered examples where militaries get it right, and a number of examples where events did not transpire as well as they might. These articles might suggest to some that any attempts to devote time to addressing logistics readiness are likely to fail. For those that do, consider what might have happened without the attempt? Strategic responsiveness would suffer, and a slow mobilisation process to correct a lack of effort and rigour in peacetime could result.

The first step towards improving logistics readiness is recognising that it is a product of routine and organisational behaviour, as much as it is about the appropriate allocation of resources to assigned strategic goals and the development of capabilities. This takes the matter well beyond basic preparedness requirements such as the identification of commonly used, but routinely compromised, preparedness metrics including ‘notices to move’ for logistics forces and capabilities. Logistics readiness is a function of total organisational performance and efficiency.

Logistics readiness is therefore achieved by addressing six key factors that are applicable at all levels – from the strategic to the tactical. These factors are as follows:

Balance between logistics and combat resources and elements. You cannot escape a discussion on logistics capability without raising the concept of the ‘tooth to tail’. Defence organisations habitually compare combat forces to support forces. At times, these organisations can consider support forces as ‘non-core’ to operational outcomes. In the Australian example, this ratio has featured in every review of Defence undertaken in the forty years since the ADF was formed. As the ADF’s deployment to East Timor described in Part Two showed, it’s very difficult to get a balance between logistics and combat forces right.  Force structure requirements can change with different ‘demand, dependency, duration and distance.’

Eccles argued that ‘no problem presents more difficulty than trying to determine in advance the most efficient balance of logistics resources and combat forces that will be needed for any campaign’.[2] In reality, however, we don’t tend to start with the right question in the first place. What we should be asking before we embark on any ‘tooth to tail’ discussion is ‘how do we deliver the most combat potential or firepower at the time and place of our choosing, and in such a state we will be successful?’ Rather than a ‘tooth to tail’, perhaps we really have an ‘arm and a spear’.

As Dr Peter Layton wrote a very good summation of ‘balance’ for ASPI in 2013;

The planned duration of a war is an important consideration, although it can be very different from the actual duration, as recent conflicts have amply demonstrated. If a short war is anticipated, the focus can be on the ‘teeth’ as the ‘tail’ is much less important. The combat force becomes a ‘one-shot wonder’ with little in reserve or in the training pipeline. For a long war, a larger and more costly logistic system needs to be built up, a training system maintained while combat is underway and sufficient trained personnel held in reserve to allow rotations into theatre.’

We have to be realistic about solutions to resolving military force structure problems, as the answer cannot be a trite ‘add more logistics troops’. There’s no easy answer to achieving the right balance, especially when defence funding cannot be increased and more staff or capabilities directed to the task. As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated we are finding our capacity to perform organic support functions diminishing. Our ‘tail’ now incorporates partners whose efforts are instrumental to our successes, and for our operations in the future, we will have to develop plans, policies and arrangements to ensure that a high standard of logistics readiness and operational flexibility is maintained.

Logistics plans and policies. Assuming we do get the force structure balance right, we must also introduce the doctrine, plans and policies to use it appropriately. We must be serious about the possible wars of the future and start developing concepts and doctrine to suit. Governance and logistics reliability and assurance frameworks which ensure strategic and tactical concepts are viable depend on this analysis. This effort shouldn’t be dismissed as bureaucracy, as it is the basis for accurate logistics planning – the quality of which determines exactly what resources will be needed and when. In the case of rapid force projection, there will simply not be the time to redesign logistics systems without severely disrupting the way in which the force will deploy. Sometime adaptation will win us victory, other times it will do quite the opposite.

There are a few areas that do require additional attention. As I inferred earlier, one area most militaries are grappling with is the changing nature of its workforce and the integration of its intrinsic sustainment capabilities within the national economic infrastructure. We’re good at working with partners, but a technology-centric future force will have to be informed by good policies and doctrine that supports the flexible and scalable logistics support we require operationally. If logistics readiness is maintained through organisation stability, it is appropriate that plans and policies be developed to accommodate rapid changes to that stability.

Logistics organisation. Most large restructures of Defence organisations – such as the First Principles Review – are heavily influenced by the need to more efficiently and effectively organise logistics processes. In the wake of the First Principles Review, Defence has made progress in the way it modernises as a joint force. Defence and the ADF has adapted to operational needs over twenty years, and has a well-established ‘joint logistics enterprises’, an appointed strategic logistician and medical officer with articulated responsibilities, and Services who have acceptability responsibility for raising, training and sustaining the operational components of the joint force.

Time will tell how effective this organisation will be. In the meantime, we should study its strengths and weaknesses, and the how and why of its present design. This is because organisation influences the flow of information and will impact upon the quality and number of logistics staff devoted to the different tasks and efforts. Moreover, it will enable us to identify the right responsibilities for each component of the logistics process; given there is no one owner for logistics within Defence, accountability and authority are incredibly important.

Materiel readiness. It may be self-evident, but the state of our equipment has as much an influence on preparedness as that of our people. Militaries ‘limp’ to war. The reason they do is what Dr Robert Betts describes as the ‘paradox of more is less.’ The act of staying in a state of heightened readiness is not only expensive, but it can result in ‘evanescence and self-destruction.’ Readiness literally consumes a military waiting for war. There comes a point where materiel and personnel become run down, supplies are exhausted and organisations are pushed to their limits. Sometimes the best thing a preparing military might do is wait otherwise limit the use of its capabilities if it wants its technologies to be available when they are required.

Logistics organisation must be tested. It is impossible to understand logistics constraints and limitations if they lie un-examined. All militaries enjoy large-scale exercises, simulations and desk-top analyses but very rarely do they focus upon the logistics process. When a logistics exercises does occur, they are often confined to bespoke activities with limited participation, or results ignored for the questions they raise. In writing Logistics In the National Defense seventy years ago, and even after the lessons of the Second World War, Eccles described that ‘[t]oo seldom have the reports of these exercises included a realistic appraisal of the logistics problems and situations that would have been encountered under wartime conditions’.[3] Most logistics activities conducted during exercises primarily occur such that the exercise can actually be conducted!

It is important that when exercises do occur that opportunities are taken to assess logistics performance, especially in the preparation for these training events. Logistics is sufficiently complex that it is only through observing the system in action that gaps be identified and risks adequately prepared for.

Professional culture: Finally, and most importantly, logistics readiness is underpinned by the acceptance that it is a ‘shared problem’ that is only solvable through the mutual efforts of commanders and logisticians. Many documented problems experienced in ADF responses in the latter have of the 1990s and early 2000’s came from conspicuous, self-admitted, failures in the sharing of knowledge. Information and concerns become vital when managing risks; and managing risks is what military preparedness systems are fundamentally about. When any future force is designed, or as operational concepts and plans developed, it is essential that conceptual problems are clearly articulated and issues shared widely. This sets expectations and better prepares one another for challenges when they inevitably arrive.


Specifics will change in war, but effective logistics readiness can make a combat force worth the organisational effort to raise or comprise it’s design entirely. Too many highly professional militaries have dismissed logistics readiness as a higher-order issue, and operations did not proceed as well as they might have otherwise. There is always a temptation to focus attention inward and on what militaries such as our own do very well – preparing the elements at the forward edge of the operational area so that they may be re as ready as practicable. Yet doing so risks compromises with respect to the preparedness of the logistics ‘system’ as a whole, or creates a logistics process that is inefficient or ineffective due to poor practices and inadequate discipline across the military. Either way, the ability of force to rapidly respond to a crisis or threat will be constrained as a consequence.

There is a need for a much more detailed study of logistics readiness than the three articles of this series allows. That being said, most militaries already know where their problems lie. Readiness cannot be treated as a ‘buzz-word’ in a professional force. Actionable recommendations and actions have to eventuate in a future discussion about preparedness, conducted in a strategic environment where threats are indeed ‘accelerating’ in scale and magnitude. I can only emphasise that effective logistics readiness comes from a realistic appraisal of force structure, sensible operational concepts and doctrine, good policies and governance, and above all, an acceptance that our logistics problems require all to work together to solve. It must be supported by adequate resourcing, an investment of technology that is sorely needed, and with a critical mind applied to practices that might have to change as we face the future.

We may never know of the command decisions that might have changed wars had the impact of logistics on preparedness been better articulated and overcome prior to war beginning. In this regard, we start to venture into the realm of strategic decision making. In this realm logistics truly defines opportunities and choices, and can often be the true measure of whether a military is ready for combat.

Almost never will all logistics requirements be satisfied in an exact balance, and as long as this is true, and as long as military operations are governed by the finite, some phase of logistics is bound to be a limiting factor.

               Dr James A. Huston, Sinews of War

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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.


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

[2] Eccles, p 291

[3] Eccles, p 300

Burying the hero – how logistics and readiness changed war

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.


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

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

[3] Ibid., p 119

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

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

[6] Ibid., p 330

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

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

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

[10] Ransom, D., Logistics transformation – reducing the logistics footprint, Strategy Research Project, US Army War College, USA, 2002, pp 2-3 at

[11] See Pelz, E., Halliday, J., Robbins, M. and Girardini, K., Sustainment of Army forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom: Battlefield logistics and effects on operations, RAND Corporation, 2005 at

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

Logistics and preparedness

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

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

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

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

Equally confusing is the concept of ‘logistics readiness’:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.