Training the Australian Army’s logistics officers – a new LIW series

By David Beaumont.

Logistics in War has contended with the topic of training, and the preparation of logisticians for a variety of operational and garrison possibilities. Readers have been the beneficiary of insights – but also asked poignant questions – in posts from several senior logisticians of the Australian Defence Force, including the Commander of Joint Logistics Command Major-General David Mulhall and his former deputy Air Commodore Hayden Marshall which focus on professionalisation. Contributors from the US Army’s Logistics University, Chris Paparone and George Topic, have also described operational complexities and new training requirements that should be attended to as a consequence. Others have been more specific to the challenge of training such as Michael Lane who describes the need for logisticians to be better prepared for the most likely events they will face. New proficiencies and the development of ‘commercial acumen’ are desired by author Carney Elias, and methods are provided accordingly.

The individual training regime for logisticians as they progress through their careers should be naturally interesting to a military reader, especially the logisticians. Numerous authors have argued that the ‘revolution in logistics’ which began in the US Army in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War was the beginning of an immense shift in the training paradigm for the military logistician. Lessons from this conflict filtered into allied armies and defence forces, as did an increased desire to leverage experience from the commercial sector with the deregulation of national economies in Western countries of the time. Now these same militaries face an uncertain future where the regularity of operations in the Middle-east is diminishing as the focus for the preparation of soldiers and officers. Most are undertaking reviews of training and education to accommodate new pressures and advocate for a change in training direction. This scenario now applies to the Australian Army, and the training of its logistics officers.

The Australian Army’s Suite of Logistics Officers Courses (SOLOC) has been the focus of successive reviews and training needs analyses since the 1996 formation of the Army Logistics Training Centre (ALTC). These reviews have examined the content of courses through a range of analytical methods and have prompted modernisation accordingly. At other times, substantial changes to organisational responsibilities for training logistics officers have resulted in necessary adaptions to the purpose, structure and learning objectives of these courses. These changes have included the disestablishment of Integrated Logistics Division (ILD) at ALTC, and the subsequent consolidation of all logistics officer training at the Army School of Logistics Operations in 2004. This move reflected a desire to move from the goal of training for integrated logistics, complemented by technical training conducted at Corps schools, to a model which emphasised training for ‘combat service support’ or ‘logistics’ operations. There is no clearer sign of this focus than the parallel and shared training conducted between the Logistics Officers Intermediate Course and the Combat Officers Advanced Course, the premier tactics course of the Australian Army.

The Ryan Review, launched in 2016 and twenty years after the formation of ALTC, argued that the Army’s individual training systems are ‘world-class’ when contemporary operational and force generation requirements were considered. The current focus on CSS and logistics operations in the SOLOC has certainly proven to be effective in preparing Army’s logistics officers for professional challenges in both operations and garrison. This view is also reflected on the perceptions revealed in analyses conducted of the SOLOC. The 2017 evaluation of the SOLOC contended that most respondents involved in the qualitative assessment of courses believed that course content was satisfactory, and that training was generally hitting the mark. Earlier reviews also supported the view that the SOLOC was providing skills and knowledge relevant to the workplace despite various content and scheduling issues, and occasional concerns with assessment methods. These observations confirm that the SOLOC is sufficient for Army, and the ADF’s, training requirements.

It has, however, been fifteen years since the SOLOC was reviewed from the basis of ‘first principles’. Since ASLO’s creation, logistics officer courses have been modified idiosyncratically to reflect new requirements. This has seen a diverse range of course content managed into the existing framework, complicating the training of officers at the O2 and O3 ranks and compressing the time available for basics to be explored in depth. There is disagreement as to the focus of each course, whether it is on the basis of a ‘level of war’ explored, or the unit, formation or organisation each is to focus upon. Some Corps have added modules of training the courses conducted centrally to address perceptions of technical deficiency among logistics officers.  There are now new needs that the Australian Army logistician must be prepared for as Army undergoes a significant transformation in its combat capability – as I wrote in a major paper and subsequent post on contemporary training challenges. But most importantly, and as the Ryan Review found for training more generally, the absence of a coherent strategic approach to the training of logistics officers prevents the overcoming of potential, and some real, proficiency and education gaps.

Logistics in War is seeking contributions on the topic of individual training of logisticians. Although the primary area of interest for this future series of posts is the Australian Army logistics officer, any contributions would be warmly received. You may choose to examine training requirements, future technology, the training context or different problems and proposed solutions. International contributions are certainly desired. Many of the problems in training experienced by the Australian Army are problems shared elsewhere, and we can all learn from one another. If you are a soldier or officer of a like-minded military, or have a considered view on the topic, please contact via . Contributions are desired by the end of May, with posts to be published soon after. Thanks, in advance, for your interest!

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


LIW Editorial – taking the national support base ….. beyond the nation

By David Beaumont.

As a military logistician, the idea of integrating logistics as part of a coalition is hardly revelatory. Most Western militaries have spent the last twenty years of operations in lockstep with one another accepting that there are always a range of difficulties. Forces deployed in the Middle-east integrate life support, ammunition, distribution methods and modes, systems for obtaining local or contracted support – the list goes on. Integration is enabled by the employment of longstanding principles under arrangements defined by multi-national military arrangements such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or through mutual support arrangements established between partner nations who can count on each other to provide the right resources at the right time. This is a ‘pointy end’ view of the matter, and if you wanted to take a more strategic look at the picture, you can start considering common standards for equipment and procurement, and the methods by which these are negotiated. Consider arrangements such as the America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ABCANZ) program for land forces which also helps to enable integration on operations. From ‘logistics in support of operations’ to ‘logistics in support of capability’ as we in the Australian Defence Force describe, the integration with coalition partners is an essential part of contemporary military practice.

At its most strategic, the idea of a ‘national support base’ is being challenged by continued integration between likeminded nations at the industry policy level. A recent paper, National technology and industrial base integration,  published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) describes this in detail. The authors of this paper contend that the industrial base has been challenged by globalisation, where nations ‘cannot assume that all of the capabilities it needs will be found domestically’ or that defence technology can be controlled.[1] We only have to look at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program as a powerful example of this issue, where a consortium of nations has shared the burden of producing the platform. For nations such as the United Kingdom and Australia who have ties to nations with existing arrangements for the sharing of technology and industrial base capability (the United States and Canada specifically), the problem is even more acute. Their national defence effort depends upon access to technology, logistics support and supply that other nations must be willing to share. The paper presents detailed studies of the problems in enabling integration and promotes new ways of breaking down the barriers between countries.[2]

I won’t pretend that as a military officer I have a strong grasp of national industrial policy, nor does discussion of the paper or its issues comfortably sit in a blog that has historically focussed on operational logistics. The reason I felt the paper was worth sharing was because of the questions it raises. What is an appropriate level of integration between coalition partners? Do we understand the risks involved with sharing our ‘defence secrets’? What if national interests differ over specific issues? What defines what is essential for the national support base to produce? How can a collective industrial and technology base support military operations when all its constituents demand the operational priority? Most of all, what is the impact upon military strategy? The integration of national industrial and technological capacity in a global environment makes accessing the global commons more defining an influence on strategic decision making. After all, the fight to win in war is often a fight to win supply.

If you have any answers to these important questions for strategic logisticians, I would love to hear from you. The increasingly integrated nature of national technology and industrial bases is one of the more significant military logistics challenges of our time. We should give it our personal and professional attention.

* Editor’s note – a day after this post was published, a short piece from the Lowy Interpreter examined the difficulty of Australia generating a larger national defence industry. The article, here, is useful to read in conjunction with my piece. Can Australia benefit from reinforcing its defence industry (albeit in an export-focussed manner) while integrating internationally?

[1] McCormick, R., Cohen, S., Hunter, A., Sanders, G., National technology and industrial base integration, Center for Strategic and International Studies,, accessed 11 Mar 18, p 2

[2] ibid, start from p 54

Have a spare 30 minutes?

By David Beaumont.

Joe Byerly, in an excellent post at his blog ‘From the Green Notebook’, reminds us of the importance of continual reading. He promotes 20-30 minutes of reading in a day (or night) as part of a ‘consistent practice of self-study’.  Reading about logistics, the difficulties encountered in sustaining and moving armies, should be part of this study. Yet very few people know about the important works on military logistics or know where to start. I am often asked by people which logistics books I would recommend to anyone who might be time-poor, or had only just made the decision to start reading on the topic. Byerly’s piece compelled me to answer this question properly (if a little evasively).

I maintain the view given at the time I was questioned; it ‘depends what you are after’. Because logistics is a process that includes so many different functions from the tactical to the national-economic, it is experienced in different ways by different people. Furthermore, with the term ‘logistics’ being so conflated, it is hard to find one particular book which describes logistics holistically. For those in capability development, logistics is about efficiency, production and acquisition, whereas those in tactical formations see logistics as a variety of ‘small’, yet all-too-often ‘big’, things that give the formation the capacity to fight. A book such as Clements, The Lieutenant Don’t Know, therefore examines an experience of logistics worlds apart from Eccles, Logistics in the national defense.

With this in mind, I thought I should summarise what might be learned from what I feel are the most important works on military logistics. The choice with respect to relevancy is therefore your own. I have already gone a substantial part of the way here to outlining the basic principles of the literature, but for the sake of identifying who might benefit the most from reading each text:

  1. From Clausewitz, On War, the strategist will learn how logistics determines the ‘form or factor’ of operations.
  2. From Jomini, The Art of War, the commander will see how logistics is the ‘means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics’.
  3. From Thorpe, Pure logistics, the commander will see way in which logistics ‘sets the stage’ for operations.
  4. From Eccles, Logistics in the national defense, the strategic logistician will learn of the processes of connecting the economy to the battlefield. The operational commander will learn that logistics requires control and oversight for it to be efficient and effective.
  5. From Macgruder, Recurring logistics problems as I have observed them, the tactical commander will be shown the importance of well-trained logistics troops, and that time is won in conflict by having effective advance / forward logistics early.
  6. From Van Creveld, Supplying War, you will be persuaded that strategy is second to logistics in modern war. However, because militaries rarely plan on this basis, logistics often seems ‘an overcoming of a series of difficulties’.
  7. From Lynn, Feeding Mars; Thomspon, Lifeblood of War, the operational and tactical commander will learn how contextual logistics is, and the need for adaptation in battle.
  8. From Huston, Sinews of War, the tactical and operational commander or logistician will learn of major principles of logistics as it applies to delivering ‘firepower or shock’, based upon a comprehensive study of centuries of conflict. Pagonis, Moving Mountains is a natural complement.
  9. From Macksey, For want of a nail, the commander and logistician will learn of the expansion of the ‘tail’ as compared to the ‘tooth’ with new technologies, and that logistics is fundamentally about affecting mobility (and thus time and space).
  10. From Tuttle, Defense logistics for the 21st century, the logistician will learn of the modern inputs to logistics capability and how they relate to expeditionary warfare.
  11. From Kane, Military logistics and strategic performance, the strategist will learn how logistics creates the circumstances for strategy and tactics, and is the ‘arbiter of opportunity’.
  12. From Engels, Alexander the Great and the logistics of the Macedonian army, and Roth, The logistics of the Roman army at war, the strategist will see how the basis of their work is found in logistics.
  13. From Cowen, The deadly life of logistics, the strategist will see how the geography of logistics, supply chains in all their complexity, govern national interest and strategic policy.
  14. From Privatsky, Logistics of the Falklands War, all will learn how logistics truly is the arbiter of strategy, how it defines operations and that it is critical to tactical success – especially in expeditionary warfare.

The books I have briefly described above are independently valuable, and each contribute their own perspective to a vital aspect of war. Some readers are likely to value certain books over others, or different books entirely. However, I have found the list reflects the most important to how I have formed my opinion and understanding of logistics. After reading, and re-reading, the list of books above, I was left with the following conclusions about logistics:

  1. Logistics is essentially moving, supplying and maintaining forces. It is above all else concerned about the practical existence of forces as distinct from their employment.
  2. Logistics, as a process, connects the economy to the battlefield. In raising and sustaining forces, logistics comprises a vast proportion of a military’s time.
  3. Logistics is the application of time and space factors to operations. It is concerned with what can be moved and when. It is therefore the substance of strategy, and ‘sets the stage’ for tactics.
  4. Logistics is a self-sustaining system of many elements and countless, often contextual, inputs. If left ‘uncontrolled’ in war it has a tendency to grow inefficient, and in doing so, forces allocated to logistics tasks swell in size.
  5. War can be prepared for, and in this capacity, logistics influences all options. However, once battle commences, it is virtually impossible to plan logistics efficiently. ‘Brute force’ logistics often prevails.

Each book on logistics, including those many I have not mentioned here, deserves to be read. Twenty to thirty minutes of reading about military logistics is such a small proportion of time to devote to a topic so fundamentally relevant to success in war.

What can you expect? You will be left concerned with repetition of problems throughout history, and certainly the propensity of armies to outrun their means of supply with regularity. But you will also be left with a sense of the ingenuity of logisticians, commanders and soldiers to overcome logistics issues through a variety of means unforseen prior to war. You will see how logistics does indeed shape how forces will fight, and that logistics leads strategy to its ultimate conclusion.

But most of all, you will also be left to question why so few of these works are on professional reading lists.

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

The fight for logistics and survival in #highintensitywar

By David Beaumont.

Our friends at The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones are currently engaged in a comprehensive look at airpower in high-intensity warfare. Logistics will undoubtedly feature in the #highintensitywar series, as a major driver of preparedness, combat potential and power, and operational endurance.  Technology and ‘5th-generation’  airpower may have demonstrably changed the way in which air forces will fight, but the properly applied sustainment practices which have served them well in the past will continue to do so in the future. These practices will offer both options and constraints to operational planners, and the effectiveness of supply chains delivering fuel, ammunition and spare parts will fundamentally determine the duration of air operations. None of this is particularly revelatory, even to the facile commander who stubbornly ignores that warfare is about practicalities. However, it is also important to the appreciation of high-intensity warfare to look at how the resiliency of logistics lights the way to operational success.

In one of the earliest posts on Logistics in War I argued that ‘[l]ogistics has emerged from a decade-long hiatus to reassert its relevance’. As the US military, NATO and others responded to shifting strategic circumstances and re-postured their forces against imagined (and what seem to be increasingly realised) threats, new logistics systems were being established. Exercises undertaken to simulate high-intensity war such as US Pacific Command’s Exercise Pacific Sentry 17-03 highlighted significant force posture challenges that might constrain air (and other) operations against a peer adversary. Similarly, other problems which may affect the capacity for militaries to respond quickly in an environment of high-intensity warfare were eloquently shared by Jobie Turner in a series of Logistics in War articles.  The propensity of adversaries to target logistics capability in these scenarios was also raised. Militaries certainly seemed aware of major logistics challenges to preparing for peer-to-peer conflict in high-intensity warfare, and were adapting as rapid as they could.

There seems a multitude of ways in which logistics will influence future warfare, either directly or indirectly. This post serves as a reminder of one of these ways – a general feature known as the ‘logistics vacuum’ – initially described in Fighting in the void – combat operations in the logistics vacuum.  This feature appears because of the tendency to gloss over the logistics consequences of battle, and the inevitable drop in logistics capacity and capability that emerges with fighting. Appreciating the ‘vacuum’ is the first step towards preparing for it. With this in mind, what follows is an adaption (and in some places a repetition) of what was articulated some time ago, with elaboration as it may apply to high-intensity warfare in the air domain.

As force posture changes or as combat is prepared for, sustainment methods for combat forces often become optimised for specific and often localised conditions. Prepared forces are so because they have robust, and as efficient as practicably possible, logistics systems that are capable of sustaining them for extended periods of time.  Except in cases of extreme strategic surprise, logistics might appear relatively unimportant to the well-prepared force at the outset of combat. Resources are presumably plentiful, and firepower is assured, especially for those air forces defending their own territory. Unfortunately, and it is a general rule of war, this rapidly changes as combat begins and the system of sustainment adjusts.

Operation OKRA

A RAAF KC30 refuels an F/A18 on Operation Okra, above Iraq. Photo by Department of Defence.



When combat commences robust logistic systems allow for a high intensity of engagement – at least initially. However, this changes quickly soon after the first shots are fired, usually because logistics forces, bases and those capabilities from which a force derives its strength are targeted.  Forces would soon exhaust ammunition if the rate of effort demanded it, materiel used inefficiently as necessity breeds invention, health care inevitably overwhelmed and the distribution capabilities supporting operational supply chains are overstretched.  Air mobility will prove unable to respond rapidly enough for all sustainment requirements and compromises will have to be made. The loss of air-to-air refuelling platforms might pale in significance to the difficulties encountered on the ground as bulk fuel installations are targeted or demand for fuels outstrips its supply. When logistic support in other quarters fails to materialise the adversarial combat forces would be forced to adapt their tactical activities and the intensity of warfare would decrease commensurately. Combat becomes attritional, and the fight for logistics becomes as important as the fight for survival. In such circumstances the flexibility of and logistics forces remaining after the initial firefight becomes crucial to recovering any aspect of the initiative, and restoring tempo to the operation.

Vladimir Prebelic described this phenomenon as the ‘logistic vacuum’.[i] He saw it as a general feature of war because logistics elements and systems are typically and extensively targeted by adversaries, particularly as their initial targets, so make the opposition incapable of a substantial response. Instigating the ‘logistics vacuum’ in the offense, against a peer threat, is exceptionally difficult as the defence offers natural advantages including access to supply, let alone protective capabilities to interdict a threat. In a briefing on the developing F-35 capability in a high-intensity engagement in the Pacific, RAND commentators paint a picture of immense difficulty in achieving offensive strike effects against a potential adversary’s infrastructure.  Nonetheless, there are many ways in which logistics in depth can be attacked from air combat forces to ‘anti-access, area-denial’ missiles used in the maritime domain, to rocket-based artillery that can target key logistics infrastructure at tremendous ranges. In a multi-domain environment, the threat to the logistics capabilities sustaining air operations can come from any quarter.

Further problems may be entirely self-induced, or the result of formerly efficient supply chains collapsing as hostile forces prevent the easy replenishment of combat forces. One wonders how resilient high-technology forces, as air forces are, may be to supply chain disruptions as strategic sources of supply suffer in wars against major powers – those that are likely to be the only powers able to engage Western militaries in high-intensity war. The natural uncertainty that exists in war, especially high-intensity warfare where destruction can be rapid, and the impact of capacity constraints introduced by the desire to deploy with a light logistic ‘tail’, also conspire to create logistic shortcomings that magnify the effects of the adversary’s attacks.  The problem is particularly significant for operational and tactical-level logistics organisations who must establish in-theatre logistics infrastructure while under fire; a key concern for the deployment of expeditionary base capabilities and other support required to maintain combat operations.

The ability of logisticians and commanders to overcome the effects of the ‘first strike’ by working a logistic system out of the remnants of what existed in peacetime will often determine the operational initiative. Winning a defensive battle is the obvious way to preserve logistics capacity and allows for a rapid restoration of tempo. Options proposed include defensive measures such in the rear of the operational area, the reinforcement of logistics elements, platforms and bases with self-protection capabilities such as anti-air systems, protection of logistics infrastructure via the establishment of operating bases, and through distance and dispersal. Such measures are essential to providing resiliency to the logistic system that, if attacked, will prevent a catastrophic collapse of support.  However, these measures are also only part of the problem. Reassessing doctrine, training and thinking to respond to the inevitable logistics  vacuum will be fundamental to the logistician and commander in their mental preparations for war.

Nonetheless, the ‘logistic vacuum’ is an oft-repeated feature of warfare, and military thinkers have yet to conceptualise a way out of it. What really matter is that military planners design forces and logistics capabilities that are able to reduce the time it takes for the combat force to emerge from the ‘vacuum’, and with the initiative. All attention should be given to the ways in which risks can be reduced, the resiliency of the logistic system improved and flexibility of logistics forces enhanced. The perfect solution would be to provide logistic support in an over-abundance, particularly to those that must deploy forward, but that isn’t a realistic expectation to have. Forces must be prepared to operate austerely, logisticians better empowered to prioritise resources, and all must plan and rehearse accordingly.However, we shouldn’t be overconfident in our attempts to avoid the inevitable.

As we think about high-intensity warfighting in the air domain, or any other area, it is worth remembering that the quality of logistics support that may be expected at the outset of combat will undoubtedly drop. It is for this reason that this article serves as a reminder of a key phenomenon of logistics in conflict – the ‘logistics vacuum’. As I concluded in 2017, combat forces shouldn’t have a misplaced faith that they would be able to operate with everything they need, nor should any logisticians make claims as to be able to offer a solution that prevents a capitulation in logistics support. The best both can do is be adaptable.

[i] Prebelic, V., ‘ Theoretical aspects of military logistics’ from Defence and security analysis, Vol. 22, No. 2, Routledge, USA, 2006. Sorry – another paywall!

‘CoveTalk’ – logistics, Army and the future of war

By David Beaumont.

I was privileged to have been asked by those behind the Australian Army’s professional military education site, The Cove, to present a webinar last week. This presentation, titled ‘The way we sustain: logistics, Army and the future of war’, proved less about the future, and more about the timeless links between logistics and strategy, and logistics and command.

The synopsis of the talk is:

Experienced soldiers agree that logistics ranks as one of the most crucial elements contributing to military success. The Army’s ‘logistics readiness’ shapes and defines its combat potential, as well as its performance during operations. However, while we acknowledge that logistics is important, few consider it as an aspect of effective command. Logistics is about winning battles and wars by assuring the existence of combat power, and underpins much a commander must consider when making strategic and tactical decisions. It is therefore important that as we reinvest in our understanding of strategy and tactics, we also address logistics and the practicalities of war.

After introducing the topic, the presentation will examine logistics in the ADF – the way we sustain joint land force operations. Both historic preferences and broad operational lessons will be raised, as well as the dual requirements of Army logistics. These requirements, often thought of as a false dichotomy, are described as ‘the logistics of coalition participation’ and ‘the logistics of coalition leadership’.  Finally, the discussion will place the way in which we sustain in the context of the future war on land as imagined in recent discussions both in Australia and abroad. The talk will conclude with a case for transforming Army logistics to address these new challenges, support the modernisation of Army and to elevate its relevance as a topic for every Army commander and leader.

The full webinar can be found here.

You might also note the topic addresses a similar topic to the primer, Logistics and the art of command. The primer provides a more detailed analysis of the first portion of the webinar, dealing specifically with the the difficult issue of human behaviour and how it influences the logistics process.

Continue the discussion here!

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


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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

You can find the primer here.

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

Hoping and planning for the best: understanding war without logistics

By David Beaumont.

In ‘Burning incense at a new altar’ and closing Logistics in War for 2017, I reflected on the state of interest in military logistics and why it was important to the profession of arms right now. As military professionals that continue to ‘burn incense at Clausewitz’s altar’, our continued emphasis on the ‘role of courage, leadership and the arts of command’ overlooked the strain such principles had been enduring since the first half of the twentieth century.[1] Victory was increasingly being determined by the ability of a combatant to bring machinery, firepower and mass to the battle. More personnel – whether military or partners from industry – were engaged in sustaining battle than participating in front-line combat. In peace, militaries were so consumed with logistics activities that the ‘business of defence’ had made every member of the staff a logistician in one form or another. Logistics was increasingly a determinant of strategy, while itself  influenced by the outcomes of strategic decisions. Yet we heard strikingly little about it.

Many readers of military history might look to statements such as these and contend that the importance of logistics in determining strategic outcomes was an idiosyncrasy of global war. In the post-Cold War era, however, the consequences of logistics miscalculation or failed integration within strategic or tactical planning could be regarded as far less of a consequence. The reality is completely opposite. Security is being recast as international logistics systems and supply chains contribute to the reshaping of the global order, and strategic policy intertwines itself with economics and industrial power to create objectives for the military forces protecting national interests (it has, of course, been ever thus). The growing logistics needs of combat forces creates pressures at a time where ‘small wars’ are being fought on a shoestring budget, where the increasing outsourcing of military activities binds operational success with the fortunes of commercial opportunity, and the growing complexity and diversity of supply creates troubling issues for military security.

If these problems were as significant as I make them out to be, you might expect we would hear far more about them. The culprit is not that the problems are inconsequential; they are just not written about. Our understanding of modern war is at the mercy of an academic debate which fails to address supply beyond discussions on technology, weapon systems and their use, defence industry and finding a balance between contract and organic logistics. There is virtually no strategic discussion concerning the ‘revolution of military logistics’ which accompanied the ‘revolution of military affairs’ in the 1990s, where militaries world-wide moved from a supply-based system to one that emphasised distribution and integrated logistics.[2] With hindsight we can see how significant this change really was, revealed most starkly between two defining military campaigns. The first, Operation Desert Storm of 1991, saw the transportation of near an entire national strategic reserve to an operational area thus ensuring a 100-hour war was possible; a war where logistics offered little tactical constraint. The second, Operation Iraqi Freedom of 2003, saw the logistics system falter during the advance at An Najaf, reminding operational planners that the contemporary logistics system based upon new assumptions and concepts was an entirely different beast.

There is little discussion – nearly a complete absence – of how logistics shaped the Western counter-insurgency operations which followed. With forces ‘hoping for the best, and planning for the best’, small logistics footprints and inadequate strategic consideration severely curtained British Army operations in Basra in the early years of its deployment in Iraq.[3] The need to secure supply-routes and distribution tasks restricted the frequency of combat patrols, and entrenched forces into ‘forward operating bases’ thus reducing the tactical mobility of the force. Similar experiences in Helmand, Afghanistan, were encountered.[4] More and more significant resources had to be directed to logistics missions, drawing upon helicopters to overcome lacking equipment and the state of lowering materiel readiness as the supply chain failed to keep up. Although there is little recorded evidence to substantiate, I contend that they are illustrative of the Australian Army’s efforts in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. The fault in these cases was not that there was too much logistics support requiring fortification; rather, it was the fact there was too little sustainment support meaning control over the operational area could not be assured by any other method.

We are now in a paradigm of logistics that requires the military professional to adapt once more. Commanders wait pensively at the mercy of supply lines, hoping that the ability to operate austerely will return to their forces. Logistics efforts over the last decade have been defined by managing global supply shortages, complex distribution systems, a reliance on industry to act at short notice to meet procurement requirements and adapt products and services, and with little appreciation of the role that logistics would eventually play in shaping strategy and tactics. Will the next decade of operations display the same characteristics? If greater political and military value is given to logistics readiness and other topics prior to operations, perhaps not. The problem is that in a highly constrained discussion about logistics, our study of war is patently ‘incomplete at best, false at worst’.[5] In a professional discourse flooded by strategists and tacticians, the academic and professional component invested in understanding logistics seems infinitesimally small. With inadequate knowledge of logistics and its timeless relationship with strategy and tactics it is understandable that we so often grossly underestimate its influence.

This year Logistics in War seeks your help to continue its offerings. It will continue to present articles on as broad a field of topics as possible, and to remain relevant amidst the public discussion on military operations. It will also hone in on three focus areas. Firstly, the relationship between strategy, tactics and logistics as it applies to contemporary war and military operations. Secondly, the professional development of the military logistician and the training and education required for future success. Thirdly, it will focus on modernising logistics and strategic preparedness in the context of the Australian Defence Force and its experiences of operations. If these topics interest you enough to contribute to the site, Logistics in War would like to hear from you.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, logistician and Editor of ‘Logistics in War’. The thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

[1] Leighton, R. & Coakley, R., Global logistics and strategy 1940-1943, The War Department, USA, 1954, p 10

[2] Erbel, M. & Kinsey, C., ‘Think again – supplying war: reappraising military logistics and its centrality to strategy and war’ from Journal of Strategic Studies, 2015, Routledge, p 6, This paper is behind a paywall – apologies for those who may wish to access it.

[3] Ibid., p 14

[4] Ibid., p 14

[5] Ibid., p 22