Every logistician must write

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It brings greater understanding, and from understanding, professional relevance

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

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

To write is to convince and influence

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

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

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

It is part of organisational renewal

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

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

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

Call for submissions: #Selfsustain and High-Intensity Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limping to war

Preparedness and its paradoxes

By David Beaumont.

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

Chief of Army LTGEN Peter Leahy, 2004[1]

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

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

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

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

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

Deployment_Limping to War.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid. p 70

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

[7] Betts., p 235

The LIW articles you should read – a 2018 retrospective

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From Every logistician must write:

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

Where competition, modernisation and capability meet

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The realities of logistics and strategic leadership – ‘2018 edition’

By David Beaumont.

In late 2017 I published a post of anecdotes, observations and lessons given by senior officers contacted through the course of academic research. These insights were given by logisticians, but not always, and pointed at many of the issues transforming Defence logistics over a period of nearly thirty years. The conversations continued throughout 2018 and continued to highlight significant, strategic, challenges which define Defence organisations even today, and point at the transition leaders must make as they ‘stare, mid-career, at their future in Defence bureaucracy, into an environment where the definition achieved in operational planning is not possible, and where institutional functions and logistics processes are completely integrated through the span of the strategic level’.

The disclaimer provided in 2017 applies:

This post is a collation of pertinent points imparted through these conversations. They are general in nature, raw in content, deliberately unattributed and paraphrased. Although discussed in the context of strategic logistics they are broadly applicable, and many are clearly relevant to effective strategic leadership. This reflects the inseparability of logistics from the institutional activity which defines the strategic level of defence forces. Moreover, the factors and issues described here deal with the complexity of generating institutional strategy (as distinct from a military or operational strategy) and leadership within a complex environment.

Logisticians and the ‘spirit of the age’

Defence logistics has been in a paradigm shift for the last thirty years. These times are difficult because of the pace of change, the absence of an equilibrium, people get ‘lost’ and do not know how to proceed. Outdated ideas become a refuge.

The ‘age’ is defined by the mobility of people and knowledge, dispersal of production, changing customer expectations, technological bypasses for conventional processes, short product (capability) cycles that are used for strategic advantage, cross-functional and networked organisations, alliances in shared efforts.

Trends of this ‘age’ include the move from strategic planning to strategic thinking, structure to process, physical assets to the integration and use of knowledge, single to multi-skilling, and hierarchy to networks.

The behaviours required for success in this age are cooperation rather than confrontation, cross-functional versus functional, integrated opposed to aligned, and collaborative rather than autonomic.

Success in logistics, as in any venture in this time, requires Defence to be able to take information stored passively in people’s heads and to make it accessible, actionable, useful and explicit. This applies to human and organisational knowledge.

Logistics in the Defence context:

The logistics viewpoint is essentially that of the commander, not of technical specialists.

The cardinal sin of logistics is over-insurance.

Defence financial management is a major limiting factor on progress in all areas, especially logistics. Poor standards of management and inappropriate accountability will compromise preparedness.

Defence is a command economy where resources are allocated, and capabilities are developed, in an environment distinctly different from the corporate environment. There are no market forces, no profit imperative, no capital market test, and consequently, surpluses and deficiencies are inevitable.

The single-most important relationship (human or not) in Defence is between the capital and operating (sustainment and discretionary) budget. Strategic transformation orbits this relationship, as does force structure, capability and preparedness.

Defence logistics activity is, for the reasons above, not a high-performance activity. Areas of excellence are discrete, and often temporary.

Many logistics managers do not realise they are running a business. Many leaders do not provide these managers with the skills to do so.

The concept of a ‘core organisation’ is foreign to a military culture that often links ownership with capability. In the tactical environment, this plays out in approaches to command and control. In the strategic environment, this plays out in organisational fragmentation. In the logistics environment, this plays out in how logistics managers perform as a body of essential staff, surrounded by contractors and others.

Longstanding logistics knowledge shortfalls exist in supply chain management, financial management, performance management, quality management, technical configuration management, risk management, competitive tendering and contracting. A lack of knowledge in systems engineering exacerbates logistics inefficiencies and other knowledge deficiencies.

Logistics, and the management of Defence

Senior officers are prepared to manage training and operational activities, but are rarely prepared to manage militaries as large, public-sector, institutions. Not only have they been ill-prepared in terms of managerial competencies, but they are often saddled with outdated management systems.

Because of the upbringing of military officers, there can be a tendency of some to consider senior management and logistics as a peripheral task. The problem is that at its foundations, Defence is a business like any other.

Most senior officers are not developed with an understanding of logistics other than how it applies to the combat force. Defence has never really settled on the question, ‘how much should they really know?’

Culture and change

The Defence strategic ‘sub-cultures’ which impact on performance could be summarised through the terms ‘warrior’, ‘policy’, ‘technology’ and ‘management’. Each can be categorised further in Services, Groups and organisations at all levels. Successful change requires leaders to actively avoid destroying sub-cultures, instead harnessing them through common goals and aligned objectives. Furthermore, it requires the diversity in thinking by ensuring teams are built on a span of ‘sub-cultures’.

In the context of Defence culture, external ideas – though completely appropriate – might be impossible to realistically implement. For this reason, it is important that ideas are ‘adapted’, not ‘adopted’.

Successful reforms in Defence logistics have been brought about through culture building (the difficult part), process and structure design (the easy part), and competency development (the forgotten part).

The objective of change in logistics should be to resolve excessive and sustained pressure on people, gaps in workforce competencies and to overcome highly decentralised decision making more than any other reason.

Senior leaders have a choice when embarking upon their agenda – do they conduct a brutal, sweeping, transformation or do they strive for continuous improvement? Transformation is pursued through a grand plan, initiated with a ‘big bang’, and usually aimed at a reduction in costs. Continuous improvement initiates experimentation and evolution but can include consolidation and the development of competencies.

The fact that transformation in logistics, and in other areas of Defence, is often imposed is revealing. Long term change in logistics, however, should be continuous in nature.

The difference between ‘brutal’ transformations and continuous improvement can be seen in the implementation. Transformation is led through direction, adjustments to process and structure and external advice is used to provide solutions (consultants and others). Continuous improvement is defined by a participative approach, building new cultures, and is supported by external agents.

The key to success in delivering change in Defence organisations is action. Too many have been taught to talk, too few have been taught to act.

The ‘knowing-doing gap’ is a result of:

  • Not knowing what the problem is. This is a consequence of poor strategic communication, but also a willingness to listen.
  • Perceptions of disempowerment, whether this be real or not. Disempowerment can be bred or defeated through leadership and example.
  • Change is difficult and frightening, and the effort costs individuals.
  • The propensity to compromise progress with talk; long and loud, ridden with platitudes and cliché. Language and engagement can be used to delay.

‘Smart-talk’ is negative and destructive. Be cautious of when pessimism sounds profound, and optimism sounds superficial.

Complex language is never better than simple words. Fashionable terms that no one really understands, or ill-defined questions, make progress difficult. However, never confuse ease of comprehension with ease of implementation.

Emotional intelligence is critical for organisational success. It is defined by self-awareness, self-control and the ability to suspend judgement, empathy, motivation and social skills. Credible leaders:

  • Face up to their personal strengths and inadequacies, beliefs and prejudices.
  • Reflect on their own reasoning (self-awareness).
  • Explore the reasoning of others (empathy).
  • Make their own reasoning visible through communication in all forms (social skills).

One emotionally unintelligent person among a group of competent individuals can lead to incompetent group performance.


Logistics might be nine-tenths of the business of war, but it is virtually all the business of peace. Defence logisticians must recognise who and why they are, and what they need to become. Yet, as described above, logistics is a command perspective – and not a technical viewpoint. It is defined by approaches to leadership, to change, and by the vagaries of human behaviour.  My conversations confirmed that many senior leaders had wished they had known more about organisations or thought of logistics differently. It was evident that most problems they encountered related to organisational management more than they did to stewarding the logistics capabilities and organisations under their care. In fact, many of the issues which burned in contention among the junior and mid-ranking staff, issues including force-structure, organisational design and policy, were only smouldering in the minds of senior staff and commanders. Solutions came from commanders and logisticians thinking about how technical, specialised, functions could be effectively combined, and the way in which processed and organisation could be bent through changes to culture.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer. The thoughts are his own, and he takes responsibility for what he borrows!

One hundred logisticians, one bullet and designing the future logistics system

By David Beaumont.

‘I want you to imagine a rifle round being fired by an Australian soldier, on an operation, sometime in the indeterminate future. The effect of the round hitting its target is achieved through the efforts of literally hundreds of people in the Army and the joint ADF team. While the infantry soldier who fired the round is an important part of this picture, she is in many respects just the final actor in a well-designed system which has resulted in that bullet being there at that time and place. A system designed and run by Army’s logisticians.’

–        General Angus Campbell, Chief of Defence Force (then Chief of Army), Chief of Army address to the Army Logistics Training Centre, 3rd December 2016

The now Chief of Defence Force, when addressing the Training Centre invested in the task of preparing the Australian Army’s logisticians, used characteristically simple term to describe something tremendously complex. In making it possible that this rifle round be delivered ‘each day, every day’, his example implicitly recognised the control required to make Army’s part of the Defence logistics system work. General Campbell may have used the opportunity of the address to emphasise the importance of a well-trained, technically-diverse and mutually-supporting joint workforce to the success of the logistics system. His reflection of Army’s logisticians in the design and process of this system was, perhaps, more poignant.

The Australian Army’s logisticians are currently engaged in a discussion on the future system that sustains the force in preparedness and on operations. Though these logisticians and leaders may discuss this system, it is done with full knowledge that there is no single owner of problem.  No matter which military we are talking about, and as the now Chief of Defence Force remarked, successful logistics comes with the efforts of many. All logisticians are stewards of components of the process; some leaders have greater responsibility, authority or virtue of appointment, or personal capacity and drive to shape events and activities to suit temporary objectives. The collective effort required means artefacts – including policies – to unify all to the intended goal are required.

What are the risks if these ‘artefacts’ don’t exist? As a complex system, the processes and acts of sustaining and maintaining a military force can often take a life of their own. As Clausewitz remarked in his chapter on the concept of ‘friction’, ‘activity in war is movement in a resistant medium.’[i] Activity in logistics is movement in mud. Logistics is a ‘place’ where human, resource, organisational and materiel factors conspire against performance; a morass of interactions and problems that most certainly makes the seemingly simple disproportionally difficult. It is important that military leaders – those who are technically-trained logisticians and those leaders and commanders who are not – consider, design and implement measures of control that ensure that the proverbial round of ammunition is delivered into the hand of a soldier as efficiently as possible. If you consider strategy to be the comprehensive direction of power to control circumstances to the point a force will win, it is therefore key that effective logistics requires a well-planned and considered organisational strategy.

Aside from doctrine and a multitude of sometimes contradictory organisational orders and directives, the Australian Army lacks a strategic logistics strategy. Some time ago I argued that the Australian Army needed a vision for its approach to logistics, that an unambiguous intent with respect to the future for Army logistics was lacking, and that Army’s logistics leaders needed to ‘shoulder the responsibility of developing a useful and acceptable narrative’. I now think that as a logistics community, we are doing much better several years after I made this statement, at the time of a significant conceptual discourse in which tactics, concepts and force structures were ‘up for grabs’ and disagreement was rife. However, though a vision may be useful to binding the thought of the collective, they can become little more than ‘intellectual fluff’ without the substance provided by a pragmatic strategy.

Whatever the form of the Army’s logistics system, it must aspire to surety. A logistics system designed by Army’s logisticians must have, at its core, the singular purpose of ensuring the preparedness, combat performance and survival of combat forces.  Efficiency must be an outcome of a well-designed strategy, and not just the planning outcome desired. Because resources are by their nature always limited, and resources devoted to logistics capability, supplies and capacities fewer still, there is always a tendency to value logistics productivity and efficiency above all else. Organisations within the Australian Defence Force have been structured, processes implemented and seemingly irrevocable, and the acquisition and sustainment of materiel defined by this philosophy. Decisions are made in peace that create unacceptable costs in war.

Secondly, any proposed strategy must implement a logistics system prepared for the profound materiel change underway in land forces. The full cost of modernisation and technology must be understood and prepared for.[ii] Most land forces have approached a point where the complexity and sophistication of equipment or personnel requirements has surpassed their capacity for organic support. In a trend that probably began with the mass use of artillery and armour in the twentieth century, continuing with modern communications and computing, the relevance of the ‘platform’ to land-based combat power has elevated.

Land Trial 02-18

Where there was a medic, there will now also be a ‘maintainer’. In fact, there are already many more members of the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers than there are of any other logistics Corps in Army. However, the resources required to train this ‘maintainer’, or to develop robust organic maintenance capabilities in the Army, is becoming an increasingly significant challenge for land forces. This issue should scare those planning the introduction of remote or automated systems in Army, or any other equipment type that is likely to be introduced into Army in twenty to thirty years’ time.

Additionally, in times that are convenient to us, we outsource responsibilities that arguably should be organic. This caused no end of problems to the Australian Army in the 1990s and early 2000s which reawakened from a slumber into a period of intense operations, but there are recent examples from other armies. The US Army’s support structure for its Stryker fleet, a model based on extremely high levels of industry involvement to reduce an Army manpower overhead that was later rescinded somewhat, is a pertinent example to reflect upon. In any case, the Army now must share a wide range of support tasks with industry partners and must plan accordingly.

As industry capabilities are often finite, Army can’t afford inefficient sustainment policies and programs. This results in industry being provided with poorly specified requirements, or at worst, inconsistent requirements from different areas of the organisation. The Army must continue its collaborative work with key partners including Joint Logistics Command and the Capability and Acquisition Group to ensure that when industry is engaged, a clear message is given. This message must be shaped by the development of a concept for operational sustainment in accordance with preparedness objectives.

Nor can the Army absolve itself of risks to materiel by transferring maintenance challenges into industry if it is to be truly confident that when the time comes, the operational combat force will be sustained. If assured logistics support is desired, there is no better way than ensuring that the most important risks are owned internal to the Service, or by the right operational authority in the ADF, along with the means to act upon problems as they manifest. Identifying the right balance of organic and non-organic logistics capabilities in the ADF will be difficult, but is a critical priority.

Thirdly, as Army engages in a step-change in capability as major projects such as Land 400 deliver, any sustainment or support strategy must be developed in cognisance of significant supply chain risks.  To be frank, Western militaries are finding themselves in an uncomfortable place with respect to the globalisation of defence manufacturing. Potential adversaries are producers of critical machine parts, defence industries are being compromised by cyber threats, and in some areas a lack of production – such as precision ammunition and weapons – creates a highly competitive supply chain environment even amongst nations who share the foxhole in war. These factors will compromise the execution of national strategic policy, as well as military strategy.

It is not immediately clear how significant these risks are to the Australian Army; what is clear that any Army sustainment strategy must identify practical measures to mitigate these risks or advocate the development of enough slack in the supply-chain. ‘War-stock’ should not be considered a dirty phrase, and sustainment risks should be in the vernacular of discussions within the preparedness community. Of course, Army must work with others in the logistics enterprise as this is a shared burden. However, there is a language to preparedness that logisticians must be better at speaking. Until they do, any Army plan for sustainment will have to do the talking.

The Australian Army is looking to the future, with an intent to change in order to meet what its current Chief, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, considers an ‘era of increasing threats.’ Preparedness is one of four key command themes. Surety must be the logistics theme of this moment. His predecessor, General Campbell, spoke to Army trainers on the breadth of the effort required to complete a seemingly simple logistics staff. In the future, the delivery of ‘that’ round to ‘that’ soldier must continue to be done, just it must be done so as effectively and efficiently as possible. To achieve this, the development of a strategy to support and sustain the capabilities which increasingly underpin land combat power, remains as important as ever.

If – to paraphrase Major General Julian Thompson – logistics is the lifeblood of war, the logistics system is the veins of the body.[iii] The development of a comprehensive strategy which addresses the three issues I mention here would be a significant milestone, and ensure Army remains as healthy as it needs to be. Just as the round of ammunition required ‘literally hundreds’ of ADF logisticians to be delivered, such a strategy cannot be delivered alone or without considering the span of involvement. However, it is important that the Army and its logisticians take ownership of the problem and invest the time and effort in producing a plan that ensures Army is ready and prepared when it needs to be.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer and the thoughts here are his own. This topic is one of a number being discussed at the 2018 Australian Army Logistics Leaders Seminar in November.

[i] Clausewitz, C., On War, translated by Howard, M. & Paret, P., Princeton University Press, USA, 1989, Book 1, Chapter 7, p 120

[ii] See Demchak, C. C., Military organizations, complex machines: modernization in the US Armed Services, Cornell University Press, USA, 1991

[iii] Thompson. J., The lifeblood of war: logistics and armed conflict, Brassey’s, London, 1991