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!

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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

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, https://www.csis.org/analysis/national-technology-and-industrial-base-integration, accessed 11 Mar 18, p 2

[2] ibid, start from p 54

The five most popular ‘Logistics In War’ posts of 2017

By David Beaumont.

‘Logistics In War’, with well over sixty original posts, had an arguably successful first year of publishing.  With 2017 drawing to a close, I am proud to present the five most read articles of the year. I do so with the caveat that with the growth of the site, the earliest articles drew less views than those released later in the year. That being said, there should be no surprises for regular readers ……

#5 – ‘Thinking small – the importance of small team logistics operations’ by Steven Mencshelyi

In ‘Thinking small – the importance of small team logistics operations’, Australian Army officer Steven Mencshelyi commends tactical logisticians to become better practiced in sub-combat team operations. Why is this important? Steven considers that sustaining small combat elements operating in a dispersed tactical environment will require logisticians to rethink how they currently operate. Orchestration and tempo will become defining considerations for sustainment operations conducted by small logistics teams that lack the scale necessary to sustain all combat operations at once. A great article that directs attention for aspiring logistics commanders…..

#4 – ‘The roots of readiness – the six logistics factors defining strategic choice’ by David Beaumont

‘The roots of readiness – the six logistics factors defining strategic choice’ highlights an fact that appears, at first glace, self-evident. It is less important that military forces are available than they are actually employable. The assumption that a force is employable because of its  pre-determined ‘notice to move’ is proven unfounded when, as has been the case incredibly frequently in history, substantial logistics weaknesses exist elsewhere. This article looks towards six criteria that underpin ‘logistics readiness’; the mutual understanding between commanders and logistics staff, the balance between combat and supporting forces across a force, the quality of logistics plans and policies, the nature of organisation, materiel readiness, and the quality by which the logistics forces are exercises in peacetime.

#3 – ‘Logistics and the strangling of strategy’ by David Beaumont

This post was one of a smaller number of posts which looked at logistics and its relationship to strategy. It recognises that logistics systems and supply chains are not only an influence on the formulation of strategy, but in many cases an outright determinant. Furthermore, the contemporary fixation on high-velocity, nominally ‘efficient; and globalised supply-chains have introduced significant operational challenges that strategists are only coming to realise. It cites a number of recent studies of operations in Afghanistan to support its thesis, concluding with a realisation that we are in an era where logistics has been recast from an issue of economy and commerce to one fundamental to the security of nations.

#2 – ‘Establishing an ‘unequal dialogue’ between the logistician and the commander’ by Steve Cornell

Steve Cornell, a serving British Army officer and commanding officer, made an apt comparison between Eliot Cohen’s ‘unequal dialogue’ between military commanders and political masters to the relationship necessary between logisticians and their commanders. Logisticians must understand the minds of their commanders, but with a robust dialogue, their perspective must also be reflected in their commander’s thinking. Steve helpfully identifies three questions for commanders and three for logisticians that provide a good starting point in establishing an effective relationship. Implicit in this is shared trust, a factor emphasised in this years most popular post …

Most popular post for 2017 – ‘The trust deficit – why do we expect logistics to fail us?’ by Gabrielle M. Follett

As an Australian Army combat service support battalion commander, Gabrielle Follett was well-placed to discuss the issue of trust between tactical commanders and logisticians. She observed a general cultural scepticism as to the ability of logisticians to operationally deliver, and witnessed an assumption made by many ‘that the logistics system is almost certainly going to fail us’. This lack of faith generates what Follett calls a ‘trust deficit’. The ‘trust deficit’ is seen to be compounded by an unwillingness to accept that logistics, like combat, is subject to the influence of many factors, but also a mentality whereby ‘trust is good, but control [of resources] is better’. Yet, Follett incisively argues, logisticians must also demonstrate competence, or quantifiably expose shortfalls so that resources to remediate them can be won.

Posts you should read

In addition to the five most popular posts, there a few editorial recommendations to avail you of five minutes of your time. These posts are thematically linked – with strategic logistics leadership the focus. Please excuse the self-selection!

  1. Future logistician – framing a new approach‘ by Major General David Mulhall. Why? It’s always useful to keep in mind where strategic leadership is heading.
  2. The realities of logistics and strategic leadership: lessons from the ADF’s senior-most logisticians‘ by David Beaumont. Why? The post provides a list of succinct anecdotes and lessons relevant to understanding institutional logistics.
  3. Surviving your time as a military logistician‘ by Air Commodore Hayden Marshall. Why? The post gives ‘mantras’ for logisticians to survive – if not thrive – within the institutional and operational environment.
  4. Intellectual irrelevance and ownership of logistics‘ by David Beaumont. Why? Take a read – the article attests to why LIW exists.
  5. A Logistics in War Primer: how we make a sustainable and balanced force‘ by David Beaumont. Why? It describes the importance of logistics considerations in force design though two case studies – the US Army development of its SBCT capability, and the Australian Army’s recent history of change.

Thanks to all contributors for supporting LIW, and making 2017 a success!

 

MV-22 EX TS17

USMC MV-22 Osprey during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2017 – Photo by Department of Defence

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burning incense at a new altar – a year of ‘Logistics In War’

By David Beaumont.

Thank you for your patronage of Logistics In War and the interest given to the works of authors who have invested personal time and effort to write about a subject of profound importance to military readiness and operational performance. The engagement achieved across a wide variety of logistics issues, told from the perspective of a range of military experiences in different militaries and contexts, has been an incredibly positive sign. The contributions made to the site, done so from a genuine and honest desire to improve upon current practices in militaries, point to a conception of logistics as a not just a technical issue, but a matter of growing concern across many militaries and within their institutions. It is also a sign of military professionals seeking organisational transformation, and innovative ways in which improvements to logistics practices might achieve leaps in operational performance. With this in mind, it is worth reflecting on this professional interest in logistics and the reason why it is important to us right now.

Fifty years ago Richard Leighton and Robert Coakley, authors of the US Army official history Global Logistics and Strategy 1940-43 saw military thought clinging to two ‘Clausewitzian’ ideas:

‘that the primary function of the soldier is to use the tools of war in combat, not to fashion or provide them, and that material forces have not yet diminished the role of courage, leadership and the arts of command’.[1]

They asserted that such principles have been under strain since the industrialisation of war, and the integration of technological improvements into forces that offered the modern combatant access to unparalleled firepower. Secondly, courage and leadership were seen to be ‘losing the power to override heavy materiel odds’.[2] The victor in operations was the one that could effectively and efficiently utilise its logistics capacity to bring the most combat power it could to the battlefield. The importance of the individual combatant in battle was diminishing given the power of machinery and combat mass, with troops becoming increasingly employed in mobilisation and sustainment activities. Thus the Second World War was seen to be the tipping point where the more personnel were engaged in sustaining combat than participating in front-line combat. The ‘tail’ in contemporary campaigns now well outweighs the ‘teeth’, whether it be constituted by military personnel, contractors and industrial partners.

We are a generation of military professionals that continues to ‘burn incense at Clausewitz’ altar’, with a continuing emphasis on the human dimension of war, the weight of leadership and the role of the combatant.[3] I argue that this view of warfare is being revealed as increasingly incomplete and  inadequate other than in terms of basic principles. The philosophical basis for the Western way of war emerged well before logistics was seen to be ‘nine-tenths of the business of war’, and where availability supply was less of a determinant of operational tempo, shock and firepower.[4] That there is only one chapter out of the one-hundred and twenty-five in OnWar with specific discussion on logistics is instructive of the limitations of this text. His contemporary, Antoine Jomini considered logistics as a principle component of the theory of war, yet also offered very little description on the topic. But this is typical of the works of the time where the problems of large-scale warfare were prevalent. It should not, however, be typical of ours. Our interest in logistics must mirror that directed to strategy and tactics in an age where the latter are often determined by the former.

In complete contrast to the lukewarm professional and academic interest directed to the concepts of military logistics, we find logistics activities dominate much of what militaries, and their personnel, do daily. In war, logistics is the acme of strategy in the use of movements and supply to generate decisive combat power. Through the actions of commanders in control of a process of intertwined activities spanning national industry right to the passing of ammunition between soldiers in combat, military forces achieve their operational potential and firepower. This ensures combat forces are not just available; it will determine that they are employable. Logistics factors influence so many things from the amount of dispersal a force can achieve to their rate of advance, and the myriad of tactical options that a commander might have before him or her. No commander will perform effectively without full cognisance of the simultaneously constraining yet enabling characteristics of their forces’ logistics capacity.

The importance of logistics in the ‘business’ of Defence is even greater. Logistics factors are central to the development of the preparedness of forces as achieved through the six characteristics of logistics readiness – mutual understanding between commanders and their logisticians, the balance between logistics and combat resources and elements, effective governance, logistics organisation, materiel readiness, and through the testing of the logistics system. Military staff of all persuasions must deal with the complexity of logistics during the introduction of modern capabilities, the integration of military activities with industry support, and the realisation that no one person or organisation can maintain and sustain forces without the help of many others. Matters of money and policy, institutional behaviour and leadership make every member of the staff a logistician in one form or another, and every leader a resource manager. To expand upon Major General Julian Thompson’s idea, logistics is truly the lifeblood of military activity in peace, as much as it is in war.

The problem with logistics is that its importance is often recognised in principle, but eyes tend to glaze over when the subject is discussed in any detail. Just as it is important that this attitude to logistics concerns changes, it is similarly important that the language of logistics also changes to facilitate a more effective engagement. Commander and logisticians must avoid the temptation to discuss logistics issues from the basis of it being only a technical enterprise; where complex process and policies tend to obfuscate issues. With the increasing technological sophistication of militaries there is a real risk that logistics functions might splinter into fiefdoms of technical expertise, exacerbating difficulties in achieving integrated logistics outcomes throughout the military organisation. Secondly, if logistics considerations are to be given the attention they deserve, the positioning of logistics staff within the bureaucratic and planning staff will be vital to ensuring that their concerns are heard at the appropriate level. Logistics functions must not be housed in areas of defence forces where it is easy that their leaders are ignored. Fortunately, for Australian readers, I am glad to say that this problem appears to be lessening as a concern for the ADF and its Services.

There is certainly still a way to go with respect to logistics as a core pillar of professional military education and training, and a matter for regular professional discussion, but the prognosis is generally good. Logistics leaders want to take an innovative approach with respect to elevating it as a subject. As a logistics community we must go beyond the intent; the importance of logistics to the military organisation will be directly correlated to the way in which logisticians describe why it should be so. Succeeding in changing opinion will similarly be correlated to the personal and collective effort devoted to the task. The approach taken by all contributors to Logistics In War during 2017, however, is a positive indicator of the growing engagement within (and outside of) the professional community with respect to logistics in a contemporary context. It is certainly hoped that the discussion continues in 2018. The importance of logistics to operational and institutional outcomes is ever increasing, and I thank the Logistics In War community for playing its part.

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

[2] Ibid., p 10

[3] Ibid., p 9

[4] Van Creveld., M., Supplying War, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2nd edition, 2004, p 180

LIW Editorial – SSI, Strategy Bridge and the quartermasters claim on history

In Military Logistics and Strategic Performance Thomas Kane wrote that the ‘quartermaster’s claim on history may, at its root, lie in the effect of logistics on timing.’[1] Moreover, ‘[t]he longer a nation requires to bring its force to bear, the more time its enemies have to seize whatever objectives they consider desirable.’[2] In other words, the rapidity of supply of forces as well as their movement determines what forces may be able to achieve, but also the options available to the enemy. The faster that a side can act, the greater the freedom they will have to ‘choose the time, place and manner of battle.’[3] Logistics does not ‘compete with strategy and tactics’ but logistical factors such as movements and supply certainly ‘determine which side will be able to mount the type of warfare it is best fitted to win.’[4]

Logistics In War has examined strategic mobility in the context of capability choices in The cost of combat power: weapons, weight and sustainment in multi-domain battle by David Beaumont and with respect to operations in Task Force Eagle – V Corps deployment to Bosnia and logistic cost by James Davis. Over the last week two great articles on the topic of mobility, supply and transportation have been published elsewhere that are worthy of your attention and continuing the discussion.

USAF Officer Jobie Turner in The temptations of the brown box at The Strategy Bridge contends the it is time for strategists to ‘pause and consider the permissive environment that has existed for over 70 years in both war and commercial enterprise’. Referring to the inclusion of modern and emerging logistics technologies in future concepts, Turner believes that an American natural advantage in materiel delivery has created a positive bias when it comes to expectations as to how such capabilities and concepts might perform. This culture has emerged as a consequence of the immense US industrial base, and strategic mobility forces that offer unparalleled expeditionary capability. Similarly, he notes that the assumption of logistical superiority ‘is so ingrained in the way the military approaches problems that even minor hiccups in delivery of bullets and beans to troops is considered anathema to the American way of warfare’.

This view implies risks are being overlooked, and comfortable assumptions are being made concerning the sustainment of military operations. Turner argues that we must avoid overestimating the benefits of logistics technology and spend more time understanding the ‘physics’ of logistics. He cites the technical scepticism of Martin Van Creveld in Supplying War, that logistics tends to overpromise and un-deliver according to a ‘law of diminishing returns’ involved with the increasing complexity of technology (also another LIW topic here). ‘As with all technological applications to war’, Turner concludes in his excellent piece, ‘those that improve logistics must be approached with skepticism and critical thinking’. Technology is always vital in logistics performance, but its employment must be the subject of serious planning.

The second article comes from Parameters where the theme of ‘Army expansibility’ and mobilisation is a core topic amongst a number of articles. In US Air Force airlift and the Army’s relevance Dr Robert C. Owen examines the joint nature of strategic mobility; arguing that the US Army must invest itself deeply in capability discussions elsewhere when it comes to its ‘global responsiveness’ and in the context of ‘expeditionary maneuvre’. These ideas, once again, must be shaped by an understanding of logistical physics. He cites an airlift planning adage, ‘the Army does not have light units; it has heavy and incredibly heavy units’.[5] Therefore, it is essential that the US Army must fully invest itself in Air Force capability debates, ensuring that the USAF is well aware of land force goals and requirements.

With this in mind, Owen investigates the numerous operational and tactical concepts being developed in the US Army and counterpoises this with the need for robust air mobility to make such concepts viable. The ‘challenging qualitiative requirements for airlift support under austere conditions’ in areas of ‘A2/AD’ threat, a vital component in the planning assumptions behind the multi-domain battle concept, are considered particularly demanding on air mobility elements.[6]  A variety of alternative airlift capabilities cognisant of these concepts might be required, with new Joint arrangements instituted to better coordinate the modernisation of capabilities essential for force projection.

Strategic mobility is a perennial challenge that all militaries face; the desire to deploy forces and supplies into a theatre is bottomless, with any extra capacity in mobility usually consumed in increasing the rapidity of deployment. The insufficiency of transport is a feature in virtually every major post operation report of recent wars and operations, and should be fundamental concern for armies. The conversation started by Owen is an important one for land forces as develop their concepts, procure their materiel and consider their tactics. Furthermore, it is also a reminder that resolving this insufficiency will be a joint problem; the development of capability within Service ‘silo’ must be done so appreciating the limitations on its use imposed by capabilities elsewhere. Whatever the arrangements may be to produce modernised combat forces, strategic mobility concerns are certainly worthy of greater attention than they sometimes receive.

Two interesting articles that once again reinforce logistics is, as Thomas Kane describes, the ‘arbiter of opportunity’.

Feature image by the Australian Department of Defence.

[1] Kane, T., Military logistics and strategic performance, Frank Cass Publishing, UK, 2001, p 8

[2] Ibid., p 8

[3] Ibid, p 8

[4] Ibid., pp 9,10

[5] Owen, R., ‘US Air Force airlift and the Army’s relevance’ from Parameters, 47(2), Summer 2017, Strategic Studies Institute, USA, 2017, p 103

[6] Ibid., p 105