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

By Brigadier Michael Kehoe (Retd).

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

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

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


 

Provisioning the force

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

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

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

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

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

Staff Capacity

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

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

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

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

3 CER building a bridge near Maliana

Individual Readiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Images from Department of Defence.

 

Preparing for preparedness – how should we begin?

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

               Dr James A. Huston, Sinews of War


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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

 

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

[2] Eccles, p 291

[3] Eccles, p 300

Burying the hero – how logistics and readiness changed war

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

 

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

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

[3] Ibid., p 119

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

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

[6] Ibid., p 330

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

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

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

[10] Ransom, D., Logistics transformation – reducing the logistics footprint, Strategy Research Project, US Army War College, USA, 2002, pp 2-3 at https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a404441.pdf

[11] See Pelz, E., Halliday, J., Robbins, M. and Girardini, K., Sustainment of Army forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom: Battlefield logistics and effects on operations, RAND Corporation, 2005 at https://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG344.html

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

Logistics and preparedness

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

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

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

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

Equally confusing is the concept of ‘logistics readiness’:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

A new narrative for the mobilisation of a nation – how Defence might prepare the national support base for a future war – Part One

‘Logistics in War’ and the ‘Central Blue’ are jointly publishing the #selfsustain series. In this first of two posts on the relationship between Defence and the national support base, David Beaumont examines how these issues were addressed in post-Cold War uncertainty.

By David Beaumont.

 The role of industrial preparedness in military strategy is anomalous. Prospectively, the role is almost always ignored by military planners;  retrospectively it is agreed that industrial preparedness was either vital for success or instrumental in defeat.

– John R. Brinkerhoff[1]

Over the last two decades, the national security paradigm has transitioned from the perception that the preservation of national interests is the sole purview of the military. There have recently been important decisions made, including in Australia, commensurate to the changing nature of threats to national, and certainly strategic, interests. Organisations have been redesigned, inter-Departmental capabilities restructured, and investments made to enable national responses to potentially existential security challenges. These are important changes that offer nations such as Australia the ability to respond swiftly to specific types of threats. The ability to operate in emerging domains such as ‘space’ and ‘cyber’, act in the ‘grey zone’, or investments in new technologies from hypersonic weaponry to automation and AI, are among the ways we might choose to act. As timely and interesting as these areas are, the greatest opportunities, offsets and risks for a time of increasingly acute strategic competition might lie in areas of less glamour, but greater seriousness, to the outcomes of an existential strategic crisis.

Wars are not won by armies, navies and air forces; they are won by nations or groups. In recent discussions – such as the Defence Science Board’s analysis of the US’s ‘joint logistics enterprise’, the recent Williams Foundation examination of ‘Sustaining Self-reliance’, and the exhortations of senior military leaders as to the state of ‘readiness’ in defence industry – we are drawn to substantial issues relating to the capacity of Western nations to mobilise the ‘national support base’. What exactly is the ‘national support base ’?[2] The ‘national support base’ is the sum of organic Defence capability (and not just capability resident in the military, but also the Department), support from coalition forces and host nations, and support that is provided by national industry and infrastructure. It is the available strategic logistics capability, including that which is inorganic to the military, that ,properly empowered, acts as a ‘shock absorber’ when a nation encounters a military threat.

This article, and Part Two which follows, briefly examines the way the Australian Defence Force (ADF) considered the problem of how best to prepare the ‘national support base’ for the strategic uncertainty resident in the 1990s, and how it commenced the developments of concepts to enabled what we now call ‘force-expansion’, ‘force-scaling’ or even ‘mobilisation.’ From this point, the article looks at what we might do with the concept of national support. Too often is this concept dismantled into its component parts, with aspects of organic (to Defence) and inorganic logistics capability considered mutually exclusive. Before we even start a discussion on how to best prepare the nation for the strategic competition it is most likely already in, we must take the time to establish an understanding of what national support is, and what it will require to mobilise the ‘national support base’. As I have argued previously, perhaps it is time for a new national support agenda.

When Defence made mobilisation an agenda.

It has been over twenty years since Defence engaged in a deep, public, discussion on the role of the industry, if not the nation in its entirety, in military preparedness and defence. The 1997 Defence Efficiency Review (DER), now commonly associated with cementing near disastrous levels of logistics hollowness within an ADF on the cusp of twenty years of continuous operations, was a catalyst which brought a conceptual trend to reality. Changing strategic circumstances affecting Australia, a post-Cold War evolution in the character of warfare, and pressures on federal expenditure necessitated Defence rethink its business. In acknowledging the diminishing size and structure of the ADF, the DER highlighted the important linkage to national resources and good planning, and subsequently enunciated a concept of ‘…structure for war and adapt for peace.’[3]

Significantly, the DER recognised that the preparedness of military capability was not just born from a direct threat of armed attack. Instead, it emphasised the possibility of potential challenges to Australian national interests, with special reference to the rapidity with which such intrusions develop. In hindsight, this view seems ironic given the deleterious consequences of the subsequent Defence Reform Program on military readiness. Notwithstanding history’s lessons, the DER subsequently emphasised that “…better planning and management are thus essential to our future defence capability.”[4] The review argued that in modern warfare it is too late to prepare for an event after already occurred.

The DER recommended that a National Support Division (NSD) be established and that this Division address the concept of national support. The Division was all but a reestablishment of a Strategic Logistics Division in Headquarters ADF, a branch that had been disestablished some years before. However, and unlike its predecessor, the role of the NSD role was to develop the concepts and conduct the engagement that would better harness the nation’s economic, industrial and societal strengths in support of the defence effort. This approach was also articulated in 1997’s Australia’s Strategic Policy (ASP), which emphasised the importance of a small force like the ADF having the ability to organise and draw upon the resources of the broader nation.[5]

Following the publication of the ASP, the Government released the Defence and Industry Strategic Policy Statement, which reiterated that the best defence for a nation is for the nation to wholly engage it in its own security.[6] The statement went on to define the ‘national support base’ as encompassing “…the full range of organisations, systems and arrangements which own, provide, control or influence support to the ADF. It includes all of Defence, other Government agencies, infrastructure, key services, and industry (including the Defence manufacturing sector).”[7]

The key deliverable for the NSD was a foundation concept that lay beneath all policy and activities relating to the Defence engagement with its support partners. As a concept developed in tandem with partners across multiple Departments and sectors of the Australian economy, it would articulate how best Defence could leverage all forms of national and international resources. Looking back on the idea of national support, it seems an eminently sensible method to approach an issue relevant to Defence today. The framework that would be introduced, endorsed by the Chiefs of Service Committee and the Defence Executive, saw outcomes as far reaching as:

  • The ADF being structured for war, and with a clear comprehension of the national support resources that were required for the full ‘spectrum of conflict’ and pattern of escalation.
  • Those elements within the national support base that were intrinsic to Defence activities remained pertinent, adequate and, above all, prepared to support operations.
  • A culture would be established whereby industry and the wider civil infrastructure were considered integral to national defence capability and were managed accordingly.
  • Relationships would be maintained with allies and international support provides to complement support and sustainment available nationally.
  • Well-rehearsed mechanisms would be established that would assess the ability of the national support base to mobilise to meet the need, and plans developed to enable this to occur.
  • The ADF would enjoy priority access to critical national infrastructure when the contingency required it.

Of all the ‘pillars’ of the national support strategy, the most instrumental was the issue of mobilisation. This was not mobilisation as evoked in the First and Second World Wars, but a graduated and nationalised approach to escalating a response to strategic competition. This response might ultimately end in prosecuting war. Beyond the development of plans upon which the nation’s resources would be called upon to sustain the defence effort was the establishment of mechanisms to better coordinate resources in the response to significant national security threats. Furthermore, the strategy sought to shape civil capabilities to meet Defence’s needs for mobilisation and sustainment in a coherent process that was absent at the time. Finally, it was all underpinned by strategic-level arrangements with industry and infrastructure partners; arrangements which extended beyond Defence industry policy to create a responsive national approach to meeting unpredictable future needs.

A concept which needs a new life

Twenty years ago Defence created a concept and an organisation that promised to enhance military preparedness and operational performance. The idea of national support, and the presence of NSD, worked to close the gap between the national support base and the ADF. In doing so, it was believed that Defence and the nation would be better prepared in a time of strategic uncertainty, with both positioned to adjust to necessity and sustain a military campaign in the event of surprise. National support is an idea that could find a home now, in a strategic moment where the spectre of strategic competition could very well turn into something more substantial. As much as Defence, the nation and its industries, and many other things have moved on since the 1990s, there are considerable consistencies. It is because of these consistencies that we might want to look back on national support with renewed attention and think about how we might start the journey to better preparing Defence and the nation for a future war.

Part Two will endeavour to do just that.


[1] Brinkerhoff, J.R., ‘The strategic implications of industrial preparedness’ from US Army War College, Parameters, Summer 1994, p1

[2] The term ‘national support base’ is well-known in Australia, but the idea goes by different names in other countries. For example, the US national security community uses the term ‘defense technology and industrial base’.

[3] Report of the Defence Efficiency Review, Future Directions for the Management of Australia’s Defence, 10 March 1997, p 5.

[4] Report of the Defence Efficiency Review, p 6.

[5] Department of Defence, Australia’s Strategic Policy, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p 48.

[6] Department of Defence 1998, Defence and Industry Policy Statement, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p 1.

[7] Department of Defence 1998, Defence and Industry Policy Statement, p 8.

Underwriting preparedness – considering the logistics of the future preparedness system

By David Beaumont.

One of the fundamental questions to answer when preparing a military for war is ‘are the capabilities on hand prepared for X?’. As mentioned in Limping to war: preparedness and its paradoxes,  Dr Thomas Galvin of the US Army War College proposes this question with the routine of military life in mind; the generating of forces, individual and collective training, assessing capabilities through preparedness management systems and conducting the frequent remedial actions to resolve temporary ‘gaps’ in capability. These ‘gaps’ might have come as a consequence of degrading materiel availability, the transition between outdated and newly acquired equipment, personnel issues among many other concerns. More insidious is the impact of the ‘paradox of more is less’ where training and other activities are ‘paid through evanescence and self-destruction’ as people and things tire.

The problems which appear in making ‘capabilities on hand prepared for X‘ are usually things that can be treated easily. Astute defence planners will flex and change the organisation to manage risk, reinvest where required or make decisions on force structure to address core problems. The Australian Army recently went through this process only recently with Plan Keogh, an activity that addressed personnel and materiel ‘hollowness’ throughout the combat and supporting force. What is less easy to treat is the logistics system which underpins the generation of capability. As I have said many times before, the quality of the logistics support given to a military is the sum of innumerable parts. From industry participants, to joint commands, to departmental agencies, to the combat forces, preparing and sustaining forces is a virtually incomprehensibly large activity. The actions of these participants is bound by policy and orders, command direction and doctrinal behaviour.

‘Logistics readiness’ is at the heart of military preparations for the unforeseen, especially for those militaries who consider themselves to be ‘expeditionary’ in nature. It has to be considered, and considered deeply, as the Australian Army thinks about its preparedness. The six characteristics of logistics readiness – mutual understanding between commanders and their logisticians, the balance between logistics and combat resources and elements, logistics plans and policies, logistics organisation, materiel readiness, and the requirement to test the logistics organisation – determine what is practically possible at the outset of war. Behind every major warfighting exercise, such as the recent Exercise Talisman Sabre or the successive multinational exercises underway in Europe, the logistics system is tested. Other exercises are more explicit in assessing readiness such as the ADF’s Exercise Northern Shield which requires a short notice response for a sizable military force into Australia’s inhospitable north west. The logistics system is tested even if in exercise planning uncomfortable truths relating to logistics capability are avoided to ensure the activity can proceed.

Collective training exercises are the culminating events for the ‘certification’ of forces, activities which nominally confirm the readiness of forces for potential operations, but they also reflect the preparedness culture of a military. Too often do these events miss assessments of the components of logistics readiness –  matters which are difficult to assess properly without time and resources. Instead those interested in preparedness look towards models to make the best judgements they possibly can about logistics readiness, or establish preparedness cultures that shape how logistics readiness is considered.  This article proposes two models – force availability and force employment-based models – and the impacts these models might have on preparing the military logistics system for war.

In supporting continuous operations for nearly two decades many Western militaries have adopted a preparedness model which emphasises force availability. This approach advocates an adaptable, modular, force structure which offers strategic planners options for whatever operational commitments eventuate. It is usually executed within a ‘force generation’ model whereby different units rotate into different stages of readiness, thereby allowing for lead-up training and the allocation of resources to enable them to prepare. For example, the Australian Army’s Plan Beersheba, culminating with the standardisation of the force structure of its three regular brigades and the inception of the ‘Force Generation Cycle’, offers the contemporary joint force commander a broad spectrum of combat and support capabilities that can be task organised as required. It is an exceptionally useful approach for long periods of sustained levels of operational activity where the mission requirements are relatively well known and an effective organisational routine can be established. Furthermore, because of its routine nature the costs of maintaining preparedness can be more easily determined than other models.

The logistical complexities of this approach to preparedness are well known to the militaries. To employ a modular force structure properly, you must have a good sense of the ‘slice’ of logistics capability that is required per combat unit across all levels of the organisation and resource, organise and train this ‘slice’ accordingly. Determining what constitutes a ‘slice’ is not easy given the basic assumption of this preparedness model is that forces are inherently modular, structures changeable, and capabilities scalable in terms of their size and capability. Yet if this ‘slice’ is not prepared and resourced adequately, force structures will be imbalanced, ad-hoc logistics arrangements will likely be required for operations, and the materiel readiness of logistics force elements will be compromised. It is ironic that a preparedness model based upon force availability is usually enacted because logistics resources are limited (and not just logistics capabilities) and require prioritisation. In this case, and as currently practiced in most Western militaries who are aware of the insufficiency in their enabling capabilities, the proportionally smaller number of enabling logistics resources and capabilities will be kept at a state of higher readiness for longer periods of time.

A second issue for logisticians relates to the administrative burden incurred in the constant variations of preparedness across the force.  The rotations of the usually limited fleets of vehicles and equipment, prioritisation of supply, and the changes in terms of the effort required to sustain and maintain combat forces in garrison as the preparedness cycle changes demands a high standard of logistical scrutiny. The greater the scrutiny required, the greater the managerial overhead that is needed. This scrutiny is not just a problem for the Services that may enact force availability preparedness systems, but other logistics agencies and units within the joint force that will be expected to contribute to the sustainment burden. Few Services would be able to provide anything other than a general overview of the many different Defence agencies and inputs, including support from industry with respect to maintenance of equipment or the supply of stores, that are ultimately involved in preparedness.

Alternatively, a  force employment model might be used as a defining methodology for preparedness although can be complement to the force availability method. This approach applies a range of arbitrary decisions on a preparedness scenario, made in the context of what capabilities are on hand for that particular scenario. It is there a gamble on the future, and is strongly linked to Galvin’s second question of preparedness, the problem of force modernisation and capability creation, ‘are the right capabilities on hand for X?’. 

The choice of scenario can be defined by strategic events or problems, or to enable a specific operational response such as a strategic mobility goal or a notional operational ‘type’. The former approach is a staple in forward planning for militaries, being practiced every day through exercises and training, and considered in concept planning and experimentation. It enables detailed logistics planning to occur, supports the tailoring of forces including the requisite logistics capabilities. For the logistician, planning is simpler as many predictions relating to distance, demand, dependency, destination and duration can be assumed and with greater confidence. Furthermore, it allows for the development of logistics processes that are suited to the required rates of effort and throughput.

Amphibious Task Group: Road to War

There are obvious risks in developing logistics systems to suit discrete activities and distinct operational scenarios. Although planners may have a good sense of what the future might entail, it is impossible to have a perfectly accurate vision of future warfare which enables an efficient and effective logistics system to be developed. The establishment of an efficient logistics system for one scenario may be viewed as a significant compromise when other problems are considered. The same applies for logistics readiness. It is usually impractical to do what most would like to do; prepare for the most severe event (such as near peer conflict) and develop a robust and adaptable logistics system that meets the challenge. This is prohibitively expensive in a time of peace as it requires the development of huge ‘warstocks’ and reserves, large logistics units across the joint force and a ready industrial sector that can quickly respond to military needs. Compromises are commonplace with this form of planning and while we might find combat forces are being rehearsed and prepared for certain contingencies, logistics capabilities are left relatively undeveloped and at lower levels of preparedness.

There is another form of scenario-based planning that is highly useful for drawing out logistics readiness problems that may otherwise lie hidden; to incorporate strategic mobility goals within the preparedness model. Rather than only identifying what forces might be available in a certain space of time, this approach considers what time a force becomes fully combat effective in an operational area. This naturally requires planners to have a good sense of logistics readiness because such readiness directly translates into a reduction in the time taken for combat forces to be effective. An example of this approach, as discussed in ‘Adapting Atlas: the cost of combat power part two’, is the US Army’s Stryker capability, a capability originally based upon an objective to deploy a Stryker brigade combat team anywhere on the globe in under 96 hours.

Mobility-based preparedness planning is useful for logisticians because it forces planners to consider the most logistically challenging phases of an operation – typically the mounting, deployment and early combat operations phases – as well as the movements and transportation of forces. Given transportation is often the most major limiting logistics factor on the conduct of operations, considering it as the means of achieving a mobility goal is highly important to producing realistic conclusions about force preparedness. Nonetheless, the usefulness of mobility objectives in planning suffers from the same problems afflicting any other form of scenario-based preparedness planning.

Militaries will define themselves on the basis by which they structure and prepare themselves, but they nearly always combine preparedness methods. For example, the Australian Army applies a ‘force generation cycle’ but also requires its ready elements to be prepared for a certain intensity of combat, and other elements on a force availability basis for domestic contingencies. It is unlikely that there will ever be a different situation.  Unfortunately for logisticians this approach to preparedness makes it difficult for militaries – especially at the strategic level of defence forces – to achieve a high standard of ‘logistics readiness’. Different approaches create complexity, and complexity challenges logistics systems that depend on certainty to be efficient and productive. It therefore becomes crucial for planners to understand what risks are being accepted in taking this approach, as it is equally important for them to focus upon those aspects of logistical readiness which will offer future commanders the most operational options.

What are the consequences if they do not? Firstly, the requirements of commanders across the military may vary thus confusing requirements and the mutual understanding between logisticians and commanders consequently. Secondly, it disrupts the logic which prescribes the right balance between logistics and combat resources and elements. Thirdly, it increases the quantity of policies and plans required to enable effective and efficient logistics processes, as well as making it impossible to establish the most efficient and optimised logistics organisation. Varying requirements make the allocation of resources to achieve materiel readiness difficult, especially in cases where numerous combat capabilities are afforded high priority. Finally, it makes it especially challenging to exercise and assess the logistics system when there is little certainty as to most important preparedness requirements. This issue exacerbates the issues generated by the avoidance of exercising logistics-intensive activities in many military exercises. In sum, logistics readiness is compromised, as is the preparedness of the entire force.

If militaries were exceptional at preparing themselves for war, we would not see the chaos and confusion that characterises the outset of conflict repeated throughout military history. Instead, a high standard of logistics readiness would ensure sustainment problems were addressed swiftly and effectively. Logistics friction would be non-existent. There would be no ‘logistics vacuum’ whereby the quality of sustainment degrades significantly immediately after war begins and until logistics forces can reconstitute. The fact is, however, militaries have been given a hard task in preparing for war. Every option taken in preparedness planning has connotations for logistics processes and readiness, and not all outcomes are positive. There is no obvious solution to logistics readiness until just before the first shots are fired, and much of the uncertainty is removed from the planning equation. By then, unfortunately, the die is cast and outcomes are set. At this point the question becomes ‘how resilient and effective are our combat forces actually going to be because of the logistics readiness that was achieved?’

This is an update of a LIW article, ‘Problems with preparedness – why we always seem logistically unprepared for war’, published in 2017.

Choosing forces in a crisis – logistics and the art of strategic decision making

By David Beaumont.

‘The quartermasters claim on history may, at its root, lie in the effect of logistics on timing …… the longer a nation requires to bring its force to bear, the more time its enemies have to seize whatever objectives they consider desirable.’
– Thomas Kane, Military Logistics and Strategic Performance

In 2017 there was much rhetoric, and undoubtedly planning, for significant military operations in the North Asian region. Such public discussion tends to focus the military mind on modern tactics and technology, and gives cause to exercise new operational concepts. It also compels them to reassess the preparedness of forces. There has been an understandable proliferation of military articles describing the need for forces to be ready, including logistics forces essential for any operational response. The impact of logistics on strategic decision making is much less discussed, as is the way logistics factors ultimately shape the choice of forces and strategy for a possible conflict.

When militaries are surprised, or a contingency operation is required, logistics capability and capacity is one of the most significant influences on the nature of the response. I will go so far, as I have done so before at Logistics in War, to argue logistics leads strategy in these instances. It shapes decisions and command direction, determining what is practical and most certainly what is possible. As Kane’s comments above identify, logistics reveals itself in timing and the ‘overcoming’ of geography, in preparedness, mobility and other areas. Moreover, logistics factors – enabling and constraining – determine the nature of the military commitment itself. For all the investment we, as military professionals, might make into understanding the art and science of tactics and strategy, it means very little when plans unravel as the cold truth of logistics factors which inform the way in which forces are actually employed.

The reality is that the impact of logistics on strategy and preparedness is easily found. That is, if you choose to look for it. In a contingency response by a military it is abundantly clear. This is because logistics features in many of the activities that establish the preparedness of forces, or when the established preparedness methods fail to match the operational requirement, logistics limitations and constraints begin to influence and decisions that strategic leaders might make. One of the most important issues for strategic leaders is the identification of forces required as a response to a contingency plan or unforeseen circumstance, as this in itself influences the strategy in which will be used. This article will briefly touch on three of the most relevant aspects which might influence the nature of any commitment.

Firstly, we see the impact of logistics in the preparedness methods undertaken during peace. Most Western militaries have applied a ‘force-generation’ model that has suited two decades of continuous military operations. Simply put, this approach identifies relevant capabilities to be ready for a specific period of time, resources and sustains them accordingly, before transitioning this level of preparedness to another element at a later time. I hope to discuss an often seen alternative, a ‘force-expansion’ model, at a later time. Although the model usually includes a ‘certification’ process to validate that the force is ready, at its core the preparedness model is concerned with the apportionment of resources to where it is needed to ensure that a force is ready to deploy. When a force-generation model is ‘broken’ to suit a contingency, significant logistics risks are incurred as a forces race to improve materiel standards, personnel requirements, indent for stores and equipment and so forth. These logistics risks are always factors in the decision making of leaders, the strategy chosen and the forces employed to successfully implement it.

Secondly, we see the impact of logistics in the decision making concerned with the choices of forces. In the case of contingencies, especially at times where the determination of a level of commitment is a freedom of action, logistics problems in areas such as materiel readiness can be avoided by an appropriate choice of forces. This is a feature of contributions made by smaller militaries to coalitions. Often specific capabilities that can be sustained by a coalition supply-chain or a national effort are chosen for the commitment. As an example, the ADF has historically contributed Special Forces, specific air force capabilities, naval shipping and other valuable but niche capabilities at the outset of conflicts given the relative ease by which they can be deployed or sustained once in the field. It is also why we tend to see less land combat forces deploy earlier, as they often prove more difficult to bring to a heightened state of preparedness and sustainable combat capability. This factor was a major consideration as to when the Australian Army deployed its Light Armoured Vehicles to Iraq, and conventional forces into Afghanistan.

Thirdly, there are a range logistics problems and issues that weigh on the minds of senior leaders as they decide upon operational options. These concerns reflect the accepted doctrinal view that strategic activity is predominantly concerned with logistics and intelligence. In most cases, they are consistent across many operations as seen in the decision making about Australian commitments to East Timor in 1999, Iraq operations in 2003 and to a variety of humanitarian assistance operations over the last decade:

– What are the arrangements to evacuate nationals, and how does this impact deployment of forces?
– What are the financial costs to increasing preparedness?
– How much time is required to increase the preparedness level as it applies to stockholdings of repair parts and consumables?
– What are the consequences of increasing preparedness to the existing force generation process?
– What is the availability of strategic (war) commodities such as fuel and natures of ammunition, and what constraints exist in terms of access to global supply?
– How fast can forces deploy with available transportation capabilities, or those obtained through industry or from coalition partners?
– What are the constraints on mobilising specific components of the Reserve capability (such as medical specialists)?
– What is the national support capacity and capability to support military operations?
– What logistics activities can we perform ourselves, or what do we need to ask for?

These questions by no means represent an exhaustive list. Moreover, they were considerations for commitments other than a major conflict scenario. When such a major war is initiated logistics additionally shapes discussions and choices about force expansion and mobilisation, the exposure of supply to interdiction by the adversary, the defining of an operational area, and mobilising national industrial capacity. Having the right strategic and logistics command architecture to enable sensible decisions to be made is an essential criteria for success in the subsequent war. Strategic leadership will be nearly completely focussed on identifying, appropriating and ultimately employing resources to ensure that any strategy will be successful.

An understanding of logistics has always been an essential component of effective ‘generalship’ and staff planning at the strategic level. Decisions on strategy and force commitment depend upon it. This is not an excuse for logisticians to be lazy, as their actions in contributing to preparedness give strategic decision makers a freedom of choice given the availability of resources. Colin Gray, a modern-day doyen of strategy who most readers will be familiar with, closes his introduction to Kane’s book with the ‘the key to offensive success is not the mindless maximisation of supply, but rather the timely reliability of sufficient supply, yielding the opportunity for the art of strategy to show its true magic’. This reminds us of the obligations of both strategist and logistician to understand each other’s work, and the role each plays in establishing the strategic options from which leaders can choose.