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

By Brigadier Michael Kehoe (Retd).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interfet

How we prepared

Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logistic Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Images from Department of Defence.


 

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

[2] Chris Field, ‘Two Reasons Military Professionals Must Write’, The Cove, 10 April 2018, available at <https://www.cove.org.au/unit-pme/article-two-reasons-military-professionals-must-write-education-humility/>, accessed 20 May 2019.

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

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

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

by Air Commodore Hayden Marshall (Ret’d).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

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

National support now – how Defence might prepare the national support base for a future war – Part Two

By David Beaumont.

Other than times of clear national emergency, the Australian population does not perceive national security as a ‘bread and butter’ issue … For its part, Defence generally persists in categorising its peacetime and contingency engagements with the civil infrastructure as discrete entities rather than only as variations of the level of support it requires.

Addendum to the Report of the Defence Efficiency Review, Chapter 8, p 172

In Part One of ‘A new narrative for the mobilisation of a nation’ I described the concept of national support, and the creation of an Australian Defence Force (ADF) agency responsible to deliver on the concept. National support gives the self-evident notion that the national support base is intrinsic to the conduct of military operations coherency. A national support concept was created in the 1990s to show how the ADF and Defence writ large would, in theory, see the national support base better integrated into the conduct of military operations. The Defence Reform Program of 1997 led to the creation of a Headquarters ADF National Support Division (NSD) to oversee national support and better posture the military, if not the nation, for a time of strategic uncertainty in which responsiveness and adaptability of strategic logistics processes and capabilities were vital. We are in a very similar time, and Defence has very similar needs. The concept of national support has a place in this period.

Here, in Part Two, a way forward is described.

The National Support Division (NSD) was folded three years after its establishment, and the national support concept it’s represented buried within a new organisational dynamic. The establishment of the Defence Materiel Organisation in 2001 saw the Division disbanded, and its functions reallocated across Defence. While assurances were given that the national support agenda would remain alive in successor organisations, there’s little hard evidence that a unitary concept for national support ever existed twenty years later.

One major problem faced by Defence in reconsidering national support comes with the fact that the accountabilities and responsibilities for delivering an output are dispersed within Defence. A directorate exists within a Joint Logistics Command’s Strategic Logistics Branch to deal with national support issues; with other tasks performed within the Strategic and Intelligence, and International Policy Divisions of the Department; Capability, Acquisition and Sustainment Group; and a variety of other across Defence. Although the ADF might have a well-defined ‘strategic J4’ to advise the Chief of the Defence Force on strategic logistics issues, and numerous senior leaders desire better national support for Defence activities and increased levels of preparedness throughout the national support base, the increasing impetus we see given to national support base coordination should be accelerated.

There is reason enough to have another look at the concept of national support, even without prompts from Defence senior leaders. The strategic order is in flux, Western nation’s previously unimpeded strategic freedom of action is under pressure, acquisition and sustainment processes are constipated, vulnerabilities and gaps within defence industries and national infrastructure are increasingly conspicuous – the list goes on. Strategic planning is now required to overcome these impediments to create a national support base and Defence enterprise that is responsive to rapidly changing strategic circumstances. As the national support base effectively extends beyond borders, this national endeavour must also include international force posture and logistics considerations. There is always a need for likeminded nations to optimise the logistics arrangements between one another, because not even the mightiest can sustain major combat operations alone. Furthermore, coordinated logistics cooperation with neighbours can be critical in shaping the security environment and assist greatly in ‘setting the theatre’ if competition and conflict are to come.

So where do we begin? As mentioned above, and a problem with the original formulation of national support, Defence and its partners need to settle on the litany of terms, doctrine and jargon that will inevitably shape later conversations. An acceptable, modern, definition of national support might also be accompanied by clarity with respect to terms such as ‘force scaling’, ‘force expansion’, ‘surety’, ‘preparedness’ and even ‘strategic logistics’.[1] Perhaps we might even want to ponder the implications of the current ADF definition of mobilisation before a concept of national support takes shape:

the process that provides the framework to generate military capabilities and marshal national resources to defend the nation and its interests. It encompasses activities associated with preparedness, the conduct of operations and force expansion. Mobilisation is a continuum of interrelated activities that occurs during the four phases: preparation, work-up, operations and reconstitution.’

This use of mutually acceptable terms will help to remove confusion in the interaction between agencies, partners and others. In doing so it will help in attempts to identify the right authorities to respond to each part of the collective problem. This understanding must also be accompanied with an acceptance that non-organic national support base capabilities are as vital to national security as Defence logistics and other military resources. This acceptance goes beyond the too narrow notion of industry as a ‘fundamental input into capability’.[2] Wars are won by whole-of-nation efforts, not military activity alone. Although Defence may begin as the stewards of the idea of national support, there will be a point where any resolution to this systemically national problem will have to driven by others.

Defence, inclusive of the ADF, has a great deal of internal work to undertake. It might start by reviewing what NSD tasks and functions should be afforded a second life. It will have to identify who is responsible for delivering these national outcomes. Secondly, to enable the national support base to respond to a crisis Defence must be armed by a range of mechanisms that enable ‘it’ to better define what operational requirements it is supporting. Perhaps the most important task will be the aligning of processes, and strategic logistics activities in particular, to collective needs. In other words, internal to Defence activities will need to be seen as not only as meeting capability and preparedness requirements, but as tools that can shape and mould the national support base to meet the unforeseen.

A rigorous, well-crafted and sensitive communication strategy will be required, as will cultural reform, because national support is a concept that can be influenced by Defence but not wholly owned. It is a national security issue. Finally, if Defence is serious about the need to consider topics such as force expansion, let alone mobilisation, it must understand the level of national capability which presently exists to support the Defence effort in a time of emergency. Once it defines the strengths and weaknesses, limitations and constraints, of the national support base it can be a proactive partner working with others to resolve them.

Why national support matters now

A variety of Defence leaders have challenged members of the ADF, the Department, and partners to think through the problems associated with how national security needs might require all to adapt to the unexpected. For example, the idea of ‘force-scaling’, as advocated in the Australian Army, has many connotations for those national support base partners who contribute to military success. [3] Defining what ‘force-scaling’ is the first step! It is, however, only one thought among many that needs to be properly integrated in a ‘big picture’ strategic idea; an idea that provides overarching principles and themes to guide planning and behaviour across the national support base. To that end Defence is armed with the benefits of corporate knowledge and a repository of information available within its own archives and captured in the diaspora of documentation that drives its daily business.

All of this aside, there is another reason the conceptualising, strategising and planning matters now. Western societies and their militaries are behind in their thinking about it. Concepts such as Chinese ‘civil-military’ fusion, a Government agenda which mandates dual-use civil and military technologies to be developed, reflect a mobilisation of the Chinese national support base. It is part of ‘setting the theatre’ by creating the conditions by which that nation can respond to its own crises or changes in the strategic environment. It shows evidence of a plan, or at the least, an approach to whole-of-nation efforts. Although the outcome may be demonstrably different, Defence and its partners should similarly work in a holistic national security endeavour to confirm the strategic logistics basis upon which it will draw the strength to protect Australia’s national interests. After all, it may just be that Australia is already within what is commonly known as ‘strategic warning time’. It will be too late to begin planning after any crisis carries the nation away.

David Beaumont can be found online @davidblogistics. The views here are his own.


[1] Australian Defence Force Publication 4 – Mobilisation and preparedness includes many of these terms but there are anomalies and contradictions within the definitions.

[2] Department of Defence 2016, Defence Industry Policy Statement, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p 19

[3] See Australian Army, Chief of Army Strategic Guidance 2019, Commonwealth of Australia, 2019, p 15

5th-generation energy for 5th-generation air power

Editorial Note: On 11 April 2019, the Sir Richard Williams Foundation is holding a seminar examining high-intensity operations and sustaining self-reliance. The aim of the seminar, building on previous seminars and series looking at #jointstrike and #highintensitywar, is to establish a common understanding of the importance and challenges of sustaining a self-reliant Australian Defence Force in a challenging environment. In support of the seminar, The Central Blue and Logistics in War will be publishing a series of articles. In this article, Nicholas Parker examines fuel security and potential impacts on a 5th Generation Air Force.

By 2025 the Royal Australian Air Force will operate a fleet of technologically advanced 5th generation aircraft. However, in modernising the RAAF capability, an inadequate amount of attention has been afforded to the fuel and energy infrastructure that supports these assets. In order to ensure these 5th generation capabilities are employed to their fullest, Air Force must capitalise on new and emerging energy technologies that enhance the support provided by air bases.

Australia currently enjoys what it thinks to be a high degree of liquid fuel security. Reports released by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism assert that Australia’s market based approach, ready access to the global and regional markets for crude oil and petroleum products, and efficient supply management by industry, has delivered secure, reliable and adequate liquid fuel supplies. Australia’s guiding principle is that energy markets should be left to operate freely, without unnecessary government intervention. To date, this approach has met the current operational requirements of Air Force and those of the broader domestic economy.

Whilst there are economic benefits to this approach, it discounts current trends in competition for energy sources and market dominance, threats to supply infrastructure, the impact of natural disasters and geopolitical uncertainty (especially in the Indo-Pacific region). An inadequate appreciation of these trends has created complacency resulting in a ‘stove-piped’ Australian energy policy; policy that does not appreciate the complexity inherent in future energy infrastructure systems. Consequently, energy security and supply is viewed through a ‘singular lens’; whereby the focus has been on discrete energy types with discrete global supply chains that are disparate, separately managed, and (most significantly) vulnerable.

Consider the following statistic: Currently 90% of Australia’s fuel supplies are imported; 40% as crude oil and the remaining 60% as refined fuels. In contrast to other developed nations, Australia is alone in its total reliance on ‘market forces’ to ensure secure access to the global fuel supply chain. Furthermore, Australia has no Government-owned strategic oil or fuel reserves, and does not mandate minimum stock holding requirements for the fuel refining / importing industry. These oversights induce significant logistics and operational risks to the delivery of Air Force capability. Should a significant supply disruption occur within key sea lines of communication (SLOC) within the Indo-Pacific (e.g., natural disaster, accident, commercial failure, act of terror or war), Australia’s capacity to provide fuel for its 5th generation Air Force is immediately jeopardised.

The National Strategy for Energy Security, developed by the United States Energy Security Leadership Council, offers a range of recommendations to counter the challenges created as a result of the current global security environment. The National Strategy is the preeminent document on the topic of energy security and calls on the US government to fundamentally strengthen a combination of energy security measures (Energy Security Leadership Council, 2016), including:

a.                   Support, rather than hinder, innovation in energy technology;

b.                   Major reductions in crude oil consumption by increasing domestic energy production;

c.                   Reforms to energy-related regulations; and

d.                   Transform the domestic distribution section so that oil is no longer its primary fuel.

Australian energy policy makers must undertake policy reform that is reflective of the US approach, appreciating that the challenges and opportunities in energy security are global in nature, and remain cognisant of the significant implications an approximate policy approach has for Australia’s national security. To date, energy policy pundits have been relatively silent to the 2016 Defence White Paper’s acknowledgement of the strategic influence of energy supply chains and energy security on national defence. Whilst energy requirements and subsequent security has never been a key driver behind Australian defence policy, the Defence White Paper does raise the requirement to “improve Defence’s fuel resilience”. Further, when reviewing a critical infrastructure bill in March 2018, the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security made the following recommendation: “The Department of Home Affairs in consultation with Defence and the Department of the Environment and Energy need to review and develop measures to ensure Australia has a continuous supply of fuel to meet national security priorities.”

Adequate, reliable and economically competitive energy to sustain Air Force 5th generation capabilities and infrastructure must be seen as shared responsibility between Government and the Australian energy industry. The importance of a strong Government-industry partnership in addressing energy security challenges in the long-term cannot be understated. In the interim, however, there are a number of practical measures that Air Force and the wider Australian Defence Force can undertake to fortify the energy requirements of a 5th generation Air Force. These include:

a.                   Advancing the development of energy technologies by integrating contractual efficiencies for their use in warehousing and distribution contracts. In particular, create incentives for the purchase and use of medium and heavy-rigid distribution vehicles that use advanced fuel sources[1].

b.                   Use an Air Force and energy industry partnership to create performance-based advanced fuel standards in order to reduce traditional fuels consumption. Accelerating the adoption of advanced fuel systems[2] into 5th generation aircraft and military vehicles will reduce the logistics and operational risks to Air Force capability associated with the use of traditional fuels.

c.                   Empower Estate and Infrastructure Group to pursue efficiencies in airbase energy infrastructure with a view to create completely self-reliant airbases through, for example, the use of solar and wind systems.[3]

d.                   To support the aforementioned recommendation, establish an Air Force ‘Energy Security Research Grant’ to fund research and development in advanced fuel technologies for use in 5th generation aircraft, military vehicles and airbases.

e.                   Build an international consensus amongst Australia’s coalition and regional partners on the importance of shared responsibility and coordinated action to deal with future energy security challenges.

Air Force cannot remain ignorant to the interdependency of energy and national security as long as it remains heavily dependent on traditional fuels to power its 5th generation aircraft, military vehicles, and airbases. Despite a current abundance of supply, such dependence introduces operational risks and critical vulnerabilities to 5th generation air power. While innovation in advanced fuel technologies will require years to mature, through the combination of measures proposed in this article, Australia will move toward being more energy secure, and more self-reliant.


Flight Lieutenant Nicholas Packer is a Logistics Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. Nicholas is currently posted to RAAF Base East Sale as an instructor at the RAAF Officer Training School mentoring newly commissioned officers through their 17 week ab initio course. The views expressed are his alone and do not reflect the opinion of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.

[1] Advanced fuel sources are distinct from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power systems. Examples of advanced fuel sources include biodiesel, hydrogen cell, electric-hybrid, ethanol, natural gas and propane.

[2] Development of advanced fuel systems for use in motorsport has demonstrated high technical performance can be achieved from advanced fuel sources.

[3] There are a range of academic studies that have highlighted the value of hydrogen and pumped hydro-systems to store energy generated by solar and wind systems (Blackburn, Energy Security: Is there a problem?, 2018).

Logistics and the strangling of strategy

By David Beaumont.

Logistics has long been recognised as vital to a force, but when inefficient a constraint on that force’s freedom to manoeuvre. However, the impact of logistics on strategy is just as significant and ultimately more profound. The modern fixation on high-velocity, nominally ‘efficient’, and usually ‘globalised’ supply chains have introduced significant operational challenges that many strategists fail to fully realise. Indeed, it was recently argued that the Australian Defence Force has yet to fully understand the consequences of an approach to logistics that now permeates its methods of sustaining capabilities and operations. This is for two reasons. One, it is hard to ascertain where single points of failure are in global supply chains for the purposes of creating and sustaining combat capabilities. Two, the nature of these supply chains makes securing them increasingly more important to operational success than the defence of lines of communication has ever been.

Logistic systems and supply chains, and the concepts that drive their formation, are as influential on strategy at least as much, if not more, than strategy should be in determining them. Writers in strategic theory have long known this, although few read works of military theory beyond the most appealing components. While military staff college students and university graduates world-wide know of Clausewitz’s ‘trinity’, or could debate ‘ad nauseum’ the meaning of ‘centre of gravity’, it is rare to see a reflection of his chapter on supplying war and its influence on strategy. Clausewitz, although not overwhelmingly interested in issues of ‘paper war’, knew the irrevocable relationship logistics had with strategy and tactics. In his later editions of On War, those that included his revelations on supply, Clausewitz regarded logistic matters to presage operational ones, if not strategy itself; “questions of supply can exert on the form and direction of operations, as well as the choice of a theatre of war and the line of communication.”[1] 

Modern war shows no evidence to support any contradiction of Clausewitz’s view. Instead, the view now seems beyond theory and stands as an enduring law. Major conflicts and battles have been fought over lines of communication or to secure new routes since war began, and we now look at access to distant regions of the world for national vitality, supply chain security, or lines of communication for potential enemies on the move. Now militaries possess capabilities, such as the incoming F-35 Joint strike Fighter, which are built from numerous suppliers (90 major suppliers with respect to the case in point) supported by production from around the globe. Such complexity conspires with other supply chain risks to create strategic weaknesses that can compromise the materiel, force posture and preparedness decisions of militaries.

Geographer Deborah Cowen’s recent book The Deadly Life of Logistics cites the rise ‘logistics cities’ from the FOB’s transitioned from military establishment in places such as Iraq, and the importance of logistic infrastructure and production as a determinant of war as well as the sustainment of forces far away. Strategic interests converge on these vital points, and logistics has truly regained its hold on strategy. Europe is now a stage for forward force posturing and build-up; re-emerging as a method to reduce the logistic risk for forces that would otherwise have to launch from homelands to prospective conflict zones. Elsewhere the supply chains themselves are the cause for concern. We increasingly fear the loss of access to the global commons, and the threat of contests in places such as the South China Sea, North Africa and the Middle-east against potential foes with increasing capability and desire to interdict what fuels war, reducing both strategic and logistic maneuverability and options. Logistic vulnerabilities expressed in movements and supply have arguably heralded an end to the post-Cold War ‘expeditionary age’ where Western forces could easily, and relatively rapidly, range the globe to combat emergent threats.

Supply-graphicstory

Supply routes to Afghanistan and Iraq, 2011. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

In terms of operations, the vainglorious attempt to reduce the impact of logistics on strategy, operations and tactics seems to have created new, or morphed old, problems. This paradox was demonstrated throughout Western campaigning in Afghanistan, an operation where virtually every wont could be satisfied and austerity, at least it was believed, could be avoided. The unprecedented outsourcing of logistics functions was intended to enhance operational flexibility for offensive operations by allowing task relief for military logistic elements, achieve national development objectives so to promote local economic growth, but most importantly, reduce the scale of military logistic forces in theatre. Professor Derek Gregory claims this tremendous transfer of risk funded years of warlordism and corruption, where strategic convenience counter-productively drew away resources better employed directly in support of the deployed force. Furthermore, insurgent destruction of civilian contracted convoys and international disputes with Pakistan very quickly showed that even commercial supply chains needed to be protected and war didn’t agree with the planners view of logistics being out of sight, and out of mind.

As the nature of war changed, and the risk to transport convoys became increasingly concerning, new solutions were sought to sustain dispersed forces. Stockpiling was impossible, and remained undesirable. War is quite clearly ironic, as many of the alternatives on offer proved as ultimately inefficient as the ‘iron mountains’ they were designed to obviate. The nature of problems simply changed. From 2006 to 2011 the USAF record of airdrops in Afghanistan had increased from 3.5 million lbs to over 80 million lbs annually, with around 40% of FOBs supplied directly from air; air elements that were frightfully expensive to operate and sustain themselves. At the height of such operations, each gallon of fuel cost $400 USD to deliver. Furthermore, it could only be sustained because of the easily obtainable regional fuel resources. Gregory cites Captain Albaugh from the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron who aptly described these air operations, “we’re going to burn a lot of gas to drop a lot of gas”.

What does this mean for the people expected to develop future sustainment plans? School of Advanced Military Studies student, Major Martha Granger, in her 2003 analysis of three Afghanistan campaigns (pdf), noted logistics is never easy and there must be balance between ‘iron mountains’ and the lean force. This is a message that is often muted behind the effusion about modern forms of military logistics, even within the US military that has more reason than any other to understand the impact of logistics on operations. In analysing the US Navy concept of ‘seabasing’ the Congressional Budget Office outlined ideas from fleets of a dozen vessels per brigade of marines to airships providing sustainment to deployed forces; each idea addressing the problem of forward positioning logistics yet introducing significant operational challenges the US military, with its arsenal of ship to shore connectors, has yet to completely respond to. One wonders whether the idea that large logistics footprints, seen to be a constraint to tactical and operational manoeuvre, can ever be obviated by technology or conceptual solutions.

Preceding The Deadly Life of Logistics, and in another paper, Deborah Cowen wrote that we are moving to an era where ‘logistic space’ has been recast from an environment of economic and commercial costs to one which has significant implications for security. In a more visceral sense, in viewing logistics as a system of ‘adding value’ through the reduction of stock holdings or volume – counterpoised against an increasing demand for velocity – nations and the militaries that protect them are becoming increasingly vulnerable to anything that interferes with or interdicts this flow. This is occurring at the same time militaries are becoming greater consumers, and harder to keep combat effective in the field. For armed forces, the vulnerabilities created in this situation apply to both decision making in strategy and in the conduct of actual operations. Plans can be tweaked to better control and adjust the way logistics responds to these conditions, but planners must also be aware of the outcomes of doing so. Perhaps out desire to unshackle our dispersed operations from ‘iron mountains’, or other constraints of logistics, only leaves military planners with new challenges, some even greater, than what they were initially hoping to overcome.

This post is an updated and substantially edited version to the authors article at the Australian Army’s Land Power Forum. The original can be found at https://www.army.gov.au/our-future/blog/logistics/beyond-the-iron-mountain-the-paradox-of-efficient-logistics David Beaumont is editor of ‘Logistics In War’. The thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

 

[1] Clausewitz, C., On War, Howard, M., & Paret, P. (translated and edited), Princeton, USA, 1976, p 338

Logistics and the strangling of strategy – from the LIWArchives

By David Beaumont, originally posted 22nd April 2017.

Logistics has long been recognised as vital to a force, but when inefficient a constraint on that force’s freedom to manoeuvre. However, the impact of logistics on strategy is just as significant and ultimately more profound. The modern fixation on high-velocity, nominally ‘efficient’, and usually ‘globalised’ supply chains have introduced significant operational challenges that many strategists fail to fully realise. Indeed, it was recently argued that the Australian Defence Force has yet to fully understand the consequences of an approach to logistics that now permeates its methods of sustaining capabilities and operations. This is for two reasons. One, it is hard to ascertain where single points of failure are in global supply chains for the purposes of creating and sustaining combat capabilities. Two, the nature of these supply chains makes securing them increasingly more important to operational success than the defence of lines of communication has ever been.

Logistic systems and supply chains, and the concepts that drive their formation, are as influential on strategy at least as much, if not more, than strategy should be in determining them. Writers in strategic theory have long known this, although few read works of military theory beyond the most appealing components. While military staff college students and university graduates world-wide know of Clausewitz’s ‘trinity’, or could debate ‘ad nauseum’ the meaning of ‘centre of gravity’, it is rare to see a reflection of his chapter on supplying war and its influence on strategy. Clausewitz, although not overwhelmingly interested in issues of ‘paper war’, knew the irrevocable relationship logistics had with strategy and tactics. In his later editions of On War, those that included his revelations on supply, Clausewitz regarded logistic matters to presage operational ones, if not strategy itself; “questions of supply can exert on the form and direction of operations, as well as the choice of a theatre of war and the line of communication.”[1] 

Modern war shows no evidence to support any contradiction of Clausewitz’s view. Instead, the view now seems beyond theory and stands as an enduring law. Major conflicts and battles have been fought over lines of communication or to secure new routes since war began, and we now look at access to distant regions of the world for national vitality, supply chain security, or lines of communication for potential enemies on the move. Now militaries possess capabilities, such as the incoming F-35 Joint strike Fighter, which are built from numerous suppliers (90 major suppliers with respect to the case in point) supported by production from around the globe. Such complexity conspires with other supply chain risks to create strategic weaknesses that can compromise the materiel, force posture and preparedness decisions of militaries.

Geographer Deborah Cowen’s recent book The Deadly Life of Logistics cites the rise ‘logistics cities’ from the FOB’s transitioned from military establishment in places such as Iraq, and the importance of logistic infrastructure and production as a determinant of war as well as the sustainment of forces far away. Strategic interests converge on these vital points, and logistics has truly regained its hold on strategy. Europe is now a stage for forward force posturing and build-up; re-emerging as a method to reduce the logistic risk for forces that would otherwise have to launch from homelands to prospective conflict zones. Elsewhere the supply chains themselves are the cause for concern. We increasingly fear the loss of access to the global commons, and the threat of contests in places such as the South China Sea, North Africa and the Middle-east against potential foes with increasing capability and desire to interdict what fuels war, reducing both strategic and logistic maneuverability and options. Logistic vulnerabilities expressed in movements and supply have arguably heralded an end to the post-Cold War ‘expeditionary age’ where Western forces could easily, and relatively rapidly, range the globe to combat emergent threats.

Supply-graphicstory
Supply routes to Afghanistan and Iraq, 2011. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

In terms of operations, the vainglorious attempt to reduce the impact of logistics on strategy, operations and tactics seems to have created new, or morphed old, problems. This paradox was demonstrated throughout Western campaigning in Afghanistan, an operation where virtually every wont could be satisfied and austerity, at least it was believed, could be avoided. The unprecedented outsourcing of logistics functions was intended to enhance operational flexibility for offensive operations by allowing task relief for military logistic elements, achieve national development objectives so to promote local economic growth, but most importantly, reduce the scale of military logistic forces in theatre. Professor Derek Gregory claims this tremendous transfer of risk funded years of warlordism and corruption, where strategic convenience counter-productively drew away resources better employed directly in support of the deployed force. Furthermore, insurgent destruction of civilian contracted convoys and international disputes with Pakistan very quickly showed that even commercial supply chains needed to be protected and war didn’t agree with the planners view of logistics being out of sight, and out of mind.

As the nature of war changed, and the risk to transport convoys became increasingly concerning, new solutions were sought to sustain dispersed forces. Stockpiling was impossible, and remained undesirable. War is quite clearly ironic, as many of the alternatives on offer proved as ultimately inefficient as the ‘iron mountains’ they were designed to obviate. The nature of problems simply changed. From 2006 to 2011 the USAF record of airdrops in Afghanistan had increased from 3.5 million lbs to over 80 million lbs annually, with around 40% of FOBs supplied directly from air; air elements that were frightfully expensive to operate and sustain themselves. At the height of such operations, each gallon of fuel cost $400 USD to deliver. Furthermore, it could only be sustained because of the easily obtainable regional fuel resources. Gregory cites Captain Albaugh from the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron who aptly described these air operations, “we’re going to burn a lot of gas to drop a lot of gas”.

What does this mean for the people expected to develop future sustainment plans? School of Advanced Military Studies student, Major Martha Granger, in her 2003 analysis of three Afghanistan campaigns (pdf), noted logistics is never easy and there must be balance between ‘iron mountains’ and the lean force. This is a message that is often muted behind the effusion about modern forms of military logistics, even within the US military that has more reason than any other to understand the impact of logistics on operations. In analysing the US Navy concept of ‘seabasing’ the Congressional Budget Office outlined ideas from fleets of a dozen vessels per brigade of marines to airships providing sustainment to deployed forces; each idea addressing the problem of forward positioning logistics yet introducing significant operational challenges the US military, with its arsenal of ship to shore connectors, has yet to completely respond to. One wonders whether the idea that large logistics footprints, seen to be a constraint to tactical and operational manoeuvre, can ever be obviated by technology or conceptual solutions.

Preceding The Deadly Life of Logistics, and in another paper, Deborah Cowen wrote that we are moving to an era where ‘logistic space’ has been recast from an environment of economic and commercial costs to one which has significant implications for security. In a more visceral sense, in viewing logistics as a system of ‘adding value’ through the reduction of stock holdings or volume – counterpoised against an increasing demand for velocity – nations and the militaries that protect them are becoming increasingly vulnerable to anything that interferes with or interdicts this flow. This is occurring at the same time militaries are becoming greater consumers, and harder to keep combat effective in the field. For armed forces, the vulnerabilities created in this situation apply to both decision making in strategy and in the conduct of actual operations. Plans can be tweaked to better control and adjust the way logistics responds to these conditions, but planners must also be aware of the outcomes of doing so. Perhaps out desire to unshackle our dispersed operations from ‘iron mountains’, or other constraints of logistics, only leaves military planners with new challenges, some even greater, than what they were initially hoping to overcome.

This post is an updated and substantially edited version to the authors article made on the Australian Army’s Land Power Forum. The original can be found at https://www.army.gov.au/our-future/blog/logistics/beyond-the-iron-mountain-the-paradox-of-efficient-logistics David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, logistician and Managing Editor of ‘Logistics In War’. The thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

[1] Clausewitz, C., On War, Howard, M., & Paret, P. (translated and edited), Princeton, USA, 1976, p 338