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 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

Huston’s sixteen principles: assessing operational performance during Op Desert Storm

By Chris Paparone.

This article is interesting not only for its historical value, but in the way Chris Paparone utilised the sixteen principles of logistics derived from the classic American history of Army logistics, Dr James Huston’s The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953. The book was written soon after the conclusion of the Korean War (Huston was the US Army’s official historian) and the principles were subsequently adapted into US Army doctrine. The principles described are worth comparing against recent doctrine, and offer logisticians a good set of criteria to review events.

This article was originally published in US ‘Army Logistician’ (preceding ‘Army Sustainment’) soon after the lessons of Desert Storm starting spilling into the public domain. Following this operation there was a major shift in the way supply was conducted from a classic ‘push’ approach to a demand and distribution-based ‘pull’ method as applied in Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom in 2002 and 2003. In any case the lessons, and the method by which the problems of Desert Storm were examined, remain pertinent today. Editor.

In the Persian Gulf War, the XVIII Airborne Corps experienced the full spectrum of logistics, from deployment in an austere contingency environment, through the painstaking development of a mature, 126,000-soldier corps, to participation in a theater logistics structure that combined U.S. and host nation support systems. During the war’s ground offensive in February 1991, this support structure permitted the corps to maneuver over record distances and achieve operational and tactical objectives with great speed.

Looking back at the war, our logistics supremacy is clear. However, hindsight also allows us to measure our performance against time-tested tenets of logistics success: the 16 Principles of Logistics defined in the Army Strategic Logistic Systems Plan (which are derived from the principles described by Dr. James A. Huston in his historical study, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953). Using the 16 principles as our guide, I would like to share some observations my colleagues and I made while we served as staffers in the XVIII Airborne Corps during the Gulf War. The insights gained from this exercise may encourage logisticians to use the principles in planning and executing logistics support operations in future conflicts.

As a test of our logistics systems, the Gulf War ground offensive was very short. The real “logistics war” was fought during the 6 months of buildup that preceded the ground campaign. Our logistics offensive plans had to be executed several months before “G-Day;” preparations for Desert Storm had to be made during Desert Shield. For these reasons, I use the Principles of Logistics to look at our performance in a logistics continuum, without regard to the distinction often made between Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.


The United States took a deliberate risk, and violated the principle of equivalence, by deciding to deploy combat forces before building a satisfactory logistics support structure at either the corps or theater level. Our operational reach and our ability to conduct a mobile defense during the first 120 days after the President decided to send troops to Southwest Asia were hampered by our lack of combat service support (CSS) units and adequate supply stocks. More significant as a sign of the lack of equivalence, the XVIII Airborne Corps decided it was not prepared to mount an early, one-corps offensive, even when pressured by theater commanders to plan for such action.

The late arrival of critical corps CSS units demonstrated that our initial defensive strategy was governed more by deterrence and deception than sustainability. To distribute the limited supplies of fuel, ammunition, and subsistence, the corps used the limited number of available host nation trucks and a system of supply point distribution. Distributing supplies was complicated by the simultaneous need to defend a huge area: the eastern portion of Saudi Arabia, where the corps area of operations was 175 kilometers wide and 300 kilometers deep.

However, the principle of equivalence was not ignored when planning for the Desert Storm offensive campaign began. By that time, logistics and tactical considerations were on an equal footing in developing maneuver options and determining the feasibility of each course of action. Great care was taken to ensure that the mix of CSS elements was in proportion to the rest of the corps. And logistics factors were weighed carefully by the corps and the Army Central Command (ARCENT) commanders when they selected the best alternative for the attack.

An important aspect of the equivalence principle is the need to maintain a comparable grade structure between logistics commands and other commands. Equivalence of rank is found at division level: the commander of a division support command (DISCOM) is a colonel—the same rank as the commander of the divisional maneuver brigade the DISCOM supports. In the Persian Gulf War, the 1st Corps Support Command (COSCOM)—then the largest major subordinate command of the XVIII Airborne Corps, with over 22,000 assigned or attached soldiers—was commanded by a full colonel. (Fortunately, the Army has since recognized that the complexity and importance of the COSCOM warrants a commander of brigadier general rank. I believe that a COSCOM commander actually should be a major general, equivalent to a division commander.) In contrast, the commander of the theater-level 22d Support Command (SUPCOM), Major General (later Lieutenant General) William Pagonis, held a rank more appropriate for the commander of a corps-sized unit.

Materiel Precedence

This principle was clearly violated. Many units arrived in country weeks before their equipment, and CSS equipment was deployed as the last priority at all levels. Most difficult to overcome were the distribution problems created by a lack of medium trucks to sustain the corps while it was dispersed in defensive sectors.

With few exceptions, XVIII Airborne Corps combat units were equipped by mid-February 1991 with the newest and best materiel available. This was due to Herculean, though last-minute, materiel fielding efforts. Many CSS units, however, went to war either short of their authorized equipment, at a low authorized level of organization, or without the latest available technology.

Use of pre-positioned cargo ships from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was obviously a success story. These ships provided the first real sustainment package to the corps until shipments from the United States and Europe could be completed.

Forward Impetus

During its initial rapid deployment, with the exception of limited pre-positioned war reserves on the ships from Diego Garcia, the XVIII Airborne Corps received very little supply automatically pushed from wholesale depots. The “pull system” had to be employed in combination with pushes of preplanned sustainment supplies from the corps’ home station accounts at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The initial preplanned supply shipments (IPSS) mentioned in the corps’ Southwest Asia war plans never materialized.

Automatic resupply of fuel, rations, and ammunition was planned for the ground offensive. That the ground campaign was brief (only 100 hours) was fortunate, because most of the bulk fuel and common-user land transportation (CULT) cargo trucks were sent forward with the attacking forces as “rolling warehouses.” The corps’ general support (GS) base was virtually absent and unable to provide timely follow-on resupply. Also, supported units were slow in returning trucks, which caused much nail biting in the logistics community. At one point, to compensate for the truck shortages, we resorted to sending Saudi Arabian commercial fuel trucks over the Iraqi border to build sustainment forward, at great potential political and physical risk to host nation assets and civilian personnel.


Most of the medium truck companies deployed to Southwest Asia were equipped with M915 commercial-style tractor trucks and M872 40-foot semitrailers. Although these vehicles were appropriate for hard-surfaced roads, their inability to operate over land severely constrained the corps’ ability to resupply ammunition as planned. This lack of cross-country-capable trucks forced tactical planners to clear the only hard-surfaced road in the corps sector (Main Supply Route Texas), which also was the road most heavily defended by the Iraqi forces.

To gain a cross-country capability, the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) elected to trade M932 tractors from supporting nondivisional POL (petroleum, oils, and lubricants) truck companies for vehicles capable of hauling M872 ammunition trailers over land. The division judged that not having sufficient fuel delivered forward
was a lesser risk than not having enough ammunition forward. For the duration of the 100-hour ground offensive, a reported thirty 5,000-gallon tanker semitrailers remained unemployed because of the lack of cross-country-capable prime movers.

We also had too few organic heavy equipment transporters (HET’s) and lowboys to efficiently move the corps into position across long distances. The corps needed to make 1,508 moves with HET’s and 721 with lowboys to shift from its defensive positions to offensive tactical assembly areas (TAA’s), but it was equipped with less than 100 HET’s and even fewer lowboys. Fortunately, host nation and allied forces pitched in to assist our efforts to move the corps. This made the desired timing of the ground attack feasible.

For the offensive, many divisional internal supplies and equipment had to be moved west by CULT trucks. This was less the case with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and more so with the 82d Airborne Division and the mechanized forces of the 24th Infantry Division and the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. For example, the 82d Airborne Division required over 500 tactical cargo trucks to motorize 3 brigades of infantry. These trucks were provided from theater and 1st COSCOM assets. (They were replaced by less mobile and less reliable commercial 5-ton-equivalent trucks. Interestingly, these replacements were mostly Mercedes trucks, which were colorfully painted and nicknamed “circus trucks.”) The effect was to reduce the corps’ ability to stockpile supplies inland and provide off-road-capable resupply during offensive operations.


Late in the XVIII Airborne Corps’ preparation for defensive operations, several support areas were established with stocks of ammunition, fuel, water, and food. These areas were well dispersed and were placed logically to assume successive fallback positions if necessary.

In contrast, a degree of risk was accepted in placing large quantities of supplies forward in relatively small areas at unprotected corps and theater logistics bases to support offensive operations. The loss or denial of one of these log bases could have significantly impaired the offensive capability of ARCENT and Marine Central Command ground forces. Fortunately, our intelligence estimates correctly viewed enemy disruption of these bases as unlikely, especially in light of our overwhelming air superiority.


During the strategic deployment of the XVIII Airborne Corps, we found that our heaviest element, the 24th Infantry Division, closed in Saudi Arabia earlier than our lightest force, the 82d Airborne Division. This disparity occurred because the 24th Infantry Division made economical use of fast sealift, rather than piecemeal airlifting of its troops and equipment, and because the 82d Airborne Division had never planned on deploying by sea. We concluded that fast roll-on-roll-off ships were worth their weight in gold, but there weren’t enough of them.

During defensive preparations, we observed that many units stockpiled supplies to the point of hoarding. When we shifted west to prepare for the offensive, units abandoned or destroyed supplies while still in their defensive positions because they lacked transportation to move them. Waste made for an uneconomical transition to offense. We specified that priority of movement went to building up stocks forward as the corps moved to offensive TAA’s.

Arguably, we were not economical in using our limited number of CULT trucks when we started to move. Such a massive and rapid operational displacement of a large force had never been accomplished before; unfortunately, we did not make optimal use of our limited cargo-hauling capability. Three factors were primarily responsible for this failure—

· Unit cargoes were more than the minimum necessary to accomplish the mission. For example, units carried portable latrines and showers and containers of bottled, rather than bulk, water.

· Divisions were not as mobile as envisioned in doctrinal publications.

· We lacked the organization and long-distance communications needed to control the use of our CULT assets.


While we planned for defense and attempted to monitor the buildup of logistics assets and their employment, we lacked detailed logistics estimates at all levels. This deficiency was mostly due to the unknown disposition and arrival dates of major CSS units. By the time the 1st COSCOM closed in country, we already were planning and preparing detailed logistics estimates for the offensive campaign. As a result, estimates for the defense were neither fully completed nor properly documented in the XVIII Airborne Corps.

The logistics estimates prepared for the offensive campaign relied heavily upon the intelligence and operations estimates for obtaining realistic ammunition and fuel consumption forecasts, as well as data on capabilities and expected shortfalls in distribution. In most cases, ammunition and fuel consumption estimates were overstated, resulting in the commitment of too many corps assets to follow advancing maneuver elements. This error delayed sustaining resupply scheduled in support of future operations.

The corps’ logistics estimates showed a potential  deficit of 100 bulk fuel tractor-trailers to support the depth of operations expected. The actual fuel distribution shortfall came close to that forecast. We concluded that our carrying capacity was sufficient, but that we probably misallocated tanker assets that were with maneuver units. If the war had been longer, the additional tankers would have been needed to reduce risks in achieving operational reach.

The Army needs a faster and more accurate method for developing logistics estimates. FM 101-10-1, Staff Officers’ Field Manual—Organizational, Technical, and Logistical Data, does not provide data on time, distance, and consumption rates needed to develop realistic logistics requirements. Because of the lack of supply asset visibility—the result of a general ineffectiveness of logistics automated systems—we lacked current information needed for making supply and transportation estimates.


One of the XVIII Airborne Corps’ greatest strengths was the support provided by Air Force intratheater air assets. We used C-130 transports to move thousands of soldiers, many tons of rolling stock, and repair parts in preparation for the offensive. During our displacement from defensive positions to offensive TAA’s, 2,703 wheeled vehicles, 15,848 passengers, and 116 pallets were moved into place in just 14 days. In addition, we received outstanding aerial bulk fuel delivery service, which gave the corps significant operational flexibility.

Each day, the Air Force delivered from 100,000 to more than 120,000 gallons of fuel to Log Base Charlie, using a field landing strip constructed from a two-lane paved road by Army engineers . This remarkable capability—enough to sustain the daily minimal combat operations of the 101st Airborne Division—would have shifted forward into Iraq if the war had lasted longer. Ironically, we learned too late that the 101st DISCOM did not have the proper equipment and trained personnel to extract fuel at a forward air strip. Only the 101st Corps Support Group had that capability, and they were still located in Saudi Arabia at Log Base Charlie.

We have noted already our lack of flexibility in moving GS support and cross-country-capable distribution assets. Such assets were needed to support the follow-on offensive exploitation and pursuit operations that were planned.


Synchronizing logistics efforts at each level of support, from theater down to separate-brigade-sized units, was the single most difficult planning challenge. Written plans detailing the time and location of required support tasks had to be prepared and staffed at each level. Formal, documented plans were not available from echelons above corps (EAC). Most of our theater logistics plans were on Harvard Graphics slide presentations that changed from week to week. As a result, misunderstandings surfaced during the execution of SUPCOM commitments for transportation, fuel, and ammunition in support of the corps. Our corps commander had to go “toe-to-toe” with the SUPCOM commander more than once.

The corps faced the logistics challenges of planning and executing support for a major ground offensive while simultaneously conducting major materiel fieldings, supporting movement operations, securing logistics areas, maintaining aviation and wheeled assets, building and maintaining a usable road network, supporting multiple field landing strips and airports, and creating forward stocks of fuel (5.8 million gallons), ammunition (35,000 tons), and rations (more than 2 million meals and 1 million gallons of purified water). All in all, these activities were accomplished at the right time and place so the ground attack could proceed on schedule.


A significant lack of continuity existed when the 1st COSCOM was put together in theater during the Desert Shield buildup. Peacetime command and control arrangements were inadequate to handle a force structure comprising a host of active and reserve component units from all over Forces Command. Most of these units had never trained or been associated with what were now their wartime higher headquarters until they arrived in country. It is understandable that the 1st COSCOM commanders and staff experienced great difficulty in directing an organization that grew to four times its peacetime size. The ad hoc nature of the corps’ logistics organization led to numerous problems in standardizing standing operating procedures and in centrally managing critical assets.

Similar continuity problems arose with the ad hoc theater SUPCOM, later designated the 22d SUPCOM. This organization began as a small group of hand-picked officers from the continental United States (CONUS), augmented by soldiers from the U.S. Army Military Training Mission, Saudi Arabia. As time progressed, hundreds of soldiers flowed into Saudi Arabia from all over CONUS to form the improvised SUPCOM.

Although there were numerous examples of supply and maintenance training deficiencies that made the transition to war difficult, the most glaring problem was implementing procedures for organizational clothing and individual equipment (OCIE). Units traditionally obtained OCIE support from their installation central issue facilities, and they were ill-prepared to establish unit OCIE operations in the field.

Our ability to support mortuary affairs services was limited by the lack of trained personnel and equipment  available from both the active and reserve components. Although we processed only 21 remains, we felt we would have been unprepared to support the estimated 950 remains anticipated in corps plans.


There has been speculation that the United States could have forced Iraq from Kuwait earlier if we had possessed the increased strategic mobility needed to move our forces more rapidly into the theater. What we do know is that the 6 months we needed to move a two-corps army into position allowed Iraq the same amount of time to fortify its positions.

Shipments of desert camouflage uniforms (DCU’s) and other desert individual clothing and equipment were not accomplished fast enough to keep pace with the buildup or to replace items lost through normal wear and tear. Many XVIII Airborne Corps soldiers went for months without more than two sets of DCU’s. We observed that VII Corps troops never had enough DCU’s during the offensive operation—most wore the green battle dress uniform.


We mistrusted the reporting of logistics status at all levels during both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In fact, we suspected that some units distorted or misrepresented their logistics status on purpose in order to gain an advantage in the corps’ allocation of scarce resources. The aberrant reporting probably stemmed from a lack of confidence in the supply system, which was instilled in units when they received neither corps nor EAC support in the first 120 days. Abuse of the high-priority designator system for supply requisitioning also indicated lack of confidence and discipline in the supply system.

Another aspect of fixing logistics responsibility is forming a well-developed logistics concept of operation and a list of tasks specified by phase of the operation. Logisticians must painstakingly cross walk these tasks with the other battlefield operating systems and ensure that vertical coordination is conducted with staff planners at both higher and lower levels. We found execution at lower levels of support was much better than implementation at higher levels, which we attributed to a lack of adherence to specified tasks at higher levels and an ability to perform implied tasks at lower levels.

We found that responsibility was better fixed at lower levels of command because of the performance-oriented nature of the organizations and the sound doctrine that they had practiced at the combat training centers. Higher level oral, as opposed to written, commitments for support were subject to misinterpretation and were limited to what those involved could remember.

Unity of Command

One of our most frustrating experiences involved the command and control of CULT truck assets during the XVIII Airborne Corps’ displacement west. Emerging doctrine, practiced in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, calls for placing CULT trucks forward in corps support groups, while controlling their use from the corps movement control center (MCC). In effect, this doctrine calls for decentralized command and centralized control—not a very effective combination when attempting a large-scale operational maneuver.

Once they received mission taskings for trucks from the MCC, truck unit commanders could not control soldiers or equipment well because of the fragmentation of their organizations and the loss of unit integrity. Under the Army’s old doctrine, which called for placing CULT trucks under a transportation brigade, better command and control can be maintained and better use can be made of limited transportation assets. This point was brought home when we observed how the French forces’ HET’s were employed as a company element rather than piecemeal. While making multiple trips, including moving XVIII Airborne Corps assets, the French HET unit never missed a scheduled pickup or experienced a breakdown.

Another insight gained from our large-scale movement was that the corps MCC probably should be a major subordinate command of the corps headquarters and not the COSCOM. The functions of the MCC overlap greatly with other battlefield operating systems, and setting priorities for using CULT assets and making road movements must be supervised from the corps command post to ensure unity of command. The MCC commander should wear two hats: commander, when in the movement control and traffic management business, and corps transportation officer, when in a policy and planning role. The concept is similar to that already employed by other battlefield operating systems, such as the corps engineer acting as commander of the engineer brigade, the corps surgeon commanding the medical brigade, and the corps fire support officer commanding the corps artillery.


Good logistics results from good information. In the Gulf War, logisticians at all levels had to work very hard to communicate up and down the echelons of support. Fortunately, we were generally well supported by the signal community, which provided access to the multichannel and high-frequency systems we needed to pass logistics information at the division and support group levels.

The XVIII Airborne Corps required units to submit a daily logistics status report through materiel management center channels. The purpose of the report was  to provide each echelon of materiel management centers with the current status of supply, maintenance, transportation, and services at their supply support activities and direct support and GS units. The intent was that action would be taken at the appropriate level to correct deficiencies or assist units in obtaining required support. The report format was quite lengthy—the resulting corps compilation was 30 to 40 pages long—and we experienced erratic compliance. The overall system was unreliable and probably more of a bureaucratic nightmare than a useful tool.

The Army must develop a timely and reliable way to collect status information without creating a heavy burden on all concerned, as was the case in the Gulf. The method must be flexible enough to provide a varying scope of information that can be adjusted according to the tactical situation. For example, we needed less information during actual ground offensive operations than we did during the deployment and buildup of Desert Shield.

Related to the reporting problems was the inherent lack of compatible computer systems employed at materiel management centers. We constantly sought equipment density information, but because of property book variations, we had to use unreliable offline reporting. Requisitioning systems also varied, and older systems could not perform lateral searches for materiel or provide rollup data with the newer systems. The Standard Army Ammunition System was too slow to account for rapid issue of combat-configured loads (the same lesson learned from Operation Just Cause in Panama). Lack of dedicated communications data links contributed to the ineffectiveness of the automated systems.


The overall quality of the weapon systems, such as the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, Patriot missile system, M1A1 Abrams tank, and M2/3 Bradley fighting vehicle, and the ammunition employed by the corps was excellent. There were few, if any, “white elephants” in the inventory. The employment of Army Materiel Command logistics assistance officers throughout the theater and corps was essential to the quality of our steady-state maintenance and materiel fielding efforts.


We found that our logistics system is far from simple. The reason is the multitude and complexity of the weapon systems being supported on the battlefield. The great array of support units and automated systems required to support a corps with both light and heavy divisions creates an almost untenable structure for support. We found few uncomplicated processes that supported units could use to obtain relief. Logistics staffs were unquestionably the busiest staff elements in the theater. Of all the battlefield operating systems, CSS planning and execution required the most elaborate staff supervision.

We learned that to keep things simple, logisticians must focus on the most critical supply and distribution aspects of combat logistics; namely, fuel, ammunition, rations, repair parts, and movement control. Once these activities are under control, others can be tackled. The list of logistics issues is never wholly resolved but merely rolls on, as one issue after another surfaces. Simplicity is achieved when logisticians find an effective means of prioritizing the issues confronting them and then concentrate on finding solutions.

Proud as we are of the logistics accomplishments of the Gulf War, an evaluation of our logistics planning and performance measured against the Principles of Logistics may allow us to make smart changes in anticipation of future conflicts. Two major conclusions may be derived from this analysis. First, had Iraq attacked early in our buildup, our lack of sustainment might have become the reason for our defeat. Balancing the flow of sustainment with the strategic deployment of combat power—in other words, equivalence—would have been the lesson learned in that case.

Second, had the ground war exceeded 100 hours, the XVIII Airborne Corps (and hence the coalition forces) would have needed an unplanned operational pause to allow logistics to catch up to the combat advance. The immediate problem would have been the cycle time for GS fuel haulers: they could not travel long distances, back and forth, fast enough to maintain the momentum of our attacking forces. In reflection, this was clearly a risk; only the shortness of the ground war made offensive logistics support “feasible.”

Chris Paparone, COL, US Army retired, served 29 years as a logistician and since 2002 has been involved in the US Army military education system. He has a PhD from Penn State University. At the time this article was written, Chris was a Lieutenant Colonel  Quartermaster officer assigned as commander of the 47th Support Battalion (Forward), 2d Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of Operation Joint Guard. 

Organising logistics for Multi-Domain Battle: Making a Complex Problem Even More Complex

This article was prepared as part of a collaboration with ‘Over The Horizon: Multi-domain operations and strategies’, a blog which asks the question, ‘what comes after the Joint and inter-agency constructs?’ The article can also be found here

If you haven’t followed OTH via their main website, or on Facebook, you are missing a great source of forward-thinking articles on warfare and security-related issues. The blog originates from the USAF Air Command and Staff College’s Multi-Domain Operations Strategist program.

By David Beaumont.

‘It is no great matter to change tactical plans in a hurry and to send troops off in new directions. But adjusting supply plans to the altered tactical scheme is far more difficult’

General Walter Bedell Smith, Chief of Staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force from 1944-1945

It is unsurprising that sustainment has become one of the key hurdles for planners to overcome as they experiment, exercise, and explore the concept of ‘multi-domain battle’ (MDB). Sustaining operations in the hypothesised dispersed and deadly conflict zones of the present and future creates especially acute problems for land forces. For decades, the combat power of most modern-Western land forces has been underwritten by a surplus of supply, massed sufficiently to eliminate logistic constraints as a tactical concern. This approach, however, brings increasing risk when facing opponents who can find, fix, and destroy vulnerable logistic nodes and supporting infrastructure. Austerity will become the norm in these future battlefields as projecting large logistic trains into theatre becomes progressively difficult. Logistic forces on the battlefield will be fewer in number, support likely intermittent, and the prioritisation and allocation of sustainment capability will become a central determinant of operational success.

But the problems presented by this new threat environment are not unique to land forces. The Army to which I belong describes the emerging security landscape as “lethal, collective and converging,” a description forces of all operational domains would recognise as salient. Similarly, each of these forces shares the need to significantly change the tactics required to succeed in war. Although we have yet to see much discussion on how air operations will be sustained outside of ‘A2AD’ debates of a few years ago, there has been recent discussion on the sustainment of naval forces in the context of ‘distributed lethality’ and naval manoeuvre warfare. The traditional ‘domain owners’ will undoubtedly progress these discussions as concepts move closer and closer to operational reality. This vital discussion is particularly critical for forces like the Australian Defence Force, or geographical US Combatant Commands such as PACOM, where operations in littoral environments have always been joint in nature.

As with the current MDB discourse, much of which has been led by land forces, the need for dispersal and sustaining under continuous threat has typically been described in terms of land operations. As an aid to the author who comes from a land force background, so too will this article. However, the principles that will be discussed here are applicable to all forces; they are in fact based upon the writings of a senior USN officer, Rear Admiral Henry Eccles and are largely based on his personal experience during the Second World War and research of naval strategy and logistics. Sustainment in MDB will depend – more than ever – on the management of priorities, the allocation of logistic capability and supplies, and the methods by which this is supported.

The need to disperse sustainment capacity, whether land-based logistics, air-refuelling or replenishment-at-sea, has long been a staple of military doctrine. However, this challenge is magnified when logistic forces are few or degraded in capability – as is predicted for the future battlefield. Kenneth Macksey, in For Want of a Nail, describes how the ever-increasing killing power available to the soldier operating in the defence has led to the depopulation of the battlefield, as have the destructive power of air forces, missiles and artillery, and at its most extreme, nuclear weaponry. The need to spread forces thinly for their own safety, combat and logistic forces alike, introduces serious problems to movements (of forces) and distribution (their sustainment), and tests the limited logistics management systems that will be available to control them. Furthermore, it tests logisticians who will be frustrated by how thinly their capabilities are stretched, and commanders who must determine how such capabilities might be prioritised and allocated.

Feature Image 1

There have been a wide range of methods employed in the past to overcome this problem, and to effectively utilise generally insufficient logistics forces. One way – the traditional approach as applied by current Australian Army doctrine in an arguably outdated way to some – is the use of logistic ‘battlefield geometry’ such as ‘lines’ or ‘levels’ of support. This approach to logistics system making sees sustainment achieved through a succession of steps from the national support base to the front line. At the tactical level, these methods allow for the concentration of logistic capabilities and supplies with sufficient depth while being dispersed enough to prevent their destruction by artillery, bombs, and counter attack. One of the reasons this approach is losing its appeal is that it is typically associated with the establishment of large logistic ‘nodes,’ and is manpower intensive.

A second method is to apply an alternate command and control logic to the problem. Apportioning logistic support by its function or by priority of effort places sustainment as a time-dependant activity, one that allocates resources to a commander based on their prioritisation and operation demands. This method suits operations where logistic austerity is the norm, and commanders must make tough decisions as to who gets fed, and who doesn’t. This may seem stark, but it is an all-too-common lesson of major conflicts and wars that militaries tend to forget. This approach is gaining increasing traction in the Australian Army, as evinced in its inclusion in early drafts of a 2017 rewrite of Army logistic doctrine.

This approach can be seen in the force design of Western armies which have typically centralised mass movement or technical activities, and decentralised those capabilities which operate at lesser volume as localised activity. An illustrative example of this logic is found in transportation where it is routinely applied: point-to-point and inter-theatre transportation is centralised at a higher level than local or intra-theatre transportation. This enables the concentration of logistic mass which, properly enabled by a responsive logistic management system, provides the greatest possible effect at a decisive point on a battlefield. Conversely those functions central to immediate tactical flexibility, or for those day-to-day tasks, remain available to subordinate commanders. The challenge with implementing this approach to logistics is that the massing of capability direct to the commander’s main effort presents an enticing target to an enemy with the means to detect and strike a preparing sustainment force. How we concentrate dispersed logistic forces, hoping to avoid detection and fire, to create sufficient logistic mass when it is required must be a hot topic amongst contemporary logisticians (see Survive First, Sustain Later and Thinking Small).

A third approach involves combining both methods. This includes ideas such as ‘area logistics’ where protected forward operating bases or mobile logistics elements, supported by a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, anti-air and other defences, are assigned areas of responsibility for the sustainment of nearby combat forces. Ideas such as the USMC’s ‘Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations’ (EABO), as promoted by Centre for Budgetary and Strategic Assessments in this 2016 paper and subject to some contention, epitomise this concept. In this example, once operational manoeuvre allows for a force to be ‘injected’ into a contested environment, the EAB establishes a defensible node that can sustain combat operations. In area logistics, the question is less about drawing sustainment from a familiar logistic force, let alone a force from the same Service; instead the question for the dispersed combat force is ‘what logistic force is nearby, and how do I access it?’ This may mean we cross Service lines to share logistic problems, and become more comfortable with giving support to forces whom we never expected to support – even in a joint force.

No one method is suited to all occasions, as sustainment is a matter of context. Operations in different domains, geographies and against different threats, will always require doctrine to be questioned, and new methods of sustainment considered. This means that until we see a real technological revolution that fundamentally changes the way in which forces are sustained, militaries will have to be adaptable in their approach to sustaining in the field, in the air or at sea. Combat forces will have to be logistically disciplined, especially when austerity is paramount or after combat severely disrupts support, and commanders will have to devote considerable effort to controlling their logistic support. Supporting forces in dispersed environments brings the art of prioritisation to the forefront, and requires the commander and his or her staff to be cognisant of the condition and state of their own forces, as well as the desired objective so that the right sustainment capabilities are allocated when required.

As much as we might like to see technology as the solution to sustaining MDB, in the short term we must recognise one of the unwritten ‘laws’ of logistics – it is a command problem. Being a command problem, effective performance in logistics also relates to the capacity of logisticians and leaders to make timely and appropriate decisions on prioritisation and allocation. They and their logistic staff must be empowered and enabled by access to information which allows them to make the best quality decision they can as limited logistic forces are directed to support dispersed combat elements. Future logistics information systems will be key in this process. If logisticians aren’t able to make decisions based upon efficiency, success in battle will be dependent upon the wasteful practice of over-allocating logistic resources. Over-allocation results in excessive stocks or logistic capabilities being held, increasing the logistic footprint.  Even if the over-accumulation of supplies and logistic resources occurs without becoming a targetable vulnerability, wasteful behaviour with respect to sustainment always erodes the flexibility of the force. This limits the resources, indeed options, available to exploit successes or prevent failures, or the redirecting of usually limited supplies and capabilities to the places where they are most needed.

There are no easy answers to sustaining MDB, although there have never been easy answers to sustaining combat operations in general. The effectiveness of logistic supports depends upon a range of contextual factors at the best of times. However, the scenarios painted in the MDB concepts suggest forces will have to operate in environments of greater austerity than they are used to, and the efficient use of logistic capabilities will be increasingly critical to success. The prioritisation and allocation of sustainment effort is just as relevant for air and naval forces as it is to land forces, as they consider the wars of the future. While they do consider the methods of sustaining MDB or joint operational concepts, it is also worthwhile to ask how each can better support one another in a joint fashion, thereby alleviating some of the burden of austerity, and making the prioritisation and allocation decisions easier for operational commanders. It certainly seems that if we thought logistic operations in recent wars might have been complex enough, there does not appear to be any relief over the horizon.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, logistician and Senior Editor of ‘Logistics In War’. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army or the Australian government.

‘Cunctator’ Part 2: Siege warfare and the logistics of resistance – lessons from Croatia and Iraq

By Erik A. Claessen.

This post continues from ‘Cunctator’ – Logistics, hostile environments and war in cities.

In 2006 – three years into Operation Iraqi Freedom – the US Army recognised:

“People support the source that meets their needs.”[1]

This was a confirmation that people would not intuitively support a military force which liberated them from a brutal dictator. People do seem to be willing to give their support to rag tag armed movements that use cities as bases for a resistance campaign; cities which form the hub of sustaining life as well as military action in defence of territory. These patterns of life must be understood, as well as the logistics of sustaining resistance activities, if militaries are going to be successful in campaigns where cities are central to control over the operational area. Operation Iraqi Freedom was never designed to be a long war. The American operational design at the time was commonly summarized in three words: shock and awe. The shock of a swift military regime change would inspire the awestruck Iraqi population to start a democratization process allowing the speedy redeployment of US forces. The operational design did not lead to the intended result. Instead, coalition forces got entangled in an endless series of urban battles.

Within a year after Saddam Hussein’s statue in the centre of Baghdad was torn down, the Coalition got the answer to the question why a modern military force would bother to fight in urbanized areas in the first place: because it has become impossible to govern a territory without controlling the major cities that dominate, administratively, the pattern of civilian life. After several unsuccessful attempts to pacify unruly Fallujah, coalition forces besieged it in Operation Al Fajr that took place between 7 November and 23 December 2004. In this, the 21st century resembles the 17th. In four centuries, the military pendulum concerning the decisive type of military land operations swung from sieges to battles only to return back to sieges. It would seem that Iraqi resistance movements – both Shia and Sunni – identified this reality sooner than coalition forces did, and acted accordingly.

That is not to say that nothing really changed in four centuries. Far from it. 17th century cities relied on fortifications for their defence. Once the perimeter was breached, resistance was futile. By contrast, 21st century cities can swallow up combat power and digest it. Fallujah was a good example of this contrast. After an earlier operation in Fallujah, Vigilant Resolve, US forces created a fully equipped Fallujah Brigade of Sunni soldiers to control the city. After a couple of months, the brigade’s soldiers – and their weapons – simply dissolved into the city’s population and insurgents.[2]

To develop this thesis further, and to derive the logistical implications from it, I will start with a concise overview of the conceptual approaches to siege warfare.

In 1589, Maurits of Nassau explained his strategy to defeat the Spanish forces in an address to the Dutch States-General: “I will lay siege to all cities dominating navigable rivers such as Deventer and Zutphen on the Ijssel, Nijmegen on de Waal, Grave, Venlo or Maastricht on the Maas, or Groningen. First the one, then the other. As soon as the river cities are conquered, all in-land places will fall because, cut off from their roots, they will perish by themselves.”[3]

Nassau developed a military logistical proto-system that disappeared in the fog of history after it served its purpose. The system used rivers (even the most insignificant ones) as main supply roads and small boats as trucks. Boats proved useful to transport both heavy items (like artillery pieces and ammunition) and bulky cargo (like fodder). Because these boats could not cross watershed lines, his areas of operations were limited to the river basins he could open up by besieging cities at key confluences. His failure to take Antwerp denied the Schelde basin to his forces. As a result, the border between Belgium and the Netherlands lays approximately one day’s march of the southernmost points Nassau’s supply​boats could reach in the Maas river basin without running aground. Nassau’s system allowed his forces to use cavalry and horse-drawn artillery in less fertile rural areas where fodder was scarce or during winter, when fodder was scarce everywhere.

Nassau’s mastery of river-based operational logistics defined his strategic superiority over his much more powerful Spanish opponent. However, it simultaneously limited the geographical reach that this strategy could provide. “Of all the commanders of the age, none showed himself more adept at exploiting the advantages​ offered by water-courses than Maurice of Nassau – and, conversely, no one found it more difficult to operate without them. By rapidly shipping his artillery train from east to west and back along the great rivers … Maurice succeeded in surprising the Spaniards time and again … always catching the Spanish fortresses before they could be made ready for defence. Once he got away from the rivers, however, he was lost.”[4]

A logistical system only provides a strategic advantage if it allows a belligerent to do something that his opponent cannot. It is therefore important to analyse how modern urban based belligerents tackle their logistical issues. One example is the Croatian “War of the Barracks” of 1991-1992.[5] This little known war redefined the staying power – or rather the lack thereof – of garrisoned troops. However, a CIA study regarded this conflict “one of the decisive actions of the Croatian war.”[6]

In reaction to growing nationalist unrest in Croatia, the federal Yugoslav National Army (JNA) confiscated most weapons of the regional Territorial Forces (later renamed Croatian National Guard or ZNG) in 1990. So when Croatia declared its independence in October 1991, it was militarily weak. In fact, JNA plans to nib the independence in the bud were pretty straightforward: their orders were to take the cities of Osijek and Zupaja in the north east and to conduct a two pronged attack along the Drava and Sava rivers towards the capital Zagreb. Because the terrain west of Osijek favoured a mechanized attack, the Serbs thought they could reach Zagreb in two days. The strategic objective of the lightning attack was to cause the Croatian government to collapse. Things turned out differently.

The Croatian nationalists were among the first to understand that the geographical dispersion of a nation outside its homeland can contribute to the solution of the logistical problems associated with a war of secession. In 1987, Franjo Tudjman – the political leader of the nationalists and later the first president of independent Croatia – started a systematic campaign of visits and speeches to unite the Croatian diaspora (Iseljena Hrvatska) and the Croatian homeland (Domovinska Hrvatska) in an effort to gain and secure independence. The importance of this diaspora is probably best illustrated by the fact that a Canadian of Croatian descent – Gojko Šušak – held the office of Minister of Defense during the war of secession. The funds he raised among Croatian expats covered a quarter of military expenditure in the first two years of the conflict.

More crucially, these funds allowed the secret acquisition in 1990 of the small arms needed to win the battles of the barracks. The Croatian government distributed the arms to bolster the defense of Osijek (to the north of Brcko on the map below), the fourth largest city of Croatia where the government enjoyed popular support. Furthermore, the government distributed the remaining small arms ZNG units that acted under control of municipal crisis staffs and ordered them to lay siege to all JNA barracks throughout Croatia and if possible, capture and plunder them.

By switching of their utilities, inhibiting all food shipments and – in some cases – outright armed assaults the ZNG managed to capture many barracks and gather around two hundred thousand small arms and seven hundred tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces. These actions had a double effect: they stopped the Serb attack in Osijek and they blunted the JNA’s focus. Instead of concentrating on the strategic objective (the capital), the JNA diluted its fighting power in a series of efforts to relief the blockaded barracks.

However, the strategy did have its limits. To paraphrase Van Creveld, of all the commanders in the Balkan wars of the nineties, none showed himself more adept at exploiting the advantages ​offered by diasporas and popular support than Franjo Tudjman – and, conversely, no one found it more difficult to operate without them. As a result, the shape of the territory that came under Serb control seemed to defy all military logic.


Map (2)

The map was produced by the Faculty of Geography, Belgrade University, 1993 with respect to a population census taken on March 31, 1981.  The area denoted in red reflects the Serbian control of territory and has been included by the author.


This shape only makes sense by combining it with the results 1981 Yugoslav population census: the Croatian government managed to keep the territories where they enjoyed popular support, but they were unable to cut the supply lines between Serbia and the western territories they conquered, even though at its narrowest point – the Corridor of Brcko – the lines ran over a piece of terrain just three kilometres wide.

Although he firmly demonstrated the utility of a supply line of funds provided by a diaspora and the ability of cities to swallow up military power and digest it, Tudjman ultimately had to build a conventional army to recuperate the territories lost in 1991 in a series of operations executed in 1995. However, logistics-oriented strategy adopted early in the campaign was instrumental in setting the preconditions for later successes.

The Second battle for Fallujah, Operation Al-Fajr, fought by a combined US, UK and Iraqi force in 2004, also offers insights with respect to the logistics of modern siege warfare. This operation began with an intent to avoid the loss of civilian life, and a desire for combat forces to avoid being ‘consumed’ in a long-term city siege. With a whisper campaign during the summer and autumn of 2004, coalition forces convinced the overwhelming majority of the citizens to leave the city prior to the start of combat operations. After that, they methodically searched and cleared the city. However, they did not adapt their rules of engagement to the conceptual imperatives of urban administration. This meant the ‘cure’ was arguably more painful than the symptoms of the disease.

“Before the city could be returned to its residents, it needed to be cleared of unexploded ordnance, standing water, and the dead. Fallujah sits below the water level of the Euphrates River and one of the water pump stations was damaged during the battle. The standing water hid unexploded ordnance and decaying bodies. Additionally, the electric grid, water treatment, and sewage systems were in such disrepair that they needed to be replaced entirely.”[7]

The wording of the after-action review is also revealing:

“Damage to the pump station elicited a number of questions about the care taken when targeting critical infrastructure. Some have questioned, in general, the level of collateral damage within the city and asked if it was necessary. Damage to buildings was justified to save Coalition and ISF lives—they were ordered to clear the area against an enemy that came to die, that had embedded itself in such a way as to increase the likelihood of inflicting Coalition and ISF casualties.”[8]

In other words, US forces categorized pump stations, the electric grid and water treatment as “buildings”, not as vital urban infrastructure like “cloaca” or “aquaduct” as I described in part one. The loss of essential services during the siege resulted in a re-emergence of civil discord. After the siege of the Fallujah, resistance intensified in the cities around it and by 2006, Al-Anbar province that contained Fallujah was in total insurgent control. Al-Fajr was one of the operations that triggered the effort to completely rethink military ‘siege’ operations in the age of urbanization. US doctrine was adapted and the ‘Essential Services Category’ was emphasised as depicted below.


Essential Services Categories

From US Army’s 2006 edition of FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency accessible here.


The doctrinal shift underscores that conceptual approaches to the problem of contention level management at high population density revolve around a balancing act between fostering prosperity and guaranteeing security in the major cities of a conflict area. In this balance, militarily weak actors can use diaspora fundraising and municipal power structures to withstand much stronger opponents. Conversely, militarily strong actors can completely discredit themselves by demonstrating ineptitude to provide urban administration under fire.

In wars where the preservation of the urban environment is essential for the maintenance of popular support, the provision of urban services by land force logistic elements might prove as fundamental to success as the combat operations themselves. This is because city dwellers support the source that meets their needs.  This challenge will become even more significant as cities grow larger, and potential conflict zones become increasingly urbanized. Megacities are large areas with a high population density where life will depend on administrative effectiveness and the management of vital infrastructure. To cope with this reality, land forces need to adjust their understanding of initiative. and focus upon meeting the needs of the population. From a logistical point of view this calls for capabilities that not merely support military operations but that also enable the provision of urban essential services during and in the aftermath of those operations.

Colonel Erik A. Claessen is a Belgian Army logistics officer who publishes regularly on contemporary armed conflicts. Claessen is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, where he earned a master of military arts and sciences degree. He writes here in a personal capacity and can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/erik-claessen-87341530/

[1] FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 15 December 2006), 3-11.

[2] The analysis of the battles of Fallujah draws on the study by Dr. William Knarr and Major Robert Castro, US Marine Corps with Ms. Dianne Fuller The Battle for Fallujah, Al Fajr—the Myth-buster (Alexandria VA, Institute for Defense Analyses, 2010)

[3] Ronald P. de Graaf, Oorlog, mijn arme schapen. Een andere kijk op de Tachtigjarige Oorlog 1565-1648 (Franeker: Van Wijnen, 2004), translated by Erik A. Claessen

[4] Martin van Creveld, Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 2nd edition, p. 10

[5] The analysis of the “War of the barracks” draws on the study by Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Russian and European Analysis, Balkan Battlegrounds: A Military History of the Yugoslav Conflict, 1900-1995, 2 vols., (Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, May 2002)

[6] Balkan Battlegrounds, Vol. 1, p. 95.

[7] Dr. William Knarr and Major Robert Castro, US Marine Corps with Ms. Dianne Fuller The Battle for Fallujah, Al Fajr—the Myth-buster (Alexandria VA, Institute for Defense Analyses, 2010), p.71

[8] Ibid., p.70


Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics – a new expedition, and new expectations

By David Beaumont.

This post continues the ‘Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics’ series, and is an abridged extract from a larger paper.

The operations in East Timor are commonly seen to be a litmus test of Army’s logistic capability, and the primary reason for a second wave of logistic transformation. Operation Warden certainly gave good cause for transformation, but the seeds for a range of logistic adaptations had been sown a number of years earlier. As mentioned in my last post, RTA Phase 2 trials would have tested Army’s capacity to deploy beyond Australian shores. A move towards preparing Army for offshore deployments had begun under the stewardship of Lieutenant General Frank Hickling, Chief of Army from 1998 to 2000, in response to the new Governments Australia’s Strategic Policy (ASP 97) yet within the context of RTA. Like many land forces of the post-Cold War period, considerable academic attention was being directed by Army to understanding expeditionary operations and maritime strategy. Through this, Army had begun a fundamental transformation of its orientation.[1] The first draft of the concept later known as ‘Manoeuvre Operations in the Littoral Environment’ was prepared around the time Army deployed on operations, and its implications for a variety of Army and Joint logistic capability programs.

The conceptual shift in Army transpired into Army’s capstone doctrine, Land Warfare Doctrine 1 – The fundamentals of land warfare (LWD-1), which outlined the principles of Army’s future expeditionary orientation.[2] It would later be continued through concepts including Entry by Air and Sea was developed by Army’s research directorate. This concept was eventually subsumed into the ‘Developing Doctrine’ LWD 3.0.0 – Manoeuvre Operations in the Littoral Environment (MOLE), finally acknowledged in doctrine in 2004. However, while the conceptual path to transformation in Army was relatively clear and rapid for a time, changes in Army’s logistic capabilities occurred at a far more measured pace.

Much attention at the highest levels in Defence was being directed towards resolving issues within strategic and operational-level logistics capabilities, as well as in the formation of the Defence Materiel Organisation. As a consequence little energy from the outside of Army was being directed towards logistics issues that were considered to be internal in nature. This being said, a number of key theatre capabilities residing within the Logistic Support Force were immediately reinforced, with five hundred positions to be funded with the 2000 review of Australian strategic policy. Experiments such as Headline 2000 were conducted with logistics in mind, with lessons learned continuing to filter into Army’s logistic capability programs.

There are two main reasons why logistic transformation along this line of effort began to stall, and with it the desire in Army to rapidly improve its logistics capabilities. Firstly, the Army’s attention shifted dramatically to deployments in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, following the ‘9/11’ attacks in New York. Although these were expeditionary operations, they had more in common with the peacekeeping operations conducted in the 1990s and other niche deployments than they did with Operation Warden. With forces deployed as specialised task units and operating independently from one another, sustainment was often achieved under coalition auspices, host-nation support or the use of contractors.

An Army-based Intermediate Staging Base supporting the early insertion of special forces into Afghanistan in 2001 evolved over the course of the decade into a relatively robust joint, national, theatre logistic unit that supported the reception, staging, onforwarding and integration activity of all ADF forces in the region and other tasks. However, the scope of its tasks and responsibilities paled in comparison to that of the Force Logistics Support Group of Operation Warden. Even though the importance of force-level logistics forces was confirmed by the deployment of this logistics unit, as tactical lessons filtered back from operations and began to influence doctrine and concepts the lessons of East Timor slowly diminished in relevance to logistic transformation; an echo of the same fate that befell the concepts of the 1990’s had at had the moment the first boots hit the ground in Dili during Operation Warden.

Secondly, experiences taken from operations in the Middle-east, combined with the Hardening and Networking (HNA) initiative, also changed the priorities for investment for a range of Army capabilities. Army had been reminded of the lethality of the contemporary battlespace by operations in the Middle-east, but also of the obsolescence of its vehicle fleet and communications measures. Consequently, Army’s attention in capability development shifted towards enhancing combat formations rather than specifically focusing upon the MOLE concept and logistic capability gaps relevant to coalition leadership or offshore operations in Australia’s immediate environment.

HNA did consider the lessons of past developmental programs ranging from A21 to MOLE and the ‘Army Objective Force’ program, as well as operational and historical analysis. However, battlegroup and internal-to-formation logistics capabilities became prioritised for investment, as did intellectual attention. HNA and successive programs including the Enhanced Land Force increased the size of Army, largely though raising the 7th Brigade to full-time capability and the addition of another infantry battalion. These initiatives also came at a cost; many of the five hundred positions identified to remediate logistic deficiencies were whittled away in the growth of combat forces as Army faced a new direction.

Army’s force modernisers did try to blend the ideas of maritime-based expeditionary warfare and other needs, and achieve transformed logistic capabilities designed for both. In 2002 Army’s Land Warfare Development Group responded to the absence of new logistics projects within the Defence Capability Plan with new initiatives to remediate capability gaps as part of the logistic review of the HNA  initiative.[3] Joint Project 126 – Joint Theatre Distribution System received attention in a Kellogg-Brown-Root review that quantified many of the requirements for logistic support for operations in the littoral environment.[4] In 2005, a second logistic study of HNA was undertaken, resulting in an ‘Army Capability Requirement’ which outlined the logistic requirements for the future battlefield. The opening statement of the ACR gave good reason to progress transformation, especially in terms of capability development:

The upgrade of existing Land-based systems, acquisition of new combat capability and developing concepts, such as NCW (network-centric warfare) and FLOC (Future Land Operating Concept), are likely to severely challenge the Army’s ability to provide CSS (combat service support) capability to support future warfighting in a disaggregated and complex battlespace. This proliferation of new combat capabilities is without commensurate improvement to CSS in the DCP (Defence Capability Plan) and it would be short-sighted to assume there will not be serious consequences without this appropriate investment (or development) in key areas.[5]

Soon after this document was released, and after a small expeditionary deployment to the Solomon Islands, in 2006 Army once again deployed to East Timor as part of Operation Astute. This operation was much smaller than Operation Warden had been, but it did confirm that logistic transformation was progressing. The arguments for reinforcing Army’s, and the ADF’s, expeditionary logistic capabilities had born fruit, and improvements in deployability had led the then Brigadier Mick Slater, as commander of the task force, to conclude, ‘we have largely solved the deployable logistic problem since 1999’.[6]

Slater noted that the ADF had ‘poured resources into rectifying the problems we had in getting water, POL [petrol, oils and lubricants] and key war stocks into theatre and sustaining ourselves away from our Australian bases’ and that 2500 people were sustained ‘superbly’.[7] Considering the coalition force deployed to East Timor was one-third the size of that during Operation Warden, it is understandable that the theatre-level logistic capabilities which had been reinforced in small numbers since 1999 would prove effective. Nonetheless, the validation Army received that the response to logistic weaknesses, underwritten by a growth of 3500 ‘enabling’ personnel since East Timor, had also diminished the need for further change.

Army’s concept writers and force designers turned their efforts towards the Middle-east operations in a series of Force Modernisation Reviews, set within the context of Adaptive Campaigning – Future Land Operating Concept. In the two conducted in the decade after HNA was announced, and operations in the Middle-east commenced, further changes to force design were promoted. This was complemented with a shift in approach for logistic-related capability projects. For example, Land 121, the replacement for Army’s transportation, encountered multiple design changes to account for the enhanced protection and other enhancements needed for the future battlefield. Investment into theatre logistics capabilities, logistics information systems and other logistic projects endured haircuts as other operational requirements, and expenses, had to be accounted elsewhere. With force designers leaning forward into the distant future, the absence of effective and acceptable transformation plans ensured any change in Army’s logistics was incremental.

This is not to say that major changes to Army’s logistic forces did not occur during this period, while attention was consumed with support operations. In fact, it was because of the need to force generate logistic capability for operations that the most significant changes in logistic force design occurred. Soon after Operation Warden had concluded, Army had begun to discuss in public a new logic for force design. This logic would have greater consequences for logistic transformation in Army than any concepts relating to an Army expeditionary, amphibious, orientation ever would. Army had long been concerned about the ability to rotate forces for sustained operations; a weakness that was complicated by numerous bespoke units, or specialised capabilities in Army. It  informed government as early as 2003 that:

‘The lack of any uniformly structured, trained and equipped brigades is the result of the necessity to deliver a broad range of capability outputs within funding constraints’.[8]

When launching HNA, and preparing to commit forces to Middle-eastern operations for an extended period, the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, described HNA as embracing an Army of ‘two’s’ to support deployment rotations.[9 Furthermore, he sought to establish a modular force in which operational formations could be designed as required, claiming that the Army ‘in barracks is not the Army that will deploy on operations’.[10]

Despite the earlier investment made by Army into the management of combat supplies, catering, medical support and other force enabling capabilities, the need to support Army’s emerging force generation model and sustained operations was creating a considerable strain. HNA established a force that could sustain a major brigade-level stabilisation operation, exemplified by Operation Warden 1999, but carried ‘risk’ into second rotation logistic forces; many of which were expected to be provided by military reserves or contractors. In addition, this force was underpinned by a Defence Capability Plan (DCP) which had funded logistics projects, a hope that was rapidly unravelling.

It was as a consequence of this pressure, and Army’s desire to reinforce its combat capabilities, that the centralisation of a number of capabilities began to be discussed in the higher committees of Army. In the health domain, structural personnel weaknesses encouraged the concentration of capability into the growing strategic agency, Joint Health Command. Other functions, such as catering, were considered secondary by Army’s senior leaders and reduced in size with personnel directed to other initiatives. Hollowness within combat supply capabilities could not be overcome. The question became where would this centralisation most effectively support the sustainment of the operations of the time?

The centralisation of these functions into Army’s force logistic brigade, 17th Combat Service Support Brigade (17 CSS Bde), occurred during 2011-12 in a contentious move. It was believed that by concentrating these elements in one formation that the force generation of these elements would be improved, and a minimum level of capability preserved. It was clear that no further resources were going to be directed to logistic capabilities so to bolster their capacity to support current operations in the short term.  Among the broader changes occurring under the scope of the spiritual successor to HNA, Plan Beersheba, a plan that sought to take HNA’s ‘army of two’s’ to one of ‘threes’ and rotate them through periods of higher readiness, the centralisation of hollow logistic capabilities within 17 CSS Bde therefore made sense. It allowed Army to prioritise these force logistic elements in accordance with the readiness status of the combat force; whether they were ready, readying or in a period of reconstitution known as ‘reset’.

This act showed that Army’s preference of the period was for a force structure based upon achieving preparedness requirements, rather than an operational concept which described how a land force might fight. In terms of logistics, like other functions, the organisational focus was on sustaining operations rather than radical movements in long-term force development. Various concepts came and went, including the 2014 issue of ‘Archipelagic manoeuvre’, a modernised version of MOLE, as a logic for Army’s future force structure, and a second iteration of the Future Land Operating Concept, and its supporting concepts. However, after quickly responding to the capability gaps that had emerged during Operation Warden, very few major changes to Army’s logistics had eventuated. Incremental changes were undertaken, and capabilities were being modernised, but they could hardly be described as transformational in their influence upon the development of new ideas, doctrines and other aspects of preparation for war as they applied to land force logistics.

While Army Headquarters was occupied with preparing for the future, Forces Command was undertaking a significant review of Army’s logistic capability in the context of the force-in-being. The centralisation of logistic capabilities into 17 CSS Bde may have been a watershed moment for an Army which typically held as much of its logistic capacity within its forward units as possible. However, at its core and as described above, it was simply a reflection of Army’s broader change processes. It was achieving the objectives of Plan Beersheba, but in an environment where the hollowness resident within certain logistic capabilities precluded anything other than centralisation. The final logistic review of the nominal ‘second wave of transformation’, however, sought to examine logistics in the context of a tactically-oriented concept once again. In 2013 the now Major General and Commander of Forces Command, Mick Slater, directed further work into the logistics capabilities of his Command.

Unlike what Lieutenant General Leahy proposed with respect to HNA, and perhaps even what Lieutenant General Morrison viewed of Plan Beersheba, Slater saw the newly formed ‘like’ combat brigades as a fighting formation. Following the preparation of the Concept of Employment of the Reinforced Combat Brigade (CONEMP) which proposed how it would fight, the Concept of Operations for Combat Service Support for the Reinforced Combat Brigade was prepared.This concept, now being implemented, has since resulted in the centralisation of logistic capabilities at the formation level and from the units, a significant shift that tested Army tradition and created ongoing controversy.  In an absence of additional resources, it has relied upon adjusting process rather than truly remediating capabilities long known to be vulnerable. However, this review has, perhaps, signaled a return to concept-driven force structure planning. With this in mind, it has given Army a good basis upon which to transform its logistics in the future.

This series will be concluded in a final post. David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, and the thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

[1] For example, the Land Warfare Studies Centre became a centrepiece for articulating Army’s future requirements. An example of its work is Evans, M., 1998, The role of the Army in a maritime concept of strategy, Working Paper, no. 101, Land Warfare Studies Centre, Australia

[2] Australian Army, 1999, LWD-1 Fundamentals of Land Warfare, Department of Defence,  Canberra.

[3] Land Warfare Development Group, Army Capability Requirement CSS 2012, Australian Army, Department of Defence, Australia, 2002 , (unclassified, available on the Defence Protected Network or on request)

[4] Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., Logistics over the short focussed study: milestone 2.2.4, Department of Defence, Australia, 2002, (unclassified, available on the Defence Protected Network on request)

[5] Australian Army, Army Capability Requirement – Combat Service Support 2015, Department of Defence, Australia, 2005, (unclassified, available on the Defence Protected Network or on request)

[6] Slater, M., ‘An interview with Brigadier Mick Slater, Commander JTF 631’ from Australian Army, Australian Army Journal, Vol 3. No. 2, Australian Army, Australia, 2006,p 11   (http://www.army.gov.au/~/media/Content/Our%20future/Publications/AAJ/2000s/2006/AAJ_2006_2.pdf)

[7] ibid., p 11

[8] Department of Defence, Submission 73, to Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, From Phantom to force: towards a more efficient and effective Army, Commonwealth of Australia, 2003

[9]   Leahy, P., 2004, ‘Towards the hardened and networked Army’ from Australian Army, Australian Army Journal, Vol 2. No. 1, Australian Army, Australia, 2004, p34(https://www.army.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1846/f/aaj_2004_1.pdf)

[10]  ibid.,

Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics – sustaining INTERFET

‘In the past the Australian armed forces have not had to invest in substantial deployable logistic capabilities. Our forces have relied upon major allies such as the US and Britain. The logistic support for INTERFET was magnificent, but sustainment was not achieved without frustration and some failures. Frankly, if the ADF is required by the nation to go offshore again in a lead role or as a contributor to international military action, we will have to underwrite our operations with a responsive and effective logistic system with stamina. At the moment there is room for enhancement of our capability to support offshore operations. We succeeded in East Timor but our logistic engine was under extreme pressure most of the time’

– General P. Cosgrove, Commander INTERFET[1]

This post continues the ‘Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics’ series, and is an abridged extract from a larger paper.

Renowned strategist Colin S. Gray once wrote that ‘strategic history likes to be ironic and paradoxical …[when] we believe we have found the answer, someone changes the question’.[2] For the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and the Australian Government, evidence of this came in 1999. In September 1999, and after a succession of preliminary operations, the ADF led a coalition to East Timor as part of Operation Stabilise, also known as Operation Warden. International Forces East Timor (INTERFET) was a major stabilisation operation that tested the ADF’s ability to lead and sustain a large coalition – the first time it had been required to do so in its history. While the detail of this operation will not be discussed here, it was a major test of a military organisation caught unawares by a requirement to lead and sustain a large, regionally based, coalition. It was a seminal event for the Australian Army, and its logistics forces.

Commenting soon after the completion of this operation, former Commander of International Forces East Timor, and now Australian Governor General, General Peter Cosgrove made a stark reference to pre-operational logistic capability gap; a consequence of a decade of reforms that history now regards as over-zealous in their application. It is impossible to believe that Army leadership were not well and truly aware that a major regional operation would severely test Army’s logistic capacity, but it is evident that this operation surprised many with the extent of the hollowness within Army’s logistic capabilities. Given the challenges this operation placed on the Army’s logistic elements, it is unsurprising that several well-known reviews and academic papers now document this operational challenge.

Foremost among these reports was that drafted by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO); in the ‘Management of Australian Defence Force Deployments to East Timor’, the ANAO described that logistics should have been ‘as easy as it gets’ given the proximity of East Timor to Australia and the absence of the ‘stresses and demands of sustained combat’ suggested that the ADF was ill-prepared for ‘low-intensity’ operations.[3] In academic research conducted after a career in operational analysis, Colonel Bob Breen outlined numerous issues in logistic planning and execution, the ad hoc and inefficient nature of logistic arrangements at the tactical level, and the inadequacy of the embryonic operational and strategic approach to logistics of the time.[4]

Turmoil had been caused by widespread organisational reform at the strategic level of the ADF, there was uncertainty as to who was actually performing the ADF’s ‘strategic J4’ function at the time, and the youth of joint logistics agencies conspired to create a confluence of problems. Service logistics re-emerged as a solution to a variety of problems; Army’s already stretched Logistics Support Force, an under-strength formation responsible for providing theatre logistics to land task forces, was given the task of deploying capabilities to East Timor but also supporting the projection of forces. If it wasn’t for the efforts of a range of individuals and commanders of Army and ADF logistic units, and the appointment of a task force commander to control mounting in Darwin  (Commander Northern Command, the logistic support to the operation might have been severely compromised.

The key weaknesses in Army’s logistics capabilities in the time are well-known now, and perhaps unsurprisingly, were those contributing to the projection of forces from Australia rather than those required for operations within it. In an important paper prepared within the joint domain by the strategic agency responsible for mobilising the national support base, National Support Division, and the operational-level Joint Logistic Command, the Chiefs of Service Committee in 2000 were informed:

Ongoing organisational rationalisation, particularly at force level, has resulted in severe limitations in critical skill areas, such as [sea and air] terminal operations, which are virtually impossible to reconstitute for short warning contingencies…. [5]

This report implored the Chiefs of Service Committee, among other crucial changes, to endorse growth in a number of theatre-level logistic functions; operational contract management, bulk water and fuel transportation, petroleum management, support engineering and a number of areas in the joint force Army were responsible to raise, train and sustain personnel such as operational movements. The assumption that commercialised logistic arrangements could substitute for deployable, organic, land force logistic capability was reported upon as having failed, and the inadequacy of the national support base to respond at short notice to an operational crisis was similarly reflected upon.

It became clear through the post-operational analysis that Army had lacked the capacity to logistically sustain a coalition as effectively as well as planners had hoped. This was due to  combination of training and preparation, but also in terms of the overall scale and size of its logistics capabilities. Most coalition partners had arrived light, with expectation of Australian logistical support; they were deficient transportation, basic consumables and victuals, as well as a variety of administrative services. This was a turn of events for an Army who itself had traditionally drawn upon others, including the US or UK, to provide such support it on operations. The only way some of the coalition members could be sustained due to a paucity of distribution assets was due to command decision-making with tactical consequences; certain coalition forces were allocated to areas of operation on the basis that they could be sustained in the field, rather than the tactical effect they could provide.[6]

However, the biggest problem for Army’s logistic force elements, was also the most obvious; they had become austere, and as described above, simply lacked sufficient capacity in those capabilities fundamental to launching independent expeditionary operations beyond Australian borders. Subsequent discussions in Parliament noted concerns that in an Army of nine regular and reserve brigades, Army’s force (which it referred to as ‘field’) ‘logistics capability cannot support more than two brigade deployments’; highlighting a ‘serious underlying force structure problem’ that made a reviewing House Committee ‘uncertain of the Army’s capability to support two dispersed operations’, a basic strategic policy requirement.[7] As operations in East Timor had proven, these logistic elements could not easily be reconfigured from elsewhere in an ad hoc fashion.

‘Restructuring the Army’ Phase 2 trials were due to begin in 1999, the next stage of adjusting Army to meet the strategic policy requirement to defend continental Australia, might have examined this very capacity in Army, but due to changes in 1 Brigades readiness notice to support potential East Timor operations, this activity was delayed[8]. Exercise Crocodile 1999, a predecessor to the biennial Exercise Talisman Sabre, would have also tested the national capacity to support major operations. Perhaps had this trial phase been conducted, or Exercise Crocodile had been earlier in the year, opportunities may have emerged to address a number of capability gaps in Army’s logistic force structure. However, given the rapidity of the East Timor crisis, it is extremely unlikely that any short-term changes may have had a noticeable effect on operations. Whatever the case, Army now had a compelling reason to embark upon a major transformation of its logistics.

This series continues in a succession of posts. David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, and the thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

[1] Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), Management of Australian Defence Force deployments to East Timor, Audit Report No. 38, Department of Defence, Canberra, 2002, p 63

[2] Gray, C., ‘The 21st century security environment and the future of war’, Parameters, 38:4, Winter 2008, 2009, p 23

[3] ANAO, 2002, p 52, 88

[4] B. Breen, Struggling for self-reliance: four case studies of Australian regional force projection in the late 1980s and the 1990s, ANU e-press, Australia, 2008, pp. 156

[5] Chiefs of Staff Committee, 2000 cited in ANAO, 2002, p 57

[6] Cosgrove, P., cited in Smith, S., A handmaiden’s tale: an alternative view of logistic lessons learned from INTERFET, Australian Defence Studies Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, 2001, p 7

[7] Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, From Phantom to force: towards a more efficient and effective Army, Commonwealth of Australia, 2003 This referred to the strategic imperative to support a one brigade deployment, with another battalion operation elsewhere.

[8] Fisher, J., Brennan, M., Bowley, D., A study of land force modernisation studies in DSTO1996-2000, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Commonwealth of Australia, Australia, 2002, p14

‘Cunctator’ – Logistics, hostile environments and war in cities

By Erik A. Claessen.

In 216 BC, a Carthaginian army, commanded by Hannibal, crossed the Alps and invaded the region now known as Italy. In a series of spectacular victories, Hannibal annihilated the Roman armed forces. Military academies worldwide still cite his victory at Cannae as the textbook example of decisive battle. However, they rarely emphasize the fact that Hannibal lost the war. Few people know the name of the real victor of the Second Punic War: Fabius. Faced with the lack of sufficient field armies to destroy Hannibal’s forces, Fabius reverted to a strategy of retrenching in walled cities – Rome itself and the fortified settlements allied to it – while simultaneously harassing Hannibal’s foraging parties on the countryside. Unable to force his adversary to a battle in the field, lacking siege equipment, and unable to draw sufficient food and subsistence from the territories under his control, Hannibal ultimately withdrew his troops to Carthage in 203 BC. That the Romans nicknamed Fabius Cunctator (Delayer) points to the key role of strategies that hinge on forcing the opponent to perform logistics in a hostile environment and taking time out of the war equation.

Western military thinking puts a premium on rapid, decisive victory. After a thorough study of the Napoleonic Wars that brought almost all European kingdoms and empires between Madrid and Moscow under French rule, Clausewitz came to the conclusion that “combat is the only effective force in war; its aim is to destroy the enemy’s forces as a means to a further end”.[i] The Prussian Army quickly adopted Clausewitz’s ideal of the decisive battle. They achieved this ideal in 1866 when they destroyed the Austrian forces in one single battle at Königgrätz. Under this theory, victory went to the general most able and quick to mass his forces against his opponent’s center of gravity.

This straightforward picture is somewhat blurred by the fact that, up until the First World War, logistics was not as significant a determinant of strategy, or of the ‘concept of operations’ development of militaries. Even during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, infantry and cavalry, once detrained, mostly moved on hooves and feet, ate what the land could provide and fired no more rounds than the amount they carried in their rucksacks.[ii] Thus it could be argued that logistics had very little to do with the ‘staying power’ of combat forces.

The ammunition crisis of November 1914 completely changed this situation. For the first time in history, the fighting power of conflicting armed forces depended on a massive and uninterrupted flow of ammunition between their home base and the front. Simultaneously the notion of the term “front” changed from a geographically constrained and temporary line of encounter between opposing forces during a battle into a strategic line of separation between the conflicting powers’ territories of influence on which each one organized a total war effort. The total war effort was clearly divided between a military effort at the front aimed at the destruction of the opponent’s fighting power and a civilian effort in the rear aimed at the sustainment of one’s own fighting power. In sharp contrast to the extremely hostile environment at the front, the environment in the rear was largely benign.

The First World War led to the situation that the expansion of the armed forces’ fighting power (tooth) took the shape of a mechanization of warfare that required an ever increasing industrial and logistical apparatus (tail). Moreover, that logistical apparatus could only generate the necessary output in a relatively safe and uncontested environment. The concept of the tooth-to-tail ratio and the need to optimize it has since then never really disappeared from western military thinking. However, the underlying assumption of the tooth-to-tail concept is the idea that it is possible to threaten the opponent with your teeth while simultaneously keeping your tail out of the opponent’s reach. Conversely, the assumption also implies that it is possible to defeat the opponent by cutting his tail with your teeth. Indeed, ‘pincer’ movements, encirclements and air interdiction have proven to be very effective ways to defeat entire armies without the need to attrite their combat units.

This assumption is now more than a century old so it is necessary to verify its relevance in light of major developments that have taken place since its inception. One such major development is urbanization. In 1800, 3% of the world population lived in cities. That ratio now stands at 50%. Taking into account the growth of the world population from one to seven billion in the same period, this means that the number of city dwellers increased a hundred-fold in just over two centuries. It is therefore necessary to study the relationship between population density on the one hand and the size and vulnerability of the logistic tail on the other.

As the density of the population increases, the source of power changes. Control over territory is important in sparsely populated areas. Territorial control makes it possible to generate state revenues from activities such as agriculture and mining. In more densely populated areas, the availability of skilled labor allows governments to derive power from industrial and commercial development and expansion, on the condition that politics can find the right socio-economic balance between capital, labor, taxes, education and other crucial elements to sustain this expansion. The situation is fundamentally different in megacities. It is my opinion that in large areas with a very high population density, the only source of power is popular support. It is important to emphasize that urban popular support has nothing to do with democracy (or with any other political system for that matter). In an urbanized environment, popular support depends on administrative effectiveness. As will be explained hereafter, urbanization severs the link between military superiority and administrative authority.

The effectiveness of military capabilities as well as the feasibility of their logistic support also depends on population density. In the uninhabited naval and aerial environments, technological and operational superiority yields a decisive advantage. In land environments, the same holds true in sparsely populated areas, as illustrated by the outcome of conflicts such as the Six Days and Yom Kippur Wars as well as Operations Desert Storm and Allied Force. The Vietnam War illustrated that cover and concealment can be used to mitigate this advantage, but advances in intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance annulled this mitigation in any but the most densely populated areas.

The battles for Grozny during successive Chechen wars showed that large cities not only continue to offer cover and concealment, but offer additional operational advantages as well. They level the playing field by limiting the range and field of fire for technologically advanced weapon systems. They allow belligerents who lack armored vehicles to derive protection and mobility from bunkers and tunnels as well as firepower from IEDs on main avenues of approach.[iii] Yet, as recent armed conflicts in urbanised environments have shown, more sophisticated belligerents derive strategic rather than operational advantages from urbanization. Urbanization provides the opportunity to fundamentally change the belligerents themselves as well as the way they wage war.

To explain the disruptive effect of urbanization, it is useful to explain the difference between the Latin words oppidum and urbs. Both translate as “city” in English, although they featured notable differences in character in the Roman Empire. An oppidum was a fortified settlement. In essence, it was a protected socio-economic system that traded a food surplus from the surrounding countryside in exchange for skills, services and opportunities. The population rarely exceeded ten thousand citizens. Moreover, because of its rudimentary infrastructure, an oppidum frequently suffered from epidemic outbreaks that kept the population below a certain level. As the numbers of citizens increased, the demand for potable water quickly exceeded the supply provided by local wells. Moreover, as the capacity of these wells dwindled, the risk of contamination by sewage and refuse increased.

An urbs is much larger, but size is not the main difference between an oppidum and an urbs. In other words, an urbs does not come into being by enlarging an oppidum.[iv] An urbs is a large area with a high population density where life depends on administration. In fact, urbanization does not merely mean that cities expand but rather that the urban character of the environment becomes the defining parameter of life itself. An urbs is only viable when it can rely on an infrastructure and an administration that assures public health at extremely high population density while simultaneously managing the population’s contention level. Each element of the mega-urban infrastructure and administration can be characterized by the Latin word for the corresponding feature that allowed Rome to be the only urbs in the world for several centuries.

OSTIA: a permanent and direct access to the global economy because a megacity is too large to draw its subsistence from the surrounding countryside.

AQUADUCT: utilities like running water, electricity and gas because water and energy cannot be produced locally without risking smog-like air pollution or water contamination.

CLOACA: sewage and trash collection

PANEM: social security

CIRCENSES: mass entertainment

FORUM: a public space for socio-political expression to manifest contention. At present, the concept is more often referred to as “maidan” which happens to have the same meaning in Arabic and in many Slavic languages, namely “city square”.

VIGILES: first responders.

PRAETORII: a military capability that can guarantee the governmental monopoly on violence at low to medium contention levels.

The Roman socio-political model hinged on the ability to keep the urban contention level low by optimizing these nine elements of the mega-urban infrastructure and administration. The Roman emperor did not derive power from military superiority, but from the effectiveness of the administrative apparatus that kept the million Romans living around his palace healthy and satisfied. In an urbanized environment, the municipal level of government is not the lowest level of government. It is the fundamental level of government. The importance of municipal policies resides in the fact that they foster, or squander, popular support which is the only source of power in megacities.

That these two thousand years old rules of the urban power game are still valid, becomes obvious when one observes events on the current equivalent of the forum: the maidan. As shown during the Arab Spring in northern Africa and during the successive color revolutions in eastern Europe, a determined crowd can annihilate the staying power of a vested and militarily superior regime by taking control of the most important piece of real estate in the mega-urban environment – the maidan – even though this surface represents less than 0.01% of the national territory. Conversely, recent events in Turkey proved that a regime threatened by a military coup can assert its staying power by transforming popular support in mass mobilization on the maidan.

An urbanized environment is extremely hostile to any belligerent who enters it without securing popular support first. Unpopular belligerents generate contention levels that are impossible to contain. Force requirements for population control measures range from two lightly armed police officers per thousand of population at low contention levels to twenty heavily armed and adequately supported soldiers per thousand of population at high contention levels.[v] The implications of this force ratio arithmetic are staggering. To maintain its presence and assert its power in Baghdad against the countervailing efforts of the three million Shi’a citizens living there, the USA would have needed a force of sixty thousand infantry soldiers. Such numbers were never available. Therefore, the US forces only displayed staying power in the Green Zone and the international airport. The rest of Baghdad – and what would become known as Sadr City – was under control of Moqtada al Sadr. Because Moqtada enjoyed popular support, he only needed a small and rudimentary militia to police the area under his control.

Recent operations in Iraq demonstrate that a belligerent who succeeds in creating a situation in which urban areas are only temporarily accessible to combat units and logistical forces can take time out of the conflict equation. He is able to exploit his opponent’s lack of staying power – their long-term strategic and operational sustainability – in a waiting game that he can afford to play while his opponent cannot.

The question then becomes how this gridlock can be broken. What makes it possible to defeat a cunctator? What are the nowadays equivalents of encirclements, pincer movements, and interdiction operations in the 21st century urban battlespace? More specifically to this audience, what are the logistics concepts that enable success in such environments? Recent events and Roman historical conceptual approaches to the problem of contention level management at high population density point to the assumption that the solutions revolve around a balancing act between fostering prosperity and guaranteeing security in the major cities of a conflict area. In this balance, armed force is not an instrument of decisive battle, but merely a creditor of last resort in an economy of power based on administrative effectiveness under fire. In later contributions to this blog I will explore the different types of balancing acts – and their associated logistical concepts – in more detail.

Colonel Erik A. Claessen is a Belgian Army logistics officer who publishes regularly on contemporary armed conflicts. Claessen is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, where he earned a master of military arts and sciences degree. He writes here in a personal capacity and can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/erik-claessen-87341530/

Image by Israeli Defence Force, Operation Protective Edge, July 2014

[i] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret

(Princeton, NJ, 1976), Book 1, p. 97

[ii] Martin van Creveld, Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 2nd edition, p. 102

[iii]See for example : Olga Oliker, Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000: Lessons from Urban Combat (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2001).

[iv] For a more detailed study on this subject, see Vladimír Salač “Oppida and Urbanisation Processes in Central Europe” in Paths to complexity, Centralisation and Urbanisation in Iron Age Europe ed. Manuel Fernández-Götz, Holger Wendling, Katja Winger (Exeter UK, Short Run Press Ltd, Oxbow Books, 2014).

[v] Quinlivan, James T. “Force Requirements in Stability Operations.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1996. https://www.rand.org/pubs/reprints/RP479.html.