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

by Air Commodore Hayden Marshall (Ret’d).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

Committing to preparedness, and the balance between ‘all of it’ and ‘just enough’

By David Beaumont.

Logistics In War has been exploring preparedness and logistics in a series of articles over the last three months. The role of logistics in preparedness is self-evident. However, while we know that this is the case, it has been difficult to rationally or accurately state why it is or ‘how much logistics is truly enough?’. On one hand, it is tempting to answer ‘all of it’. It certainly helps to have ample logistics support at the outset of a crisis or in response to a contingency, but it is also wise to use resources sparingly and at the time their value is highest. Alternatively, it is also tempting to answer ‘just enough’. Yet giving this answer also requires a tremendous ability for insight as to future requirements. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. This series on logistics and preparedness aimed to allow for a gross calibration of the truth; before concluding the series with a few thoughts on major shortcomings in preparing militaries for their operations, let’s recap the previous posts.

The water in the well – how much logistics readiness is enough?’ started with why logistics is an understated yet central feature in the contemporary discussion about strategic competition. We’re in a time where commentators are discussing strategic logistics from the resilience of defence industry to the way in which modern capabilities are integrated into forces; from force posture to the marshalling of strategic resources such as fuel and ammunition. The ability for a military to respond quickly depends upon its ability to mobilise resources, national support base capability and to give support where it is required, as soon as it is required. This is the playground of logisticians who attempt to control a ‘system of activities, capabilities and processes that connect the national economy to the battlefield’, establishing a ‘well’ from which the force draws its combat potential or firepower. Together, with a range of others who contribute in the policy-space to the commanders who provide direction and intent, they establish logistics readiness being:

The ability to undertake, to build up and thereafter to sustain combat operations at the full potential of forces.

So, how successful have militaries been at working out a satisfactory level of logistics readiness? In part two of the series, ‘Burying the hero – how logistics and readiness changed war, we confirmed that in the context of Western militaries the answer is a reserved ‘well enough’. Perhaps the conclusion is that these Western militaries have learned that logistics increasingly influences operations as forces become more technical, as combat power per person increases, and force projection is incredibly logistically demanding. The assumptions we make based upon our views of the sustainment requirements of earlier wars might not meet the new requirements of militaries that are simply getting more resource-intensive and difficult to sustain. I encourage you to read the article to see the important trend driving the sustainment of militaries at play.

Part three, ‘Preparing for preparedness – how should we begin?’, summarises six factors that should be considered to have any chance of meeting a high standard of logistics readiness. Militaries must get the force balance right – and the ‘tooth to tail’ ratio is important. We do, however, have to recognised that the ‘tooth’ and the ‘tail’ does not just constitute capability organic to militaries. Secondly, they must have the right plans and policies in place to support effective planning. More on this later. Thirdly, they must understand that ‘militaries limp to war’ meaning materiel readiness must be managed so that equipment and supplies are available when required. Fourthly, the logistics organisation must be exercised and be the subject of experiments which qualify risks. Finally, militaries must have a professional culture that shares knowledge and risks. They must be able to work with partners to clearly articulate issues and develop solutions collegiately.

Return of HMAS Farncomb to FBW

In concluding the series, I thought I would address some of the major problems and shortcomings that prevent effective and efficient solutions regarding logistics readiness. Arguably, they are problems germane to preparedness more generally. Quite a few issues are raised through previous articles, so the focus here will be on resourcing readiness. Furthermore, they relate to how requirements are articulated so any investment is worthwhile.

Rational decision-making concerning preparedness suffers when the operational requirements guidance for the logistics system is inadequate. There comes a point where vacillating about the likelihood of a contingency or crisis starts to consume readiness, or when a concept full of non-committal jargon detracts from efficient logistics planning. This problem is exacerbated by inadequate or compromised logistics information systems and analytical tools that would normally be used to react effectively and efficiently to any requirements given, or contingency requirements encountered. Because logistics is a product of context, the more specific any guidance given, the better. There is good reason to give it, even discounting the operational or preparedness needs. When guidance is imprecise there is little reason for logistics system to be refined by military organisations, nor the logistics system held to the strategic requirements desired.

Secondly, it is reasonable that military leaders – even Governments – ask what the value of an investment in logistics preparedness gives them. This is a question that is often considered in terms of the maintenance of reserve stocks of materiel where the value is not always evident to senior decision-makers. These leaders must make trade-offs with respect to Defence resources and vacuous analysis provided by logisticians and others offers nothing to them in decision-making. It is not easy to answer this question without giving logistics capability and outputs a value such that comparisons can be made. This value might be set by preparedness policy, or other logistics plans and policies that prioritise the maintenance of capability. Whatever the case, any tools used to assist decision-makers must also provide the means to express the value or impact of logistics shortfalls.

Thirdly, logistics communities need to be able to respond well to external scrutiny. This means that they must be able to explain any rationale or justification for maintaining a high state of logistics readiness above all other factors. The series concluding here shows that this is not an easy thing to do. Irrespective, logisticians must be able to demonstrate the value of logistics readiness in a way that is operationally meaningful. Without doing this, how else can it be expected that an investment in logistics is meaningful?

Finally, there is the problem of contingency in logistics readiness. There has been a tendency in recent times to confuse major strategic supply chain issues with the day-to-day problems with supporting short-notice responses to contingencies. It is incredibly tempting to view readiness with the glaring light shining from the huge problems blinding out the many smaller challenges before militaries. National fuel supplies, global supply chain vulnerabilities and other vitally important issues in an environment of increased strategic competition cannot be let to obscure the things that are most likely needed a short-notice for the highly credible contingencies that might be faced. The things that matter most of the time will be high-use supplies and commodities, transport, pool items, communications equipment; the list is virtually endless. But it is an important list as tedious a list of logistics tasks it may be.

I hope you have enjoyed the series on preparedness and logistics. Preparedness is an organisational responsibility, but it plays on the mind of logisticians the most. It is important to understand the links between the two, and the fault lines that may lead to an unready force. This is the difference between a military that is able, and one that is little more than an ornament.


The thoughts are those of the author alone.

Preparing for preparedness – how should we begin?

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

               Dr James A. Huston, Sinews of War


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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

 

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

[2] Eccles, p 291

[3] Eccles, p 300

Burying the hero – how logistics and readiness changed war

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

 

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

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

[3] Ibid., p 119

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

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

[6] Ibid., p 330

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

Logistics and preparedness

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

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

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

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

Equally confusing is the concept of ‘logistics readiness’:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thoughts are those of the author alone.

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why national support matters now

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

– John R. Brinkerhoff[1]

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

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

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

When Defence made mobilisation an agenda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A concept which needs a new life

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

Part Two will endeavour to do just that.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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