LIW Editorial – taking the national support base ….. beyond the nation

By David Beaumont.

As a military logistician, the idea of integrating logistics as part of a coalition is hardly revelatory. Most Western militaries have spent the last twenty years of operations in lockstep with one another accepting that there are always a range of difficulties. Forces deployed in the Middle-east integrate life support, ammunition, distribution methods and modes, systems for obtaining local or contracted support – the list goes on. Integration is enabled by the employment of longstanding principles under arrangements defined by multi-national military arrangements such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or through mutual support arrangements established between partner nations who can count on each other to provide the right resources at the right time. This is a ‘pointy end’ view of the matter, and if you wanted to take a more strategic look at the picture, you can start considering common standards for equipment and procurement, and the methods by which these are negotiated. Consider arrangements such as the America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ABCANZ) program for land forces which also helps to enable integration on operations. From ‘logistics in support of operations’ to ‘logistics in support of capability’ as we in the Australian Defence Force describe, the integration with coalition partners is an essential part of contemporary military practice.

At its most strategic, the idea of a ‘national support base’ is being challenged by continued integration between likeminded nations at the industry policy level. A recent paper, National technology and industrial base integration,  published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) describes this in detail. The authors of this paper contend that the industrial base has been challenged by globalisation, where nations ‘cannot assume that all of the capabilities it needs will be found domestically’ or that defence technology can be controlled.[1] We only have to look at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program as a powerful example of this issue, where a consortium of nations has shared the burden of producing the platform. For nations such as the United Kingdom and Australia who have ties to nations with existing arrangements for the sharing of technology and industrial base capability (the United States and Canada specifically), the problem is even more acute. Their national defence effort depends upon access to technology, logistics support and supply that other nations must be willing to share. The paper presents detailed studies of the problems in enabling integration and promotes new ways of breaking down the barriers between countries.[2]

I won’t pretend that as a military officer I have a strong grasp of national industrial policy, nor does discussion of the paper or its issues comfortably sit in a blog that has historically focussed on operational logistics. The reason I felt the paper was worth sharing was because of the questions it raises. What is an appropriate level of integration between coalition partners? Do we understand the risks involved with sharing our ‘defence secrets’? What if national interests differ over specific issues? What defines what is essential for the national support base to produce? How can a collective industrial and technology base support military operations when all its constituents demand the operational priority? Most of all, what is the impact upon military strategy? The integration of national industrial and technological capacity in a global environment makes accessing the global commons more defining an influence on strategic decision making. After all, the fight to win in war is often a fight to win supply.

If you have any answers to these important questions for strategic logisticians, I would love to hear from you. The increasingly integrated nature of national technology and industrial bases is one of the more significant military logistics challenges of our time. We should give it our personal and professional attention.

* Editor’s note – a day after this post was published, a short piece from the Lowy Interpreter examined the difficulty of Australia generating a larger national defence industry. The article, here, is useful to read in conjunction with my piece. Can Australia benefit from reinforcing its defence industry (albeit in an export-focussed manner) while integrating internationally?

[1] McCormick, R., Cohen, S., Hunter, A., Sanders, G., National technology and industrial base integration, Center for Strategic and International Studies,, accessed 11 Mar 18, p 2

[2] ibid, start from p 54

Speed, distance and adaptive distribution – the rise of the logistics UAV

By Jason Sibley.

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) continues to become more common.  We are all familiar with the military use of UAV’s, and their indispensable role  in performing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, command and control nodes, force protection and ordnance delivery without the need for the deployment of troops on the ground (or, more appropriately, in the air). Now militaries, enthused by what they see in the commercial sector, are greatly interested in the use of UAV for logistics tasks. I believe this enthusiasm is warranted. This technology offers the ability to deliver flexibility for the transportation of supplies over long distances, with speed, and without exposing military personnel to the dangers of combat distribution tasks. This capability will be vital in enabling combat forces to disperse on the battlefield more than they have ever been, and offer logisticians new means to distribute across the complex battlespace.

The logistics UAV is a capability that can be introduced relatively quickly with limited developmental cost given the tremendous investment being made in the commercial applications of the technology. Large commercial companies like Amazon, UPS, and Deutsche Post DHL Group (DPDHL) have ambitious programs with respect to this technology. For example, UPS is trialling the Workhorse ‘HorseFly’ UAV Delivery as an attachment to the roof of a standard delivery truck. When an employee in a truck places a delivery in a specific place that the UAV can identify; the UAV scans the barcode and leaves with the parcel to find the specific address. This address may be off the main route being followed by the truck. Once the package is delivered, the UAV returns and places itself on top of the moving delivery truck again to get ready for another delivery. This approach is an innovative use of ‘small-UAV’ distribution that reduces the travel requirements of the employees and allows for greater mobility of delivery into difficult/congested areas without physically having to reach the location.

UPS Drone Fig 1

A UPS Workhorse ‘HorseFly’ drone in action; photo by UPS here.

Although the ‘HorseFly’ is a good example of how a UAV can be employed to aid distribution to dispersed combat forces, there are a multitude of other tasks for UAV’s which may improve logistics activities, if not increase logistics efficiency. EasyJet, a UK based low-cost airline company is looking into the use of UAVs for the speedy delivery of spare parts to the hangers around Europe due to the increasing burden of slower road transport system. EasyJet, as mandated by the EU, must compensate passengers for flight delays of over 3 hours and therefore have a vested interest in increasing the efficiency of delivery spare parts. In an article in Flight Global magazine in 2015, EasyJet engineer Ian Davies claims that a UAV with a payload could be employed to carry out hub to hub flights across country or even into neighbouring countries; providing instant availability for moving parts[i]. The proposed UAVs could carry 50kgs in the short term until a 200kg capacity could be developed. Coupled with this, EasyJet is conducting trials of drones in maintenance hangers. The drones, known as ‘Riser’ are programed to scan and assess any aircraft damage and enhance the maintenance team’s ability to undertake remote checks leading to time efficiency and greater accuracy in defect reporting. This is a process currently being conducted manually by staff.

The military use of UAV’s in support of logistics tasks has been led by the US military. There have been two primary purposes uses for UAV’s in contemporary combat settings. The first reason is one of surveillance, and the second is delivery. With respect to the former, UAVs contributed by conducting convoy overwatch. Situational awareness has become key to survival for US Army units, including logistics formations, and such, they intend to use the innovation found in the use of UAVs to reduce the footprint on the ground, enhance convoy security and promote real time, positive control. Admittedly, there have been problems with this application of the technology. A recent RAND study examining operations in Iraq found the short periods in which enemies could be seen in contemporary, often urban, environment limited the use of UAV’s for convoy overwatch. Alternatively, in Afghanistan where the length of convoy routes and the difficulty of the terrain rendered non-UAV solutions impractical (e.g. the US could not maintain mast-mounted cameras for the circumference of the ring road), the use of UAV in support of logistics operations was far more effective.

The use of UAV’s for actual distribution tasks is a ‘hot’ topic among US capability developers at the moment.  According to the Marine Corps Concepts and Programs – Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO), the concept of autonomous logistics operations is to provide responsive sustainment of equipment and supplies down to the dismounted platoon to ensure resupply capability. This includes supplies, maintenance, recovery and casualty evacuation of up to 3600kgs. The USMC has been actively employing developing an unmanned helicopter, the K-MAX Cargo Unmanned Aircraft System (CUAS), which can carry 2700kgs of supplies. 37 K-MAX unmanned helicopters flew 1,730 resupply sorties for the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, delivering four million pounds (1.8 million kgs) of cargo.

Interestingly, the USMC is also looking at options for unmanned casualty evacuation systems. One such system is the Aerial Reconfigurable Embed System (ARES) (Fig 7) that is tailored logistics to provide a pod capable of delivering medical supplies or retrieving battle casualties from ship to shore. The ARES will potentially be linked to the development of the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate – Autonomous Internally Transportable Vehicle (GUSS-AITV) which is approximately the size of a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) and is capable carrying either two walking casualties, one litter, or carry750kgs of cargo approximately 450kms in a GPS waypoint or ‘follow me’ directive.  The end state for these innovations is to reduce the number of convoys, reduce the footprint on the ground and enhance the responsiveness of logistics regardless of time, personnel, equipment and terrain limitations.


Artists impression of the ARES System, Image by USMC


For smaller armies without access to the resources to engage in extensive R&D programs, such as the Australian Army, the successes achieved by other militaries with respect to their own logistics UAV programs should be reassuring. Aside from the US and UK, Israel, South Korea and Taiwan, have begun to develop increasingly sophisticated unmanned platform capabilities for logistics tasks. An Australian Senate committee investigating the use of UAV technology within the ADF saw there was great possibility for UAV’s to reduce risks to personnel and to extend the future capabilities of the ADF. It is clearly the time to seriously investigate the technology, and its applicability for logistics tasks to the future land force. With no mention of logistics UAV’s in the 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP)  or accompanying capability development plans there is a chance that the ADF might fail to invest in this vital technology; overlooking the potential of unmanned systems to be significant force multipliers, allowing us to leverage our technological advantages over potential adversaries. Nonetheless, I suspect that what we have before us is a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.

In the meantime, it is well worth examining options as to how logistics UAVs might be employed on the modern battlefield. If UPS and Amazon can deliver goods via a UAV on a truck, can we conceivably introduce this technology with existing fleets of vehicles? Do we have the confidence to employ a UAV in a CASEVAC role? If EasyJet engineers can send spares by UAV to keep aircraft operational, how can engineers use UAVs to keep our fleets and equipment functional over long distance to the ever increasingly mobile fighting elements? Would the UAV replace trucks and become ubiquitous throughout the land force? Are specialists required to operate the UAV’s as distinct from generalist logisticians? These basic questions only scratch the surface when it comes to the introduction of UAV’s into the logistics space, but they do allude to the fact that it is a technology that will revolutionise the way in which logisticians will conduct their business on the battlefield.

It is no revelation that there is a considerable difference between the use of logistics UAV’s in the commercial environment and their use on the battlefield. Nonetheless there is much to learn from the commercial application of the technology; a testing ground that reveals much about the revolutionary way in which UAV technology can change practice. Many militaries are starting to capitalise on these developments, and engage in their own programs that will enable logistics operations in hostile areas and supporting troops on the move. By creating efficiencies and enhancing responsiveness they are already seeing that UAV’s offer the potential to improve the speed by which units can be supported. Logistics UAV’s enable support to move cheaply, with less risk to personnel and major logistics vehicles, thereby enabling the dispersal of combat forces. With the technology having already arrived, and the developmental risk to introducing the technology into Army reducing ever day, it is now time for logisticians and capability developers to seriously get behind its introduction.

Captain Jason Sibley is an Australian Army transport officer currently posted to the Army School of Transport.

[i] Stevenson B, 2015, ‘EasyJet: Send spares by UAV’, Flight Global magazine, Brussels

Technology and what lies beneath – the full cost of modernisation

By David Beaumont.

You needn’t venture far to find an article or military concept which in some way promotes technology and capability modernisation as a means of addressing the next, albeit hypothesised, battlefield challenge. Great advances in robotics and automation, information and communication systems, weaponry and the introduction of innovative technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles seem imminent. Militaries, accordingly, are enthusiastically posturing themselves to exploit these technological opportunities as quickly as possible through rapid acquisition and methods of procurement. Others recommend militaries adopt the early adoption and deployment of technology to offer forces an asymmetric advantage. In these case technology purports to dramatically improve combat performance, make operations faster, forces more resilient, and reduce logistics demand. But the introduction of technology can also have hidden, sometimes operationally inconvenient, consequences. This is especially the case when technologies are complex and untested. Just as we look to the opportunities future technology will give the combat force, greater consideration should also be given to what lies beneath the surface of technologically-led modernisation.

The sad reality is that smooth introductions of complex technology into militaries are rare. Chris C. Demchak, in her book Military Organizations, Complex Machines, cautions militaries about understanding the full costs of technologies.[1] She analyses the introduction of ‘army’s new supertank’, the M1 Abrams, as her primary point of reference; a tank which was conceived to be simple to operate and sustain. This now well-known and battle-tested tank was conceived during the 1980s when the US military prepared for European conflict against a numerically superior Soviet foe. It was believed then, as is commonly viewed of technology now, that to overcome battlefield uncertainty and to achieve decisive combat advantage that technical advances should be exploited. In the case of the tank, technology would make the force more lethal and less personnel-intensive due to automation and a module-based repair approach.[2] In addition, the use of high-performing, reliable, technology would permit a lower ‘tooth-to-tail’ ratio with less logistics personnel required to support combat capability.

As Demchak recounts, developers soon found that the tank was simple to operate, but it was far from being simple to repair and sustain. It could not be repaired without the involvement of contractors and the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and the complexity of the technology involved often ‘mystified even the contractors’ engineers.’[3] The Army responded by procuring, through the contractor, ‘alternate test equipment’ which enabled a repairer to assess the problems in the tank. Following its introduction, even this test equipment needed specialists to be repaired. Amongst this developmental process, the US Army created new technical specialities to handle repair tasks. New materiel regulations were required, as was auditing compliance. Furthermore, due to unexpected costs and the insufficiency of repair parts available to support the tank on a global basis, the stock of such parts was managed with such scrutiny that greater numbers of people were required to sustain and manage the materiel.[4]

Three decades have passed since the M1 was developed and introduced, and the tank has certainly been effective on the battlefield.  However, the introduction of the tank meant the US Army had to change – even at the tactical level. The complexity of the equipment limited field repair, and the movement of modularised componentry transformed engineering problems into new distribution challenges. Repair jobs were more demanding because the number of systems, parts and potential maintenance problems increased. On operations and exercises, mechanics and sub-contractors from the OEM deployed in increasing numbers, performing repair that combat force maintainers could not but necessitating appropriate infrastructure to do so the same. Organisations altered, doctrine changed and logistic concepts were rewritten to suit these needs but substantial change was required to ensure the tank was ultimately employable.

The M1 was not the only technology introduced into a land force that altered the way in which it operated. Nor has it been the only technology introduced into a military to result in unforeseen changes to operations, or to introduce new logistics ‘costs’. Many of the issues encountered during the introduction of the M1 resurfaced in the US Army during the introduction of Stryker in the 1990s, and the US Army continues to grapple with unforeseen challenges with communications equipment that necessitated the rotation of OEM representatives into and out of Afghanistan and Iraq for operation and maintenance purposes. In these cases, the increased complexity of a system was matched by a commensurate increase in the quantity of personnel and level of support required to deploy and sustain equipment in an operational environment.


Photo by Australian Department of Defence

Even the introduction of fleets of new logistics vehicles can require significant revisions of practice, and introduce their own complexities. Fueled by experiences from operations in the Middle-east, the Australian Army’s new transportation capabilities possess armour, weaponry, communications suites, self-offload ‘flat-rack’ systems, self-diagnosis software and other technologies that will significantly enhance battlefield distribution. However, as revealed in a recent Government audit, by seeking to create such impressive vehicles each new system challenged design specifications and introduced greater technical risk. Furthermore, these changes meant vehicles require more personnel of different technical variations to maintain. Although the project introducing these vehicles has extended over four decades, with numerous concepts alluding to the use of these vehicles prepared, Army is now adaptively responding to unforeseen complexities and operating principles even as the vehicles roll into the barracks.

Unforseen issues regarding the introduction of new technologies and capabilities can even extend beyond operator and maintainer matters. The shifting state of military capability can influence the calculus of strategic decision makers. High-end technology, its very sophistication making it difficult to produce, places actual combat capability at the mercy of global supply chains and product availability. The more complex the technology and diverse its origins, the more points of risk exist within these supply chains and greater monitoring is required. The practical difficulty in sustaining fleets of equipment makes equipment that should be available at short notice for meaningful tactical effect subject to strategic-level deliberations on their use. This is especially the case in smaller militaries which lack logistics depth in terms of strategic reserves of materiel and parts, access to robust defence industries in the national support base, or lack sufficient numbers of specialists relevant to maintain the technology.

Nor has technology adequately delivered on the promise of greater performance at lower logistic cost. As much as planners and commanders would like technology to reduce the logistics tail, technology continues to be the primary cause of its persistent growth. This is not necessarily a bad thing; modern militaries are vastly more capable than their predecessors because their equipment is underwritten by this ‘tail’. What should be of greater interest to us all is the changing nature of the logistics ‘tail’. As alluded to in the case of the M1, modern technologies have seen the ‘tail’ extending well beyond the organic capabilities – let alone capacity – of militaries. Industry has always been a partner in war, and its relationship with the military is growing closer. OEM and ‘contractor’ involvement in sustaining military technology is now a given for many fleets; navies and air forces have long histories with industry in this regard, but the increasing complexity of equipment is making this a major consideration in the sustainment plans for land forces. In any case, technology has most certainly brought with it tremendous changes in the composition of militaries, and who they rely upon to ensure their materiel preparedness.

The purpose of this article was not to dismiss the use of technology, nor to venerate a ‘simpler’ day where materiel mattered less to the form and function of militaries. Technology is a tremendous source of advantage that must be exploited to ensure forces have a leading edge in combat and sustainment. Rather, the article offers a reminder that technology changes more than just combat outcomes; it changes how forces operate, how they are organised, and the skill-sets required across the force. Militaries come to the fight altered by the technology that they choose to employ, and it is only when they change does that technology achieve its ultimate outcome. Understanding how technical complexity influences logistical performance is becoming increasingly important as militaries reinvigorate themselves and consider future battles.

The more time invested towards thinking about the impact of technological change on operational performance by logisticians, the less chance there will be that militaries will be surprised. Logistics concepts need to focus less on how things should operate based upon an imagined use of technology, and instead emphasise – in detail – how things must change when technology is introduced. This process may create vexatious problems for those in the combat arms who, in turn, may have to rethink their own assumptions about the future battlefield and how they operate within it.  Finally, all must work together to ensure that when logistics consequences of technology are known or experienced, efficiencies are strived for to prevent a spiraling in the quantity of support staff required in sustainment.  By addressing these issues, we can make technology work for operational performance, rather than having operational performance curtailed by self-induced technical surprise.

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

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[1] Demchak, C. C., Military organizations, complex machines: modernization in the US Armed Services, Cornell University Press, USA, 1991, p viii

[2] Ibid., p 1

[3] Ibid., p 1

[4] Ibid., p 2