Transforming Australian Army logistics to support the Joint Land Force

By David Beaumont.

To start 2018, LIW is pleased to announce the release of ‘Transforming Australian Army logistics to support the Joint Land Force’, a paper shaped by the discussion of logistics on LIW during 2017. Published by the Australian Army’s Research Centre, the paper comprehensively examines compelling operational reasons for a new agenda of change – from newly developed operational concepts to other imperatives for transformation. With permission from Army, the announcing article reads:

There is need for the Australian Army and its logisticians to address the transformation of its logistics capabilities, concepts and processes now. This is not only because Army must look to the future and the ever-changing face of war, nor is because of revelations gained through nearly twenty years of operational experiences. It is not just because the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, asked his senior logisticians to lead a ‘revolution’ in late 2016 or that Army’s balance of forces between the ‘tooth’ and the ‘tail’ is awry. Army needs a transformation of its logistics, now, because of the intractable nature of change as its applies to logistic modernisation. It needs to reinvigorate a stalled evolution of its logistics capabilities and capacities by making transformation less of an extraordinary activity, and part of the daily business of Army logisticians and planners.  It is because Army must be ‘primed’ for the real revolution in logistics that comes with a modernising Army; Army’s logisticians ensuring the ADF’s land force is well-prepared and optimised to accept the benefits of future technology, process and concepts.

Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics to support the Joint Land Force addresses the topic of logistic transformation in two parts. To establish the context behind which transformation should be examined in the future, the monograph will first outline Army’s track record with transforming logistics in an historically-based narrative. The changes described have been a combination of those imposed upon Army, but also the consequence of operational experiences. During the 1980’s and 1990’s a strategy in which the defence of Australia was a force structure and operational concept determinant shaped the way in which logistics in Army would be conducted. However, it was a series of reviews by successive Labor and Coalition Governments to, as part of the Australian Defence Force, over-exuberantly cut its ‘tail’ to fund its ‘teeth’. The flaws in this approach resulted in a harrowing experience in deploying to East Timor in 1999, and Army considered its logistics strengths and weaknesses in considerable detail. However, the transformation of Army logistics largely stalled as operational imperatives changes with successive operations in the Middle-east, and with managing organisational change occupying much of Army’s time in garrison.

In the second part of Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics, four challenges facing logistic transformation will be discussed. These four challenges will articulate why transformation is necessary, and suggest ways in which such transformation should occur. Ideas relevant to future wars will be discussed, including emerging operational concepts relevant to the provision of logistics in contested environments, including recent discussions concerning ‘Multi-domain battle’ and ‘5th generation warfare’. Doctrinal ideas will be challenged, and alternative concepts proposed. However, the monograph will not prescriptively outline the detail; this is the work of the concept developers, doctrine writers and those logisticians and commanders who will ultimately lead the implementation of transformation plans. Instead Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics focuses upon observations and conclusions about the direction of transformation, proposes how problems may be prevented in the future, and identifies operational and non-operational issues that must be overcome in future transformative efforts. Moreover, it contends that the Australian Army’s logistics community must lead its own agenda in this period, else others will do the leading for it.

Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics exists because there is need for public discussion on the topic of logistic transformation simply because the subsequent consideration of the problem will be directly relevant to successful change. This is because the real problem facing the transformation of the Australian Army’s logistics is not that Army does not know the problems or the solutions, although the monograph describes these issues. Army has already spent considerable time and planning effort to identify the issues which need resolution. Rather, the monograph asserts that it is the manner and means by which transformation in logistics has occurred that is the central issue.  As Army ventures into a period of considerable change, both environmental and in terms of opportunities offered by new capabilities, it is time that logistic transformation becomes a focal point about which Army’s evolution continues.

You can find Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics to support the Joint Land Force here.


Lessons in logistic transformation and a new agenda for change

By David Beaumont.

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

Over a series of articles, I have outlined a basic history of change with respect to logistics in the Australian Army. Institutional history is not always the most interesting to read, but what it reveals is often highly important for understanding how change occurs in militaries. Militaries adapt during wars and on operations, but the ‘hard work’ of long-term transformation often occurs over extended periods of time and by people far removed from the battlefield. In the case of the ‘Transforming Army’s Logistics’ series of posts, the reveals a variety of lessons relevant to those seeking to influence the trajectory of change in those capabilities relevant to sustaining military forces. This includes the logistic community and force designers of land forces beyond the Australian Army, and perhaps even other Services.

The first and second periods of logistic transformation in the Australian Army were distinct. The first, from the late 1980’s to Army’s deployment to East Timor in 1999, was essentially defined by the pursuit of Australian continental defence strategy and the far-reaching programs of commercialisation that transitioned much of Army’s strategic organic logistic capability into the private sector. It was a period during which change was imposed, and Army’s logisticians were forced to make compromises and difficult choices about which capabilities had to remain organic to Army. Therefore, it serves as a reminder that logisticians should not take the opportunity to lead transformation for granted – there is always someone around the corner to do the ‘leading’ for them.

Although the basic operational concept applied in this period was proven strategically faulty, and Army’s logistic capabilities had been mauled by imposed policies, a few significant and ultimately positive changes did occur. Army had redesigned its logistic capabilities to fight beyond and outdated divisional model, and had consolidated various logistic organisations into arguable more efficient – and less hollow – units and formations. Furthermore, a more collegiate relationship with industry and other Services had emerged from new policy and the progression improved operational jointery in the ADF. The pressure to transform logistics was certainly severe at this time, and despite the soul-searching involved, a great many efficiencies were introduced in the process.

As I wrote here, the second period was shaped by Army’s focus on fighting wars in progress. Although concepts were developed, and Army developed modernisation plans and an ‘objective force’ based upon a long-term view of the future, the need to rapidly adapt for operations saw logistic transformation occurring as a series of many incremental, and at times hard-won, steps. The achievement of a goal pursued over no less than three decades by Army’s most senior leaders, to prefer Army’s structure on the basis of preparedness rather than concepts, also had a significant effect on the objectives sought out of logistic transformation. It was a period in which Army, and its logisticians, became used to meeting minimum preparedness requirements rather than preparing for contingencies themselves. Sustaining and supporting an Army on continuous operations over the last fifteen years has required Army’s logisticians to develop solutions to numerous, and serious, problems but it has come at the cost of developing innovative concepts and doctrine to prepare Army for the future.

Transformation in Army’s logistics capabilities has always required a combination of incremental and revolutionary changes usually made in response to externally-driven pressures. It is possible to infer from Army’s responses to the continental defence requirements of the 1980s and 1990s that revolutionary change in logistics has only occurred through a systematic, conceptually-based, process. Once Army had addressed several logistic capability gaps after the East Timor crisis, logistic transformation in practice was infrequently conceptually based at all; more about managing organisational change than preparing for the future. In the turbulence caused by supporting operations, and Army’s transition under programs including the ‘Hardened and Networked Army’ and Plan Beersheba, attempts to progress transformation were hampered as a consequence.

The transfer of funding from logistic capability programs, and manning to support combat capabilities, further complicated transformation in this time. In sum, this period was not conducive for logisticians to describe what they want – or, indeed, what Army needs – define the steps to get there, or assemble the requirements to achieve it. Considering this it is understandable, though hardly ideal, that ideas have tend to stay just that. Substantial transformation of doctrine and procedures have yet to occur to reflect innovative ways of sustaining the force with many ideas remaining as little more than points on a ‘Powerpoint slide’ or concepts in a pamphlet, and are unusable in actual practice.

Much of Army’s most recent efforts towards logistic transformation has been retained in the intellectual domain, fed on a diet of experimentation, and without an effective transition into evaluation and exercising, doctrine development or the modernisation of Army’s logistics. Concept development and experimentation are vital first steps to transformation, and there is a wealth of useful material available which reflects a diligent approach by a range of Army and scientific personnel to understanding the logistical needs of the future Army.  However, due to its attention towards the conduct of operations, it has been difficult taking the results to completion.

The lasting benefits from experiments conducted or concepts presented have been arguably marginal and predominantly reflected in subtle shifts to major Army capability programs rather than significantly addressing wholesale logistic transformation. There has been virtually no transition of logistic ideas from the ‘laboratory’ to the training area since the RTA trials were conducted in the late 1990’s, with training time and capacity predominantly consumed by the need to operationally certify forces for deployments or other preparedness obligations. It is time Army devoted more time to exercising the ‘logistic fountain’ from which it draws the strength to fight.

Moreover, transformation in Army was always complicated by the way in which it synchronised with efforts undertaken elsewhere in the joint force. Admittedly, the idea of ‘joint logistics’ as an institutional construct is relatively young, its organisations frequently restructured in an unhelpful turbulence. The approaches required to support Army at the strategic level have required a considerable culture shift for a Service which used to perform many strategic and operational logistic functions organically. However, with its most recent focus on enabling a force generation cycle, logistic transformation on Army was less about structuring the right balance of capabilities and concepts within the joint domain than “simply” getting forces to the operational area.

Logistics, as a process which begins in the national economy and ends at the front line of the battlefield, depends on all Services and Defence agencies to be effective, and to work efficiently together. If transformation is to be given a chance to succeed, a greater proportion of time must be spent getting the joint relationships right. Whether future operational concepts demand Services to interact together more effectively or not, the logistics process or system is bigger than any one Service, group or agency to control; ‘bridging the gap’ between all parties involved is essential for effective sustainment. This applies in garrison, as well as on operations. The Australian Army has been reminded of this necessity in successive operations, and has come a long way – along with the Australian Defence Force – over the last three decades in making joint operations a true force multiplier.

It is, however, important for us to not ‘over-think’ this requirement and look to solve every strategic logistic challenge with a complicated and complex systemic review of Defence logistics. Changes taken at the local level are important in transformation, and as much as logisticians need to think strategically in terms of the wider force, and getting relationships ‘right’, they shouldn’t forget there are many things to fix right in front of themselves. Furthermore, there is always a risk that the bigger the problem that logistic transformation appears to be in the future, the less likely logisticians will invest the considerable time required to do it properly.

After reviewing this history of logistic transformation in the Australian Army, I feel that logisticians have not embraced logistics transformation as fully as they should. This is not an indictment upon the attempts made by many logisticians to positively influence Army’s modernisation outcomes. Rather, it is collectively held belief that a more comprehensive investment by logisticians in terms of their time is unlikely to be productive. Army’s natural bias to organisational change over the last twenty years rather, as well as its conceptual focus upon its front-line formations, are just two of the reasons as to why major logistic transformation has been viewed as wasted effort.

Secondly, the rapidity by which the Australian Army has introduced major force structure initiatives including Hardening and Networking the Army and Plan Beersheba has created an environment in which simply responding to short-term change is all that capacity allows. Army’s logisticians are so consumed by performing the day-to-day function of sustaining training and operations that it is understandable that many would consider themselves unable to promote transformation outside of the staff environment. Thus, it can be entirely expected that changes to doctrine or concepts rarely find the way out of the hands of planners and into those who will be expected to execute transformation.

Perhaps this means that the prospects for future logistic transformation are not good, and a review of history gives logisticians a reason to disengage themselves even further from logistic transformation. For those who feel this way, they should keep in mind the considerable personal effort undertaken by many who have been engaged in Army’s future – from the senior-most logistician leader who fought to get Army’s logistics thus far, to the forward-thinking soldiers and officers who promoted their own ideas by whatever means possible. Insularity caused by an unhealthy scepticism of attempts to transform logistics capabilities and processes does nothing more than perpetuate problems. Nor should inadequacies of time be an excuse for a failure to invest in the future; any efforts undertaken by logisticians now are ultimately for the benefits of others on the battlefields of tomorrow.

Successful transformation requires Army’s logisticians invest themselves deeply in transformation despite the many institutional and operational obstacles that confront them. There is reason to do so now because Army is always changing to suit new circumstances and emerging problems. Participating in the agenda for change in this time requires a personal investment of interest, and an enhancement of a collective sense of responsibility. After all, it is certainly better to ‘own’ one’s destiny, than let one be ‘owned’ by it.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, and the thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics. Image by the Australian Department of Defence.

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Slater, M., ‘An interview with Brigadier Mick Slater, Commander JTF 631’ from Australian Army, Australian Army Journal, Vol 3. No. 2, Australian Army, Australia, 2006,p 11   (

[7] ibid., p 11

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

[9]   Leahy, P., 2004, ‘Towards the hardened and networked Army’ from Australian Army, Australian Army Journal, Vol 2. No. 1, Australian Army, Australia, 2004, p34(

[10]  ibid.,

Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics – sustaining INTERFET

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

– General P. Cosgrove, Commander INTERFET[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] ANAO, 2002, p 52, 88

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

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

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

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

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

Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics – defending Australia in the 1980s and 1990s

By David Beaumont.

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

As much as we might like to think that militaries change because of strategic necessity and transformative concepts, they are also beholden to a variety of social, economic and institutional influences. The developmental path undertaken by Army in adapting its logistics capabilities is a complicated mix of organisational culture, responsibility to Government, an element of happenstance, and operational pressures. Many influences in transformation are simply out of Army’s control. For most mid-rank to senior serving officer and soldier logisticians, Australia’s deployment to East Timor in 1999, Operation Stabilise / Warden, was a foundational event which compelled a generation of changes to logistic capabilities. Certainly, immediately after this operation, quick action was undertaken to address a variety of capability deficiencies that this operation so painfully revealed. The focus on systemic hollowness within several key logistic capabilities after the East Timor operation was important, but its long-term effect on Army’s development has been somewhat limited.  More fundamental changes to Army’s, and the ADF’s, logistics capabilities made in the two decades prior left greater legacies in terms of organisation, responsibilities and expectations relevant to the operational performance of land forces. Therefore, it is from this era that the modern history of Army’s attempts to transform its logistics must be understood.

Army, and the logisticians that serve within it, tend to view the twenty-year experiment with ‘Defence of Australia’ strategy as mythos. As a post-Vietnam Army sought to find its footing, growing societal and political moves for strategic self-determination, experiences from a range of peacekeeping operations in places such as Somalia and Bougainville, coupled with extensive capability programs fighting against the obsolescence of equipment but in a period of national financial pressure, placed immense pressure on the ADF’s logistics capabilities. Just as strategists contended with implementing the ‘Defence of Australia’ operational concept, born out of the 1986 Dibb Review and subsequent Defence Of Australia 1987 (DOA87) White Paper, logisticians began the process of rationalising capabilities under a variety of initiatives.[1]

However, it was not strategic policy that would be the biggest concern of logisticians; industry policy, and a bipartisan desire in Government to deregulate the government sector that would be particularly influential. If wasn’t until the 1990 Wrigley Review, the 1991 Force Structure Review and the Defence Commercial Support Program (CSP) which accompanied it, the latter of which saw a great transition of the ADF’s logistic capability to the private sector, that the policy implications of DOA87 and a greater union between Service logistics and commercial support from the national support base really hit home.[2] The atrophy of Army’s organic logistic capability through the commercialisation process undertaken over this period would have considerable consequences in the future. The degradation of base level logistics is well known, but the degeneration of deployable logistic capability also affected formation and unit logistic elements.

It is easy for a logistician to look back upon this time with concern. However, there were positive changes to Army logistics occurring during this period that are often overlooked in the hyperbole. Modern approaches to operational command and control, as well as logistic jointery, developed to support ‘Defence of Australia’ and other imposed changes, left long-term benefits for the ADF.  Within Army, logistics command and control was investigated in detail and with vigour. Efficiency seeking led to the growth of joint institutions that better coordinated logistic activities across the ADF. Systematic experimental and exercise-based analysis of logistic performance complemented conceptual development to produce force modernisation outcomes which continue to be implemented today. This period may have comprised paradigm-changing events and processes which had enormous implications for the ADF’s operational performance. There were, however, other incremental changes occurring to Army’s force design that were, arguably, just as influential. Before assessing logistic transformation during any further, it is important to appreciate other themes and issues which were affecting the force.

Post-Second World War operations, including the more recent Vietnam War and peacekeeping operations such as in Somalia (Operation Solace), had accentuated a shift in Army’s approach to where the bulk of its logistic capability resided. This move was reflective of the changing character of operations, and emerging thoughts on combat logistics. During the Cold War period, and in a stark contrast to the major wars which preceded, most deployments were of Task Forces or units, usually conducted within a coalition which provide some measure of sustainment. Furthermore, the light, motorised and armoured specialisations of Army’s formations and units saw such forces requiring their own equally unique logistic echelons at the unit and formation level.

By the 1980’s, Army was under pressure by the Defence to move from a divisional model that perpetuated hollowness across the Service, and adopt a force structure better suited to the demands of Australian continental defence. Thus, it was felt, there was no need to centralise capability at the divisional level; Army was evolving from one designed to fight formations of at least brigade in size within a two-Division structure, to one that deployed battalion groups within independent brigade-sized formations for a variety of different requirements.[3] Larger divisionally-oriented logistics regiments were slowly but surely decentralised, adjusted or simply disestablished as Army reluctantly abandoned long-held but impractical ambitions.[4]

These changes were only accentuated by the operational concepts and doctrine developed to enable a ‘Defence of Australia’ strategy. The resultant operational concept required an Army that was capable of fighting in extremely dispersed conditions, in an inhospitable geography defined by distances between units measured in the hundreds of kilometres. As stated in the Chief of General Staff’s Advisory Committee in 1986

The priority demands on our ground forces are for the protection of military and infrastructure assets in the north of Australia from a protracted campaign of dispersed raids.[5]

Based upon this prevailing view in Defence and Government, it is understandable why there may have been a desire to outsource many purportedly ‘non-core’ logistic functions, supposedly obtainable from the national support base in a time of crisis, through programs advocated by successive reviews.

This was only part of the reason for the truly transformational change that was to occur to Army logistics in the early 1990’s. Due to funding pressures that made attaining the capability desires of the 1987 White Paper, a strategic logic which required a growth in defence funding, a large ‘tail’ in the Services would not be tolerated by Government. Three reviews were fundamental to reshaping Army logistics in this period. Firstly, Defence was compelled by Government to examine its force structure to implement the ‘Defence of Australia’ approach through the 1991 Force Structure Review. At the same time, Dr Alan Wrigley was appointed by Government to examine a holistic, national-based, approach to defence. Wrigley’s report, The Defence Force and the Community: A partnership in Australia’s Defence, and the subsequent Inter-Departmental Report which reflected the endorsed Government outcomes, advocated an increased role for industry in the support of Defence activities.[6] Finally, the Commercial Support Program (CSP) that was released concurrent to the Force Structure Review and reflected the intended commercialisation of the ADF’s organic logistic capability.[7]

To fund $200 million of capability programs, the Force Structure Review required Army and the other Services to examine what were ‘core’ (directly combat and combat-support) and ‘non-core’ (largely ‘rear-echelon’ logistic functions) activities. [8] Those activities identified as ‘non-core’ would be market-tested for commercialisation, with many outsourced under the CSP. This process of reducing numbers in the ‘tail’ would hit Army the hardest; the Force Structure Review acknowledging that:

The combat structures of the Navy and Air Force are largely major equipment oriented and have been the subject of detailed reviews over the last decade, while Army is organised around personnel based structures. Any significant reduction in ADF personnel numbers inevitable involves a more fundamental review of Army’s structure to maintain the viability of the combat force.[9]

In addition, landholdings would be rationalised, the ‘Military District’ model of regional engagement would be abandoned because of the Defence Regional Support Review and the institution of the operational level of command in the ADF, and training institutions and practices consolidated across all Services. It was a period of ruthless cost-cutting and manpower saving, where logisticians themselves would have to volunteer options to reduce the size of Army’s organic logistics capabilities. Although the goal was to ensure the combat force was funded, these three programs in unison are now anecdotally regarded as creating structural weaknesses with respect to Army’s capacity to sustain itself on future operations.[10]

Accompanying the force structure changes were the conceptual ones. The need for Army to draw more of its sustainment from external sources began to be reflected in operational concepts. In 1992 Major General Geoffrey Carter, Deputy Chief of General Staff, described the logistic support required for ‘Operations in Defence of Australia’ as:

Logistic support to implement these concepts will tend towards austerity coupled with maximum use of the civilian infrastructure. While it can be expected that we may harness all available national resources, we may need to seek assistance from friendly nations.[11]

At the unit level, battalion groups were expected to operate without an abundance of logistic support but also independently. Yet it was recognised that logistics capacity would temper the ability to conduct operations.[12] Local civilian industry was expected to support the hypothesised military operations, but the reality was forces were too dispersed, and national support capacity limited in the remote environments it was believed that operations would be conducted in, to provide such support. Battalion-group level manoeuvre forces would be resourced with whatever would be required for defence of Australia tasks so to make them operationally responsive.[13] Army’s transformation path had optimised it for fighting at the battalion level, and this continued a growing emphasis on pushing logistic capabilities into brigade formations. This necessitated growth in unit-level logistic echelons, as well as confirming the importance of multi-capability formation logistics unit, the Brigade Administrative Support Battalion, in its role as the provider of modular logistic components to units as required.

While new concepts favoured the battalion group as the principle fighting formation of the Army, there were reasons for change in other areas in Army. As defence planners started to think about the means by which operations in the north and north-west of Australia could be sustained, it was realised that these forces would require a greater level of logistic support than had been experienced when in operations with coalition partners.[14] Thus the Logistics Support Group (LSG) was created on the basis of Vietnam war experience; consolidating many of the divisional-level logistic functions and assuming the responsibility for operational-level logistic support for land operations.

Ex Kangaroo '95.

Logistics convoy during Exercise Kangaroo 1995 – defending Australia; Photo by Commonwealth of Australia

This formation (later known the Logistic Support Force (LSF) and now 17 Combat Service Support Brigade) additionally served as the ‘third-line’ of logistic capability, meaning Divisional-sized operations could – in theory – be sustained. However, this formation proved to be a poor cousin to the combat formations, themselves heavily hit by the pressure on Army to cut the size of its force. Combined with the downsizing of the ADF’s logistic elements (the Army had downsized from 34000 to 24000 over this period) with Government policy and reform initiatives, the LSG and LSF would prove to be quite hollow. This was an issue that would have significant ramifications in future operations in East Timor.

Elsewhere, and as the operational concepts continued to mature, and major strategic-level changes in logistics occurred, Army found itself more and more integrated in the fortunes of the emerging ‘national support agenda’ and the burgeoning joint force. Army’s own strategic and operational-level logistics organisations and capabilities, including Logistic Command, had been merged with those of the other Services to form Support Command Australia (SCA) and other Departmental strategic agencies in the mid-1990’s due to Government efficiency-seeking. This was a natural progression to the development of operational-level command within the ADF, but also to centralise and more efficiently manage ADF logistics from acquisition to service delivery. Furthermore, SCA was directed under the 1997 Defence Reform Program (DRP) which established it, to accelerate the commercialisation of ADF logistics. This process resulted programs such as the Defence Integrated Distribution System (DIDS) for transportation within the national support base amongst other major programs which integrated commercial operations with Army activities.

SCA would, in 2000, meld with the National Support Division and Defence Acquisition Organisation to form the now defunct Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO). Planners had conceived SCA to be an organisation that could exert control over the strategic and operational components of the logistics process, but in practice it was overwhelming focussed upon the acquisition and sustainment of Defence capabilities rather than their operational use. When DMO was created, this weakness in SCA would lead to planners establishing a subordinate Joint Logistic Command (JLC) whose purpose was to perform numerous operational functions Army undertook for land operations in the past. Nonetheless, until this happened, the logistic process as it applied to the ADF’s land operations was fractured and confused. The constant changing at the strategic level of Defence which began in the late 1980’s until 1999 had been immensely disruptive, and created a great deal of uncertainty with respect to supply-chain responsibilities for land forces around operations such as Op Bel Isi (Bougainville) and Operations Warden (East Timor). Â

With respect to the tactical logistic activities left to Army, in the mid to late 1990’s, and learning off the US Army’s experiences with its Task Force XXI study, Army began to approach the problem of defending Australia through a series of planning events and experiments. These would become known as the Army 21 (A21) concept launched in 1995, and the subsequent change process known as ‘Restructuring the Army’.[15] Although the 1996 election resulted in a change in Government, and a nominal shift from a continental approach to strategy, the RTA trials maintained the same vision of war as practiced the decade before. Army would become an integrated full-time and part-time Army, comprising highly mobile task forces and units, capable of autonomous operations in dispersed, joint, operational environments.[16] For logisticians, these concepts once again emphasised the robustness of forward echelons as a means of ensuring sustainment for forces vast distances away from historical lines of operation. These forces would have to be sustainable for operations of 15 months at a time, with 30 days of combat operations mixed within.[17]

However, just before the focus of the RTA trials could turn to the sustainability requirements for offshore deployments during 1999 in the ‘Defence of Regional Interests (DRI)’, the Australian Army was called to deploy to East Timor. Operation Warden would provide good reason for Army – and the ADF more broadly – to adapt its approach to logistics and support to operations. The consequences of commercialisation and a national support base not ready to support an operation which all but consumed the entirety of the ADF’s attention and effort would hit home hard. Army threw whatever it could at the problem of force projection, even resuming operational-level logistic tasking that it was not supposed to perform. In the wake of this deployment, to be explored in the next post, Army’s planners and logisticians switched to a new focus in which logistic transformation would be considered.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, and the thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

[1] Department of Defence, The defence of Australia 1987, Commonwealth of Australia, Australia, [accessed 03 Mar 17]; For an outline of what this policy meant see [accessed 05 Mar 17]

[2] Horner, D., ‘Deploying and Sustaining INTERFET in East Timor in 1999’, 2009 from Australian Army History Unit, Raise, training and sustain: delivering land combat power, Canberra,, [accessed 13 Apr 15]

[3] Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, From Phantom to force: towards a more efficient and effective Army, Commonwealth of Australia, 2003; [accessed 04 Mar 17]

[4] Horner, D., Making the Australian Defence Force, The Australian Centenary History of Defence, Vol IV, Oxford University Press, Australia, 2001, p 260

[5] Chief of General Staff Committee 7/96 Agendum of Oct 1996

[6] Commonwealth of Australia, Interdepartmental Committee on the Wrigley Review, Australian Government Publishing Service, Australia, 1991

[7] Department of Defence, Force Structure Review 1991, Commonwealth of Australia, Australia, p5, para 8 [National Archives of Australia; AWM 388]

[8] Shephard, A., The Defence Commercial Support Program: saving $200 million a year for defence procurement?, Parliamentary Research Service Research Paper No. 2 / 1993, Commonwealth of Australia, Australia, 1993, p 1

[9] Department of Defence, 1991 Force Structure Review, Commonwealth of Australia, para 2 [National Archives of Australia; AWM 388]

[10] Horner, D., ‘Deploying and Sustaining INTERFET in East Timor in 1999’, 2009 from Australian Army History Unit, Raise, training and sustain: delivering land combat power, Canberra,, [accessed 13 Apr 15]

[11] Carter, G., ‘New developments in land forces’ from Horner, D., The Army and the future: Land forces in Australia and South-east Asia, Department of Defence, Australia, 1992, p 263

[12] ibid., p 266

[13] ibid., p 265

[14] Horner, D., Reshaping the Australian Army: challenges for the 1990s, Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence, No. 77, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU, Australia, 1991, p 42,

[15] Chief of General Staff Committee 7/96 Agendum of Oct 1996

[16] Fisher, J., Brennan, M., Bowley, D., A study of land force modernisation studies in DSTO1996-2000, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Commonwealth of Australia, Australia, 2002, p12

[17] ibid., p 12p

Transforming the Australian Army’s logistics

By David Beaumont.

Some may recall from earlier posts on ‘Logistics In War’ that in late 2016, the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, challenged the senior logisticians of the Australian Army to ‘revolutionise’ Army’s logistics. This was not because sustainment operations were not successfully happening, nor was it a condemnation of any imaginary inadequacy perpetrated in the efforts of the soldiers, officers and civilians responsible for delivering Army its logistics, and through extension, operational capability. Such operations and efforts, also borne by the joint logistic community and the wider Defence organisation, have kept Australian forces in the field for nearly twenty years of operational activity.

Rather, the Chief’s challenge was a direct statement that logistic transformation must come from within Army’s logistics community; an encouragement to find innovative ways in which Army’s logistic capabilities could be enhanced without substantially growing the land force. Furthermore, it reflected a need to break from tradition and habit to progress logistic development in a new direction. While not an indictment on Army’s logisticians nor their leadership, the challenge compels the community to realise transformative efforts in balance with current operational needs, and with a speed of execution that will enable the entire Army to progress into the future.

Long-term transformation in any component of the land force has always been a difficult and consuming process. Most Western militaries have had difficulty in transforming logistics in particular, and various individuals have written about such challenges as a consequence. John Louth, writing in respect to the UK situation, cites unrealistic expectations being made of logistic capability, the inability of the logistic community to successfully make the intellectual and business case for investment, the general unwillingness of the organisation to accept their advice once offered, and a widespread ‘misreading’ of the significance of lift and sustainment capabilities to numerous operational scenarios.[1] These are only a portion of the challenges that impede transformation.

Numerous American reports and papers attest to similar difficulties, and describe the consequences of logistics transformation stalling with respect to recent operations such as Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.[2] Although few Australian Army logisticians have written on logistic transformation, a number of notable papers exist such as Lieutenant Colonel Susan Smith’s research paper in 2000 which examined East Timor operations and the need to change Army logistics.[3] More recently the need for logistic transformation featured in Army’s 2014 Institutional Lessons Study and was regarded as Army’s priority concern by its leaders; it was discussed further during the resultant ‘On Operations’ conference and publication.[4] The problem has never been that issues requiring transformation have remained unknown. Rather, the problem has been the manner and means by which change is ultimately implemented.

Army’s logistics capability and capacity has endured tremendous transformation over the past thirty years. During the 1980’s and 1990’s a series of Government-induced reviews by successive Labour and Coalition Government’s compelled the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to cut its ‘tail’ to fund its ‘teeth’. Army bore the brunt of the cuts, and of Army, the commercialisation process affected Army’s logistics capabilities the most. Since the logistically harrowing experience of a deployment to East Timor in 1999, Army considered its logistics strengths and weaknesses in considerable detail. Some weaknesses have been addressed. Others have not. During the seventeen years since Operation Warden, strategic planners have conceptualised various pathways to effect land-force logistics, and senior commanders and logisticians have argued persuasively and campaigned consistently for further investment or force structure adjustments.

Even as we see a generational change in equipment enter into service we are still left with an unpleasant feeling that Army’s logistics capabilities are an area of risk, awaiting to play havoc with the future Army’s operational performance.  Dr Palazzo and Colonel Chris Smith recently noted that to prepare for expeditionary warfare, as envisaged under Australian Maritime Strategy, ‘any chance of success [in expeditionary operations] requires a higher ratio of ‘tail’ to ‘teeth’ than expected from current operations.[5] Furthermore, their paper claims that there is potential for a shift in balance between land forces from a focus on the combat arms to ‘enabling and support’ elements.[6] Therein lies the base assumption that the Army is unbalanced, its logistics capabilities are hollow and that most attempts to transform logistics have led to unsatisfactory outcomes.

There is more to transformation than getting the ‘tooth to tail’ ratio, or any other abstract measure of force balance, right. Yet there is a real need for further investment in the right logistic capabilities, as there is also an obligation by Army and its logisticians to steward this investment. This is the component of transformation which, for many years, has been forgotten. Concepts seem repetitive, assumptions are outdated, and senior ADF logistic community leadership has recently commented upon how logisticians seem to have lost control of their own agenda. This is a tremendous risk to logistics transformation in an epoch in which ‘austerity’ and ‘efficiency’ are terms used to complement logistics, budgetary limitations and growing costs in delivering combat capability necessitate reductions in other areas, and in the systemic uncertainty which exists as the entire ADF changes the way it undertakes its business during the First Principle Review (FPR). Arguments are riven with assumptions that are well beyond their usefulness, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the ever-changing nature of warfare requires these shibboleths to be abandoned. It is now time for logisticians and planners to look to the future and reinvigorate and transform Army’s logistics capabilities accordingly.

The transformation of Australian Army logistics will be the subject of a series of posts which articulate the need to transform Army’s logistics and the way in which transformation should occur. These posts are abridged versions of a much larger work to be published at a later date. With this in mind, these posts will not prescriptively outline concepts; this being the work of a systemic review being undertaken by Army Headquarters over coming months. As a work of opinion the series of posts will make observations and conclusions about Army’s track record with modernisation, discuss how problems may be prevented in the future, and highlight the challenges that must be overcome in future efforts. Some may seize upon this as a criticism of Army, its leadership and its logisticians. This is absolutely not the case. At times, Army has experienced tremendous pressure from external sources with respect to what logistics capabilities it should possess, and how they should be employed. Army’s logisticians have performed the best they can with the means available. Instead, this series looks to the future as one of opportunity whereby an operationally-experienced logistics community can lead change to better enable Army to win the land battle as part of a joint force.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, and the thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

[1] Louth, J., ‘Logistics as a force enabler’ from RUSI Journal, June / July 2015, vol. 160, no. 3, Royal United Services Institute, UK, 2015, p 60

[2] An excellent example being Maccagnan Jr., V, Logistic transformation – restarting a stalled process, US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, USA, 2005

[3] Smith, S., A handmaiden’s tale: an alternative view of logistic lessons learned from INTERFET, Australian Defence Studies Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, 2001

[4] See Beaumont, D, ‘Logistics and the failure to modernise’ from Frame, T. & Palazzo, A. (eds)., On ops: lessons and challenges for the Australian Army since East Timor, UNSW Press, Australia, 2016

[5] Smith, C. & Palazzo, A., Coming to terms with the modern way of war: precision missiles and the land component of Australia’s joint force, Australian land warfare concept series, Vol. 1, Australian Army, Australia, 2016, p 20

[6] Ibid., p 21