The fight for logistics and survival in #highintensitywar

By David Beaumont.

Our friends at The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones are currently engaged in a comprehensive look at airpower in high-intensity warfare. Logistics will undoubtedly feature in the #highintensitywar series, as a major driver of preparedness, combat potential and power, and operational endurance.  Technology and ‘5th-generation’  airpower may have demonstrably changed the way in which air forces will fight, but the properly applied sustainment practices which have served them well in the past will continue to do so in the future. These practices will offer both options and constraints to operational planners, and the effectiveness of supply chains delivering fuel, ammunition and spare parts will fundamentally determine the duration of air operations. None of this is particularly revelatory, even to the facile commander who stubbornly ignores that warfare is about practicalities. However, it is also important to the appreciation of high-intensity warfare to look at how the resiliency of logistics lights the way to operational success.

In one of the earliest posts on Logistics in War I argued that ‘[l]ogistics has emerged from a decade-long hiatus to reassert its relevance’. As the US military, NATO and others responded to shifting strategic circumstances and re-postured their forces against imagined (and what seem to be increasingly realised) threats, new logistics systems were being established. Exercises undertaken to simulate high-intensity war such as US Pacific Command’s Exercise Pacific Sentry 17-03 highlighted significant force posture challenges that might constrain air (and other) operations against a peer adversary. Similarly, other problems which may affect the capacity for militaries to respond quickly in an environment of high-intensity warfare were eloquently shared by Jobie Turner in a series of Logistics in War articles.  The propensity of adversaries to target logistics capability in these scenarios was also raised. Militaries certainly seemed aware of major logistics challenges to preparing for peer-to-peer conflict in high-intensity warfare, and were adapting as rapid as they could.

There seems a multitude of ways in which logistics will influence future warfare, either directly or indirectly. This post serves as a reminder of one of these ways – a general feature known as the ‘logistics vacuum’ – initially described in Fighting in the void – combat operations in the logistics vacuum.  This feature appears because of the tendency to gloss over the logistics consequences of battle, and the inevitable drop in logistics capacity and capability that emerges with fighting. Appreciating the ‘vacuum’ is the first step towards preparing for it. With this in mind, what follows is an adaption (and in some places a repetition) of what was articulated some time ago, with elaboration as it may apply to high-intensity warfare in the air domain.

As force posture changes or as combat is prepared for, sustainment methods for combat forces often become optimised for specific and often localised conditions. Prepared forces are so because they have robust, and as efficient as practicably possible, logistics systems that are capable of sustaining them for extended periods of time.  Except in cases of extreme strategic surprise, logistics might appear relatively unimportant to the well-prepared force at the outset of combat. Resources are presumably plentiful, and firepower is assured, especially for those air forces defending their own territory. Unfortunately, and it is a general rule of war, this rapidly changes as combat begins and the system of sustainment adjusts.

Operation OKRA

A RAAF KC30 refuels an F/A18 on Operation Okra, above Iraq. Photo by Department of Defence.



When combat commences robust logistic systems allow for a high intensity of engagement – at least initially. However, this changes quickly soon after the first shots are fired, usually because logistics forces, bases and those capabilities from which a force derives its strength are targeted.  Forces would soon exhaust ammunition if the rate of effort demanded it, materiel used inefficiently as necessity breeds invention, health care inevitably overwhelmed and the distribution capabilities supporting operational supply chains are overstretched.  Air mobility will prove unable to respond rapidly enough for all sustainment requirements and compromises will have to be made. The loss of air-to-air refuelling platforms might pale in significance to the difficulties encountered on the ground as bulk fuel installations are targeted or demand for fuels outstrips its supply. When logistic support in other quarters fails to materialise the adversarial combat forces would be forced to adapt their tactical activities and the intensity of warfare would decrease commensurately. Combat becomes attritional, and the fight for logistics becomes as important as the fight for survival. In such circumstances the flexibility of and logistics forces remaining after the initial firefight becomes crucial to recovering any aspect of the initiative, and restoring tempo to the operation.

Vladimir Prebelic described this phenomenon as the ‘logistic vacuum’.[i] He saw it as a general feature of war because logistics elements and systems are typically and extensively targeted by adversaries, particularly as their initial targets, so make the opposition incapable of a substantial response. Instigating the ‘logistics vacuum’ in the offense, against a peer threat, is exceptionally difficult as the defence offers natural advantages including access to supply, let alone protective capabilities to interdict a threat. In a briefing on the developing F-35 capability in a high-intensity engagement in the Pacific, RAND commentators paint a picture of immense difficulty in achieving offensive strike effects against a potential adversary’s infrastructure.  Nonetheless, there are many ways in which logistics in depth can be attacked from air combat forces to ‘anti-access, area-denial’ missiles used in the maritime domain, to rocket-based artillery that can target key logistics infrastructure at tremendous ranges. In a multi-domain environment, the threat to the logistics capabilities sustaining air operations can come from any quarter.

Further problems may be entirely self-induced, or the result of formerly efficient supply chains collapsing as hostile forces prevent the easy replenishment of combat forces. One wonders how resilient high-technology forces, as air forces are, may be to supply chain disruptions as strategic sources of supply suffer in wars against major powers – those that are likely to be the only powers able to engage Western militaries in high-intensity war. The natural uncertainty that exists in war, especially high-intensity warfare where destruction can be rapid, and the impact of capacity constraints introduced by the desire to deploy with a light logistic ‘tail’, also conspire to create logistic shortcomings that magnify the effects of the adversary’s attacks.  The problem is particularly significant for operational and tactical-level logistics organisations who must establish in-theatre logistics infrastructure while under fire; a key concern for the deployment of expeditionary base capabilities and other support required to maintain combat operations.

The ability of logisticians and commanders to overcome the effects of the ‘first strike’ by working a logistic system out of the remnants of what existed in peacetime will often determine the operational initiative. Winning a defensive battle is the obvious way to preserve logistics capacity and allows for a rapid restoration of tempo. Options proposed include defensive measures such in the rear of the operational area, the reinforcement of logistics elements, platforms and bases with self-protection capabilities such as anti-air systems, protection of logistics infrastructure via the establishment of operating bases, and through distance and dispersal. Such measures are essential to providing resiliency to the logistic system that, if attacked, will prevent a catastrophic collapse of support.  However, these measures are also only part of the problem. Reassessing doctrine, training and thinking to respond to the inevitable logistics  vacuum will be fundamental to the logistician and commander in their mental preparations for war.

Nonetheless, the ‘logistic vacuum’ is an oft-repeated feature of warfare, and military thinkers have yet to conceptualise a way out of it. What really matter is that military planners design forces and logistics capabilities that are able to reduce the time it takes for the combat force to emerge from the ‘vacuum’, and with the initiative. All attention should be given to the ways in which risks can be reduced, the resiliency of the logistic system improved and flexibility of logistics forces enhanced. The perfect solution would be to provide logistic support in an over-abundance, particularly to those that must deploy forward, but that isn’t a realistic expectation to have. Forces must be prepared to operate austerely, logisticians better empowered to prioritise resources, and all must plan and rehearse accordingly.However, we shouldn’t be overconfident in our attempts to avoid the inevitable.

As we think about high-intensity warfighting in the air domain, or any other area, it is worth remembering that the quality of logistics support that may be expected at the outset of combat will undoubtedly drop. It is for this reason that this article serves as a reminder of a key phenomenon of logistics in conflict – the ‘logistics vacuum’. As I concluded in 2017, combat forces shouldn’t have a misplaced faith that they would be able to operate with everything they need, nor should any logisticians make claims as to be able to offer a solution that prevents a capitulation in logistics support. The best both can do is be adaptable.

[i] Prebelic, V., ‘ Theoretical aspects of military logistics’ from Defence and security analysis, Vol. 22, No. 2, Routledge, USA, 2006. Sorry – another paywall!

‘CoveTalk’ – logistics, Army and the future of war

By David Beaumont.

I was privileged to have been asked by those behind the Australian Army’s professional military education site, The Cove, to present a webinar last week. This presentation, titled ‘The way we sustain: logistics, Army and the future of war’, proved less about the future, and more about the timeless links between logistics and strategy, and logistics and command.

The synopsis of the talk is:

Experienced soldiers agree that logistics ranks as one of the most crucial elements contributing to military success. The Army’s ‘logistics readiness’ shapes and defines its combat potential, as well as its performance during operations. However, while we acknowledge that logistics is important, few consider it as an aspect of effective command. Logistics is about winning battles and wars by assuring the existence of combat power, and underpins much a commander must consider when making strategic and tactical decisions. It is therefore important that as we reinvest in our understanding of strategy and tactics, we also address logistics and the practicalities of war.

After introducing the topic, the presentation will examine logistics in the ADF – the way we sustain joint land force operations. Both historic preferences and broad operational lessons will be raised, as well as the dual requirements of Army logistics. These requirements, often thought of as a false dichotomy, are described as ‘the logistics of coalition participation’ and ‘the logistics of coalition leadership’.  Finally, the discussion will place the way in which we sustain in the context of the future war on land as imagined in recent discussions both in Australia and abroad. The talk will conclude with a case for transforming Army logistics to address these new challenges, support the modernisation of Army and to elevate its relevance as a topic for every Army commander and leader.

The full webinar can be found here.

You might also note the topic addresses a similar topic to the primer, Logistics and the art of command. The primer provides a more detailed analysis of the first portion of the webinar, dealing specifically with the the difficult issue of human behaviour and how it influences the logistics process.

Continue the discussion here!

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer. The thoughts here are his own.


Hoping and planning for the best: understanding war without logistics

By David Beaumont.

In ‘Burning incense at a new altar’ and closing Logistics in War for 2017, I reflected on the state of interest in military logistics and why it was important to the profession of arms right now. As military professionals that continue to ‘burn incense at Clausewitz’s altar’, our continued emphasis on the ‘role of courage, leadership and the arts of command’ overlooked the strain such principles had been enduring since the first half of the twentieth century.[1] Victory was increasingly being determined by the ability of a combatant to bring machinery, firepower and mass to the battle. More personnel – whether military or partners from industry – were engaged in sustaining battle than participating in front-line combat. In peace, militaries were so consumed with logistics activities that the ‘business of defence’ had made every member of the staff a logistician in one form or another. Logistics was increasingly a determinant of strategy, while itself  influenced by the outcomes of strategic decisions. Yet we heard strikingly little about it.

Many readers of military history might look to statements such as these and contend that the importance of logistics in determining strategic outcomes was an idiosyncrasy of global war. In the post-Cold War era, however, the consequences of logistics miscalculation or failed integration within strategic or tactical planning could be regarded as far less of a consequence. The reality is completely opposite. Security is being recast as international logistics systems and supply chains contribute to the reshaping of the global order, and strategic policy intertwines itself with economics and industrial power to create objectives for the military forces protecting national interests (it has, of course, been ever thus). The growing logistics needs of combat forces creates pressures at a time where ‘small wars’ are being fought on a shoestring budget, where the increasing outsourcing of military activities binds operational success with the fortunes of commercial opportunity, and the growing complexity and diversity of supply creates troubling issues for military security.

If these problems were as significant as I make them out to be, you might expect we would hear far more about them. The culprit is not that the problems are inconsequential; they are just not written about. Our understanding of modern war is at the mercy of an academic debate which fails to address supply beyond discussions on technology, weapon systems and their use, defence industry and finding a balance between contract and organic logistics. There is virtually no strategic discussion concerning the ‘revolution of military logistics’ which accompanied the ‘revolution of military affairs’ in the 1990s, where militaries world-wide moved from a supply-based system to one that emphasised distribution and integrated logistics.[2] With hindsight we can see how significant this change really was, revealed most starkly between two defining military campaigns. The first, Operation Desert Storm of 1991, saw the transportation of near an entire national strategic reserve to an operational area thus ensuring a 100-hour war was possible; a war where logistics offered little tactical constraint. The second, Operation Iraqi Freedom of 2003, saw the logistics system falter during the advance at An Najaf, reminding operational planners that the contemporary logistics system based upon new assumptions and concepts was an entirely different beast.

There is little discussion – nearly a complete absence – of how logistics shaped the Western counter-insurgency operations which followed. With forces ‘hoping for the best, and planning for the best’, small logistics footprints and inadequate strategic consideration severely curtained British Army operations in Basra in the early years of its deployment in Iraq.[3] The need to secure supply-routes and distribution tasks restricted the frequency of combat patrols, and entrenched forces into ‘forward operating bases’ thus reducing the tactical mobility of the force. Similar experiences in Helmand, Afghanistan, were encountered.[4] More and more significant resources had to be directed to logistics missions, drawing upon helicopters to overcome lacking equipment and the state of lowering materiel readiness as the supply chain failed to keep up. Although there is little recorded evidence to substantiate, I contend that they are illustrative of the Australian Army’s efforts in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. The fault in these cases was not that there was too much logistics support requiring fortification; rather, it was the fact there was too little sustainment support meaning control over the operational area could not be assured by any other method.

We are now in a paradigm of logistics that requires the military professional to adapt once more. Commanders wait pensively at the mercy of supply lines, hoping that the ability to operate austerely will return to their forces. Logistics efforts over the last decade have been defined by managing global supply shortages, complex distribution systems, a reliance on industry to act at short notice to meet procurement requirements and adapt products and services, and with little appreciation of the role that logistics would eventually play in shaping strategy and tactics. Will the next decade of operations display the same characteristics? If greater political and military value is given to logistics readiness and other topics prior to operations, perhaps not. The problem is that in a highly constrained discussion about logistics, our study of war is patently ‘incomplete at best, false at worst’.[5] In a professional discourse flooded by strategists and tacticians, the academic and professional component invested in understanding logistics seems infinitesimally small. With inadequate knowledge of logistics and its timeless relationship with strategy and tactics it is understandable that we so often grossly underestimate its influence.

This year Logistics in War seeks your help to continue its offerings. It will continue to present articles on as broad a field of topics as possible, and to remain relevant amidst the public discussion on military operations. It will also hone in on three focus areas. Firstly, the relationship between strategy, tactics and logistics as it applies to contemporary war and military operations. Secondly, the professional development of the military logistician and the training and education required for future success. Thirdly, it will focus on modernising logistics and strategic preparedness in the context of the Australian Defence Force and its experiences of operations. If these topics interest you enough to contribute to the site, Logistics in War would like to hear from you.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, logistician and Editor of ‘Logistics in War’. The thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

[1] Leighton, R. & Coakley, R., Global logistics and strategy 1940-1943, The War Department, USA, 1954, p 10

[2] Erbel, M. & Kinsey, C., ‘Think again – supplying war: reappraising military logistics and its centrality to strategy and war’ from Journal of Strategic Studies, 2015, Routledge, p 6, This paper is behind a paywall – apologies for those who may wish to access it.

[3] Ibid., p 14

[4] Ibid., p 14

[5] Ibid., p 22

Burning incense at a new altar – a year of ‘Logistics In War’

By David Beaumont.

Thank you for your patronage of Logistics In War and the interest given to the works of authors who have invested personal time and effort to write about a subject of profound importance to military readiness and operational performance. The engagement achieved across a wide variety of logistics issues, told from the perspective of a range of military experiences in different militaries and contexts, has been an incredibly positive sign. The contributions made to the site, done so from a genuine and honest desire to improve upon current practices in militaries, point to a conception of logistics as a not just a technical issue, but a matter of growing concern across many militaries and within their institutions. It is also a sign of military professionals seeking organisational transformation, and innovative ways in which improvements to logistics practices might achieve leaps in operational performance. With this in mind, it is worth reflecting on this professional interest in logistics and the reason why it is important to us right now.

Fifty years ago Richard Leighton and Robert Coakley, authors of the US Army official history Global Logistics and Strategy 1940-43 saw military thought clinging to two ‘Clausewitzian’ ideas:

‘that the primary function of the soldier is to use the tools of war in combat, not to fashion or provide them, and that material forces have not yet diminished the role of courage, leadership and the arts of command’.[1]

They asserted that such principles have been under strain since the industrialisation of war, and the integration of technological improvements into forces that offered the modern combatant access to unparalleled firepower. Secondly, courage and leadership were seen to be ‘losing the power to override heavy materiel odds’.[2] The victor in operations was the one that could effectively and efficiently utilise its logistics capacity to bring the most combat power it could to the battlefield. The importance of the individual combatant in battle was diminishing given the power of machinery and combat mass, with troops becoming increasingly employed in mobilisation and sustainment activities. Thus the Second World War was seen to be the tipping point where the more personnel were engaged in sustaining combat than participating in front-line combat. The ‘tail’ in contemporary campaigns now well outweighs the ‘teeth’, whether it be constituted by military personnel, contractors and industrial partners.

We are a generation of military professionals that continues to ‘burn incense at Clausewitz’ altar’, with a continuing emphasis on the human dimension of war, the weight of leadership and the role of the combatant.[3] I argue that this view of warfare is being revealed as increasingly incomplete and  inadequate other than in terms of basic principles. The philosophical basis for the Western way of war emerged well before logistics was seen to be ‘nine-tenths of the business of war’, and where availability supply was less of a determinant of operational tempo, shock and firepower.[4] That there is only one chapter out of the one-hundred and twenty-five in OnWar with specific discussion on logistics is instructive of the limitations of this text. His contemporary, Antoine Jomini considered logistics as a principle component of the theory of war, yet also offered very little description on the topic. But this is typical of the works of the time where the problems of large-scale warfare were prevalent. It should not, however, be typical of ours. Our interest in logistics must mirror that directed to strategy and tactics in an age where the latter are often determined by the former.

In complete contrast to the lukewarm professional and academic interest directed to the concepts of military logistics, we find logistics activities dominate much of what militaries, and their personnel, do daily. In war, logistics is the acme of strategy in the use of movements and supply to generate decisive combat power. Through the actions of commanders in control of a process of intertwined activities spanning national industry right to the passing of ammunition between soldiers in combat, military forces achieve their operational potential and firepower. This ensures combat forces are not just available; it will determine that they are employable. Logistics factors influence so many things from the amount of dispersal a force can achieve to their rate of advance, and the myriad of tactical options that a commander might have before him or her. No commander will perform effectively without full cognisance of the simultaneously constraining yet enabling characteristics of their forces’ logistics capacity.

The importance of logistics in the ‘business’ of Defence is even greater. Logistics factors are central to the development of the preparedness of forces as achieved through the six characteristics of logistics readiness – mutual understanding between commanders and their logisticians, the balance between logistics and combat resources and elements, effective governance, logistics organisation, materiel readiness, and through the testing of the logistics system. Military staff of all persuasions must deal with the complexity of logistics during the introduction of modern capabilities, the integration of military activities with industry support, and the realisation that no one person or organisation can maintain and sustain forces without the help of many others. Matters of money and policy, institutional behaviour and leadership make every member of the staff a logistician in one form or another, and every leader a resource manager. To expand upon Major General Julian Thompson’s idea, logistics is truly the lifeblood of military activity in peace, as much as it is in war.

The problem with logistics is that its importance is often recognised in principle, but eyes tend to glaze over when the subject is discussed in any detail. Just as it is important that this attitude to logistics concerns changes, it is similarly important that the language of logistics also changes to facilitate a more effective engagement. Commander and logisticians must avoid the temptation to discuss logistics issues from the basis of it being only a technical enterprise; where complex process and policies tend to obfuscate issues. With the increasing technological sophistication of militaries there is a real risk that logistics functions might splinter into fiefdoms of technical expertise, exacerbating difficulties in achieving integrated logistics outcomes throughout the military organisation. Secondly, if logistics considerations are to be given the attention they deserve, the positioning of logistics staff within the bureaucratic and planning staff will be vital to ensuring that their concerns are heard at the appropriate level. Logistics functions must not be housed in areas of defence forces where it is easy that their leaders are ignored. Fortunately, for Australian readers, I am glad to say that this problem appears to be lessening as a concern for the ADF and its Services.

There is certainly still a way to go with respect to logistics as a core pillar of professional military education and training, and a matter for regular professional discussion, but the prognosis is generally good. Logistics leaders want to take an innovative approach with respect to elevating it as a subject. As a logistics community we must go beyond the intent; the importance of logistics to the military organisation will be directly correlated to the way in which logisticians describe why it should be so. Succeeding in changing opinion will similarly be correlated to the personal and collective effort devoted to the task. The approach taken by all contributors to Logistics In War during 2017, however, is a positive indicator of the growing engagement within (and outside of) the professional community with respect to logistics in a contemporary context. It is certainly hoped that the discussion continues in 2018. The importance of logistics to operational and institutional outcomes is ever increasing, and I thank the Logistics In War community for playing its part.

[1] Leighton, R. & Coakley, R., Global logistics and strategy 1940-1943, The War Department, USA, 1954, p 10

[2] Ibid., p 10

[3] Ibid., p 9

[4] Van Creveld., M., Supplying War, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2nd edition, 2004, p 180

The future of strategic mobility by air – reconciling expectations with the capacity to deliver

By Jobie Turner.

In my earlier post, I argued that the expectations being placed upon air power to deliver strategic mobility outweigh its capacity to operationally deliver. Yet air transportation will remain an essential way of sustaining combat forces in the future battlefield; a necessary way if the future battlefield will be as dispersed and fluid as is being argued by military concept writers around the world. Given the limited sustainment capability of airlift, what can be done to match expectations with expected practice?  Many Service concepts have called for autonomous aircraft, hybrid airships, or disposable delivery solutions such as long-range airdrop to deliver more goods into the future battlefield.  While these concepts will help and are worthy of study, they do offer any additional capacity to air mobility forces unless they complement that which exists already. Perhaps an alternative may be found in the way air transportation capabilities are used.

More immediately feasible than unproven delivery technologies is to use the current aircraft inventory in different ways.  One possible avenue is using airlift aircraft as gas stations to land, off-load fuel, and then move to other locations.  The US and its allies already have experience with these types of logistics operations. In Afghanistan, the US military has devised numerous methods to deliver fuel to outposts isolated from ground transportations and to supply fuel for air operations by pumping gas out of aircraft with engines running.[1]  In a further example, the US Air Force has devised concepts to fuel and load fighter jets using C-17 aircraft in austere environments.[2] These three examples illustrate that fuel can be delivered and quickly, eliminating long download times and shrinking the amount of equipment required to move the fuel off airplanes.  Although inefficient, fuel delivery by air may offer the best chance to capitalize on the flexibility of delivery through the air without further burdening the system with new delivery methods.

Another possibility is working on new and innovative methods for moving cargo on and off aircraft.  The quicker cargo can either be distributed or loaded, the less time cargo assets will spend under threat and the more cargo can be delivered over time.  Possibilities include “floating pallets” or exoskeletons which magnify human strength, allowing fewer personnel to move heavier cargo.[3]  While such solutions are unproven, they are much less expensive than acquiring further aircraft that are used inefficiently.  One defense research study concluded that improved distribution of cargo off of the airfield, through technological improvement, had the potential to increase throughput by 84%.[4]

Finally, and most importantly, the US military must rely even more heavily on allies and partners for access—both physical access and access to commercial markets.  Despite modern technology the cost of air transportation remains high in terms of its financial expense and in terms of the time it takes to move massive quantities of materiel. The more goods, equipment, and combat capability that can be provided by allies, the less that will be needed to move into theater.  In addition, locally-based commercial avenues can provide cheaper and more efficient methods of supplying war—especially in situations where the environment is more permissive—freeing up organic combat assets, especially those that fly, for non-permissive missions.[5]  US forces have learned this lesson well in Afghanistan, at one point shifting the burden of delivers to Afghanistan away from tenuous supply lines of Pakistan and through Europe into Central Asia and finally the north of Afghanistan.[6]  Simple as it may seem, the more resources that can be won locally, the greater the options for strategic mobility as provide by air there will be.

The ability of airlift to carry the day in future warfare is uncertain.  Logisticians and planners must recognize this fact and approach future logistical challenges with a realistic eye on what is possible.  For now, and into the near future, delivery by air brings agility but not the capacity of other modes of transportation. However, through innovation and new approaches to logistics it is possible that air mobility capacity can be increased without the need for increased numbers of aircraft.

Jobie Turner is an officer in the United States Air Force with operational experience in C-130 cargo aircraft.  The views expressed are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. He can be followed on Twitter @vicuslargo

[1]Erin McClellan, “Mobility Guardian provides valuable C-130 hot defueling training,” (accessed 01 Oct 2017); Charles Q Brown Jr and Charles G Glover III, “Untethered Operations:  Rapid Mobility and Forward Basing are Keys to Airpower’s Success in the Antiaccess/Area-Denial environment,” Air & Space Power Journal 29, no. 3 (2015).

[2] See  “Untethered Operations:  Rapid Mobility and Forward Basing are Keys to Airpower’s Success in the Antiaccess/Area-Denial environment.”

[3] Steven Scott Byrum, “Downloading Deterrence:  The Logic of Logistics of Coercive Deployment on US Strategy,” (Air University, 2015), 58 and 62.Byrum uses an illustrative example of two soldiers pulling a pallet weighing 9500 pounds off an aircraft with no assistance from forklifts or cargo loaders.

[4] Ibid., 58.

[5]Rafael Torres Sanchez, Military Entrepreneurs and the Spanish Contractor State in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)..  For an historical example, See Chapter IV for a specific case-study in which the commercial market was able to provide more sustenance for the Spanish invasion of Mallorca than the military system.

[6] Andrew C. and Thomas Anderson Kuchins, “Central Asia’s Northern Exposure,” The New York Times, August 4, 2009.  This article gives the broad overview of the Northern Distribution Network and explains its origin.

Six strategic challenges – global logistics integration and the state of professional discourse

By Hayden Marshall.

In part one of ‘Six strategic challenges for Defence logistics’ Air Commodore Hayden Marshall describes how digital disruption and cyber threats are likely to change Defence logistics in the future. In part two, the challenges of globally integrated logistics and improving professional discourse are raised.

As described in part one, this article is an edited component of a larger paper has been divided into three parts, each of which contains two key issues relevant to Defence (strategic) logistics. Each is followed by questions as prompts for future consideration. The topics have been written with Australian Defence (ADF and Department) in mind, but you will find the themes equally applicable to other militaries and Defence departments


Globally integrated logistics

Our key alliance partner (USA) published a Joint Concept for Logistics (JCL) in Sep 15. The JCL “considers how an evolving Joint Logistics Enterprise could better support operations in a future characterised by the challenge of meeting unremitting strategic requirements with constrained military resources”. The concept proposes the use of globally integrated logistics to support future joint operations which will be characterised by the need to rapidly aggregate globally distributed forces to generate the required military effect. Globally integrated logistics is seen as the “capability to allocate and adjudicate logistics support on a global scale to maximize effectiveness and responsiveness, and to reconcile competing demands for limited logistics resources based on strategic priorities”. The logistics imperatives nominated by the US for the JCL are:

  • Global distribution network
  • Global readiness awareness
  • Responsive logistics planning capabilities

The realisation of this approach will likely require close engagement with coalition partners to identify opportunities to leverage logistics support from non-traditional sources. The recent increases in sealift and airlift capabilities in the ADF will not have gone unnoticed by the US, and whilst US military logistics capabilities are considerable, they may not always be positioned or available to meet responsiveness requirements.

Questions to consider:

  • What opportunities are potentially available for the ADF from the US JCL?
  • Does the ADF Joint Logistics Enterprise Strategy (2016-2021) – (ed. available to ADF members only – many apologies!) – offer sufficient direction to recognise US developments and develop complementary capabilities?

Valuing professional discourse

The pace and scope of technology-based changes that will impact supply chain operations in coming years will be significant. Maintaining overwatch will be important to ensure that the ADF continues to challenge itself and industry partners to pursue opportunities for strategic planning, innovation and continuous improvement. Commentary on Australian Defence logistics, internal and external, is very limited, so it is always intriguing to see a new title appear on news feeds. The recent Kokoda paper written by Gary Waters and AVM (Retd) John Blackburn, provided some interesting observations regarding the current state of Defence logistics and made recommendations regarding a lack of logistics strategy which in turn, inhibits efforts to emphasise the importance of Defence logistics to achieve Defence outcomes. The report starts with some very fundamental questions – what is Defence logistics and what does Defence logistics do? – which most Defence logisticians would expect are universally understood however, this would not appear to be case.

Waters and Blackburn also make a number of informed suggestions regarding future trends and drivers, as well as improvement opportunities. Interestingly, I have found no reference to follow-on discussions or debates in the Defence logistics community (or associated partners) that either support or challenge these ideas. Therefore, how do we value the contribution of these thoughts and ideas as they apply to the development of Defence’s logistics capability?

The value of public debate cannot be overestimated, provided that it is conducted in a professional manner. Effective debate provides the opportunity to consider credible options that may not be readily apparent and highlights areas that would benefit from informed research. Consequently, the field of operational research becomes increasingly important to be able to understand historical, political, economic and environmental factors as they apply to contemporary circumstances.

As another reinforcement of the struggle to gain main stream attention for defence logistics matters, a simple study was highlighted in a recent research paper.[1] The paper presented names of journals (US based) that had four or more articles indexed in ABI/Inform Global and Proquest Research Library-Business mentioning ‘military logistics’ or ‘defence logistics’ or defense logistics’ in the title, abstract, key words or text from 1952 to 2010. Details are shown below:

  • Air Force Journal of Logistics – 65 articles
  • Management Science – 15 articles
  • Military Medicine – 14 articles
  • Parameters – 11 articles
  • International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management – 10 articles
  • Journal of Business Logistics – 10 articles
  • Journal of the Operational Research Society – 9 articles
  • Public Administration Review – 8 articles
  • Journal of Public Procurement- 7 articles
  • Journal of Government Financial Management – 7 articles
  • National Contract Management Journal – 5 articles
  • IIE Transactions- 4 articles
  • Interface – 4 articles
  • Operations Research – 4 articles
  • The Journal of Military History – 4 articles

Of concern is the most prominent of the publications in terms of volume, Air Force Journal of Logistics, ceased publication in late 2012 with the disbandment of the Air Force Logistics Management Agency. Perhaps the “blogosphere” will replace traditional journals in the future and there appears to be plenty of room for new forums regarding defence logistics.

Questions to consider:

  • Should the ADF invest in targeted industry placements to gain an improved understanding of supply chain management from a commercial perspective?
  • Do ADF members understand the value of professional associations to enhance engagement with industry?
  • Where do you get your information to make sure that you are aware of contemporary logistics matters relevant to commercial and defence interests?


The final part will follow next week.

In the interests of full disclosure, the paper was prepared to support the professional development of ADF logisticians at the rank of Wing Commander, Commander and Lieutenant Colonel and beyond, and was produced in the interests of stimulating discussion. It therefore does not reflect any official position.

[1] Keehan, YD, Rietjens, S, Tatham, P, Defence Logistics Special Issue Editorial: An Important Research Field in Need of Researchers, International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, Vol. 43, Issue 2, 2013, pp 80-96

LIW Editorial – Strategy Bridge: Reconsidering Rear Area Security

Mark Gilchrest, an Australian Army officer and Featured Contributor at The Strategy Bridge makes a great point in his article ‘Reconsidering Rear Area Security’ – it is a mistake to think that the battle ends where the ‘rear area’ begins. Furthermore, in the non-linear battlefield that we believe we face in the future, planning for rear area combat must be a focus ‘because it can never be assured that the threat has been removed’.

‘It is therefore important to progress from envisaging rear area security solely as the protection of command and control and logistics nodes rear of the forward troops. Instead it must be viewed as a comprehensive, wide-area approach to combat operations against a similarly mobile adversary that envisages cohesive security from front to rear across a broad and probably porous frontage.’

Mark examines the case of the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden in the Second World War to show the importance of securing lines of communication, echelons and command and control centres. The fighting to keep ‘Hell’s Highway’, a stretch of road between Eindhoven and Nijmegen, open for the supply of materiel to the forward troops of XXX Corps exemplified the idea of a rear-area battle.

The Division’s experiences, covered in detail, remind us that there is a different between battlefield geometry – often used for command and control purposes – and the nature of the fighting. The distinction between a forward and rear area may only reflect a different nature of the threat to own forces, rather than a diminishing of risk as one moves rearward from the purported front line. This view that the ‘rear area’ is one of lower risk does not always conform to history as portrayed in the article.

The future battlefield is routinely imagined to lack convenient boundaries and logical breaks in the battle. Interspersed between the pockets of control won for potentially fleeting periods are the archetypal ‘bad lands’ where an adversary may, as the 101st Airborne Division found out,  exploit a ‘freedom of action [which] allowed persistent disruptive attacks from the flanks.’ Combat forces and those who operate in these areas – including logisticians – should account for this environment in their planning. It most certainly isn’t a problem to be left as an ancillary task.

Mark Gilchrest, courtesy of ‘The Strategy Bridge’, reminds us that the battle for supply is an enduring requirement of war.

You can reach the post here.