Mobilisation in the Information Technology Era

By Peter Layton.

Artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, robotics, cloud computing. The information technology (IT) revolution rolls on, progressively changing the world. The revolution is most obvious to us professionally in areas like the digital battlespace and fifth generation warfare concepts but also individually in our smart phones, chat rooms and social media accounts. There is however, an overlooked area where these aspects intersect and that is mobilisation. It’s a dry term albeit fundamental. Mobilisation involves “being ready to execute a specific operation”. It’s at the core of everything the Australian Defence Force (ADF) does.

Mention mobilisation and people instantly think of world wars, gigantic factories churning out military hardware on a vast scale and society wide conscription. In reality, any ADF operation where more personnel, money or material is required than the normal peacetime rate of effort involves some form of mobilisation: selective, partial, within government or national. It’s simply the process of moving from preparedness to being able to undertake and complete a particular operation.

The IT revolution has now reached a stage where it could potentially markedly change how the ADF thinks of, prepares for and undertakes mobilisation. That’s the good news. Worryingly there is also a dark side where hostile states or non-state actors could now use mobilisation as a weapon against us.

The upside is embodied in the emerging fourth industrial revolution (4IR). With the 4IR cluster of hyper-connected IT technologies, ADF personnel could directly design or request one-of-a-kind items on the internet, electronically pass this to an advanced manufacturing plant, negotiate schedules, arrange delivery and manage on-going maintenance and sustainment. This is the exciting world of three-D printing where production batch sizes can be small or on-demand without impacting production efficiency. F-35 stealth fighter parts and drones are being produced this way while the US Naval Air Systems Command has already approved some 1000 printed parts for fleet use. With the fourth industrial revolution, units in the field, at sea or when deployed to distant bases could print their own spares, becoming semi-independent of the logistics supply chain. Maintenance spares resupply might become a connectivity issue, not a transportation one.

The concept of prototype warfare extends these notions into being able to optimise the equipment being manufactured on an almost continuous basis. The time lag between new challenges arising and technological responses to these could drop dramatically. Intriguingly, this might not just be mobilising for strategic challenges but also tactical ones: “consider the implications if a commander had the ability to select from a catalogue of weapon systems while planning for a mission and they were manufactured based on her specifications.”

However, there are issues. 4IR involves extensive networking and close integration between all participants including across national boundaries, company and bureaucratic hierarchies and life-cycle phases. Such collaboration requires using common standards but there is no agreement on these. The outlook is for several 4IR ‘islands’ across the globe each with different standards that will not necessarily interconnect seamlessly. The ADF’s mix of US, European and Australian defence equipment may create some real 4IR interface problems. These might be best addressed early on in the acquisition and initial logistic support phases of bringing new equipment into service.

Moreover, printing equipment and parts to order may be technically feasible but will the original equipment manufacturers allow their intellectual property to be used in such a way? They may prefer the ADF wait several months – or even years- to allow them to supply required spares. Support contracts would need reconceptualising to take full advantage of the 4IR mobilisation possibilities. The converse probably also holds: the equipment acquired will need to be designed and built under 4IR to provide the optimum mobilisation potential. Mobilisation demands might drive our future force structure.

Thinking more broadly, the issue with intellectual property is that companies don’t want their competitors to learn their trade secrets. The ADF though is not a business competitor. Companies might agree to license the ADF to hold and use 4IR digital data on all the spares able to be rapidly replicated to the appropriate certified standard using advanced manufacturing techniques. Importantly, holding such data in Australia would help overcome worries about timely global connectivity – including from cyber attack – in times of conflict. Its’ use though might be problematic as items from a very large number of companies might need manufacturing. To sufficiently reassure all the various companies about IP protection, the ADF might need to build and operate its own advanced manufacturing facility: a back to the future vision of reinvented national arsenals?

On the negative side of the IT revolution is that external powers can use the new technologies to prevent Australian governments’ mobilising the public to support ADF military operations. Worse, these powers could try to mobilise the Australian people against the government or the ADF. Both could be achieved by meddling in Australian society through accessing our personal devices and social media pages.

There seem three broad types of strategy an attacker might use with simplest being inducing chaos. The Russian approach is to amplify divisive social issues by employing a wide-ranging disinformation attack across a nation’s political spectrum. Whether any particular groups are supportive of Russian policies is irrelevant, the aim is instead to drive them to being more confrontational towards others.

The second strategy is supporting some useful domestic group albeit technically harder. Now however, big data, artificial intelligence and social media is making large-scale manipulation of sizeable interest groups feasible. This is all quantitatively quite different to the small-scale targeting of susceptible individuals by ISIS using human-intensive techniques.

The third and most difficult strategy is changing people’s minds. This strategy includes acting top-down through ideational leaders and here big data, data mining, micro-targeting and deep fakes offer new technological solutions to locating and influencing key individuals.

The Russians have always thought deeply about military affairs and how to exploit technological developments and changes in the character of war. Now they are focussing on mobilising the people against their governments. Drawing on perceived lessons from the Arab Spring and the colour revolutions, Russian thinkers contend countries can now be readily destabilised, almost on command. In early March Russian General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov declared that: “The information sphere…provides opportunities for remote, covert influence…on the population of the country, directly affecting the state’s national security. That is why the study of issues of preparation and conduct of informational actions is the most important task of [contemporary] military science.”(Google Translate)

Talking about social mobilisation may seem arcane. However, with external social disruption operations seemingly likely for the foreseeable future, thought needs to be given to responses. Greater efforts to build legitimacy and craft persuasive strategic narratives may be needed.

Our fundamental ideas about mobilisation are being challenged under the impact of the IT revolution. Impacting all of us, this is an area deserving our close attention.


Dr Peter Layton is a Visiting Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University and a RAAF Reserve Group Captain. He has extensive aviation and defence experience and, for his work at the Pentagon on force structure matters was awarded the US Secretary of Defense’s Exceptional Public Service Medal. He has a doctorate from the University of New South Wales on grand strategy and has taught on the topic at the Eisenhower College, US National Defence University. For his academic work, he was awarded a Fellowship to the European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy. He is the author of the book Grand Strategy.

This article was originally published at ‘The Forge’ and is done so here with permission. 

Building on bedrock or sinking into quicksand – a report on Sustaining Self-Reliance

By David Beaumont.

‘Supply chain security continues to occupy our minds as we intermingle our desire for national prosperity through global trade with our desire to prevent the loss of native capacity to build military capability, mobilise and sustain operations. In this environment it will take little effort for nations to exert influence, or strangle the capacity of a nation to respond to threats militarily. War won’t always begin when the first shots are fired.’

The full report of the recent Williams Foundation seminar High-intensity Operations and Sustaining Self-Reliance‘ was recently published at the website ‘Second Line of Defense’. Author Robbin Laird has included an amalgam of conference papers, interviews and comments as a comprehensive summary of the challenge of making a military – the Australian Defence Force – as self-reliant as practicable. Moreover, the report alludes to one of the most important national strategic questions to answer, ‘how militarily self-reliant must a nation be?’

It is self-evident, and often repeated here at Logistics in War, that these questions have logistics undertones. In many cases the problems of self-reliance are exclusively logistics in nature and won’t be solved by un-resourced strategies and hopeful thinking. Indeed much of the seminar was focussed upon industry and the way in which national economic power is transformed by logistics efforts into military combat power and potential. This point was emphasised in my own presentation at the seminar (pages 25 to 35 of the report). So too was the need to push forward the discussion for we are really at the beginning of it:

‘If we are all serious about self-reliance, we must be serious and frank about the logistics limits of the armed forces, and the industry capacity of the nation ……. However, let’s continue the discussion by challenging some of the assumptions that we hold about logistics; that a coalition will underwrite our logistics operations, that the global market – designed for commerce not war – can offer us the surety of support we require, that we will have access to strategic mobility forces that even our allies believe they are insufficient in. No matter what type of war, there will be some things we must re-learn to do on our own. I am sure we can all here challenge ourselves and our beliefs – whether we are confident in these beliefs in the first place.

If we do not, it is inevitable that we will compromise the plans and policies we create, if not the logistics process more broadly.

Moreover, any neglect prevents us from minimising the ADF’s possible weakness with sources of strength or comparative advantage. Present day convenience will likely cost the future ADF dearly. In fact, we may find that it is better that Australia has an ADF that can sustain, and therefore operate, some capabilities incredibly well at short notice rather than aspiring to a military that spreads its logistics resources across areas where the prospects of success are much lower. Whatever we do choose to do, it will be important to bring defence industry alongside the ADF as the partnership between the two truly determines what is practical in any war, and not just one in which ‘self-reliance’ is on the cards.’

With this in mind, I encourage you to read the sum of strategists, logisticians, public servants, military staff and industry partners in Robbin Laird’s comprehensive report ‘High-intensity Operations and Sustaining Self-Reliance’.


The image above is Joint Logistics Unit – Victoria’s Bandiana heavy vehicle maintenance facility conducts repairs and maintenance to Army vehicles such as the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle, M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carrier and the M777 155mm lightweight towed howitzer. 

Editorial: Continuing the discussion on sustaining self-reliance

By David Beaumont.

As mentioned in recent posts, and supported by the collaboration between The Central Blue and Logistics in War, the Williams Foundation hosted a day-long seminar on the topic ‘Sustaining Self-Reliance’. The term ‘self-reliance’ has a special meaning for the Australian Defence Force (ADF), being evoked in strategic policy and as principle applied across a variety of logistics functions and activities. At the seminar there was little pretence that a military of the size and resources of the ADF could sustain its strategic and operational ambitions independent of its allies. Nor should the ADF necessarily aspire to resource such levels of self-sufficiency in the short-term. Instead, ‘self-reliance’ was seen as a strategic goal that would enhance the options available to defence planners, as well as a means by which it could better contribute as a future coalition partner.

The seminar will be the subject of a series of reports to be found on the sites www.defense.info and www.sldinfo.com. Other articles will be published at The Central Blue and here as part of the #SelfSustain series. In support of the ongoing discussion, editorials here will also point out some of the commentary as the topic is explored online:

In Reshaping Australian industry as a part of enhanced self-reliance and sustainability’ author Robbin Laird from Defense.info contends that ‘[w]hat is required is a shift from the heavy reliance on commercial logistics solutions to more robust mobilisation ones.’ He cites a presentation given by Wing Commander Alison McCarthy which advocated innovative ways in which to better link industry and Defence relationships into a partnership. A similar approach was proposed by Lieutenant Colonel Kieren Joyce with respect to the introduction of unmanned autonomous systems into the Australian Army.

The second article of a specifically logistics bent was published by ADM in an article titled ‘Can the ADF sustain itself on operations‘. This article is a brief summary of the four presentations which constituted the logistics component of the seminar. It includes a brief, but very relevant, comment from presenter Donna Riva-Cain:

‘We must move beyond what I call our Middle-east sustainment mindset …. [b]asing systems were located in areas of safety. Global supply chains were free to transport to safe logistics, where the ADF supply chain then moved them across the theatre. Demand did not outstrip supply. Logistics systems were unaffected in cuberspace. Operations in the Middle-east were supported by traditional supply chains. We were not self-reliant, but our experience did not demand it.’

What of the future? I mentioned recently that to suborn logistics is out of step with the strategic reality facing Australia and the ADF. In viewing the presentations of the seminar, this view seemed to be confirmed. In forewarning the contents of my own presentation, and any further articles, which may follow:

‘If we are all serious about self-reliance, we must be serious and frank about the logistics limits of the armed forces, and the industry capacity of the nation. …. let’s continue the discussion by challenging some of the assumptions that we hold about logistics; that a coalition will underwrite our logistics operations, that the global market – designed for commerce not war – can offer us the surety of support we require, that we will have access to strategic mobility forces that even our allies believe they are insufficient in. No matter what type of war, there will be some things we must re-learn to do on our own. I am sure we can all here challenge ourselves and our beliefs – whether we were ever confident in these beliefs in the first place.’


Further commentary and articles relating to the seminar mentioned above will be referenced as soon as they are made available. If you would like to make your own comments, consider submitting an article to either this site or ‘The Central Blue’.

Delving into the dark recesses – how do we sustain self-reliance?

By David Beaumont.

Logistics has long been regarded as a crucial component of military capability, and the supply and support given to armed forces a major constituent of operational success. Logistics constraints and strengths can shape strategy, determine the form and means of operations, and if given nothing more than a passing glance by military commanders and civilian planners, will prevent combat forces from ever achieving their full potential in the air, and on the sea and land. As we seek to answer the question, ‘what can we achieve on our own?’, a really difficult question to answer, solutions to our logistics problems and concerns must be front and centre. A suborned view of logistics in this discussion about self-reliance is way out of step with the strategic reality facing the Australian Defence Force (ADF). In engaging with this reality, we might see that logistics is, in fact, a strategic capability in its own right.

What are the big logistics challenges to confirming our limits and freedoms of action in terms of self-reliance then?

Visit ‘The Central Blue’ here to continue!

On 11 April 2019, the Sir Richard Williams Foundation is holding a seminar examining high-intensity operations and sustaining self-reliance. The aim of the seminar, building on previous seminars and series looking at #jointstrike and #highintensitywar, is to establish a common understanding of the importance and challenges of sustaining a self-reliant Australian Defence Force in a challenging environment. In support of the seminar, The Central Blue and Logistics in War will be publishing a series of articles.

 

The LIW articles you should read – a 2018 retrospective

By David Beaumont.

As 2018 draws to a close, a year in which Logistics In War consolidated, it’s a good time to reflect on what were the most popular or relevant articles to the readers. Before I mention the articles, I thought it best to also reflect on the key themes covered on the site this year.

In Hoping and planning for the best: understanding war without logistics I outlined three themes for Logistics In War in 2018.  Firstly, the blog would continue its exploration of how strategy, tactics and logistics aligned in contemporary military operations. Secondly, articles would examine the professional needs of logisticians as they faced an uncertain future, and a time in which logistics factors for Western militaries are increasingly recognised as preparedness constraints and limitations. Finally, and with the preceding thought in mind, the blog would examine strategic preparedness and the way forces prepare for war.

These themes were complemented by other topics which sought to capture the thoughts of the moment. Such areas of interest included the relationship between militaries and industry, strategic planning, and emerging concepts such as the Australian Army’s Accelerated Warfare. The topics may have been broad, but I feel this breadth helped in response to the problem I described in that early 2018 article:

‘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’. 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.’

There were, of course, a number of articles worth mentioning in particular. This may be because they were widely read or shared (the best achieving a share of over 2500 reads), initiated robust discussions on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or are simply editor / author ‘picks’. Why not revisit these articles?

  1. Bruce Gudmundsson’s Decision Forcing Cases for logistics: practicing logisticians to overcome ‘wicked problems’Bruce has been leading the use of case-method studies, now ‘decision-forcing cases’, at the Marine Corps University. In this article, he distils his experience and suggests how such ‘cases’ might be used in training.
  2. On the topic of training and professionalisation, How did we get here – building the Defence logistician: part one and What we need to be – building the Defence logistician: part two articulate the way in which the modern Defence (perhaps the term ‘strategic’ should be used) logistician is, and should be, created. These articles commend the need for professional leadership and an investment in education; taking advantage of a positive environment for professional transformation to make headway in preparing logisticians for the future.
  3. Defining strategic competition – when logistics becomes a strategic weapon, also shared at The Central Blueengages with the topic of strategic competition and the role logistics capability and capacity plays in giving militaries a competitive edge. Logistics gives options, strategic choices and above all, an ability for a military to respond to a prospective threat.
  4. The ability of a nation to launch an expeditionary military response is discussed further in ‘The furthest, the weakest – how logistics and distance influence national power. With all the talk concerning modern precision weaponry and strategic effects initiated by a range of new technologies and capabilities, all that really matters strategically is how much firepower can be delivered as quick as possible to an area of operation. This is a logistics dilemma.
  5. Finally, One hundred logisticians, one bullet and designing the future logistics system describes how important it is for militaries to have a coherent logistics strategy underpinning strategic preparedness. This article was one of the last from 2018, but was quite popular with ideas which resonated beyond the subject military (Australian Army).

As mentioned above, these articles are recommended reads for different reasons. In any case they should stimulate your own thoughts about logistics and how it influences preparedness and warfare. Moreover, as was my hope in establishing Logistics In War, the articles might just encourage you to contribute to this site – or any other – that nurtures a constructive discussion and momentum for positive change in militaries, as well as supporting the professionalisation of military logisticians.

Best wishes, and have a great start to 2019. Enjoy the articles!

—-

From Every logistician must write:

‘If we no longer take the time to research and write, our understanding of war will diminish, history’s lessons forgotten, and our exploration of the future will be left to others. Army would be in a state of decline, bereft of intellectual debate or direction, and unable to break the hold of myopic ideas and outdated concepts. The Chief of Army recently challenged Army’s senior leaders (and by extension, all in Army) to consider what Army’s next ‘big idea’ should be. Discussion may be important, but the debate must be manifested on paper and by electrons if it is to encourage a broad-based renewal and stimulate collective involvement and critique. Many of Army’s senior leaders have already contributed to public discussion and support those that write. Take that as a hint that there is no better time than the present to contribute to blogs, journals or larger research papers which can influence, even if only in a small way, the future of Army.’

Where competition, modernisation and capability meet

By David Beaumont.

Thankyou, once again, for supporting Logistics In War. The last year has been one in which logistics has featured in debates on strategic competition, advancements in modernisation, and with discussions on the professionalisation of logisticians. The site appears to have found its niche, filling a gap ‘somewhere’ between strategy, defence institutional performance and modernisation. I sincerely wish I had the capacity to do more, but if the feedback I have received is a measurement of success, I think Logistics In War is in a ‘good place’. The purpose of the site remains true to last year – it exists to discuss logistics, contest ideas and to generate professional awareness of a subject that generally garners interest after the fact. I hope it has met your expectations.

Advocacy and engagement is always important. One wonders, however, whether the real problem with logistics is in the way it is thought about, or at the very least, described. Western militaries have had such profound experiences of war over the last century or so that they could be expected to have moved on from the longstanding traditions and ideas about logistics. They have adapted and learned, but in many ways, logistics remains a very ‘industrial’ topic. No matter the lessons learned, it is still very difficult for militaries to admit, as J.F.C Fuller once did, that logistics is ‘the basis of strategy and tactics’ and tread further from centuries-old doctrinal roots.[1] It will be this way while logistics remains an ancillary science, a technique, an adjunct capability, or an activity practiced by cloistered specialists. It will be this way without a language that moves beyond contemporary doctrine and its focus on movement and maintenance. Most importantly, it will be this way while it remains an idea owned only by logisticians. Logistics is a problem for commanders who must take active interest in preparing and sustaining their forces in war; commanders who are – quite rightly – the decision-maker and operational arbiter. For this reason, logistics sits alongside strategy and tactics as one of the pre-eminent components of the art of war. It is part of the art of command.

It will likely be some time before the military’s intoxicating fascination with strategy is matched with one for logistics, and where we will see military reading lists hold authors such as Thorpe and Eccles with the same regard as Clausewitz and Thucydides. Militaries would do well to do so, for though war’s nature might be eternal, its characteristics have long since changed from the circumstances which gave us On War. Strategic competitors adjust force posture and preparedness, deciding whether to position forces proximate to potential adversaries, or invest in strategic transportation to improve expeditionary mobility. The building of islands, the nature of armaments, the forward deployment of forces and even the arrangements which allow nations to operate on one another’s territories are evidence of the stranglehold logistics has over contemporary strategy. Supply chains are now areas of great strategic risk, where the seams of the economy and military are vulnerabilities to be exploited by adversaries using cyber capabilities and other forms of intrusion.

Just as strategic competition has grown as a defining theme for the military mind, so too has the dramatic transformation underway in militaries. The wave of modernisation breaks over forces as they recapitalise for future conflicts, and we are increasingly realising that our logistics requirements are so vast, supply lines so complex and opaque, preparedness needs so critical, and that our form and function has irrevocably changed. Costs are so high to acquire materiel that militaries are consuming sustainment budgets in the early stages of procurement. New fighters and ships are becoming that difficult to sustain that strategic partnerships between like-minded nations are support their economic maintenance; these partnerships immensely relevant to the formation of strategic policy and conceptions of national strategic risk. In the pursuit of ‘increased lethality’ even the once humble soldier has become so well-equipped that new logistics burdens have emerged. The proverbial ‘Rubicon’ will be truly crossed once automation and robotics truly delivers. The time in which the ‘teeth’ could survive on the battlefield without a substantial ‘tail’ is long gone, and likely never to be seen again.

The future is not to be feared, but the logistician must adapt to the times. Into the mix comes the prospect of a new information-age, substantially changing the way forces are comprised and sustained. The future for logistics is one where supply is replaced by information, where knowledge enables decisions which lead to the right resource being dispatched to the right place at the right time. Logistics will be a vital part of the ‘digital spine’ which binds the force together. This basic idea has been at the core of innovation in logistics since the 1990s, captured in concepts such as ‘distribution-based logistics. We are, without a doubt, in a period where technology can meet our ambitions. In the future, more will be possible. Consider how artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will revolutionise logistics whether it be through automated warehousing, unmanned casualty evacuation or instantaneous data-sharing to support tactical logistics activity. Think about what the average logistician will be doing in this environment. Just as we are seeing the need for ‘integrators’ in the command and control function, staff who assist commanders by combining multi-domain effects into coherent tactical actions, we might need to see the logistician as a system manager and integrator.

While there is opportunity, there is also risk. There are options available for militaries to greatly improve the efficiency of their logistics and contribute to their combat potential and readiness as a result. They must, however, choose to make the investment. Unfortunately, capability programs which include updates to logistics information systems, equipment and personnel tracking, and more significant pieces of logistics equipment critically required, are often considered low priority in comparison to what you might see included in a list such as the ‘Big Six’. Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) offers a cautionary tale (see here) with respect to the partial implementation of logistics technology, where the digital logistics control network caused as much confusion as it solved problems. Logistics situational awareness is a critical capability for an effective, modern, military let alone a way in which commanders can be given information to assess operational risk. In exploring new technologies such as AI, we might – as US Army’s Director of the Army Capability Integration Centre – Lt. Gen. Wesley recently remarked – actually find that our biggest capability opportunities will come from their roll-out in the logistics domain.

So, it appears there are problems aplenty. I mention four different – albeit linked – areas and issues for logistics communities to grapple with not because they reflect failures on the part of militaries, or irreconcilable gaps in capability. My purpose is to highlight four areas in which, as a collective, we might consider. They are topic areas that are waiting for professional logisticians to claim, promoting new ideas and thoughts which lead to quality solutions. In doing so, we can make our own organisations and military forces more efficient, and as a consequence, more effective. Undoubtedly there are many more areas that as professional logisticians or interested military commanders we can be investigate, or themes we can engage with. Participating in discussion, or working to inform others such as decision-makers, is a way in which logisticians can contribute to mastering their own destiny. Thankyou for supporting Logistics In War throughout 2018, and being part of this promising future.

The thoughts here are those of the author, and do not represent any official position.

[1] JFC Fuller, The generalship of Alexander the Great, Wordsworth Editions, Ware, 1998, p 52

One hundred logisticians, one bullet and designing the future logistics system

By David Beaumont.

‘I want you to imagine a rifle round being fired by an Australian soldier, on an operation, sometime in the indeterminate future. The effect of the round hitting its target is achieved through the efforts of literally hundreds of people in the Army and the joint ADF team. While the infantry soldier who fired the round is an important part of this picture, she is in many respects just the final actor in a well-designed system which has resulted in that bullet being there at that time and place. A system designed and run by Army’s logisticians.’

–        General Angus Campbell, Chief of Defence Force (then Chief of Army), Chief of Army address to the Army Logistics Training Centre, 3rd December 2016

The now Chief of Defence Force, when addressing the Training Centre invested in the task of preparing the Australian Army’s logisticians, used characteristically simple term to describe something tremendously complex. In making it possible that this rifle round be delivered ‘each day, every day’, his example implicitly recognised the control required to make Army’s part of the Defence logistics system work. General Campbell may have used the opportunity of the address to emphasise the importance of a well-trained, technically-diverse and mutually-supporting joint workforce to the success of the logistics system. His reflection of Army’s logisticians in the design and process of this system was, perhaps, more poignant.

The Australian Army’s logisticians are currently engaged in a discussion on the future system that sustains the force in preparedness and on operations. Though these logisticians and leaders may discuss this system, it is done with full knowledge that there is no single owner of problem.  No matter which military we are talking about, and as the now Chief of Defence Force remarked, successful logistics comes with the efforts of many. All logisticians are stewards of components of the process; some leaders have greater responsibility, authority or virtue of appointment, or personal capacity and drive to shape events and activities to suit temporary objectives. The collective effort required means artefacts – including policies – to unify all to the intended goal are required.

What are the risks if these ‘artefacts’ don’t exist? As a complex system, the processes and acts of sustaining and maintaining a military force can often take a life of their own. As Clausewitz remarked in his chapter on the concept of ‘friction’, ‘activity in war is movement in a resistant medium.’[i] Activity in logistics is movement in mud. Logistics is a ‘place’ where human, resource, organisational and materiel factors conspire against performance; a morass of interactions and problems that most certainly makes the seemingly simple disproportionally difficult. It is important that military leaders – those who are technically-trained logisticians and those leaders and commanders who are not – consider, design and implement measures of control that ensure that the proverbial round of ammunition is delivered into the hand of a soldier as efficiently as possible. If you consider strategy to be the comprehensive direction of power to control circumstances to the point a force will win, it is therefore key that effective logistics requires a well-planned and considered organisational strategy.

Aside from doctrine and a multitude of sometimes contradictory organisational orders and directives, the Australian Army lacks a strategic logistics strategy. Some time ago I argued that the Australian Army needed a vision for its approach to logistics, that an unambiguous intent with respect to the future for Army logistics was lacking, and that Army’s logistics leaders needed to ‘shoulder the responsibility of developing a useful and acceptable narrative’. I now think that as a logistics community, we are doing much better several years after I made this statement, at the time of a significant conceptual discourse in which tactics, concepts and force structures were ‘up for grabs’ and disagreement was rife. However, though a vision may be useful to binding the thought of the collective, they can become little more than ‘intellectual fluff’ without the substance provided by a pragmatic strategy.

Whatever the form of the Army’s logistics system, it must aspire to surety. A logistics system designed by Army’s logisticians must have, at its core, the singular purpose of ensuring the preparedness, combat performance and survival of combat forces.  Efficiency must be an outcome of a well-designed strategy, and not just the planning outcome desired. Because resources are by their nature always limited, and resources devoted to logistics capability, supplies and capacities fewer still, there is always a tendency to value logistics productivity and efficiency above all else. Organisations within the Australian Defence Force have been structured, processes implemented and seemingly irrevocable, and the acquisition and sustainment of materiel defined by this philosophy. Decisions are made in peace that create unacceptable costs in war.

Secondly, any proposed strategy must implement a logistics system prepared for the profound materiel change underway in land forces. The full cost of modernisation and technology must be understood and prepared for.[ii] Most land forces have approached a point where the complexity and sophistication of equipment or personnel requirements has surpassed their capacity for organic support. In a trend that probably began with the mass use of artillery and armour in the twentieth century, continuing with modern communications and computing, the relevance of the ‘platform’ to land-based combat power has elevated.

Land Trial 02-18

Where there was a medic, there will now also be a ‘maintainer’. In fact, there are already many more members of the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers than there are of any other logistics Corps in Army. However, the resources required to train this ‘maintainer’, or to develop robust organic maintenance capabilities in the Army, is becoming an increasingly significant challenge for land forces. This issue should scare those planning the introduction of remote or automated systems in Army, or any other equipment type that is likely to be introduced into Army in twenty to thirty years’ time.

Additionally, in times that are convenient to us, we outsource responsibilities that arguably should be organic. This caused no end of problems to the Australian Army in the 1990s and early 2000s which reawakened from a slumber into a period of intense operations, but there are recent examples from other armies. The US Army’s support structure for its Stryker fleet, a model based on extremely high levels of industry involvement to reduce an Army manpower overhead that was later rescinded somewhat, is a pertinent example to reflect upon. In any case, the Army now must share a wide range of support tasks with industry partners and must plan accordingly.

As industry capabilities are often finite, Army can’t afford inefficient sustainment policies and programs. This results in industry being provided with poorly specified requirements, or at worst, inconsistent requirements from different areas of the organisation. The Army must continue its collaborative work with key partners including Joint Logistics Command and the Capability and Acquisition Group to ensure that when industry is engaged, a clear message is given. This message must be shaped by the development of a concept for operational sustainment in accordance with preparedness objectives.

Nor can the Army absolve itself of risks to materiel by transferring maintenance challenges into industry if it is to be truly confident that when the time comes, the operational combat force will be sustained. If assured logistics support is desired, there is no better way than ensuring that the most important risks are owned internal to the Service, or by the right operational authority in the ADF, along with the means to act upon problems as they manifest. Identifying the right balance of organic and non-organic logistics capabilities in the ADF will be difficult, but is a critical priority.

Thirdly, as Army engages in a step-change in capability as major projects such as Land 400 deliver, any sustainment or support strategy must be developed in cognisance of significant supply chain risks.  To be frank, Western militaries are finding themselves in an uncomfortable place with respect to the globalisation of defence manufacturing. Potential adversaries are producers of critical machine parts, defence industries are being compromised by cyber threats, and in some areas a lack of production – such as precision ammunition and weapons – creates a highly competitive supply chain environment even amongst nations who share the foxhole in war. These factors will compromise the execution of national strategic policy, as well as military strategy.

It is not immediately clear how significant these risks are to the Australian Army; what is clear that any Army sustainment strategy must identify practical measures to mitigate these risks or advocate the development of enough slack in the supply-chain. ‘War-stock’ should not be considered a dirty phrase, and sustainment risks should be in the vernacular of discussions within the preparedness community. Of course, Army must work with others in the logistics enterprise as this is a shared burden. However, there is a language to preparedness that logisticians must be better at speaking. Until they do, any Army plan for sustainment will have to do the talking.

The Australian Army is looking to the future, with an intent to change in order to meet what its current Chief, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, considers an ‘era of increasing threats.’ Preparedness is one of four key command themes. Surety must be the logistics theme of this moment. His predecessor, General Campbell, spoke to Army trainers on the breadth of the effort required to complete a seemingly simple logistics staff. In the future, the delivery of ‘that’ round to ‘that’ soldier must continue to be done, just it must be done so as effectively and efficiently as possible. To achieve this, the development of a strategy to support and sustain the capabilities which increasingly underpin land combat power, remains as important as ever.

If – to paraphrase Major General Julian Thompson – logistics is the lifeblood of war, the logistics system is the veins of the body.[iii] The development of a comprehensive strategy which addresses the three issues I mention here would be a significant milestone, and ensure Army remains as healthy as it needs to be. Just as the round of ammunition required ‘literally hundreds’ of ADF logisticians to be delivered, such a strategy cannot be delivered alone or without considering the span of involvement. However, it is important that the Army and its logisticians take ownership of the problem and invest the time and effort in producing a plan that ensures Army is ready and prepared when it needs to be.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer and the thoughts here are his own. This topic is one of a number being discussed at the 2018 Australian Army Logistics Leaders Seminar in November.

[i] Clausewitz, C., On War, translated by Howard, M. & Paret, P., Princeton University Press, USA, 1989, Book 1, Chapter 7, p 120

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

[iii] Thompson. J., The lifeblood of war: logistics and armed conflict, Brassey’s, London, 1991