Initiating a new national support approach – mobilising national logistics in the support of military operations

A submission to the 2022 Defence Strategic Review.

By David Beaumont

It is increasingly recognised that substantial adaptions to the preparedness of Defence, and Australia writ large, need to be made. Over the last decade important decisions made, and policy statements issued, commensurate to the changing nature of threats to Australia’s strategic interests. Organisations have been redesigned, inter-Departmental capabilities restructured, and capability investments made to enable national responses to potentially existential security challenges. The ability to operate in emerging domains such as ‘space’ and ‘cyber’, act in the ‘grey zone’, or investments in new technologies from hypersonic weaponry to automation and AI are seen as offsets to potential adversaries. The prospect of a war involving Australia is discussed openly, yet there is a growing realisation that less glamourous matters are impacting Defence’s ability to prepare for such potentialities. Supply chains are ‘strangling strategy’, with the movement of commodities so significant an issue that logistics is securitising.[1]  And yes, global supply is recognised as essential for the ‘creation and sustaining [of] combat capabilities’ and securing supply chains ‘makes securing them increasingly more important to operational success than the defence of lines of communication has ever been.[2] The integration between military and civilian sources of logistics and support are now extolled as underpinning the ADF’s ability to respond to crises in the future.[3]

A range of reports prepared over the last decade have recommended Western militaries adopt new approaches to logistics, as well as point to the role of civilian resources in preparedness and crisis responses. Examples have included the US Department of Defence’s ‘Defence Science Board’ 2018 report on ‘Survivable logistics’;  those produced by major civil fora such as the US tech-sector led Special Competitive Studies Project in 2022;  conference reports such as the 2019 Williams Foundation seminar on ‘Sustaining Self-reliance’; and others associated with Defence Mobilisation and preparedness planning activities.[4] The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, too, has brought national industrial mobilisation to the fore in terms of Ukraine responses to Russian aggression, but also in the context of European, US and other logistics support to Ukraine. 

The preparations undertaken by Australia to respond to military crises commend all to examine the effectiveness of the integration between Defence activities and the ‘national support base.’[5] This paper considers the ‘national support base’ as the sum of organic Defence capability (and not just capability resident in the military, but also the Department), support from coalition forces and host nations, and support (including service delivery) that is provided by national industry and infrastructure. Many constituents of the national support base are beyond Defence’s, and specifically the ADF’s, capacity to directly control, let alone influence without the assistance of other agencies and Departments in a whole-of-nation approach. Nonetheless, the strategic logistics capability available to the ADF from both organic and inorganic sources will act as a ‘shock absorber’ in a time of military crisis; it will be critical to strategic success that civil-military arrangements are in place such that Australia can respond when needed.[6]

Defence has the advantage of its history when it comes to understanding how it might tackle mobilisation and national support base integration into Australian Defence Force (ADF) logistics. The ADF considered the problem of how best to prepare the ‘national support base’ for the strategic uncertainty resident in the 1990s, and how it commenced the developments of concepts to enabled what we now call ‘force-expansion’, ‘force-scaling’ or even ‘mobilisation’. This paper presents the exemplar concept of national support as an approach upon which a future civil-military relationship in Australia is based.

Australian Army unit load ammunition containers in a warehouse ready for delivery to artillery soldiers for the safe transport and storage of projectiles in the field. *** Local Caption *** Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) together with BAE Systems Australia have delivered an essential ammunition capability to the Australian Defence Force three months ahead of schedule. The unit load ammunition containers (ULAC) are an essential support component of the Australian Army’s 155mm M777A2 howitzer canons. The successful delivery of the ULAC has been greatly beneficial for both the Army and BAE Systems Australia. ULAC are used by artillery soldiers in the field for the safe transport and storage of propellant and projectiles in training and operational environments. The containers were designed and produced in BAE Systems’ South Australian workshop. After initial testing in Adelaide and at Monegeetta some design modifications were required prior to full-scale production. The first batch of containers was accepted in May 2016, with the final batch coming off the assembly line in June 2016, well ahead of the contracted delivery date.

When Defence made mobilisation an agenda.

It has been over twenty years since Defence engaged in a deep, public, discussion on the role of the industry, if not the nation in its entirety, for the specific purpose of supporting defence mobilisation and the ADF’s logistics concepts. The 1997 Defence Efficiency Review (DER), a review now commonly associated with an over-ambitious efficiency agenda which led to near disastrous levels of logistics hollowness in an ADF on the cusp of twenty years of continuous operations, was a catalyst which brought a conceptual trend to reality. Changing strategic circumstances affecting Australia, a post-Cold War evolution in the character of warfare, and pressures on Federal expenditure necessitated Defence rethink its business. In acknowledging the diminishing size and structure of the ADF, the Review highlighted the important linkage to national resources and good planning, and subsequently enunciated a concept of ‘…structure for war and adapt for peace.’[7] 

Significantly, the DER recognised the possibility of potential challenges to Australian national interests, with special reference to the rapidity with which such intrusions can develop. The Review emphasised that “…better planning and management of civil-military relationships are thus essential to our future defence capability.”[8]  Echoing other strategic documentation of the time, the DER ‘Industry Policy Sub-Review team’ recommended that the HQ ADF reconsider its strategic logistics planning capability, and for national mobilisation to be considered coherently as a critical logistics issue. National Support Division (NSD) was ultimately established, with the Division principally formed to address national mobilisation through the concept of national support. The Division was all but a reestablishment of a Strategic Logistics Division in HQ ADF, a branch that had been disestablished some years before. However, and unlike its predecessor, the role of the NSD was to develop the concepts and conduct the engagement that would better harness the nation’s economic, industrial and societal strengths in support of the defence effort. This approach was also articulated in Australia’s Strategic Policy (1997), which emphasised the importance of a small force, like the ADF, having the ability to organise and draw upon the resources of the broader nation.[9]  

Following the publication of this strategic guidance, the Government released the Defence and Industry Strategic Policy Statement, which reiterates that the best defence for a nation is for the nation to wholly engage it in its own security.[10]  The statement, heavily influenced by NSD, went on to define the ‘national support base’ as encompassing “…the full range of organisations, systems and arrangements which own, provide, control or influence support to the ADF.  It includes all of Defence, other Government agencies, infrastructure, key services, and industry (including the Defence manufacturing sector).”[11] The framework that was introduced, endorsed by the Chiefs of Service Committee and the Defence Executive, saw policy outcomes as far reaching as:

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

Of all the ‘pillars’ of the national support strategy, the most consequential was the issue of mobilisation. The national support concept was, in practice, a euphemism for a mobilisation concept; a graduated and nationally-focussed approach to escalating a response to strategic competition. Beyond the development of plans upon which the nation’s resources would be called upon to sustain the defence effort was the establishment of mechanisms to better coordinate resources in the response to significant national security threats. Furthermore, the strategy sought to shape civil capabilities to meet Defence’s needs for mobilisation and sustainment in a coherent process that was absent at the time. Finally, it was all underpinned by strategic-level arrangements with industry and infrastructure partners; arrangements which extended beyond Defence Industry policy to create a responsive national approach to meeting unpredictable future needs.

A concept which needs a new life

The National Support Division (NSD) was folded three years after its establishment, and the national support concept buried amid a Defence capability approach oriented towards materiel acquisition. The establishment of the Defence Materiel Organisation in 2001 saw the Division disbanded, with its functions reallocated across Defence. As a ‘bottom-up’ derived organisation resourced from the ADF, NSD lacked the institutional support that top-down direction from Government may have given. While assurances were given that the national support agenda would remain alive in successor organisations, there’s little evidence that it ever existed twenty years later. A small Directorate now exists within an under-resourced Joint Logistics Command’s Strategic Logistics Branch to deal with national support issues, and a variety of other divisions within the Defence attend to some of the activities that were once baked into the remit of an entire, albeit small, HQ ADF staff element.  Although the ADF might have a well-defined ‘strategic J4’ who advises the CDF on strategic logistics issues, and numerous senior leaders have reiterated the desire to better leverage national support for Defence activities and for increased levels of preparedness throughout the national support base, the ADF has a limited conception as to what strategic logistics entails.[12]

A new civil-military approach which considers preparedness at its core is needed. The flex within the strategic order, the constipation of acquisition and sustainment processes, the increasingly conspicuous vulnerabilities and capability gaps within defence industries, fractured international supply-chains, and problems with national infrastructure – there are a myriad of issues all of which greatly impact how the mobilisation of national responses in crises need to be managed. Recent media releases from Government attest to the importance of whole-of-nation, and specifically industrial, responses to potential crises. However, as the national support base effectively extends beyond borders, this national endeavour must also include international force posture and logistics considerations. There is always a need for likeminded nations to optimise the logistics arrangements between one another, because not even the mightiest can sustain major combat operations alone.[13] Furthermore, coordinated logistics cooperation with neighbours can be critical in shaping the security environment and assist greatly in ‘setting the theatre’ if competition and conflict are to come.

So where might Defence begin? First, it should settle on clear language to be used in a Government driven narrative about whole-of-nation defence. An inability to clarify the litany of terms, doctrine and jargon when the national support approach was originally proposed limited its acceptability within and without Defence. Furthermore, the anecdotal use of the term ‘mobilisation’ has failed to capture a more subtle approach to civil-military preparedness which entails a graduated levels of response to strategic challenges. A new narrative could be presented to Government in the wake of Defence’s mobilisation review currently underway and would help to guide whole-of-Government planning for military-based crises. An acceptable, modern, definition of national support might also be accompanied by clarity with respect to terms such as ‘force scaling’, ‘force expansion’, ‘mobilisation’, ‘surety’, ‘preparedness’ and even ‘strategic logistics’.[14] Such an approach to strategic logistics is consistent with the ADF definition’s contemporary definition of mobilisation being:

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

Secondly, to enable the national support base to respond to a crisis it must be armed by a range of mechanisms that enable ‘it’ to better define what operational requirements it is supporting. This is not only fulfilled by an analysis by ‘force exploration’ undertaken within the Integrated Investment Plan, but a detailed study of strategic concepts for operations and the logistics requirements necessary for them to occur. Perhaps the most important task will be the aligning of processes, and strategic logistics activities to preparedness to ensure that national support arrangements can be facilitated as ‘business as usual’ rather than through ad hoc adaptions undertaken at a moment’s notice. Defence’s relatively new approach to the acquisition and sustainment of fuels and guide weapons are important achievements which show that new arrangements are possible.[15] Nonetheless, these achievements are merely a starting point for the reform that is necessary.

Thirdly, a range of policies and processes will need to be developed to enable concurrent, mutually-supporting, activity. It will be important to identify the right authorities to respond to each part of the collective problem. This understanding must also be accompanied with an acceptance that non-organic national support base capabilities are as vital to national security as the logistics and other military resources are; an acceptance that will go beyond the existing, albeit narrow, notion of industry as a ‘fundamental input into capability’ to fulfil improved capability acquisition plans.[16] Defence, inclusive of the ADF, already knows it has a great deal of internal work to undertake to make its mobilisation and preparedness arrangements reflective of potential strategic needs. This submission is not a reflection of any incapacity of Defence to prepare, and instead aims to co-opt a concept the ADF developed in the past for the benefit of the ADF in the present.

If Defence is to progress existing work about topics such as force expansion, let alone mobilisation, it must understand the level of national capability which presently exists to support the Defence effort in a time of emergency. Once it defines the strengths and weaknesses, limitations and constraints, of the national support base it can be proactive in working with national support base partners to resolve them. To do so will require an enhancement of existing modes of interaction, as well as assistant from other Government agencies and Departments with relevant experience and capability. A strategic plan will be vital ensure effectiveness. Without these efforts circumstances will work only to increase the disjunct which exists between the ADF ‘and that of the support base on which it depends.’[17] As written in 2021,

Instead, it is important that the ADF renew its concepts to leverage resources from elsewhere—potentially the national support base or alliance partners—in order to develop processes that will allow it to regain capacity after a significant strategic shock. This is not only about acquiring more materiel, ‘war-stocks’ and growing the size and scale of the ADF for that capacity; it is about efficiently managing resources in such a way that they are available at the time and place of need. Capability depth is likely to reflect the strength of civil-military relationships as much as it does materiel.[18]

Why national support matters now

A variety of Defence leaders have challenged members of the ADF, the Department, and partners to think through the problems associated with how national security needs might require all to adapt to the unexpected. So too have a range of commentators, in an array of articles and across different media. It is evident that a ‘big picture’, bold and imaginative strategic idea is needed; an idea that provides overarching principles and themes to guide planning and behaviour across the national support base. To that end Defence is armed with the benefits of corporate knowledge and a repository of information available within its own archives and captured in the diaspora of documentation that drives its daily business.

There is another reason that conceptualising, strategising and planning matters now: Western societies and their militaries are behind in their thinking. Concepts such as Chinese ‘civil-military’ fusion and a Government agenda which mandates dual-use technologies, are indicative of an increasingly sophisticated approach to military-national support base interactions on the part of our potential adversary. Such agenda help to create the conditions by which that nation can respond to its own crises or changes in the strategic environment. This is a whole-of-Government activity, an approach which includes industry partners and alliance partner involvement, as part of a holistic national security endeavour to confirm the strategic logistics basis upon which it will draw the strength to protect Australia’s national interests.


[1] Beaumont, D., Logistics and the strangling of strategy, 2017, Logistics and the strangling of strategy – Logistics In War

[2] Beaumont, D., Logistics and the strangling of strategy, 2017, Logistics and the strangling of strategy – Logistics In War

[3] Marles, R., Address to the Sydney Institute Annual Dinner Lecture, Speech, 14 November 2022, Address to the Sydney Institute Annual Dinner Lecture | Defence Ministers

[4] Defence Science Board, Task force on Survivable Logistics, report, November 2018; Special Comeptitive Studies Project, Mid-decade challenges to national competitiveness, 2022, SCSP-Mid-Decade-Challenges-to-National-Competitiveness.pdf; Llaird, R., The strategic shift and the reset for Australian Defence and Security, 2019, The Strategic Shift and the Reset for Australian Defence and Security – Second Line of Defense (sldinfo.com);

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

[6] Beaumont, D. J., ‘The Debris of an Organisation’, Land Power Forum, 2021, Future Land Warfare Collection 2021: The Debris of an Organisation | Australian Army Research Centre (AARC)

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

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

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

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

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

[12] The ‘strategic J4’ role is practiced by Commander Joint Logistics Command (CJLOG), though the responsibility and term has fallen out of use in recent years.  CJLOG’s consensus-building role within the  ‘Defence Logistics Enterprise’, a construct developed to bind Defence logistics efforts together, is ostensibly a substitute though has limited connection to operational performance and preparedness.

[13] Ashurst, T., & Beaumont, D., Logistics interoperability, deterrence and resilience – why working as allies matters now more than ever, 2020, Logistics interoperability, deterrence and resilience – why working as allies matters now more than ever – Logistics In War

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

[15] Hellyer, M. ‘Cracking the missile matrix: the case for Australian guided-weapons production’, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2021, Cracking the missile matrix: the case for Australian guided-weapons production | The Strategist (aspistrategist.org.au); Leben, W., ‘Can Australia’s munitions supplies stand up to the demands of war’, The Strategist, 9 Nov 2022, Can Australia’s munitions supplies stand up to the demands of war? | The Strategist (aspistrategist.org.au)

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

[17] National Support Mobilisation Concepts, Developing the strategy for national support mobilisation – a research paper, National Support Division, Department of Defence, Canberra, 1999, p 7

[18] Beaumont, D. J., ‘The Debris of an Organisation’, Land Power Forum, 2021, Future Land Warfare Collection 2021: The Debris of an Organisation | Australian Army Research Centre (AARC)

The debris of an organisation – thinking about how the ADF recovers from the first losses of war: Part Two

By David Beaumont.

This article concludes the discussion started here.

Things will go wrong in competition, conflict, and full-scale war. Winning will be about resilience, recovery and response as much as it is about being prepared for well-informed, but sadly speculative, conflict scenarios that planners may have contemplated in advanced. ‘Adaptiveness’ will be a necessity at the outset of a conflict, but the idea should not be a compensator for self-induced, lazy, policies and procedures designed to suit a more convenient peacetime routine. Well trained and adaptable people involved in national defence will be crucial to success, but they cannot be a crutch to allow organisations to limp through the first stages of any conflict. Resilience must be resourced in advance, staff organisations designed to be flexible, plans and policies prepared, and concepts for bringing the military and other organisations necessary in national defence to their full potential tested. Together these factors become the shock absorbers for the response which accounts for the ‘things going wrong’, and act as a springboard for what follows.

Those responsible for preparedness planning, not just within the joint force that is the ADF, but across Government should recognise that capability is only one part of the preparedness equation. Preparedness is about timing and understanding what can be done when; it is about reconciling forecasting and immediate needs with usually long-term processes for generating military capability. Belligerents in war don’t wait for capability lifecycles to manifest and operational concepts to mature. They look for opportunities to cause the most havoc at the expense of the other.  What truly matters in preparedness is the latent capacity available at any one time to give the force the ability to resist to shock, face losses, and use what remains in a response that counters the strategic advantage held by an aggressor. Moreover, winning requires fortitude, mental acuity, courage, and a leadership attitude based upon problem solving, endurance, hopefulness, and opportunity seeking. These traits enable decision makers the capacity to look beyond the first salvos of war while amid chaos, redirecting the means available to eventually turn the tide of war to the positive.  However, there are other important factors the ADF might consider.

Firstly, the ADF must continue to work towards greater organisational flexibility so that it can adapt rapidly to strategic shocks. With ‘Mobilisation Reviews’ and Service reforms to preparedness systems underway, it is clear that planners across the ADF are attuned to the need.[1] However, before placing too much dependence on flexible organisational designs and the ADF’s already robust approach to command and control, the ADF should seek to accurately understand what it can and can’t do within various plausible time horizons. As renowned Australian strategist Desmond Ball wrote, ‘it is not the force-in-being or the current order-of-battle that is relevant, but the mobilised force with which the adversary would have to contend.’[2] As described throughout this article, capability should not be equated to readiness.[3] Capability programs should be sequenced with force posture changes and aligned to preparedness systems. This creates a situation where decision makers can identify points of preparedness risk and potential vulnerabilities over time. Furthermore, this means that when surprise comes, ADF planners understand which parts of the force can act and when. The idea of ‘scalability’ as recently seen in some Service strategic doctrine must enter the day-to-day conversation of the ADF’s preparedness and operational planners. Scalability reflects the ability of the ADF to adjust its size and shape outside of the ‘heartbeat’ of its force development and capability acquisition programs.

Secondly, the ADF should seek to create depth in its capabilities and create capacity and sustainability rather than simply acquiring the best technology that can be bought. This will both enable it to better handle the inevitable losses of a conflict and deliver scale such that the ADF is more able to respond across multiple areas of vulnerability. Noone really knows exactly what combination of capabilities are needed in advance of war. But it is not realistic – at least not yet – for the Defence budget to grow to accommodate every plausible permutation of ships, aircraft and soldiers. Instead, it is important that the ADF renews its concepts to leverage resources from elsewhere – potentially the national support base or form alliance partners – in order to develop processes that will allow the ADF regain capacity after a significant strategic shock. This is not only about acquiring more materiel, ‘war-stocks’ and growing the size and scale of the ADF for that capacity; it is about efficiently managing resources such that they are available at the time and place of need. Capability depth will likely reflect the strength of civil-military relationships, as much as it does materiel.

Thirdly, all in the ADF must become aware that the force-in-being is not an end state in of itself. The ADF of today is unlikely to be the force that will reconstitute, recover and respond out of the initial stages of any conflict. It will be even less capable of remaining the same if substantial damage is done to the ADF in the initial engagements of the war. Outside of smaller contingencies, the ADF can, without foreign assistance, initially only provide ‘holding forces’ to provide an immediate response and defend the most vital resources.  It in the largest conflicts and worse scenarios, the ADF exists to create time for the winning force to mobilise. The time for which the ADF must be prepared to ‘hold’ in a high-intensity conflict could be considerable given the time it takes to activate industry to higher levels of production, and for the nation to bring more resources to bear. Calculations undertaken in the 1970’s suggested that it would take no less than two and a half years to expand an Army, for example, from 50000 regular and reserves to a multi-divisional force capable of continental defence of 150000.[4] Quite clearly this means that everything the ADF has already achieved in the context of a ‘total workforce’ approach to its operations is far short of what is required in war.   

Conclusion

To worry only about preparing for that moment at which conflict is initiated or a crisis begins creates risks that could lead to strategic failure. Preparedness planners, whether in the military or without, must look beyond this moment and into the possibilities of the war which follows. Australia’s next war will not be won by an ADF in its ‘prime’, but one that has been scarred and beaten down yet recovers to claim victory. It is important that the ADF be psychologically and materially prepared for the surprise and shock of the beginning of war.

Debris of an organisation aimed to provide a vision of preparing for war. While war may appear unlikely that does not excuse us misrepresenting it as something easy to prepare for.  If the the future outlined in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update rings true, it is important that the ADF’s planners consider casualties, losses and destruction inflicted on the ADF in the early stages of a future war as they design the responses, if not the capabilities, that the ADF possesses.

Capability solutions and extra resources are not sufficient to ensure that the ADF can win the next war. Planners at all levels, from combat units to strategic headquarters, must also consider the arrangements and attitudes that will enable and ensure a considered and effective response to a crisis. It is fortunate that the ADF is has more operating and planning experience than likely adversaries and has planning underway in response to the threats recent strategic policy advice highlights. Nevertheless, the challenges are vast and consequential.  Crucially, if planners do not grasp that the next war may not be short, the ADF will waste the precious preparation time that it currently has.  It could build resilience, depth and expansion capacity.  Without these, in the next war, the ADF will surely fail.

This article was originally published in the compendium of papers ‘Designing the future: thinking about joint operations’ by the Australian Army’s Future Land Warfare Branch. The compendium includes a wide range of interesting essays written by those responsible for conceptualising the Australian Army’s future.


[1] Rubinsztein-Dunlop, S., ‘Defence has imagined future war and Australia is not prepared’ from ABC News, 15 May 20, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-15/australia-unprepared-for-security-threats-warns-review/12248332, [accessed 25 Sep 20]

[2] Ball, D., Problems of mobilisation in defence of Australia, Phoenix Defence Publications, Australia, 1979, Preface

[3] Betts, R., Military readiness: concepts, choices, consequences, Brookings, USA, 1995, p 37

[4] Ball, D., ‘The Australian Defence Force and Mobilisation’ from Ball, D., Problems of mobilisation in defence of Australia, Phoenix Defence Publications, Australia, 1979, pp 12-13

Sustaining machines – logistics and autonomous systems

By David Beaumont.

This article is adapted from a presentation given at the Williams Foundation seminar on ‘Next Generation Autonomous Systems’ delivered in Canberra in April 2021.

The popular discussion on autonomy in warfare is constrained to either describing the advantages of introducing autonomous systems for ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ work, or articulating the limitations of their use (including ethical limitations). In terms of ‘logistics’, we can focus on how automation promises to distribute more things to more combatants more quickly, replaces forces in the field, or help us to be more productive and economical with our resources.  Automation offers military logisticians tremendous advantages and has to be a part of their future.

The opportunities for automation in logistics are virtually limitless, only requiring technology and entrepreneurship to deliver a generational change to military technology.  It becoming easier to find such opportunities given the vibrancy of the industry sector, and the enthusiasm robotics presently generates in defence circles. Rather than go through all of these opportunities, this article and the one which follows describes the capability that brings all of the pieces of an autonomous logistics system together – what we call the control network. This is a strategic capability which must be invested in.

Part two discusses the ‘logistics of autonomy’. What does the introduction of autonomous systems mean with respect to generating and deploying military forces? This is an important topic because to properly introduce autonomous systems into the military, we best be prepared for organisational change, cultural change and necessarily closer relationships between the military and industry.  In other words, I’m going to talk briefly on how we might make the capabilities we intend to develop practically useful and sustainable.  

Automated and autonomy in logistics

The military use of autonomous systems conjures the vision of multi-domain technologies connected together in a mutually-supporting ‘kill web’. Swarmed drones, larger UAS, submersibles and other capabilities operating automatically and nominally without human influence (maybe even interference). Though the technology is revolutionary, the idea is not; the “kill web” is to combat operations what the logistics control network is to framework which sustains the operations. This network uses sensors to make decisions about what is moved where. As militaries introduce more and more autonomous systems into service, many of them to fulfill logistics tasks, the importance of this network cannot be understated.

We’ve had an automated logistics control network for decades. Logistics information systems – with all their benefits, liabilities and risks – have been essential to commercial and military logistics since the invention of computers. They have allowed the archetypal complex system – the commercial supply chain – to be analysed to excruciating detail. There is nothing stopping militaries becoming an ‘Amazon’ given the technology that is on offer; provided it is militarised and reflects the needs of fully deployable system that can function in a crisis. Naturally, as armed forces explore the use of autonomous systems, they will also have to explore the use of automation to truly leverage the opportunities autonomy will deliver.

Let’s militarise the idea. Effective logistics information systems enable these forces to more efficiently prioritise and allocate resources by leveraging sensor-based analytics, thereby creating additional capacity in the military supply chain and other logistics functions. When greater logistics capacity is found, this naturally means more options open up for the strategist, tactician or capability manager. Incorporate scalable, swarming, logistics UAS or autonomous convoys into this system and a remarkable level of efficiency might be possible.

The use of information-age technology has helped address what has been described as ‘the logistics snowball’ – the propensity of poorly planned and executed logistics to expand logistics requirements as more and more people, and more and more resources, are directed to problem solving. The opportunities on offer to us with future forms of autonomous systems are tremendous and will undoubtedly continue to be exploited. But we must ensure that whatever logistics autonomous systems are introduced that they are introduced with a backbone control network that makes the whole effort worthwhile.

Automated, not autonomous, logistics is probably where the best return of investment of the defence dollar lies.

Automated systems remove the guesswork out of logistics – militaries can get a truer sense of our capability and capacity at any given point in time. Vehicle ‘health and usage monitoring systems’ and other similar technologies are exemplars of this. They enable decisions about capabilities to be made at a faster tempo than ever. It’s been a rocky journey with the systems – for example, the ‘Autonomic Logistics Information System’ for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has received a significant upgrade to overcome highly-publicised problems – but this really is a new era of information management and problems are inevitable. For these systems to offer the most to military logisticians, there is the issue of data management that we must eventually come to terms with – who owns it, when it can be used and for what reason – including ownership of the algorithms that may ultimately make decisions which were formerly the purview of military commanders.

Information, extrapolated into data, provided by these systems, is strategically vital. The complexity of military supply chains has expanded with globalisation, increased civilianisation and outsourcing of logistics capability, and with the sharing of capability across coalition partners. Automated logistics, appropriately secure, will help us garner where risks lie such that timely plans can be developed. Shortages could be better avoided. Costs could be better understood. Supply through multiple levels of producers and manufacturers can be accurately tracked thereby alerting the military to risks relating to the manufacture of capability. Secondly, autonomous systems may have the computational power to predict and automatically react to ensure the right product is at the right place at the right time. This will assist in signalling industry as to where supply deficiencies lie, and can support mobilisation processes when strategic crises first appear.

It is important to be aware of the risks. Cyber threats are persistently targeting global businesses, so Defence must prepare itself during the transformation of its logistics capability. In a 2018 testimony to the US Senate, the Commander of US Transportation Command General Darren McDew, highlighted the cyber threat to logistics as ‘being the greatest threat to our military advantage.’ Malicious state and non-state actors are already targeting vulnerable, largely unprotected, commercial systems linked in with barely protected military logistics systems. This threat was verified in the Defence Science Board 2019 report on ‘Survivable Logistics’. Why would a hostile target a hardened, highly classified decision-support and command and control network, when a soft underbelly is already presented to them?

Though there are threats to the automation of our military supply chains, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives. It is unequivocally the best solution to the logistics problem of our time – productivity. Logistics autonomy fundamentally gives armed forces greater capacity to do more with less, or better still, much more with the same.  It simplifies something that would otherwise be highly manpower intensive. But think of what can be done when an advanced predictive AI is aligned with a scalable autonomic distribution system? It can provide new vectors to deliver battlefield resources to the point at need, at a lower risk to human life. There are considerable financial advantages to Defence and Government if such capabilities are programmed and funded, and military advantages that might just contribute to the elimination of the large logistics footprint within an operational area.

Part two follows shortly. The second part moves on to the ‘logistics of autonomy’, describing how autonomous systems will not only change logistics, but change the very way militaries operate.

Logistics interoperability, deterrence and resilience – why working as allies matters now more than ever

By Todd Ashurst and David Beaumont.

In 2018, Australia and the United States finished celebrating ‘100 years of Mateship,’ noting our distinguished history of operating alongside each other since World War I. A key factor of success in our early engagement was thanks to logisticians. Ever-resourceful and seeking to give commanders and their combat operations the best chance of success, logisticians drove a support culture across the Western Front and enabled cooperation and combined arms action on the battlefield. This has continued throughout the decades to the point that it is rare that the two armies do not support nor assist in sustaining one another at the tactical and operational level whilst deployed. Doing so has offered opportunities, force multipliers, and enabled ‘coalitions of the willing’ that might not have existed had partners had to operate independently. As a consequence, we invest considerable time and effort discussing and improving combat service support (CSS) interoperability through forms like Army-to-Army staff talks, as well as many other regional; engagements, with outcomes ensuring increased effectiveness, efficiency, and preparedness.

While the emphasis toward CSS supportability has served both armies well for the last twenty years, it has potentially limited our view of interoperability to standardizing doctrine, preparing interoperability handbooks, and enabling tactical integration. This emphasis must now expand to face the needs of the next twenty years. We believe that in a contested and competitive strategic environment, at a time where preparedness will differentiate a relevant military from one not so, true logistics interoperability will be a strategic strength. Both the U.S. and Australia, and their partners, need to now concentrate on concepts, behaviours, and agreements which create resilience and redundancy through integration and opacity of strategic sustainment capability and capacity. What follows are a few ideas that our armies should consider as they modernize to meet the needs of the future.

Why is strategic logistics interoperability important to us now?

Strategic logistics underwrites preparedness by resourcing the military machine (and therefore future options of military commanders) while tying directly into the economic power of the nation-state. The logistics and sustainment arrangements made now determine what is practically possible when military options are ultimately required by governments. This understanding is of vital importance, as we are unsure where and when military power will be required. The Australian army recently released the futures statement Accelerated Warfare in recognition of the strategic uncertainty Australia faces, with the Chief of Staff of the Army describing partnerships as a way of contributing to success in times of competition. Effective logistics supports the development of offsets and deterrence pre-crisis and empowers flexible responses during one. Military partnerships exponentially improve the depth of logistics capacity available, creating force posture options that may not have existed before, shape regional capability, and influence long-term commitment through the sharing of organic and non-organic national industrial capability. Interoperable and integrated logistics networks, capabilities and systems can be leveraged to create situations of tremendous advantage.

Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman, combatant command director for Logistics and Engineering at U.S. Central Command, recently wrote on the importance of strategic logistics. “Nothing creates the flexibility for deterrent options and decision space more than national logistics that are underpinned by a vibrant, thriving economy that in turn is linked to partners and allies …” (p21.) He saw this outcome being delivered through preparing the environment with regional partners and ensuring the right coalition resources were in the right place at the right time; and by pursuing opportunities to strengthen alliances such that partners are able to provide one another support. Partners who conceive of logistics as a shared capability can more flexibly “develop, produce, deploy, distribute, store, and execute the acquisitions, logistics and distribution that underpin successful deterrence.” More specifically, interoperable forces will have greater redundancy and resilience in allowing a response than they might ever have had alone.

It is easier, of course, to provide a case for improved logistics interoperability than it is to deliver it. There are numerous barriers to logistics interoperability. The Australian and U.S. armies, as well as other partners, operate an enormous range of different materiel with different sustainment requirements. They’re bound by different procedures and constraints, some of which are based upon government industry and economic policies. Each defence force has different priorities, demonstrably different capabilities and capacities, and unique needs that must be met. Aligning multiple strategic logistics systems to work effectively without disrupting that of a partner is unequivocally an art. Improving the way a coalition may sustain itself, as difficult as it is, is a reflection of a capacity of that coalition to be operationally meaningful, if not sustainable. What follows are suggestions on where the Australian and U.S. armies may wish to start.

How can we improve resilience, redundancy, and relationships through strategic logistics interoperability?

Firstly, we can look at the direct benefits to the Australian and US armies through interoperability. It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that the first step to achieving greater logistics interoperability is to embrace strategic self-reliance. There are two principle reasons why this is the case. The first is that each army must ensure its bespoke capabilities are appropriately supported such that coalition resources do not become essential for these capabilities to be operationally useful. Secondly, a level of self-reliance is warranted to ensure that when forces do deploy, they can be sustained effectively until the coalition’s strategic sustainment system is active. The objective in both cases is that neither army becomes a logistics liability for the other, but better coordinates effort where it is most required.

Partnered armies must be prepared to share knowledge concerning logistics capabilities and resources and must signal one another when a shared supply chain is likely to be required. Strategic risks must be examined collectively, and both armies must be open about problems that afflict the supply-chains and processes that impact upon the materiel each army depends upon. This will assist in identifying areas in which each army can best contribute, with resources and responsibilities earmarked for later use. Triggers and demand signals might also be agreed upon, allowing partners new ways to alert each other to logistics needs or opportunities. All this must be exercised; it is noteworthy that the Australian and U.S. armies do not presently share a major strategic logistics exercise in which to consider how they might respond, together, in a crisis. Without testing the collaborative logistics enterprise, it will be difficult to conclude where the most pressing problems to address are.

Integrated approaches to sustainment should, where possible, become normal. Interoperable acquisition and sustainment programs would see planning increasingly global but provision potentially local. Investment or clear demand signals of sovereign industries to credibly contribute to meeting coalition as well as national demands would support the development of regional capability, providing alternative and potentially shorter supply chains. This would also makes it easier to assure delivery. A new approach to intellectual property (IP) rights is warranted, allowing for greater flexibility within a coalition and transparency across the supply chain writ large. This may require both armies to accept a greater level of risk in their materiel worthiness regimes to allow for greater sharing in componentry or commodities. But this risk is rewarded by diversifying supply chains for common parts manufacture, repair, or refurbishment providing greater strategic resilience and operational sustainability. Perhaps it is time to move beyond industry resource base recognition to combined planning and execute national industry options in order to become a truly shared, integrated endeavour. If one nation struggles with insufficient capacity to manufacture or produce, then clear demand signals and ready IP access would enable trusted nations to supplement supply chains for each and other trusted allies.

Neither the U.S. or Australian army, nor the defence forces they belong to, can achieve these outcomes without government policy in support. Political and policy levers must be in place to set in motion endeavours that manifest in interoperability outcomes. Negotiation will be required between governments to facilitate non-indigenous support of materiel. Barriers will need to be reduced, especially those that influence export controls or any other regulation that constrains the ability of either army from establishing business arrangements with the other. The corollary is that more flexible regulations will need to be put in place to allow defence industries to work across national borders. This will induce greater sharing between defence industries underpinning land forces, enabled by policies allowing the sharing of technologies, techniques, and skills between the partner nations. Strategic logisticians must provide a way forward to governments on these issues.

Finally, we can look to interoperable strategic logistics as a way of supporting national and regional security. Success in regional strategic competition must include a logistics component. Logistics, as a critical component of ‘setting the region’ in that it normalizes consultative and respectful long-term behaviour, supports the capacity of regional partners to sustain themselves and helps with the establishment of economic infrastructure. For example, Australia has recently established a $1 billion (Australian dollar) export financing agency to assist developing regional industries. In doing so, mutually beneficial supply chain options are created, and a grounding in logistics interoperability can be established. Similarly, continued effort towards refining ‘Mutual Logistics Support Arrangements,’ ‘Standing Offer Panels,’ and host-nation support arrangements can also enhance the capability of regional partners and any military coalition.

The environment is such that we need to not only broaden our views on what constitutes the ‘national support base’ or ‘defence technology and industrial base,’ but create action to enable the benefits of close national relationships. If strategic requirements necessitate us imagining greater interoperability, it is similarly important that the same apply to the leveraging of national industrial capability and capacity. As we wrote above, it is important that the Australian and U.S. armies are able to operate independently, and with national resources available to suite the contingencies and crises that demand this approach. However, it is equally important that we have considered how national resources can be better integrated to more effectively and efficiently respond to threats to shared interests. A coalition can ill-afford ‘logistics fratricide’ by competing for available resources, driving up costs and increasing supply chain risks, particularly when seeking the support from allies and partners critical to success in a time of competition.

Interoperable logistics

Interoperable logistics creates strategic resilience and responsiveness. However, it will not be improved unless we take time to resource its achievement. The U.S. and Australian Armies, and their many partners, have concluded that interoperability is operationally important. All have a proud legacy in supporting one another on a wide variety of operations. It is important that interoperability should now take an increasingly strategic tone at a time where we are preparing for the next operation. Improved strategic logistics interoperability is not a way to avoid the development costly logistics capabilities. It’s a way that partners can support one another more readily, giving them options before, during and post-crisis that they may not have had before. In a particularly competitive strategic environment, this approach is not only important but patently necessary, and a means to gain advantage over potential adversaries.

Even as a smaller military with a lower scale of logistics capabilities, the Australian Army can meaningfully contribute to a broader coalition effort especially within its immediate geographic region. It may be possible that another partner deploying nearby can more readily draw upon Australian resources to avoid vulnerable global supply chains, and vice versa. A strategically wise approach to interoperability is one in which problems are shared, resources efficiently planned, and key acquisition and sustainment are decisions are made such that the right support is delivered, in the right place, as fast as practically possible. Logistics interoperability will create a new source of leverage at a time when every strategic advantage may just make a tremendous difference.

This article was originally published in the Jan-Mar edition of the US Army’s ‘Army Sustainment’ professional journal as ‘Logistics interoperability, a value asset, strategic enabler’. It was originally published here in January 2020 with permission and can also be found here. 

The logistics of autonomous systems – the consequence of transformed logistics

By David Beaumont.

‘Logistics and autonomous systems – the promise of transformed logistics’ concluded that the prospective use of autonomous systems for military logistics was a matter of the imagination. Western militaries, including the Australian Defence Force (ADF), have been exploiting semi-autonomous systems for years. It is only a matter of time before robotics and other associated technologies revolutionise warfare to the point the militaries must transform. The article, however, also concluded with the observation that the biggest problem to face militaries is not in the choice of the systems to employ, and where to use them, but from the increasing reliance militaries will have on their technology. This reliance will not only transpire into changes to the logistics needs of armies, navies and air forces, but could very well lead to substantive organisational change.

There has been very little conversation as to what the implications of this robotic revolution will be on the logistics of modern militaries – the ‘logistics of autonomy’. Many writers have effusively seen robotics as changing the characteristics of militaries and transforming in the way they go to war. There are ample discussions on the ethics in the use of autonomous weapons, and volumes of promising statements on how robotic weapons and equipment will create new opportunities and risks. Just as the invention of the internal combustion engine changed the logistics needs of armies, and the invention of power flight created an entirely new military domain of war, technological-induced transformation always comes with significant changes to way such military forces are sustained.

Motorisation, mechanisation, flight, rocketry and computing elevated the importance of mechanics, petroleum operations, munitions specialists and supply specialists to the wars of the last 120 years. Better materiel and training to the soldier, sailor and airman helped to ‘thin’ the battlefield; technology allowing each combatant able to bring more and more firepower to bear on the enemy than the previous military generation. However, this increase in the use of technology has created a commensurate increase in logistics support; creating an ‘interminable contest’ between the teeth and ‘tail’ that the ‘teeth’ is losing.[1] The centre of gravity for military forces is in the process of moving from the battlefield and to the supply depots, bases, ports and defence infrastructure in ‘rear echelons’ and what the Australian Defence Force calls the ‘national support base’.

The shift from the human to machine will only accelerate this transformation. Militaries using autonomous weapons will, if we are optimistic about the technology, look very different in twenty, thirty years in the future. But there’s a dark side to technology-centric transformation. It can create tremendous complexity for forces that rush to bring in service capabilities. If the goal is to remove humans from ‘dull, dirty and dangerous work’ in the combat zone, the cost will be likely be borne in the establishment of new organisations and systems to sustain autonomous weapons on the ocean, in the field and in the air.

The military workforce will also have to change to reflect the technical need. Although we might want to call the future an ‘age of automation’, we could also call the coming period the ‘age of the engineer’. This situation is somewhat ironic in that one of the primary goals for automating logistics is to lower the number of personnel invested in logistics tasks. It is instructive that the invention of computers – so essential for modern military logistics – has not achieved much in stemming the growth in the ‘tail’ of modern militaries. We are far from removing logisticians from the battlefield.

Militaries will need engineers, uniformed or civilian, in abundance. The current generation of autonomous battlefield systems are ‘brittle’, not particularly adaptable and easily break down. In the context of armies, this problem reflects the difficulty for machines that lack the manoeuvrability of a human being. The situation is better for military aviation and naval uses where the impact of environment is much less. All systems are at presence sensitive to conditions, and need routine attention – and most aren’t capable of self-care.

This is not to say that militaries need to expand their organic logistics capabilities at this point. Military logistics always extends into the economy – more specifically the nation’s industrial base – and the integration of industry into the routine sustainment of new autonomous systems will remain important. It is quite clear that industry partners will have to continue to work closely, if not intimately, with Army, Navy and Air Force to provide the technical support and expertise that is traditionally difficult for the military to generate independently. It is also clear that we need to have a conversation about how skills may be transferred into the military workforce if needed in a crisis, or how autonomous systems might be sustained and repaired in conflict zone.

Army Autonomous Systems Demonstration

Perhaps we can combat the ‘less-positive’ effects of automation by focussing on the notion of disposable military robots. It’s tempting to think that we can abandon a robot when it is damaged or no longer in use; it appeals to our sense that there is a real possibility that we can remove humans from danger and replace them with something of lesser value. We must, however, be realistic with our aspirations. Until production lines run so large that costs are driven down, or newer technologies are found that dramatically lower costs, it will be inevitable that we treat autonomic systems with the same level of care we do any other form of exquisite, and expensive, technology.

It will not only be militaries that will need to transform as autonomy supplants humans. There is a tremendous opportunity for defence industry to step into a gap that has been unfilled since the dying days of the national electronics industry in the 1980s. If we are to embrace the use of autonomy in the ADF as a credible alternative to the human combatant, it will be highly advantageous for the military to have a national industry behind it. A dependency on foreign componentry and construction can become a strategic risk – especially as global supply chains are contested or limited resources shared. I suspect we will find electronics and componentry join ammunition and fuel as a marker of strategic resilience in due course. In the meantime, we will need to be careful about accelerating into autonomy else we embark upon a costly sham with unviable capabilities in combat.

Perhaps this will necessitate us having a conversation about Australian innovations and their identification as a matter of strategic value and a target of regulation. Most innovations in autonomous systems will come from the private sector, and in many cases, will be available to the highest bidder. A pessimistic view of the future suggests we need preserve whatever advantage we can, and – as a nation – we might have to balance our commercial and strategic interests. With autonomy firmly on the horizon for the ADF and other advanced militaries, it seems clear that we must initiate this discussion now.

The point of this article was not to dismiss technology, but to elicit discussion. Autonomous systems will be essential to the ADF of the future. It will create new options at all levels of war, improve the capacity of a defence force pressured by its relative size, and give us new opportunities to exploit. The technology behind automation is an area where Australia can generate a strategic advantage if it chooses to; we have a high standard of education, a population thriving with high stands of technology use, and a long track-record of innovation as a nation. We have an ADF prepared for change and actively seeking partners to overcome many of the challenges, and take advantage of new opportunities, that are raised in this article.

We all know how rapidly the technology around automation is evolving. The sooner Defence, industry and the wide range of technology partners work on overcoming the logistics limitations of autonomy the better. This way we will realise the potential of the technology, rather than bring into being capabilities or systems that are too exquisite to be practically employable let alone sustainable. This is an enduring problem with introducing new technology into defence forces in a time of relative peace, where there is always a temptation to made expedient decisions to introduce new capabilities without the funding or capacity to support it. Provided comprehensive plans are developed well in advance, the ‘logistics of autonomy’ is another area of opportunity to give the ADF a new advantage.


[1] Macksey, K., For want of a nail: the impact on war of logistics and communications, Brasseys, UK, 1989, p 1

Toilet paper and total war – the psychology of shortages and what it means for resilience

By David Beaumont.

The lessons that prepare defence forces and government institutions for crisis responses need not come from history books. Lessons can come from extrapolating what we witness every day; from events that capture tangible and intangible aspects of sustaining normal life. From natural disasters to global pandemics, Australia has had a tumultuous beginning of the year. This time has been socially, economically and politically testing. The impact of this turbulence on essentially fragile national logistics, commerce and industry capability is starkly evident and has forced the nation to consider its national resilience. The difficulty experienced in obtaining basic household products – toilet paper for example – as consumers buy in preparation for a state of quarantine that may never come, as trite an issue as it may be, starkly demonstrates how critical human behaviour is in the calculus. It is a perfect analogy with which to consider military preparedness and strategic resilience.

People naturally gravitate towards the idea that strategic resilience is about maintaining a buffer for emergencies. Inevitably, and for sensible reasons, the topic of national reserves or stocks (or, in the military’s case, ‘war stocks’) is raised. Enough stockholdings of strategically significant commodities is critically important for national resilience, just as they are for military operations. The absence of stock is, however, only the ‘front-end’ of the problem in a major crisis. In some cases, the maintenance of unnecessary stock levels may actually detract from preparedness and resilience; vast quantities of inappropriate strategic reserves consume money and other resources that can be used in other critical areas. Buffers, insurance and assurance (through planning and governance) are important for resilience, but there are intangible factors that need to be understood.

In military logistics, the greatest behaviour-based harm to logistics performance relates to trust that the logistics system will deliver, and from the impact of ‘psychological effects induced by the [original] deficiency.’[1] Even if the situation improves commanders will ‘certainly place pressure on their planners and on their own superiors to insure future adequacy of support.’[2] Commanders and logisticians at all levels will arbitrarily increase their demands, and others will do their best to meet the new requirement. Hoarding will occur. The military organisation – perhaps even government and industry – will rapidly try to respond to rapidly growing military requirements.

This sounds like a good problem to have; while having surplus production and availability certainly beats dealing with systemic shortages, logistics ‘scaling’ rarely occurs without problems. This ‘under-planning / over-planning’ sequence generally results in oversupply; wasting transport, clogging warehouses, limiting strategic mobility and costing resources that the force can’t spare.[3] It was a problem recently seen in the initial operations of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was one reason for the ‘iron mountains’ of Operation Desert Storm over a decade earlier. If production or availability cannot increase, an inefficient transfer of resources from one area of the battlefield to the other can upend strategy. In these circumstances it becomes difficult for planners to direct resources to the right place, and what can be termed ‘brute force logistics’ – get as much as you can to the place what you believe is of the greatest need – comes.

The parallel with what is going on now with COVID-19 (coronavirus), or what was seen in the shortages of air purifiers and face masks during the Australian bushfire crisis this year, is clear. Australian consumers are fearful. A normally stable balance of supply and demand is upset by events, with consumer behaviour in panic-buying magnifying the problem. The ‘world’ is only at the beginning of its industrial and supply-chain response to the virus. Given that it is likely to have a pandemic on its hands, the production, transfer and management of resources globally is, quite obviously, going to be chaotic.

We’re waiting to find out what happens next. Some economists are predicting the global production output loss to enter the trillions of dollars, with global economic conditions likely to become recessionary. It is also possible that a huge multi-lateral economic response will lead to a version of the ‘under-planning / over-planning sequence.’ Governments may launch economic stimulus packages to deploy funding and offset a precipitous decline in trade. While I won’t pretend to know the answer as to what might happen in a pandemic situation, the ideas of military logistics can offer a window through which to observe the situation. We can, however, use the events before us as a window of our own to consider military preparedness.

What if the scenario was a military crisis rather than a response to natural disaster or pandemic? Imagine we were talking about spare-parts or precision weapons rather than face-masks or toilet paper. The simultaneous draw upon shared industrial resources by coalition partners might create ‘runs’ on necessary resources and stocks, for without these stocks military forces will be little more than a short-term buffer against the encountered strategic shock. Preparedness systems fail, logistics processes collapse, and command struggles to regain control. The purpose of Martin Van Creveld’s Supplying War seems to be found in displaying militaries in disarray, and Richard Betts writes of the ‘unreadiness’ of the US military as its first tradition in the book Military Readiness: concepts, choices, consequences.[4]

The ADF has experienced this ‘tradition’ in the past. Two examples in recent Australian military history spring to mind. The first was during the deployment of International Forces East Timor in 1999 when a massing coalition force drained the city of Darwin of hardware and deployable consumables, necessitating an ad hoc and inefficient procurement plan to be developed. The second was during the deployment of the US-led coalition to Iraq in 2003 where because Australia lacked the competitive buying power to procure commercial airlift to support the deployment, it arranged with the US that its Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) would facilitate airlift.

What if the scenario was severe still, and a level of national mobilisation required? Naturally we would see proportionally severe exacerbation of the problems above. Histories of the First and Second World war attest to the problem of over-mobilisation; where the rush to put personnel in the field, on the ocean and in the air outpaces the capacity of industry to provide them with the materiel of war. The increasing sophistication of modern weaponry, the high standard of materiel modern militaries expect themselves to operate with, the presence of an increasingly specialist workforce, and with lean force structures characteristic of periods of structural demobilisation, will make an incredibly difficult resilience challenge for a modern Western military.

The first losses of battle make the demand for materiel much more critical than the demand for manpower. It takes years to establish production runs capable of supporting the largest forces, especially as the manpower draw to the military draw is the same as to industry. But when industry starts to fulfil the need, it tends to do so in such excess that it is wasteful and a needless draw on limited national resources. The wrong things are produced at the wrong time and delivered to the wrong place.[5] The systems of prioritisation and allocation fail, and in the rush to do something good, the best intentions create unforeseen and unwanted problems.

Logistics and preparedness are defined by ‘tangibles’ and ‘intangibles’. These two factors conspire to create complex systems that are difficult to control, especially when the impact of human decisions and behaviours is taken to account. Until we have quantum computers and artificial intelligence to do the thinking for us, the best we may be able to do is research, study and observe the events before us. What we may witness in consumer behaviour in highly unusual situations is like what might be witnessed with respect to ‘military behaviour’ in a war or a military crisis. As ultimately innocuous as a consumer run on toilet paper might be to us now, the situation does tell a story as to how we might see our military logistics systems act in a time of strategic shock. Understanding how they may act ultimately underwrites military preparedness and, in the case of strategy and national power, creates the national resilience that ultimately determines success in war.


[1] Eccles, H., Logistics in the national defense, The Stackpole Company, USA, 1959, p 109

[2] Ibid., p 109

[3] Ibid., p 109

[4] See Van Creveld, M., Supplying War, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2004 (4th edition); Betts, R., Military readiness: concepts, choices, consequences, Brookings, USA, 1995

[5] It was these observations of the Second World War that led Eccles to develop his theory of the logistics snowball, often caused by the under-planning, over-planning sequence.

Book release – ‘Feeding Victory’ – Jobie Turner

By editor.

You may have read a number of posts by Colonel Jobie Turner, USAF at Logistics in War and on other sites. Jobie has written on the criticality of strategic transportation (specifically air mobility) to contemporary concepts here, and its future here. We are keenly waiting on the impending release of his book – Feeding Victory: innovative military logistics from Lake George to Khe Sanh. It gives me great pleasure to advertise his book; works on logistics are few with the last major release being Major General Ken Privratsky’s Logistics in the Falklands War: A case-study in expeditionary warfare in 2017. A summary of the book is:

“An army, Lewis Mumford once observed, “is a body of pure consumers”—and it is logistics that feeds this body’s insatiable appetite for men and materiel. Successful logistics, the transportation of supplies and combatants to battle, cannot guarantee victory but poor logistics portend defeat. In Feeding Victory, Jobie Turner asks how technical innovation has affected this connection over time—whether advances in technology, from the railroad and the airplane to the nuclear weapon and the computer, have altered the critical relationship between logistics and warfare, and, ultimately, geopolitical dynamics.

            Covering a span of three hundred years, Feeding Victory focuses on five distinct periods of technological change, from the pre-industrial era to the information age. For each era, Turner presents a case study: the campaign for Lake George from 1755-1759; the Western Front in 1917; the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942; the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-1943; and the Battle of Khe Sanh in 1968. In each of these cases, the logistics of the belligerents were at their limit because of geography or the vast material needs of war. With such limits, the case studies give a clear accounting of the logistics of the period, particularly with respect to the mode of transportation, whether air, land, and sea, and reveals the inflection points between success and failure.  

            What are the continuities between eras, Turner asks, and what can these campaigns tell us about the relationship of technology to logistics and logistics to geopolitics? In doing so, Turner discovers how critical the biological needs of the soldiers on the battlefield, tended to overwhelm firepower, even in the modern era. His work shows how logistics aptly represent technological shifts from the Enlightenment to the dawn of the twenty-first century, and how, in our time, ideas have come to trump the material forces of war.”

The book can be pre-ordered for a 20 Feb 20 release at online books stores. It looks to be a great publication.

Logistics interoperability, deterrence and resilience – why working as allies matters now more than ever

By Todd Ashurst and David Beaumont.

In 2018, Australia and the United States finished celebrating ‘100 years of Mateship,’ noting our distinguished history of operating alongside each other since World War I. A key factor of success in our early engagement was thanks to logisticians. Ever-resourceful and seeking to give commanders and their combat operations the best chance of success, logisticians drove a support culture across the Western Front and enabled cooperation and combined arms action on the battlefield. This has continued throughout the decades to the point that it is rare that the two armies do not support nor assist in sustaining one another at the tactical and operational level whilst deployed. Doing so has offered opportunities, force multipliers, and enabled ‘coalitions of the willing’ that might not have existed had partners had to operate independently. As a consequence, we invest considerable time and effort discussing and improving combat service support (CSS) interoperability through forms like Army 2 Army staff talks, as well as many other regional; engagements, with outcomes ensuring increased effectiveness, efficiency, and preparedness.

While the emphasis toward CSS supportability has served both armies well for the last twenty years, it has potentially limited our view of interoperability to standardizing doctrine, preparing interoperability handbooks, and enabling tactical integration. This emphasis must now expand to face the needs of the next twenty years. We believe that in a contested and competitive strategic environment, at a time where preparedness will differentiate a relevant military from one not so, true logistics interoperability will be a strategic strength. Both the U.S. and Australia, and their partners, need to now concentrate on concepts, behaviours, and agreements which create resilience and redundancy through integration and opacity of strategic sustainment capability and capacity. What follows are a few ideas that our armies should consider as they modernize to meet the needs of the future.

Why is strategic logistics interoperability important to us now?

Strategic logistics underwrites preparedness by resourcing the military machine (and therefore future options of military commanders) while tying directly into the economic power of the nation-state. The logistics and sustainment arrangements made now determine what is practically possible when military options are ultimately required by governments. This understanding is of vital importance, as we are unsure where and when military power will be required. The Australian army recently released the futures statement Accelerated Warfare in recognition of the strategic uncertainty Australia faces, with the Chief of Staff of the Army describing partnerships as a way of contributing to success in times of competition. Effective logistics supports the development of offsets and deterrence pre-crisis and empowers flexible responses during one. Military partnerships exponentially improve the depth of logistics capacity available, creating force posture options that may not have existed before, shape regional capability, and influence long-term commitment through the sharing of organic and non-organic national industrial capability. Interoperable and integrated logistics networks, capabilities and systems can be leveraged to create situations of tremendous advantage.

Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman, combatant command director for Logistics and Engineering at U.S. Central Command, recently wrote on the importance of strategic logistics. “Nothing creates the flexibility for deterrent options and decision space more than national logistics that are underpinned by a vibrant, thriving economy that in turn is linked to partners and allies …” (p21.) He saw this outcome being delivered through preparing the environment with regional partners and ensuring the right coalition resources were in the right place at the right time; and by pursuing opportunities to strengthen alliances such that partners are able to provide one another support. Partners who conceive of logistics as a shared capability can more flexibly “develop, produce, deploy, distribute, store, and execute the acquisitions, logistics and distribution that underpin successful deterrence.” More specifically, interoperable forces will have greater redundancy and resilience in allowing a response than they might ever have had alone.

It is easier, of course, to provide a case for improved logistics interoperability than it is to deliver it. There are numerous barriers to logistics interoperability. The Australian and U.S. armies, as well as other partners, operate an enormous range of different materiel with different sustainment requirements. They’re bound by different procedures and constraints, some of which are based upon government industry and economic policies. Each defence force has different priorities, demonstrably different capabilities and capacities, and unique needs that must be met. Aligning multiple strategic logistics systems to work effectively without disrupting that of a partner is unequivocally an art. Improving the way a coalition may sustain itself, as difficult as it is, is a reflection of a capacity of that coalition to be operationally meaningful, if not sustainable. What follows are suggestions on where the Australian and U.S. armies may wish to start.

How can we improve resilience, redundancy, and relationships through strategic logistics interoperability?

Firstly, we can look at the direct benefits to the Australian and U,S, armies through interoperability. It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that the first step to achieving greater logistics interoperability is to embrace strategic self-reliance. There are two principle reasons why this is the case. The first is that each army must ensure its bespoke capabilities are appropriately supported such that coalition resources do not become essential for these capabilities to be operationally useful. Secondly, a level of self-reliance is warranted to ensure that when forces do deploy, they can be sustained effectively until the coalition’s strategic sustainment system is active. The objective in both cases is that neither army becomes a logistics liability for the other, but better coordinates effort where it is most required.

Partnered armies must be prepared to share knowledge concerning logistics capabilities and resources and must signal one another when a shared supply chain is likely to be required. Strategic risks must be examined collectively, and both armies must be open about problems that afflict the supply-chains and processes that impact upon the materiel each army depends upon. This will assist in identifying areas in which each army can best contribute, with resources and responsibilities earmarked for later use. Triggers and demand signals might also be agreed upon, allowing partners new ways to alert each other to logistics needs or opportunities. All this must be exercised; it is noteworthy that the Australian and U.S. armies do not presently share a major strategic logistics exercise in which to consider how they might respond, together, in a crisis. Without testing the collaborative logistics enterprise, it will be difficult to conclude where the most pressing problems to address are.

Integrated approaches to sustainment should, where possible, become normal. Interoperable acquisition and sustainment programs would see planning increasingly global but provision potentially local. Investment or clear demand signals of sovereign industries to credibly contribute to meeting coalition as well as national demands would support the development of regional capability, providing alternative and potentially shorter supply chains. This would also makes it easier to assure delivery. A new approach to intellectual property (IP) rights is warranted, allowing for greater flexibility within a coalition and transparency across the supply chain writ large. This may require both armies to accept a greater level of risk in their materiel worthiness regimes to allow for greater sharing in componentry or commodities. But this risk is rewarded by diversifying supply chains for common parts manufacture, repair, or refurbishment providing greater strategic resilience and operational sustainability. Perhaps it is time to move beyond industry resource base recognition to combined planning and execute national industry options in order to become a truly shared, integrated endeavour. If one nation struggles with insufficient capacity to manufacture or produce, then clear demand signals and ready IP access would enable trusted nations to supplement supply chains for each and other trusted allies.

Neither the U.S. or Australian army, nor the defence forces they belong to, can achieve these outcomes without government policy in support. Political and policy levers must be in place to set in motion endeavours that manifest in interoperability outcomes. Negotiation will be required between governments to facilitate non-indigenous support of materiel. Barriers will need to be reduced, especially those that influence export controls or any other regulation that constrains the ability of either army from establishing business arrangements with the other. The corollary is that more flexible regulations will need to be put in place to allow defence industries to work across national borders. This will induce greater sharing between defence industries underpinning land forces, enabled by policies allowing the sharing of technologies, techniques, and skills between the partner nations. Strategic logisticians must provide a way forward to governments on these issues.

Finally, we can look to interoperable strategic logistics as a way of supporting national and regional security. Success in regional strategic competition must include a logistics component. Logistics, as a critical component of ‘setting the region’ in that it normalizes consultative and respectful long-term behaviour, supports the capacity of regional partners to sustain themselves and helps with the establishment of economic infrastructure. For example, Australia has recently established a $1 billion (Australian dollar) export financing agency to assist developing regional industries. In doing so, mutually beneficial supply chain options are created, and a grounding in logistics interoperability can be established. Similarly, continued effort towards refining ‘Mutual Logistics Support Arrangements,’ ‘Standing Offer Panels,’ and host-nation support arrangements can also enhance the capability of regional partners and any military coalition.

The environment is such that we need to not only broaden our views on what constitutes the ‘national support base’ or ‘defence technology and industrial base,’ but create action to enable the benefits of close national relationships. If strategic requirements necessitate us imagining greater interoperability, it is similarly important that the same apply to the leveraging of national industrial capability and capacity. As we wrote above, it is important that the Australian and U.S. armies are able to operate independently, and with national resources available to suite the contingencies and crises that demand this approach. However, it is equally important that we have considered how national resources can be better integrated to more effectively and efficiently respond to threats to shared interests. A coalition can ill-afford ‘logistics fratricide’ by competing for available resources, driving up costs and increasing supply chain risks, particularly when seeking the support from allies and partners critical to success in a time of competition.

Interoperable logistics

Interoperable logistics creates strategic resilience and responsiveness. However, it will not be improved unless we take time to resource its achievement. The U.S. and Australian Armies, and their many partners, have concluded that interoperability is operationally important. All have a proud legacy in supporting one another on a wide variety of operations. It is important that interoperability should now take an increasingly strategic tone at a time where we are preparing for the next operation. Improved strategic logistics interoperability is not a way to avoid the development costly logistics capabilities. It’s a way that partners can support one another more readily, giving them options before, during and post-crisis that they may not have had before. In a particularly competitive strategic environment, this approach is not only important but patently necessary, and a means to gain advantage over potential adversaries.

Even as a smaller military with a lower scale of logistics capabilities, the Australian Army can meaningfully contribute to a broader coalition effort especially within its immediate geographic region. It may be possible that another partner deploying nearby can more readily draw upon Australian resources to avoid vulnerable global supply chains, and vice versa. A strategically wise approach to interoperability is one in which problems are shared, resources efficiently planned, and key acquisition and sustainment are decisions are made such that the right support is delivered, in the right place, as fast as practically possible. Logistics interoperability will create a new source of leverage at a time when every strategic advantage may just make a tremendous difference.

This article was originally published in the Jan-Mar edition of the US Army’s ‘Army Sustainment’ professional journal as ‘Logistics interoperability, a value asset, strategic enabler’. It is published here with permission and can also be found here. 

Swinging into action – reflections on East Timor by a logistics Unit Commander Part Three

By Brigadier Michael Kehoe (Retd).

“In the two decades since the Australian deployment to East Timor as part of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET), much has been written about the operation predominantly from the national and military strategic perspectives. This focus is not surprising given Australia’s decision to act decisively in the immediate neighbourhood in a leadership role, and the nature and scale of the intervention, remains unparalleled since Federation.   At the operational and tactical level, East Timor may not be a great case study for combat arms officers however for the logistician, there are lessons to be learned at every level from the Commander Joint Logistics down to the private soldier. As the operation recedes into history, we need to ensure the key lessons identified do not also fade.”

 – from Reflections on East Timor by a Logistics Unit Commander – twenty years on 

Editor’s note – this article continues with the experiences of the then Commanding Officer, 10th Force Support Battalion (10 FSB), deploying to East Timor (now Timor Leste) as part of the INTERFET operation. Part One can be found here and Two here.


 

Once we were on the ground and established in Dili the full capability of the unit swung into action. We were augmented with B vehicle transport assets from 9 Force Support Battalion (FSB) and later in the deployment, some additional Unimogs from 1 Combat Services Support Battalion (CSSB). There were many issues that arose to make life difficult, the majority of which I put down to a lack of realistic training for this type of unit[1] and Clausewitzian organizational friction. When we returned to Australia, I tasked an officer (who did not deploy with us) to take our War Diary and write a Command Post Exercise using the Battalion Ops Log to build in the many Lower and Higher Control problems with which unit operations staff would have to deal.

He could not believe the number and nature of small mistakes, errors, misjudgements and wrong assumptions that collectively made even simple tasks difficult. Clausewitz noted that no military unit can be thought of as a single or solitary piece, ‘each part is composed of individuals, every one of whom retains his potential for friction.’ Discussion of these are best left for unit reunions but I will raise three: real-estate allocation, lack of flexibility when it came to regrouping, and recognition. I chose these because I was personally involved in each.

Real-estate

Appropriate sites to deploy in Dili were scarce. I arrived a couple of days after D-Day with a recon group late in the afternoon and the following day set about siting the unit. The Port was ‘vital ground’ given our role but there was neither room nor appropriate facilities for all elements of the unit within the Port area. We ended up scattered around city which made for both C3 and security challenges. What was frustrating at the time was the seemingly haphazard nature of allocation. I was surprised when one site I’d looked at, and confirmed with HQ INTERFET, was subsequently occupied by soldiers from another unit when I returned resulting in a tense and short discussion with the relevant Brigade Commander.

I returned to HQ INTERFET to the officer who had allocated me the site and demanded it be fixed. Needless to say, I lost. For a while I felt I was living my own Melian Dialogue and 10 FSB was the Melians. With the main body of the unit not far behind me, confirmed appropriate locations were essential. We subsequently found another area and this time I embraced my inner Athenian and tasked my MP Platoon Commander to have his soldiers immediately occupy the site and not move until relieved by the incoming sub-unit designated.

The other real-estate friction that arose was the Port. I knew that at some point, we would have to hand over the Port to the UN authority. The Port was going to enable seaborne trade which would be the life-blood of the new nation but in the short-term, it was enabling the life-blood of the INTERFET force. I recall a couple of short (and probably terse) discussions with an officer from the Maritime Component HQ who was seeking to impose a joint doctrinal solution to management of the Port that would see the majority of 10 FSB elements moved out.

I felt he wasn’t seeing the bigger picture and that to move 10 FSB from the Port would rob us of the scarce hard-stand facility needed and require significantly more assets, particularly terminal clearance transport, to manage the flow of supplies coming into the country. I was also annoyed at what I saw as a somewhat high-handed approach by the individual. Ultimately we stayed put but I didn’t win any friends in the Maritime Component. And in retrospect, I could have handled the issue in a more collegiate fashion but as is often the case when people are working hard, under pressure and tired, it’s easier said than done.

Unwillingness to Regroup Assets

A reality of operations, regardless of the type, is the need for the Commander to regroup assets as the operation unfolds, often to optimize the employment of scarce assets. A unit or formation which may have enjoyed the direct support of certain supporting arms or services during one phase, might find those assets redirected elsewhere given the nature or tempo of the next phase.

There was a period relatively early in the deployment when 10 FSB’s lack of B vehicles and drivers was impacting our ability to provide the required support. We had picked up a range of second and third line support tasks for an increasing number of largely coalition forces and I had been told clearly that more vehicles and drivers from Australia would not be forthcoming. My transport sub-unit commander suggested we approach 3 CSSB to see if excess capacity in their Transport Squadron could be utilized by us, under an appropriate C2 arrangement and for a finite time.

There had been unofficial discussion at field-grade officer level and the Squadron Commander was keen to help (I got the sense they were underutilized in their core role). Unfortunately, the absolute refusal by Bde staff to even consider the proposal meant we had to persevere with a range of sub-optimal solutions. I found this lack of flexibility enormously frustrating and contrary to the principles of war.

I admit the problem was exacerbated by my decision to not allow 10 FSB Mack Trucks with trailers to travel east from Dili. I had travelled the road myself and the volume of civilian and military traffic, the lack of a verge or safety barriers, and the tight turns and steepness of the grades led me to conclude a fatal accident would be simply a matter of time. I sought permission to have MPs exercise route control during a window of time, restrict civilian traffic and allow trucks with trailers to travel one-way during this window. The proposal was denied.

I know the drivers of the Transport Troop were disappointed and the Troop Commander made it pretty clear he felt I lacked confidence in his soldiers’ skills and was micro-managing his business. The skill of the military drivers was not my main concern but rather the local civilian vehicles which were invariably poorly driven, grossly overloaded and patently unroadworthy. An accident with a fully laden Mack and trailer combination would have had multiple fatalities   I stuck to my decision and I was pleased to get to the end of the deployment with no 10 FSB vehicles involved in an accident on that difficult stretch of road.

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Docked at Dili Port, Image by Department of Defence

Recognition

While this was an ‘in-theatre’ issue, it is obviously a command and leadership issue rather than logistics but nonetheless an issue worth mentioning. Towards the end of the deployment, the Commanding Officers of the Force Logistics Support Group (FLSG) were asked to nominate appropriate people for recognition through the Honours, Awards and Commendations system. I sought nominations from my subordinates, held a unit Honours and Awards board and went through each nomination carefully. I also personally wrote up a small number of nominations.

Once the dust had settled and the INTERFET force had redeployed to home locations the list was released from Government House. I was delighted to see Corporal Lee-Anne McClenahan from the Terminal Troop had been awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service. However, she was the only one who was recognized in the formal Honours and Awards list. The other well-deserving officers and soldiers I had nominated missed out. Some were recognized through the Commendation system but others missed out altogether.

The sense that I, as the CO, was unable to carry the argument for my people to achieve appropriate recognition left a bitter aftertaste. There were moments of consolation, particularly when the Australian Active Service Medals arrived in the unit in November 2000 about three weeks before my tenure concluded, and at a unit parade, sub-unit commanders were able to personally present the medals to the soldiers with whom they’d deployed.

In January 2002, the unit was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation and later that year a number of veterans no longer posted to the unit, got to Townsville to see the unit presented the award by the CDF, General Peter Cosgrove. I was both proud and humble in equal measure to be part of the group and to be there on the day however a group award in no way negates the case for individual recognition and I remain disappointed that certain key officers and soldiers missed out.


Brigadier Kehoe’s experiences will conclude in a final article shortly.

Brigadier Michael (Mick) Kehoe served in a wide range of Australian Army and Joint appointments throughout his long and distinguished career. He is currently advising the UAE defence force professional military education program. 

Images from Department of Defence.

[1] I have mentioned the issues with the Supply capability. An additional example was the Terminal Troop. Not only had the Terminal capacity been reduced to a Troop in previous years, they had not unloaded a hatched ship in over five years. During the unit’s deployment the soldiers unloaded over 100 such ships.

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.