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. 

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Editorial: Continuing the discussion on sustaining self-reliance

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

Visit ‘The Central Blue’ here to continue!

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

 

The LIW articles you should read – a 2018 retrospective

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

From Every logistician must write:

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

Where competition, modernisation and capability meet

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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