How did we get here? Building the Defence logistician – Part One

By David Beaumont.

This transcript is the first half of a speech given at the 2018 Australian and New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference. The session was titled ‘The Future Logistician’.

So, how did we get here? What does it mean to be a logistician now, and what will a future logistician look like? These are big questions. Impossibly big questions.

To have a sense of a ‘profession’ you must first have an idea of what I mean by the term ‘we’. Everyone in the room is probably quite confident that they have a definition of what a logistician is; whether you agree with one another is another question. Are we talking about military staff only, does the definition include acquisition specialists, what about health professionals, and are we interested in Service logisticians operating at the tactical level?

Perhaps we could start by questioning what logistics is. We often choose to define a logistician in terms of a discrete capability. Logistics, much like strategy and tactics, is a process or a way of thinking. It is a comprehensive behaviour that combines science and art to achieve an outcome – the creation and sustainment of combat forces. Behind logistics is theory and practice, a confluence of activities that takes the raw material – often literally – and creates combat capability and actual firepower.

About the logistician – the logistician is the one that controls this activity, comprising many technical specialities at different levels of Defence, or facilitates the activities of others outside the enterprise. This might include industry partners, research institutions and other organisations. The logistics discipline is defined by systemic thinking, technical competencies, complexity, a balance between logistics organisation and command requirements, collective effort in a shared endeavour; but as we all know, in an environment usually defined by organisational disruption, resource limitations, lack of investment, tremendous oversight and sometimes even contempt, and without a doubt inter-agency conflict.

Now that I say it, it does sound like a difficult business to be in!

Why we are, what we are

It is a difficult business to be in. It is a business that has, in the context of Australian Defence at least, endured tremendous change in recent years. How did we get here, and where did the contemporary logistician come from?

Fortunately for you all, I won’t be giving a long and detailed history of logistics in warfare. Allow me to summarise two or three hundred years of major developments in creating and sustaining deployed forces by telling you that logistics has become increasingly important to the fulfilment of strategy. The industrialisation of war, invention of steam and later combustion engines, the electronic age, the post-WW2 invention of modern business science – all have contributed to increasing the importance of the logistician. Of course, with increased importance comes expectations and alongside these important technological, technical and theoretical changes have been investigations as to the role of logisticians in war, and what professional skills are required.

Let’s put the topic in our own context and in terms of our own experiences.  The first thing I will say is that we all come from different parts of the Defence organisation, but I feel quite confident in saying that the modern Defence logistician was born nearly thirty years ago.

This is not just because the senior-most members of the audience have been in the Services for about that long! It is because the world was changing, strategy was changing, and logistics was consequently changing. The spectre of great power conflict was receding, and force posture adjusting. The US commenced demobilisation, and forward positions underwritten by war-stocks and strategic reserves, supported by a supply-centric methodology and process, became untenable. Defence budgets began to decline, and strategy redeveloped to suit a ‘peace dividend’. Our militaries were faced by considerable pressure as modernisation and ‘block obsolescence’ required a substantial capital expenditure, and personnel expenses were beyond the capacity of defence forces to sustain.

Government pressure accelerated the rationalisation of strategic logistics systems, Services chose to bear the brunt of pressure in their logistics organisations and mass commercialisation began to occur through programs such as the Commercial Support Program. The 1991 Commercial Support program and 1997 Defence Efficiency Review (DER) had profound consequences for the ADF and Department. As General David Hurley describes in Nicholas Jans’s The Chiefs (p54), without a compelling intellectual argument to counter, outsourcing and commercialisation irrevocably changed the logistics and organisational landscape. Logisticians were compelled to be more efficient, and the language of the time echoed ‘best business practice’. Increased industry involvement and other factors created new professional requirements.

Operational experiences, set in this strategic and organisational climate, accentuated the evolutionary path. American performance in the 1991 Gulf War, an operation which truly showed how importance logistics was to the ability of a military to prosecute a war quickly, was a catalyst for even more reform. The ‘iron mountains’ that enabled a tremendous success in this war were perceived to be the vestiges of outdated supply-based concepts, and with the ‘revolution in military affairs’ came the ‘revolution in military logistics’ (RML). RML, originating in the US military, desired a revolution in process, organisation and skills relevant to logisticians. Professional pathways were efficiently amalgamated, distribution-based logistics instituted, centralisation emphasised, and the military and public service logistician increasingly compared to their private sector equivalents. These changes became a phenomenon among most Western militaries, who substantially adjusted their logistics force structures. This period truly defined the approach logisticians would take for the next twenty-five years.

This period resulted in a significant transfer of skills as jobs formerly performed by military logisticians were increasingly performed by public servants and industry partners. The establishment of the first truly joint logistics command in Support Command Australia as a key outcome of the DER was not just to improve the ADF’s operational effectiveness. Commander Support Command Australia, Lieutenant General Des Mueller, was directed to centralise, consolidate and outsource many strategic logistics functions. The subsequent consolidation of SCA, National Support Division and the Defence Acquisition Organisation into the Defence Materiel Organisation over the 2000-01 period cemented the expectations of whom would perform what.

These were immensely significant changes a decade in the making, conducted in a time of strategic and organisational turbulence we have not seen since. In my own Service, the training of military logisticians – reformed during the 1996 creation of the Army Logistics Training Centre – was largely focussed on military logistics operations. With this, the expectation of military logisticians to perform certain strategic and operational functions had certainly diminished. I don’t want to overstate the importance of these changes at the individual training level, but they were important indicators of the shifting ‘professional tide’ in terms of the expectations placed upon logisticians.

The operations came quickly, and with little opportunity to bed in changes. East Timor was an immensely challenging experience for the ADF and its coalition partners, but before adequate responses to capability and professional gaps could be addressed, we were part of a new coalition in the Middle-east. Much of the impetus to reform Defence logistics in an operational or professional context withered away. Keeping the pace with these operations was organisationally difficult, especially for those in the DMO which as was assailed by successive reviews. In the ADF, infant joint organisations stagnated as resources were directed to sustaining combat forces. Reform was attempted in the Air Force, and Army focussed upon relatively significant changes in its organisational structure and capability. There was little time to invest in professional development, little time to do much else than support the sustainment of operations, and few resources and people available to give substance to the intent of successive logistics commanders.

Why we are, where we are

The Defence logistician is built by training systems primarily focussed on tactical command or technical ability, an amorphous approach to professional military education, an over-reliance on experience, in an environment of fractured professional leadership, and often because of good luck.

Thirty years of change, including two decades of sustained operations, has impeded the development of a coherent approach to professionalisation. It has made it exceptionally difficult to approach skilling and technical expertise as a collective, and a variety of professional workarounds have consequently emerged. The preparation of logisticians is done so within federation of like-minded individuals. Although the Defence organisation may be increasingly centralised and joint in nature, its collective approach to professional development and training is immature. The shifting organisation has traditionally separated natural sources of leadership and made ownership of the ‘professional problem’ unclear. Without advocacy and engagement, gains achieved in logistics performance and capability development have been limited. Reform within the Services, sometimes because of responding to operational deficiencies and others in recovery from the lean 1990s, also meant some efforts undertaken in the enterprise had diverged from another. These points of divergence have been exacerbated by operational experiences.

The last decade and a half has been one in which the enterprise has done the best it can. However, while we have focussed on supporting individual achievement through an overemphasis on posting experiences (operational service, secondments and other activities) – the approach to training and educating the collective has been lacking. This approach has affected the basic level of competency of Defence logistics staff. We do not have a systemic approach to preparing Defence logisticians; a good training system is present, especially for our junior military members, but there is no agreed upon model to take the most junior military and public servant logistician to senior appointments. This is a symptom of fractured professional leadership and, for some time, no clear ‘owner’ of the task to prepare logisticians at the enterprise level.

A complex task

Our history reveals much about the reasons why the contemporary logistician ‘looks’ and ‘acts’ the way they do, what skills they possess, and how they relate to one another.

Of course, it is not the only reason we – as logisticians – are where we are. Logistics is an enormous problem. It is simply impossible to adequately prepare the logistician for the full range of tasks, employment opportunities and requirements across the full breadth of the Defence enterprise. A logistician, even at a junior level, faces a challenge that other career paths in military organisations will not be exposed to until senior ranks. It is massively complex, and to be successful as a logistician requires you to be able to navigate a substantial portion of the institution. It is an activity that begins with the national economy, with policy making and resourcing, and ends with the delivery of materiel and personnel to the combat force fighting at the forward edge of the battlefield. It comprises and enormous number of functions across the breadth of Defence – Department and ADF – performed by large numbers of technical specialists, generalist officers and public servants, industry partners and contractors and officials.

Slide1

The graphic above shows the generic logistics functions that are performed within the Defence enterprise. These functions are divided into two main areas. The bottom half of the slide shows that logistics is concerned with the development of the means for, and the sustainment of, military operations. It comprises a substantial proportion of the tasks a Defence logistician is expected to perform, as well as a number performed by others.

The second area relates to the formulation of strategy, including policy, and military tactics. You might think logisticians are only responsible for the provision of staff advice, but the real important work of the strategic logistician is in this space where their work sets in motion the Defence approach to industry policy and engagement, national support, acquisition inputs into strategy and other planning responsibilities. Logisticians are not the sole owners of these problems, but they are quite clearly critical in traversing the spectrum.

Success in this environment requires us all to understand which areas require emphasis given circumstances, and where the authority for decision making and activity lies. This, unfortunately, is hardly an easy task!

The second part of this transcript will be posted soon.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer and the thoughts here are is own.

Australian Army Logistics Training Centre Fiction and Imagery Competition

The driving visions and ideas for Australian Army logistics development have been remarkably consistent for some time. If this same vision is applied, now, it is likely any future modernisation will fail to keep at pace with technology and trend, and even the changing character of warfare. Fortunately, you can help the Australian Army visualise and think differently about the near future, and the battlefields it may face!

The Australian Army Training Centre, the ‘home of military logistics’ for the Australian Army, is holding an inaugural writing and multimedia competition. The purpose of this competition is to apply imagination and innovation to overcoming possible logistics and warfighting problems, and to introduce new ideas into the force development process.

A short introduction to the competition from the Training Centre:

The Australian Defence Force is modernising rapidly, with emerging technologies and operating methods presenting opportunities to significantly enhance capability. To ensure this modern force is appropriately sustained into the future, the ADF’s logistics capabilities cannot afford to be left behind. The Army Logistic Training Centre is looking for writers and multimedia artists who want to contribute to visualising the future of logistics. Submissions can be works of fiction, live action or animated movies, or still images.

We will publish and promote the winners on the Army Logistic Training Centre SharePoint site and selected social media channels, including The Cove and Logistics in War. All submissions will be provided to the Future Land Warfare Branch of Army Headquarters for possible consideration in concept development and experimentation.

A full copy of the entrant criteria can be found courtesy of ‘The Cove’ right here.

The most important details are as follows:

  • Competition submissions may be a short fiction (up to 1800 words), a three minute multimedia production or still imagery that visualises military logistics in the period 2025-2040.
  • Each entrant may submit one entry only, in English
  • A prize will be for the taking by Australian Defence Force participants.
  • Entries are to be submitted to hqaltc-fiction&imagerycompetition@defence.gov.au
  • Entries close 1600 h Monday 9 July 2018.
  • The most innovative efforts will be provided to Army’s Future Land Warfare Branch for consideration in future force development.

Good luck, and don’t forget to view the full details above!

The fight for logistics and survival in #highintensitywar

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

Operation OKRA

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

The synopsis of the talk is:

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

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

The full webinar can be found here.

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

Continue the discussion here!

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

 

Hoping and planning for the best: understanding war without logistics

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] Erbel, M. & Kinsey, C., ‘Think again – supplying war: reappraising military logistics and its centrality to strategy and war’ from Journal of Strategic Studies, 2015, Routledge, p 6, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2015.1104669. This paper is behind a paywall – apologies for those who may wish to access it.

[3] Ibid., p 14

[4] Ibid., p 14

[5] Ibid., p 22

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Ibid., p 10

[3] Ibid., p 9

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

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

By Jobie Turner.

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

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

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

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

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


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

[1]Erin McClellan, “Mobility Guardian provides valuable C-130 hot defueling training,” http://www.littlerock.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1271323/mobility-guardian-provides-valuable-c-130-hot-defueling-training/ (accessed 01 Oct 2017); Charles Q Brown Jr and Charles G Glover III, “Untethered Operations:  Rapid Mobility and Forward Basing are Keys to Airpower’s Success in the Antiaccess/Area-Denial environment,” Air & Space Power Journal 29, no. 3 (2015).

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

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

[4] Ibid., 58.

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

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