The value of a moment – logistics and the acceleration of war

By David Beaumont.

‘Future advantage will lie with the side who can ‘own the time’ and best prepare the environment.’

–        Lieutenant General R Burr, Chief of Army, Accelerated warfare, 08 Aug 18

What is the value of a moment? Thomas Kane – writing of the ‘quartermaster’s claim’ on war – notes this ‘value’ depends on the skill of commanders, the strength of forces and the will of troops. However, he concedes, ‘the side that manages to act first has greater freedom to choose the time, place and manner of the battle.’[1] Logistics might not be a competitor to strategy or tactics, but it most certainly helps determine ‘which side will have the most options available’; to seize advantage, if not define the way in which wars might be waged.[2] In return, different styles of war require different forms of logistics. The intended speed of action, the distance and dispersal of forces expected, the types of weapons used and the nature of specific units can create very unique requirements which must be planned and prepared for. Finally, technology plays an important part in determining both logistics capabilities, and the requirements which will ultimately sustain the force.

The ‘value of a moment’ is becoming an important in an age of increased, and clearly overt, strategic competition between a range of state and non-state actors. Maintaining military advantage, if not the relevance of military forces, purportedly requires new ways of thinking about warfighting.  The Australian Army, like its contemporaries, is exploring ideas while sitting at the cusp of very significant strategic, technological and institutional changes. The short ‘Futures Statement’ titled Accelerated Warfare cites that we now live in an ‘era of increasing competition’, identifying four strategic pre-eminent challenges.

–        Firstly, Australia’s region is the site of considerable strategic competition and dynamic diplomatic, informational, economic and military action. This conforms to the increasingly advertised notion that the spectrum of conflict, from peace to war, is becoming increasingly blurred by competitors who are exploiting Western disadvantages and ‘strategic seams’. The ability of forces to sustain and project forces, overcoming distance and achieving persistence over time, is a critical aspect of military capability. Force posture, access to local resources in partner nations, the sharing of such resources in coalition, and strategic transportation underwrite a credible military response.

–        Secondly, military threats have become increasingly asymmetric as state and non-state actors exploit technology to strike at military vulnerabilities. Precision weapons and ‘swarming’ and low cost capabilities make concentrated (historically speaking) force postures vulnerable, and risk the brittle Western military force structures based upon high-cost, few-in-number but ‘bleeding-edge’ capability. Gaining ‘access’ and persisting on the battlefield, if not acting in a ‘anti-access, area-denial’ approach itself, will define the Army approach to warfighting. In this environment of rapid action and destruction the capacity of the logistics system to reconstitute itself and replenish combat forces and their potential will determine who gains the initiative.

–        Thirdly, the ability for militaries to use technology to rapidly increase the speed at which decision are made, using centralised information more effectively to assure ‘decision superiority’, commends a new warfighting philosophy. This has explicit connotations for logistics capabilities, where decision making is critical for efficiency, if not transformation in general. The longstanding goal to replace quantity of supply with quality of information, if achieved, will enable decision-makers and commanders to efficiently reallocate resources. The speed of logistics decision making will contribute to operational sustainability.

–        Finally, the military ‘domains’ are blending further with the increasing reach of firepower, and where even ‘space’ and ‘cyber’ influence emerging battlefields. As the US Army Chief of Staff recently remarked, war will become a ‘perfect harmony of intense violence’. Networks and effective integration, as described throughout 2017 on Logistics in War, will be critical to this end. In a multi-domain environment, the blending of the battlefield and the strategic logistics system will predominate. Threats, such as cyber, will strike at vulnerabilities often outside of the military’s purview. Effective integration across the logistics system – partnerships with other militaries, in the Joint force, with industry – create efficiency and improve responsiveness.

The moment the Army began to consider time and the owning of initiative, the importance of logistics capability and capacity was elevated as a function of combat performance. The moment it considered the important of persistence in response, as a factor, logistics capability and capacity became essential.

EX Predator's Run 18

The response

The selection of a name for the emerging Army concept – Accelerated Warfare – is instructive as to the capabilities the Army might seek to develop in the future, and the operational concepts and doctrine which may also be produced. Like other armies, the Australian Army will likely seek to improves its command and control systems, acquire new weapons that give it an ability to influence operations on the land and from the land, continue to improve its survivability, and engage in vital international engagement tasks with regional partners so to ensure strategic stability is preserved. Logistics transformation is briefly mentioned as a requirement for technological transformation, alongside force structure, future investment and mobilisation (or the ability of the Army to ‘scale’ in size and capability to meet an unforeseen or predicted threat). But what is the different form of logistics required to sustain a different type of warfare?

At the strategic level, the ‘value of a moment’ will be increased by a logistics system that is well prepared and flexible, with its constituent elements modular and structured in such a way that they can be easily reallocated and reprioritised. A more nuanced approached to partnering, especially with industry and the Joint Force – largely responsible for the ADF’s strategic logistics approach to operations – will be vital in this preparedness. Prior to conflict, the Australian Army should consistently invest in engagement with partner nations. This includes working with the Joint Force in the development of logistics arrangements that reduce the logistics forces and sustainment stocks required to support operations. Most importantly, it should invest ensure that there is parity in those very things that enable responsiveness in decision-making, so that the ‘speed of logistics’ can match the ‘speed of battle’.

Operationally, the Army must look to efficient ways to set, sustain and collapse theatres. Logistics forces must be designed to be expeditionary, rapidly deployable, and once again, modular. To protect vital, developing, anti-access / area-denial weapons and persistent land operations, the role of the combat force may become secondary and a protective force, bringing with it new logistics requirements. Theatre logistics capabilities will need to be easily dispersible and supporting an ‘austere’ fighting culture that must be rediscovered by the joint land force. This will allow the joint land force, as a whole, to do what no other force can – persist in the operational area. Operational mobility must be emphasised at all stages, enabling the projection of military power to where it is needed, but also to avoid suppression, destruction and defeat. Time will be on the side of the mobile.

EX Predator's Run 18

An Australian Army HX77 truck from the 1st Combat Service Support Battalion delivers a load of blank ammunition to a 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment combined arms team in preparation to begin training activities under Exercise Predators Run 2018. *** Local Caption *** The landscape west of Port Augusta became a hive of activity as the 1st Brigade undertook its pinnacle training activity for 2018 – Exercise Predators Run. Held from 3-28 September2018 at the Cultana Field Training Area, South Australia, the exercise required a unit of the 1st Brigade combine to split into multi-discipline combat teams and complete a series of scenario based “lanes” which encompass a wide range of military tasks. These tasks included the march to advance, obstacle crossing, attack, peace support and defensive live fire. More than 2,500 soldiers were involved in the exercise conducted over three weeks.

Finally, the operational needs will make the tactical logistics requirements particularly challenging. Small logistics footprints will demand an improvement in the ability to prioritise and allocate resources, and with the ability to move with speed and to disperse and coalesce whenever support is required. Interdiction must be prepared for, prevented or avoided, for if the logistics footprint of the force is to be minimised, the capabilities that are deployed will be individually more important to the battlefield outcome. Technology must be exploited to offer scale, with equipment such as unmanned and robotics systems enabling the land force to do more at a lower operational risk. Flexibility, adaptability and tempo will become the defining traits of logistics capabilities and the system which sustains the ‘accelerated’ battle.

As I have said before in the context of predicting future war, all, some or none of the above may eventually apply. Nonetheless, if we accept the well-founded assumption that a new approach to joint warfighting is required, and ‘owning time’ is its main feature, we must also accept the role of logistics in determining the ‘value’ of a moment. Accelerated warfare, and the discussion and concepts which are likely to emerge in the Australian Army, offer us a chance to reflect on the changing character of war and potential threats that forces might face. It is self-evident that the logistics considerations which will ultimately impact on any response, considerations which reflect the role logistics has on timing and tempo, will need to be foremost in our minds:

‘One should understand the supply factor as a piece in the strategic jigsaw puzzle. By itself it means little, but one can assemble other pieces around its edges until the overall picture takes shape. Logistics helps determine which side will be able to mount the type of warfare it is best fitted to win. Thus, logistics takes its place in strategy as an arbiter of opportunity.’[3]

–        Thomas Kane, Military logistics and strategic performance

[1] Kane, T., Military logistics and strategic performance, p 8

[2] Ibid., p 9

[3] Kane, T., Military logistics and strategic performance, p 10

Is logistics the ultimate conventional deterrent?

By David Beaumont.

The Royal Australian Air Force, now armed with the fifth-generation fighter and other impressive air capabilities guided by a wholesale transformation strategy – Plan Jericho, has recently debated the need for a joint strike capability. This debate is being litigated through the Williams Foundation who are running a seminar on the topic during August 2018. 

‘The Central Blue’ – the Foundation’s online forum – has kindly published my contribution, an adaption of earlier work, on how logistics can act as a deterrent. I share it with you here as well. Don’t forget to follow ‘The Central Blue’ on all forms of social media.

Nations are naturally competitive, and one of the principle roles for standing militaries is to deter others from undertaking military action within this competition. Recently Western militaries have contended that adversaries, real and potential, do not always distinguish peace and war. In the recently released Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff argue that the ‘binary conception’ of peace and war is now obsolete, and a ‘competition continuum’ now applies.[1] Now these same Western militaries recognise they must act in times other than in armed c onflict, offsetting the strengths of other nations or groups who have a very different interpretation of what defines war. Deterrence, afforded by a range of military capabilities, is a core strategy taken within this offsetting. Although nuclear weapons may give an alternative, there is no deterrence, however, without logistics. This is because logistics, where military activity meets the national economy, leads strategy by making the intent to use force reality. Indeed, it is military logistics activity which truly defines a nations capacity to respond militarily to its challenges, and most certainly to deter adversaries – realistically – in a competitive environment.

Logistics and strategy are inseparable, each meaningless without the other. Logistics was ‘invented’ in war and has always had a ‘deadly life’.[2] The architecture of global supply chains, siphoning national wealth through geographic areas of immense strategic interest to nations and others, are focal points for national action. ‘Logistics cities’, major trade hubs and economic routes attract the interest of Governments and have become of immense strategic value. All arms of Government can be seen in action, using diplomatic, informational, military and economic means to shape how both commercial and military logistics might be applied to their favour. 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. Important military hardware such as the Joint Strike Fighter is underpinned by global arrangements, fragile supply chains and shared industrial capabilities that expose militaries to new areas of risk. 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 might begin and end with logistics.

Logistics might be at the heart of strategy and competition, but its role in deterrence is understated. John Roth’s work on the logistics of the Roman Empire saw military success a factor of the capacity to provision over long distances, and not just because of military culture and training.[3] Having the ability to sustain forces effectively was both a tactical and strategic weapon. Highly potent legions armed with modern weaponry gave the Romans victory in battles, but logistics gave them Empire. The ability to project forces throughout Europe and Asia was recognised by others, and conflict sometimes avoided as a consequence. Two thousand years later the same concept applies; beyond nuclear weapons it is the capacity of the mighty US military to project and sustain itself on a global scale that deters potential adversaries, and it is why Cold War exercises such as REFORGER and the contemporary alternatives such as Operation Atlantic Resolve are vital at a time of increasing competition. Core to deterrence are the capabilities most military women and men enjoy talking about; strike aircraft, long range artillery and naval task groups. But it is logistics that determines the circumstances of their use; the time it takes for arming, when and where refuelling may occur, and how quickly the detritus of battle can be repaired. And so, amid the force posturing and acquisition programs, most Western militaries are now devoting attention to how their military logistics organisations sustaining these capabilities perform.

The proximity of forces also works to deter, if only because it reduces the logistics ‘cost’ of supporting operations. Economist Kenneth E. Boulding proposed the ‘loss of strength gradient’, in Conflict and Defense: a general theory, as a theory to define the relationship between geography and military power for the purpose of conflict and deterrence. [4]  Boulding’s theory primarily looked at the relationship from the perspective of transportation capability counterbalanced against the capacity to deliver firepower through strike capabilities from afar. He later argued that the importance of forward basing was diminishing because the ‘cost’ of transportation, measured in speed and danger to deploying forces, was reducing and there had been ‘an enormous increase in the range of the deadly projectile’ through airpower and rocketry.[5] Strike capabilities, especially those emanating from the then 3rd-generation air domain, led him to this revelation.

The non-nuclear deterrence of the late twentieth century came from mobility and long-distance firepower. The closure of American and partner overseas military bases in the wake of the Cold War, the subsequent expansion of expeditionary forces and long-distance strike capabilities in many militaries, and startling tactical successes by these forces since the 1991 Gulf War reflect this trend. That is, until the dramatic reversal of strategic fortune as the ‘cost’ of transportation increased with ‘anti-access, area-denial’ threats, and a competitive force posture approach of rising (or ‘re-rising’) military powers. Distance, once again, became important to the military mind. As did the cost of maintaining the expensive, modern, strike capabilities procured to pierce the enemies operational shield. Western militaries now face a considerable reduction in their freedom for strategic manoeuvre, and the inevitable rebalancing between force posture and developing expeditionary and strike capability accordingly.

Beyond the unequivocal nature of logistics in force posture or capability development there are the most important logistics factors in strategic competition of all. Though the degree may differ given the circumstances, nations are always mobilised. The manner by which the logistics process can translate national economic power into tactical combat potential is a reflection of a national capacity to compete, deter, and to demonstrate an ability to militarily respond. Industry policy and the organisation of strategic logistics capability, the appointment of commanders to oversee sustainment and the presence of mobilisation plans and doctrine, reveal much about the quality of any military offset.  If you don’t believe that these comprise the ultimate joint strike weapon, it is impossible to argue that they aren’t essential to those strike capabilities that you do. These are not areas we typically look at when we consider deterrence, but they will discriminate between the successful and unsuccessful in the earliest stages of conflict when it comes.

For these reasons we will see competition and military deterrence play out in different ways, and for reasons that are often logistical in nature. One nation might build an island where there was none before, while another will procure air mobility platforms or ships for afloat support to support their strike capabilities. Others will examine force posture from first principles, while another will establish arrangements and agreements that might support a friendly force at short notice. Militaries might be restructured so that the acquisition and sustainment of capability improves preparedness, or eventual operational performance, more effectively. Just as there will be an unending competition in the development offensive and defensive capabilities between nations, so too will there be unending shifts in the way opposing military forces will offset one another through logistics means. It will not always be about new aircraft, tanks and ships. It will always be about how these strike and other combat capabilities are sustained.

Effective deterrence requires effective logistics. The threat of armed conflict is always a factor in strategic competition, but logistics capacity and capability are an important, if understated, part of the calculus. This must be kept in mind by those procuring the next generation of equipment that ostensibly serves as a deterrent to others. If we are to have a military deterrent, underpinned by impressive strike capabilities, it must also be underpinned by a logistics system that can support them. It may be easy to see the beginning of conflict in national economic systems, but it can also be seen in the seriousness given to shoring the gaps with respects to military logistics and more specifically, the sustainment of capabilities. Strategy has been rapidly becoming an appendix of logistics, if it hasn’t been so all along, and logistics activities can be profoundly important well before the ‘conflict continuum’ approaches its zenith in armed conflict.  This applies to deterrence where logistics, and potential logistics capacity, can sway the mind of a potential adversary. And when armed conflict does eventuate, it will be as much about the fight to supply – the defence of the supply chain and the efficiency of the logistics process – as it is about winning on the battlefield.

[1] US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint concept for integrated campaigning, March 2018,, p 4, 7

[2] See Cowen, D., The deadly life of logistics, University of Minnesota Press, USA, 2014

[3] Roth, J., The logistics of the Roman Army at war, BRILL, USA, p 279

[4] Boulding, K.E. Conflict and defense: a general theory, Harper and Brothers, USA, 1962, pp 260-262

[5] Cited in Webb, K., ‘The continued importance of geographic distance and Boulding’s loss of strength gradient’ from Comparative Strategy, University of Reading, UK, 2007, p 295. Strategic weapons such as those defined by the Lowy Institute as ‘signature weapons’ are a notable exclusion here – these include such things as nuclear weapons and the strategic use of cyber capability.

This article is an adaption of ‘Defining-strategic competition – when logistics becomes a strategic weapon’ posted April 2018. The views are the authors alone.



Decision-forcing cases for logistics: practicing logisticians to overcome ‘wicked problems’

By Bruce Gudmundsson.

Ed. note: on occasion, LIW examines the art of training and educating logisticians. LIW is privileged to have Dr Bruce Gudmundson, USMC University, discuss a teaching method very relevant to training leaders in ways to overcome ‘wicked problems’ in war. A link to his site can be found here.

A military logistician is a study in contrasts.  On the one hand, he is a custodian of public property.  As such, his cardinal virtues are thrift and efficiency.  On the other hand, he takes part in the waging of war, the most wasteful of all human activities.  Sometimes he must think like the manager of a large business.  At other times, he must look at the world through the eyes of a warrior.

A military logistician can easily find ways to plumb particular portions of his paradoxical profession.  The shelves groan, after all, under the weight of books about business management and military operations.  Board games on both subjects abound.  And, when his eyes grow tired, a logistician can profit from any one of a growing array of podcasts on martial and commercial topics.  The one thing that the military logistician cannot so easily do is find activities that help him engage the whole of his métier.

 The great exception to this rule is provided by the decision-forcing case.  Also known known as a ‘historical immersion problem,’ a decision-forcing case is an exercise in which participants take on the role of an actual person who, at some point in the past, was faced by a particularly challenging problem.  In that role, participants compose, and, if called upon by the facilitator, propose practical solutions to that problem.  This leads to a discussion (known as a ‘Socratic conversation’) in which participants critique, refine, and build upon those proposals. 

 One such decision-forcing case, ‘The Road to Habbaniya’, places participants in the shoes of Brigadier John Joseph Kingstone of the British Army, an officer who, in the spring of 1941, was charged with leading a heavily reinforced brigade to link up with the beleaguered garrison of a Royal Air Force base in Iraq.  The first problem set before the participants is a calculation of the number of 3-ton trucks needed to carry the food, water, fuel, and ammunition needed to move the column for a distance of more than 900 kilometers.

 This problem is not as straightforward as it might seem.  In addition to making allowances for maintenance, breakdowns, and security, the participants playing the role of Brigadier Kingstone must factor in the supplies needed by the trucks that carry the supplies for the column, as well as the supplies needed by the additional trucks that carry the supplies for the trucks, and so on.  As might be expected, participants rarely achieve consensus on the number of 3-ton trucks needed to get Brigadier Kingstone’s column to its objective.  Indeed, each time this decision-forcing case is taught, the solutions offered by participants differ considerably, with the largest estimate reliably exceeding the smallest by a factor of two or even three.

Once the participants have shared their calculations with each other, the facilitator of ‘The Road to Habbaniya’ provides them with a detailed description of the solution arrived at by the historical protagonist.  This ‘historical solution’, which includes a reconstruction of Brigadier Kingstone’s calculations, allows participants to compare their own thinking with that of ‘the man on the spot’.  In particular, it gives participants an opportunity to identify the assumptions that support their plans. 

‘The Road to Habbaniya’ is a two-problem exercise.  That is, the presentation of Brigadier Kingstone’s calculations is followed by a surprise, a development that requires the complete recasting of both the original plan of operations and the logistical scheme for supporting it.  Thus, participants enjoy a second opportunity to work through the cycle of devising, describing, and defending courses of action, followed by a second historical solution.  (As several fine books have been written about the operation in question, this sometimes takes the form of an invitation to visit the library.) 

A decision-forcing case drawn from the annals of the South Atlantic War of 1982, one called ‘Commando Logistics Regiment’, presents participants with a comparable conundrum.  This problem puts them in the boots of Lieutenant Colonel Ivor Hellberg, officer commanding the unit charged with providing material support to the landing force sent to the Falkland Islands at the start of that conflict, the 3rd Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines.  Optimized for service in northern Norway, the Commando Logistics Regiment was organized in a way that made extensive use of both motor transport and reservists.  However, as the shipping available to transport the 3rd Commando Brigade had little space for trucks and the government of the United Kingdom had decided to refrain from calling up reservists, Lieutenant Colonel Hellberg found himself engaged in a great deal of design work.  In particular, he had but a few hours to decide which elements of his command he would take with him on his 13,000-kilometer journey to the other side of the world, and which he would have to leave behind. 

A third decision-forcing, ‘The Hunt for Geronimo’, involves no motor transport at all.  Set in 1885, it asks participants to make a plan for supporting an ad hoc unit charged with a delicate diplomatic mission.  Composed of units of the United States Cavalry, companies of Apache Scouts, and civilian contractors, the improvised battalion will have to cross an international border, make a journey of some 800-kilometers through the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, and, quite possibly, provide both aid and protection to a group of indigenous people who are being hunted by mercenaries in the service of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  To further complicate matters, there will be little in the way of host nation support and few opportunities to acquire fodder for cavalry horses along the way. 

Like many of the classroom exercises used in the training of military logisticians, all three of these decision-forcing cases ask participants to do a great deal of arithmetic.  They are, to borrow a phrase from American Marines of the twentieth century, “stubby pencil drills.”  At the same time, they require those taking part to make sense of a unique situation and, having done so, design a solution that is custom-tailored to the peculiarities of the problem being faced.  In other words, these three decision-forcing cases require logisticians to engage some of the many contradictions at the heart of their particular art.

Bruce’s work can be found here, a portal to resources for any military professional seeking to document and used decision-forcing cases (case method studies) in education.

Bruce Gudmundsson served as a truck driver, logistics clerk, and logistics officer in the United States Marine Corps.  Currently working as an historian and case teacher in Quantico, Virginia, he is the author of, among many other things, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 4:  Logistics.  Between 2007 and 2017, Dr. Gudmundsson held the Case Method Chair at the Marine Corps University.

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.


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&
  • 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.