Thinking small – the importance of small-team logistic operations

By Steven Mencshelyi

Orchestrating the efforts of small combat elements operating in tactical environments which require dispersal and disaggregation is difficult. It’s probably going to get even more difficult to orchestrate combat elements, and maintain tempo, when we start considering urban combat and fighting in environments that naturally separate forces from one another. Logisticians need to start thinking about this challenge as it applies to future operations. In the Australian Army, logisticians supporting formations (combat brigades) generally think about company sized teams when they talk about purpose-specific forces. However, I believe that to sustain the combat brigade in the future, logisticians need to become better practiced – or at least think about – sustaining small.

In order to win the land battle, orchestration and tempo have always been essential tenets for combat arms offers and logisticians to remember. The Australian Army’s Land Warfare Doctrine LWD 3.0 Operations defines orchestration as ‘the arrangement of physical and non-physical actions to ensure their contribution is unified within a single mission’.  Through orchestration, tactical actions are focused to ‘create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation that shatters an enemy’s cohesion … and will to fight’. LWD 3.0 nests tempo as a key tenet of orchestration; when ‘war is a competition for time and space’ the ability to maintain a higher tempo allows us to exploit friction, achieve surprise, seize the initiative and maintain speed.  Orchestration requires a well-developed and executed plan, orders and control measures.  However, tempo also requires agile and responsive logistics that can effectively support at the combat team level.

In practice, commanders and their staff plan for activity ‘two-down’. For a combat brigade this means a focus upon orchestrating the efforts of combat teams that are usually allocated to a battlegroup. A brigade can only generate so many combat teams based on its company or squadron level headquarters elements. Within the battlegroups, commanding officers group armoured troops, infantry platoons and other capabilities together. A range of additional enablers are often attached to these combat teams at different times for a specific task and purpose. These groupings are never templated, but usually reflect teams established and practiced during training prior to battle. From this mix of combat teams the brigade commander establishes battlegroups, based around a battalion or regimental headquarters.

Exercise Hamel 2016

Echelon replenishment during Australian Army Ex Hamel 2016, 1 Armoured Cavalry Regiment, Photo by Australian Army

After a recent review into its logistics, the Australian Army now concentrates much of its sustainment capability at the formation level with battalions and regiments possessing small integral echelons. Logistic capability is allocated to battlegroups to support tasks in a similar way as combat forces when they are assigned to combat teams and battlegroups.  There are two ways in which this allocation occurs as defined by duration, distance and threat. In the first, combat service support (CSS) capability is allocated for a set time or battle phasing. Alternatively, the brigade headquarters provides coordination and sets control measures which allow CSS capability bricks to independently navigate the battlefield to allow the sustainment of forward combat teams. As Mark Baldock recounts, 1 CSSB tested some of these concepts with dispersed company sized CSST’s during Hamel 2016.

As I write above, it is my opinion that this modularity could be taken further with logistic teams of platoon size the basis for CSS ‘capability bricks’ within a combat formation. This means that a CSS battalion commander like his peers from combat units would need to generate small and capable platoon-sized ‘replenishment teams’ which include:

  • proficient distribution teams, transports sections, and transport troops that can group and regroup to achieve the distribution effect across the battle space.
  • technically qualified and proficient forward repair teams and forward repair groups to maintain and repair brigade equipment across the battle space.
  • bulk fuel section, ammo sections, and warehouse platoons capable of defending, holding and preparing combat commodities for distribution.
  • logistic command teams that can command and employ any capability brick allocated to it.

Replenishment teams could operate in direct support to combat teams. To achieve this level of dispersal in a formations logistic capability would be difficult for reasons of control, but technology could assist future logistic commanders.   In the near future, enabled by a range of new platforms, replenishment teams should possess the ability to communicate, provide their own protection to some extent and have sufficient situational awareness to navigate a complex battle space, and most importantly, protection and weaponry stay alive.

As a CSS commander at any level, it is a sobering thought to realise you command a high value target and a physical vulnerability of the formation. This is especially the case if logistic capabilities are centralised and made static in large positions. There are ways to mitigate this risk, but it has been my experience and belief that dispersed, but mutually-supporting platoon-sized CSS capabilities, is the best way for sustainment to be assured without tempting an enemy with a large logistic target. Moving in small packets, below detection thresholds if possible, and responding with overwhelming firepower if required should become the norm for logistic elements. In applying this concept, losing a replenishment team to enemy action will pose a significant problem for the combat team being sustained. However, considered in the context of a non-dispersed formation, such a loss would seem minor in comparison to losing either a company-level CSST or the Brigade Maintenance Area or Support Group.

US Army_Bakhaira Iraq liberate Mosul_CJTF Op Inherent resolve

Recent US Army operations in Bakhaira, Iraq during the recent liberation of Mosul, Photo by US Army

How can the formation staff orchestrate this concept and give the brigade its tempo? It won’t be an easy task. With a set number of Combat Teams and replenishment teams available to a brigade, coordination and control measures become central to their effective and efficient use.  ‘Road space’ must be managed efficiently as CSS elements will routinely move forwards and rearwards as the battle ebbs and flows. Intermixed in this movement, combat teams will leap frog in tactical bounds; requiring replenishment at various intervals. Further rearwards bulk commodity movements and distributed, and continually moving, ‘logistic nodes’ will very quickly stretch the ability to sustain tempo. Managing this complex battlespace will require the best out of the formation staff.

The ability to enable, sustain and maintain combat teams concurrently in any operational setting is the key to generating tempo and winning the land fight. This requires logisticians to ‘think smaller’ when considering the use of logistic capabilities. Future wars and operating environments, particularly in littoral or urban domains, will require logistic units to operate independently, and most likely in platoon-sized elements supporting combat teams in combat. Just as members of the combat arms need to develop new tactics, techniques and procedures to operate in a dispersed battlefield, so too will logisticians.  Transferring what was once a regimental echelon sustainment task to formation level logistic units will require them to develop a different mindset to generate capabilities that are suitably structured to interact directly with combat teams so to effectively sustain the brigade.

This requires more of logisticians who must understand the building blocks of the brigade and the mechanics of how combat teams move, fight and execute tactical tasks. This will enable them to better visualise and plan sustainment requirements.  Doctrine should guide them in developing such an understanding.  Undoubtedly seeing it, exercising it and simulating it will be lead to better outcomes; logisticians must practice the concept regularly in collective training. Furthermore, logistic commanders must trust junior logistic officers to command and fight logistics capabilities in the battle space. I believe this is something that logisticians have been reluctant to do in the past, and is a culture that must change.

Changing old approaches to logistics to focus upon small-team operations will, in my opinion, better prepare logistic for the requirement to be responsive and agile. Orchestrated effectively with the formations battle plan, small-team operations will better support the Brigades’ tempo and contribute to it winning the land fight.

Steven Mencshelyi is a serving Australian Army officer. He has served in staff and command appointments in Cavalry, Infantry and Tank Regiments, and as a Bde S4 and Log Battalion Executive Officer. The thoughts here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @Munch1976.

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Sustaining ‘Multi-Domain Battle’: Part Two – combat and modular logistic forces

By David Beaumont.

Success in war has always demanded forces that are adaptable, and sustaining the type of operations being considered under the rubric of Multi-Domain Battle will require no different. Most logisticians will be well-familiar with the idea of ‘modularisation’ as a way in which logistic forces can be organised with adaption in mind. It has been a central feature of the readiness processes of forces for years, where force structures are optimised so that components can be kept on varied ‘notices to move’. For example, the Australian Army rotates its three regular combat brigades and ‘modules’ of different support capabilities through phases of ‘ready’, ‘readying’ and ‘reset’ (analogous to reconstitution from a period of heightened readiness). This ensures enables operational planners have a selection of basic building bricks of capability  available that can be chosen to suit a routine operation, or a discrete contingency. However, there is a considerable difference between modularity in preparations for war, and modularity when conducting it. This post will explore the idea of modularity in the context of the latter; as it applies to force design, and as a method to overcome some of the challenges imposed in sustaining Multi-Domain Battle.

Logistics is contextual, and this means the appropriate tactical logistic force structure is always determined by a combination of distance, dependency, duration and demand. This nature of logistics has always given validity to the idea of modularity, as much as logisticians might find purpose-built echelons, with predictable sustainment requirements, convenient. As Mark Baldock recently described, a modular approach to tactical logistics saw him establish Combat Service Support Teams (CSST’s) to sustain different battlegroups for different tasks. Mark’s experiences are, in general, analogous to the way in which modular logistics has been employed for many years, by different militaries. It is an approach which requires the identification of a ‘capability brick’ which represent an irreducible minimum of a particular logistic resource, with multiple ‘bricks’ and command and control elements being allocated to suit a particular task. This approach reflects what is applied elsewhere. Tactics including ‘combined arms’ and joint warfare, both of which combine constituent capabilities to enhance battlefield effects, show that this approach to warfare has a fine heritage.

Modularity and the importance of adaptable logistic elements will become more relevant to logisticians in the future if one takes a survey of developing concepts, or views several predictions as to the character of future wars as certainty.  In a recent online article for the US Army’s Military Review,  Commanding General US Army Pacific (CG USARPAC) Gen. Robert Brown describes Multi-Domain Battle as not only requiring the integration of joint capabilities but outlines a vignette in which a Task Force of different capabilities forms a self-sustaining, independent, force. The idea of a task force is not new and as described above, the practice of grouping various modular elements to suit different tasks is routine practice in Western militaries. It would seem that under Multi-Domain Battle, and with ideas such as the USMC’s hybrid logistics (an expansion of expeditionary logistics  which integrates proposed technologies with concepts), or those contained within the Australian Army’s recent concept paper on operations within ‘the modern way of war’ that organisational adaptability will be a battlefield requirement. Indeed, Brown’s article notes specifically that the Multi-Domain Battle concept can be applied differently according to geography and which force might be employing it.

Sust MDP - Inchon landing - US Army

Inchon landings, Korean War, 1950; US Army archival footage

Groupings may ultimately differ for Multi-Domain Battle comprising urban combat, littoral manoeuvre or desert warfare; there is an infinite number of possibilities in war that lead to different conclusions when it comes to force structure for operations. Some militaries might be able to design purpose-built forces to partially account for this variation, but that luxury is not often possible for smaller land forces with less scope for specialisation. For logisticians, this means that no one logistic model can be applied to different situations (as much as logisticians would like it to be so), and the logistic force structures we have in peace-time must be adaptable to operations. As land forces intend  to operate with greater dispersion, particularly in environments where geography divides forces from one another or threat requires forces to avoid detection and precision fires, logisticians must find ways in which their forces can be sustained by combat service support capability bricks spread throughout the battlespace. We are now finding the limits to dispersion as specialised forms of logistic capability, such as the presence of medical elements or even key distribution platforms such as individual fuel trucks or recovery vehicles, now determine the limits through which such dispersion can be realistically achieved.

Such issues bring us to with one of the perennial problems for military logistics. History shows us that logisticians are often required to compromise between a need for decentralisation and dispersal of capabilities, and the need to have a capacity to ‘mass’ logistic capabilities that are few in number, or simply best employed in such a way, for best effect. As most land forces have done in the past we can plan logistic force structures on attending to this dichotomy. If we apply the lessons contained within Huston’s opus Sinews of War, Army logistics, 1775-1953, we would centralise the control of transportation and mass-sustainment effects, and decentralise control of small-volume, localised activity such as health care. We would ensure we had a responsive logistic management system, enabling logistic forces to provide the greatest possible effect at a decisive point on a battlefield or in the area of operations when they are required. Those functions central to immediate tactical flexibility, or for those day-to-day tasks, should be available to subordinate commanders and echelons structured accordingly. We would try to balance the structure to avoid rigidity through over-centralisation, while limiting dispersal so to prevent the inefficient use of critical logistic resources; but because logistic forces will be inherently modular, knowing that commanders can always reallocate forces from one point to another as required.

This approach requires the limitation of integral support capacity of a unit to that which is absolutely essential, with the allocation of sufficient capability bricks to support a particular task or mission occurring later. In describing ‘modular manoeuvre unit support’ as it was applied in the US Army, the RAND Corporation saw that ‘capability bricks’ would be provided through ‘reach’ and ‘phased in’ as the operation evolves. This was seen as important because it kept forward units lean, in turn enabling rapid deployment or combat manoeuvre. In terms of Multi-Domain Battle, this eliminates the need for a larger logistic footprint in areas where it will be especially vulnerable. Supporting logistic force elements held rearward will then be in a much better position to allocate capability bricks, in accordance with the commanders priorities, to those areas and units requiring the greatest efforts. This very idea was applied in the Australian Army’s recent review into its logistics, and has supported a change of focus from a tactical culture based upon fighting individual battalions to one emphasising formation-level operations. I suspect a similar philosophy might also be implemented by the British Army with respect to the sustainment of Strike Brigades, and in the current logistic review being undertaken by the Canadian Army.

East Timor

Operation Warden, Day 2, beach landing at Oecussi, September 1999; Photo by ADF

Technology, and in particular C4ISR capabilities[1], will significantly enhance the ability to employ modularised logistic forces even if we apply it in the context of current doctrinal methods and practices. With a commander’s decision making supported by a tremendous evolution in ISR, and digital communications enabling the rapid flow of information within formations and to elsewhere, the ability of formations to adapt their forces structure to suit operational changes has been enhanced considerably. These very systems are essential to the control of dispersed combat forces, but also form the backbone of battlefield distribution and potentially in enabling the ‘massing’ of logistic capabilities. Will these technologies overcome the insufficient numbers of logistic elements that normally characterise austere operations, as all operations in contested environments tend to be? The answer is a resounding no. Logistic and battlefield common-operating pictures will greatly enhance the commander’s ability to redirect logistic effort to where it is required, but they cannot overcome the physical limitations of the force. In this respect, land forces are looking to other technologies such as additive manufacturing, new sources of power generation, or different forms of distribution including increased use of airdrop or logistic-oriented drones to support existing tactical techniques and doctrine.

However, there are grounds to challenge some of the assumptions we make when considering modularity and how it is best employed. As described above, there is a great deal of complexity in this approach beyond the over-simplified view of centralising modular logistics elements at the rear, and fragmenting and dispersing logistic capability bricks forward. Such approaches apply a very traditional form of logistics, breaking a force into sequential components that naturally fit within a layered echelon system, or ‘lines’ of support, from unit to brigade to joint task. It may be completely impractical to apply this model in an environment where geography or detection and destruction prevents massed logistic capabilities from being easily switched from one area or force to another. However, it may be equally impractical to enhance the capabilities of forward echelons, even though it may be tempting to form logistic echelons robust enough to enable task forces to operate independently as per General Brown’s article.  If this trap is fallen into, land forces might find the need to spread modularised logistic capabilities across a battlefield to support the dispersion of combat forces actually requires the deployment of more of them to the theatre, increasing the force’s logistic tail in the process.

Ammunition Supply lines - WW1

Supplying ammunition to a WW1 Infantry Division

Furthermore, the tactical requirements of deploying into a highly-contested environment – into combat – are likely to challenge the ideas of what a modularised force might look like. The need to fight into an area of operations, and to sustain a force for an extended time during which it might be cut-off from supply-chains and logistic support, could mean that the practice of neatly dividing modular forces into discrete combat, combat support or combat service support echelons becomes limiting. Forces deploying into such environments must be packaged in a manner that integrates combat and logistic elements from the outset to prevent force projection from turning into a complicated mess, or at least less so than is typical of deployments. Forget a systematic process of reception, staging, onforward and integration in this environment, a process land forces are now accustomed to due to recent operational experiences. The need to integrate components of a force into ‘combat packages’ biases force modularity by function or effect, rather than by any particular technical proficiency, trade or specialisation.

Land forces appear to be moving in this direction, a logical extension of existing doctrine, with flexibility in force structure filtering into the concepts associated with Multi-Domain Battle. It is certainly a view that is being examined in the context of bases and staging forces, as shown by the CBSA with respect to USMC ‘Expeditionary Advanced Base’ operations in environments threatened by precision weapons. However, modularity could go further and challenge existing technical divides. For example, a future distribution capability brick might include armoured fighting vehicles, ground-based air defence and maybe integral ISR and access to fires capabilities. Similarly, basic combat teams optimised for independent operations might require their own solutions that ensures sustainment but doesn’t inhibit their manoeuvrability but gives them greater access to the logistic system. It will be less important for these ‘force packages’ to have their own integral support capabilities than it will be for them to successfully identify and access sources of sustainment from whomever might hold them in the joint force.  Multi-functional personnel will be required in this environment, where austerity and competition for resources will be the norm and a capacity to reinforce elements is significantly degraded.

These ideas are food for thought, obvious to some and not so to others, and there are real and self-imposed reasons as to why present versions of modularity may not change. Martin Van Creveld in Supplying War notes armies rarely get force structure before war right, and designing adaptable forces and logistic capabilities through modularity may never entirely deliver what it promises. Yet operations in the contested environments envisioned in Multi-Domain Battle are likely to demand a greater unity of effort between all of the ‘arms’ of land forces. We can look at this as a force design and conceptual problem, a training requirement, or we can leave it to deployed commanders to adjust the forces that are available, enhanced by better technology and training in the future, once they deploy. After all, a forces sustainment requirements are only ever known with some certainty (and I use the term ‘certainty’ loosely) once ‘boots are on the ground’. Although a combination of force design, training and command judgement is always required, all land forces, whichever military they belong to, need to apply intellectual rigour to confirm what the balance between the three must be. Either way, one thing is clear. The relationship between combat forces and their ‘sustainers’ must be closer than it ever has been, and the trinity of trust, logistic discipline and an acceptance of risk will continue to be vital for combat success.

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

Follow us at Twitter: @logisticsinwar and Facebook : @logisticsinwar. Share this article to grow the network and continue the discussion. If you want to contribute to Logistics In War, please check out the link above.

[1] Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

No silver bullets – enhancing the logistic forces of a small Army

By James Davis

The logistic implications of Multi Domain Battle might be a du jour topic, but it is a distraction for a small Army. The challenges envisaged by Multi Domain Battle are not unique and aspects will feature in any operation conducted in the future by Western militaries. Persistent, pervasive surveillance and continuous exposure to fires from air, land, the electromagnetic spectrum and sea have long-fuelled discussion of the relative advantages and disadvantages of dispersion and concentration. Unfortunately, the character of the next war is uncertain and therefore land forces cannot decide to concentrate or disperse preemptively. As David Beaumont rightly points out elsewhere; “it depends”.

Australian Army Director of research, Dr Albert Palazzo, describes how a flexible approach remains the best option for small armies as they prepare for this uncertainty. The exam question for any  small land force is how to judiciously, and at low resource cost, enhance the capabilities of logistic forces so that they best contribute to tactical, operational and strategic flexibility.

Exercise Predator's Run 2015

Photo by Australian Army – Exercise Predators Run 2015

Below are five ways in which logistics capabilities could be enhanced in a small army, as it applies to my own – the Australian Army:

Guarantee logistic support for contingency forces.  The Australian Army maintains contingency forces to support a variety of different tasks. Contingency forces shape and deter threats and buy time and – most importantly – manoeuvre space for follow on forces.   The contingency forces of the ADF will become increasingly joint, with land forces becoming increasingly oriented towards a developing amphibious capability.  This will only become more obvious as Army practices and exercises the amphibious capability in coming years. Unfortunately, logistic reviews of the past five years have avoided analysis of the logistics required to generate, deploy, employ and sustain the land component of the amphibious force.

Increase the Overlap between Combat and logistic (Combat Service Support Soldiers). Combat and Combat Service Support soldiers must provide redundancy for each other. First and second line units should include soldiers with a mix of technical and tactical skills. For example: a medic should possess tactical questioning skills, some armoured fighing vehicle drivers should have vehicle mechanic skills, and truck drivers should have the skills to operate heavy weapons. The Australian Army owns the training policy to allow this to be done efficiently, and I suspect the same applies to others armies. Increasing the skill ‘overlap’ will increase the self-sufficiency of combat units and increase the survivability of logistic units.

Educate leaders with regard to expeditionary logistics and mobilisation.  Army should champion an annual joint expeditionary logistics education activity for a broad audience; this could be a wargame, a symposium (such as the 2016 Australian Army Logistics Leaders Symposium) or a formalised sustainment walk.

Create and maintain logistic expertise. In the Australian Army, approximately 37% of Army field units are combat units, 37% are combat support units (such as engineers and intelligence specialists) and the remaining 25% are combat service support (logisticians) (yes, I admit I am missing a percent). Senior officer ranks, attendance on courses and exchanges should reflect these percentages rather than the present imbalance. A review of the current weighting of senior leadership might reveal some opportunities for change. In turn, the logistic community must develop more responsive tools to inform Army leaders regarding to the logistic implications of force structure and equipment changes. At present there are too many opinions and not enough data.

Enhance command and control. Agility derives from common understanding enabled by communications. To improve the agility of logistics units armies must deliver the training and equipment for logistic elements to use and protect command and control networks. The culture of logistic units must foster a relentless curiosity with regard to the location and intentions of the enemy and friendly units, and conduct sustainment planning accordingly.

There are no silver bullets, but all small armies must seek to take any action that improves their flexibility. Ready contingency forces, intellectual capacity and soldiers practiced in fighting and communicating remain reliable counters to uncertainty.

This post is an edited repost from James’ own blog, ‘The Armchair Colonel’ ; ‘No Silver Bullets – Enhancing Land Logistic Forces’ at . All opinions are his own, and do not reflect those of the Australian Army, or any other Australian Defence organisation.

As a cavalry officer, James brings a different perspective to understanding the challenges of sustaining forces on the modern battlefield. Such perspectives are vital for the study of logistics; bringing to mind what strategist Colin Gray once aptly noted; ‘they cannot know logistics who only logistics know’.

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Establishing an ‘unequal dialogue’ between the logistician and the commander

By Steve Cornell

‘My logisticians are a humorless lot … they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay.’

–  attributed to Alexander the Great

Logisticians can be a misunderstood lot, which is probably why – if you believe the authenticity of the quote – Alexander the Great was so willing to execute them if he lost. They can also be guilty, at times, of complaining from the sidelines as ‘G3 snobs’ crack on and ignore ‘sage advice’ based on ‘impeccable data’. So how could this situation be improved?

Eliot Cohen has described an ‘unequal dialogue’ between military commanders and their political masters.[1] The primacy of the civilian leader is acknowledged and adhered to, but the defining characteristic of the relationship is an honest and robust dialogue that ensures the leader is provided the best possible advice and support. Trust is implicit in this dialogue. I propose that an effective and robust dialogue is just what logisticians need to achieve with their commander.

Why the need? Logisticians must understand the mind of their commanders, and in return, their perspective must be reflected in their commander’s thinking. This applies in peacetime where materiel and personnel must be ready and prepared for operations. However, it should go without saying that the dialogue is even more fundamental during operations. Without an effective dialogue between commander and logistician, operations and logistics planning requirements risk becoming unbalanced, with logistic and combat elements potentially ‘unhinging’ each others operations at a time they should be working effectively together.


UK Army logistics – Iraq 2003

Before any operational dialogue can occur, we should consider what the commander and logistician should seek to understand.  In my experience, I have found that the commander likely wants to know three things:

Is this plan doable or not? They have a plan and they just need a yes or no as to its feasibility. They don’t necessarily need to provided with reams of calculations although the most will want some sort of evidence to your conclusion, especially if your answer is no.

When is the battle going to end? And restart? In an ideal world formations would be able to operate forever over unlimited distances, with logistics quietly sustaining the force. Commanders get this is not realistic, if for no other reason than they get that their people need to sleep at some point. They want to understand when or where they need to pause, and at what point they can resume their preferred activity.

How much is this going to cost me? Be it time, money or tactical opportunities logistics will cost a commander and his plan. What is it, can he afford it and what is he giving up to be sustained?

Logisticians are also seeking answers to three questions:

What are you thinking of doing?  As logisticians there is a lot of difference between the ‘fight tonight’ and the ‘fight tomorrow’. It is too late for the ‘fight tonight’ to be influenced by a logistician: the right stuff must already be in the right place, right now, because there is little opportunity to change plans.  The ‘fight tomorrow’ is key business for the logistician. It may be utopic to assume that the perfect logistic preparations can ever be put into place. Such is the fog of war, and the non-linear nature of warfare between two sides,  that commanders themselves will be doing well to know exactly how the fight might unfold. But any insight with respect to the planning picture and changes in commander’s intent can provide the lead time a logistician needs.

What opportunities are there to reset the battle?  As much as sustaining in background is desirable, fleeting opportunities in the lull of the fight must be taken to enable the force to recuperate itself. Identifying, along with operational planners, when these opportunities might be taken by consulting the commander  will be vital to enabling the force to reset and recuperate.

How much are we doing to need? How many times has a conversation gone like this: ‘what do you think we’ll need? – Dunno, what are you planning to do?’ Logisticians and commanders need to understand the logistic requirements that are created by a plan. They will only ever be able to do this together.


UK Army logistics – Afghanistan 2013

It is incumbent on logisticians to start this dialogue, just as it is for commanders and operations staff to participate in it. How should logisticians start the dialogue?

Firstly, logisticians must have confidence in the role logistics plays in operations and the level of expertise that they possess. Too often we lack pride in our profession because we have a supporting role.  However, effective commanders always value frank advice and a self-confident approach.

Secondly, logisticians must talk and act as a military professional. No one wants to talk to a single-issue zealot with little insight as to the operation. Logisticians must actively and usefully involve themselves in the activities and planning of the combat and combat support arms. This relationship forms the basis upon which the future dialogue between commander and logistician will be set.

Starting the dialogue might not be easy but it’s better to do so when training at home than when already deployed. On that basis, start today: commanders will be surprisingly receptive.

Steve Cornell is a logistician in the British Army enjoying unit command.  The views expressed here are solely his own and are not reflective of any organisation.

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1] Eliot A.Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime, New York: Free Press, 2002.

Sustaining the multi-domain battle

‘Multi-domain battle’ is the topic of the moment amongst land force (Army and Marine) concept writers in a number of Western armies.  ‘Multi-domain battle’ is an evolution of joint warfare which exploits the capacity of domain ‘owners’ (land, sea, air and now space and cyber) to synchronise their operations. However, multi-domain battle has also emerged as the consequence of new technologies which increasingly enable domain ‘owners’ to influence outcomes in other domains. For example, with new computing and sensor capabilities, long-range precision strike weapons and other capabilities, land forces find themselves able to create opportunities for the joint force, rather than being a recipient of assistance in a joint fight. Secondly, multi-domain battle also comes with the development of capabilities that can integrate effectively across the domains to better the queueing of combat power onto an adversary. For example, if every vehicle, aircraft and ship is considered a sensor in this version of ‘hyper war’, operating in unison through modernised command and control systems, the greatly improved ability of militaries to detect and utilise joint fires promises to fundamentally change the way the force fights.

However, technological reasons are not the only reason that multi-domain battle exists as a concept, nor are they necessarily why Armies are so interested in promoting it. With near-peer conflict an increasing possibility, and with the proliferation of precision rocketry, a flourishing debate on operations within an ‘anti-access, aerial-denial’ (A2AD) environment forced Western militaries to reconsider their concepts. Initial responses such as ‘Air-Sea Battle’ gained broad interest, but as concept writers realised that such stand-off strategies gave the enemy the operational initiative, an expectation that land forces would be required to operate in ‘the keep-out zone’ became evident. Furthermore, it was also realised that A2AD zones could be penetrated and defeated by land forces, and integrated with the effects provided from other domain ‘owners’, A2AD could be systemically defeated. To do this land forces would operate in a dispersed fashion, exploiting brief periods of ‘domain superiority’ to ultimately defeat the adversary.


Photo by Stars and Stripes – Multiple-Launch Rocket System attack in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War

Despite the contention that exists with the concept as a whole, multi-domain battle poses a variety of intellectual challenges for those interested in the methods to sustain it. Multi-domain battle may have emerged from the conceptual ether only recently, but many of the logistical challenges the concept poses are familiar ones. However, as sustainment and capability plans slowly coalesce from the efforts of concept developers, tested through a variety of experiments and exercises conducted over the last year, the magnitude of these challenges is becoming evident. Assumptions are increasingly being challenged in land forces with commensurate changes underway with respect to logistics forces, but there is a convincing case for a greater transformation to be undertaken.

In most Western militaries, and for reasons of efficiency, operational logistics has been at the forefront of modern jointery. The improved integration of effects envisaged under multi-domain battle only supports the further progression to joint methods of movement and sustainment. The current epoch of thinking on logistics demands adaptive yet efficient supply chains, and emphases joint management of process so to prevent the ‘snowballing’ of logistic forces required in theatre. To maintain a high volume of supply to whichever domain owner might have the lead at any one time will depend upon effective information systems as capable as those which support the synchronisation of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and joint fires.

Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons worth exploring in detail another time, militaries have had a mixed track record of success in establishing such efficient supply chains in operations, or in introducing the logistics information systems required to coordinate them. Ideas such as ‘distribution-based logistics’ in support of major combat operations haven’t always led to effective operational outcomes, and logistics information systems programs are often a soft target for cost-cutting and it is rare they are introduced as originally intended. This has to change if multi-domain battle is to be sustained effectively.

In terms of improved ‘jointery’, the multi-domain battle concept is likely to require military Services to rethink who might do what to whom at the tactical level. Dispersal could very well result forces in one Service sustaining another; a practice which, historically speaking, occurs frequently. Domain owners should not necessarily abandon their own integral logistic capabilities to create permanent joint arrangements, but it should require them to train and prepare with this outcome in mind. This problem may be of less a concern for forces such as the United States Marine Corps whose force structure and recent concepts such as ‘Expeditionary Advanced Bases’ inherently achieve a joint effect at the tactical level. But for others, the thought of a combat unit receiving logistic support from another Service might exposes institutional shibboleths that shouldn’t be tolerated.


Photo by Australian Department of Defence – Operation Tor Ghar 4 (2010), Afghanistan

The most significant land-force logistic challenges to multi-domain battle are, without a doubt, those that emerge as the consequence of land forces operating within the A2AD zone. Without repeating these well-known challenges in detail, to sustain dispersed combat forces for transitory periods in highly-lethal environments requires a lot from logistics elements. Logistics forces are seen to have to be able to hide alongside the combat forces, with an ability to move with speed and to disperse and coalesce when and where support is required. These are not small challenges to overcome; operating in a highly complex and ever-changing distribution network poses major risks when to move is to invite detection, and detection to lead to destruction. Efficiencies gained through economies of scale offered by bases, fixed supply points and routine logistic traffic will be lost as logistics elements are spread thin. A fine balance of logistics capabilities close to dispersed combat forces must be achieved to ensure they do not become a liability on manoeuvre, or at its worst, indicate to an enemy – or become themselves – a target.

Despite the concepts such as sea-basing that aspire to avoid the tactical challenge of logistics in the A2AD zone, and with every attempt being made to disperse logistics forces forwards, logisticians will have to remain prepared to operate in fear of the ‘artillery barrage’. Battlefields will be as complicated and complex for logisiticians to negotiate as they have ever been. Interdiction will be commonplace and at times impossible to counter with active measures. Forward operating bases will require a combination of defensive measures, such as anti-air weaponry and surveillance capabilities, forming vital but semi-secure nodes from which combat forces will be sustained. Proximity to logistics bases will determine sustainability, rather than the typical methods of sustainment armies currently learn through doctrine. Just as the ideas of ‘supporting’ and ‘supported’ might apply to joint fires in multi-domain battle, so too might this control method be applied to logistics.

The importance of an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance picture to logistics movement  into the combat zone will be vital so to exploit gaps in the battle, and to reduce the distance combat forces will be required to move in order to be sustained. The dispersal of these combat forces will mean logistics elements will be required to take greater responsibility for self-protection than has been experienced on recent operations. However, and as described above, this will have to be conducted in a way so to keep the logistic footprint small and a difficult to detect as is practicably possible. Noting this, any discussion on logistic footprint must come second to the requirement for the distribution network to be survivable and with inbuilt redundancy; a requirement that may, in a battlefield irony, necessitate larger forward logistics elements. Staging bases may become the castles of the future, defensive stations essential to projecting power into an adjacent contested area.

Multi-domain battle is thought to be the best opportunity for land forces to succeed in contemporary warfare. This is all the reason that is required for logisticians to start exploring the topic with diligence and detail. As the concept is developed further, I believe that the importance of logistics to its successful execution at the tactical level will only become more and more evident. So too in increasing importance will be new technologies (yet another topic for later) which promise to offer options for operating in this environment, and are well worth the detailed consideration they are being given. However, until these technologies are introduced successfully, the problems of sustaining multi-domain battle will rest firmly in the realm of experimentation and exercising, concept development, and in doctrine. After all of this study and concept writing, multi-domain battle might simply prove to be little more than an intellectual diversion. However, understanding the concept and the context in which it has been developed better prepares the logistician, if not land forces in general, for the possibilities of the wars of the future.

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Introducing “Logistics In War”

‘The conclusion is irresistible that the military themselves know next to nothing about logistics’.

– United States Marine Corps Colonel George C Thorpe, Pure Logistics, 1917.

Welcome to ‘Logistics In War’, a blog dedicated to exploring logistics and its impact on modern warfare.

The blog is a public, unofficial, ‘Professional Military Education’ site, accompanied by a  Facebook page ( which provides useful links and articles to a broad, but predominantly military, audience.

It is the purpose of this blog to instigate and inspire, continue and create, a discussion on military logistics that is so often sorely lacking (or if it does occur, does so behind closed doors). Although the blog currently reflects an Australian and Army orientation, its vision is to become broadly applicable; to reflect the many different approaches to logistics as practiced by different military Services, the Joint domain, and militaries of all persuasions.

Furthermore, the blog will support the establishment of an international community of military logisticians that can share ideas, concepts and useful material in an insightful, courteous and professional manner which reflects the values of the militaries and Defence organisations that its readers may serve in. In time, guest posts will be added to the site, including from the international military logistics community.

‘Logistics in War’ aspires to provide life to a topic area that is generally dry, overly technical and grossly specialised. Its practical perspective serves the logistician and commander alike. Logistics is, after all, the conjunction of military strategy and operational concepts with the realities and practicalities of war. It deals with facts and the compromises of commanders who must shape their decisions upon the limitations and constraints of their force. As Thomas Kane, in the great Military logistics and strategic performance, puts it, logistics is an ‘arbiter’ in battle and in war. It is therefore well worth our while to understand it.

Please take the time to explore the site and don’t leave without subscribing or following. Alternatively, as described above, follow’ @logisticsinwar on Facebook.  The Facebook page includes links to a variety of relevant articles, including posts on this blog.

Thanks for your interest. Enjoy the blog.

Logistics in War