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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Trust, discipline and accepting risk – the principles and art of sustaining decisive action

Picture by Australian Army

By David Beaumont.

Joe Byerly’s ‘From the Green Notebook’ (a WordPress blog, with a Facebook site) is conducting a series-based ‘Decisive Action week’. The posts are describing the ways in which armies prepare themselves for operations and exercises. It was opened earlier this week with a comment from CG TRADOC, US Army, which is well worth a quick read.

David Beaumont’s post is aimed with commanders in mind, and offers three key characteristics which commanders must develop in their teams prior to operations. These are trust, discipline and an acceptance of risk. The first refers to the relationship between logisticians and commanders, and reflects ideas from Steven Cornell’s post, Establishing an ‘unequal dialogue’.  Logistic discipline underwrites the capacity of a force to sustain its tempo and maintain flexibility. Finally, ‘risk acceptance’ refers to the taking of appropriate risks based upon a commanders, and logisticians, detailed understanding of the logistic context of the forces. This has been a theme carried in a number of Logistics In War posts.

In the second half of the post, it outlines four principle questions a commander must ask when she or he plans a mission or task. Based upon a number of ideas contained within logistic theory, these questions simplify the logistic problem and encourage commanders and logisticians to think laterally about who, where, why and how forces will be sustained.

By David Beaumont ‘In war, mistakes and normal; errors are usual; information is seldom complete, often inaccurate, and frequently misleading. Success is won, not by personnel and materiel in prime condition, but by the debris of an organisation worn by the strain of campaign and shaken by the shock of battle. The objective is attained, […]

via #DAweek: The Principles and Art of Sustaining Decisive Action — From the Green Notebook

Survive first, sustain later: exercising dispersed logistics in the close fight

By Mark Baldock

A logistics element not capable of surviving and operating in a threat environment is a battlefield liability. Armies knew long before ‘multi-domain battle’ was developed that logistic capabilities are easy to identify, target and destroy. They are the soft underbelly of a fighting formation, and if a formations organic logistic elements are destroyed by indirect fires or direct attack, any combat forces remaining are usually quick to defeat. However, it is my opinion and experience that in order to ensure that the combat capabilities of formations receive due attention during exercises, we don’t tend to assess the ability of logistics elements to protect themselves. This risks lulling land forces into a false sense of security, when lessons from recent operations suggest we should be doing more to achieve the opposite.

During 2016, the logistic battalion I commanded – the 1st Combat Service Support Battalion (1 CSSB) – deployed to the Cultana Training Area in the desert of South Australia to participate in Exercise Hamel 2016. This annual exercise is conducted by the Australian Army to ‘certify’ the combat formation prior to it being declared ‘ready’ for operations. 1 CSSB, being the organic CSS battalion of the formation, was also being tested for its readiness to deploy. Although the unit was expected to meet different criteria before being declared ‘ready’, it was my opportunity to experiment and assess a variety of ways in which I could, within the constraints of the exercise, improve upon survivability of 1 CSSB.  Moreover, it was an opportunity to consider ways in which a large, formation-level logistic unit, could sustain operations in a contemporary, albeit simulated, environment.

This article describes the methods I undertook to improve the battlefield survivability of 1 CSSB during Exercise Hamel 2016, and the consequences of these attempts. There were many exercise limitations that influenced my assessments, meaning that the observations I describe here are not exhaustive. However, I offer this example to describe my own opinion and experience, and to promote further discussion.

Hamel - CLP

Deploying the battalion within Cultana Training Area, South Australia. Personal photo.

The philosophy for the training of the battalion before the exercise could be summarized as ‘survive first, sustain later’. However, it was a philosophy that I also applied to the force structure and disposition of the battalion during the exercise. After assessing the capability and intent of the enemy, it was assessed that the greatest threat to the unit’s overall survivability would be posed by indirect and aerial delivery weapons. Reducing the risk associated with this threat drove force posture, encouraging me to disperse my battalion by allocating forces forward. This approach was taken because the geography of Cultana Training Area was relatively small and sparsely vegetated; I had no opportunity to ‘hide’ the battalion. Furthermore, as a formation logistic unit sustaining front-line forces, my unit was well in range of expected enemy artillery. This meant that the unit was detectable and targetable by everything on the battlefield. In the end, survivability had more to do with risk management than any other factor.

Mobility and dispersion are key for logistic assets to survive on a battlefield where you cannot hide.  Geography favored the enemy in this case as the terrain offered little concealment. Noting the unit’s signature and the ability of deep strike weapons and mobile artillery to close ground quicker than a CSSB can redeploy; smaller, more mobile, dispersed logistics nodes were created. Notice to move was reduced as much as possible, with my subordinate commanders needing to be prepared for short-notice movements to avoid threats. Extra resources were allocated, from the transportation elements I would normally hold within the main battalion position, if this could not be achieved.

In the end three smaller, mobile, CSS Teams (CSSTs) had been formed to support the  three different battlegroups of the brigade. This is not an unusual practice as a CSSB always deployed a component of its capability forward to support combat forces more directly. However, the traditionally larger Brigade Maintenance Area (BMA)[1] position was dispersed and diluted amongst these CSST’s as much as possible. I believed that this still left the position too large, and a vulnerable target to the adversary. I never sought to reintegrate the forward CSST’s into my main battalion position for fear of exacerbating the problem and making the BMA even larger. This approach allowed for a loss of one of three logistic elements without critical impact on capability of the combat brigade. If either a CSST or the BMA were destroyed, the combat brigade could still be sustained for at least two to three days, meaning there would be opportunity to reallocate logistic elements.


BMA - 1 Bde

The Brigade Maintenance Area (BMA). Photo by 1 Combat Brigade, Australian Army



The dispersal of logistic forces forward was effectively achieved. However, new problems had started to emerge; problems that should not be surprising to any logistic commander. The primary weakness of smaller, dispersed forces that I saw on exercise is that they became more vulnerable to direct attack and infiltration. Troop concentrations within the logistic element are reduced, and defensive weapons – typically in small numbers within a CSSB – were spread thinly. I was fortunate that extra weapon systems were reallocated across the brigade to overcome deficiencies, but the unit was still caught short on a number of instances. It was particularly vulnerable to direct attacks by enemy cavalry who could exploit the defensive ‘gaps’ created by dispersal. This led me to believe that for dispersion to work effectively, each logistic element had to be well-resourced with equipment (especially weapons), communications and transportation capabilities to enable movement from the outset.

Although dispersal introduced its own vulnerabilities, there was no mission failed by a battlegroup or the brigade because of a failure in its sustainment. On the contrary, the dispersion of the battalion enhanced the responsiveness of the formations logistic system because the lines of communication were usually short.  Similarly, as robust teams were force-assigned to battlegroups, the combat forces were well resourced to be able to complete their assigned missions and tasks. My decision to focus on allocating forces to the battlegroups, however, meant that it was particularly difficult to concentrate my battalion’s capabilities for specific brigade level tasks. I suspect that this might have become a significant problem for the combat brigade had the notional operation continued longer than it did, or if the brigade had conduct major combat maneuvers.

I found that the success of a dispersed, mobile model hinges on foresight and responsiveness. Foresight naturally drives the responsiveness. It requiring logisticians to understand the how the combat force might maneuver and have the administrative proficiency to determine what their requirements might be Furthermore, foresight is greatly enhanced by effective communication within the formation. This includes routine reports and returns and also direct liaison with combat elements and other logistic units. Similarly, where communications are of a poor standard the ability to apply foresight becomes limited; in some instances, I had to overcompensate when assigning logistic elements to battlegroups because it was extremely difficult to predict their exact requirements. TThe high pace at which combat battlegroups reorganised during the exercise led to erratic sustainment requirements, and negatively influenced the CSSB’s capacity to apply foresight.

HAMEL - clp 2

Observing the movement of logistic forces. Personal photo.

Foresight and responsiveness are at their heart command and control issues, and are improved by measures all military logisticians should be familiar with.  Although the application of ‘mission command’ led to good outcomes, simple things such as accuracy in reports and returns, staff ‘battle-tracking,’ monitoring of the maneuver of other units within the brigade, routine communication and planning, as well as effective liaison between units within the combat brigade make a bigger difference. Control measures were especially important when the brigade maneuvered rapidly, with logistic forces dispersing across the battlefield. This includes control of routes and locations, ensuring that all logistic elements weren’t moving at the same time, and enforcing greater input from Brigade to better understand friendly force movements. In the long term, new technologies and improved ‘battlefield operating pictures’ may improve the situation. Although I may have left Exercise Hamel 2016 with the view that dispersing logistic elements in an area of operations without compromising operations was challenging, the application of relatively simple tactics, techniques and procedures did much to overcome problems.

Logistic units, particularly at the formation level, shouldn’t expect to be operating as a massed capability kept well out of range of enemy threats, especially artillery. I think that is now, and probably always has been, an impossibility on the battlefield. Instead, logistic personnel must learn to operate in an area of considerable threat, and they must be prepared to take acceptable risks to ensure battlefield survivability. This should continue to be a major focus of unit and formation level collective training exercises. Smaller, disaggregated, mobile logistic forces reduce detection signatures and lessen the payoff associated with targeting larger logistic positions, bases and ‘nodes’. I am glad that I was given an opportunity to experiment with ideas that have been discussed among logisticians in my Army for many years, and to challenge doctrine and procedures that applied rigidly. This opportunity created considerable challenges for my logistic battalion, but the lessons learned were useful. With ongoing refinement, and further investment in terms of collective training activities, I think logisticians will be well on the path to finding effective ways to survive in the forward areas of the contemporary battlefield.

[1] The Brigade Maintenance Area is the ground on which the concentrated assets of the unit occupies. It is rearward positioned, and the primary logistic ‘node’ for the combat brigade.

Mark Baldock is a serving Australian Army officer, and commanded the 1st Combat Service Support Battalion over the period 2015-2016. The thoughts here are his own, and are offered to stimulate conversation and debate.

Logistics In War is looking for similar articles which examine how military logistics is applied on operations or exercises; if you feel you can contribute to the discussion, please contact us on the link above. Follow us at Twitter: @logisticsinwar and Facebook : @logisticsinwar. Share to grow the network and continue the discussion.

Task Force Eagle – V Corps deployment to Bosnia and logistic cost

By James Davis.

This post is an edited version of an article published at James’s site ‘The Armchair Colonel’ under the title ‘Task Force Eagle – the logistic cost of operations’. It is reposted with the authors permission.

Prior to the Napoleonic wars (1803 -1815), small land forces fought wars in pursuit of modest political goals. Battlefields were but a few kilometres wide, armies rarely exceeded 150,000 men, and the immediate presence of the sovereign shackled those armies to the achievement of political objectives. Societal changes during Napoleon’s time and the industrialization of Western Europe increased the scale and scope of conflict. By 1871, the Prussian Army alone consisted of 1.2 million men, ranging across a battlefield hundreds of kilometres wide and removed from the sovereign by distance and the limitations of 19th century communication. Single battles were no longer decisive in conflicts of this size. Defeating large armies demanded the execution of multiple battles linked to a common strategic purpose.

Western Armies coined the term “operations” to describe these groups of tactical actions synchronized in time and space, and directed for a common purpose. Armies that conduct operations must be able to sustain tactical units at distance from their bases of operations. Tempo, or the frequency with which battles can be fought, is positively influenced by either fresh troops or reconstitution of troops that have already fought battles. During operations land forces gain positions of advantage by deploying to, between and within areas of operations. Operational manoeuvre is often achieved through logistic movements, meaning the logistic implications of movement become significantly greater than tactical considerations. In summary, distance, a desire for tempo and the specifications of the deploying force, including tactical vehicle dimensions, collude to increase the influence of logistic factors on operations.

The deployment of Task Force Eagle to the Bosnian theatre of operations in 1995 demonstrates  the logistic implications of operational movement and manoeuvre.  This post, based upon an excellent study by James Rupkalvis in 2001,  shows how logistic challenges, and at times costs, can have a significant effect on the achievement of strategic objectives.


Representatives of Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia – Herzegovina signed the Bosnian peace agreement in Paris on 14 December 1995. NATO deployed the Multinational Implementation Force (IFOR) to implement the military components of the agreement. The US component of IFOR, Task Force Eagle (TFE), was to secure the Multi National Division Area of Responsibility – North (MND-N) and enforce the cessation of hostilities and handover of heavy weapons. 1st Armoured Division, V Corps,  provided most of the 20,000 troops in TFE. V Corps established an intermediate support base (ISB) and national headquarters in Hungary to support the deployment and sustainment of TFE. Ramstein air base in Germany was designated as the theatre air point of disembarkation (APOD) to receive supplies and personnel reinforcements from the continental USA.

Intermediate Support Base – why Hungary?

V Corps chose Hungary as the ISB location because it afforded access to a C-17 capable airfield and the European rail network. The movement of TFE to the ISB was a complex  undertaking. V Corps established logistics C2 at any point where stores and soldiers were loaded, cross loaded or halted. Rail access for the ISB was critical because TFE units deployed from 30 disparate garrison locations in Germany to the ISB. Trains could not transit Austria, a non-NATO nation, and this meant they travelled to the ISB via the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Using this route restricted train length, weight, and cargo tie down methods and ultimately resulted in adding time to the deployment. This graphic gives an indication of the number of transport platforms employed for movement of TFE to the ISB and from the ISB forward to Bosnia.


The statistics of deployment; graphic from Rupkalvis

The V Corps force at the ISB consisted of around 4000 soldiers. These soldiers provided reception and staging facilities for up to 6000 transiting soldiers and 350 heavy vehicles at any one time. The ISB may seem large to deploy TFE; little more than a small Division. However, it operated four railheads, an APOD, a staging area and a freight forwarding area. The ISB also secured itself, conducted garrison policing, maintained host nation support, established and maintained contracts, fed and housed 10000 soldiers, maintained and replenished air and ground equipment, stored ammunition and other combat supplies, provided level three health support, provided water and electricity for lodger units, ensured local route trafficability and finally executed national C2 from the forward line of own troops in MND-N to the APOE at Ramstein air base, a distance of over 1000km.

Tactical Assembly Area

V Corps transport units moved TFE from the ISB to the Tactical Assembly Area (TAA) in MND-N by road. Not all TFE units moved to the ISB prior to moving to the TAA. Some units moved direct to the TAA by rail. The first unit to do this was 16th Corps Support Group who were attached to TFE. 16th Corps Support Group Soldiers operated two small rail heads and supported Engineer units to preposition equipment for a river crossing required to break out from the TAA. To do this and enter the MND-N Area of Operations, Task Force Eagle built a pontoon bridge over the Sava River. The river was in flood and building the bridge required additional bridging equipment to be brought forward from Italy to the ISB by C-17. The bridge sections were then flown forward to the bridging site by CH47. With the river bridged, Armoured units crossed into Bosnia and were quickly followed by contractors to build the Forward Operating Bases needed by TFE throughout their deployment.


Composite picture from Think Defence


Logistic and combat support units from V Corps deployed TFE. TFE had been sustained pre-positioned equipment and supplies, the requirement for which planners had anticipated many years earlier during the Cold War. This was vital in reducing the logistic costs of the deployment. The combination of pre-positioned equipment and V Corps support meant that TFE was ready to fight on arrival in the MND-N area of operations. The time and effort required to deploy Task Force Eagle is indicative of the logistic cost of executing operations.  Despite much work, including the American development of air-deployable medium weight Brigades as a leading example, land forces have not yet worked out how to conduct operations without a time-consuming force build-up. It is safe to assume that such a logistic price will always need paid to execute operations.


Gaining positions of advantage when conducting operations is a movement problem. There are always a variety of events which create friction in movements. Invariably it is made more difficult by weather, geography and, in some cases, politics and governmental influences. Overcoming weather, geography and politics is not a logistic officer problem even if the solutions reside in logistic units. For example, during the movement of TFE Commander V Corps directed changes to the balance between air and ground movement and halted rail movement to the ISB to allow logistic units the time to clear backlogs of personnel and supplies. The manoeuvre commander controlled the tempo of the movement. The planning and conduct of operations requires Officers and NCO who, regardless of corps, understand the science of moving and sustaining land forces.



Australian Army soldiers deploying on Exercise Northern Shield 2016, a contingency exercise, to the far north-west of Australia; photo by Australian Army

In many armies, there are few officers exposed to the planning and execution of operations. Too many wargames and experiments start with combat forces in a tactical assembly area, and very few exercises are conducted to test expeditionary capability. This knowledge gap may mean that the capabilities required to execute operations are underrepresented when the design of future land forces is contested. Joint Land Forces can learn how ready they are to conduct operations by exercising the deployment of combat forces from garrison locations to tactical assembly areas. This practice can be achieved with a simple simulation. The loading and unloading of combat forces onto transportation assets can exercised at full scale. This training will illuminate what logistic and command and control forces, pre-positioned equipment and diplomatic arrangements are needed to conduct operations. This training will develop individuals in the Joint Land Forces who understand and can champion the capabilities needed for the conduct of operations.

Good armies don’t just win land battles. They conduct multiple tactical actions, synchronised in time, space and purpose to achieve military objectives. The capacity to do this, at distance from an operating base and against adversarial weather and geography, has a logistic cost that must be quantified, reduced as low as possible, and finally paid.

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Adapting Atlas – The cost of combat power: Part Two

By David Beaumont.

Most Western land forces are beyond the point where a ‘protection versus mobility’ argument has short-term usefulness. In recent years due to a range of threats upon typically Middle-eastern battlefields militaries have found protection as essential; protection often felt as a euphemism for armour (and thus shock and tempo) and firepower. Their visions of the future, and the potential of peer on peer conflict, suggests such combat power will remain necessary for a good while yet even as current operations draw down. Thus, it is unsurprising that British, American and Australian land forces have made acquisitions reflecting this battlefield requirement. This procurement has generally been accompanied by numerous studies, exercises and experiments. Surprising no one, such activities have revealed a considerable number of operational logistic costs to this improvement to battlefield performance.  In order to address these costs, land forces are eagerly seeking ways in which the demand on logistic capabilities can be reduced, and with it, the expected deployed logistic tail.

After reading ‘The Cost of Combat Power – weapons, weight and sustainment in the multi-domain battle’, you now know that the quantity of logistic forces required to support operational combat power increases proportionally. This is a well-known, historically proven, trend. However, there are measures which can be taken to reduce this effect, or eliminate it in some areas. It is possible to create a lean ‘tail’ capable of adaptively responding to operational needs in spite of logistic demand. However, without comprehensive planning, there is every likelihood that inefficient operations can result in a ‘tail’ which bloats to a force-compromising ‘iron-mountain’, or a ‘tail’ so austere that it invites an inconvenient force culmination in battle. This post is a ‘deep dive’ of the ways in which armies might seek to better manage, if not reduce, the logistic cost of capability; navigating around one of the existential, arguably internally-created, challenges facing land forces today.

I have said before that logistics is rarely just a logisticians problem. Very few logisticians, in times of peace, will ever be responsible for the strategic procurement decisions upon which logistic demand is based. However, they must be consistent advocates for demand reduction and management.  This is not as simple a task as it first sounds, because many proposed solutions have a habit of challenging the assumptions made by force designers; designers who have a tendency to assume logistic abundance in an operational setting, or, alternatively, fail to fully consider logistic demand as a planning factor at all. It seems we are at a turning point in a number of land forces where such a paradigm of force design thinking no longer has a comfortable place, but it remains useful for logisticians and leaders to have a frame of reference to better articulate logistic demand to force and operational planners.


Deployment of US Army 3rd Armoured Brigade Combat Team to Poland via Germany, January 2017 – Photo by Stars and Stripes

There are a number of strategies which can be employed to reduce logistic demand, and thus the size of a logistic ‘tail’ required in any given operation. In 2003, the RAND Corporation presented a brief on transformation to the US Army Deputy Chief of Staff ‘G4’ (Logistics), who had been given the unenviable task of ensuring the US Army’s logistics and combat support capabilities were strategically responsive. This task was given at the height of planning for the ‘Objective Force’, but also as the Stryker-based ‘Interim Force’ saw combat in Iraq. The core philosophy in this logistic transformation was to enable strategic mobility while preserving combat power, but also to reduce the total cost of logistics.

One might look at what RAND proposed in the presentation in the context of the war underway in Iraq at the time and treat the promise it offered with some scepticism. Some of the force design beliefs and decisions made prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom set the US Army for troubles during its advance. Nonetheless, the strategies suggested as ways to reduce logistic demand by RAND in 2003 remain highly applicable to land forces today. At the very least these strategies offer logisticians a useful way of examining the problem of logistic demand, and a mental model that might help in the articulation of logistic costs, and opportunities to mitigate such costs, in force and capability planning.

The first strategy, and undoubtedly the most obvious, is platform efficiency. It is also the strategy that logisticians have the least ability to influence outside of describing logistic costs to key decision makers in the acquisition process. Platform efficiency refers to the application of technology to minimise the amount of logistic support required to deliver and sustain a capability (see here for an example involving tanks). In recent years, energy (fuel) management has exemplified this approach to logistic demand reduction, but other technologies such as on-board power and water generation exist. Even the use of precision munitions is a way in which greater combat effect can be delivered at a lower logistic cost, with less ammunition required to complete a fire mission. With much-vaunted revolutionary technology such as fuel cells, additive manufacturing and new materials which can protect vehicles with lower weight we are likely to see many ways in which combat power can be improved in the future while improving upon platform efficiency.


The Australian Light Armoured vehicle (right) and a prospective replacement – Photo by Australian Army

Technology will be transformative, but it is a long-term solution typically reflected in multi-decade procurement processes. Furthermore, and as stated in introduction, some land forces have only just recently introduced (or are in the process of introducing) new combat capabilities. This means the opportunity to influence platform efficiency will be very limited for some time yet. Fortunately, the next strategy for reducing logistic demand – force efficiency – is an option that can be implemented now. Force efficiency refers to initiatives which require fewer force elements to achieve a desired effect. In developing the US Army’s Stryker-capability, the organic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance available to brigade combat teams, coupled with precision fires, ostensibly complemented and enhanced the capability of the medium-weight nature of the platform. In this case, some might argue that force efficiency didn’t deliver operational effectiveness – at least in terms of the operations that the Stryker would subsequently find itself in. Nonetheless, we are continuously reminded that the combination of modern armed, and increasingly cheap, UAV’s supported by surveillance capabilities and guided weapons offer forces firepower with little permanent presence on the ground and logistic cost as a consequence.

In terms of logistics-specific activities there are other force efficiency opportunities that can be, indeed currently are, undertaken. Adopting common components, ammunition and other items, and standardisation across coalition boundaries as practiced by NATO or under the ABCA program, greatly simplifies supply between likely coalition partners. Collectively, and in an operational environment, there may be possibilities to share capabilities and prevent the unnecessary duplication of effort. Elsewhere, the modularisation of vehicle components, supported by information systems that better predict maintenance requirements, has been touted as offering opportunities to improve force efficiency. Implemented effectively, this approach limits the need to forward position maintenance personnel with most deep repair occurring rearward (although, admittedly, this approach can make a maintenance problem a distribution one). Self-offloading distribution vehicles, or more effective ways to store and package supplies, also exemplify a force efficiency strategy.


Photo by Australian Army

Force efficiency can also be improved through conceptual and doctrinal means. At the macro level, land forces – as part of joint forces – can achieve greater efficiencies by removing duplicate functions, or if demand can’t be reduced, sharing functions to create greater opportunities. This approach is a cornerstone of the multi-domain battle concept, a natural evolution of joint operations. Doctrinal approaches to logistics which move away from philosophies where logistic elements are devolved and owned at the lowest level, to those where modularised logistic capabilities are surged to support particular missions and tasks for limited time periods, also offers the prospect of improving force efficiency. Rethinking assumptions about who ‘owns’ what in the battlespace, and the logistic control methods such as ‘lines’ or ‘levels’ of logistics support to use Australian doctrinal terms, must therefore be part of future logistic transformation efforts in Western land forces. As should the development of a culture in land forces which tolerates the inevitable periods where limited logistic support must be directed away from one unit to another to support combat operations.

Closely aligned to force efficiency is personnel efficiency. An example of personnel efficiency, whereby less personnel are required to do a particular job, was recently given by James Davis. In his post, he proposed logistics and combat force personnel ‘mixing’ tasks such as armoured fighting vehicle operations and maintenance. Noting the training burden and competency risk it imposes, some small militaries extensively cross-train limited logistic personnel; a noteworthy example being the New Zealand Army whose land terminal, movements and aerial delivery personnel come from a base trade. There is no philosophical reason that the skills possessed by personnel from logistics or combat arms cannot be similarly transferred between one another in such a way. Technology can also support personnel efficiency, and is being rigorously pursued by armies as a way of enhancing the effect each deployed soldier or officer contributes to the deployed force. Examples of such include modernising ‘logistics information systems’ and ‘common operating pictures’, both of which promise to improve supply chain performance thereby enhancing the capacity of managers to respond to emergent tactical requirements.


Loading of an RNZAF C-130 by NZ Army Terminal personnel during Ex Kiwi Koru 2014 – Photo by NZ Army

The final strategy promoted by RAND was mission focus. For many militaries who have transitioned their forces to enable a consistent, rotatable amongst available combat elements, readiness cycle the term mission focus may be antithetical. Mission focus refers to the specialisation of formations for particular tasks thus avoiding the costly logistic capabilities that might enable the formation to be prepared for all tasks, or those tasks which might be perceived as unlikely. There are, however, inventive ways in which land forces can be structured appropriately to achieve mission focus without abandoning preparedness-based force design methodologies. Temporary allocations of modularised logistic capabilities based upon emerging operational requirements is perhaps the best-known method in this regard, and should be rigorously applied in future attempts to transform land forces. Nonetheless, land forces should always be prepared to abandon force design models which are based upon an assumption of being able to ‘do it all’ when the need arises, and prepare logistics capabilities accordingly.

The strategies mentioned here are useful for structuring thought, but it is worth concluding with a sobering point from RAND’s own summary before land forces race ahead to make changes. In referring to applying these strategies to reduce the logistics ‘tail’ of the interim and objective force, it was noted that although it was relatively easy for Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) to implement force design changes, when these strategies required other organisations to participate, transformation stalled. Logistics is an end-to-end process, and although land forces may seek to reduce logistic demand through a variety of comprehensive strategies, their work can be undone by a failure to properly integrate their planning with other activities and change programs elsewhere. Secondly, one could ask an equally sobering question; if armies have been actively trying to reduce logistic demand for decades with varied levels of success, can we actually expect to be successful now?


Logistics in Europe post-Normandy – from Ruppenthal, Logistics in the Support of the Armies Vol 2

My personal view, based upon historical trends and the reading of operational reports, is that land forces are unlikely to curtail logistic demand without revolutionary changes in technology. However, this is not something to be overly pessimistic about; rather it is just something that land forces must plan for. We should be positive about the capabilities resident in modern land forces. After all, the combat power now available to the contemporary soldier is orders of magnitude greater than that possessed only decades ago. It is self-evident that this should come with increased logistic cost. Perhaps the second-order question to be asked is in this debate is, because of the increase in combat power, do we actually need the same number of forces and consequential logistic ‘tail’ to succeed in future operations?

In any case, logisticians must be an intellectual ‘kernel’ around which any plan to more efficiently support combat capability must be formed, for it will be their lot in the operational environment to advise, if not resolve, numerous challenges which come from increased combat power. If demand management lacks such champions now, as land forces adjust their forces to face new threats or to modernise, future armies and marine forces will be unable to break free from the shackles of the ‘iron mountains’. Comprehensive thinking along the lines of the strategies outlined here must be continued. Similarly, leaders must nurture a culture within land forces which recognises that logistic austerity is commonplace in war, and therefore must be prepared for in all aspects of planning. This includes in the acquisition of equipment, to the development of future doctrine.

Whatever is planned and prepared for, I am certain that the substantial improvements in combat capability now being seen in land forces will be routinely curtailed by the supply shortages, maintenance limitations and distribution constraints that are so very routine in war. Commanders will always exploit success as far as their logistic capability will allow, so much so that they may willingly bring severe logistic risk on their force to win. To prepare land forces for such occurrences, logisticians must be professionally active and understand tactics and concepts implicitly. They must, before the battle begins, find a way to balance combat power with logistic capacity; like the titan Atlas, holding the sky upon his shoulders, they must take a shifting weight and through adapting their own practices ensure the force remains steady for its ultimate test.

With this in mind it is worth closing with the words of eminent strategist Colin Gray, writing in the preface to Thomas Kane’s Military logistics and strategic performance; ‘they cannot know logistics, whom only logistics know’.

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

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A Response to ‘Logistics in War’ – Sustaining the multi-domain battle

By James Davis

You may have seen exerts of this post in the comments to previous articles, or at James Davis’s personal blog ‘The Armchair Colonel’. This post, reflecting a succinct list of change activities required within the Australian Army, is an edited version of a response made to Sustaining the multi-domain battle’.

Whilst not my intention, there is a risk that this post will creating an unsightly blog duel. This is contrary to its purpose which is to move the debate on logistics in future warfare from the conceptual to the actual. I think, maybe a little too boldly, that the Chief is in my corner in this endeavour. In 2015 he prefaced the Australian Army Modernisation plan with the words:

“Change is inevitable. It is tempting to believe that the future of warfare will be very different from its past. People are similarly predisposed to imagine future war through the prism of recent experience. So contemporary terrorism, insurgency and intra-state warfare, compounded by seemingly revolutionary technological transformation, appear to foreshadow some comprehensive change to warfare. Continuity is inevitable too. Since the end of the First World War, the causes of battlefield success have been remarkably stable. In our never-ending quest for improvement and advantage over our potential foes, we are prone to lose sight of continuities and exaggerate the effect of change. “

In Sustaining the multi-domain battle my friend and classmate Dave Beaumont has challenged readers to ride roughshod over standing assumptions about logistics and consider how they might operate in ‘multi-domain battle’. I don’t intend to dwell on multi-domain battle which is, in summary,  an operational concept to create  ‘a hyper-joint’ Army that will both operate in, and affect all other domains in conjunction with the other services. This translates to ground forces exploiting and enabling operations across air, sea, cyber, space, and the electro-magnetic spectrum.

However, as the Chief notes, it is important to think about the next big step and concurrently keep a lock on the continuities. In the future, our adversaries will continue to reduce our logistics capacity as cheaply as they can. This will mean improvised explosive devices, ambushes, small scale raids and beyond line of sight fires (I include drones dropping bombs etc in this category). Attack through the electro-magentic spectrum and cyberspace will be as certain as they are now. Army must respond to this reality in this decade and not wait for a step change.

The work of Admiral Jackie Fisher, Royal Navy, might serve as a useful analogy. Fisher is best known for the technological transformation of the Royal Navy between 1902 and 1915 and the development of the Dreadnought class of ships. This change could be considered his Multi-domain battle transformation. He is less well known for the tactical and cultural revolution he drove as Commander of the Mediterranean fleet from 1899 to 1902. Of this time, Lord Hankey (no the name isn’t made up), a Captain of the Royal Marines, commented:

“Before his (Fisher’s) arrival the topics and arguments of the officers messes were mainly confined to matters as the cleaning of paint and brasswork and the getting out of torpedo nets and anchors, and similar trivialities. After a year in Fisher’s regime these were forgotten and replaced by incessant controversies on tactics, strategy, gunnery, torpedo warfare etc. It was a veritable renaissance and affected every officer in the fleet.”

Even Fisher’s most ardent critic, C.B. Beresford, conceded a list of 20 actions Fisher had taken to improve the fleet. Most of these did not involve technology; they were based on work, realistic training and breaking traditions. What follows are a number of suggestions for Army to respond to the threats that we know will persist; a foundation for transformation…..should it come.


Photo by Australian Army – Combat Logistic Patrol in Afganistan

Change Culture

Dispense with the idea of teeth and tail.  Everyone fights, logistic soldiers don’t have to be as good at killing as combat soldiers but that must be as hard to kill. Armour and Infantry personnel and training institutions must support logistics senior non-commissioned officers in their training of logistics soldiers and officers to use armoured fighting vehicles (AFV) and weapons. Why can’t a vehicle mechanic, qualified as an Army instructor, and with an AFV crew commander qualification, teach other logistics soldiers to use an AFV?

Move from a “Safety First” to a “Safety Plus” Culture.  A simple example – in armoured units fuel only gets pumped in the middle of the night so a soldier must know how to use the fuel pump safely without light. Army school training should reflect this practice rather than legislation regarding the mandatory use of white light when pumping fuel. The enemy is considerably more dangerous than fuel spills. In a similar vein, the fear of heat illness has resulted in a loss of water discipline which in turn has increased demand. These are but two of many examples.

Improve the skills of vehicle commanders.  There are too many ‘lemmings’ on the battlefield that create targets by the way they drive, the spacing they adopt relative to other vehicles and what they do when they stop (sit inside with the air conditioning running). If everyone can’t drive at night the the whole force is compromised. The Armoured Corps must help others to improve.


Doctrinal Change. There must be an idea other than Brigade Maintenance Area. This will require better C2 and for combat units to have lower expectations of response time.

Be self reliant. Carry spare parts and maintenance personnel in fighting (‘F’) echelons. Up-skill AFV drivers to perform more maintenance and demand that combat systems degrade gracefully, ie. the turret electrics may not work but the gun can be laid and fired manually – train to do this.

Reduce Demand. Review block scales and entitlements. Do Australian Soldiers really need 600grams of fresh meat a day on operations? What is the minimum amount of rations required to sustain a force? See comments on water discipline.

Leaders across all of Army’s Brigades and Training Centres own this change but it might also need a Jackie Fisher – a violent reformer. As Sir Reginald Bacon commented “Fisher was a living winnowing machine. He welcomed suggestions from all who possessed ideas. These he assimilated, separated the wheat from the chaff.  All grist was welcome at his mill.”

‘The Armchair Colonel’, James Davis, is a serving Australian Army officer and former Commanding Officer of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. He blogs at, where this post was originally published, and can be followed on Twitter @j_adavis

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Support Squadron Headquarters, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, 2015 – scared of the drones and helicopters!

The cost of combat power – weapons, weight and sustainment in the multi-domain land battle

By David Beaumont.

In ‘Sustaining multi-domain battle’ I articulated a number of challenges that land-force military logisticians must address in developing their sustainment concepts for multi-domain battle. Some may not yet be persuaded that the idea of multi-domain battle is  conceptually unique, or that it is a fundamental change from tactics demonstrated in wars now past. Irrespective of your views of the uniqueness of multi-domain battle, the concept has brought to the surface a number of challenges that the force designers of Western militaries must overcome. One of the most overt demands placed upon planners relates to the size of the logistic footprint, and the importance of reducing logistic ‘mass’ on the battlefield.

There are three reasons that this problem should feature as one of the highest priorities for armies to discuss and consequently resolve. The first, repeated habitually in any contemporary discussion on logistics, is that there is no better a target than a concentrated logistic capability. Secondly, large logistics elements often reduce the overall operational and tactical maneuverability that is essential for operations in an ‘A2AD’ zone. And thirdly, the need to protect large logistic elements requires the deployment of resources that are better used elsewhere; resources that also, perhaps perversely, bring with them their own sustainment needs and therefore requirements for even more logistic forces.

The primary reason for growth in ‘logistic mass’ on the modern battlefield is one of tactical logistic demand. The first operational cause of growth in the ‘tail’ relates to the way of war in Western armies; maneuver warfare requiring tempo, shock, momentum and endurance. History repeatedly confirms that the projection of military force with tempo and endurance requires a large logistic tail; a small logistic tail means compromises in supply are required, and increases the chance of a force exhausting itself too early in battle. A second operational cause for growing logistic forces, whether they be military or civilian / contractor in nature, is that Western forces have been operating in environments of relative logistical abundance. In such an environment, lax standards of logistic discipline can emerge and every wont or desire easily facilitated, creating unrealistic expectations in subsequent campaigns. It is true that in the outset of operations, as we see with Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, and Operation Warden, this may not be the case. However, once most operations approach their sustainment phase the ‘logistics mass’ also tends to grow.


An ‘iron mountain’ – photo by US Air Force

But there is another, more important, cause for the growth in logistics force upon the battlefield which concerns planners now as they prepare for multi-domain battle. Armies are simply becoming heavier. Adjustments made to their combat power over the last twenty years have incrementally, but significantly, resulted in consequential and proportional logistic costs. The modern iteration of immensely capable motorised, mechanised and airmobile combat and logistic forces has increased requirements for ammunition, spare parts, and fuel. For example, in the Second World War the US Army used 1 gallon of fuel per deployed soldier per day; in recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that number  has increased to 16 gallons per day. Improvements in protection increase platform combat weight, reducing the quantity of forces that can be deployed in any one instance by the various means of transport on offer to militaries. There are indeed other reasons for an enlarging logistic tail, including non-negotiable health care standards or the standard of personnel services a contemporary Western force enjoys, but these are of a lesser consequence than the effect of modern weapons of war.

The cost of increased combat power was only recently discussed by RAND Corporation analyst Michael Shurkin who assessed combat performance during Operation Serval, the French expedition into Mali. In this US Army ‘G-8’ supported assessment Shurkin raised the dichotomy of ‘protection versus mobility’. However, as I describe here, this was certainly not the first time the US Army sought to improve its operational mobility and escape the logistic ‘iron mountains’. The language and concepts described in the 1990s concerning the development of its Stryker Brigade Combat team capability would not be out of place within contemporary discussions on multi-domain battle. In the case of the Stryker, subsequent adjustments to its combat weight following operational experiences in the Middle-east have resulted in operational mobility concerns, and the idea that the Stryker would be portable in a C-130 has been since abandoned.  This example is directly pertinent to other militaries. For example, the Australian Army is engaged in a significant, and long-needed, enhancement of its armoured and transportation capabilities through Project’s Land 400 and Land 121. But, these projects have also been topics of discussion with respect to the logistic cost of combat power.


A Stryker with enhanced protection in Iraq, 2005 – Photo by US Army

The ‘tooth-to-tail’ ratio, or the ‘logistic footprint’, has never wholly been the operational logistician’s problem. The logistician’s problem has always been to think of the ways by which she or he can provide the commander with the greatest possible combat power or potential at the decisive point of a battle. If – after exploiting every measure of efficiency that can be responsibly squeezed out of a logistics system – the only effective solution to support the achievement of operational objectives is the establishment of a large logistics footprint, so be it. Combat forces must be prepared to defend this footprint as one of their most critical missions. It is worth remembering, however, the case of the ‘logistic snowball’; the tendency of logistics activities to outgrow out of proportion to tactical elements (p103). Although the logistic support required to support a modern tactical unit has been in an uptrend since motorisation, machine gun and modern artillery came to dominate the battlefield, failures in force-wide logistic discipline and in planning conspire to produce a wasteful deployment of logistics forces. In the context of multi-domain battle, this waste creates vulnerabilities – often physical ones –  for the land force.

In any case, militaries must evolve to become better protected, and to possess greater firepower. They require an incontestable advantage to do what they need to do; win the land battle. Adapting to this tactical need is certainly a requirement that logisticians must accept and plan for. However, the management of the cost of combat power, manifested in the present characteristics of military logistics, cannot be responsibly left for the logisticians as their issue alone. There are three far more influential groups with respect to influencing logistic requirements in war than the logistic planner; the capability developer who determines the demand on the logistic system; the concept writer who determines the doctrinal method of sustainment or support; and the operational commander who determines the acceptable level of austerity for the force, the desired tempo of battle, the priority of support, and the level of sustainment risk that can be tolerated. Each group has a responsibility to articulate the need for the right balance of logistics forces to  sustain the future capabilities of the land force. If they don’t, it will be unlikely that the land concepts implicit in multi-domain battle construct will truly deliver tactical success.


Australian Army convoy in Afghanistan, 2010 – Photo by Australian Army

We are not amidst a capability crisis, but are left with yet another problem to be overcome in war and peace. I can confidently say that armies, broadly speaking, are well aware of the collective effort that is required to better control logistics requirements so that they suit the predicted character of wars. The promotion of concepts and technology as we now see with emerging force design plans, such as the promising United States Marine Corps ‘Hybrid Logistics’ model, are very positive indications that armies are moving forward in in ways that might minimise the cost of combat power. The proof of effectiveness for these plans will only be seen in their execution. In the meantime, we should not deny future land forces the weapons that we think will make them successful in battle; we must, however, also remember that logistic requirements rarely accede to the will of commanders, capability developers or concept writers. Instead, in operations, these three groups must ultimately respond to the needs of, if not conform entirely to, the will of logistics.

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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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Fighting in the void – combat operations in the logistic vacuum

By David Beaumont.

Logistics has emerged from a decade-long hiatus to reassert its relevance. As Western militaries turn their attention from operations with a generally consistent logistic tempo, to strategic challenges that necessitate a substantial shift in force posture, logisticians are confronting a multitude of problems. We are seeing these problems emerge out of recent exercises conducted by the US Army in Europe. Recent commentary concerning exercises conducted in  January 2017 have revealed a variety of challenges that it must address to avoid bleak outcomes in future conflict. But such experiences are not confined to the US military, or to the European theatre. Changes in force posture and preparedness always require complicated logistics systems and supply chains to be adapted to suit new conditions.

Despite the challenges of adjusting to new force posture, we can expect logistics systems to be established quite effectively and efficiently. Many of these concerns expressed with relation to US Army force posture changes will undoubtedly abate as it re-learns lessons from the past. However, if we hypothetically look at how conflict might evolve in Europe, just as the American and European militaries did in developing concepts during the Cold War, we would be left with little comfort.  Despite the best of efforts, logistic preparations often fail to meet the expectations of planners when it comes to war. While the reasons for logistical failures may be self-evident given we all know how destruction can be quite disruptive, this post offers a theory – the ‘logistic vacuum’ – which reflects upon the impact.


Photo by US Army Europe

As force posture changes, or as developments to enable the projection of force over vast distances progress, sustainment methods 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. We see the effects of this luxury on military exercises regularly; it is rare to find a unit in most exercises without enough stores, supplies and equipment to last the exercises duration. Except in cases of extreme strategic surprise, logistics often becomes relatively unimportant to the well-prepared force at the outset of combat. Resources are plentiful, and firepower is assured. Unfortunately, and it is a general rule of war, this rapidly changes as combat and as the operation continues.

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. We can look at a European scenario from the past to understand why. Western concepts including Air-Land battle that were developed in the Cold War explicitly targeted logistic infrastructure; however, other issues would also mount upon any force engaged in battle. Forces would soon outrun their lines of supply, materiel might be lost in the confusion, health care inevitably overwhelmed and distribution capabilities overstretched.  When logistic support fails to materialise combat forces would be forced to adapt their tactical activities and the intensity of warfare would decrease commensurately. As seen routinely in Europe during the Second World War, combat forces resorted to using enemy materiel and supplies, local sources of supply were permanently borrowed, and rationing was introduced to overcome such deficiencies. 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 to create this very condition! Many different types of weapons have been developed to achieve this effect in modern operations; from ‘anti-access, area-denial’ missiles used in the maritime domain to target ‘sea-bases’ and other vessels, to the rocket-based artillery we famously saw in Desert Storm (1991) and more recently in ongoing conflict in the Ukraine. Despite the best attempts to improvise solutions and disperse logistic capabilities without compromising the support available to the combat force, a challenge noted recently on the Grounded Curiosity blog in a piece by Kane Wright, offensive methods can be expected to find a way to overcome these defensive measures.


Photo by Australian Army

However, the concept of the ‘logistic vacuum’ goes beyond its relationship with major combat operations. As I argued in a previous post , commanders often make operational decisions which result in significant disruption to logistics systems. In most instances these decisions are made for vitally important reasons. But such decisions have consequences, in a process of compromise and risk management that is necessary in war. Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Warden demonstrated that the act of deploying produces its own ‘logistic vacuum’ as forces adapt to new situations. In these examples the uncertain nature of supply chains, and the impact of capacity constraints introduced by the desire to deploy with a light logistic ‘tail’, conspired to introduce temporary (and in some cases enduring) logistic shortcomings.  The problem is particularly significant for operational and tactical-level logistics organisations who must establish in-theatre logistics infrastructure where there was previously none. Despite this applicability of the idea of the ‘logistic vacuum’ to more benign deployments, it is really in major combat operations that the ‘vacuum’ is at its most pernicious.

The ability of logisticians and commanders to overcome the ‘logistic vacuum’ by working a logistic system out of the remnants of what existed in peacetime will often determine the operational initiative. Armies have typically sought to prevent the vacuum from appearing by conceiving ways to the defend logistic elements, than examining what happens after such systems fail. Options proposed include defensive measures such as ‘rear area security operations’, the reinforcement of logistics elements and patrols 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 – perhaps even the study of history – to admit the existence of the vacuum will be fundamental to the logistician and commander in their mental preparations for war.

We can try to ‘force-design’ ourselves out of the problem. History, unfortunately, suggests we won’t be overly successful. The ‘logistic vacuum’ is an oft-repeated feature of warfare, and many smart people before you and I have failed to conceptualise a way out of it. What really matter is that military planners design forces that are able to emerge from the ‘vacuum’ quickly, 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 forward units, 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. In this regard technology offers all sorts of possibilities, many of which will lead to positive outcome. However, we shouldn’t be overconfident in our attempts to avoid the inevitable.

Any war between great powers, such as the nightmarish scenario in Europe as hypothesised above, would be tremendously destructive. After the first strike, logistic concepts that purport to support their armies will rapidly give way to practical reality and absolute necessity. 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 their capacity to eradicate the ‘logistics vacuum’ through conceptual perfection. Ultimately, the ‘logistic vacuum’ is a reality of war that both logistician and commander must accept and prepare themselves for.

The feature photo is of 3ABCT undertaking training, photo by US Army Europe and available on Flickr (

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