Structuring logistics for unstructured war

By Chris Paparone.

In the October 2014 issue of The Journal of Military History, Robert W. Hutchinson published his illuminating article subtitled, “Wehrmacht Officers, the U.S. Army Historical Division, and U.S. Military Doctrine, 1945–1956.”  Hutchinson tells the story about how, “…over 700 former field and staff officers of the German Armed Forces…closely collaborated with the U.S. Army Historical Division to complete some 2,500 manuscripts describing the Wehrmacht’s experiences in World War II.”  These compilations centered on the concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver (konzept der verbundenen Waffen) and Decisive Action (entschlossenes Handeln) — I make the acronym “CAMDA” — developed by German military intellectuals during the interwar period and practiced on both fronts of the war in Europe.  These have been and are believed to be the hallmark concepts of modern warfare.  What makes these concepts remarkable is that they have served as the foundation for Army operational doctrine from post-WW II (FM 100-5) publications to the latest, 2016 edition (ADRP 3-0).

My concern is whether this nearly century-old operational concept focused on prosecuting modern mechanized warfare is a winning way to fight the conflicts we have experienced since WW II; after all, the Germans lost, yet the United States adopted Wehrmacht CAMDA concepts and has struggled with winning wars through Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.  Some might argue that Operation Desert Storm (1991) was a war decisively won with a variant of CAMDA (then called AirLand Battle), but I interpret that action as the beginning of a continuous conflict that is still unresolved in Iraq and its surrounding areas.  For logisticians, framing success with this modernist way of war is also problematic as I would argue the complexity of sustaining postmodern wars presents challenges that CAMDA style, high-tech logistics does not adequately address.  The assumption that CAMDA assures winning in a complex world remains as empirically unsubstantiated as does the assertion that if we can organize to arm, fuel, fix, supply, transport, and medically treat as an integral part of mechanized warfare, we can then well support postmodern warfare.

US Army_ Multi-domain battle

A now familiar US Army slide – but is it just a CAMDA concept?

Postmodern warfare is characterized as unstructurable — lacking the familiar structures of modern state-on-state conflicts, traditionally characterized as having a beginning and an end state (e.g., managing human and machine life-cycles), highly sophisticated administrative and logistical procedures and technologies, recognizable uniforms and other friend-or-foe markings, established military schools, doctrine-driven and disciplined- organizational performativity, high-tech system-of-systems integration of man and machine, capability to well-plan and control large-scale movements, and so forth.  Paradoxically, these structures derived from CAMDA are also what has made the United States, considered a modern global military power, into a comparatively impotent postmodern adversary.  CAMDA’s highly-developed, very expensive, sophisticated structures have seemingly disallowed more unstructured approaches to warfare and the correspondent logistics of postmodern conflict.

So what would be the organizing characteristics of modern versus postmodern warfare?  I offer a comparison chart:

Chart 2



My challenge to the reader is how to re-conceptualize logistics to support unstructured activities (the right side of the chart) when highly structured logistics systems are designed to support CAMDA (the left side of the chart)?

Editor’s additional question: given the discussion on this site and elsewhere concerning new concepts including ‘Multi-Domain Battle’, are we falling into a conceptual ‘CAMDA trap’?

Chris Paparone, COL, US Army retired, served 29 years as a logistician and since 2002 has been involved in the US Army military education system.

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.

Leading small-team logistics

By Chris Paparone.

Steven Menschelyi recently described in a great article how armies can manage combat service support units best if it sees them as they really are: a collection of mission-focused teams. As a CSS Bn Cdr, I came up with a management scheme to organize around small teams instead of platoons or companies. I described this method in a piece in Army Logistician — “CSS: A collection of teams” by Paparone, (May/Jun 2003): pp. 20-21. There were two charts (the first one is important) — but they will not show up in the following pasted text:

While we may consider combat service support (CSS) to be a unit-based capability, I believe that, in reality, the Army’s CSS capability is provided by a collection of diverse CSS teams that are “cared for” by a unit structure. You might ask, ‘what’s the difference between CSS teams and units?’ I think the difference is huge. I also believe that thinking of CSS capability as provided by teams instead of units requires a paradigm shift in how we command, lead, and manage people, equipment, training, and overall readiness.

Fuel teams, maintenance teams, medical teams, transportation crews, ammunition transfer teams, and supply teams all determine the capable delivery of logistics. The main reason for a unit structure is to provide administrative and operational control over these teams and to position them in the right place to render support as close as possible to the point where support is needed.

Not only is the realization that the Army operates primarily through teams important to today’s Army, but it also is important to achieving the Objective Force concept of how things must be done in the future Army. Much of the creative writing on the Objective Force has focused on the need to integrate all functions into combat formations that are dispersed over a non-contiguous battlespace. Under this concept, CSS teams will be working hand in hand with units that are in contact with the enemy, not enjoying the positional safety once afforded by an echeloned, linear battlefield. Layers of logistics headquarters in theater will be replaced with delivery of logistics to the point of needed support by small teams that reach as far back into the communications zone as possible.

One technique for commanding, leading, and managing teams is to focus battalion-level systems on those teams rather than on company-sized units. For example, assessing readiness and developing training schedules should focus first on the team, not the company. When I commanded the 47th Support Battalion (Forward), 1st Armored Division, in Germany, we developed this team-based mentality and operated accordingly. Our battalion weekly training meetings, quarterly training briefings, and unit status reporting process were oriented on our CSS (and later our command and control) teams.

We developed the chart below to track the current and projected readiness of our teams. The color ratings used in such a chart can be determined locally; we saw black (labeled “B” in the chart below) as ineffective, red (R) as minimally effective, amber (A) as partially effective, and green (G) as totally effective. We looked at the current status based on team reporting and projected the status based on “PETC” team forecasts and staff analysis. (“PETC” stands for personnel gains and losses, equipment maintenance projections, individual and collective training, and team cohesion.) We eventually added the “headquarters team” (not indicated on this chart) for companies and the battalion to indicate command and control ratings. This chart became our mainstay for both quarterly training briefings and unit status reporting.

Team Ratings Chart

The “PETC” chart for 47th Support Battalion (Forward)

These color-coded charts were used by the 47th Forward Support Battalion to assess the readiness of its CSS teams.

CSM's role

An illustration of the battalion command sergeant major’s team readiness assessment process

In addition to the battalion’s use of the charts, our command sergeant major developed ad hoc non-commissioned officer (NCO) teams that conducted monthly assessments of designated teams within the unit. The NCO teams were made up of rotating NCOs from above the platoon level and from multiple companies. The NCO teams scheduled the monthly assessments on company and battalion training calendars. The assessment process involved visiting and talking to soldiers. The NCO teams would ask such questions: Do you have what you need to do your job? How is morale? Do you have any issues concerning your command, leadership, or the management climate? The NCOs who served on these teams learned a lot about the capabilities of the battalion and a lot about coaching and leadership. (See the chart above)

These assessments were based on a command, leadership, and management philosophy. They were not inspections, nor were they used to lay blame on sergeants or officers. As battalion commander, I did not require a written report or formal oral feedback on these assessments, just a qualitative confirmation of current and projected status. The assessments were designed to assess systemic problems that blocked the teams from achieving “green” status. The results influenced, and most of the time validated, the color-coded charts.

The color-coded charts were very useful in demonstrating to higher headquarters the status of personnel, equipment, training, and morale in our battalion’s teams. When the teams’ status was presented in one chart, it was possible for higher headquarters to gain an overall impression of their capabilities. This made resource decisions at higher levels easier to make: Do we accept risk, or do we do something about these issues?

I believe that looking at CSS capabilities in terms of teams is an important step toward attaining the Objective Force vision. In our battalion, this concept eventually empowered team leaders and followers with a voice they never had before. On the whole, soldiers were delighted with the focus on teams because it got the attention of unit commanders and staff. While some in the chain of command at first thought focusing on teams disrupted the traditional Army hierarchy, they soon learned that, to be effective, their roles had to shift from “authoritative direction” to “servant leadership.” I commend this philosophy and these tools to all commanders because they reflect the kind of organizational image we need for a transformed Army.

Chris Paparone, COL, US Army retired, served 29 years as a logistician and since 2002 has been involved in the US Army military education system.

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.

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.

 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.

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.

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.

Follow us at Twitter: @logisticsinwar and Facebook : @logisticsinwar. Share to grow the network and discussion

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.

Follow us at Twitter: @logisticsinwar and Facebook : @logisticsinwar. Share to grow the network and discussion.

Operations Warden, Enduring and Iraqi Freedom – deployment and employment and the gaps in capability

By David Beaumont.

Observations made of logistic performance in military campaigns always subjective. Because wars are inherently different, so too must be the means by which combat forces are sustained. Yet logistical requirements also change, and frequently, with the operational timings and ‘phases’ of a campaign. Of the various stages of an operation, there is no other time more difficult for logisticians and their operational commanders than when deployment and actual combat is concurrent. Transforming logistic capabilities to operate more effectively in this period is vital to any military that promotes itself as being expeditionary, and portrays itself as capable enough to launch itself directly into battle from short notice. However, not all modernisation efforts emphasise the difficulties encountered when the line between two arbitrary ‘phases’ of war is blurred, and the tactical and logistic are at their most competitive. Most programs base their logistic force structure and conceptual requirements on a situation where forces are whole and complete, sustained and ready. War, however, tends to show the error of this approach.

Similarities and continuities feature in war, and not-too-subtle variations of the same logistic problems are regularly repeated in nominally different types of military campaigns.  In this post I will reveal such consistencies with a brief comparison between American Middle-eastern operations (Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF – 2002) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF – 2003), and Australia’s peacekeeping experience during Operation Warden in East Timor (1999). Despite differences in scale and the nature of combat the deployments, these three operations provide evidence to suggest that the ‘deployment and employment’ dichotomy should be the central basis for the transformation of logistic forces.

US Army Lieutenant Colonel Victor Maccagnan Jr., writing in 2005 on the US Army transformation process, described how the requirement to ‘employ while deploying’ created significant challenges for the logisticians of OEF and OIF. For the US military, OEF was conducted without the benefits of host-nation and allied elements that could sustain a deploying force; benefits it had enjoyed during the Cold War and Operation Desert Shield / Storm campaign a decade prior. Army logistic elements were ‘piecemealed into theatre as a result of new requirements being generated by ongoing and upcoming operations as opposed to an overall plan,’ Maccagnan continues. Tactical events resulted in erratic combinations of combat and supporting forces deploying, and a vacuum in logistic support temporarily appeared. The resulting uncertainty ultimately meant that to overcome supply chain and sustainment inefficiencies, ‘brute force logistics’ was applied and inefficiencies introduced. In addition to a snowballing of logistic effort, the normally orderly form of ‘reception, staging, onforwarding and integration’ characteristic of Cold War-era American force projection was abandoned in the turmoil of deployment and with forces in combat to sustain.

The initial assessments of OIF, conducted soon after OEF, portrayed an impressive picture of the capacity of the US military to project forces on a global scale. Yet, post-operational analysis confirmed a logistic legacy which belied the preceding twelve-months of logistic campaign planning before the invasion of Iraq began. It was true that in an amazing display of speed, the US military had mounted an expeditonary force, deployed it to Kuwait, and ten days was operating a divisional-plus Task Force (Ironhorse) in combat north of Baghdad. However, the simultaneous requirements of supporting forces while deep in the deployment process exposed a significant gap in logistic capability.  A 2005 RAND Corporation study confirms the failure of ‘distribution-based logistics’ to adaptively respond to emerging operational problems, a result of shifts in the deployment flow. The stable logistic system that such concepts depend upon simply hadn’t been established; in some cases, distribution elements were demoted in terms of deployment priority as combat needs took precedence. By the end of the first week of operations, there were units in combat had not received water and rations as scarce logistic elements were redirected to supplying the modern-day life-blood of war; ammunition and spares. The resultant operational pause is now famous. However, such problems were not unique to OIF, and certainly not the US military more broadly.

It would not surprise many of the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) logisticians if I claimed Op Warden would be a benchmark in terms of challenges with logistics. Dr Craig Stockings, now Official Historian, described ‘logistics on the run’ as a succession of logistic issues compromised the limited planning that had been conducted prior to the crisis.[1] A firm control of movement and sustainment coordination was conspicuously absent  because operational imperatives necessitated an adapting and expeditious approach to controlling the area of operations. The consequences of operational necessity were borne by the few logistic elements that had deployed early. Nominally ‘modular’ logistics units arrived in theatre, as the Americans had experienced during OEF, ‘piece-meal’.  This meant the capabilities they were to provide were inhibited in their capacity. The ability to determine what was operational urgent proved functionally ‘broken’, and the light scales of logistics units had deployed was one of the key factors that led the then-Major General Peter Cosgrove to allocate coalition forces and other units to specific areas of operations where they could be adequately sustained.[2] One month later, as the deployment subsided and forward elements were in their areas of operation, logistic control was finally established and some measure of certainty came to the operation. It was, however, a widely-acknowledged close call.

Such short explanations do not do justice to the complex balance between combat and logistic activities that had to be coordinated early in an operation. Neither should they necessarily be construed as a justification for preference being given to logistics forces during deployment. Rather, the examples serve to emphasise why the conditions of the earliest phases of an operation must be of the highest priority when considering logistic force structure requirements. This same could be said of operational and logistic concepts. Logistic operations in austere conditions, and for forces with austere expectations, must be planned for.

It is tempting to simply construe the problem as an unsolvable, terribly inconvenient, feature of the nature of war. Certainly armies have, since time immemorial, outran their supply lines or endured austerity in the ‘grey’ space between deployment and combat operations.  Historian Jill S. Russell describes a ‘rule of 4/6ths’, stating that on the battlefield you will only ever get ‘4/6ths’ of what you need; the art of war ‘is to find the means to make up for the deficit’. She notes the innovative capacity of the ‘human element’ as the bridge between what is available and what is not. Militaries should not, however, introduce this capacity as a logistic force design principle. When logistics planners and others start over-emphasising a Clausewitzian view of ‘friction’, or argue persistently that logistics is ultimately just an ‘overcoming of a monumental series of difficulties’ as Martin Van Creveld once described, there is good reason for all to worry.[3]

There is always a tendency for those thinking about the future to the needs of the set-piece battle when designing future logistic forces. Doing so skips over an assessment of the needs of a much more challenging operational phase. It results arbitrary conclusions in force design; conclusions which, in the main, simply don’t eventuate in an operational setting. The simultaneous deployment and employment of forces encountered during OEF, OIF and Op Warden indicates aspects of the logistical problem that must be addressed in preparations militaries for future wars. If it offers some reassurance that preparation is actually possible, we can look at the outcome of the logistics planning conducted for Operation Astute, a return to a crisis affected East Timor, in 2006. Although the operation might have been an order of magnitude less complex than Op Warden and with a smaller burden on logistic capabilities, lessons from Op Warden resulted logistical choices were directly incorporated into operational planning. These lessons, in turn, better enabled the force to withstand tactical and logistic simultaneity as the deployment unfolded.

Militaries are ever-evolving to different visions of the future, visions which are shaped by a particular ‘lens’ through which a problem is observed. Many Western armies are now engaged in programs to adapt their logistics capabilities, and it will be important that they base transformation on a vision established through the right ‘lens’ and with the full advantage of history behind them. Determining those capabilities which are required to overcome the critical logistic challenges experienced from simultaneous ‘deployment and employment’ must consequentially be, in my view, the primary basis for their logistic transformation efforts. This may result in unexpected capability outcomes, but ones that could well be fundamental to the success of the campaigns of the future.

[1] Stockings, C. ‘Lessons from East Timor’ from Frame, T. & Palazzo, A., On Ops: lessons and challenges for the Australian Army since East Timor, UNSW Press, Australia, 2016, p 74

[2] Beaumont, D., ‘Logistics and the failure to modernise’ from Frame & Palazzo, 2016, p 140

[3] Creveld., M., Supplying war, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, UK, 2004, p 231

Rethinking logistics – challenges of the modern battlefield

At the end of 2016 the Chief of the Australian Army, through conversations with senior logisticians, asked the logistic community to rethink assumptions made about logistics. This challenge, a part of other force structure reforms in Army, formed the basis of a variety of presentations and discussions at the subsequent ‘Army Logistics Leaders Symposium’ held at the Army Logistics Training Centre (ALTC) in November that year. This event was an initiative of ALTC and a means over overcoming the traditional organisational divisions that exist between Army’s logistics corps and units, and it was a really positive experience to be able to discuss a variety of issues with respect to the future in such a frank manner.

While it is not my prerogative to outline the contents of the discussions, many challenges facing the logistic community were discussed. These issues were both functional (how logistics should work on operations) and institutional (how it is organised to effectively and efficiently sustain Army in peace and war). No conclusions were made during the Symposium to overcome the challenges – such to be part of a subsequent consultative review – but a good starting point to an intended dialogue was made.

I thought, for a start, I would raise my views of what some of the ‘functional’, externally and environmentally delivered, challenges for logisticians.  For any non-Australian Army readers, I think you might find this basic list consistent with the views of forces and militaries world-wide.

  • The battlefield may be dispersing, but not as much as people might think. This is the predominantly the consequence of two factors: the supply requirements of forward elements which are in an up-trend, and the historical paucity (see next point) of transportation capabilities available to deliver to them in the required timeframe. This means logistics units and capabilities cannot withdraw from the battlefield and away from the weapons designed to obliterate them: long-range artillery, airborne weapons and precision rocketry. Geography, particularly in and around cities, will also reduce the dispersion of forces (although decrease their visibility). In lower scales of conflict other forms of interdiction will ensure self-protection is necessary remembering offensive capabilities tend to asymmetrically evolve quicker than defensive capabilities. Both scenarios require tactical concepts and doctrine to continue to be developed.
  • Transportation concepts will continue to determine the structure of the battlefield and not just where logistic units will be sited. In every modern campaign and war, transportation has been argued as the determinant of successful logistics and tactical plans will adjust to suit transport capacity. Where transport capacity is greatest, the commander will have the greatest tactical flexibility thus the need to mass transportation at a decisive point will remain a key force design principle. The logisticians and tacticians must plan and train together.
  • Modern threats will require logisticians to work alongside air-defence, engineering and communications capabilities. Habitual relationships will need to be established prior to deployment.
  • The increasing combat weight of forces will slow the rate of deployment of the force. There will be greater competition for transport resources as a consequence. Logistic units may deploy later than historical example may show accordingly. This may necessitate that the amount of stock initial deploying units carry will be larger than otherwise desired.
  • Battlefield manufacturing (aka 3D printing) will become increasingly useful, particularly for repair parts and some supplies, but petrol, oils and lubricants and ammunition will continue to pose the biggest challenges for supply. This will not change until new forms of engine are introduced. Demand for both has increased as armies have become heavier, and enabled with greater means of firepower.
  • Logistic information systems and ‘common operating pictures’ are one of the most fundamental technologies that if introduced correctly will allow for the efficient use of resources in war. However, these will not be a panacea. Very successful militaries have had lower quality systems of communications (the tactical successes of the German Army in the early Second World War attest to that), and there has to be an expectation that any logistic information system is vulnerable to cyber or electronic warfare attack.
  • Technology is becoming so sophisticated that, at some point, it will be beyond the capacity of military technicians to be reasonably expected to be trained to repair it. If armies can’t expand the size of their engineering support, a greater presence of contractor support forward will be required. Alternatively, the need to transport damaged and unrepairable equipment rearward will place an additional burden on the distribution system as equipment will have to be transported to safe points of repair.
  • Armies never have, and probably never will, go to war without contractors. Understanding where they are appropriate, how they can be best employed and what the tolerance for operational risk is due to their presence is the key. It will be impossible to leave contract management to a select cadre of specialists; it must become a core skill set of the majority of logisticians.
  • The proportion of the ‘tail’ to the ‘teeth’ of military forces has, and will continue to, increase unless the needs of the combat force decrease. It is (should be?) self-evident that a light infantry brigade has a smaller logistic ‘tail’ than an armoured brigade. However, logistic activities always escalate and inefficiencies, if allowed, make the ‘tail’ become disproportionally large and sluggish. To avoid this, any concepts developed prior to deployment must to be meticulous in their detail. Commanders, and their logisticians, must always pursue opportunities to remove waste – including any institutional ‘sacred cows’ preventing change.
  • If the battlefield becomes more dispersed, logistic forces must be designed to be organisationally flexible. Modular ‘capability bricks’ may not be the only answer; indeed this solution has been pursued by militaries for years.
  • Caveat emptor. Logistics will continue to be driven by context. All the above points could be utterly irrelevant to the conflicts of the future.

Many of these points shouldn’t be surprising, and the list is by no means exhaustive. I believe most military logisticians are already well aware of the problems that they will face on the future battlefield. With this in mind, feel free to correct me or enhance my list.

In any case, as with all force design planning, it is always the solutions to problems that prove the most contentious.