The trust deficit – why do we expect logistics to fail us?

By Gabrielle M. Follett.

Trust. The willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability of the ability to monitor or control that other party[1].

In a recent post in ‘From the Green Notebook’ David Beaumont noted that, for the sustainment of decisive action to be effective, logistics must be characterised by ‘trust between commanders, combat forces and logisticians’.  Almost every military logistician – and no doubt the majority of our combat arms brethren – would agree.

If we accept that trust between all parties is essential to effective military logistics, why then do tactical commanders in the Australian Army generally adopt a policy of self-reliance when it comes to combat service support? At every level of the Combat Brigade supply chain – from the F Echelon through to the logistic battalion – we assume that the logistic system is almost certainly going to fail us. Moreover, as we reach back to third line logistics and beyond to the National Support Base, the decline in trust is almost proportional to the increasing geographic and C2 ‘distances’ between the elements who are supported and those supporting.

As a result, at the tactical level we deploy with a stockholding based on ‘everything we can fit in’ rather than the science of logistic planning. The repercussions are self-fulfilling: we take so much equipment and stores on our training exercises that we don’t test the logistic continuum, failing to find where it breaks and thus missing the opportunity to fix it. The lack of trust in logistic units and the supply chain is reflected in wasteful activities, hoarding of limited resources and failure to accept prudent risk. In terms of collective capability, we lose the opportunity to actually train combat and combat service support elements together, failing to build mutual understanding or respect and never affording ourselves the fortuity to be pleasantly surprised when the logistic system delivers. The result is a cultural bias that is deeply ingrained, perpetuating an often unfounded belief that our combat service support units can’t or won’t deliver what the combat arms need.

Ammo distribution

Photo by 3rd Combat Service Support Battalion, Australian Army

As logisticians, the lack of faith in the ability and skills of our logistic continuum and those of us charged with providing the support feels like enduring ‘trust deficit’. While it is generally accepted that the success or failure of combat action is dependent on a range of factors – including acceptance that the ‘enemy gets a vote’ – we approach support operations in an entirely different way.  When combat operations fail, it’s because we missed information requirement X or factor Y was not available. When resupply or battlefield repair fails, it is inevitably chalked up to the perceived incompetence of the logistic unit or the inbuilt inflexibility of the system. Trust – a subjective, transactional emotion – in military logistics at the tactical level is at least partly founded on group-based stereotypes rather than heuristic experience.

In our tactical commanders there is a clear approach of ‘trust is good, but control is better’ manifesting itself in a desire not to depend on the next level of support. This has been brought to the fore in the Australian Army’s tactical combat service support restructure[2], which in January 2017 shifted part of the combat service support personnel establishment from units into the second line logistic battalion. The premise behind the new apportionment of logistic resource is that the Army cannot afford to have all of the logistic personnel it thinks it needs, and that concentrating them at Brigade level enables prioritisation and technical efficiencies for formation operations. This disposition is analogous to how mobility support and indirect fires have been managed for decades, an arrangement that comes with apparent acceptance and trust from battle group and combat team commanders. Combat commanders are comfortable – and trust that – they will receive indirect fires when they need it and if the Brigade’s apportionment of the assets is in their favour. Yet the same command and control arrangements applied to combat service support have been met with skepticism, distrust and fear.


It is not just our combat brethren that perpetuate the expectation that the military logistic system is, more than likely, going to fail its dependencies. As logisticians in first line units we promote a lack of reliance on the next level of support. We focus on ensuring our own efforts support our unit so that we mitigate any deficiencies further up the distribution or repair chain. This facet of distrust in the system stems in part from the tribal nature of our Army. The same corps and unit identities that we develop as a component of morale and combat effectiveness lead us to distrust those who are not like us. The fact that combat service support personnel in combat units give way to a form of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and agree wholeheartedly that units can only depend on the logistics that they own and control means we are doing little to assuage or defeat the lack of trust in the complete logistic continuum. The same approach is perpetuated in second line logistic units, where cynicism about the reliability of third line support abounds.

Compounding our ingrained cultural skepticism is a lack of proof that our logistic system can deliver the goods.  We talk of exercising our logistic systems and ‘pushing them to breaking point’.  Yet in our major field training activities we prioritise objectives more tangibly linked with joint land combat at the expense of actually testing our combat service support. Instead of considering the ‘four Ds’[3] during exercise design, we can rarely afford the funding to position our third line logistics at the distance needed to generate realistic lines of communication, meaning that the force support and brigade support elements end up in close proximity to each other. The exercise duration– driven by concern about how long we are away from home locations – is short and finite, inevitably supporting a self-sufficient approach. Our ‘destinations’ are well known to us through the geography of well-trodden training areas, meanwhile ‘demand’ is shaped by the finite nature of the activity and set training objectives. But it’s a false economy; the fact is the cost of not training with realistic lines of supply, reasonable demand and extended duration will be felt when Australia is next required to lead an expeditionary multinational force in our region. What we don’t learn now in training will be painfully apparent on operations when the consequences are much higher.


Image 1

Photo by 3rd Combat Service Support Battalion, Australian Army

Trust is a belief in the reliability or ability of something and is the measure of the quality of a relationship. We work hard at unit and formation levels to build these relationships, training and planning together. Within a combat brigade, the relationships between commanding officers are almost universally very strong. As a logistic battalion commander, I often receive emails and calls from peers who tell me how professional and capable my soldiers are. Some of these calls carry a genuine (and perhaps concerning) tone of surprise, but all of them speak to the understanding that these commanders have of the importance of logistics. Likewise, our senior leaders frequently highlight how, as they become more senior, they increasingly spend more time focusing on logistics. Yet despite this leadership, emphasis and quality of relationships between commanders, our organisational belief in the reliability and ability of the logistic continuum remains low.

Why haven’t we built this trust? Firstly, trust must be based on demonstrated competence. As previously noted, we aren’t generating collective opportunities that enable combat service support units to demonstrate competence, or to quantifiably expose the shortfalls so we can win resources to fix them. This requires more than simply limiting what each unit deploys with on – it necessitates acceptance that if we do expose logistic shortfalls they may degrade or prevent the achievement of combat arms training objectives. While we collectively believe that our logistic resources are inadequate, we do not have the organisational maturity to accept that training to expose such shortfalls may be necessary to prove the requirement for resources to fix it.

At an individual level, we wait too long to teach our junior commanders that combat service support is a crucial part of the combined arms team, equal to the other components. The Australian Army Logistic Officers Intermediate Course and Combat Officers Advanced Course come together for a short period to conduct a staff planning activity. Although badged as combined training, the lead up lessons remain separate, the problem sets are not actually constrained by logistic culminating points and the simulation system does not consume logistic effort beyond a rudimentary level. Without a mature individual training framework that treats the combat and logistic elements of the problem equally, our combat arms officers walk away with the perception that logistics is a sideshow of limited consequence.

To address the trust deficit we would do well to note that the United Kingdom’s doctrine lists the first principle of logistics as ‘collective responsibility’[4].  As logisticians, the onus is on us to communicate the imperative and the risks and to create opportunities to show what combat service support elements can actually do. We must recognise that trust is reciprocal, transactional and based on demonstrated competence. We have to get past our own arrogance and believe that when a battle group demands for something at short notice, they have good reason for doing so. We are as guilty of distrusting our dependencies as they are of distrusting us. As the supporting arm, combat service support units must accept that inevitably and rightly, the dependency defines success.

Our collective challenge is to build trust in unpredictable environments, where we are part of a continuum in which we are not always the number one priority and definitely aren’t pulling all of the levers. Transparent honesty is essential to build trust so that when we truly do require lead times or genuinely can’t meet a requirement, our relationship with our dependencies is robust enough to accept that some things truly aren’t possible. Trust must be earned and earned quickly, as the cost of not demonstrating competence or exposing logistic capability shortfalls so they can be addressed could, without exaggeration, be counted in lives.

Gabrielle Follett is an Australian Army officer and a current logistic battalion commander in the 3rd Brigade. She has served in command appointments and staff appointments at formation and force level, as an instructor at the Royal Military College – Duntroon, and at the strategic level in Army Headquarters and Australian Defence Headquarters. She has operational experience as a combat service support team commander, operations officer, Joint Task Force J5, and as a task group S4 in Tarin Kot, Afghanistan.

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[1] Mayer, R.C., Davis, J.H., Schooman, F.D. An integrative model of organisational trust, The Academy of Management Review Vol 20, No 3 (July), 1995, pp 709-734

[2] Known as the ‘Combat Service Support Concept of Operations’ or ‘CSS CONOPs’.

[3] Australian land warfare doctrine describes logistic planning factors known as the ‘four Ds’ – destination, demand, distance and duration.  Developing doctrine expands this to ‘five Ds’ with the addition of ‘dependency’.

[4] UK Army Doctrine Publication Land Operations, Chapter 10 – Sustaining Operations

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.

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

By Steve Cornell

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

–  attributed to Alexander the Great

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

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

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


UK Army logistics – Iraq 2003

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

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

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

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

Logisticians are also seeking answers to three questions:

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

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

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


UK Army logistics – Afghanistan 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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