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

Future Logistician – framing a new approach

By Major General David Mulhall.

What do we need of our military logisticians in the future?  Or perhaps, what skills, attributes, experiences and education will best prepare logisticians to deliver outcomes in a Joint environment? An environment that is characterised by change; changes in war fighting concepts and capabilities, quantum leaps in our capacity to source and manipulate information, and the possibilities of artificial intelligence to improve our decision-making and management of system performance.

I had the great fortune while visiting the US last September to attend a thought-provoking presentation by the American political scientist, international relations scholar and specialist on 21st century warfare, P.W. Singer.  He posed a number challenging questions that day, but four ideas in particular resonated with me:

  • How do we prepare our logisticians to think about and develop future requirements beyond what we know currently?
  • How do we prepare our logisticians to best enable joint war-fighting in the Digital Age?
  • Our logistics enterprise needs to be relevant today and tomorrow in support of the Joint fight.
  • Organisations that are too lean are brittle to change and struggle to innovate.

These are of course big, sweeping ideas, but they are notions that might help frame our thinking about what we need of our future logisticians.  During a panel discussion that I hosted recently at Joint Logistic Command, a group of us explored these and related ideas. The high-quality discussion sought to address a number of important ideas as to how we develop our logisticians into the future; ideas relevant at Service and Joint levels, but also to all who constitute the Australian Defence logistics enterprise. The key ideas which emerged included:

  • Historically what have we done well as logisticians? Are we as good as we used to be?
  • Are we good at logistics in an operational setting? Can we easily adapt?
  • In this environment how do we incentivise innovation within our logisticians?
  • How does industry ‘do’ logistics? What can industry teach us and what can we teach industry?
  • What is the academic or intellectual contribution to the development of our logisticians? Do we need clearer development pathways and accreditation?
  • What linkages are there between logistics and capability, acquisition and sustainment? Can Joint logisticians perform in a wide range of appointments?
  • How do we ‘chunk up’ the way we think about logistics? Are we truly strategic in the way we think about logistics?
  • As logisticians, what can we actually change?
  • Do we have sufficiently robust pathways to develop logisticians? What formal education and training might we need?

Some of the common threads that emerged from the panel discussion were:

  • The need to ensure that we can best offer value to decision makers. 
  • The ability to apply sophisticated business analytics and thus leverage the benefits of ‘Big Data’.
  • Strategic thought and innovation. Development of these skills requires the logistician to work within what might be seen as conflicting goals: the needs of the service; talent management and personality traits. Commercial exposure can be helpful. Innovation must be rewarded.
  • Advocacy (the power of influence). We need support within and outside the Defence Community. We could easily lose (and arguably have lost) influence if we fail to contribute meaningfully at the decision makers table.
  • Commercial acumen. There is a need for some exposure to commercial skills. These could include change management, financial and contract management.
  • Pride and passion. Everyone has a role to play regardless of rank and experience. We need to energise people to play their part in Joint logistics over the course of their career. We need to instil greater pride in our value as logisticians
  • Operational logistics. We need to continue to demonstrate agility by operating and adjusting to a wide range of operational environments.

I have posed many questions here. Some are more easier to answer than others. All are important issues though, issues that Defence’s senior logisticians – civilian and military – are increasingly turning our minds to.  The issues are also likely to be relevant to developing the logisticians of other, like-minded, militaries and defence departments. Your thoughts, observations and analysis with respect to the points I have raised would be valued and will help frame a future approach. I very much look forward to the discussion.

Major General David Mulhall is Commander Joint Logistics Command, Australian Defence Force. He has commanded at all levels, including a Joint Task Force at his current rank. A full biography can be found here.

Logistics In War’s ‘Future Logistician’ series will be launched in early May, and is seeking submissions from military, academic and industry contributors by 30 April 2017. For full details, please read this post.

Intellectual irrelevance and the ownership of military logistics

By David Beaumont

The professionalisation of logisticians is a topic that has once again emerged, as strategic-level organisations in a number of different militaries seek to improve, and ‘intellectualise’, military logistics.  The desire for ‘intellectualisation’ appeals to one of the three pillars of Samuel Huntington’s criteria of a profession – expertise – in addition to enabling military logisticians to articulate, educate and perform.[1]  However, modern military logisticians have tended to look outside of their own organisation for the architecture of their professionalisation. There is an belief in various circles that logistic innovation will primarily come from industry or the business sciences, as is there an assumption that the military can no longer generate truly meaningful contributions to  contemporary logistic theory or ideas. This is quite clearly untrue, but if militaries truly seek to professionalise logisticians and the ideas of military logistics, they must strive to once again intellectually ‘own’ the subject.

Although the line between industry and military has always been blurred, the basic theory and ideas of logistics came from military, and not commercial, grounds. Commerce and war has intermingled since the first club was picked up, and as we are reminded through many of the great modern works on strategy prepared by theorists such as Clausewitz, Mahan and Corbett. Certainly, as war became larger and requiring a greater proportion of national economies to sustain, the relationship between the two grew especially close. In 1917 Colonel George Thorpe explicitly addressed this topic in Pure Logistics:

‘we find modern war losing its mystery and chivalry, we find it ranging itself in close alliance with industry of the commercial kind, from which war is acquiring “business methods”.[2]

Fifty years after Thorpe’s work on logistic theory was published, this relationship between commerce and war was confirmed in global conflict. [3]  The experiences of the Allied powers, and in particular the United States, in projecting military power into the maritime environment and to continents far away ensured logistics captured the interest of many military commanders. Some, such as Rear Admiral Henry Eccles, would devote the latter years of their military careers to write about logistics and its role in war; he subsequently described logistics as ‘the bridge’ from the economy to the battlefield. This ‘bridge’, in part, comprised the supply chain, and with new technologies such as standardised containers enabling expeditionary logistics on a global scale and ideas including ‘total cost of ownership’ starting to emerge, interest in understanding the logistics exploded beyond its military use.


US military ammunition point, WW2 – from Ruppenthal, Logistics in support of the armies

Modern ideas of logistics began to filter into commerce, and were rapidly assimilated as the world recovered from the after-effects of global conflict. As the employment of military forces changed over time, and globalisation took root, the business sciences started to take the lead when it came to ‘intellectualising’ logistics. Initially military-oriented ‘think tanks’ seized the opportunity to command the intellectualisation of logistics through modern operational analysis.  Murray Geisler, describing the RAND Corporation’s logistic program which he headed in 1966, stated that business sciences had much to learn from military logistics and vice versa. General Carter Magruder, a senior US Army logistician of the time and subsequent RAND recruit, also commented on the importance of considering ‘new and successful commercial management practices’ as well as examining the importance of militaries revising, or abandoning, current practices.[4]

But it was the efforts of the management doyen Peter Drucker in the 1960’s that saw the study of logistics transition to a corporate matter. Drucker fundamentally redefined supply-chain management into a form usable in modern commerce, and in doing so, the business community subsumed military ‘ownership’ of the logistic problem. By the time General Gus Pagonis wrote Moving Mountains, his experiences as the senior theatre logistician of the 1991 Gulf War, military histories and biographies concerned with logistical efforts were actively promoting their worth to a business audience.[5] Militaries had begun to increase the emphasis on modern business principles and technical skills in their professional military education. Among logisticians business courses became increasingly popular. I should know – I was one of those who took such opportunities to obtain a business degree as part of my professional development.

However, with greater operational experience, there has come increased scepticism of the slavish adoption of business practices and ideas within the military environment. The closer one gets to the tactical level of war, the more palpable the scepticism becomes. In most cases, the doubt springs from the misapplication of the many ideas concerned with achieving greater supply-chain efficiency; these include  the now familiar ‘just-in-time logistics’, ‘lean logistics’, and ‘distribution-based logistics’. Such concepts have had a vital role in introducing supply chain improvements in militaries. However, it hasn’t helped the level of faith logisticians have in them when they are introduced or imposed at times when logistic organisations bear the brunt of organisational rationalisations or manpower cuts. But it is the operational examples that stick the most in the minds of most military logisticians, and their commanders.

Without wanting to infer too much by basing this discussion on few examples, history doesn’t treat an over-enthusiastic importation of business ideas into war well. While always well intended when implemented in peace-time, a business-like efficiency in military logistics has, in numerous examples, inflicted upon deployed forces a self-induced austerity. This austerity can have significant operational consequences. Major General Hartley, Australian Land Commander, on viewing the extremely austere situation on the ground during the Australian deployment to East Timor in 1999, Operation Warden, made particular effort in the last paragraph of his visit report to emphasise that logistic initiatives such as ‘just-in-time logistics are not working’.[6] Similar conclusions were made in studies of Operation Iraqi Freedom where the attempt to eliminate Desert Storm-esque ‘iron mountains’ led to numerous logistics issues. It is, however, important not to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ when it comes to such ideas, and others, from the business domain. When implemented in the right way, and in the right environments, great achievements in lowering logistic costs can be achieved and resources better distributed across a deployed force.

To better employ ideas imported from outside military institutions, it is useful to logisticians that they first devote their time to understanding the military theories, and the insightful histories, which more directly apply to their profession. This enables them to better judge what can work, and more importantly, when it will work. In most cases, they will find that there is nothing intrinsically flawed with the ideas of business practice. In reviewing the military literature of logistics, logisticians will soon see that many key business practices now taken for granted were in fact first developed and practiced by military logisticians! However, very few of the key works in military logistics are commonly read nor referred to, let alone widely taught in military schoolhouses. It is therefore understandable why militaries have looked beyond the military environment with respect to validating their attempts to professionalise logisticians, or in search of new ideas.

In the past defence forces have relied upon training, typically conducted in the junior years of a soldiers and officers career, followed by an accumulation of experience through routine, exercises and operations, to prepare their logisticians. The fact that a many of these forces are now actively seeking ways in which to improve the ‘intellectualisation’ and ‘professionalisation’ of their logisticians is a highly positive next step for the future. But there are numerous obstacles that must be overcome.

In-house education opportunities for logisticians remain few in all but the best resourced militaries, and logistic leaders have yet to fully break from outdated paradigms of thinking about how to develop a professionalised logistician.  The practice of cycling military staff through business degrees, outplacements in the commercial sector, or engaging them with a professional certification within a civilian logistics professional body or authority must give way to better alternatives. As difficult and costly as it may be to implement, it is my suspicion that militaries will only ever be truly satisfied with the intellectual direction of military logisticians if they conduct all aspects of the training and education themselves.

It was from the military that logistics emerged, and it is time that military logisticians strive to regain an intellectual ‘ownership’ of the topic. The development of the theories and ideas of logistics should not be outsourced to other groups and institutions. Nor should ideas optimised for business circumstances be the keystones of all logistic thought. But logisticians can’t afford to assume they know all the answers either. The sheer complexity of the logistic process means we won’t find professional mastery in the isolated works and ideas of the military, industry, or in academia. Instead, it is the diversity of opinion that is important, as is the manner by which the military logistic community catalyses these various opinions and ideas into tangible, and effective, logistic concepts. It is not sufficient that we have logisticians with skills learned from commerce; we need logisticians that can translate business best-practice into military best-practice. This requires logisticians to be respectful of the tenets and theories which military logisticians, in times past, have taken the time to write. Such ideas enable effective and useful comparisons or inclusions to be made.

Professional logisticians have a responsibility to steward the ideas found in business theory into a ways that are operationally useful, to actively promote discussion and critique, mentor others to do the same, and develop the new ideas of logistics that will find their way into doctrine and concepts. A failure to do this now will undo efforts currently being undertaken in different militaries to ‘professionalise’ logisticians, will likely promote an unhealthy culture of imitation of concepts designed to work in non-military environments, and will ultimately lead to intellectual irrelevance.  Truly professional logisticians shouldn’t let this happen, and most will certainly try their hardest to avoid it. But they shouldn’t feel that there are no guides to help them in this task. Most of the key works of logistic literature contain chapters or sections specifically addressing the issue of professionalisation; a problem that appears to be virtually timeless and unsolved. Given most things in military logistics are not new, perhaps it is a good time to revisit these works and apply the lessons within.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer, logistician and editor of Logistics In War. Like many other military logisticians, he earned a business degree early in his career.  He can be followed on Twitter @davidblogistics.

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

[1] Huntington, S., Solder and the State, Harvard University Press, USA, 1957

[2] Thorpe, G.C. (reprinted from 1917), Pure logistics, National Defense University, USA, 1986, p 4

[3] Cowen, D., The deadly life of logistics, University of Minneapolis Press, USA, 2014, p 30

[4] Magruder, C.B., , Recurring logistic problems as I have observed them, Center of Military History, United States Army, USA, 1991 (reprinted from 1970), p 73

[5] Pagonis, W.G., 1992, Moving mountains: lessons in leadership and logistics from the Gulf War, Harvard Business School Press, USA

[6] Hartley, J., LCAUST Post-visit report: Operation Warden, November 1999 (currently in the process of being registered into the Australian War Memorial)

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.

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

By James Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo by Australian Army – Combat Logistic Patrol in Afganistan

Change Culture

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I, Logistician …..

‘Never make a specialist of the logistician … ‘

–        Duncan Ballantine, 1947[1]

There is nothing more an anathema to effective logistics in war than a military logistician who is an isolated, introverted, technical specialist.  Logistics is not a technical specialty, nor is it the ‘science of war’. It is a process of transforming resources into armies, and that which gives those armies their combat potential or capacity to fight. With this in mind, it is perhaps important to revise our beliefs as to what logisticians should be doing in war. What do, or should, logisticians functionally provide? Besides the technical functions of their day to day duties, or provision of advice with respect to the sustainment of forces, how to they truly contribute to the successes, or failures, of their commanders?

What militaries and commanders have demanded from their logisticians has changed considerably over time, but there is a trend. As the logistic ‘tail’ of armies, navies and air forces expanded in proportion to their lethality, particularly following the development of the ‘nation-state’ (and wars between them) and the invention of technologies such as the machinegun, artillery and the internal combustion engine; with it, the need for specialisation and technical mastery has been a centrepiece of developments in logistic capability. Rocketry, advanced health care, aircraft and the computer chip have created such complexity that it is virtually impossible to do without a swathe of technicians, supply planners and information system operators when preparing for war. New business science practices adopted in militaries, promoted by logisticians with the best of intent, have placed additional expectations and demands upon logisticians.

Literature, conversely and persistently, argues for the opposite with respect to military logisticians. It warns of the tendency of logisticians to be incomprehensible or disconnected from other staff functions through insularity.  Perhaps this is the consequence of whom has written on the topic of logistics. Most soldier-scholars on the topic have tended to come from the combat arms, and see logistics as a thing to be ‘controlled’, as an aspect of decision making, or as a ‘shaping’ influence on plans and objectives. From Clausewitz and Jomini, Colonel Charles Thorpe (Pure Logistics, 1919), Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (Rommel Papers, timings various), J.F.C Fuller (The Generalship of Alexander the Macedon, 1958) to Rear Admiral Henry Eccles (Logistics in the National Defense, 1959); each has commented upon logistics, not as a discrete function, but a constituent of strategy and tactics. Some have regarded it as the most important factor in operational success.

Most importantly, in these works logistics is considered as inseparable from the execution of command. It is in enabling commanders to effectively prioritise in war that the real value of logisticians, and the logistic staff in particular, is argued to be found.


The ability of commanders to prioritise and allocate the usually scarce logistic elements amongst his or her forces clearly places a substantial proportion of the logistic problem in the realm of command decision making. Where, then, does this leave the logistician? As a staff officer sitting in a Forward Operating Base coordinating contractors, supervising cargo delivery or ruminating over spreadsheets of daily replenishment statistics? That might be the basics of the job, but the routine tasks hardly capture the important relationship between logistician and the commander. Clearly, the answer is in supporting the decision-making process; thinking broadly about sustaining the operating force and advising commanders accordingly. The commander may fight the enemy, but the logistician fights for an armies capacity to simply exist.

Some authors of well-known works on logistics have been particularly critical of the way in which logisticians have engaged (or not) command, as well as their tendency to over-specialise; even moreso than Duncan Ballantine. US Army General Carter Magruder (Recurring logistic problems as I have observed them, repub. 1991) argued that every senior logistic commander should have served time in the combat arms to avoid either outcome. One could look at former UK Major General Julian Thompson, hero of the Falklands campaign and author of the excellent Lifeblood of War (1994) as verifying the case; serving time as a logistic adviser prior to leading combat forces in the UK’s Falkland Islands campaign. This is not, however, just a modern trend or view!

It is conceptually difficult to escape the orbit of the Napoleonic era when talking about war, but modern logistics emerged from the time ‘hand-in-hand’ with modern strategic theory. It was born from the idea of generalship, and the adoption of methods to sustain large forces in the field. In most European armies of the era and later, the second in command of a force was described in terms we would use to describe a logistician. Such appointed Generals were responsible for the sustainment of the forces; food, fodder, weapons and other necessitates of war in addition to operational command issues.  It is understandable that we might see armies such as the German Imperial Army give the title of ‘General Quartermaster’ to its senior operational commander (see Erich Ludendorff, for one).

Theorists were equally confused. Jomini’s description on logistics in the Art of War is suggestive of the idea of operational-level command, and Clausewitz barely extricates strategy from logistics through the definition of ‘paper-war’, despite a chapter of On War describing the impact of supply on operations. Both, incidentally, repeatedly revised the sections of their works with respect to logistics and supply, let alone the linkages either had to strategy and tactics. Logistics, even to these greats of theory, remained an uncertain topic. Nonetheless, because of the mixture of operational and logistics in command, it is unsurprising that we might see an army such as the German Imperial Army afterwards title an operational commander by the appointment ‘General Quartermaster’ (see Erich Ludendorff, for one).

The reality is that most contemporary logisticians come from more mundane backgrounds and are, like all other personnel, bred to meet specific force requirements. While over-specialisation may be detrimental to operational outcomes, the proficiency achieved by logisticians is critical to the effective decision making of commanders. In any case, no commander will ever benefit from myopia or professional ‘stove-piping’, or a cultivated perception that logistics is a ‘black art’. Logistics, despite its technical nature, has simple principles and theories that rest upon its role in decision making.  These ideas should be accesible to all. Very few logisticians will ever be operational commanders, and equally few operational commanders will ever become experts on logistics. The wisest commanders, however, know what they don’t know – and they always know to whom they should turn.


[1] D Ballantine, US Naval logistics in the Second World War, Princeton Univeristy Press, USA, 1947