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.

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

Picture by Australian Army

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

By James Davis.

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

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

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

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


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

Intermediate Support Base – why Hungary?

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


The statistics of deployment; graphic from Rupkalvis

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

Tactical Assembly Area

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


Composite picture from Think Defence


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


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



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

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

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

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

By James Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo by Australian Army – Combat Logistic Patrol in Afganistan

Change Culture

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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


An ‘iron mountain’ – photo by US Air Force

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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Sustaining the multi-domain battle

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Fighting in the void – combat operations in the logistic vacuum

By David Beaumont.

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

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


Photo by US Army Europe

As force posture changes, or as developments to enable the projection of force over vast distances progress, sustainment methods become optimised for specific and often localised conditions. Prepared forces are so because they have robust, and as efficient as practicably possible, logistics systems that are capable of sustaining them for extended periods of time. We see the effects of this luxury on military exercises regularly; it is rare to find a unit in most exercises without enough stores, supplies and equipment to last the exercises duration. Except in cases of extreme strategic surprise, logistics often becomes relatively unimportant to the well-prepared force at the outset of combat. Resources are plentiful, and firepower is assured. Unfortunately, and it is a general rule of war, this rapidly changes as combat and as the operation continues.

When combat commences robust logistic systems allow for a high intensity of engagement – at least initially. However, this changes quickly soon after the first shots are fired. We can look at a European scenario from the past to understand why. Western concepts including Air-Land battle that were developed in the Cold War explicitly targeted logistic infrastructure; however, other issues would also mount upon any force engaged in battle. Forces would soon outrun their lines of supply, materiel might be lost in the confusion, health care inevitably overwhelmed and distribution capabilities overstretched.  When logistic support fails to materialise combat forces would be forced to adapt their tactical activities and the intensity of warfare would decrease commensurately. As seen routinely in Europe during the Second World War, combat forces resorted to using enemy materiel and supplies, local sources of supply were permanently borrowed, and rationing was introduced to overcome such deficiencies. In such circumstances the flexibility of and logistics forces remaining after the initial firefight becomes crucial to recovering any aspect of the initiative, and restoring tempo to the operation.

Vladimir Prebelic described this phenomenon as the ‘logistic vacuum’.[i] He saw it as a general feature of war because logistics elements and systems are typically and extensively targeted by adversaries, particularly as their initial targets, so to create this very condition! Many different types of weapons have been developed to achieve this effect in modern operations; from ‘anti-access, area-denial’ missiles used in the maritime domain to target ‘sea-bases’ and other vessels, to the rocket-based artillery we famously saw in Desert Storm (1991) and more recently in ongoing conflict in the Ukraine. Despite the best attempts to improvise solutions and disperse logistic capabilities without compromising the support available to the combat force, a challenge noted recently on the Grounded Curiosity blog in a piece by Kane Wright, offensive methods can be expected to find a way to overcome these defensive measures.


Photo by Australian Army

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

The ability of logisticians and commanders to overcome the ‘logistic vacuum’ by working a logistic system out of the remnants of what existed in peacetime will often determine the operational initiative. Armies have typically sought to prevent the vacuum from appearing by conceiving ways to the defend logistic elements, than examining what happens after such systems fail. Options proposed include defensive measures such as ‘rear area security operations’, the reinforcement of logistics elements and patrols with self-protection capabilities such as anti-air systems, protection of logistics infrastructure via the establishment of operating bases, and through distance and dispersal. Such measures are essential to providing resiliency to the logistic system that, if attacked, will prevent a catastrophic collapse of support.  However, these measures are also only part of the problem. Reassessing doctrine, training and thinking – perhaps even the study of history – to admit the existence of the vacuum will be fundamental to the logistician and commander in their mental preparations for war.

We can try to ‘force-design’ ourselves out of the problem. History, unfortunately, suggests we won’t be overly successful. The ‘logistic vacuum’ is an oft-repeated feature of warfare, and many smart people before you and I have failed to conceptualise a way out of it. What really matter is that military planners design forces that are able to emerge from the ‘vacuum’ quickly, and with the initiative. All attention should be given to the ways in which risks can be reduced, the resiliency of the logistic system improved and flexibility of logistics forces enhanced. The perfect solution would be to provide logistic support in an over-abundance, particularly to forward units, but that isn’t a realistic expectation to have. Forces must be prepared to operate austerely, logisticians better empowered to prioritise resources, and all must plan and rehearse accordingly. In this regard technology offers all sorts of possibilities, many of which will lead to positive outcome. However, we shouldn’t be overconfident in our attempts to avoid the inevitable.

Any war between great powers, such as the nightmarish scenario in Europe as hypothesised above, would be tremendously destructive. After the first strike, logistic concepts that purport to support their armies will rapidly give way to practical reality and absolute necessity. Combat forces shouldn’t have a misplaced faith that they would be able to operate with everything they need, nor should any logisticians make claims as to their capacity to eradicate the ‘logistics vacuum’ through conceptual perfection. Ultimately, the ‘logistic vacuum’ is a reality of war that both logistician and commander must accept and prepare themselves for.

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

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

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