Adapting Atlas – The cost of combat power: Part Two

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Photo by Australian Army

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Beaumont.

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

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

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


An ‘iron mountain’ – photo by US Air Force

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

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

Rethinking logistics – challenges of the modern battlefield

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

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

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

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

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

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