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Multi-Domain OperationsShort Read

Let’s Stop Talking About Logistics….

With this controversial title I hope my first aim has been achieved; reading about logistics. The second is to open a debate about exploring military logistics in a way which is like other elements of military activity. Adapting a well-worn phrase for every article written about military logistics1 there are a thousand on the art and science of warfighting. To change the balance in the discussion towards logistics there is a need to devolve the topic into areas of expertise. These offer the building blocks of debate. Much like combined arms operations – you can discuss the concept but to understand the debates there needs to be the building blocks such as armour, infantry, depth fires etc. This article argues for the need to move past generalising about logistics to echo the dialogue in all other areas of Defence.  It presents a case for the breakdown of logistic into specific themes/capabilities to support debate, share knowledge and take action.

As a starting point I’ll explain why this is important. In our new world of constant disruption2, major wars and living in a “prewar world”3 the role of enabling and sustaining a military force has risen to the fore.4 Post the Russian advance into Ukraine in 2022 and the need to sustain the Ukrainian armed forces much was discussed about logistics 5. However, these views have now typically drifted into the background.

Part of the loss of focus is based on the terminology used. Logistics is used as a catch all for many activities. The important details are lost in the noise surrounding generalisations. If reflected against typical military debate this might be analogous with simply talking about strategy or tactics and never exploring the detail. So how do we get to a position explore the logistics detail. The debate starts with the definition.

The adopted NATO Definition 6 is so broad it covers all aspects of “life support”. It covers civil engineering, medical services, people transport, facility management and the “…design and development, acquisition, storage, transport, distribution, maintenance, evacuation and disposition of materiel…”.  Or getting the right quantity; in the right condition; in the right place and at the right time. This might be expanded to also cover a more commercial view7 to include the right product for the right customer at the right price. These final positions may be particularly important in a context where there is a need for accuracy with limited resources. To align with the current Defence Supply Chain Strategy8 the focus here will be on “material” in the supply chain.

The debate will develop around a version of  the commercial benchmarking model the Supply Chain Operations Reference Model 12.0 (Supply Chain Operating Reference Model 9). This acts a benchmark framework to highlight the key logistic themes and offers some external legitimacy to the need to create informed discussion points. In the next section the work argues, briefly, for the adoption of these themes as the building blocks for debate avoiding the generalisation “that’s logistics”.

The model themes are:

 

Overview –  The SCOR model highlights a focus on your organisation but makes clear the external boundaries. The first area of topic focus should therefore be what is the scope of the supply chain being dealt with and the logistics activities within. Simply discussing logistics generates an aggregated position smothering the nuances and dynamics of creating and managing a supply chain to sustain a military force.

Plan – has an obvious starting position and will echo much thought, debate and action within military circles. Within the discussion, for logistics, a focus should be the how to align the logistics activities10 within the supply chain to meet the operational need. This develops the role of logistics as the arbiter of military opportunity11 – it gives the commander the means to complete that planned operation. How this is to be achieved is central to the planning topic. It also allows a cliche to emerge: “Amateurs talk tactics while generals talk logistics.”

Source – can be seen as the acquisition of the material needed to support the deployed force. Immediately, we can differentiate this. Procurement, particularly of large capital items such as defence platforms is a specialist topic and needs to be set within its own field. For the purposes of focus this places procurement as an external topic. This position, however, acknowledges that procurement is linked to in service support and the demand signal. This would align to answering some of the challenges of It’s Broke and It’s Time To Fix It12 and the Integrated Procurement Model13.

Within the supply chain demand and inventory management as well as local sourcing should become the centres for investigation. If there is an accurate picture of the real demand,14 then it can be matched to supply. The topic here is how and where is the actual demand and how do you capture it within an unpredictable and changing context. If the demand is identified inventory can be managed to fulfil the requirements. But why move all items around the world –  local sourcing can be explored as 21st century foraging. This has many advantages including reducing the logistics footprint in a contested environment15 as well as offering opportunities to support green sustainability16. A future topic for conversation will be a Zero logistics footprint and how far the force can sustain itself independently of a supply chain.

The final overarching position within sourcing should be seen as contract management. There is no surprise that much of the logistics activities within logistics is the managing of the appropriate contract to deliver the appropriate material.

Make – can be seen as the construction of individual supply chains to support the individual operation. This is the adaption of military logistics doctrine to orchestrate the logistics enablers to project, sustain and recover the force17. The focus of the debate is the functional logistics skills of required of the uniformed, civil servant and contactor logistician and how they interact.

A focused topic surrounding the supply chain strategies to adopt within the supply chain will also need to be adopted. There is a need for efficient and effective supply chains however contingent events may make this a more dynamic position where supply chains have to move from being efficient to effective. The Defence supply chain will need to be agile and resilient and how to achieve this should inform debate.

Deliver – this topic acts as a central theme for much discussion within defence already. It reflects the distribution of the goods forward to the deployed force. Deliver is developed by considering the means of transportation and the nodes within the SC. Distribution becomes its central theme. Consideration of the majority of the RLC field force would identify distribution as its core function. This opens up the opportunity to talk about logistics tactics that will be required as the Defence Enterprise looks forward to peer-on-peer competition18 in a contested logistics environment.19

Return – reflects on the role of returning items in the supply chain to maintain operational capability.20 Its central tenant, for discussion, is linked with support. It is the ability to swiftly identify items, return them for repair and then return them to the stock of inventory for issue. Ukraine offers examples21 where this has become a key practise to maintain the force. With fewer military platforms the ability to keep them operational this is a force multiplier.

Enablers – become the tools which are needed to deliver the military logistics effect required. The topic debate needs to reflect the balance of ownership, risk and control of these enablers. A focused approach to examining the tangible resources (vehicles etc) with the intangible skills of the Whole Force (people) to create the correct capabilities is key. A second focused topic is the movement of the supply chain to a digital age.22 What will be the mix of people, technology, data and information in the near future supply chain.

Having identified themes (there will be more) that have emerged from the discussion above what are the implications? The term Logistics is a generalisation it is only useful in speaking in the very broadest of terms. Future debate needs to be enabled by specialisms within the Defence enterprise. If discussing bringing a platform into service procurement will be an essential part of the debate. Likewise, once in service identifying demand and suppling it will be the daily role of supply chain managers. To deliver the material required for that platform will need the construction of individual supply chains and the distribution of the goods across the area of operations. This will be enabled by the tangible and intangible capabilities developed by the logistics force. Without understanding these individual themes it will be impossible to develop a coherent logistics strategy they will act as a genuine enabling force or more importantly act a genuine deterrent for our foes. Turning to the title of the work let’s stop talking about logistics and start talking about specialisms.

Tony Clark

Tony Clark has a PhD from the University of Lincoln based on his exploration of the UK military supply chain. He is employed as a senior lecturer within the university focusing on developing and delivering the academic aspects of the Defence Logistics Staff Course.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/mono/10.4324/9780203357873/military-logistics-strategic-performance-thomas-kane
  2. The Defence Supply Chain Strategy
  3. UK needs to be ‘prepared’ for war – Grant Shapps – BBC News
  4. Rishi Sunak vows to boost UK defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030 – BBC News
  5. Full article: Lessons from the Russo-Ukrainian conflict: the primacy of logistics over strategy (tandfonline.com)
  6. Logistics for Joint Operations (JDP 4-00 Fourth edition) (publishing.service.gov.uk)
  7. SEVEN “RIGHTS” OF LOGISTICS | SpringerLink
  8. Defence_Supply_Chain_Strategy_Executive_Summary_2022.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)
  9. What is SCOR? A model for improving supply chain management | CIO
  10. mcdp-4_logistics-21Mar2023r.pdf (marines.mil)
  11. Military Logistics and Strategic Performance | Thomas M. Kane | Taylor (taylorfrancis.com)
  12. It is broke — and it’s time to fix it: The UK’s defence procurement system: Government response to the Committee’s Ninth report of Session 2022-23 – Defence Committee (parliament.uk)
  13. 20240228_Integrated_Procurement_Model (publishing.service.gov.uk)
  14. Support_Operating_Concept_.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)
  15. mcdp-4_logistics-21Mar2023r.pdf (marines.mil)
  16. Sustainable_Support_Strategy_2022.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)
  17. Logistics for Joint Operations (JDP 4-00 Fourth edition) (publishing.service.gov.uk)
  18. Defence Command Paper 2023: Defence’s response to a more contested and volatile world – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
  19. LPE-24-1-Contested-Logistics-A-Primer.pdf (ausa.org)
  20. Heavy Armoured Forces in Future Combined Arms Warfare | Royal United Services Institute (rusi.org)
  21. The Ukraine repair shop: where Russian tanks go to change sides | Ukraine | The Guardian
  22. ABW-20-161_Defence_Support_Strategy_-_Editorial_2022_V7.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)

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