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How should we professionalise logisticians within the Whole Force to meet future challenges, recognising the increasing pace of technological change, greater integration with Industry partners and the drive for greater collaboration with Allies? Submission by Major J R Vincent RLC

Major Vincent’s essay focuses on what is required to improve professionalism amongst Defence logisticians as part of the Whole Force, and why that is important. He concludes that what is needed first is a coherent strategy to create a culture of agility that can deal with the volatility of future logistic environments. Major Vincent’s paper was runner up in the 8th Fujitsu Future of Logistics Challenge annual Essay Competition in 2016.

‘Britain’s competitive advantage in Defence is based on the commitment,  professionalism and skills of our people.’[1]


In response to the reality that risks and threats to national security have increased in scale, diversity and complexity over the last five years, the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2015 seeks to change the ways in which the Armed Forces are used; pursuing a more active approach to deterrence, stronger international approaches with allies, partners and international security institutions, and becoming still more responsive to a wider range of crises at home and overseas.[2]

Looking back over recent years, logisticians in the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, Civil Service and supporting contractors (the Whole Force) have all been committed, in one way or another, to a number of wide ranging and demanding military operations such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Sierra Leone.  There is also a continuing climate of fiscal austerity to reflect upon.[3]  With the continued presence of a vast national debt[4] and ‘annual interest payments exceeding the budgets of the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development combined, Britain is scarcely in a position to commit unlimited resources to its security and defence posture.’[5]

UK Defence planners predict a world in transition out to 2045 in which there are likely to be significant challenges resulting from population growth, migration, greater demands for energy, continuing globalisation and the exponential rate of change in some readily-available technologies.  A combination of these factors is likely to lead to complex and dynamic challenges at home, as well as fragility and instability within the wider international system.[6]  Historically British military performance has continually met new challenges through the effective application of novel ideas and approaches: the Royal Navy’s introduction of the Whitehead torpedo in the 1870s, air power doctrine on the eve of the First World War, British Army reorganisation in 1918, and amphibious operations in the Second World War to highlight a few.[7]

While it is widely regarded that trying to predict precisely the character of future conflict is an impossible task,[8] in the future operating environment there is likely to be a continued requirement for logisticians to operate and adapt to an ever-changing technological landscape, at strategic reach and in austere environments.  The MOD have stated that the ‘key to future success is agility, which comprises adaptability and flexibility in both capability and approach, and specifically in terms of our thinking.’[9]  Accordingly, the Armed Forces must meet the demands of current operations while preparing for unanticipated challenges, and seeking cost reductions and efficiency savings in equipment and personnel; therein  reinforcing the fundamental position that ‘Britain’s competitive advantage in Defence is based on the commitment, professionalism and skills of our people.’[10]  Consequently Defence requires highly motivated, educated and professional logisticians who are proficient at managing complexity in ever-changing environments, capable of working with joint, combined, interagency, non-government, private and multinational partners across the Whole Force to meet challenges now and into the future.[11]

Introduction – What Is Professionalisation?

This paper seeks to explore the manner in which the Whole Force might professionalise logisticians based upon the premise that the fundamental case for professionalising logisticians within the Whole Force has been made and is universally supported.  The description of professionalism in the defence context from Staib[12] will be used throughout: Professionalisation is more than just training or skilling.  It is the ongoing commitment of logisticians to engage with industry innovation combined with a personal drive to deliver continuously improved logistics to global defence operations.  It is the enduring belief that through open and frank discourse we can create innovative solutions to supply chain challenges in the globalised environment and deliver…..a modernised and efficient logistics workforce that demonstrates mastery of technology and unparalleled determination in delivering excellence in its field.[13]  Aspiring to achieve high standards is important for many reasons and achieving an accepted industry standard provides a universally acknowledged yardstick against which Whole Force logisticians can be matched.  In the context of the Whole Force this could be significant both internally with each other and externally with the wider logistics sector. It would do this by providing assurance, supporting accountability, demonstrating commitment and high standards as well as contributing to the development of the profession as a whole. It would better Defence and wider logistic practices alike.


What is a ‘Profession’?

Modern societies have for some time articulated the division of expert labour into various ‘professions’.  These professions, of which medicine, accountancy and law are the most obvious examples are found, on analysis, to meet certain common criteria.  It is generally accepted that there are seven criteria, which need to be satisfied to describe an activity as a profession, these are:[14]

  1. That the members of the profession are engaged in the performance of a service, which is vital to society.
  2. Their performance is based on a specialised and codified body of knowledge.
  3. Those who enter the profession must first undergo a programme of broad general education as well as further education and training for a career in the speciality.
  4. Candidates for the profession undergo an examination to test their qualifications to enter practice.
  5. The profession promulgates a code of ethical conduct for members and makes arrangements to enforce compliance to this code.
  6. The profession offers a secure career to its members.
  7. There is a licence to practice.

Meaningful work towards the professionalisation of Defence logisticians already exists.

Where Does Defence Stand with Regard to Professionalism?

Wide ranging established and coherent programmes endure in conjunction with the Defence College of Logistics and Personnel Administration that are enabled and supported by renowned organisations such as the University of Lincoln and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.  The Partnered Professional Development: Joint Strategy for the Future of Military Logistics[15] highlights the steps already being taken towards the professionalisation of Defence logistics personnel.  A ‘Defence Logistics Professionalisation Staircase’[16] provides a comprehensible framework of training and education pathways from junior rank apprenticeship vocational qualifications, and affiliate membership to commissioned officer master degree and chartered/fellow membership levels.  Any mature analysis of the phenomenon along the lines of ‘how should we professionalise logisticians within the Whole Force to meet future challenges…..’ must therefore acknowledge the strength of this position.  Further development should commence with a fundamental examination of what is already in place across the Whole Force and how service delivery coherence could be enhanced for greater efficiency and harmonisation across organisations.

Only after such a comprehensive internal stocktake has been conducted can a gap/stakeholder analysis result through which opportunities for development can be identified and exploited.  As former Director of the Joint Support Chain, Major General Copeland commented that,  in today’s complex environments, Defence logisticians routinely find themselves responding to challenges that quickly blur the boundaries between the civilian and military domains.  It is here that the joint MoD and University of Lincoln Defence Logistics Staff Course adds true value to Defence.  Providing students with an in-depth appreciation of military, civilian and academic best practice, this course is fundamental to ensuring Defence objectives are achieved through effective logistics leadership.[17]   This commentary provides a powerful indication that the extant framework satisfactorily meets most of the aforementioned criteria to justifiably position Defence logisticians who have undergone this route as professionals when considered against the aforementioned seven criteria.

What is Lacking?

From an internal Defence perspective what appears to be lacking is the formalised connection of this professional experience, and many others that exist within specific trade groups at varying levels, with particular appointments.  The consequence is a variation of quality and professionalism leading to a lack of assurance and, potentially, accountability and quality.  This is particularly manifest in the context of the Whole Force whereby logisticians with potentially widely varying degrees of professionalism fill joint or rotational appointments.  However, the acquisition of serious and worthwhile professional qualifications and accreditation demands individual time and effort, so there must be a  complimentary system by which meaningful incentives are offered to those logisticians willing to commit themselves to the additional continuous professional development.

This issue becomes more complex, incorporating an examination of the associated people management factors that would necessitate exploration with the Chief of Defence People in coordination with relevant organisational and professional leads.  Overall, there seems little requirement to expend too much resource to developing the existing framework: formalisation into training programmes, greater coherence and the expansion of activity in volume of throughput and opportunity across the Whole Force are likely to continue delivering results.  As this framework already successfully achieves education in the civilian context, and likewise for civilians in the military context, it places the Defence logistician out of their intellectual ‘comfort zone’, and pushes their professional intellect.  Future education in the contrasting civilian/military environments should continue to compliment training rather than seek to replace it.  The appetite for industry partners to attend formal Defence logistic professional courses, such as the Defence Logistic Staff Course, merits further exploration.  It is likely that a wider attendance demographic would enrich and add value to the course.  There is likely to be funding and developmental opportunities, such as industry placements and visits, that may arise from such integration through reciprocal arrangements with industry partners.



What About the Industry Element of the Whole Force?

While greater or lesser uses of industry partners have been employed, with varying degrees of success, in support of military forces throughout history,[18] their integral role in operations, and importantly in the industrial base has increased significantly since the end of the Cold War, as the doctrine of operations has moved away from static defence to expeditionary engagements.[19]  In the current climate of demand for efficiencies in logistic support, the logistic network now more than ever must be responsive to the needs of combat forces. Any ineffective or obsolete parts of the system must be dealt with as they ultimately reduce war-fighting capability.[20]  The Campaign Study of Operation HERRICK cites the numerical peak of contractors in support of Joint Force Support (Afghanistan) at 5453 contractors across UK and third party nationals, locally recruited workers and out of theatre contractors, notwithstanding the establishment of a number of large-scale support contracts.[21]  This is a considerable increase from recent operations[22] and the principal lesson recommends that ‘if Defence is to rely on contracted support to enable the Force, then it needs to treat it as an element of capability and integrate it professionally.’[23]  There is little radical or innovative here: Smart contends that ‘historically, when contractors have been deployed on operations…..it has been on a pretty ad hoc and frankly risky basis.’[24]  Demonstrating that little progress has been made over time the lessons from Operation HERRICK conclude that ‘Afghanistan showed that contract sourcing, governance and management processes were often uncoordinated, convoluted and inefficient.’[25]  Consequently there remains a pressing requirement to better define the relationships and roles for industry partners within the Whole Force and this should initially be conducted at the strategic level in order to align operational and tactical activity, as well as enable the allocation of resources and effort.  Prioritised strategy development is therefore required.  At the single service level for example, The Royal Logistic Corps Foundation seeks to engage industry in shared best practice[26] and is perhaps best practise in itself that might support the development of professionalisation across the Whole Force.

Establishing how the Whole Force integrates internally is perhaps necessary prior to committing to engagement externally.  Accepting the micro example, in thirteen years as a military logistician that has included attendance on every logistic officer course on offer to an Army student, from the Defence Logistic School, graduation from the Defence Logistic Staff Course as well as myriad operational and exercise exposure, the author has never once conducted training or education alongside an industry partner, demonstrating that there is currently very little integration at this level.  This is something that surely must change considerably faster if Defence is to realise the lessons from recent history and professionalise for the future in this context that so vitally underpins operational success.

Industry partners can operate in many different ways: risk, financial, workforce, and cultural factors to name a few.  The Commander of Joint Logistics in the Australian Defence Force made the assertion that ‘I am not under the impression that our logistics capability should become the same as a commercial counterpart…..there is much that we can learn about how the private sector operates even if we determine that certain practices, because of our uniqueness, are unable to be applied.[27]

Information Sharing

In the author’s opinion, there is likely little requirement for highly innovative solutions: the relatively obvious methods employable such as industry placements and joint training opportunities should be formalised and made more abundant.  This will be a challenge in the macro context of budgetary constraints, a testing recruiting and retention environment in many areas, and the requirement to train for operations and through-career education.  The notion of industry placements for Defence logisticians has been mentioned at countless conferences and seminars; however, it is very rarely realised.  If Defence is serious about keeping pace with innovative technological change, and seeking greater integration and collaboration with partners then this might be a way in which to achieve success.  Fundamental to successful integration with industry partners is our ability to share information and trust[28]; managing exposure to customer and supply chain data may be commercially sensitive and similarly Defence information is often classified which may present issues although is, perhaps, unlikely to be an insurmountable problem given the widespread integration of industry over recent years.  Considerations such as bias towards partners and subsequent contractual developments may be issues that require exploration, and Defence would need to ensure that proposed information sharing, exposure, limitations and means are very clearly established prior to integrated training taking place: mutual trust is critical to enduring successful working partnerships.  There is a similar approach that could be applied to the requirement to drive greater collaboration with allies.

What Can We Learn From Our Allies About Whole Force?

Churchill remarked that ‘the only thing in war worse than having to fight with allies is having to fight without allies’[29] and recent history illustrates how frequently UK Defence has operated within a coalition or alliance structure: a coalition being informal or ad hoc and an alliance a formal obligation.  While in future this will not necessarily always be a repeat of US-UK experiences of recent conflicts, ‘the UK will almost certainly only use force in an alliance context,’[30] of which the bi-national (UK-France) Combined Joint Expeditionary Force is an example.  The Logistics for Joint Operations doctrine reinforces the complexity of operating within alliances, the requirement to compete for resources and potentially sharing full capabilities[31] that may be as significant as the entire operational intelligence picture in the Operation BROCKDALE experience[32].  This reinforces a number of lessons demanding greater integration and understanding with allies at all levels.  The Whole Force should be able to adopt lessons from allied experiences, for example the US   employment of industry partners which is well documented[33], as is the success of the US Army Logistics University in Fort Lee Virginia that is a composite campus for military and Department of Defense logistics leader education providing military, civilian, joint, multinational and interagency education[34].  To a broad degree relevant to UK requirements, the Whole Force delivers most of the types of courses and opportunities on offer at the US Army Logistics University, simply employing different models and scale of how education is delivered.  In addition to learning from the US experience, there might be opportunities to exploit greater exchange programmes, shared educational experiences and knowledge for the better professionalisation of Whole Force logisticians.

The Joint Logistics Operations Course is a great example of alliance education and training in conjunction with the Hungarian National Defence College; however, it is perhaps the only committed and enduring course currently on offer and of note it is not established with one of our more significant partners.  The Quadrilateral Logistics Forum established in 2004 between the UK, US, Canada and Australia for the improved harmonisation of national activities to create more successful solutions to multinational logistics efforts[35] proposes a number of focal areas including lessons, planning, contracting models training and exercises[36] that could be more widely supported and integrated to enhance the professionalisation of the Whole Force.


Against challenging strategic, financial, and operational environments Whole Force logisticians have developed sound, accredited educational systems providing an effective framework for the professionalisation of logistics in the Defence context.  Further resources should be made available to seek to support, integrate and grow extant capabilities after first understanding the true extent of their scope. We should then exploit best practise from all areas, including single Services, industry and alliance partners, prior to developing potential opportunities across the network of the Whole Force.  External engagement should follow internal understanding; however, this must happen at a significantly faster pace if the professionalisation of the Whole Force is to credibly match the merciless pace of change in the wider logistics sector.

Recent operational experiences demonstrate that the Whole Force has been slow, at best, to learn the significance of enhanced integration with industry partners.  There is some way to go before this will be ingrained in the organisational psyche to the extent that understanding and symbiotic alignment becomes conventional.  Engaging in the externally facing environment, particularly with allies and industry, their differing behaviours and philosophies, will require an internal culture of adaptable learning to truly professionalise across the Whole Force.  This, in turn, will require focused effort.  The first step must be at the strategic level with the formulation of strategy moulding a Whole Force that is sufficiently flexible in bureaucracy and intellect to respond successfully to the dynamic, complex, multifaceted and increasingly integrated logistical environment predicted in the future.

Intellectual and moral growth is no less essential than material betterment.  Knowledge is a viaticum[37]; thought is a primary necessity; truth is as much a source of nourishment as corn.  Argument lacking knowledge and wisdom grows thin.  We must pity minds, no less than stomachs, that go unfilled.  If there is anything more poignant than a body dying for lack of food it is a mind dying for lack of light.[38]

[1] Fallon, M; Houghton, N; and Thompson, J.  Secretary of State, CDS and PUS write to staff following the publication of the SDSR 15.

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Cornish, P.  Edging Towards Agility: Strategic Planning for the 21st Century.  Chatham House and University of Cambridge.  May 2011.  International Security Programme ISP PP 2011/12, Page 3.

[4] Calmers, M.  Mind the Gap: The MoD’s Emerging Budgetary Challenge.  Royal United Services Institute, Briefing Paper, March 2015.  Available at https://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/201502-BP-MoD-Emerging-Budgetary-Challenge.pdf.  Accessed: 31 March 2015.

[5] Fox, L.  Strong Economy, Strong Defence, Strategic Reach: Protecting National Security in the 21st Century.’ Speech at Chatham House, London, 19 May 2011.

[6] MoD, Defence Concepts and Doctrine Centre.  Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045.  Fifth Edition.  Chapter One.  2015.

[7] Michael L; Ross, M.; and Mitchell, S, (eds.).  A Military Transformed? Adaptation And Innovation In The British Military, 1792-1945.  Helion & Company, 2014.

[8] Grouille, O.  Land Forces Fit for the 21st Century.  Chatham House and University of Cambridge.  May 2011.  International Security Programme ISP PP 2011/12, Page 11.

[9] MoD, Defence Concepts and Doctrine Centre.  Future Operating Environment 2035.  First Edition.  Pages 13-14 and 34-35.

[10] ibid.

[11] Staib, M.  Logistics Professionalism.  The Link, Australian Defence Logistics Magazine, Page1-2.  Issue 8, April 2011.

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid.

[14] Chick, G; and Handfield, R.  Are We There Yet? The Road to Professioanlising Procurement.  Innovation and Best Practice for Business Success, Established 1967.  Kogan Page.  Available from: http:/www.koganpage.com/article/are-we-there-yet-the-road-toprofessionalising-procurement.  Accessed: 22 April 2016.

[15] MoD, UoL, Defence College of Logistics and Personnel Administration and University of Lincoln.  Partnered Professional Development: A Joint Strategy for the Future of Military Logistics.  July 2012.

[16] ibid, Page 3,

[17] Copeland, I.  Director Joint Support Chain, Defence Equipment and Support 2012.  In MoD, UoL, Defence College of Logistics and Personnel Administration and University of Lincoln.  Partnered Professional Development: A Joint Strategy for the Future of Military Logistics.  July 2012.  Page 7.

[18] Smart, P.  Support to the Front Line.  Royal United Services Institute Journal, February 2000.  Page 67-70.

[19] Moore, D and Antill P.  British Army Logistics and Contractors on the Battlefield.  Available from: https://core.ac.uk/download/files/23/9637518.pdf.  Accessed: 18 April 2016.

[20] Evans, PAD.  Contractors Support: A View from Land Command.  Focused Logistics II Briefing, Royal United Services Institute 7/8.  February 2000.

[21] MoD, Army.  Operation HERRICK Campaign Study.  Chapter 4: Combat Service Support.  Page 4-3_1.

[22] ibid.; Statistical illustrative proportions of contractors to the Whole Force sourced from ACSD Log Ops Force Pol: Operation GRANBY approximately 120; Operation TELIC approximately 4500.

[23] ibid., Page 4-3_2.

[24] ibid., Page 69.

[25] ibid., Page 4-3-2, Paragraph 8.

[26] MoD.  Royal Logistic Corps Foundation.  Available from: http://www.rlcfoundation.com.  Accessed: 25 April 2016. 26 ibid.,  Page 2-3.

[27] ibid.,  Page 2-3

[28] Peek, I.  Defence Pioneers in the Next Generation of Integrated Logistics.  Defence Magazine, May/June 2007.  Page 18.

[29] Churchill, W; in Reid, W.  Churchill 1940-1945: Under Friendly Fire.  First Edition, 9 October 2008.  Birlinn Limited.  Page 4.

[30] Grouille, O.  Land Forces Fit for the 21st Century.  Chatham House and University of Cambridge.  May 2011.  International Security Programme ISP PP 2011/12, Page 8.

[31] MoD.  Joint Doctrine Publication 4-00 Logistics for Joint Operations.  Fourth Edition, 17 April 2015.

[32] ibid,.  Page 178.Moore, A.  U.S. Military Logistics Outsourcing and the Everywhere of War.  University of California, Los Angeles.  December 2015.  Available from: https://papers.ssrn.com/so13/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2700879.  Accessed: 18 April 2016.

[33] Moore, A.  U.S. Military Logistics Outsourcing and the Everywhere of War.  University of California, Los Angeles.  December 2015.  Available from: https://papers.ssrn.com/so13/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2700879.  Accessed: 18 April 2016.

[34] U.S. Army.  Army Logistics University.  Available from: http://www.alu.army.mil/.  Accessed: 25 April 2016. 34 Department of Defense.  Joint Chiefs of Staff, Quadrilateral Logistics Forum (J4).  Available from: http://www.jcs.mil/Directorates/J4%7CLogistics/QuadrilateralLogisticsForum.aspx.  Accessed: 25 April 2016.

[35] Department of Defense.  Joint Chiefs of Staff, Quadrilateral Logistics Forum (J4).  Available from: http://www.jcs.mil/Directorates/J4%7CLogistics/QuadrilateralLogisticsForum.aspx.  Accessed: 25 April 2016.

[36] Department of Defense.  Joint Chiefs of Staff, Quadrilateral Logistics Forum Strategic Plan 2014-2018.  Available from: http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/QLF/Annex_A.pdf.  Accessed: 25 April 2016.

[37] Last communion given to somebody who is dying or in danger of dying; provisions or money for a journey.

[38] Hugo, Victor.  Les Miserables.  Penguin Classics, 2012.  Penguin Group.  Page 1230.

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