THE FUTURE OF LOGISTICS
A Paper to Advance Logistics Thinking
By Col G R Pearce MBE
The Winning Essay (See: BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.11 ISSUE 23
June 2009, Annual Armed Forces Logistics Essay Competition)
Logistics – Not Just for Loggies!
“I don’t know what the hell this logistics is that Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it”
Fleet Admiral King USN
We have all heard the quote from Admiral King, indeed many Logistic officers have used it, or something similar, to bolster the credibility of their position when promoting a logistic cause. The issue remains that logistics is too often considered after the plan has been developed rather than as an integral part of the operation itself. Over the years we have returned to this theme; General Julian Thompson’s book was seen as a small revolution when following his command of the Land Forces in the Falkland Islands he wrote his ‘Lifeblood of War’ illustrating the role of logistics in a variety of operations throughout history, some extremely successful and others dramatic failures. General Rupert Smith has indicated in General Martin White’s book on Operation Granby that logistic planning should play a key part in his preparations:
“With planning at a formative stage, this operational level logistic problem was difficult to quantify let alone solve at the time of my reconnaissance. While it was evidently an important decision, my primary concern was to decide how I was going to fight the Division and here the logistics and the medical factors weighed just as heavily.”1
I contend, however, that whilst there are examples of the successful application of logistic planning and thought, the nature of our structures and training and our approach to equipment procurement continue to reinforce the outdated message that we should separate the activity of the G3 warriors from the support provided by the logistic community.
The nature of future conflict; the non-linear battlefield, a significant change in the concept of war, a ‘hybrid’ approach coupled with the financial strains on the Defence Budget and an unrelenting drive for efficiency indicate the need for a change in approach but we seem to continue to make decisions that ignore the lessons of history. We write papers to address the concept for future structures and then produce the CSS concept afterwards; we deliver into service new equipment without the requisite support package and ignore existing technology that could improve our Equipment Support and maintenance, and our restructured acquisition process has not sufficiently addressed this issue and then the continued salami slicing of our budget eats away at the in service support of equipment and IT applications every year.
My principal argument is that logistics has, in the past, been viewed as a specialist discipline, a function quite distinct and separate; conducted by skilled people in support of those doing the actual business at the sharp end and added in to the plan afterwards. In the future I suggest that logistics must be seen more and more as a fundamental aspect of the combat activity and that logistic ‘advice’ will therefore need to be provided in a different way. I do not think we require a revolution, indeed there is evidence that the evolutionary approach to the necessary changes is starting to take place. My concern is the risk of allowing evolution to take its time; the financial constraints faced not only within the Ministry of Defence but across the Defence Industry and indeed wider in the Government mean we do not have time to accept the evolutionary progress and instead we need to drive the change and shape the future rather than let it happen to us.
We have seen change, from the days of ‘show stoppers’; where the logistic officer was only engaged at the final stage of a planning process in order to determine if the Courses of Action were supportable. There is an