Thinking about logistics.Understanding the elements of military power requires more than a passing knowledge of logistics and how it influences strategy and tactics. An understanding of logistics comes principally from the study of history and lessons learned. Unfortunately, despite its importance, little emphasis is placed on the study of history among logisticians. To compound matters, the literature of warfare is replete with triumphs and tragedy, strategy and tactics, and brilliance or blunders; however, far less has been written concerning logistics and the tasks involved in supplying war or military operations. (1)
Logistics is the key element in warfare, more so in the 21st century than ever before. Success on the modern battlefield is dictated by how well the commander manages available logistical support. Victories by the United States in three major wars (and several minor wars or conflicts) since the turn of the century are more directly linked to the ability to mobilize and bring to bear economic and industrial power than any level of strategic or tactical design. The Gulf War and operations to liberate Iraq further illustrates this point.
As the machinery of the Allied Coalition began to turn, armchair warriors addicted to action, and even some of the hastily recruited military experts, revealed a certain morbid impatience for the "real war" to begin. But long before the Allied offensive could start, professional logisticians had to gather and transport men and materiel and provide for the sustained flow of supplies and equipment that throughout history has made possible the conduct of war. Commanders and their staffs inventoried their stocks, essayed the kind and quantities of equipment and supplies required for operations in the severe desert climate, and coordinated their movement plans with national and international logistics networks. The first victory in the Persian Gulf War was getting the forces there and making certain they had what they required to fight [Emphasis added]. Then and only then, would commanders initiate offensive operations. (2)
Unfortunately, the historical tendency of political and military leadership to neglect logistics activities in peacetime and expand and improve them hastily once conflict has broken out may not be so possible in the future as it has in the past. A declining industrial base, flat or declining defense budgets, force drawdowns, and base closures have all contributed to eliminating or restricting the infrastructure that made rapid expansion possible. Regardless, modern warfare demands huge quantities of fuel, ammunition, food, clothing, and equipment. All these commodities must be produced, purchased, transported, and distributed to military forces. And of course, the means to do this must be sustained. Arguably, logistics of the 21stcentury will remain, in the words of one irreverent World War II supply officer, "The stuff that if you don't have enough of, the war will not be won as soon as." (43)
(1.) John A. Lynn, ed, Feeding Mars." Logistics in Western Warfare from the Middle Ages to the Present, San Francisco: Westview Press, 1993, vii.
(2.) Charles R. Shrader, U.S. Military Logistics, 1607-1991, A Research Guide, New York: Greenwood Press, 1992, 3.
(3.) Julian Thompson, The Lifeblood of War: Logistics in Armed Conflict, Oxford: Brassy's, 1991, 3
The Editors, Air Force Journal of Logistics