Logistics is often referred to as the “sinews of war”, linking forward-deployed units with support elements to ensure they are supplied, maintained and ready for the next operation. There is a saying in military circles – made famous by US Marine General Robert H Barrow – that amateurs study tactics, but professionals study logistics.
Military Logistics—the transfer of personnel and materiel from one location to another, as well as the maintenance of that materiel—is essential for a military to be able to support an ongoing deployment or respond effectively to emergent threats. More generally, protecting one’s own supply lines and attacking those of an enemy is a fundamental military strategy.
During operations, the logistics system will need to maintain adequate supplies of technologies and components, balancing the cost of carrying inventories against the potential for military defeat due to weapon system/munition stock-out.
In major military conflicts, logistics matters are often crucial in deciding the overall outcome of wars. For instance, tonnage war—the bulk sinking of cargo ships—was a crucial factor in World War II. The successful U.S. submarine campaign against Japanese maritime shipping across Asian waters effectively crippled its economy and its military production capabilities. The Kargil Conflict in 1999 between India and Pakistan also referred to as Operation Vijay (Victory in Hindi) is one of the most recent examples of high altitude warfare in mountainous terrain that posed significant logistical problems for the combating sides. The Stallion which forms the bulk of the Indian Army’s logistical vehicles proved its reliability and serviceability with 95% operational availability during the operation.
Russian Logistic challenges in Ukraine War
In Feb 2022, Russia’s advance in Ukraine was slowed to a stop outside Kyiv in the face of logistics and fuel shortages. Though Russian President Vladimir Putin likely envisioned a quick capture of the capital of Ukraine and quick capitulation by its President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russian forces are instead unable to reach Kyiv, not only due to fierce fighting, but also a lack of fuel. Though a small detail, the lack of fuel has left Russia in an embarrassing situation, and its vehicles and troops easy pickings for Ukrainian soldiers who have set fire to dozens if not hundreds of vehicles and captured Russian forces.
Russian army logistics forces are not designed for a large-scale ground offensive far from their railroads. As a result of extra artillery and air defense battalions, the Russian logistics requirements are much larger than their U.S. counterparts, writes Alex Vershinn in War on rocks. Additionally, the Russian army doesn’t have sufficient sustainment brigades — or material-technical support brigades, as they call them — for each of their combined arms armies.
Russia’s truck logistic support, which would be crucial in an invasion of Eastern Europe, is limited by the number of trucks and range of operations. The Russian army does not have enough trucks to meet its logistic requirement more than 90 miles beyond supply dumps. To reach a 180-mile range, the Russian army would have to double truck allocation to 400 trucks for each of the material-technical support brigades. The Russian army force needs a lot of trucks just for ammunition and dry cargo replenishment.
In Nov 2022, Russia acknowledged for the first time that it doesn’t have enough equipment for mobilised soldiers in its war against Ukraine, especially the missiles. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that there are issues with equipment for the hundreds of thousands of men being sent to fight in Ukraine under President Vladimi Putin’s partial mobilisation decree.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) said that it intercepted a Russian soldier’s phone conversation in which he complained about a lack of equipment and weapons, while videos on Russian social networks have shown conscripted men with rusty weapons. The shortage of missiles is a crippling problem for Russia, though could soon be solved by the expected delivery of short-to-medium-range missiles from Iran.
Putin created coordinating council for military supply and logistics that seeks to ensure that his military has adequate supplies in the war. According to the Kremlin’s website, the council was established “to meet any needs that arise during the course of the special military operation”. That includes supplies and repair of armament, military and special equipment, materials, medical and sanitary services, maintenance and other activities, and logistics, according to Russian media.
EU plans to ramp up infrastructure for better military mobility across the bloc
The European Commission in November 2022 proposed a plan for ‘better connected and protected infrastructure’ aimed at allowing swift and seamless movement of troops and military equipment across the bloc. For member states, military mobility has gained fresh urgency since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, with countries looking to raise the preparedness of their armed forces and the bloc’s military and humanitarian aid having to be quickly provided across the EU’s border into Ukraine. “The security environment in Europe has changed dramatically since last February war is back to our borders,” EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels.
“We have to adapt our defence policies to this new environment,” he added. The EU’s military mobility ambition does not amount to a joint military force but aims at easing bureaucratic procedures that slow troop deployments considerably, whether by land, sea or air. It is also meant to improve the exchange of information between EU countries and cut red tape at borders, including harmonising customs rules to allow for swift deployments and easier transport of military equipment.
According to the EU executive, the newly proposed plan is meant to help European armed forces “to respond better, more rapidly and at sufficient scale to crises erupting at the EU’s external borders and beyond.” It would see member states evaluate whether their transport infrastructure – from roads and bridges to airports and ports – can also be used for moving heavy military equipment across the bloc.
One of the more prominent related issues has for example also been the different widths of the railway gauge between European and former Soviet countries like Ukraine and Moldova. The plan foresees identifying possible gaps in the infrastructure and also integrating fuel supply chain requirements.
“For military forces to make a real difference on the ground, they must move fast. They must not be blocked over bureaucracy or a lack of adapted infrastructure,” Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager told reporters in Brussels.
“It takes at least five days for cross-border military capacity, from one country to another – that’s too long […] because it has been done not in a digital manner,” Borrell said.
“We are trying to develop digital systems shared by all member states in order to facilitate the movement through the borders,” he added.
EU funding would then be channelled to plug significant gaps with an emphasis on dual-use infrastructure, meaning they can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
However, it remains to be seen whether the demand can be met with the amount of available funding.
In the EU’s current multi-annual budget, €1.69 billion has been earmarked for dual-use transport infrastructure projects, a sum that had initially been intended to be higher, but was subsequently slashed in the budget negotiations.
In addition, under the European Defence Fund, the Commission said it will provide €9 million to support the development of a Secure Digital Military Mobility System (SDMMS), meant to enable direct and secure exchange of information between governments requesting and approving any military movement
US Army requirements
In the National Defense Strategy, the Defense Department said that the ability to securely and effectively provide logistics and continue operations “in a contested and degraded environment, despite adversary disruption” is a key priority as it develops the future force.
The US Army wants to harness emerging technology to enhance its logistics capabilities across the vast distances of the Indo-Pacific as the service looks to define its role in the region. As the Pentagon writ large looks to transition its focus away from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific, the Army is looking to define its role in the region dominated by vast oceans. Last year, Army Secretary Christine WormuthWormuth said that the service would be the “linchpin” service for the joint force in the region, providing command and control capabilities, offensive fires and movement of materiel for the US and allies.
“We really have to focus on contested logistics in the Indo-Pacific which is the most demanding theater, if you will, from a logistics perspective because of the distances involved,” Wormuth told reporters.
More and better logistics planning is needed to deal with the variety of Missions military undertakes including disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuation, combat search and rescue, personnel recovery, sanction or embargo enforcement, pre-emptive strikes and raids, security assistance, counter-insurgency or insurgency support and nation-building.
The strategic American military system for moving troops, weapons, and supplies over long distances has decayed significantly and needs rapid upgrading to be ready for any future war with China or Russia, according to a report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board. A special task force on survivable logistics evaluated the military’s current airlift, sealift, and prepositioned equipment and supplies and found major problems with supporting forces during a “high-end” conflict.
Army Materiel Command is a four-star command responsible for deploying the service’s assets from installations to tactical positions, making it the backbone of the Army’s logistics efforts. Wormuth said she wants the command to explore autonomous distribution, more energy efficient combat systems as well as predictive analytics.
“Leveraging experimentation, wargames and exercises, this effort will bring together our logistics community with the commercial sector to look at our requirements and focus on the opportunities presented by autonomous distribution, energy efficient combat systems, and data analytics,” Wormuth said in her keynote speech.
US Taskgroup report calls for survivable logistics
A special task force on survivable logistics evaluated the military’s current airlift, sealift, and prepositioned equipment and supplies and found major problems with supporting forces during a “high-end” conflict.
Anti-access and area denial weapons include advanced, precision-guided missiles, air defenses, fighter aircraft, submarines, and asymmetric warfare capabilities such as cyber attacks and anti-satellite missile strikes. Taken together, the weapons could prevent the U.S. military from mobilizing, communicating, and moving forces during a major conflict.
“Military and commercial networks are susceptible to espionage, manipulation, and attack by adversaries,” they stated. “Logistics data is neither as accessible nor used as efficiently as it should be. Technological solutions to these problems already exist, or will exist in the near future. The DoD must adopt them quickly.”
In 2012 and 2013, Chinese military hackers broke into computer networks at the Transportation Command, the command in charge of most logistics, and stole valuable information that could be used in a war to disrupt U.S. troop and equipment deployments.
“Survivable logistics is the key enabler underpinning all U.S. military power,” Fields said. “Without the ability to provide our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines with the resources needed to win on the battlefield, the development of advanced tactics and technologies will not have the opportunity to matter.”
“Conflict against a strategic competitor will demand a dispersed and survivable logistics structure and robust IT systems capable of not only defending against cyber-attacks, but also safely sharing logistics information across military and commercial elements,” the report said.
The report urged the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to bolster military logistics using predictive analysis, demand forecasting, production scheduling, anomaly detection, and supply-chain optimization.
To counter cyber attacks, the task force urged developing the use of blockchain technology that allows digital information to be shared but not copied.
A blockchain-like test infrastructure for military logistics would enable the Pentagon “to evaluate potential offensive and defensive cyber applications of blockchain-like technology and other distributed database technologies,” the report said.
The task force report urged modernizing the logistics “mobility triad” to bolster warfighting capabilities. “The mobility triad, which includes sealift, airlift, and prepositioned assets, is plagued by readiness issues and shortages that must be addressed in order for the United States to defeat a strategic competitor,” the report said.
The Joint Staff and Transportation Command also were urged in the report to develop new and innovative plans for long-range distribution of warfighting assets, such as mobile basing, airships, joint high-speed vessels, autonomous barges, and precision air drop capabilities. To solve transport shortage problems, the task force urged re-opening production lines for more cargo aircraft to better protect against loss in war. The panel also recommended bolstering the service life of commercial fleets.
The task force emphasized the need to bolster logistics systems and supporting industrial base in the United States as a first step in preparing to wage war. “If the homeland industrial base, electrical grid, or any other critical infrastructure is compromised, military forces will not be able to arrive in theater on time or at all,” the report said. “Therefore, it is critical that attention to survivable logistics begin at home.”
The Defense Science Board “is saying that if you want to be effective in war we do not have the material capacity to sustain that initial combat power surge and sustain that over time,” Wood said. “And it’s going to take a long time and a lot of investment to get to where we need to be.
US Army wants new software to make its logistics platform ready for multidomain operations
“The U.S. Army must have the capability to perform its mission-critical functions in support of Multi-Domain Operations,” the statement of need read, referring to the service’s future war-fighting concept. “In the future operational environment of the Multi-Domain Operations, the U.S. Army will operate in smaller, more dispersed units far away from well-established military posts that offer critical infrastructure comforts and essentials like connectivity, fuel, water, ammunition, and energy.”
The Global Combat Support System – Army is a logistics systems led by the service’s Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems, providing soldiers with maintenance, unit supply, property management, warehouse management, and other human resources and finance information.
The system today can’t operate in a disconnected environment. According to the solicitation, that inability to do so forces GCSS-A users to turn to processes that rely on paper when outages occur. To solve that problem, the Army is turning to industry for a prototype capable of operating in a degraded or disconnected battlefield environment for up to seven continuous days, with the ability to synchronize the it data collected while offline.
logistics software to solve troop mobility issue in Europe
NATO covers a vast territorial area, which in Europe alone stretches from the northern reaches of Norway to Romania on the Black Sea. This presents a series of challenges, not least the varied terrain and conditions that member countries have to contend with during peace and wartime operations.
In July 2018, NATO’s Brussels Summit declaration stated that the alliance was “committed to strengthening our ability to deploy and sustain our forces and their equipment, throughout the alliance and beyond”. The aim was to improve military mobility by land, air, or sea as soon as possible, but no later than 2024. “This requires a whole-of-government approach, including through national plans, with cross-government cooperation of civil and military actors, in peacetime, in crisis, and in conflict,” said the declaration.
One of NATO’s key priorities is shortening border crossing times, with recent experience seeing military convoys struggle to move between countries – owing to both physical and bureaucratic barriers. NATO therefore wants to train more regularly for military mobility and set up better “networks” between civil and military entities to facilitate better movement.
NATO is also looking for technological solutions that will solve its mobility issues, creating software tools that allow it to better understand the vehicles and equipment that will be required for a specific theatre. “When we can predict what vehicle we need or in which terrain our troops have to fight, that gives us a big advantage over our enemy,” said Christoph Mueller, an executive officer with NATO’s Science and Technology Organization.
The alliance has significant experience in developing simulation tools that look to predict the capability of a vehicle when it is moving over specific terrain conditions. One of its key tools is the NATO Reference Mobility Model (NRMM), which was developed by the US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in the 1960s and 1970s.
The NRMM contains elements such as detailed soil data for different areas of the world and was originally developed to compare vehicle designs during procurement phases, principally to assess their mobility and whether they could traverse specific terrain conditions. Like different models of vehicles, types of soil can also vary across the NATO countries from sandy beaches to clay in areas of Eastern Europe.
“There are many different factors that can affect mobility…the type of terrain, the type of the soil, the constituents within the soil, the water content, it all has an impact on mobility,” said TARDEC director Dr Paul Rogers. “You have to accurately characterise the soil and understand the strength of the soil, how well it can carry weight and how long it will withstand repeated trafficability.”
Over the years, the NRMM has evolved for use in complex decision analyses associated with vehicle acquisition and, importantly, operational planning support. The modelling software “has proven to be of great practical utility to the NATO forces,” said a new NATO report on the NRMM, released in January 2019. “[But] when compared to modern modelling tools, it exhibits several inherent limitations.”
One source familiar with the project noted that the current model is now outdated and does not take into account today’s advanced off-road military vehicles that feature better mobility through stability control systems and adjustable tyre pressures. Computer processing and software modelling is also significantly more advanced than when the original NRMM was developed nearly 50 years ago.
It’s for this reason that a NATO Task Group is now developing a Next-Generation NRMM (NG-NRMM). The programme has collected real-world data at the Keweenaw Research Center (KRC), a research institute of the Michigan Technological University, which is specifically designed for ground vehicle research and features varied terrain including sand, rocks, and mud.
One of the objectives going forward for the NG-NRMM is to create a common framework that industry can use for predicting mobility, especially in soft soil, which is then used to test vehicle performance before it is even manufactured. NATO has worked closely with industry partners, such as CM Labs Simulations and MSC Software, to visualise the data collected and create an interface where the data can be manipulated.
“If you wanted to understand how the vehicle performs with different tyres, you can easily swap them…without doing any physical testing,” said Tony Bromwell at MSC Software. The ultimate goal for NATO is to harmonise mobility testing and modelling standards, similar to how other areas such as ammunition are also standardised across the alliance. This will allow NATO to better prepare for future operations and to determine, not only where forces and their supplies are needed, but the method of transportation that is required to get them there without getting stuck in the mud.
Indian Army working on real-time database of equipment
From rifles to tanks, the Army is looking at setting up a real-time database on the condition and status of each of its approximately 30 lakh pieces of equipment. Launched by the Army’s Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) on September 2019, Project Beehive, which seeks to achieve greater automation of the Corps and connect all its workshops to an integrated smart network with real-time data analytics capabilities, is expected to be up and running by October next year.
“The centralised network would allow us to access data about any equipment we have across the country in real-time, and it would also have the capability to analyse that data and say which equipment is due for maintenance, so it will allow data mining,” he said. “At various levels, the functionaries will be able to see all equipment readiness,” said Kapoor. It will also help in “engineering support functions”, he said.
About two years ago, a project called Workshop Honeybees or WASPs, which involves nearly 200 automated workshops at the ground level, was launched. “Automation of the Corps will give us a lot of advantage. Currently, under WASP, workshops have been automated. And, as part of Project Beehive, these WASPs or workshops would then sit on a centralised ‘beehive’ — a massive integrated network in Delhi, from which we would draw honey (data),” said Kapoor.
But collecting the data is just the first step. “With Project Beehive, the data collected will lead to predictive analytics,” said Kapoor. Once the “business intelligence” on the equipment is ready, he said, the EME will work towards using seek-and-respond Artificial Intelligence (AI) for its predictive analytics.
“The next five years will be hugely transformative for the Indian Army to become a network-centric force,” Lieutenant General Anil Kapoor, DG, EME, said during an interaction last week. “By October 15 (EME Corps Day) next year, we should have the Beehive up and running,” he said.
The Indian Navy has conducted successful trials of the Sahayak Air droppable containers, developed by domestic research bodies, to boost its operational logistics capability. With a test payload of 50kg, the containers, which can be air dropped, are equipped to carry spare equipment for ships up to 2,000km away from the coast. This capability ensures that vessels need not return to coast for spares, thereby improving operational logistics and increasing the deployment duration of vessels.
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