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Revolutions in military logistics processes including Digital transformation and survivable logistics

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


More and better logistics planning is needed to deal with the variety of Missions military undertake 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.


Military Logistics Evolution and Processes


The logistics process begins with acquisition. In this initial step, the military procures, produces or constructs commodities, facilities, ordnance and major weapon system items.


Additive manufacturing: Currently, all branches of defense organizations rely on the commercial industry for spare parts and materials. But it won’t be long until the military starts to produce its own. The provision and delivery of spares is also essential to keeping equipment operational. Additive manufacturing (e.g. 3D and 4D printing) offers new pathways to flatten supply chains and speed up delivery time. Raw materials and the printers themselves will still have to be transported, meaning the volume of items transported isn’t expected to decrease dramatically, yet its ability to reduce waiting time for spare parts enhances operational readiness.  During this phase, primary input enters the logistics pipeline. A number of ‘functions’ associated with acquisition result in the transfer of real goods and services to the military. Such ‘functions’ include:

  • Contracting — the advertisement, selection and administration of contracts for the sale of desired products/services.
  • Production — the management and coordination of the actual manufacturing process. Advanced manufacturing is another important trend in logistics. It is having and will continue to have an impact on the aerospace industry. A key dimension of advanced manufacturing is 3D printing.
  • Evaluation — the finished goods and services must be compared with contract specifications; a determination made with respect to the quality of compliance.
  • Budgeting — the acquisition objectives must be compared with available budgets to determine financial feasibility.



The second phase of the logistics process is distribution, entailing the supplying of needed material, support and personnel to the operational commander at the correct time. Distribution provides the military end-user with those items procured in the acquisition phase. Computing technology: Logistics in the 21st century will be intensely computerized, significantly reducing the extent of human intervention and decision-making. The result will be a logistics system capable of solving even the most sophisticated logistics problems with extraordinary speed. Among those areas offering great promise for efficiency gains through computerization are routing and scheduling, warehouse design, facility location and inventory management.

Among the functions of the distribution element are the following:

  • Transportation — the required items/personnel must be transported from their origin to the site of the end-user. This involves important issues of lift adequacy, scheduling, prioritization, etc. The  emerging innovations in transportation are environmental regulations on engine design and power source, the development of new transportation technologies such as the intelligent vehicle highway system, magnetic levitation and high-speed water transportation have the potential to alter both the operational efficiency and the attendant economic feasibility  of current transportation networks.
  • Warehousing — logistics support requires storage and basing. In addition to problems of physical space, the issue of security against enemy threats presents itself.
  • Inventory Control – accounting control of inventories is an essential aspect of distribution if materiel and end-user are to be properly matched. Improvements in informational technologies, coupled with the economic disadvantages of holding large inventories, will foster a major reduction of inventory levels held by material commands in the future.
  • Supply Management – the operational issues associated with the management of real goods awaiting distribution is a critical and tedious component of the distribution sub-process. AI algorithms that can prioritise and manage transportation and distribution tasks have the potential to transform logistics.


The third is sustainment, which refers to the resiliency of a logistics system. A high capacity for sustainment allows military forces to continue operations and to maintain required levels of manning and effectiveness. Sustainment insures that the logistics pipeline continues to flow. Sustainment coalesces around several pivotal functions.

  • Maintenance – through a program of maintenance and repair, the operational life of existing assets can be extended, thereby enhancing the level of logistics support. By applying batch and real-time data analytics to “traditional” maintenance methods, the result is higher mission availability and mission effectiveness — at a reduced cost. Data analytics research and development is focused on the forecasting of failure modes to enable predictive maintenance. Taking advantage of the internet-of-things era, there is greater use of instrumentation sensors for condition-based maintenance (CBM). With CBM, rather than changing engine oil on a set schedule, the maintenance interval is based on driving style, the oil’s viscosity and particulate level. The UK Royal Navy is using drones to scan Navy vessels for damage. Due to the size and area of naval ships, inspections now take hours rather than days, with fewer people involved and can even be done while at sea. In the future, we may even see automated maintenance drones than can pick up on faults or damage and do the repairs themselves without the control of an engineer.
  • Supply Systems – replenishment materiel is catalogued, reordered and distributed through various supply systems.
  • Base/Facility Operation – the sustainment effort involves the operation of both rearward and forward bases/logistic nodes which permit the servicing of  end-users.

Handling and Storage

The final stage in the logistics process involves handling and storage of retrograde materiel and resources. Handling and storage increase in importance as fiscal restraints become tighter and environmental regulations more binding. This, the terminal stage of the logistics process, involves three salient tasks:

  • Managing hazardous materials. The proper use, storage and disposal of hazardous or  environmentally destructive materials is a legal responsibility of the end-user.
  • Administering classified materials. The disposition of classified materials must be consistent with their sensitive nature.
  • Recycling products. The legal and economic considerations for recycling must be evaluated when establishing procedures for handling retrograde material



Military Logistics trends

The principal factors defining military logistics in the 21st century are: warfighting doctrine, technology, economics, the geo-strategic environment and the political aspect. The logistics system, first and foremost, is designed to support combatants, and new warfighting concepts underscore the need for an alteration of the relationship between the materials command and subordinate combatant units to maximize sustenance to the battlespace commander.


Digitalisation has transformed every sector in recent years. The implementation of technologies like artificial intelligence and automation have streamlined processes, improved data accuracy, and allowed businesses in every industry to become more efficient. One sector that has been slow in its adoption of technology is logistics and haulage.


The impact of technology on the logistics system of the 21st century will be pervasive, affecting virtually every aspect of the logistics process. Training programmes must develop qualified uniformed technicians capable of operating and servicing sophisticated equipment in a conflict environment. The logistics system must insure the safety and integrity of materiel and services until these are required for offensive operations at the decisive time and place.


Green technologies

With fuel and electricity needed to power equipment necessary to any military mission, energy generation, storage and usage constitutes a large part of today’s logistical effort. R&D of ‘green’ technologies has flourished as means to reduce fuel consumption. Solar cells, hybrid electric vehicles are already tested by or in use with the German Bundeswehr, Belgian Special Forces, French security agencies and the UK Ministry of Defence. Methanol-based fuel cells are used to reduce fuel usage, for example by establishing microgrids for forward operating bases, and to lower costs, keeping electronics powered for twice as long as offered with battery life.


Such green technologies should not be seen as substitutable goods for existing energy sources. Their proven operational benefits are threefold. First, with fuel cells weighing on average one-quarter of the weight of batteries and charging equipment for electronics they replace, the lighter load translates to greater mobility. Second, they last longer in the field and recharge faster than other charging devices, allowing forces to stay in the field longer and decreasing turnaround time between missions. Third, their low acoustic and thermal signatures make it harder for adversaries to detect forces and operating bases, thereby enhancing troop safety. Similar operational benefits may be offered by other green technologies, including photovoltaic (e.g. solar) energy or hybrid electric drive. With the potential to decrease demand for polluting resources and cumbersome batteries, taking up green technologies could allow militaries to enhance effectiveness through cost savings and additional operational benefits.


Internet-of-Things to revolutionize Logistics

The Internet-of-Things is an emerging revolution in the ICT sector under which there is shift from an “Internet used for interconnecting end-user devices” to an “Internet used for interconnecting smart physical objects that communicate with each other and/or with humans in order to offer a given service”. These smart objects can be anything from large buildings, industrial plants, planes, cars, machines, any kind of goods, and even to human beings, animals and plants


An IoT-enabled, seamless supply chain can help the Department of Defense (DoD) achieve end-to-end asset visibility to ensure the right supplies are delivered to the right location at the right time. This will ensure decision-makers have timely and accurate information on the location, condition, and status of critical supplies, ranging from equipment, weapons and spare parts to food, fuel, and medical supplies.


IoT can be huge enabler of efficiency and visibility of military equipment Logistics. Guns, tanks, cartridges and a lot more tools are required in the military. These weapons are shipped with a great security, but manual management and update of these items into inventory is complex and less efficient.


Deploying radio frequency identification tags and standardized barcodes to track individual supplies down to the tactical level could provide real-time supply chain visibility and allow the military to order parts and supplies on demand. Big data analytics could lead to automated supply, support and inventory management. The efficiency benefits may include reduced wastage, leaner processes and faster supply and support. The efficiency can be realized in home base or operations. Also, it simplifies logistics management, reduces losses and theft of military equipment.


At BAE Systems, Tapestry implemented an ESI-enabled RFID solution that has replaced existing manual processes with automation to effectively track and manage inventory, assets/tools, and work-in-process. The technology enables automatic tracking of more than 200,000 assets, 30,000 parts, and about 6,500 work orders, providing standardization across its plants.


Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (Marshall ADG) will deploy AT&T’s IoT capabilities into its overall connected container service model for its end customers, including its container service contract with the Dutch Army. The solution is intended to allow Marshall ADG to monitor the location, condition, and temperature of ambient containers across a range of use cases. It includes AT&T’s Global SIM and AT&T’s Control Centre platform for remote monitoring and management, plus tier 2 helpdesk and enhanced support services.


Marshall ADG expects to deliver more than 1,400 connected container systems over the next five years. These include Command and Control and medical container systems, workshops, controlled atmosphere, and basic stores units. The ability to know exactly where a container is, what’s in it and its state of readiness for deployment, means military commanders should have the information to deliver the right equipment where and when it’s needed.


The IoT platform can  help military forces increase efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance situational awareness across its transportation and distribution networks. The ultimate challenge for military logistics operations, however, is ensuring connectivity in the current fragmented network environment.


3D printing

Additive Manufacturing (AM) – commonly known as 3D-Printing – has been identified as a technology that could significantly reduce the logistic footprint of armed forces deployed on missions.

In his keynote speech to the 2-day event, EDA Deputy Chief Executive, Olli Ruutu spoke on how EDA supports its Member States in their efforts to employ AM by sustaining newest technical developments and the necessary elaboration of common standards to enhance interoperability.


“AM technologies can be highly promising for enhancing defence capabilities such Logistic Support for Deployed Forces in remote or hostile environments. Having AM technologies in the area of operation might significantly impact the course of CSDP missions. Time between failure and restoring the availability of platforms, transportation and storage of significant quantities of spares can be decreased, reducing the logistic footprint of an operation” Mr. Ruutu said.


He also pointed to the important transfer of EDA’s work on AM from research and technology to capability development. Building on the results of its 2018 R&T project on AM, a new project, Additive Manufacturing for Logistic Support (AMLS) was launched by EDA within the area of Capability Development. Eight areas of activities were identified for this project, including technology aspects, training and education, as well as procurement processes. The ultimate objective is to elaborate and determine solutions in the eight areas which will foster the cooperation and enhance the interoperability among participants.


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.


References and Resources also include:


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