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Military Logistics digital transformation Processes and technologies

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.


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.



AI in logistics

To have this capability, the department must do a better job utilizing technology such as artificial intelligence in logistics planning, said Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan F. Estevez.

“If we’re not thinking about how we use AI in … logistics, then we are missing the boat,” Estevez said. “We need to start thinking about how we’re going to pull data and use the data that we have … we need to be more agile on how that data is used, so that we’re not pushing stockpiles forward or waiting for a pull forward, that we are more dynamic in how we resupply forces on the battlefield.”

Applying data correctly can have a significant impact on logistics operations, President of SparkCognition Government Systems Logan Jones said. “The ability … to derive insights — true, actionable insights — depends on robust quality data systems,” he said, going on to say it requires “dedication and focus to leverage the information and data you have and drive specific actionable insights to those who need it.”


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.


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