Combat Logistics 2018 Conference Day 1 Synopsis

Conference Day 1 followed on from the previous Focus Day, with attendance at the conference increasing to approximately 150 delegates. Also, exhibitions were set up to showcase some of the capabilities on offer from industry delegates. Once again, the event was superbly supported by the Marriott Warsaw, with sponsorship provided for the breaks by Seven Seas Group, Crestwood Technology Group and Saab.

The day started with a strategic pitch from the United Kingdom, outlining the vision and strategy for the UK MOD over the next ten years, including the aspiration to be able to support a 50,000 strong Joint Force 2025. This impressive ambition was noted by the delegates, and it was recognised that this scale of ambition is well beyond some nations. However, there was also a strong feeling that such ambition has to be resourced if it is to be truly credible.

The second presentation of the day, truly challenged some of the traditional thinking, with a strong emphasis on the ability of NATO to deploy at the speed necessary to counter a threat. This message, associated closely with the way in which NATO will achieve readiness requirements, resonated strongly with the delegates, and set an excellent context for the discussions that followed. Importantly, it was generally agreed that the international logistic community fully understands the need for timely intervention, and their role in delivering this effect, however, this important message needs to be understood by all sections of Defence forces, including the combat and combat support communities.

The delegates demonstrated an excellent understanding of the challenges associated with rapid deployment, and this understanding was reinforced by the excellent presentations throughout the day. It is clear that nations across NATO are conducting some great work on training development, the adoption of new technology and gaining full visibility of inventories. The conference was also briefed on the importance of power reduction and forward based camp infrastructure.

Above all, there was agreement that NATO needs to take a coherent and unified grand strategic approach towards the delivery of logistic effect. Many speakers highlighted their outstanding national approaches towards modernisation, but these presentations also highlighted the fact that there is some way to go on interoperability and collaboration. There are clear opportunities for sharing best practice, and whilst nations will always protect their own industrial base, the shared threat should encourage nations to work together on shared challenges.

Much needed investment, after decades of under-investment, is a common theme. However, it was very encouraging to hear that many nations are now focusing on logistics, and the benefits that might accrue from a focus that many in the audience had not previously witnessed. Whilst it was self-evident that most in the audience would agree to the need for investment in the logistic environment, it was also recognised that resources will only be allocated if logisticians make a compelling case for this investment.

Some of the presentations focused on the need for innovation, specifically to address the need to address the demand signature. Whilst some delegates felt that phrases such as ‘reducing the logistic burden’ and ‘reducing logistic drag’ are pejorative, there was also a recognition that the logistic community needs to get on the front foot and embrace any technology solution that reduces costs, makes the force more efficient and results in more resources for the front line. It was also agreed that the combination of investment and innovation is necessary, potentially providing a real advantage over a possible adversary.

A common theme over the day, and the previous day, was the increasing prevalence of contractors on the battlefield. The various presentations emphasised the fact that nations are at varying stages of maturity and acceptance of contractors filling capability gaps; potentially at the outset of an operation. However, it was clear that all accepted that defence forces need to work with industry, especially when industry capabilities are critical to the delivery of operational effect as a result of ‘leaning’ initiatives that have been taken as part of the post Cold War ‘peace dividend’.

Some nations have clearly fully embraced the relationship with industry. The UK has embarked upon a very ambitious and somewhat radical outsourcing approach, with most of its Home Base Defence Support Chain and Land Equipment maintenance under the control of outsourced contracts. Whilst these contracts are closely managed by the UK MOD, this approach is still viewed as too radical for some nations. The concept of contractors being deployed into the operational space, potentially as an extension of these Home Base contracts, is definitely seen as a radical option, and even the UK has not levered the existing outsourced contracts to this degree. However, it is clear that contractors in various guises will be required to fill capability gaps from a very early stage of any operation, and the logistic community needs to accommodate this reality and design working practices that reinforce trust and are based on full planning and capability integration. The UK argued strongly that a good basis for this trust was a Home Base contract, which could be expanded once the relationship had bedded in and was proving successful.

Industry also provides an open door into logistic technology solutions, such as additive manufacturing (commonly referred to as 3D Printing), automation, autonomous vehicles and drone delivery. Some nations are looking well over the horizon, and are already seeking the resources to turn these embryonic technologies into practical reality. This is another area that should be pan Defence within nations, and where collaboration between countries should be encouraged.

An enduring theme was reinforced during the day; regardless of the desire to embrace technology, people make things happen, and we must keep working together and learning from each other.

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