Combat Logistics 2018 Conference Day 2 Synopsis

Another excellent day at the Combat Logistics 2018 conference with excellent presentations, all reinforcing the strong themes developed over the previous two days. There was also an opportunity to discuss a new theme for the conference; medical logistics. The presenters highlighted some of the profound challenges associated with the effective delivery of medical support, and a perspective on the extent to which the private sector can assist military forces in the deployed space.

The day concluded with a panel discussion which focused on the high level headline; ‘meeting future logistic challenges’. This was a very wide ranging discussion and covered topics such as enhanced forward presence, multinational logistics, future technology, and some of the recurrent themes from the previous two days, including the necessity for rapid deployment, readiness requirements and securing resources.

Looking back over the entire conference, the Chairman was struck by the quality of the presentations, the appetite to transform the way in which logistics is delivered and a deep understanding of where NATO logistics needs to be over the coming years. Delegates fully appreciated that it will be necessary to secure resources to fuel some of this development and that the competition to secure these resources will be fierce. However, there was a clear understanding from the conference that the logistics community must step forward and make the case for necessary change and secure investment on the basis of compelling arguments.

Many themes emerged from the conference, but for the Chairman, three stood out.

Firstly, outsourcing. Many nations are outsourcing capabilities to industry, and some nations, the UK for example, have embarked on very ambitious outsourcing programmes which are transforming the way in which Home Base logistics is delivered. Naturally, as these large outsourced contracts bed in, the contractors turn their minds to the delivery of logistic effects in the deployed space. This is inevitable, and bearing in mind the number of contractors on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, it should come as no surprise that industry is keen to stretch this boundary. Some nations will be uncomfortable with this development, however, military forces have to work alongside industry, and it may be better to establish deployed options with an existing Home Base provider who has gained the trust of the military through a peacetime contract. Outsourcing is here to stay, and where it has been adopted it is saving money, creating much needed efficiencies and bringing in investment in new facilities.

Secondly, logistic information systems. There is no one approach towards the development of logistic informations systems. Some countries have decided to go down the route of ERP development, and others are trying to unify legacy systems with new systems. Regardless of the procurement approach, all nations are seeking to gain better visibility of their inventories, to improve the commodity ordering process and to provide senior commanders with much better logistic information from which effective decisions can be made. The conference highlighted the need for all information systems to be properly protected, and whilst nations are at different stages of cyber maturity, all recognise that this is a significant threat, and if not tackled, has the potential to disrupt an entire operation through the corruption of logistic information.

Finally, readiness. Logisticians have a significant challenge in mounting the force, receiving it in the deployed space and then ensuring that it is properly integrated and moved to the start line. This is a challenging activity and requires significant planning, cooperation between nations and comprehensive training to ensure that everyone knows what part they have to play. Great efforts are being made through various exercises to identify the readiness challenges associated with a rapid deployment, and these must continue. One presenter posed the question ‘is fast fast enough’? This is a fair challenge, and the conference understood that rapid deployments have to be measured in hours and days, not weeks. Much more work is required to fully understand the dynamics of rapid deployment, to ensure that we have the necessary capabilities and facilities, and that likely Host Nations are set up to support the initial phases of an operation. Much of the deployment challenge is owned by logisticians, and we must lead in terms of ensuring that it is fully understood and resourced. Fundamentally it is not a single nation challenge; this is a multinational endeavour, and the mechanics must be worked through in cooperation with each other. One of the presenters characterised this challenge perfectly; “readiness is a culture”.

Many other themes emerged, but the three above seemed to capture the imagination of the delegates.

The logistic community is clear on what needs to be achieved, and there is a real willingness to challenge the way that things have been done in the past, and to transform. The challenge to secure the necessary resources to make this transformation may prove intractable, but it was heartening to see so many nations already embarking on the transformational path, and with a clarity of vision on what they need to achieve.

Above all, it was recognised that people make the greatest difference, and that we must continue to draw together talented and visionary logisticians at conferences such as this, to identify best practice, to learn from each other and to reinforce the need for a unified approach towards a common threat.

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