Combat Logistics 2018 Mobile Forces Focus Day synopsis

The ‘Mobile Forces’ Focus Day proved to be a varied, useful and intellectually stimulating day. The presentations were of a consistently high standard, and provided an opportunity for conference delegates to hear about national logistic initiatives ranging from strategic to tactical, so there was something for everyone.

The conference chairman Maj Gen Ian Copeland started the day by asking delegates to consider presentations against the context of known and current challenges, the likelihood of warfare being highly mobile, the need for rapid deployment (with the ‘first movers’ being in theatre in days) and the general requirement from governments around the world for efficiency. Whilst military forces do not particularly like the requirement for efficiency, especially if it impacts in any way on the warfighter, most logisticians understand that an efficient logistic operation means more money or more headroom for combat capability.

In terms of structural context, the focus for the Focus Day was on a Very High Readiness Force, which is joint, multinational and combined with some industry to provide capability and Brigade / Brigade + in size. The conference chairman also noted that any increase in the size of the structure, for example up to divisional level, comes with an exponential increase in complexity and much greater logistic challenge.

The first presentation, from SHAPE, set out the strategic context to a NATO deployment, and the strategic goals for the organisation. Cdre Halle emphasised that logistics has taken a prominent place at the (NATO) table and that there is a wide understanding that logistics plays an important part in deterrence and defence. It may be that this understanding is followed by the necessary investment, and in some nations this is already the case. However, this investment is required across the board, to address historic under-investment in the logistic environment.

There is ample evidence of strong strategic intent, with nations who want to make a contribution to the overall NATO defence effort, new investment in logistic technology, excellent industry engagement and clear policies. This, coupled with a real threat, potentially existential in the eyes of some nations, should provide confidence that NATO is serious about countering any threat to contributing nations. However, at a more tactical level some challenges remain to be overcome.

Many of the challenges stem from the multinational and multi-linguistic nature of the NATO structures (as evidenced by the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force structures), but some challenges are enduring, even for single nations. Command and control will always be one of the greatest challenges, but practical issues such as border crossings, airspace management, strategic lift capability, extended lines of communication and contract management are the staple challenges of the logistician, and have to be tackled nationally and across all the partner nations in NATO.

Technology is helping some nations to overcome their own logistic challenges; for example, we heard of the progressive approach towards SAP adoption in the Netherlands Army and industry initiatives to performance manage fuel supplies on operations. However, technology may only take us so far, as much of the logistics delivery requirement is physical and is subject to the real world constraint of hazardous material legislation, availability of specialist transport assets, road (weight) classifications and differing rail gauges. There are many more examples, and many were covered during the day; all of which indicated that the challenge faced by logisticians will not be removed completely by technology.

The Focus Day was conducted in a relatively relaxed manner with excellent engagement from the delegates. Importantly, some key issues were aired and discussed which will be expanded upon over the two main days of the conference. In this respect, delegates who attended this Focus Day are very well prepared for the rest of the event.

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