Defence & Intelligence

Logistics – old need, but new innovations

I hosted a discussion panel on Defence Supply Chair/Logistics Operations at the 13th SPADE Conference at The Hague, Netherlands on 19-21 May. This event, sponsored by AFCEA, IBM and Sol-Pass, had as a theme “Disruptive Innovation, enabling future capability”. Following a short presentation by each panel member, we enjoyed an engaged discussion session with the audience. This blog post is a short non-attributable synopsis of proceedings.


The 21st Century Information Age has distorted our perception of military power. Many today think that a sharply worded communiqué is the epitome of effectiveness. Others believe a particularly succinct PowerPoint will carry the day. However the basics really are one military imposing its will on another. The key to doing that is Logistics. One definition says that “Military Logistics is the discipline of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of military forces.”

  • Throughout history battles and wars have been decided by the ability of military forces to be sustained
    o Sieges of the Ancients and Middle Ages
    o Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia was in a large measure due to the use of a “Scorched Earth” policy by the Russians to deny Napoleon supplies as he moved the thousands of miles into Russia.
  • There are no end to insightful quotes from key military leaders and strategists on Logistics, and I will share a few:
    o “Logistics is second to nothing in importance in warfare.” – Vice Admiral Robert B. Carney, USN
    o “My logisticians are a humorless lot…they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay.” – Alexander the Great

Logistics never sleeps, it is a 24/7 operation that spans the globe. In fact there are core requirements that are truer today than ever before. Logistics must be Resilient, Robust, Transparent, Flexible and Secure. It has also been transformed like almost everything with the internet cyber age. Before Desert Storm in 1991 the Allied forces took six months to build an iron mountain of supplies to be ready for combat. Today, connected equipment, condition based logistics and more, have revolutionized logistics and made it much more efficient.

The panel discussed that the labor intensive manual processes of past major wars are not an option today from both cost and precision aspects. Innovations such as barcoding, system instrumentation, vehicle diagnostics, geospatial locating, mobile applications and 3-D printers will continue to revolutionize the effective use of resources and how logistics is applied. The use of 3-D printers was a particularly spirited discussion where fully certified repair parts are created rather than shipped, saving time and the whole cost of stocking/shipping.

Mobile applications from use on-board ships to inventory management are making all levels able to quickly find out “How do I fix this?” or “Where’s my part?” Another aspect that joint coalition operations with other nations was here to stay. It was emphasized repeatedly that interoperability, commonality, pooling, sharing and visibility of supplies and parts across national lines was not only encouraged, but expected. Close support by contractors and procurement leveraging economies of scale across multiple countries was an essential element to control the ever increasingly complex and costly military equipment programs that enable military capabilities today.

Logistics processes are rapidly changing with technology, but what is also clear is that the need for effective logistics is not.

Global Defense & Intel Segment Leader

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