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Expeditionary Logistics Conference 2015 Prague

Chairman’s Opening Remarks for COMBAT LOGISTICS 2015

Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley CB DSO PhD MA FRHistS

Many of us here today have been concerned with strategic and operational planning during operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Africa over the last decade or more. While the policy objectives of our governments or our Alliance represent the ends, or objectives, of such planning, and the plans themselves represent the ways of achieving these strategic objectives, logistics is one of the key means that must be engaged in order to carry out our missions. As I and others know from long experience, it is one thing for a government, or a commander, to order a military force to a place; it is quite another to get it there, and then to keep it there.

But there is a circular aspect to this, is there not, since no government or alliance will embark on a course of action without having the required means – at least, let us hope not. We may of course conclude that there is a great unwillingness now for governments to embark upon expeditionary operations, or intervention of any kind other than in the realm of training assistance, so badly are governments and electorates scarred by the experiences of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unwilling or not, however, there may come a time when intervention is necessary, right, and unavoidable. That intervention may be closer in time and distance than may be comfortable given the conventional threats emerging from Russia and the asymmetrical threats from Islam.

It is our duty, therefore, always to prepare for the worst case. This important conference forms part of that preparation and it is my pleasant task to welcome our speakers and our audience to it. May I also take this opportunity to welcome our sponsors and thank them for their generous support: Volvo, Supreme, Micro Technologies, UVair, NCS Fuel and Hammar. There is a wealth of expertise, experience and judgement here so let us use it both formally during the sessions and informally in the breakout sessions.

Many of those here represent military forces, forces which are declining in the shadow of economic belt-tightening. In a shrinking military we must do a number of things that will be illuminated by this conference. First, like the Reichswehr in the 1920s and 1930s we must keep alive our knowledge and our skills against the day when expansion is needed. Secondly we must share the burdens, the risks and the benefits – which is what NATO about. Thirdly, we must recognise that in any coalition of today and in the future, the private sector is an important coalition partner, taking many of the tasks and burdens that now lie outside the capacity of the uniformed military. The private sector embraces not just those that we may meet in a theatre of operations, of course, but the industries that lie behind them, and behind us.

The problems of demand, duration, distance and destination govern our actions now, just as they did during the campaign of Waterloo, 200 years ago; or Agincourt 600 years ago. They require, as the conference papers rightly say, “continued cooperation between industry and the military and require the international military community to share experience, knowledge and requirements.”

There are, I hope, two themes that will run through many sessions here. The first is what is sometimes called “habitability”, the complex subject of the environment in which operations take place. In the past, armies often looked to supplement their supplies by foraging for food, fodder and fuel. The increasing complexity and size of forces, as well as the greater destructive effects of weapons, since the end of the nineteenth century has almost eliminated that. Moreover in recent operations there has been a reluctance to procure food, water or fuel locally because of the uncertainties over health and safety, and the duty of care towards our soldiers – in spite of the fact that doing so could reduce demand on logistic lift and contribute towards a host nation’s economy. The benefits and the risks, as well as the demands of housing for deployed forces in hostile environments, remain key considerations for nations. The second area is the potential benefits and gains, as well as risks, from multinational or collective logistic solutions; or logistic solutions in a multinational context. There are many areas where multilateral solutions have already been used: shared medical, fuel supply, water supply, road sea and air transport, movement control, airfield and route maintenance to name but a few. There are some areas, however, where nations will always retain control. The degree to which functions are shared will be driven by costs, will, and necessity; but will this be because nations want to do it, or because they feel forced to do so? The answer to that may determine how well and how far the process goes.

Summary Notes

Day 1
Session 1

  • Inventories are complex, potentially wasteful and in times of financial stress must be controlled. Logistic information systems are vital in doing so.
  • Use the expertise of the private sector to increase efficiency and flexibility, especially for contingencies.
  • Protection as a function in combat applies to CSS troops as much to C and CS troops.
  • Knowledge of the theatre of operations helps define the acceptable level of risk.
  • An end-to-end, integrated approach that fuses the private sector with the military is needed for success.
  • Is single-site aggregation a strategic vulnerability and therefore a risk?

Session 2

  • Nations may apply caveats to the employment of their troops on expeditionary operations; there are no caveats on the requirement to supply them.
  • A lesson is only learned when it results in a change of doctrine, practice or equipment; until then it is only identified.
  • There is a need for specialist staff to be in a theatre for longer than a standard six month deployment – contractors understand this better than the military.
  • Risk may be off-loaded to contractors by nations, but the troops on the ground remain vulnerable to the consequences of those risks.
  • Line of communications security may depend on the engagement of local communities.
  • If the private sector is part of the coalition, then should its personnel benefit from the same terms of service as soldiers? If so, who pays?

Session 3

  • Because of the size of the requirement, “multinationality is a must”.
  • Interoperability depends on compatibility, interchangeability, commonality and will.
  • Resources are a huge constraint at the operational level and may dictate a particular course of action quite early in the planning cycle.
  • Technology does not always deliver what it prmises; the better the team management, the more likely it is to do so.
  • In terms of technology, legacy systems and cutting edge systems co-exist.
  • 3D printing may eventually replace inventory.


Session 4 was the panel

Day 2
Session 1

  • Can one have logistic services that are good, fast and cheap all at the same time?
  • Common funding mechanisms can be the key to multinational logistic solutions.
  • Capacity building in the logistic realm cannot just be about training and equipping people. It must be about creating structures within a host nation that will do that for themselves, in a sustainable way, albeit with enduring outside support.
  • Half the logistic cost in a deployment, although not the mass, can be in the personnel costs rather than equipment or materiel.
  • The higher the intensity of an operation, the greater the risks for nations, and the more likely they are to retain control in order to mitigate those risks or their effects.
  • The threats of hybrid warfare mean that there is no “rear” in which logistic support operations can be conducted without force protection, in order to create the conditions for success.

Session 2

  • Many of the challenges of collective logistics lie in overcoming national differences, rather than maximising common ground.
  • NATO as a standing alliance offers common doctrine, practice, structures and information systems in contrast to a coalition, where these are temporary and ad-hoc.
  • Collective interoperability is mission and cost essential
  • Mentoring of less experienced nations by more experienced can apply even in well-established structures and alliances.
  • The role of a host nation should never be taken for granted, but agreed and understood in advance of deployment.

Session 3

  • CSS formations should be staffed and grouped for independent action in order to carry out their functions in adverse environments – this requires force generation, preparation and training.
  • Coordination with a host nation and with contractors in advance of deployment reduces the need to deploy some capabilities.
  • Multinational logistics and transportation can be cheaper, faster and more efficient for nations, and reduce the size of NSEs.