Logistics is a huge topic that is of little interest to most of those interested in future wars. However, logistics is critical and not as dull as most imagine. At the beginning of most wars, logistical problems move to the forefront as Generals and their staffs deal with serious problems that could have been avoided with proper peacetime planning. A senior US Navy Admiral described the first year of World War II as one focused on dealing with one logistical crisis after another. This chapter will cover a few important issues that all modern militaries must address.
When US forces invaded Iraq in 2003, they were astounded by the ammunition stocks maintained by the Iraqi army. Iraq had fought an eight-year war with Iran so their planners knew that major wars require a lot of ammo. Most American expeditionary forces arrive with 30 days of supply. This is a simple planning concept and has caused no major problems in recent decades because arriving American forces encountered no major fighting. This allowed the logistics machine several months to establish an orderly flow of ammunition to Iraq.
However, if American forces engage in heavy fighting once they arrive in theater, a disaster may result when they run out of their 30-day supply. War stocks of ammunition are kept around the world, but moving tons of ammo is a major challenge. Armies can obtain supplies like water, food, and fuel from civilian sources nearby, it is just a matter of money. However, most ammunition is unique and must come from the United States where war stocks are limited. There are dozens of ammunition plants in mothballs but they have no workers and much of their equipment is in disrepair. A few months after the US military invaded Iraq, it faced an ammunition shortage after relatively light fighting. The logistics system struggled to adjust, eventually buying small arms ammunition from foreign governments.
All nations must have an ammunition sustainment plan involving specific actions that must be taken at specific times. For example, it will take at least a month to move ammunition from American storage bunkers to overseas battlegrounds and at least a month to startup mothballed ammunition plants, or to add shifts to existing ones. Therefore, these two steps must be ordered as soon as the first shots are fired. Some may worry that fighting may not last long and money will be wasted. That is possible, but one cannot risk allowing military forces engaged in combat to run out of ammunition.
Armies need a wartime ammunition game plan and a full-time staff section responsible for maintaining their plan, and issuing secret reports to decision makers when funding falls short. Each type of ammunition is unique and requires careful analysis as some take much longer to produce. Different conflicts require different types of munitions. This is THE CRITICAL WEAKNESS in the US military. What is the point of spending billions of dollars to keep units ready for war if there will not be enough ammunition to support them in combat? What good is the best weaponry on Earth if munitions are not available? If a serious study is done, the US military will learn that steps are required to avert a future disaster. It will likely conclude that the US military needs to store more ammunition on ships or at ports ready for immediate deployment.
One mistake by the US Army and Marine Corps in recent years was to privatize all mess halls. This idea seems practical during peacetime since it cost three times more to recruit, train, and pay a soldier than a contract civilian worker. However, when units deployed overseas for war in Iraq their civilian mess workers stayed behind. After a few weeks of eating packaged field rations in Iraq, called Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), troops began to complain loudly. Expensive contracts were let and foreign workers were rushed in to run mess halls. There were numerous problems with food quality and safety. Meanwhile, the US military paid for thousands of unneeded civilian mess workers to run nearly empty mess halls in the United States and Germany.
In Iraq foreign workers would not leave the big, secure base camps, so soldiers and marines in small camps had to eat MREs or travel to a mess hall. During World War II, it was common for mess soldiers to haul hot food up to troops in the frontline. This is because everyone knew that eating cold rations every day was bad from morale and health. Contract civilians will not perform such dangerous tasks, and will not take up arms to help repel an enemy commando attack or a major offensive. In addition, foreign workers may go on strike, which some did in Iraq, and may leave or refuse to work for any reason.
Combat maneuver battalions need uniformed messmen. One option is to form reserve mess units, whose reservists perform weekend drills by helping out at base mess halls. If needed, they can be mobilized and deployed. Another option is to reintroduce "B-rats," which the US military no longer bothers to procure and distribute. Hot meals served in mess halls are A-rations while the compact individual MRE packets are C-rations. B-rations were in between, meals created by packaging common civilian foods that were distributed to field troops. These were bulky, yet better than C-rats and did not require mess halls, but they were difficult for the supply system to handle since they were perishable within a year and not weatherproof.
A similar idea is possible with a "Hundred-Meal Pallet" (HMP). When units deploy, private companies can be contracted to assemble commercial foods and sundries on pallets. An HMP would contain dozens of one gallon cans of food available from a major chain like Wal-Mart. Goods can be ordered by computer from Wal-Mart at wholesale prices, and Wal-Mart's efficient distribution system can deliver them to any military port within a day or two. The content of HMPs would vary, but may include gallon cans of corn, green beans, chili and other foods that are arranged on pallets in the United States. Cases of fruit drinks and snacks can be included. Sundries like toilet paper, paper plates, trash bags, bar soap, paper towels, plastic forks are added in the middle, plus a few can openers. Once properly stacked, the pallet is tightly wrapped with clear plastic wrap, and shipped on the next aircraft or ship heading overseas.
Deployed troops who have eaten MREs for weeks would be thrilled when HMPs arrive. They can unpack the pallet and set up their own mess operation to feed themselves. HMPs taste better and provide a healthier diet, compared to rather expensive MREs full of preservatives and compacted to save space and weight. HMPs are also ideal for small numbers of troops deployed to remote areas, like when a dozen Special Forces soldiers are posted at a remote post in Afghanistan.
MREs must be supplemented with sundries. Soldiers deployed to lengthy field operations often wait weeks before personal items are available from the exchange system. Even when items are available, the problem of cashing checks to pay for things becomes an issue. Recent stories from Afghanistan and Iraq prove this problem remains. The solution is to include necessary sundries in each box of MREs, which has extra room for small items, such as: a roll of toilet paper, baby wipes, disposable razors, a tube of toothpaste, a bar of soap, a small container of shampoo, a writing pen and writing tablet (for letters home or military business). In addition, each box should have a "prize," such as: a pack of cards, a paperback book, a small board game, crossword puzzles, a toothbrush, dental floss, or shaving cream.
To paraphrase Napoleon: "In war, the morale is to the physical as three is to one." Soldiers deserve hot chow from mess halls when possible, and HMP meals when not. MREs are snacks for soldiers in combat, not meals. In the race to provide high-tech gear, it is easy to overlook food quality and basic personal items. While everyone talks about supporting the troops, one thing they all need is good food.
Trench foot has been a primary reason for listing soldiers unfit for duty in all major wars. This deserves more attention in the way of training and medical research. Perhaps mildew resistant socks or boot liners are the answer. Providing decent boots remain a problem as well. Deployed soldiers wear the same pair of boots all day, often in bad weather, so they wear out quickly. In addition, boots may be stolen or ruined by sharp objects. However, supply people never grasp this concept and expect each soldier's boots to last for the duration of the conflict. Boots are a consumable item, so wartime planners must supply four new boots a year for each man in theater. This means boots in war stocks and through normal supply channels. The same applies for field uniforms, they wear out four times faster in combat zones than during peacetime and soldiers in combat zones should not be expected to buy replacements.
One problem peacetime armies face is that equipment is expensive to maintain. One solution to lower costs is to store extra equipment in dehumidified warehouses. By maintaining relative humidity below 50%, the adverse effects of humidity are nearly eliminated, including rust, mildew, mold and moisture. Above 50% the rate of corrosion growth shifts from linear to exponential. The US Marine Corps conducted tests at coastal Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to track corrosion of steel in an open lot, under roof cover only, in a warehouse, and in dehumidified storage. Corrosion rates were:
Mils is a measurement of the depth of corrosive penetration. Obviously, storing equipment in warehouses saves money. Dehumidifiers cost just a few hundred dollars and operate like air conditioners. These are not required at dry, desert installations but are needed in tropical climates. Some aircraft depots keep stored aircraft in a dehumidified bag consisting of plastic tarps with zip lock seams. This saves on maintenance, building space, and overhead. The dehumidification of the aircraft bags is maintained through individual hose hook-ups to an external dehumidifier.
Military units can save money by storing wartime equipment in warehouses. Soldiers spend a great deal of time cleaning and maintaining equipment, some of which they never use during peacetime activities. Good examples are mobile electric power generators, refrigeration units, and large tents that units such as mobile hospitals and headquarter companies never use in peacetime. If this wartime equipment were stored in dehumidified warehouses, units will have less work and greater equipment readiness. Warehouses cost money to build, however, it does not make sense to leave $100 million in equipment outdoors to rapidly degrade because building a $10 million warehouse is deemed unaffordable.
Commands should establish warehouses where unit commanders can place unneeded equipment in long-term storage, rather than allow it to sit idle and rot in open parking lots. Sunlight also damages rubber, and other things on very hot days. Ice can find its way into equipment and cause cracks. At the very least, equipment stored outdoors should be covered by tarps. This will provide relief for undermanned units and reserve units, which often leave valuable equipment sitting unused outdoors for years. Modern military equipment has become too valuable to store outdoors.
The United States pre-positions several brigade-size sets of military equipment overseas. This allows units to deploy rapidly by air from the United States. However, procuring and maintaining this extra gear is expensive and there is always a problem with accounting for and maintaining the equipment left behind in the United States. The solution is for a reserve (or ARNG) brigade to "fall-in" on equipment left behind by a deploying active-duty brigade. A "sister" brigade concept solves this problem, ensures that a reserve brigade is fully equipped with the latest equipment, and allows it to reduce its table of equipment dramatically.
For example, maintaining 14 tanks for a reserve tank company is very expensive, especially since most companies only deploy to use them during their two weeks of annual training. In most cases this requires the expensive movement of these tanks to the nearest tank training area, which may be hundreds of miles away, plus the cost of moving them back. It is far better for an army to maintain a few company training sets at ideal tank training sites for use by reserve tank companies and active duty tank companies. As a result, each reserve tank company needs just two tanks so crews can practice crew skills at their drill site. During their annual training, they can use a training set at a different site each year, allowing a much greater variety of training without the tank transport costs.
During wartime, they can fall-in on tanks left behind by active-duty units deploying overseas by air. Using training sets is a good idea even if a unit has no active-duty "sister" unit. Reserve equipment can be maintained in a higher state of readiness at considerably less cost if kept in warehouses at the location where units will go for additional training upon mobilization, saving weeks now required to move large items of equipment. Units can keep just a few items at their weekly drill site for individual training. Such a concept also makes sense for artillery, air defense, and mechanized infantry units.
Leasing Engineer Equipment
Many commercial construction firms lease most of their equipment. This is because their needs depend on the number of projects underway and the type of project. While they pay a high-rate to lease equipment for a year or two, they save a great deal of money in the long run by not purchasing it outright and having it sit idle for years. Armies should use this logic as well. It is not unusual for armies to purchase and maintain large quantities of engineer equipment for wartime contingencies, only to scrap it three decades later after little use. Peacetime armies needn't purchase and maintain all the engineer equipment they think they may need in wartime if they identify commercial leasing options.
Engineer units need some equipment to support peacetime activities and training. However, most equipment needed for wartime can be leased very quickly and delivered to units within days. For example, if an engineer unit is expected to require twelve D-7 bulldozers during wartime, it may only be authorized four D-7s for peacetime training, with firm plans to lease an additional eight D-7s during wartime, if they are required. Wartime may arrive and the unit is assigned to an area where different types of engineer equipment are needed, so that is leased instead.
For rapid deployment, a single officer can be assigned to track what engineer equipment is available worldwide and have pre-arranged leasing agreements ready when needed. He can provide units with the exact mix of equipment they need for the mission at hand. If some equipment is complex, he may have civilian instructors arrive with the equipment to conduct classes, or they may even deploy with units. This is essentially how US Navy Seabees were formed at the beginning of World War II. A plan to lease most engineer equipment can save peacetime armies billions of dollars and provide engineer units with modern, well-maintained equipment they need for specific missions, which can be returned once it is no longer needed. Civilian companies with a worldwide presence can even deliver leased equipment overseas and pick it up when the project is over.
Reserve Support Forces
Many Generals do not understand that they can have five reservists for the cost of each active duty soldier. While many units require continual training to remain combat ready, others do not. Truck drivers provide an excellent example. Once they have gone through basic training and truck driver training, most are only needed for wartime. There is no need to keep thousands of truck drivers on active duty rolls showing up everyday for whatever busy work their officers create. Therefore, most truck drivers should be in reserve "round outs" units.
For example, an armored division takes weeks to deploy and is likely to have a truck battalion in support. However, peacetime demands only require one company of truck drivers, although its wartime organization requires four companies. Therefore, three of its companies can be reserve "round-outs." Ideally, the round-outs are located with the active duty battalion, however, population demographics may require them to be located in cities some 200 miles away. The battalion staff will frequently visit their distant round-out companies to ensure proper training and readiness.
The battalion staff will provide administrative and logistical support for its round-outs, and some positions in the battalion headquarters may be filled by weekend reservists. When war breaks out, the round-outs are mobilized and deploy within two weeks. This is great for reserve recruiting too because truck drivers leaving the active service can be encouraged to remain with their battalion as a reservist. As a result, active-duty Generals will ensure that "their" reservists are healthy, trained, and properly equipped to go to war. Meanwhile, the personnel cost savings of using reservists is substantial.