I have commented before that “Napoleon’s old adage about an army marching on its stomach was never more true than in modern, 21st century warfare. Not only do the sailors’, soldiers’ and air force members’ bellies need to be filled with food, but the “bellies” of the great metal beasts ~ ships, tanks, trucks and aircraft ~ need to be filled with fuel and the the guns and missile launchers have to be filled with ammunition and so on and so forth.” That’s the business of logistics which is not very glamorous but is oh so vitally important.
There are many and varied definitions of logistics and, for my purposes, I’m gong to focus mainly on procurement and supply, which includes warehousing, transportation of people and materiel and maintenance of that materiel. (I am, clearly, for those familiar with it, referring to a bigger function that that performed by the Canadian Forces Logistics Branch or by e.g. the Royal Logistics Corps in the British Army.) I’m going, mostly, ignore “maintenance” of people which includes everything from pay to medical care and construction and maintenance of buildings and facilities and the massive coordination – computing – communications subset of the military command control communications (C³) system that is needed to make the supply, transport and materiel maintenance systems (the plural matters) work.
There are, broadly, three levels of logistics:
- Battlefield ~ in naval task groups and individual ships, in army divisions, brigades and units and in air force bases and wings. This is where uniformed logisticians get food, fuel and ammunition to the people who need it, day and night, under direct enemy fire;
- Theatre ~ which includes big overseas bases and workshops and even dockyards; and
- The national defence-industrial base which has both military civilian elements and goes from drawing boards in HQ and factory floors through the national transportation infrastructure to supply depots and dockyards.
Battlefield logistics is beyond the ken of most people. It is a professional field at least as complicated as anything done by anyone, anywhere and it embraces everything from repairing the radars and computers on a modern warship through to supplying ammunition, food and fuel to soldiers in the field and refuelling and rearming the aircraft on a flaying station. It is an enormously broad and complex function that, sometimes, makes ships’ captains and units commanding officers think of their supply officers, transport sergeants and maintenance people as something akin to miracle workers.
It is, also, not cheap. It might be interesting to note that a full-up infantry battalion, the most ‘common’ unit in an army, ought to have about 950 soldiers; but, only about half of them (about 450+) are likely to ever shoot anything (pistol, rifle, machine gun, anti-tank missile, mortar or explosive) at the enemy. The other 500- are in command and control (C²) (about 50 people) or logistics (which includes medical, police and administration (perhaps 75 people) but, is mainly, supply (including food service (cooks)), transport and maintenance (350+ people)).
Theatre logistics is equally or more complex and it embraces everything from the rear area of operational zone ~ including, just for example, Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan where most Canadians were stationed in the 2002-2014 campaign, through to warehouses around the world and office desks in Ottawa. Here people plan, manage, procure, store, maintain, deliver and return everything from micro-electronic components to fresh water and beer … and they ~ military personnel, civil servants, contracted employees and workers in factories and on ships ~ do it from behind desks in HQ, in warehouses, in workshops, on ships in Canada and all around the world.
Behind it all, unseen, misunderstood, unloved and, in fact, often actively disliked is the national defence industrial base.
There are a great many people, including many in uniform, who object to the cost ~ fiscal and political ~ of having a defence industrial base. Many people suggest that a free and open market should be sufficient to equip all friendly, and the neutral and even some not so friendly military forces.
They forget, first of all, that the defence industries of e.g. America, Britain, France, Germany and Israel are ALL heavily supported by their government and, equally, heavily regulated. It is not clear that we will always be in full political accord with those upon whom we rly for military hardware? What if one country wanted, just for example, to gain an advantage in a trade negotiation? Do you think they might not “decide” that since the government (a minister of the crown) has threatened to use military force againstFirst Nations who protest against pipelines that they will not sell us certain much needed military hardware or licence its use in Canada?
It is always troubling when we see the costs of military hardware increase at double or even triple the general rate of inflation for, say, care or TV sets or food and heating fuel, but that is not the fault of the Canadian defence industries … it is, in fact, the “fault” of too little competition in the global defence industry market: too few Australian, Brazilian Canadian and Danish defence producers, too many aerospace and defence contractors merged into too few conglomerates that control too much of the market. A robust Canadian defence industrial base, supported by extensive government R&D programmes and by a steady stream of Canadian contracts would help Canada and our allies.
The government is taking action with the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy which prime Minister Harper put in place. The next generation jet fighter contract could, if it is properly managed, help to sustain the Canadian aerospace industry ~ that’s why we joined (Prime Minister Chrétien’s administration) joined the F-35 development programme. The Canadian aerospace sector manufactures helicopters ~ and the Canadian Forces could use more of them: greater numbers and greater varieties. Right now Canadian companies make everything from small arms to ships, but we do not, often enough, sell these items in foreign markets, and when we do there are often political ramifications because, in addition to having a defence industry we also have a “peace” industry that is very, very active and effective.
I am opposed to government supported featherbedding by Canadian unions and companies but we do need to pay some price for having a functioning defence industrial base … the costs of our new warships, for example, are, without a doubt, higher than they would be if we had bought equivalent ships from certain foreign yards, but we need to be willing to pay some price for having Canadians yards that are ready and able to build modern warships when needed; ditto for aircraft, armoured vehicles, radio and electronics, rifles and machine guns, cargo trucks and boots and bullets and beans, too. AND, we need a government that will, aggressively, support that defence industrial base with well funded R&D programmes and by “selling” Canadian made military equipment around the world.
Canada is, already good at battlefield and theatre level logistics. We need to get a bigger and better defence industrial base to support our forces and to help sustain our national economy.