Warfare and Logistics Research Paper

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The components that support strategies and tactics of warfare—such as equipment, transportation, food, and housing—are called logistics. Modern developments that have improved military logistics include banks and lending institutions, railroads, and computers. In recent years people have used the term logistics to refer to an approach to supply-chain management in business and industry, particularly with regard to multinational corporations, that is based on military procedures.

The term logistics, first used by the Swiss military theorist Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini (1779– 1869) in his Summary of the Art of War (1837–1838), embraces troop mobilization, reinforcement, and replacement; weapons, ammunition, and materiel production, procurement, transportation, and handling; catering and canteen services; construction engineering; organization of military and civilian labor forces; equipment and maintenance; medical services; housing; pay and welfare; mail; fuel; and transportation of troops and supplies. To Jomini logistics was of equal importance with strategy and tactics, but his more influential contemporary, the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), saw logistics as subordinate to them.

As soon as human groups began to fight one another, they discovered that their ability to prevail over an opponent required careful attention to providing their fighters not only with weapons but also with continuous access to all the necessities of life and doing so in such a way that their fighters could maximize their power, their mobility, and the range in which they could be effective. If the fighting force was self-contained, carrying all of its necessary supplies, it would be powerful and move quickly but only for short distances. If the fighting force relied on local supply, feeding on the agricultural production of the area of operations, it could operate only in fertile areas during or just at the end of growing seasons. If it was supplied from bases that already existed in its own rear area or that were constructed as the force moved, it would be powerful and could range far but not quickly.

Ancient Warfare

Early in the second millennium BCE the Assyrian Empire deployed an army of more than a hundred thousand men. This army had a central military barracks with arsenals of weapons and a system for procuring the enormous number of horses needed for cavalry, chariots, and pack trains. Moreover, it had access to the services of a government bureau that provided forced labor for military building projects. Moving within the empire, Assyrian troops were issued travel rations from provincial supply centers, but after they moved beyond its borders and into enemy territory they lived off the land, which both diminished their need for a supply train and damaged their enemy’s agricultural infrastructure. As much as possible, their line of advance took advantage of rivers and other waterways to transport materials, especially the huge siege engines, which were devices used to attack enemy fortresses.

People know of King Alexander of Macedon (Alexander the Great, reigned 336–323 BCE) for his brilliant leadership in battle, but his fabulous conquests were in large measure because of his careful and thorough logistical arrangements. When he marched into Asia, he made sure that his troops carried as much gear and supplies as possible, eliminating the need for a long and slow train of baggage carts. He stayed close to the sea as long as he could and used inland waterways as well to utilize the superior carrying capacity of ships over carts. Often his spies and advance scouts bribed enemy officials not to destroy warehouses or crops before Alexander’s troops could seize them, and he kept these officials on when he conquered their territory to take advantage of their ability and expertise. Ranging as far as India, he still managed to keep a line of communication back to Greece and Macedon to enable him to govern the full extent of his conquests and maintain a steady supply of reinforcements. With such arrangements his army could march 24 kilometers a day and covered 18,000 kilometers in eight years.

The ancient Romans were famous for building roads whose extent and engineering were a major element in the Romans’ ability to move and supply their armies and create an empire extending from Britain to southwest Asia. Less noted was their development of the important logistical function of medical care, which was aimed not only at caring for those wounded in battle but also at ensuring the general health of the troops. Permanent Roman army camps had bathhouses to foster cleanliness, and the water from these bathhouses was used to flush the sewers and latrines, which are a major health problem for any large military force. Every army camp, every large fortress, and even many smaller fortresses had a hospital staffed by doctors expert in amputation of limbs, extraction of arrows, treatment of skull fractures, and other necessities of military medicine. Armies on the move had field orderlies to assist the wounded on the battlefield and move them to field hospitals. These medical services played an important part in maximizing the power of the Roman army.

Medieval Warfare

Before the early modern era the biggest problem of logistics was the provision of an adequate and constant food supply for men and horses. The Mongol conquests of the twelfth century CE in south Asia, Central Asia, southwest Asia, and Russia, as well as the Mongol attacks into Europe, were made possible not only by their tactical audacity and innovations, but also by the fact that their horses could travel 96 kilometers a day and subsist on grass, unlike European horses, which needed large supplies of grain. The Mongol penetration of Europe was halted west of the central European plain largely by the unavailability of sufficient pastureland. The significance of horses in logistics is obvious from the Agincourt campaign of 1415 when the English king, Henry V (c. 1386–1422), had to scour his realm for the twenty-five thousand horses needed to mount the cavalry portion of the six thousand men he took to France and to haul supplies for the entire force. Henry’s logistics train also included 60 grooms, 86 yeomen (attendants), 120 laborers, 120 miners, 124 carpenters, and 20 surgeons. To finance this effort, Henry had to take loans and break up one of his crowns to use the pieces as collateral.

Modern Warfare

We should not be surprised, then, that one of the greatest logistical breakthroughs in warfare was the development of banks and other financial institutions that let rulers and states raise more money for military supplies and payrolls and to pay back the money over longer periods of time. This breakthrough enabled European states during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to keep professional standing armies and to equip them well. Even so, the expense of these armies and their supplies meant that the armies were kept relatively small and that they fought with a constant eye on their lines of communication back to their bases. When mass armies were recruited by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), they could stay in the field only by supplementing their stores with foraging. When Napoleon’s Grand Army of 400,000 men invaded Russia in 1812, however, the army could not find enough forage. Its horses and men died in droves before they reached Moscow, from which they had to retreat over territory that they had already picked clean; only 30,000 men survived.

The Industrial Revolution transformed warfare by providing deadlier weapons and the means for manufacturing them in huge quantities and shipping them more quickly and less expensively. No invention of the time was more important than the railroad. During France’s 1859 war against Austria, France deployed 604,000 men and 129,000 horses by railroad to northern Italy in just eighty-five days. During the U.S. Civil War, which began two years later, campaigns were built around the movement of troops and supplies by railroad, and railroads became targets of military action. The Prussian chief of staff, Helmuth Karl von Moltke (1800–1891), incorporated railway schedules into his plans for troop mobilization, deployment, and resupply, insisting that resources should no longer be wasted on frontier fortifications but instead should be used for the strategic development of railroads.

The organization of the complex process of industrial production was also important for the development of logistics. Using structures and concepts drawn from business firms, the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War developed the modern model of military medical services, integrating battlefield assistance to the wounded, evacuation to field hospitals, organized surgical care, and careful record keeping to provide a seamless and documented treatment of the wounded.

The Two World Wars

The impact of industrial organization and production upon logistics became glaringly apparent in World War I. The very outbreak of the war was dictated by German planning that tied troop mobilization, deployment, supply, and operations so closely together that Germany could not respond to any mobilization of troops by any European power in any other way than by attacking deeply into France through Belgium, a war by timetable that failed in part because German planners put more troops on roads and railroads than could be moved rapidly enough to keep to the plan. Hostilities having begun, Germany had to supply its armies in France, deep inside Russia, and later in Romania while sending munitions and materiel to its allies Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

Britain had to move troops and supplies constantly across the English Channel, bring troops to Europe from India and Africa, and send troops from Britain to Turkey, the Balkans, Italy, and southwest Asia while battling German submarines in the approaches to the British Isles to assure a constant and sufficient flow of food and raw materials. All of the belligerents needed maximum production from farms and factories to keep their economies functioning while making war on an undreamed-of scale. The edge of the Allied powers (Russia, France, England, Italy, United States) was clear: between 1915 and 1918 they outproduced the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria) in coal production by 2.3 billion metric tons to 1.2 billion; in crude steel production by 150 million metric tons to 75 million; in aircraft frame production by 110,549 to 52,269; in aircraft engine production by 149,646 to 45,358; and in shipbuilding by 1,491 to 765. World War II featured even more impressive logistical feats, with the Allies (France, England, China, Russia, United States) producing seven times as many planes as the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan), five times as many trucks and artillery pieces, and four times as many machine guns and tanks. This material was delivered to the Russians by convoys around Norway, and to the Chinese by trucks via the 560-kilometer-long mountainous Burma Road or by plane from India over 24,000-kilometer-high mountains.

The Contemporary Era

During the years after World War II the superpower confrontation demanded the development of nuclear weapons stockpiles and increasingly sophisticated delivery systems alongside the maintenance of large armies and stocks of conventional weapons. At the same time peripheral wars such as those in Korea, Vietnam, Algeria, Afghanistan, and the Falkland Islands placed severe pressures on the military capabilities of the large powers and raised problems of rapid deployment and the use of special forces. During the post- Vietnam era the United States developed AirLand, a system of combined operations capable of meeting a Soviet offensive in Europe or deploying appropriate forces to Third World conflicts. Using this new mode of warfare in the 1991 Gulf War, the United States shipped 540,000 troops with 417,000 metric tons of ammunition; 300,000 desert camouflage uniforms; 200,000 spare tires; and 150 million rations into the theater of operations in less than four months. During the 2003 Gulf War, the 101st Division—17,000 soldiers; 5,000 vehicles; 1,500 shipping containers; and more than 200 helicopters—moved from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to a forward base in Kuwait in just six weeks.

The handling of such complex tasks with such rapidity reflects the impact of the computer age on logistics, and just as the elaboration of operations management during World War II transformed business operations during the postwar era, so the military management of an almost infinitely complex supply chain has carried over into business. During the past decade logistics has become a management buzzword, and business firms, whose procedures have often been adapted to military use, are adapting procedures tested by the military to conduct business on a global scale.


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