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Logistics in War: Enablers to Aviators

In this multi-faceted #AirForce2121 piece, SQNLDR Kylie Melville reflects on what logistics will look like over the next 100 years. Ranging from strategic challenges such as climate change, to technological innovations such as AI, she argues that the logistics function needs to also find a way of transforming itself from that of tactical executioners to operational artists who amplify airpower effects.


On the first day of spring, 2021, amidst a history changing COVID19 pandemic, news broke……

‘Australia Post to pause parcel pick-up for four days with 500 staff in COVID isolation’.

As a logistician, explaining to my 9-year-old daughter why she wouldn’t receive her Grandmothers’ gift in a 20th century logistics world was something unexpected. More intriguing was her answer…..

…. ‘Why don’t they use robots?’

What a good question……..

Vignette: OP BACKCAST 2121

Logistics Aviator Sini scans the real time virtual operations room in the Air and Space Operations Centre confirming Pilot Aviator Gears is about to complete a successful mission. On the 200th anniversary year for the RAAF, as a 2121 Air logistician, LA Sini reflects……

2021 – Human centric tactical logistics capability bricks focussed on capability support to long life of type platforms, and land heavy personnel footprint operated airbases.

2041 – RAAF announces launch of logistics Capability Program encompassing - airbases, tactical autonomous delivery systems, integrated battlespace logistics systems, climate conscious logistics solutions and, agile, relevant LOGIS.

2061 – CAF announces next combat aircraft replacement will be fully autonomous coupled with exploration of fully autonomous untethered airheads in land, sea, air and space domains.

2081 – First major deployed fleet of fully autonomous tactical logistics systems with minor augmentation by human management workforce.

2101 – Doctrinal and Concept released for application of autonomous tactical logistics force as part of the air domain tactical autonomous combat power doctrine series.

2121 - The 2121 Air and Space Operations Centre is alive with humans applying analysis within their expertise influencing the daily battle plan through seamless application of operational art. Everyone is connected with virtual reality drawing data from across the joint deployed automated force, all aviators equally important in orchestrating a fully automated tactical combat power war.

……Focussing back to the virtual map displaying locations of deployed near region forces through VR lens, the battlespace changes in real time. Logistics analysis is now required by LA Sini using swift, real-time data to brief Air Commander on autonomous tactical logistics functions contributing to the fully autonomous tactical combat power. Today’s challenge - munitions….

Airbase Drift is in location as one of the numerous maritime, land, air and space airhead options, floating, ready to provide agile munitions resupply effects. Criticality is flashing in the VR lens, one sortie left at Airhead Drift. LA Sini approves automated demands with one swipe of a finger. Hyperloop Transport Company informs delivery to Airhead Drift in 20min. No sooner does Logistics Aviator Sini submit an update to Chief Combat Ops, Maritime Domain now requests diversion to HMAS KISMET, none on board. Autonomous logistics assets are redirected in line with joint force priorities – approved by Commander Joint Support. As LA Sini analyses other agile munitions resupply options, a second shipment via SpaceX priority supply vehicle is confirmed, estimated delivery time - 10min. Pilot Aviator Gears lands combat air asset 235 on Airhead Drift, just as SpaceX robotic delivery is complete. LA Sini delegates robotic rearm to the logistics team, heading to plans room with other aviators focussed on collating the air domain picture for JFACC daily briefing.

Logistics in 2121: Enablers to Aviators

An Air Force that successfully competes in 2121 cannot rely on advanced capabilities alone; it needs novel approaches to the traditional application of airpower. Technology advancement and climate change are two drivers influencing change in the application of tactical combat power – in particular the human dimension of tactical combat. George W Bush implied technological importance 2002 stating ‘We are witnessing a revolution in the technology of war; power is increasingly defined not by size but by mobility and swiftness – influence is measured in information….’. This is just as relevant for today’s logistician who is focussed on delivering a human-centric logistics function yet must also embrace the technology revolution. A role shift is required for the 2121 Logistician- from tactical human-centric doers to future operational artists. One capable of providing the 2121 Air Force a truly technologically advanced integrated battlespace capable of contemporary and modernised warfighting.

‘We are witnessing a revolution in the technology of war; power is increasingly defined not by size but by mobility and swiftness – influence is measured in information……’
- George W Bush [Air Force Journal of Logistics – Quotes for the Air Force Logistician Volume 1]

The idea that machines will be smarter than humans is hotly debated, but the fact that a tactical combat power advantage will be provided by machines in 2121 is not. The ultimate realisation of this prophecy is far from reality; Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already used across numerous industry sectors to improve services. Health care now implements AI to support disease diagnosis, nursing and managerial assistance, promote healthy living, as well as improve mental health monitoring and reporting . The evolution of data driven verification of various neuro-psycho-physiological features is expected to predict mental health disorders faster than human diagnosis. Similarly, in transport and logistics, the potential advantage of autonomous vehicles and machinery is profound. The mining industry has implemented a number of autonomous capabilities providing: refuelling, large machinery operations, mobile equipment interfaces to monitor equipment health and maintenance demands, and computer assisted operational decision making. Militaries are also modernising their forces through autonomy. US military and industry partners are rapidly developing autonomous capabilities including armed unmanned ground vehicles, long-range high subsonic unmanned air vehicles, and unmanned underwater vehicles. The Air Force’s rapid development of the Loyal Wingman demonstrates that a modernised future-ready military will be delivered through autonomy. Technology laws[1] suggest that technology advancements will far exceed sole human capabilities, creating a world in which human intelligence won’t exist without AI enhancement. This trend suggests that in 2121, tactical combat power will be entirely autonomous and increasingly in demand, and will only be further exacerbated by the extreme physical environments faced by 2121 military forces.

Future Warfare will be executed within extreme and hazardous environments brought on by climate change, making the battlespace unfit for human application of tactical combat power. Scientists around the world agree global warming caused by humans is unequivocal. Today, evidence indicates Earth’s temperature has risen by one-degree causing global sea levels to rise twenty centimetres in ten years, increased the number of extreme weather events annually, declining arctic sea ice, decreased snow cover and retreating glaciers. By 2121, these climate impacts will intensify and endure. Earth at three degrees of warming will experience a sea level rise by 80 centimetres causing coastal cities to sink, continuous extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, bushfires and tsunamis, and loss of predictable seasonal change. Regions around the globe, as we understand them today, are expected to remain in a consistently hazardous state. In aggregate, these constant, continuous conditions will result in a 2121 operational environment which will be unfit for human application of tactical combat power. Therefore, the intersection of rapid advancements in autonomy and artificial intelligence with increased environmental hazards brought on by climate change, will result in the complete automation of both tactical combat power and logistics enablers.

Today’s 2021 airminded Logistics is a critical enabler focussed on sustaining air operations through human application of tactical logistics functions, primarily through capability and airbase support. 2021 air platforms are highly complex integrated mission systems requiring substantial capability support through engineering, maintenance and supply management to remain serviceable and relevant through a long life-of-type . 2021 Air bases - expeditionary or otherwise – are the weapon system needed to successfully sustain platform rates of effort required by the Joint Campaign. 2021 logistics functions are primarily delivered through the human application of tactical logistics functions like air movements, refuelling, base warehousing, and security. Today’s tactical bias builds significant and critical expertise within the logistics community in delivering tactical logistics effects, but fails to imbue operational art into the mind of today’s air force logisticians. Transitioning today’s logisticians into operational artists required for 2121 warfare is a key requirement for executing competitive and relevant autonomous and untethered tactical logistics in the 2121 future force.

‘One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man’.
- Elbert G. Hubbard [Air Force Journal of Logistics – Quotes for the Air Force Logistician Volume 1]

Elbert G. Hubbard once stated ‘[o]ne machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man’. 2121 warfare may encompass autonomous and untethered logistics; however, the 2121 nature of war will still require a human element for success. The knack for operational art will still exist in 2121. Operational art is not simply the transactional application of knowledge, tactics, and procedures, but incorporates fundamental human traits such as innovation, guile, deception and forethought to out-manoeuvre an adversary (Department of Defence, 2019). Therefore, while automation will absorb tactical combat power in 2121, it will be the human element through application of 2121 operational art that will guide the delivery of tactical combat effects. This will not just encompass combat artistry, but also the integration of logistics effects.

Today’s air-minded logisticians generate tactical logistics functions after air battle plans are agreed, whereby in 2121 logistics aviators will be fully integrated into operational battlespace management through application of operational art executing autonomous and untethered logistics functions. The Air Planning Cycle orchestrates the air domain contribution to the joint force, but air logistics does not drive the creation of the air battle plan, instead takes the output and assigns tactical logistics functions to support air operations (Department of Defence, 2009). The Air Force operations logistics support model describes these tactical logistics functions as; organic logistics within squadrons, scalable combat ready support squadrons, maintenance and supply elements for capability support and responsive national support base elements (Department of Defence, 2009). Importantly these logistics functions focus on support to tactical execution, rather than designing and optimising the entire air battle plan with due consideration for logistics demand. Hence currently, logistics is not fully integrated into the air domain application of operational art. By contrast, the 2121 Air and Space Operations Centre will require all aviators to integrate their expertise - applying operational art to control the air battle plan for the autonomous and untethered tactical combat force. To realise this result, the 2121 logistician will need to transition from today’s human doer of tactical logistics functions to operational artists, integrating logistics effects seamlessly into the air battle plan.

The Air Force that exists in 2121 will successfully compete when novel approaches are integrated with advanced capabilities in the application of airpower. Climate change and technology advancement will drive an autonomous tactical combat force requiring aviator operational artists at the operational level orchestrating the fight. World class airpower effects in 2121 will be dependent on a transitioned logistician that is no longer focussed on human application of tactical logistics functions, but a logistician that is astute in operational art able to integrate logistics effects into the battlespace.

SQNLDR Kylie Melville has served as a logistics officer in the RAAF for 20 years which has included multiple operational logistics postings and deployments. Her last posting within the Air and Space Operations Centre at Headquarters Joint Operations Command was conducting logistics operational planning which has inspired her current work at Air Force Headquarters in Logistics Branch's Future Logistics Capability Directorate.

[1] Moore’s Law: Processing powers doubles about every 2 years while prices are halved (Pinto, 2013) Gilders Law: Network bandwidth doubles every six months (Pinto, 2013) Less’s Law: The cost of storage is falling by half every 12 months, while capacity doubles (Pinto, 2013)