There have been many reports, studies and books written about the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan for the conduct of irregular warfare. The military services are embedding the combat lessons learned in their operating concepts, doctrine, tactics and force structure.
Less well documented and perhaps appreciated are the logistics lessons learned from the past nine years of continuous conflict. The feats of arms performed by this nation’s combat forces in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan have been matched measure for measure by the efforts of the logisticians and their supporting arms. There are a number of important lessons learned from the successful effort to supply that need to be institutionalized by DoD. Among the most important are:
• The U.S. cannot go to war without private contractors. At the height of the U.S. deployment in Iraq there were more private contractors than uniformed personnel in country. While many of these were third-country nationals the core of the support was provided by U.S. and Coalition citizens. Without companies such as KBR, Dyncorp and Fluor there would still be no infrastructure to support the troops. The support of the major OEMs and companies such as DRS and ManTech made it possible to maintain critical equipment.
• Future scenarios will rely heavily on commercial supply lines. Logistics in Afghanistan rely essentially on commercial supply lines and commercial logistics providers. The Northern Distribution Network from Europe across Russia and Central Asia to Afghanistan is operated by three private companies, APL, Maersk Line and Hapag-Lloyd.
• Public-private partnerships for maintenance and sustainment are a useful tool. The massive increase in the demand for repair and upgrading of equipment could not be met by either the public or private defense industrial bases alone. Indeed, in peacetime it is infeasible to maintain the necessary wartime base. The private sector assisted the public sector in a variety of ways, through best practices and benchmarking, supply chain management and inventory control, and training.
• Performance-based logistics has great value. The peacetime approach to maintenance and sustainment which is based on availability of funds, lowest cost and purchase of parts and services is unacceptable in wartime. Then what the warfighter needs is the highest state of sustainable availability for platforms and systems. The best way to achieve this goal is through application of the principles of performance-based logistics.
• When all else fails, rely on lift. The character of modern conflicts can change rapidly. The result can be the need for a rapid infusion of forces and capabilities. When that happens, reliance on land lines of communications and even sea-borne shipping will not be enough. Then the military will need air lift and lots of it is required.
• Next time, plan ahead. The success of the logistics effort in Iraq and Afghanistan came despite, not because of, the planning that was done. Future conflicts may not provide the luxury of time to get the logistics system and supply chains set up. For the future, planners need to include not just the logisticians but the public and private defense industrial bases as well. They all need to be brought into both the planning and exercise processes.
The old saying goes that good generals think about tactics, great generals think about logistics. This will never be truer than for the U.S. military in the 21st century.
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