Even though the armed forces have their own requirements, the writer argues that there is enough commonality to facilitate joint military logistics and geoint can aid in the process
Modern armed forces are driven by logistics. The old adage that, ‘an army marches on its stomach,’ has today vastly expanded, given the requirements of administrative support to militaries in many dimensions like transportation of troops, procurement of material and supplies, arrangements for lodging, repair and recovery of weapons and equipment and health and casualty administration. The all encompassing nature of military logistics is compounded for large armies operating across a vast landscape of terrain and climate conditions as India. Spread from the Great Himalayas in the North to the sand dunes of Rajasthan, swamps of Kutch and beaches of Andaman and Nicobar as well as forests in the North East, the challenge of supplying the Indian Army, Navy, Air Force and the Coast Guard is unique and unmatched.
Indian military logisticians have a long history of meeting the administrative needs of one of the largest forces deployed across continents, from Africa, Europe to South East Asia. During the Second World War, they supported 2.4 million Indian troops spread across the deserts of North Africa to the dense jungles of Burma (Myanmar). This tradition continues till date and the Indian military administrator maintains the proud tradition of never having failed the soldier, sailor and airman, be it in the extreme high altitude of Siachen, counter piracy missions in the Gulf of Oman or helicopter flights on UN Peace Keeping in Sierra Leone amongst other locations in the world.
While there is a diverse requirement of the three services, army, navy and air force, there is enough commonality to facilitate joint military logistics. Lack of an integrated logistics system which is hooked on to national logistics infrastructure remains one of the major drawbacks in India. This has resulted in duplication, high costs and inefficiency. With the advent of geoint together with big data and ICT (Information and Communications Technology), the scope for joint logistics has considerably enhanced, thus possible projections in this direction may be in order.
Joint Military Logistics – Simple Concept
Given the commonality of logistics functions in the three services in India from billeting to transportation and supply, joint administration is conceptually widely accepted. Moreover in many locations, services units are co-located, thus their administration through a single agency is facilitated. Given that large number of items in the three services ranging from rations to ammunition to spares and assemblies and vehicles are common. While each service does have unique requirements on the whole, it is evident that there is functional commonality which can be taken advantage of by creating a joint logistics system for the Indian armed forces.
For forces in the field, joint logistics would imply coordinated support of two or more services to achieve a common operational objective. In practical terms, it would imply provisions from a joint logistic base rather than siloed single service logistics structures supporting other services on required basis. The advantage that would accrue from joint military logistics would be as follows:-
Joint Asset Visibility: It is achieved by sourcing data from a variety of joint and service information systems. This will enable visibility of assets in-storage, in-process, and in-transit to a force commander as well as the logistics manager. This will provide flexibility to the operational commander, reduce tendency of overstocking and enhance availability of the right type of equipment at the right place (where it is most required). To the logistics manager, it is a boon in inventory management and balancing the demand and supply chain.
Full Spectrum Information Driven Logistics Management: Most logistics systems are demand driven. Hence, the pull factor dictates the push or supply. But this is inefficient. This is where the full spectrum information driven logistics management system can aid.
Economy: Economy in logistics includes a number of aspects such as reduction of personnel and resources to a common inventory. The range and scope of economy is vast, ranging from cutting down on infrastructure costs to leveraging economy of scales of a large organisation to advantage.
Surge Capability: In operational scenarios, the focus is on supporting the commander on the front line. This may necessitate a logistics surge either in terms of sudden increase in resources, for instance, a particular type of ammunition, or time in which the same is to be delivered and distance over which it has to be supplied. A joint logistics organisation will provide maximum surge capability.
Reduction of Risk and Reserves: Joint logistics will have in-built potential in reserves that can be retained in terms of assets as also the visibility of location of each resource, reducing risks of failure.
While the concept of joint military logistics is well accepted with numerous advantages as outlined above, execution in the Indian context is riddled with a number of challenges. Some of these are:-
Lack of Operational Jointness: The natural course to achieve joint military logistics would imply a degree of operational jointness. Integration of Indian armed forces is a work-in-progress, this has an effect on lack of adequate impetus on command and functioning of logistics jointness.
Legacy, Infrastructure and Ownership: Legacy of logistics functioning over the past many years has resulted in the creation of assets by each service, ownership over which has become a priority rather than sharing the same with others. Loss of ownership is related to loss of control or power leading to resistance. This has resulted in lack of sufficient impetus to creating joint logistics structures.
Procedures and Processes: Logistics is procedure oriented. Any change in procedures established over the years, invites resistance due to lack of mutual trust and natural resistance to getting out of self-imposed comfort zones.
Impetus from the Top: Most change is top driven; there is lack of sufficient impetus from the top for creating joint logistics, be it from military or the civilian leadership.
Lack of Joint National Logistics: India’s vastness and constitutional separation of functions between the Centre and the States is inimical to creation of a joint national logistics management system. This in turn has led to lack of initiative by the services to create such a system on their own.
Lack of Standardisation: Standardisation is an important requirement for creating joint logistics. The present level of standardisation in the military is low thus dissuading jointness. For instance, the form for demand of rations for troops is different for all the three services. Thus, unless a degree of standardisation is achieved, jointness will not be facilitated.
Geoint for Joint Military Logistics
The emergence of geoint has generated scope for exploiting technology for military logistics infostructure. The main benefit of geoint is full spectrum asset visibility across the demand, supply as well as evacuation chain. This in turn will facilitate single point logistics function for all the three services such as inventory control and management, in-transit control of assets across various locations in the country, provision of status of time sensitive items such as ammunition, establish stocks of supplies with life, indicate requirement of overhaul of weapons and combat vehicles, position of movement of troops, recovery of non-runners as well as evacuation of casualties.
Presently, GPS trackers are being employed for locating movement of goods extensively by transporters across the globe including India. With exponential developments in chip technology, a huge amount of data can be stored thus there is scope for extending the same to track tanks, ships, aircraft and personnel casualties by satellites. This can also be extended to smaller items such as ammunition. For instance, a chip placed on an ammunition box with requisite information will enable access of details such as manufacture and expiry with shelf life at a central location. Ammunition stocks can then be moved from one location to another to offset deficiencies and surpluses while those nearing shelf life transferred for training and so on. Similarly, requirement of overhaul of a tank after having completed requisite mileage can be identified through chips, matched with slots available in base workshops and vehicle moved appropriately to reduce waiting time.
An advantage of geoint based information acquisition systems is minimum human intervention in the form of feeding data at the point of activity. Embedded chips stored with data can provide the status through GPS or the IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) when fielded. Thus, the availability of large volumes of data streams from multiple locations at a single point can provide status of equipment, facilitating a logistic manager to undertake the desired action be it replenishment or recovery. Moreover, full visibility of any item across the three services provides a major advantage for effective and efficient usage. Thus in some ways, technology can overcome challenges faced in establishing a joint logistics system in the Indian armed forces; and the concept needs to be fully exploited.
Pathway to Joint Military Logistics in India
The pathway to joint military logistics would be facilitated by the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff, with whole time function of management of administration of the armed forces amongst other roles. The interim arrangement of creating the post of Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee is unlikely to bear the same results even if this materialises. Geographically oriented theatre commands would also facilitate joint military logistics, however as some reports indicate there is limited progress in this direction. Joint logistics node is another option that can be exercised particularly where two or more services are co-located in a station.
A geoint based joint military logistics information system can be envisaged as a precursor to the above. Employing technology, some of the resistance in creating a joint military logistics structure can be overcome by linking administrative requirements of the services on a single platform. Organising the same under the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) is feasible. This will be the base for supra joint military logistics structure that is essential for modern military functioning and may well be the driver for change.
Jointness entails building a culture of sharing and trust as much as organisational structures and providing technologies that can lead to joint military logistics. Yet technologies can be used to break cultural barriers and it is towards this, that geoint can act as an enabler for joint military logistics. A conceptual outline has been provided herein, execution would require impetus from the top and coordination of a large number of agencies involved in the military supply chain.