Logistics : Extending the Reach

Logistics : Extending the Reach


Gp Capt JV Singh (Retd)
[email protected]

Logistics forms the backbone of any operations. Ensuring logistics support to forces in-theatre is a complex process. This becomes more challenging when support has to be provided to Special Operations Forces involved in Out-of-Area Contingency Operations

Special Operations Forces (SOF) is a term primarily used in the West. It is an all encompassing term that defines a nation’s specialised units. Out-of-Area Contingency Operations (OOAC) are those military missions that are conducted beyond the borders of a country. These include, but are not restricted to, humanitarian assistance and military assistance either sought by friendly nations or offered in combating security related issues and in disaster relief. The contingencies would also cover protection of national interests and citizens. It has often been the duty of the Indian government to ensure the physical safety of this diaspora in the face of conflicts or natural disasters. As a result, we need capabilities to evacuate our citizens.

As an emerging power in the Indo-Pacific region, India could be urged to use its special forces for political objectives. Also, at times, the Indian military has been deployed for security operations for instance, in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and in overseas humanitarian and disaster relief operations. In light of its capabilities and possible overseas role, the Indian military has been called a net security provider in the region. These forces would be deployed in specific circumstances and, in the years to come, under a joint command under the overall aegis of the Integrated Defence Staff.

India’s Special Forces could be used for both external and internal counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. As an emerging power, India is looking to expand its strategic priorities. Accordingly, there is a growing understanding among India’s wider strategic community including the armed forces that situations requiring Indian intervention will emerge, especially in the troubled atolls of the South Asian sub-region. In such situations, where the armed forces might be deployed beyond India’s borders, the preference will be to use élite forces capable of operating under a single command.

Logistics considerations including stocking, resupply and quick movement of men and material are vital for OOAC operations. In effect, the operating range of the special forces will be shaped to a significant extent by logistic supplies. Efficiency in logistics is a key success factor, because it ensures the smooth flow of goods and services in a complex supply chain. Logistics plays a key role in disaster response operations.

Special Operations Forces (SOF) Requirements
Out-Of-Area Operations include intervention, humanitarian relief and UN Peace Keeping. India being a rising power cannot keep itself away from international military intervention. SOF are unique because they provide the government a broad range of capabilities. The demands of special operations require forces with attributes that distinguish them from conventional forces. SOF personnel undergo careful selection processes and mission-specific training beyond basic military skills. These programmes make unlikely any rapid replacement or generation of personnel or capabilities. The personnel maintain a high level of competency in more than one military specialty and are regionally oriented for employment. SOF operations are frequently clandestine in nature to ensure mission success. Much of the equipment used by SOF is normally designed or modified to meet specific operational requirements. As such, SOF equipment is often delivered in small quantities and is difficult and costly to repair and replace. Therefore, logistics support considerations in OOAC operations are critical for mission success.

The Indian armed forces have a wide experience of HADR operations both at home and abroad, where they have been the core of relief operations. Due to its sub-continental size, geographical location and its vulnerability to disasters, India has kept its forces ready to render assistance at short notice. In over six decades since independence, India has experienced a number of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, earthquakes, famines, industrial accidents, etc. At the same time, India has partnered with the global community in providing relief in affected regions. As India moves to occupy an important position in the global community, it is in the process of bolstering its capabilities to match the rising expectations.

Logistics Support in SOF Operations
There are broadly four factors which are essential for successful Special Operations. First, clear national and theater strategic objectives. Second, effective command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) support at the operational level. Third, competent tactical planning and execution; and fourth, a force trained, equipped and organised to conduct such operations. Military planning and preparation of plans are integral parts of the sequence of actions in making and executing a decision. Planning for anticipated contingencies is normally deliberate and formal, but emergency situations may dictate an acceleration of the planning process.

Logistics plans provide the essential ingredients which make military operation plans realistic. The essence of logistics planning involves the determination of supply, services, transportation, maintenance, construction and related logistics requirements, and the determination of existing capability to meet these requirements. Understanding of the basic considerations of logistics planning, defined below, is a necessary element in the development of effective planning procedures.

  • Lead time: Lead time is considered to be the time between action taken to obtain an item for use and arrival of the item in the hands of the user.
  • Limited resources: Resources including personnel, material and money are always limited. Hence optimal resource management is essential.
  • Critical shortages: The logistics planner and the logistics system must expect a situation when there will be critical shortage. Extraordinary and emergency measures must be taken to correct the shortage.
  • Priorities-allocations-reserves: Since resources are always limited, systems of priorities and allocations are established reflecting command judgments of military value and essentiality.
  • Under-plan-over plan: Under planning, whether a result of poor estimates, misunderstanding, improper application of good planning factors or proper application of poor planning factors, creates a critical shortage which eventually manifests itself in over-planning.
  • Coordination-communication: Constant exchange of information and coordination, with real communication and understanding, are vital to the command so all elements of command can bring about military success.
  • Flexibility: The plan must provide for enough flexibility to permit the commander and the staff to meet various situations which may arise as a result of an action by an opponent.
  • Adequacy-suitability-feasibility: The courses of action open to a commander to meet the situation which exists, or might develop, must be considered in terms of adequacy, suitability and feasibility.

Each of the foregoing logistics considerations demand that command control must be exercised with sound judgment, understanding, competence and restraint. Logistics estimates and logistics plans are dependent on availability of readily usable information and planning factors and on the skill and judgment with which these are used by the planner to solve military problems successfully.

Scope and Importance of Humanitarian Logistics
The supply chain for humanitarian relief preparedness involves assessment, appeals, resource mobilisation, transportation, execution, procurement, tracking and tracing, stock/ asset management, extended point of delivery and performance evaluation. Logistics is central to disaster relief for several reasons. First, it serves as a bridge between disaster preparedness and response, between procurement and distribution, and between headquarters and the field. Second, it is crucial to the effectiveness and speed of response for major humanitarian programmes, such as health, food, shelter, water and sanitation. It can be one of the most expensive parts of a relief effort. Third, since the logistics department handles tracking of goods through the supply chain, it is often the repository of data that can be analysed to provide postevent learning.

Every year, there are approximately 150,000 deaths and 200 million people affected by natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Natural disasters alone, which include events such as earthquakes, famines and floods, result in the temporary displacement of approximately five million people. The number of displaced people from humanitarian crises such as civil conflict and war is even larger, with an average of 13 million refugees and 20 million internally displaced people each year.

Broadly, following points could be identified for further development, seeking a better performance in the process of distributing supplies in humanitarian actions for natural disasters.

  • Transport: It is essential to undertake a survey of transport service providers, as well as government entities or private organisations with fleets available that can assist in case of humanitarian operations, identifying the types of vehicles and their capabilities. In general, humanitarian operations largely use road and air transport. However, we must evaluate how best to use other modes including water and transportation by helicopters in order to more efficiently support distribution activities in both the strategy of shipment and logistical support to the operation.
  • Storage and Handling: Goods received as domestic and international donations require proper storage and arrangement as supply kits to facilitate the distribution. At these points, the following actions occur: storage, handling and screening to identify unwanted or rejected material, shipment and discharge of material rejected. In points with incoming international donations, it will be necessary to have a staff with knowledge of customs clearance, in order to avoid congestion at the entry point. It should also notify potential points for storage, belonging to government entities or private organisations, as well as identify the availability of equipment such as forklifts and pallet conveyors which can be mobilised in the shortest time possible.
  • Distribution: The definition of the number of distribution points should be made to minimise the distance to the beneficiaries and they should be placed in community centres already established and meeting places. An efficient distribution programme requires information data about the goods available and the people affected. The use of military activities in cargo handling and access roads clearance facilitates the humanitarian mission.

Current Bottlenecks in Logistics Support
As discussed above, the special operations require dedicated and specialised logistics support. Despite years of experience in out-of-area operations, there is a lack of regional and area specialisation in the Indian Armed Forces. Also, there is a need for greater clarity on the role of the armed forces vis-à-vis the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) during preparation for HADR operations. Robust contingency plans need to be created to be able to rapidly cope with changing political dynamics. A tri-service Rapid Reaction Force, with a command culture based on mission oriented tactics and logistics capabilities, would aid an effective overall military and political strategy. In terms of military capability, the wish list includes additional deployment and lift capacities, better strategic communication, adequate training and preparation for contingencies, and improved logistics. A study of natural disasters, actions taken and lessons learnt would help in developing a national disaster strategy and plan.

There is also a need for a Special Operations Command (SOC), to bring together the existing special forces of the Indian Army, Navy, Air Force and other relevant agencies under a unified command and control structure to execute strategic or politico-military operations in tune with India’s national security objectives.

The capability for operating further from India’s borders to undertake OOAC operations is presently limited by logistical and sustenance issues. Currently there appears to be inadequate consideration of the logistical chain. Accordingly, it is recommended that pre-positioning of stores be planned both on the Western and Eastern sea boards. It is also desirable that certain specialised and surveillance equipment be installed at the Andaman and Nicobar islands to enhance the reach of operations. In addition, India should explore the diplomatic and strategic feasibility of signing logistical supply arrangements with other countries. This will increase the operating range of the Indian military. The Indo-US Logistics Support Agreement is a significant step in this direction.

The reach of current air- and sea-lift capabilities limit our present OOAC operations largely within the Indian Ocean region (IOR). Realising this, India is acquiring new capabilities for enhancing both its airlift and sealift capabilities. A major thrust of the ongoing review pertains to enhancing strategic reach and developing OOAC capabilities stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits together with matching logistics support capabilities.

Regarding HADR operations, there is a need to understand common logistical problems to identify a set of the best practices in the immediate response phase of a humanitarian operation. The crossing of experiences and best practices will allow the identification of important points for the exchange and development of shared solutions. Today’s underdeveloped state of logistics in the humanitarian sector is much like what corporate logistics was twenty years ago. At that time, corporate logistics suffered from underinvestment, a lack of recognition, and the absence of a fulfilling, professional career path for people performing logistics function. Corporate logistics has now found its voice with top management. Under the rubric of supply chain management, it has established itself as a core discipline whose best practices are taught and researched at top business schools. A similar approach for humanitarian logistics is required for effective OOAC logistics support.