What books stand out in the field of logistics? Ask any officer or senior enlisted leader who has graduated from a professional military education course and they can tell you two things: a book about strategy they liked and many they did not. Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and even the much-maligned but desperately needed for his time Jomini, all fit the mold. Ask the same crowd to suggest the best book on military logistics and the answer is likely to be silence. Thus, in odd juxtaposition, logistics is so important in war that the most popular quotation about logistics is apocryphal and the vast majority of military leaders could not name one book on the subject.
Seemingly, the group was defeated after the Anbar Awakening and second Gulf War, but the organization waited patiently in the shadows for the right opportunity to strike back and regain relevance. During the interlude following the second Gulf War and the establishment of the caliphate, the group did what it has always done well—survive.
The activities of the Army Service Forces rarely garner attention in ongoing debates about warfare. Perhaps this is because modern conflict, unlike World War II, does not rely on massive firepower and highly centralized command structures. However, the management rules conceived by General Brehon Somervell are no less relevant and applicable to today’s military procurement and logistical challenges than they were over 75 years ago.
While harnessing technological improvements in the civilian sector to improve the capability of logistics, the U.S. military must proceed with caution. While many of the technologies––such as delivery drones and 3D printing––are in their nascent stages, asking important questions about the why, how, and in what context these technologies will be used might help alleviate future friction. U.S. strategists should be clear-eyed about what future logistics innovations can and cannot accomplish.
Fundamentally, naval maneuver is based on the ability of the naval forces to generate overwhelming operational tempo and a series of dilemmas for the enemy that shatters his cohesion through a multiplicity of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions. Generating and sustaining this necessary tempo requires keeping more ships in the fight longer, sustaining their maximum warfighting capacity, and delaying the fleet’s culminating point as long as possible. The logistical functions of supply and maintenance (to include salvage and repair capabilities) are critical to achieving this advantage.
Japanese efforts to wrest control of the airfield on Guadalcanal from the Americans failed due to their miscalculation of the preeminence of airpower and their refusal to understand that food was more important than soldiers or weapons. Although American victory was announced on February 9, 1943, in reality the Japanese Army had been starved from the air four months earlier. Airpower had come to legislate the movement of supplies by sea.
In the midst of unassuming jobs where sustainers pack the next container full of munitions, distribute fuel, police the streets, feed the force and perform an immeasurable amount of other invaluable support tasks—the importance of their craft often gets lost in the fog of plans and policy at the national level.
It is said that Germans after World War II stated that they did not like to fight the Americans, as they never stuck to their own doctrine or tactics. Russian doctrine too stated that U.S. forces were unpredictable because all their plans went to hell once a battle had begun. Perhaps that is why one of the great U.S. Army maxims is “No plan survives first contact.” It is true that we tend to bring some “innovations” to war, intentional or not. This could be termed the “tactical” American Way of War. Scholars have spent a lot of time, ink, and breath arguing what the “American Way of War” is, or even if one exists. Russel Weigley has argued that the American Way of War is to bring overwhelming force to bear on the enemy and crush them in absolute and total victory. For myself, hardly daring to even call myself a scholar, I will leave that argument to others with more money and time, but I do have a theory on what I like to call the “American Penchant of War.”