In this time of uncertainty, where technology grows exponentially and today’s society quickly adopts changes to their lifestyle, a new scenario comes up with new digital and electronic tools which may facilitate and streamline communication, but also new challenges for the information management, organization and interface, which represents a notable challenge for all organizations, institutions and companies worldwide.
The effects of globalization have been reflected in basically all sectors of our daily lives. For more than three decades, we can detect the gigantic evolution in the discovery of new technologies and their influence on the economic, commercial, industrial and, of course, the military sector.
Most companies, in their effort to position themselves at the technological forefront and in order to increase their profits, have applied all kinds of new technological tools, which have impacted by increasing their influence and social participation through marketing boosts, internal restructuring to achieve greater efficiency, process automatization to reduce operating times, enhancing agile, effective and secure communications, reducing administrative and operative expenses to increase profits, capturing useful information that is implemented within the organization to sell trends, fashions and new ideologies; which finally makes us consider the following statement: All this technological revolution has triggered a new study on Logistics in each of its areas of interest and the relevance of being applied assertively to destroy the competition, to stay competitive and/or sometimes to survive in the game.
Therefore, Logistics is, in my personal opinion, a combination between the application of science and art in the planning, execution and control of a predetermined action, having as its purpose the achievement of the expected result in the shortest possible time and with the essential minimum effort, using at all times the premises of rationality and efficiency. The origin of the study of this science-art goes back to the first military campaigns in the world that are documented. Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great said: “My logisticians are a humorless lot… They know that if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay”. So, it is from the time of the bow and arrow, galleys and wooden sieges, that the study of Logistics became a relevant factor to consider, in order to achieve military objectives. However, Logistics is not merely an art applied in war, since it is a logistical reasoning, sometimes involuntary, the simple fact of an individual anticipating, planning and programming his day to day, as well as his reaction to events or scenarios that arise unexpectedly out of his/her schedule.
With that stated, it must be understood that Logistics must be involved at all times, from Strategic Design to Tactical Execution. Usually, the best boxer is not the one who hits the hardest, is the one who resists the most; This does not discredit the technique at all, it is not intended to minimize the force factor, but simply to express that the force must be proportional to the resistance capacity, not only the possible damage to be received, but also to maintain the same combat rhythm, to preserve as much as possible his attacking and defensive ability in the tenth round, as it is in the first one. If there is no prior training, good physical condition, correct hydration and nutrition, appropriate rest, decent boxing gloves quality, a prior knowledge of the opponent’s profile and capabilities; then there are great possibilities of losing the match, even placing the best boxer, since these whole factors will demonstrate the good or bad Logistics applied before and during the fight.
On the other hand, it is no secret that, despite the fact that the study of Logistics was originated through the analysis of warfare, today it is not really the military who has obtained the greatest advantage over this discipline which, as I already mentioned, requires the application of scientific methods and artistic skills; It has been the civil sector, the private initiative itself, who has thoroughly studied various aspects to increase their Logistics and in consequence avoid excessive expenses, maintain unnecessary inventories, anticipate socio-economic scenarios and achieve their commercial/financial success.
However, in the military environment, it is not a simple business what is at stake, it is freedom sometimes what is at risk, avoiding excessive expenses is not a task just to maintain capital, but to be able to support and maintain weapons systems and units, it is not only necessary to anticipate future socio-economic scenarios, but also geo-political/health scenarios, natural disasters, anthropogenic crisis, potential threats, etc., but finally, success lies not in increasing profits but in reducing casualties. So basically, it is not about applying Logistics to reduce costs and increase profits, it is about reducing the loss of human lives and increasing the confidence of the population, both nationally and internationally, since the support of civil society is precisely the greatest marketing that a military force can have.
But then… Why in most countries have we lagged behind in this matter?
Shouldn’t operational efficiency be much more relevant in the military environment than in the commercial sphere?
Although it is true that the organization and projection of the military forces depend pretty much on the government structure and the prevailing policy in their country, mostly when as any public institution they are sustained by the public budget that is assigned to them; It is also a reality that in most of the countries that make up the American continent, there is a latent uncertainty about Logistics and its application in the military field.
How should Logistics in the Military Environment be studied?
Taking into account that the most tangible example of obtaining success, through the application of good Logistics, is the private initiative, it must then be considered that the application of its methods is very attractive to be adapted to the interior of our logistic-military mechanism. This leads, of course, to take all the considerations that correspond to each organization, given the characteristics of its structure, its mission, vision, strategic objectives, legislation, capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, risks and particular threats; but in the end, the simple fact of being integrated by the three basic resource: Human, Material and Financial, under a regulation, a task to be carried out and a latent need; it makes them a community with a logistical problem to mitigate.
It is strictly necessary to evolve, simply because it is part of nature itself, as Charles Darwin expressed it, the search for survival demands the living beings the ability to adapt and adjust to changes, to the environment/scenario, to the present conditions. The world has evolved very quickly, perhaps faster in the last five decades than even two centuries ago. This is reflected in the excessive demographic increase, which requires a greater concentration in the Economy, there are not enough resources to meet all the demands, that is a fact. For this reason, it is essential to apply a permanent study of this science in Logistics, and not only in its application, but in its constant and continuous improvement.
Turning this concept to the international community, Joint Logistics is not far away from this latent need for evolution, it is essential to adopt new practices, use modern tools, unite internal processes with technological progress to promote exchange, not only in terms of what concerns to interoperability (Having the same equipment, systems, platforms, etc.), but the exchange of doctrines, concepts, methods and processes, promote the standardization which might result and/or might eventually define the success or failure of the joint operation itself.
And why the need to adapt? How relevant is to apply standardization?
Well, standardization is basically the implementation and regulation of identical characteristics to an idea, a design, a process, a product, a service or an objective. The use of standardization provides multiple advantages to those who apply it, since it promotes practicality and efficiency. Consequently, taking into account that Logistics focuses and directs the achievement of an objective, in the shortest time and through the least possible effort, it is very important to adopt standardization within the organization and progressively standardize as well with our military allies. It may seem like an impossible or extremely difficult task to adopt, but it is not so unreasonable actually, if we search in the web, we will find out that there are already multiple companies from different lines, origins, nationalities, that have already applied this standardization to boost their sales, strengthen commercial alliances, reduce import and export costs, among other beneficial results.
For decades, the US government, as the leading economic and military power in the Western Hemisphere, has carried out various initiatives and positive actions to strengthen Defense Security Cooperation with its many allies around the world. However, they concentrate most of its effort on the American continent. These actions have proven to be very profitable, since thanks to this, there is currently a replication of its military doctrine in most countries. There is greater interoperability today than there was fifty years ago. The methodology used for Military/Naval Planning, training levels, communications plans, including the vision of the operational spectrum and the evident ability in tactics is very similar along the continent, due to training, subject matter experts exchanges and technology transfers, which are just some examples of the close cooperation present today. However, one of the factors that has often been overlooked is precisely Logistics.
In scope to the above, a crude example of the sensitivity that this represents is the following: “If a kid goes out to ride a bicycle with his neighbor on a street that is not too busy, and they set themselves the goal of riding twelve miles, anyone would think that there is no problem. However, they may not have the same bicycles… One may have an excellent quality, and the other a much simpler one… Both may be of the same quality, but one more used than the other… Both may be of the same quality and with the same time of usage, but one of the children might have greater skills to use the bicycle than the other… And both could have the same qualities, but the key question would be: If one of the bicycles gets a flat tire or suffers damage… Will both kids be able to repair it in the same time and with the same ease? Perhaps only one of them has parts in his garage or a pump to inflate his tire, perhaps one lives further away than the other, perhaps many factors, which are going to critically influence the responsiveness to sustain the goal-directed effort that is to ride the twelve miles, even when both kids have the same ability (training) riding and if both of them have the same bicycle (interoperability)”.
Taking the previous example as a reference, which might not seem problematic at all, let’s now turn it to a real confrontation… A joint operation necessary to attack or defend from a common enemy. This has happened in the past, in both scenarios, whether at the execution of operations, or at joint exercises and simulations, which have been suspended, canceled or failed, as a consequence of not having the logistical capabilities or supplies ready to provide the sustainment to the units or weapons systems. This is when it would be convenient to reflect on whether we are really adapting to the current complex scenarios in all aspects; if Logistics is evolving within the military organizations to which we belong or with which we operate jointly, if technological modernization is being reflected in favor of our force or against it, if the methods we apply are already automatized or they are still slow and bureaucratic, if the capture and interface of information moves quickly and is precisely controlled within our organization to facilitate decision-making through statistics, histories, databases, forecasts, etc.
If not, there is a lot of work to be done…
Just in case we think that by applying logistical planning for the operational readiness and sustainment of our forces independently, despite working and operating jointly, even when we have resources, objectives and threats in common, we are going to succeed against an enemy that is actually prepared, standardized, integrated and supported efficiently… Well, I think we will fall into an excess of confidence and possibly in some unwanted scenario we will have the necessity to redirect efforts; but in that case, we will have lost the advantage and the first principle of Logistics, which is Forecasting. Alluding to the previous example of the boxer, it does not matter how strong we are or how much we train for a fight, if we do not apply good logistics, we will have everything against us once we are in the ring, and we may not lose the match, but if we win, we will have to reflect… At what cost?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, Diálogo magazine, or its members.