“My logisticians are a humourless lot… they know if my campaign fails, they will be the first ones I will slay.” — Alexander the Great
“Logistics comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics. Strategy decides where to act, logistics brings the troops to this point.” — General Antoine Henri Jomini (A Swiss military officer who served as a general in French and later in Russian service, said to have coined the term ‘logistics’ in his Summary of the Art of War (1838).
A “Bean count” or the quantum of military assets of a country is generally taken as a comparison of the relative hard power possessed by adversaries. That, however, is a very superficial and a cursory measure of war fighting potential. Moreover, a “Bean count” is merely a figure of tangible assets before the start of the war. What will it be a week or a month into the war will depend on the logistics built up, reserves held, and support planned and its execution. Availability of roads and airfields, military logistics bases and infrastructure as also the national industrial ecosystem to supplement the war effort is equally crucial. Of course, intangibles like leadership, training, motivation, camaraderie, hope, resentment, courage will always remain unquantifiable.
A study of the logistical model created by Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defence from 1961-1968, also known as the “Architect of the Vietnam War”, provides an interesting insight into the complex nature of logistics in wartime. McNamara, a graduate of the Harvard Business School and later a faculty member there, was part of the team of ‘whiz kids’ from Harvard Business School Statistical Control that joined Ford Motor Company and turned it around. He was even hailed as “an IBM machine on legs” by Barry Gold water, five time Senator from Arizona and Republican Presidential Nominee in 1964. During World War II, McNamara went on to serve in the Army’s Department of Statistical Control. Aircraft were playing an increasingly important role in warfare, but no system had been developed to track planes and their crews, monitor spare parts, or allocate fuel. As an example, in the Vietnam war 12,000 helicopters were deployed of which 5,000 were destroyed in accidents or by enemy fire. To operate, fuel, arm and maintain such a large number of these machines required a well-oiled support system in place.
“Bean count” is merely a figure of tangible assets before the start of the war. What will it be a week or a month into the war will depend on the logistics built up, reserves held, and support planned and its execution.
The complexity of the modern war machine had surpassed the ability to manage it. McNamara helped bring the rigor of statistical analysis to the war effort, improving logistical efficiency and mission planning. His biographer Deborah Shapley found evidence of his influence in an army report from the era: “Much of the success of the system has been due to the Harvard method which stresses the ‘meaning of figures’— the power to analyze something for oneself.” He then went on to apply management statistical logic to the fighting soldier too. Management logic advocated that the side which can shoot more bullets and fire more artillery rounds at the enemy should win the war. As a result, an unhindered chain of supply of ammunition to forward troops was established so that no weapon had to pause for want of ammunition. Spare parts for the weapons that were being used were also always available. Apparently, the management gurus felt that the sole job of the soldier was to press the trigger. This too was statistically managed by turning around soldiers for rest and recuperation thus replacing the fatigued finger on the trigger with a fresh finger. Team cohesion, camaraderie and leadership at the tactical level were considered passé in the pursuit of pumping bullets into the torso of the enemy. In the end this management icon failed. Much later, McNamara understood the error: “Uncertain how to evaluate results in a war without battle lines, the military tried to gauge its progress with quantitative measurements,” he wrote in his 1995 memoir, In Retrospect. “We failed then — as we have since — to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces, and doctrines in confronting highly unconventional, highly motivated people’s movements.”
Closer home, the India-China War brought out a dismal lesson of logistic failure. In 1950, when the Chinese invaded Tibet, General Cariappa, the Army Chief, had apprised the then Prime Minister that the Army in its present state was not capable of fighting the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). However, the honest professional advice was brushed aside, which led to serious consequences a decade later. In 1959, ten years after Cariappa’s warning was ignored, the then Chief of Army Staff, General KS Thimayya, had a heated exchange with Nehru on the issue of the handing over of NEFA (present Arunachal Pradesh) to the Army, a diktat Nehru had unilaterally issued in Parliament without having consulted or discussed its implications with the Army Chief. Having done nothing to augment the resources of the Army or improving the communication infrastructure along the northern border since Cariappa’s threat appraisal, Nehru was willy-nilly, making the Army a scapegoat for the governments inaction and failures. Krishna Menon, Nehru’s henchman then ‘summoned’ the Chief and rebuked him for his exchange with Nehru and chastised him for having bypassed him who, as defence minister was his immediate superior. Menon deviously maneuvered the situation and got Nehru to belittle the Chief in Parliament. This episode probably can be deemed to be the inflection point in the relations of the political class and the military hierarchy. It presaged the clause of “civilian supremacy over the Army” which to this day is the bane of this nation, and the reason for the lack of a comprehensive holistic national security architecture.
Having done nothing to augment the resources of the Army or improving the communication infrastructure along the northern border since Cariappa’s threat appraisal, Nehru was willy-nilly, making the Army a scapegoat for the governments inaction and failures.
Due to the political environment prevailing wherein unilateral decisions were taken sans professional advice, the forces that were positioned along the Tibet border in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh were not deployed tactically to fight a war with China, but were there to merely establish a physical presence to lay claim to territory. Logistics to sustain these forces was an afterthought and left to the forces to make do as best as they could — they fell back on self-help and the ubiquitous ‘jugad’. Troops operating at over 15000 feet were ill clad, short of weapons and ammunition, communication equipment was obsolete, local resources were non-existent. Everything required for fighting and sustaining had to be brought in from the rear along treacherous roads which were fit only for light load carriers upto the road-head, where bulk loads had to be broken down and further transshipped by mules and finally by porters. “Throw the Chinese out” was easier said than done, particularly when no preparations were undertaken by the government to meet the challenge. The threat had become evident and was as clear as daylight in Zhou En-Lai’s letter to Nehru dated 7th November 1959, wherein Zhou stated that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) consisted of “the so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west”. Had India begun preparation for a ‘possible’ war with China, as professionally advised by General Thimayya in 1959, history would have been very different.
During this War, on the explicit instructions of Defence Minister Menon, no ‘minutes’ of any meeting held in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were recorded. Menon had only one aim, and that was to protect the image of Nehru. As a result, posterity did not get to learn any lessons, unlike in the US, where after defeat in Vietnam every aspect of the war was thoroughly analysed thread-bare, benefiting future generations of military commanders and the political leaders. In the Indian context, the much hyped Henderson Brooks-Bhagat Singh Report was ordered by the Army Chief to analyse the reasons for the humiliating rout in NEFA. The report was to limit itself solely on analysing military setbacks at the tactical level, without even commenting on the actions of Headquarters Eastern Command and Army Headquarters let alone actions of the MoD. Ipso facto, the political bungling and the dubious role of the MoD have long been buried without any trace.
After the war with China Defence Minister Menon was eased out and the Army Chief, General Thapar was made the sacrificial lamb to protect Nehru,. After the humiliation of General Thimayya in 1959 followed by the upheaval after the 1962 War, the senior military hierarchy became subdued and to an extent subservient to the political bosses. It was in these circumstances that General JN Chaudhuri assumed charge of the Army as Chief. He was to lead the Army in the war with Pakistan in 1965, where Indian Army did not cover itself in glory.
…on the explicit instructions of Defence Minister Menon, no ‘minutes’ of any meeting held in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were recorded.
In the aftermath of the War with China, the Army was given the go ahead for large scale expansion of the force — increasing its strength from 5,50,000 to 8,25,000. The government sanctioned the raising of four mountain divisions and converting one plains division into a mountain division. The .303 bolt action Lee-Enfield rifle —which had been in service in the British Empire since 1895 and through the two world wars — was replaced with a 7.62 mm 1A1 self-loading rifle. The Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) evaluated several Australian, Belgian and British FAL rifles. When the government’s negotiation with Belgium for licensed production of its FN rifle failed, the ARDE began manufacturing the rifle without a license but did not inform Nehru about it. Belgium threatened a lawsuit. Nehru was apprised of the situation, and with his intervention, India was allowed serial production of the rifle after pledging to purchase other Belgian weapons. Interestingly US and British military advisers were in India at the time to ensure that the size of the force and the type of equipment being transferred from these countries to the Army does not become a threat to their SEATO ally — Pakistan. Moreover, the equipment transfers were kept to the minimum and just adequate for India to defend itself. Re-equipping an Army of over eight hundred thousand without an established defence industrial base was no mean endeavour, and took considerable time. Pakistan assessed India’s vulnerability and decided to take advantage. In 1965 it launched Operation Gibraltar with the aim to physically capture J&K and annex it.
Pakistan had intended to limit the war to the geographical area of J&K across the Cease-Fire Line as formalised in 1949. However, the war spilled over beyond J&K and was fought all along the international border. In J&K Pakistan lost vital locations whereas it had expected quick victory. Both sides were heavily dependent on military hardware imports and had limited defence industrial capacity. The reserve stocks across the board were also limited. These stocks could not sustain the high rates of attrition in a prolonged war. With international pressure building to cease hostilities, the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri sought the Army Chief’s advice on whether the Indian Army could achieve decisive victory should the war be prolonged. The Chief, without consulting his logistics staff branch, brusquely advised Shastri that the Army was coming to the end of its ammunition stocks and that it would not be possible to fight any more. YB Chavan, the Defence Minister was present but did not intervene. All those who learnt of this soon after the meeting were shocked. Post-war studies revealed that India had used only 14 percent of its ammunition reserves, while Pakistan had consumed 80 percent of its stocks(1965, A Western Sunrise: India’s War with Pakistan, Shiv Kunal Verma; page 466).Accepting a western driven cease-fire saved Pakistan Army from sure defeat and ignominy. As is evident from the advice of the Chief to the Prime Minister, logistics was taken for granted and expected to meet the operational requirements at short notice. In the wake of Vietnam, McNamara was derided for his coldness and scorned as one of the so-called best and brightest who had led the country into a quagmire through arrogance. General Chaudhuri too had similar traits.
…under the technology transfer clause, these were stashed away in some deep vaults and for reasons best known to the powers that be, no gun was manufactured by them till then.
It was not much different in the Kargil conflict of 1999. Divisions in the Eastern Sector that are earmarked for deployment in the second tier along the Northern Borders are also dual tasked for employment against Pakistan in the event of a one front war scenario. Relations with China in the 1990s were cordial, and as a result the Eastern Theatre was on a lower priority in terms of resource allocation. In 1999, these dual tasked divisions were moved to Kargil at short notice. There were deficiencies in close support infantry weapons, communication equipment, and vehicles. The frighteningly long lists exposed the abject hollowness of the Army in terms of war fighting hardware. The 155mm Bofors guns which played a key role in the conflict were available in limited numbers. Two artillery regiments were moved from the Eastern Theatre to Kargil. The political neglect in modernisation of the Army had its impact when the country was in dire straits. The then Chief refused to shirk or play the blame game, and as a true leader he took on the task saying that “we will fight with what we have”. Due to the “Bofors Scandal” no guns were bought from the company for nearly two decades. Strangely even though detailed blueprints for manufacturing the gun were available with the Ordinance Factories, under the technology transfer clause, these were stashed away in some deep vaults and for reasons best known to the powers that be, no gun was manufactured by them till then.
Armies and military bases have to keep track of a considerable amount of assets, from items such as planes, missiles and firearms, to smaller spares such as tools, and IT equipment. Keeping track of these assets,is a mammoth task. Logisticians face many challenges in effective asset management and tracking, and can often “spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date”.
It is true that finances are a limiting factor in equipping an Army. But to have an ill-equipped Army maintained mainly for ceremonial purposes is a waste of national effort. Every military weapon, weapon system and equipment has a fairly long life-span. Hence the selection of a weapon or any military equipment should take into account of how the Army intends to fight a future war. This is best achieved through indigenous defence research and development in close interaction with the military, and a broad based competitive defence industrial base.
The ongoing war in Eastern Europe is an interesting case study of logistics in war. Assessment of Western observers and think-tanks have indicated that in the last 70-80 days of this war Russia has launched approximately 2200 surface-to-surface missiles with conventional warheads including 12-15 hypersonic missiles against Ukraine. The Russian Air Force has employed its Tu-22M swing-wing heavy bombers to drop tons of dumb unguided bombs, and the Su-35 for firing a fair number of air-launched cruise missiles. In addition the ground forces are fighting with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, air defence weapons, anti-tank missiles and a host of other equipment and weapons. Media reports indicate substantial devastation of the cities and military industries in Ukraine. Reportedly, there was a serious failure in the replenishment and resupply of the advancing columns of the Russian forces, which delayed the offensive by 48-72 hours. There are reports of missiles having failed to launch, missing targets and warheads not exploding. The same is applicable to the other equipment and munitions. A 10-15 percent failure rate could easily be the norm.
In the Indian context, the WWR was pegged at 40 days of intense fighting [40(I)] which imposed a prohibitive cost on manufacturing and constructing storage areas. In 1999, WWR was brought down to 10(I). In 2020 this was revised to 15(I) in 2020 for a two front war.
To enable the fighting forces to sustain their momentum, a steady supply of munitions, spares and weapons and equipment replacements have to move forward. During the build up to this offensive, forward logistics bases would have been established at locations from where a maintenance axis would be developed. War Wastage Reserve (WWR) is calculated based on the anticipated intensity of the war and its likely duration. In the hinterland the munitions factories would have increased production to replenish these reserves. Russia had an advantage in this regard compared to Ukraine. Since Ukraine had limited capacity to target Russian bases or its industries, it was Russia that targeted the defence weapons, munitions and equipment manufacturing industries in Ukraine making it dependent on the West for all further support.
In the Indian context, the WWR was pegged at 40 days of intense fighting [40(I)] which imposed a prohibitive cost on manufacturing and constructing storage areas. In 1999, WWR was brought down to 10(I). In 2020 this was revised to 15(I) in 2020 for a two front war. The scale for reserves of imported ammunition is a major rider in the war fighting sustenance and stamina of the military.
In 2016, China undertook sweeping and potentially transformative reforms of the PLA that have had far-reaching effects on its organization, force posture, command and control structure and internal politics. One of the profound changes was converting the Second Artillery Corps to PLA Rocket Force and placing it directly under the Central Military Commission. The Rocket Force controls China’s arsenal of land-based ballistic missiles — both conventional and nuclear. China has the largest land-based missile arsenal in the world. According to Pentagon estimates, this includes 1,200 conventionally armed short-range ballistic missiles, 200 to 300 conventional medium-range ballistic missiles and an unknown number of conventional intermediate-range ballistic missiles, as well as 200-300 ground-launched cruise missiles. Many of these are extremely accurate, which would allow them to destroy targets even without nuclear warheads.
The PLA’s A2/AD (Anti Access/Area Denial) strategy is used to prevent an adversary from occupying or traversing an area of land, sea or air. The specific method used does not have to be totally effective in preventing passage as long as it is sufficient to severely restrict, slow down, or endanger the opponent. In addition its Rocket Force is geared to conduct non-contact warfare strategies depending on precision guided munitions (PGM’s) to target military logistics infrastructure in the depth areas, and command, control and communication centres deep in the hinterland to curtail the sustaining capability of the adversary. To guard against such a threat India needs to build storage spaces in caves carved out on the leeward side of the mountains well forward all along the northern borders. This is an expensive but indispensable need. A pilot project had been commissioned at a particular location in the Eastern Theatre to assess the viability of such storage facilities. What was the final outcome of the pilot project is not known. A similar requirement would be necessary along the Pakistan border, where underground storage facilities need to be created. This is equally challenging given the high water table in the area with a dense network of irrigation canals.
India’s hostile borders span a temperature range and variation from minus 50 degrees Celsius in the North to plus 55 degrees Celsius in the desert areas. Modern missiles, Variable Time Fuses and sensitive ammunition require air-conditioned storage. The monsoons bring in their own set of storage problems due to dampness, flooding, high water tables, to name just a few. Every missile and ammunition has a shelf life before which it must be used, or issued for training or otherwise will be required to be destroyed. The ability of the manufacturing facilities to ratchet up production will also be an important factor in deciding the quantum of reserves to be pre-positioned. Equally, the condition of road network and the number of axes available to the tactical battle areas will dictate location of the forward resupply and replenishment bases as also the process of resupply and replenishment. All these factors dictate the quantum of ammunition that can be held as reserve.
An incident of 1998 is worth mentioning. The then Army Chief General VP Malik was visiting the Eastern Theater, and during the operational briefings by the various commanders a detailed analysis of the logistics bases of the PLA in Tibet opposite Arunachal Pradesh was covered, even specifying the quantity of stocks that could be built up to sustain certain force levels for deep offensive operations. When the Chief asked about our logistics bases and their capacities, there was no immediate data available. The Author having accompanied the Chief as a representative from the Military Operations Directorate included the point in the Chief’s Tour Notes, and the Operational Logistics Directorate directed to do the needful. Three months down the line no data was available because of working in silos created as the Army Headquarters expanded and no less owing to Army’s internal bureaucracy that, no particular directorate had consolidated data details. Even six months later the query remained unanswered.
To be in a position to fight a two front war and build the necessary synergy of the three services and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), the need is to ensure compatibility in equipment and spares and to minimize the diversity of equipment used by all these forces. Unfortunately, the CAPFs have an unencumbered and liberal policy for purchasing weapons and equipment. As a result the equipment purchased and inducted by these forces is often not compatible with the class of equipment being used by the Army which creates operational coordination and logistics problems when they operate along with the Army. Forward logistics bases should be constructed duly secured from missile and air attacks. Inventory management and quick side-stepping of items to bases/depots pan India should be the norm. Air replenishment is important but it has its limitations in the mountains due to the weather, load carrying capacity due to altitude and non-availability of landing strips/helipads and drop zones. The only way to achieve the precision, efficiency and cost-effectiveness that are critical to the success of military operations is to deploy a highly automated, real-time military asset management, tracking and maintenance solution that gives total visibility and control. All these issues need to be resolved to ensure that logistics become an aid, and not an hindrance to our war-fighting ability, and enable our warriors to confidently take on whatever the enemy throws at us.