News | March 31, 2021

Sustaining Relevance: Repositioning Strategic Logistics Innovation in the Military

By Paul Christian van Fenema, Ton van Kampen, Gerold de Gooijer, Nynke Faber, Harm Hendriks, Andre Hoogstrate, and Loe Schlicher Joint Force Quarterly 101

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Paul Christian van Fenema is a Professor of Military Logistics at the Netherlands Defence Academy (NDA). Ton van Kampen and Gerold de Gooijer are Faculty Members in Military Business Studies at NDA. Nynke Faber, Harm Hendriks, and Andre Hoogstrate are Professors of Military Logistics on the Faculty of Military Sciences at NDA. Loe Schlicher is a Faculty Member of Military Sciences in Military Business Studies at NDA.

F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, takes off from flight deck of USS America during air defense exercise, Philippine Sea, March 23, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/Isaac Cantrell)
F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, takes off from flight deck of USS America during air defense exercise, Philippine Sea, March 23, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/Isaac Cantrell)
F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, takes off from flight deck of USS America during air defense exercise, Philippine Sea, March 23, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/Isaac Cantrell)
F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, takes off from flight deck of USS America during air defense exercise, Philippine Sea, March 23, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/Isaac Cantrell)
Photo By: Cpl. Isaac Cantrell
VIRIN: 200322-M-WB494-1023

Military organizations tend to think about their overarching strategy in two ways: how their organization will remain relevant and which future operations they must be able to conduct.1 In the information era, military organizations struggle with the “design capabilities that will offer . . . credible strategic options and then the ability to win, through fighting smarter.2 Building on the revolution in military affairs programs, a new era of digital innovations in the commercial realm underpins the U.S. National Defense Strategy and Third Offset Strategy to explore the use of new technologies for the military.3 While new operational concepts such as hyper war and kill webs are emerging, attention to the strategic element of innovation seems difficult to realize regarding military logistics.4 Strategic innovation concerns processes of proactive and systematic thinking about gaps that an organization can fulfill by developing new game plans.5

In the U.S. military, the Third Offset Strategy has major and unexplored implications for logistics. New technologies have crossover effects for operations and logistics. For instance, drones are becoming part of new operations, and they can support logistics, such as picking up wounded soldiers or secretly resupplying special operations forces. New technologies, however, need new versatile support networks. They also incur cyber risks, particularly in an antiaccess/area-denial environment.6 Innovations powered by crossovers between operations and logistics cannot be addressed with present routines.

In the military logistics domain, innovations are mostly organized in a reactive and stovepiped manner.7 Moreover, within the Department of Defense (DOD) or a ministry of defense (MOD), responsibility for military logistics is allocated to myriad organizations. On the one hand, there are intra-Service logistics, such as the U.S. Army Logistics branch, and on the other hand, cross-Service shared entities, such as the U.S. Transportation Command, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, and the F–35 Lightning II Joint Program Office. Other nations have a similar collection of logistics organizations. We focus on this entire collection of organizations, as we are interested in military logistics as a function of the military and strategic innovation as a process vital to sustaining an edge over relevant opponents.

Military logistics innovation lacks a cross-service strategic picture. It hardly enjoys the backing of a strong military academic research community, with the exception of historical logistics studies.8 The operational domain by comparison performs better in this respect, with multiple think tanks, DOD units, and universities constituting a vibrant intellectual community. To sustain relevance in the digital era, we need insight into effective strategic logistics innovation processes, including instruments for stimulating and synergizing micro-innovations.

This article contributes to the ongoing challenge of strategically rethinking logistics for the military, but not by proposing a new concept for the digital era—that is, the what. Since these concepts rapidly change, this article instead emphasizes the process side—the how. Instead of talking about specific concepts, such as forward floating depot or distribution-based logistics, this article is concerned with strategic logistics innovation as a process of coordinating the development of new logistics concepts.9

Figure 1. Positioning Strategic Logistics Innovations
Positioning Strategic Logistics Innovations
Figure 1. Positioning Strategic Logistics Innovations
Figure 1.
Positioning Strategic Logistics Innovations
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 210331-D-BD104-021

The digital era requires attention to strategic innovation in both the operations and logistics realms (see figure 1). We embed strategic innovation in both realms in a model that includes strategy, development of new concepts, and operations.10 Focusing on strategic logistics innovation, we argue that these realms should interact more intensely in the digital era; the logistics realm must leverage commercial logistics and technology innovations.11 Specifically, strategic innovation is required to coordinate multiple micro-cases of concept development.

We propose collaborative services and innovation to connect multiple problem-solving areas and process multiple trends. Collaborative denotes interaction among stakeholders involved in different problem-solving areas. Services in this context are not organizational entities such as the Navy, but interactions aimed at value contributions—for example, technology as a service.12 Innovation concerns the development of new products or procedures. Taken together, collaborative services and innovation stress the importance of a vibrant military logistics community that is externally connected. We propose interventions that accelerate concurrent development of new operational and logistics concepts. These interventions enable logistics capability development for new generations of warfare.

Military Logistics: Beyond “You Ask, We Deliver”

Logistics are planning processes for implementing and controlling the efficiency and effectiveness of transportation and storage of goods from the point of origin to the point of consumption. Future autonomous systems are increasingly part of the logistics equation. This reality leads to an extended definition of military logistics as activities required for the following:

  • procuring military organizations’ physical goods (for example, supply chains and military mobility, among others); acquiring people and future autonomous systems and administrating and moving these entities toward, within, and out of a theater13
  • accommodating the military all over the world (for example, facilities and services for people and future autonomous systems)
  • ensuring soldiers, and future autonomous systems, receive and use relevant commercial and military technology for their jobs (for example, technology management and maintenance).

Even in the era of cyber information warfare, logistics remain relevant to human warfighters and physical resources. Generally speaking, logistics connect both intent and delivery. While standard logistics enable commercial businesses to outperform competitors on services and costs, the objective of military logistics is to serve user demands with acceptable costs and capital use in mind. The military logistics perspective is broader, comprising both peacetime logistics and support for on- and offshore operations, planned and unplanned.14 This perspective must also establish, organize, and run lines of supplies so armies can move and fight. The primary objective of military logistics is to enable and sustain a specific state of preparedness for war at the lowest possible overall cost. Thus, the metric for military logistics success is readiness—not profit.15 More specifically, military logistics is required to operate in a cost-efficient mode during peacetime, and then transition to a posture wherein effectiveness is paramount to the secondary consideration of cost. After all, a military conflict does not come with the luxury of second chances afforded to business competition.

Sailors move away from MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to “Eightballers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 as it lifts cargo from flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt during replenishment-at-sea with USNS Henry J. Kaiser, Pacific Ocean, July 1, 2020 (U.S. Navy/Erik Melgar)
Sailors move away from MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to “Eightballers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 as it lifts cargo from flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt during replenishment-at-sea with USNS Henry J. Kaiser, Pacific Ocean, July 1, 2020 (U.S. Navy/Erik Melgar)
Sailors move away from MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to “Eightballers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 as it lifts cargo from flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt during replenishment-at-sea with USNS Henry J. Kaiser, Pacific Ocean, July 1, 2020 (U.S. Navy/Erik Melgar)
Sailors move away from MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to “Eightballers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 as it lifts cargo from flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt during replenishment-at-sea with USNS Henry J. Kaiser, Pacific Ocean, July 1, 2020 (U.S. Navy/Erik Melgar)
Photo By: Seaman Erik Melgar
VIRIN: 200701-N-XX200-1193

Opportunities and Challenges

Increasingly, organizations focus on new opportunities stemming from advanced technologies as a mode for changing logistics.16 In launching new establishments such as the DOD Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, organizations leverage artificial intelligence (AI) for coordinating—in a responsive manner—learning, predicting, and innovating.17 For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center “has built a prototype AI tool that uses a wide variety of data streams to predict [infection] hotspots and related logistics and supply-chain problems.”18 Military organizations want to optimize support for real demand or underlying needs for pivotal functions, such as transportation, ammunition, maintenance, health, and cleaning.

Traditionally, military logistics has been affected by operational innovations aimed at information advantage and coordination and execution of nonkinetic effects. In an inverse manner, logistics could shift to an innovative-challenging role (for instance, logistics could be motivated not to support fuel-consuming energy production systems primarily, but instead favor alternative energy sources to make bases cheaper, more independent, and more environmentally friendly).19 Or logistics could sustain special operations forces with intelligent drones in ways that inspire new operational concepts. Therefore, interaction between operations and logistics could become more reciprocal, as depicted in figure 1.

Future operations are likely to involve multiple domains and focus on critical infrastructures (some without clear geographical sites), symbolic-meaning networks, and urban areas. Success will depend on data integrity, as well as decision and information superiority, chiefly the distinction between real and fake information. As stated during a U.S. Senate hearing on the future of warfare, “Great Powers can and will fight across all the domains. This will present new threats in areas where we’ve had unfettered access.”20 The present task is to prepare the military for operations that fluidly shift across domains or engage parallel domains, activating different kinetic and nonkinetic technologies and associated logistics processes. This task represents a next-level challenge for joint operations in terms of integration. Relatedly, the military needs strategic logistics innovation to develop coherent platforms capable of such seamless activation. Logistics, therefore, needs to be brought into the joint strategic environment and integrated into joint strategic planning.

A seamless blend of human intelligence and AI will require highly versatile command and control to direct “a fluid transition from one operation to another.”21 Semi-autonomous swarms of technologies will be able to operate with unprecedented levels of precision and flexibility. Military organizations collaborating with partners such as Microsoft and Amazon will leverage innovations in the commercial sector.

These operational projects, however, lack strong intellectual counterparts on the logistics side, which results in disconnected logistics–information technology infrastructures and suboptimal logistics support for novel operations. Logistics often does not have the attention of senior commanders, who underestimate the complexity of military logistics innovation and overestimate the usefulness of commercial services. New technologies such as AI become relevant when they support strategy and operations—which senior commanders are very interested in. Logistics performance increasingly depends on technological innovations,22 while at the same time physical-cyber vulnerabilities of logistics systems and processes themselves are drawing more attention.23 Opportunities are emerging to better predict technology availability and logistics demand, as well as to confirm information reliability. This ability translates into enhanced precision, speed, and operational continuity. In addition to these technology-induced opportunities, logistics changes in an organizational sense. In a departure from the traditional in-house approach, logistics transforms into cross-organizational supply networks.24 This change introduces, in addition to new technologies, new challenges when military organizations are required to work with their military counterparts or businesses.

Marine refuels AH-1Z Viper at forward arming and refueling point during Integrated Training Exercise 1-21 at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, October 16, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/Zachary Zephir)
Marine refuels AH-1Z Viper at forward arming and refueling point during Integrated Training Exercise 1-21 at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, October 16, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/Zachary Zephir)
Marine refuels AH-1Z Viper at forward arming and refueling point during Integrated Training Exercise 1-21 at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, October 16, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/Zachary Zephir)
Fueled and Ready
Marine refuels AH-1Z Viper at forward arming and refueling point during Integrated Training Exercise 1-21 at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, October 16, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/Zachary Zephir)
Photo By: Lance Cpl. Zachary Zephir
VIRIN: 201016-M-EM580-1062

Current Practice

Current logistics within military organizations faces internal and external problems. Internally, military logistics organizations tend to rely on concept development that sequentially follows operational concept development. Logistics is typically understood in terms of fixed concepts and tends to be fragmented across multiple decentralized organizations. This fragmentation stems from the combination of specific Services (for example, Army, Marines), logistics autonomy, and economies of scale (for example, central purchasing and provisioning of similar categories of products and services). As a result, logistics often focuses on reactive, plan-based execution rather than innovation-oriented strategic exchange with operational and external partners. Some even argue that “civilian logistics has surpassed military logistics.”25 Military organizations struggle with the prolonged time—often multiple decades—required to develop, acquire, absorb, and use and maintain new technologies, including soft technologies such as new logistics concepts developed elsewhere (for example, last-mile logistics concepts). This situation widens the gap between logistics and the fast-moving operational organization that it serves.

Externally, logistics innovation involving outside partners faces multiple hurdles along the way. For example:

  • Military organizations collaborating with national or international partners face difficulty when trying to collectively improve networked logistics. Problems include collaboration challenges, turf wars, as well as learning and mutual adaptation.26
  • New concepts do not guarantee success. For instance, efforts to change relationships with suppliers toward performance-based logistics suffer from deteriorating performance and control problems.27 Laudable initiatives such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Operations Logistics Chain Management project struggle with nations’ willingness to share logistics information and to participate in collective responsibility.
  • Innovative concepts for logistics collaboration are typically frozen or not executed in line with their original intention. An example of such drifting is a European pooling arrangement that introduced using spare military aviation capacity, replicating similar initiatives in, for example, the airline industry and electricity market.28 At the network level, an optimal utilization rate of assets can be realized. However, the planners’ strategy shifts over time toward a more nationally oriented perspective.

These internal and external challenges for military logistics organizations call for changes to innovation processes in order to render them more strategic. How can military logistics organizations break through crippling inertia to create a dynamic logistics function that relates to both operational efficiencies and strategic flexibility? Presently, the unstructured and fluid nature of modern warfare cannot be catered to.29 Especially in the digital era, “you ask, we deliver”—as a unilateral customer-supplier relationship—will not do the job in terms of logistics innovation and future logistics services. Both collaborative services and innovation imply a tighter link to related problem-solving areas in order to ensure relevant capability development.

Trends and Effects

Several trends influence the networked problem-solving required for capability development, including military logistics capabilities. We organize these trends based on their effects.

Actors. The first effect stems from automation and changes to weapons systems. Other military tasks are increasingly executed by networked semi-autonomous or remotely controlled technologies.30 Moreover, the qualities of weapons systems continually change in terms of enhanced complexity, digitization, network capabilities, and frequency of (modular) updates. These two trends lead to a theater with fewer people on the battlefield but with networked, advanced technologies tied to military sustainment organizations and industries remotely monitoring and updating their technologies in the background.

Spatial Dimension. The second effect concerns the unprecedented scale and speed of future warfare. New technologies truly lead to the “death of distance.” Examples include hypersonic missiles, as well as command and control at great distances, including outer space. These trends lead to future operations and enabling logistics that are extremely mobile and can link globally distributed conflicts in short timespans.

Virtualization. The third effect concerns the digitization of operations and their influence. With virtualization, warfare and targeting partially shift to nonphysical domains or multidomains. Logistics as physical services by real people no longer seems relevant. However, the technologies required for digital operations will have traditional logistics needs such as energy and maintenance/update services.

Radical Renewal of Production and Logistics. The fourth effect concerns the military intelligently sensing needs, and developing and producing technologies and parts, in a highly customized and flexible manner. Hence, smart production and logistics alter production chains. Products are composed of interchangeable modules, and their digital components are frequently updated, such as the technology in Tesla cars. Additive manufacturing decentralizes production capabilities and eliminates several spare parts in supply chains.

Cross-Domain Fluidity. The fifth effect concerns the increasing number of domains in warfare, which calls for cross-domain operations and logistics command and control. Operations become not only networked but also unanimously effective across domains.31 For instance, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Adapting Cross-Domain Kill-Webs program “will assist users with selecting sensors, effectors, and support elements across military domains . . . to form and adapt kill webs to deliver desired effects on targets.”32 Each domain’s logistics challenges must be considered in conjunction with the others. Multimodal transportation, for example, can leverage capabilities associated with land, sea, air, and space.

Interdependence, Services, and Networked Problem-Solving for Innovation

Interdependence of strategic political-military, military operations, logistics, and technology problem-solving is well acknowledged in command and control.33 This interdependence takes three forms: political control processes, information interdependence for coordination (for example, an operation generates required logistics information, logistics performance determines operational capabilities, and operations trigger demand for new technologies), and services. Digitization has increased the role of the third form—services—leading to increasingly connected and advanced platforms spanning multiple levels. In the commercial world, service systems are conceived as integrated approaches for connecting strategies and operations, with the latter including technology, resources, and logistics. As a mental exercise, a customer could be replaced with the adversary, service-value propositions with desired effects by political-military stakeholders, and services with operational (targeting) processes. This allows for the adoption of a foundational military network model combining the four modes of problem-solving and the three forms of interdependence, with an emphasis on services (see figure 2). This service-centric foundation details interdependencies of collaborative services and innovation.

Figure 2. Service-Centric Foundational Approach to Interdependence of Problem-Solving Modes
Service-Centric Foundational Approach to Interdependence of Problem-Solving Modes
Figure 2. Service-Centric Foundational Approach to Interdependence of Problem-Solving Modes
Figure 2.
Service-Centric Foundational Approach to Interdependence of Problem-Solving Modes
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 210331-D-BD104-020

Next, when we look at innovation, the interdependence of problem-solving modes is vital for capability development. We understand this interdependence as networked problem-solving (for instance, “Technology matters but so do concepts of operation,” and “New ways of using technology can stun an adversary”34). Unfortunately, stakeholders associated with each mode of problem-solving tend to pursue their own issues and develop their own mindsets.35

Presently, military logistics tends to remain somewhat passive and reactive. For strategic logistics innovation, we argue that networked problem-solving—across the four modes—must be improved as a means of processing trend effects.36 Networked problem-solving can be analyzed using two dimensions: coupling and temporal relatedness (see figure 3). We propose a dual shift: Logisticians should no longer wait for the other problem areas to conclude their processing of trends; they must tighten their interactions with counterparts.37 Moreover, a proactive role for military logistics innovation calls for concurrent development.38

Figure 3. Positioning Networked Problem-Solving
Positioning Networked Problem-Solving
Figure 3. Positioning Networked Problem-Solving
Figure 3.
Positioning Networked Problem-Solving
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 210331-D-BD104-019

The present institutionalized environment does not seem ready for collaborative services and innovation. Interventions are required to break down the stovepipes of stakeholders in strategic political-military, military operations, logistics, and technology areas.

Interventions to Foster Collaborative Services and Innovation

Intervention 1: Develop Sensitizing Concepts. This first intervention introduces and elaborates core ideas and concepts that can be shared across the scattered community of stakeholders associated with each problem area. We propose sensitizing concepts that encourage theoretical development. Decades ago, Herbert Blumer argued that “a sensitizing concept . . . gives the user a general sense of reference and guidance in approaching empirical instances. . . . Sensitizing concepts merely suggest directions along which to look.”39 This is already taking place via various formal and informal communications such as conferences, Web sites, listserves, publications, and interpersonal communications. Examples of sensitizing concepts permeating the network of problem-solving areas include “togetherness” concepts such as multidomain, interoperability, network, connected, and (spider)web, and concepts stressing self-reliance, self-repair, and resilience. These sensitizing concepts will be shaped within and across problem-solving areas in different ways; their meanings are likely diverse across stakeholder groups, yet a “translation” vocabulary might be developed as a means to coordinate these interpretations and generate new understandings. This process’s deliberate management might undergird networked problem-solving, including activating military logistics innovation in a concurrent mode. Moreover, logistics concepts developed within a service unit such as special operations forces might become a learning platform for others in the military ecosystem.

Intervention 2: Blend Concepts. In 2003, the importance of concept blending was acknowledged in military literature describing transformation as “a process that shapes the changing nature of military competition and cooperation through new combinations of concepts, capabilities, people and organizations.”40 Concept blending merges content elements from different input spaces.41 It not only respects input spaces but also moves forward to new blended or hybrid concepts. Thus, content elements are transferred while the core structure of the concept within a particular problem-solving area is maintained. In order to exist in the operational domain, hybrid warfare necessitates a blend of elements from various domains. Conceptual blending primarily mixes requirements and insights from operations with logistics concepts from the military or its commercial partners. For instance, the operational domain calls for extremely flexible high-tech human-machine nodes in a network. This situation could be blended with elements from both existing combat logistics concepts and electronic commerce concepts, such as drone delivery and smart management of stocks.

Intervention 3: Compress Experiential Cycles and Run These in a Concurrent and Interdependent Manner. While traditional methods propose sequential steps, researchers have found that innovative companies compress their development of new products and services. Leading and accelerating this process are more important than the resulting designs or concepts. This faster pace does not simply consist of taking less time for sensing-seizing-reconfiguring.42 Research shows that organizations also must rely on improvisation, real-time experience, and flexibility. This type of dynamic process must be carefully filtered and calibrated to disrupt institutionalized ways of doing things and to prepare for the future. Interaction across operations and logistics encourages mutual understanding and idea generation. Hence, collective (digital) spaces for operations-logistics experimentation are of paramount importance. These spaces can be conceived of as add-ons to already existing, specialized operations and logistics simulation and experimentation. Facing challenges presented by multidomain battle, U.S. military Services are experimenting with integrated operations (for example, a recent exercise combining Army air and missile defense with Air Force F-35s).43 While, at present, joint operations tend to be sustained in a separate manner, we suggest a concurrent exploration of logistics opportunities and risks at the network level that move beyond shared services. In other words, concept development could be executed in parallel instead of sequentially.44 This type of development implies intensifying task interdependence and coordination requirements (from a sequential “I wait for you” to a concurrent interdependence “What you do matters to and inspires my work, and vice versa”).45 The fruits of these enhanced coordination efforts are acceleration, quality improvement, and exploration of the unknown. Researchers propose different information-processing strategies between concurrently linked processes depending on, for instance, the level of ambiguity. Military logistics concept development could vary across these strategies depending on the rhythm of operational concept development. Finally, suppliers are increasingly entering the equation, taking responsibility for key services to sustain weapons systems and provide logistics services right to the tip of the spear. If its weapons systems operate in a networked mode, the military must fine-tune suppliers’ active involvement in operations and logistics, considering criteria such as effectiveness and security.

Figure 4. Risks Involving Multiple Problem Areas
Risks Involving Multiple Problem Areas
Figure 4. Risks Involving Multiple Problem Areas
Figure 4.
Risks Involving Multiple Problem Areas
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 210331-D-BD104-018

Intervention 4: Explore Cross-Area Opportunities and Risks. We already referred to opportunities and risks across problem-solving domains. In the digital era, technology has become more complicated in the sense of different layers. The dark gray rectangle in figure 4 shows these complex digital technology layers, from content (for example, fake news and misinformation problems) down to services, networks, and devices (for example, control software problems).46 Examples of layered military technology include command and control systems, weapons systems, and business-logistics services. We highlight the physical dimension of this layered digital technology because of its importance to logistics. The physical dimension relies on energy, critical resources, and, ultimately, infrastructure (for example, glass fiber networks, satellites, and technologies for solar energy). Each technology component could be exploited by adversaries, and each requires backup or alternatives to ensure survivability. The interplay of risks and opportunities across the technology components is complex and unknown. Networked problem-solving is required in dealing with this exciting playground of friendly and enemy forces in offensive and defensive manners. For instance, fake news in the content layer could lead to incorrect situational awareness, with disastrous strategic-military and operational implications. On the physical side, new targets (for example, networks, devices, energy, critical resources, and infrastructure) have emerged that could be attacked in a kinetic or digital-cyber sense. Additionally, a digital attack on infrastructure control software may ultimately have a ripple effect on the content layer.47 An unexpected attack on energy installations may completely disrupt economic and military activities.48

The problem-solving areas mentioned earlier need to develop capabilities to address the individual pieces of this complex puzzle and, thus, the issue as a whole. Involvement of suppliers is indispensable, since they have most of the technology components expertise. The industrial capabilities report offers strategic-sectoral risk assessment.49 In addition, at a micro level, analysis of risks pertaining to technology components, as depicted in figure 4, is necessary. Comprehensive “digital twins” of weapons systems and software for understanding their associated supply chains will help in understanding which physical and digital technologies are in use and which supply chains are required for maintenance and updates. Conversely, the military must analyze the fabric of opponent technology for new opportunities in order to achieve operational and strategic objectives.


This article contributes to the ongoing challenge of strategically rethinking logistics for the military. We propose a collaborative services and innovation approach, along with a shift in thinking from known concepts toward concept development and strategic innovation. A strategic, proactive, and networked view of logistics innovation will ensure military logistics remains future-proof, is able to “adapt and integrate sustainment operations into the maneuver commander’s plan,” and continues functioning as a “combat multiplier.”50 We propose four interventions to foster strategic logistics innovation in close interaction with the operational realm.

Implementing this view on collaborative services and innovation requires awareness of different ways of relating to DOD and MOD external partners such as allies and weapons manufacturers. Partners feature their own strategic focus and values depending on their positioning in the public or commercial sector.51 With its close ties to suppliers, the military could be considered a hybrid and culturally unique organization. It relies on a variety of interorganizational relationships. Increasingly, the military organization could be viewed as an extended enterprise, comprising its core as a lead organization and partnering organizations on whom it depends.52

How might a shift toward collaborative services and innovation be embraced? Strategic logistics, or innovation, must become accepted in the joint strategic environment and planning process. This strategic legitimacy must then be translated into integrating—not homogenizing—a patchwork of operational and logistics AI innovations and infrastructures. As a precondition, such efforts involve the strategic management of military logistics organizational relationships along with their operational counterparts and other partner stakeholders.

First, internally within DOD or an MOD and its branches, the military logistics organization must develop new institutional frameworks, invest in continuous improvement, upgrade its workforce, and accelerate its own digital transformation.53 The organization must also develop its abilities to securely share business processes and data while dealing effectively with multiple relationships and contracts using AI. Second, externally to DOD or an MOD, strategic and operational ties should convert into an adaptive learning network. With a core network of first-tier partners, the military logistics organization might proceed through ongoing strategic capability development cycles in leveraging digital innovation. To an extent, this core network is dynamic; depending on the problem areas’ stakeholders, logisticians combine common tendering and arm’s-length contracting, on the one hand, with grants or reciprocal collaboration with, for instance, research labs and universities, on the other. Second- and third-tier partners should engage with a long-term vision and link up with internal parties of the military logistics organization. As strategic logistics (innovation) legitimacy is ensured and collective AI innovations and infrastructures emerge, military logistics organizations should keep abreast of (digital) innovation of the core network to remain truly relevant. JFQ


1 Joseph C. Wylie, Jr., Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989).

2 UK Army. 2015. Agile Warrior Report. AUTHOR QUERY

3 Peter Dombrowski and Andrew L. Ross, “The Revolution in Military Affairs, Transformation, and the Defence Industry,” Security Challenges 4, no. 4 (Summer 2008); Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), available at <>; Timothy A. Walton, “Securing the Third Offset Strategy: Priorities for the Next Secretary of Defense,” Joint Force Quarterly 82 (3rd Quarter 2016), available at <>.

4 Michael Miklaucic, “Interview with General John R. Allen, USMC (Ret.),” PRISM 7, no. 4 (2018), available at <>; Ray Alderman, “Transitioning from the Kill Chain to the Kill Web,” Military Embedded Systems, May 30, 2018, available at <>.

5 Constantinos Markides, “Strategic Innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review 38, no. 3 (Spring 1997), 9–24, available at <>.

6 Brian Molloy, “Frustrated Cargo: The U.S. Army’s Limitations in Projecting Force from Ship to Shore in an A2/AD Environment,” Joint Force Quarterly 96 (1st Quarter 2020), available at <>.

7 A related problem is stovepiped data. See Kelley M. Sayler, Artificial Intelligence and National Security, R45178, 3rd ver. (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, April 26, 2018), available at <>.

8 An example of an interesting study is Thomas M. Kane, Military Logistics and Strategic Performance (London: Routledge, 2001).

9 William G.T. Tuttle, Jr., Defense Logistics for the 21st Century (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013); Eric Peltz et al., Sustainment of Army Forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom: Battlefield Logistics and Effects on Operations (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2005), available at <>.

10 We distinguish strategy from strategic innovation. The former concerns the direction an organization is taking to position itself, while the latter refers to the process of developing this direction. The phrase development of new concepts is defined as “a process of exploration and experimentation and tends to unfold as a hypothesis-antithesis-synthesis dialogue.” See John F. Schmitt, “A Practical Guide for Developing and Writing Military Concepts,” Working Paper 02-4, Defense Adaptive Red Team, McLean, VA, December 2002, 22, available at <>.

11 Christian H. Heller, “The Future Navy—Near-Term Applications of Artificial Intelligence,” Naval War College Review 72, no. 4 (2019).

12 Christian Grönroos, “Conceptualising Value Co-Creation: A Journey to the 1970s and Back to the Future,” Journal of Marketing Management 28, no. 13–14 (2012).

13 Goods, people, and systems could refer to contractors’ services delivering desired functions.

14 Guy Edward Gallasch et al., “Modelling Defence Logistics Networks,” International Journal on Software Tools for Technology Transfer 10 (2008).

15 Laird Burns, Fan Tseng, and David Berkowitz, “Global Network Analysis in a Military Supply Chain: Using a Systems Based Approach to Develop a Next-Generation End-to-End Supply Chain Performance Measurement and Prediction System,” in Proceedings of the 2010 Cambridge International Manufacturing Symposium (Cambridge, UK: Institute for Manufacturing, 2010), 23–24.

16 Robert W. Button, “Artificial Intelligence and the Military,” RAND (blog), September 7, 2017, available at <>.

17 Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy: Harnessing AI to Advance Our Security and Prosperity (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), available at <>.

18 Patrick Tucker, “The Pentagon Will Use AI to Predict Panic Buying, COVID-19 Hotspots,” Defense One, April 22, 2020, available at <>.

19 Paul C. Hurley, Jr., Tracie M. Henry-Neill, and Rebecca S. Brashears, “Sustainment Innovation for Multi-Domain Battle,” Army, December 27, 2017, available at <>; ESEP Environmental Technologies, “ESEP Participating in the Fieldlab Smartbase Water with Dutch Ministry of Defense,” ESEP, February 8, 2017, available at <>.

20 U.S. Senate, The Future of Warfare, Hearing Before the Committee on Armed Services, 114th Cong., 1st sess., November 3, 2015, available at <>.

21 Ann E. Story and Aryea Gottlieb, “Beyond the Range of Military Operations,” Joint Force Quarterly 9 (Autumn 1995), 99–104, available at <>.

22 Michael Hülsmann and Katja Windt, eds., Understanding Autonomous Cooperation and Control in Logistics: The Impact of Autonomy on Management, Information, Communication, and Material Flow (New York: Springer, 2007).

23 Ton van Kampen, Paul C. van Fenema, and Nynke Faber, “Strategic Defence Supply Chain Security Management,” in Netherlands Annual Review of Military Studies 2016, ed. Robert Beeres et al. (The Hague: Asser Press, 2016).

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28 Jani Kilpi and Ari P.J. Vepsäläinen, “Pooling of Spare Components Between Airlines,” Journal of Air Transport Management 10, no. 2 (2004); Loe Schlicher, Marco Slikker, and Geert-Jan van Houtum, “A Note on Maximal Covering Location Games,” Operations Research Letters 45, no. 1 (January 2017).

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39 Herbert Blumer, “What Is Wrong with Social Theory?” American Sociological Review 19, no. 1 (February 1954).

40 Transformation Planning Guidance (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, April 2003), available at <>.

41 Gilles Fauconnier, Mappings in Thought and Language (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

42 Arpi Dilanian and Matthew Howard, “Modernizing at the Speed of Relevance: An Interview with Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy,” Army, August 30, 2018, available at <>.

43 “USAF and U.S. Army Integrate Fighters and Missile Defense,” Intelligent Aerospace, January 21, 2020, available at <>.

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49 Industrial Capabilities: Annual Report to Congress Fiscal Year 2018 (Washington, DC: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy, 2019), available at <>.

50 Alan M. Strange, “Decision Point Logistics in Multi-Domain Battle,” Army Sustainment (January–February 2018), 10–12.

51 Bernd W. Wirtz and Wilhelm M. Müller, “An Integrated Artificial Intelligence Framework for Public Management,” Public Management Review 21, no. 7 (2019).

52 John Louth and Trevor Taylor, “Beyond the Whole Force: The Concept of the Defence Extended Enterprise and Its Implications for the Ministry of Defence,” RUSI Occasional Paper, Royal United Services Institute, London, 2015, available at <>.

53 Robert Borries and Stephen Napier, “USAF Uses Continuous Process Improvement on the B-2 Bomber: Part 1,” ISIXSIGMA, n.d., available at <>.