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History of Defence Logistics: Understanding the Value Today

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Understand the supply-demand relationship, quality assurance and the integration of logistics from foxhole to factory

One of the introductory chapters in Defence Logistics is 'an historical perspective’. To many, this may seem inappropriate in a book based on scientific theory and case study; however, it demonstrates that these theories have developed from practical experience and real-life scenarios, often at the expense of human lives.

The history of defence logistics can explain some of the fundamentals of how important logistics is in a bigger, strategic, context. The success or failure of logistic support to battles changes the outcome of those battles, and sometimes the wars within which they are being fought.

As conflicts became more concerned with force projection rather than home defence, the need for establishing robust supply chains that can support forces became acuter. The technological advances accompanying the armies of the past also added complexity within the supply lines (the lines of communication). Whilst the distances travelled and the complexity of the technology may have changed, there are still valuable lessons that can be referred to about how those changes were made and what impacts they had. In some cases, there are lessons to be avoided and risks to be recognized and managed.

Consider the example of the shell scandal of the Great War. This case shows how inadequate planning of the entire supply chain, and the associated logistics and quality checks, can influence operational, tactical and strategic decisions: the lack of shells meant that counter-battery and 'save-our-souls' emergency fire couldn’t be used, attacks couldn’t be repelled and offensives couldn’t be made as the 'softening-up' barrages couldn’t be made. This scandal might not seem applicable to the challenges of today as the Great War and the tactics used are now 100 years old. However, understanding the supply-demand relationship, quality assurance and the integration of logistics from foxhole to factory are all concepts that appear in Defence Logistics, and the lessons that are explained using the shell scandal case study can be applied to consumables other than ammunition.

Military historical study is normally concerned with strategy and tactics, and detailed understanding of the ground and how the fighting took place. This is, in part, because those places where the fighting took place can be visited and have an emotional connection for those who can relate to who fought there. The study of military history technology and logistics is much more quantitative and dry, but as we’ve tried to establish, there is a clear relationship between the past and the present that remains valuable today.