views updated May 18 2018

Logistics. Early in the twentieth century, Secretary of War Elihu Root observed that for Americans the difficulties of making war lay not in the raising of soldiers, but in equipping, supplying, and transporting them. The evolution of modern warfare since 1898 amply demonstrates the truth of Root's observation. The scale and scope of modern wars, rapidly changing technology, and new military doctrines involving the rapid movement of large forces over great distances have made logistics the key to modern warfare.

The Definition of Logistics.

The word logistics comes from the Greek logostikos, meaning one expert in enumeration. First used in the eighteenth century, the word in its current meaning became popular during World War II. In 1949, the army's Field Service Regulations defined logistics as “that branch of administration which embraces the management and provision of supplies, evacuation and hospitalization, transportation, and services. It envisages getting the right people and the appropriate supplies to the right place at the right time and in the proper condition.” In his 1966 history of army logistics, James A. Huston points out that logistics is the application of time and space factors to war and consists of “the three big M's of warfare—matériel, movement, and maintenance.

Narrowly construed, logistics encompasses the four main activities noted in the 1949 Field Service Regulations: supply, transportation, evacuation and hospitalization, and services (maintenance being the most prominent). A broader understanding might encompass all measures taken by a state to raise, arm, equip, feed, move, maintain, and otherwise care for its armies in the field. In its broadest construction, logistics also properly includes the mobilization of industry and manpower, research and development, procurement, construction of facilities, personnel management, and allied tasks.

Logistical Functions.

Each of the armed services maintains its own logistical system. Despite obvious differences in equipment and certain specialized activities, such as underway replenishment of ships at sea and the aerial refueling of aircraft, each of these systems performs essentially the same five functions: the determination of requirements; acquisition; distribution; maintenance; and disposal. The determination of requirements involves the statement of needs and the definition of the resources required to meet those needs. Acquisition encompasses research and development, design, testing, production, and purchase of ships, aircraft, weapons, vehicles, ammunition, fuel, rations, clothing, and other equipment and supplies. Distribution includes the transportation, receipt, storage, and issue of materiel of all kinds. Maintenance involves the inspection, service, lubrication, and adjustment of equipment, and its calibration, repair, or refurbishment. The final logistical function is the disposal of worn, damaged, or surplus supplies and equipment.

Principles of Logistics.

Although logistical organization and procedures vary among the services, the logistical systems of the army, navy, Marine Corps, and air force all respond to the same set of logistical principles. Most students of military affairs are familiar with the nine “Principles of War”—Mass, Objective, Simplicity, Unity of Command, Maneuver, Offensive, Surprise, Security, and Economy of Force—developed to serve as guides to the conduct of strategy and tactics. The principles governing the conduct of logistics are less well known but no less important.

Many commentators have tried to formulate the “principles of logistics.” Huston, for example, proposes fourteen principles based on the American experiences in war, and the army officially adheres to the nine set forth in chapter 3 of Army Regulation 11‐8: Principles and Policies of the Army Logistics System (1976). Both are too long and complex for practical purposes, but can conveniently be summarized under five headings: Concentration, Austerity, Visibility, Mobility, and Flexibility. Concentration is the key, and its accomplishment involves the positioning of superior combat power at the decisive time and place. Allied successes in World War II, and more recently during the Persian Gulf War in Operation Desert Storm, were due to observing just this principle. Resources are always limited, and thus logisticians must always observe the principle of Austerity, which has two aspects. The first is economy—the conservation of available resources before battle and the economical distribution of materiel to other, less vital, areas. Economy involves avoiding both excessive expenditure and unnecessary duplication of resources. The second is Simplicity. Simplicity of doctrine, organization, equipment, and plans is essential to the successful logistical support of combat operations. The third principle is that of Visibility. Because the inability to locate a critical item is tantamount to not having it at all, the successful commander or logistician must always know what he or she has and where it is. Mobility is the fourth principle. Insofar as mobile troops are essential to success on the modern battlefield, adequate transportation must be provided for all military operations, and all military equipment must be designed for agility and transportability. The final principle is Flexibility, or the capacity to accommodate the unforeseen. This can be accomplished by flexibility of organization, plans, and materiel, and, above all, by flexibility of mind.

Periods in the History of American Military Logistics.

The history of American military logistics can be divided into four grand periods, each of which has posed new challenges for American logisticians. The period from 1775 to 1845 was an Era of Creation, in which civilian and military leaders struggled to establish effective mechanisms for supporting the armed forces just as the nation searched for effective mechanisms of political and social organization. The challenges of creating effective logistical systems were ultimately met, but not without significant delays, setbacks, and near disasters. The second period ran roughly from the Mexican War (1846–48) to the Spanish‐American War (1989). In this Era of Professionalization, primitive logistical organizations and procedures were placed on a regular and continuous basis, and the practitioners of logistics developed standards of training and performance suitable for a well‐established organization. The development of modern technology and the necessity of worldwide operations after 1898 thrust logisticians into a new Era of Specialization, which lasted roughly until the end of World War II. The relatively simple logistical tasks and organizations that had met the needs of earlier times became much more complex, requiring more and better trained personnel, larger and more diverse logistical organizations, and greater management and control. The Era of Specialization overlapped the fourth phase, the Era of Integration, which began before World War II and continues today. This most recent period is characterized by an emphasis on centralized direction of logistical activities, organization along functional lines, and joint and combined operations employing a variety of advanced technologies.

Themes in American Military Logistics.

A chronological account alone cannot fully explain the uneven history of logistical organization and doctrine, in which many key concepts cannot be pigeonholed, and prominent themes cross the boundaries of the four periods. Fortunately, although the history of military logistics in America is complex, its nine salient themes can be concisely stated.

1. Increasing importance of logistics vs. strategy and tactics. Since 1898, logistical considerations have increasingly dominated the formulation and execution of both strategy and tactics; yet obvious as it may seem, in practice many military leaders continue to ignore the importance of logistics. At best, logistical considerations and logisticians are seen as unwelcome, if necessary, adjuncts to strategic planning and the management of “important” problems such as tactical doctrine. Nevertheless, logistics is the primary consideration in all modern military operations. World War II provides an excellent example. Allied victory depended in large part on America's ability to organize and to project its industrial might. Indeed, the great demand for logistical support engendered in World War II had a basic and profound effect on the organization of forces and the strategies adopted. The basic American strategic decision of the war—to defeat “Germany First”—and its corollary—the abandonment of U.S. forces in the Philippines—were dictated mainly by logistical considerations. So too were such key strategic decisions as the timing of the invasion of Europe and the pace of the attack across France in 1944. Many military leaders have failed to understand the significance of this trend, and exclude logisticians and logistical considerations from planning.

2. Increasing complexity and scale. The United States has been a major power with global responsibilities since the Spanish‐American War. As the armed forces have become larger, used more sophisticated weapons, and operated further from home in a variety of climates and terrain, their supply and movement have become increasingly complex. At the same time, technology has evolved at a heady pace, and the tactical doctrines and organizations required to incorporate new technology have demanded correspondingly new and complex logistical doctrines and organizations.

3. Increasing proportion of manpower required in the logistical “tail.” The increasingly logistical demands of modern warfare have required that an ever‐increasing proportion of total manpower be dedicated to the task of supporting combat forces. Indeed, the adequacy of logistical support has proven critical to the success of combat operations, and a nation's ability to mobilize and support its combat forces has become equal in importance to the actual performance of such forces on the battlefield. Many American commanders have fought to keep their military forces lean and simple, with a very high proportion of combat troops. World War II proved such thinking to be shortsighted by demonstrating that modern, complex, mechanized, and technically sophisticated armies, operating worldwide and often in conjunction with allies, require that much if not most of the total force be dedicated to supporting those few who actually do the fighting. The bigger “tail” and fewer “teeth” of today's army may be a function of modern warfare rather than the perversion of military organization that critics often proclaim it to be.

4. Specialization. The same stimuli that influence the structure of combat forces—changes in organization, doctrine, and technology—also shape logistical organizations, which respond with special sensitivity to technological developments and the widening scope and scale of modern war. As warfare in the last two centuries has become more mechanized, the demand for specialized personnel to sustain the equipment of war has increased dramatically. This is particularly true for American armed forces, which have traditionally relied on advanced technology rather than mass manpower to achieve victory. Since 1775, the increasing size and diversity of American military forces, and the wide variety of geographic and climatic conditions under which they have operated, have also had a significant impact on the size and composition of logistical forces. Modern, mechanized, total war, conducted with allies on a global scale, has demanded the creation of ever greater numbers and types of logistical units, staffed with highly trained soldier specialists. This trend is not unique to military affairs. Since the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century, there has been an increasing drive toward specialization and division of labor in all human activities.

5. Rationalization. The trend toward specialization has been accompanied by increasing centralization of control over logistical planning and operations focused at the highest, Department of Defense (DoD) level, and by a parallel effort to increase efficiency by organizing logistical tasks along functional rather than commodity‐related lines. These efforts have involved the increased application of modern business management techniques to achieve a “rational,” and thus more efficient, system. For the army, this process began with the reforms carried out by Secretary of War Root in 1903 in response to problems uncovered during the Spanish‐American War and issues that emerged from the creation of a General Staff. Root described the army as a “big business,” which could best be managed by commercial methods. Later, army depots and navy shipyards experimented with Frederick W. Taylor's “time and motion” prescriptions, and World War I brought to the services the concept of statistical controls. World War II saw increased use of statistics, as well as the advent of “operations research” and “systems analysis.” Since World War II, the independent service logistical systems have been linked by the consolidation of selected logistical functions (e.g., the acquisition of food, fuel, and housekeeping supplies) at DoD level for greater managerial efficiency and economy of scale. This rationalization process intensified in the 1960s under the administration of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. McNamara and his so‐called Whiz Kids employed techniques derived from the business world to transform military logistics. The military forces have benefited in many ways from the utilization of civilian experts and civilian techniques for the management of logistics; but there have been serious adverse effects as well, of which the “body count” and “cost‐effectiveness analysis” are prominent examples.

6. Changing the civilian‐military mix. Finding the manpower needed to provide adequate logistical support to the combat forces has been a continuing problem, and traditionally American military leaders have relied heavily on civilians to perform logistical tasks. Overseas operations and the drive toward specialization in the first half of this century led to an increased emphasis on uniformed, disciplined logistical personnel. Nevertheless, the overall trend has been toward increasing “civilianization” of military logistics, particularly at higher management levels.

7. Cyclical attention. Historically, American military leaders have tended to neglect logistical activities in peacetime and to expand and improve them hastily once a conflict has broken out. Politicians and generals have proclaimed at the end of every war that the nation will never be caught unprepared again; but inevitably the nation has been unprepared for the next conflict and has only been saved by its enormous resources of human and material capital. The nineteenth‐century military critic Emory Upton was among the first to decry this “chronic unpreparedness.” Since World War II, the demands of a constant state of “near war” have demonstrated that the United States can no longer afford a cavalier attitude toward military readiness; although specific instances continue to arise, the trend appears to have been broken since the Vietnam War.

8. Primacy of logistical mobilization. Given a tradition of cyclical attention to things military and a myopic focus on combat forces, it is not surprising that logistical support forces have been the first to be demobilized at the end of one war and the last to be formed once a new war has begun. It takes comparatively little time to assemble men and begin their military training, but the lead time for housing, clothing, feeding, and equipping them is much longer, a fact that mobilization planners tend to forget. The results have been all too obvious: troops guarding the Capitol in 1861 without trousers and soldiers in 1941 training with wooden “guns,” stovepipe “artillery,” and cardboard “tanks.” Yet Americans have thus far escaped the consequences of such faulty planning. Until now, the United States has always had the time needed to correct the worst problems, and in the end an enormous industrial capacity has allowed the nation to compensate for many mistakes.

9. Coalition logistics. American warmaking in the twentieth century has been largely a coalition activity, and since World War I, the United States has been forced to provide support to its allies or, in some cases, to receive logistical support from them. This trend has introduced further complexities into the problem of providing adequate logistical support for forces in the field, and on occasion America's productive capacity has been severely challenged by the competing demands of supporting both American and allied forces. Although cooperative logistical arrangements have worked effectively in most instances, national preferences and prejudices make the logistician's job more difficult by expanding the number and types of items that have to be supplied. Recently, in an effort to do more with less and to reduce costs, American military leaders have turned increasingly to “host nation support” and “burden sharing” with their allies as means of providing their combat troops with the necessary logistical support.

Modern war requires nations to commit their total resources and victory is determined less by the brilliance of a nation's strategic and tactical thought, and even the valor and skill of its soldiers and leaders, than by its ability to organize and direct the vast machinery needed to project combat power onto the battlefield. From the establishment of the U.S. armed forces in 1775, American military leaders have had to wrestle with the problem of providing adequate logistical support to the combat forces in the field and at sea, in garrison, in port, and in the air. Finding the necessary resources, creating efficient organizations and efficient military doctrine, and achieving a proper balance between fighting and supporting forces has never been easy. Only the quality of the men and women who provide support to the combat forces has remained constant. Without their dedication, skill, and endurance, military success remains uncertain, regardless of the number of machines and the sophistication of the doctrines employed.
[See also Combat Effectiveness; Combat Support; War: Nature of War.]


George Cyrus Thorpe , Pure Logistics: The Science of War Preparation, 1917.
George C. Shaw , Supply in Modern War, 1939.
John D. Millett , Logistics and Modern War, Military Affairs, 9, no. 3 (Fall 1945), pp. 193–207.
Daniel Hawthorne , For Want of a Nail: The Influence of Logistics on War, 1948.
United States Army Service Forces , Logistics in World War II: Final Report of the Army Service Forces, 1948.
Marvin A. Kreidberg and and Merton G. Henry , History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army, 1775–1945, 1955.
George C. Dyer , Modern Air Logistics, 1956.
Henry Effingham Eccles , Logistics in the National Defense, 1959.
George C. Dyer , Naval Logistics, 1960.
James A. Huston , The Sinews of War: Army Logistics, 1775–1953, 1966.
James E. Hewes, Jr. , From Root to McNamara: Army Organization and Administration, 1900–1963, 1975.
Richard L. Kelley , Applying Logistics Principles, Military Review, 57, no. 9 (September 1977), pp. 57–63.
David C. Rutenberg and Jane S. Allen, eds., The Logistics of Waging War: American Logistics, 1774–1985, Emphasizing the Development of Airpower, 1986.

Charles R. Shrader


views updated May 09 2018


LOGISTICS is the application of time and space factors to war. If international politics is the "art of the possible," and war is its instrument, logistics is the art of defining and extending the possible. In short, it is the economics of warfare. Literally, it provides the substance that physically permits a military force to "live and move and have its being." As the U.S. Army's Field Service Regulations puts it, "It envisages getting the right people and the appropriate supplies to the right place at the right time and in the proper condition."

The word itself is derived from the Greek logistikos, meaning "skilled in calculating." Logistics has been a recognizable part of military science, together with strategy and tactics, since ancient times. Nonetheless, Baron Henri Jomini, the French writer on military affairs, appears to have been the first to have made systematic use of the term in this sense, in about 1838. One of the first to use the term in this way in a book in the United States was Henry B. Harrington in Battles of the American Revolution 1775–1781, published in 1876.

In the triad of war, a more or less sharp distinction exists for each segment. Military leaders usually see strategy as the planning and management of campaigns toward achieving the object of the war, tactics as the planning and waging of battles or engagements toward achieving strategic objectives, and logistics as the planning and management of resources to support the other two. Nevertheless, in a broader sense, these are all branches of the same entity. Frequently, the objectives of strategic operations and tactical engagements are themselves aimed at weakening the enemy's logistics, whether through bombing an industrial center, mining a harbor, or seizing key terrain to threaten a line of supply.

It can be argued, for instance, that most of the major strategic decisions of World War II, such as Europe first, the cross-Channel invasion of 1944, the landings in southern France, the return to the Philippines, and the bypassing of Formosa for Okinawa, were essentially logistic decisions. That is, military leaders based the timing, location, scale, and very purposes of those operations mainly upon logistic considerations. They evaluated comparative resources and determined that the seizure of Normandy or Marseilles or Luzon or Okinawa would facilitate further the support of forces by opening the way for additional bases and supply lines.

Logistics may be thought of in terms of scale as paralleling the scale of military operations. "Grand strategy" refers to national policy and the object of the war; "strategy," to the planning and management of campaigns; and "tactics," to the planning and management of battles or engagements. Parallel terminology may also apply to logistics. Thus, "grand logistics" refers to the national economy and industrial mobilization. "Strategic logistics" relates to the analysis of requirements and logistic feasibility of proposed campaigns, a determination of requirements to support a particular strategic decision, and to the follow-up mobilization and assembly of forces and the moving of them—with their supplies and equipment—to the area, with provision for effective resupply. "Tactical logistics" refers to the logistics of the battlefield: the movement of troops to the battlefield and the supplying of these troops with the ammunition, food, fuel, supplies, and services needed to sustain them in combat.

As a calculation of logistic efficiency, one may speak of "primary logistics" as those needed for the support of combat units, and of "secondary logistics" as those required to support the means to meet the primary requirements, or what the satisfaction of requirements in one category may create for requirements in another. Thus, in delivering a given amount of gasoline to an armed force, for instance, the amount of fuel and other resources needed to deliver that gasoline must be taken into account. During the American Civil War, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman reckoned that an army could not be supplied by horses and wagons at a distance greater than 100 miles from its base, for in that distance, the horses would consume the entire contents of their wagons. Air transportation occasionally creates greater logistic problems than it solves. During the Korean War, for each five tons of cargo that a C-54 air transport carried across the Pacific Ocean, it consumed eighteen tons of gasoline. To move a given 15,000 tons of cargo from San Francisco to Yokohama by sea required two Victory ships. By contrast, to move it by air required 3,000 air flights plus eight ships to carry the gasoline for the airplanes. On the other hand, other secondary logistic requirements are built up in the maintenance of long supply lines and multiple storage facilities. At times, a supply base, given to continuous proliferation, reaches the point at which it consumes more supplies than it ships out, and thus becomes a net drain on the logistic system. Another aspect of secondary logistics arises in the acceptance and manufacture of a new weapon or in the choice of one weapon over another for expanded production, in terms of the effect of the decision on the problem of ammunition supply.


Jessup, John E., ed. Encyclopedia of the American Military: Studies of the History, Traditions, Policies, Institutions, and Roles of the Armed Forces in War and Peace. New York: Scribners, 1994.

Leonard, Thomas C. Above the Battle: War Making in America from Appomattox to Versailles. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Lynn, John A., ed. Feeding Mars: Logistics in Western Warfare from the Middle Ages to the Present. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1993.

Van Creveld, Martin L. Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977; 1980

James A.Huston/a. e.

See alsoAir Force, United States ; Army, United States ; Demobilization ; Navy, Department of the ; World War II, Navy in .


views updated May 14 2018

lo·gis·tics / ləˈjistiks; lō-/ • pl. n. [treated as sing. or pl.] the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies: the logistics and costs of a vaccination campaign. ∎ Mil. the organization of moving, housing, and supplying troops and equipment. ∎  the commercial activity of transporting goods to customers: Germany's largest beverage logistics organization.


views updated May 17 2018

logistics art of moving and quartering troops, etc. XIX. — F. logistique, f. loger quarter, LODGE; see -ISTIC, -ICS.