I keep trying to accumulate military (history) knowledge on a very broad basis. Electronic warfare and logistics appear to be the greatest challenges in this endeavour. EW is very secretive and logistics is boring. That's probably the reason why few show interest in logistics.
Nevertheless, I took on another book (without any new insights in the first three chapters). That got me thinking about logistics again. Among these thoughts was this one:
Pre-1850's logistics were very basic. Food, fodder, few equipment and ammunition. Civilians often made up a large part of the train and provided "services" to the troops. I think I mentioned in an earlier post how these functions got militarised (all services except the sexual ones were incorporated into the military itself) in the late 19th century.
The transportation of fodder with horse-drawn carts was very inefficient (the cart-pulling horses ate much of the payload!) and lead to a rule of thumb that you shouldn't campaign farther than 250 km away from your logistical base if you depended on the supply shipments of horse cart convoys.
Some campaigns looked very different; one version used boat/ship-centric logistics support thanks to a coastline or a canal/river network. Other campaigns did simply not depend on the shipment of supplies from some logistical base; Caesar in Gallia, Alexander in Persia (after he left the Med coastline) and the Mongols come to mind.
The latter version emphasised the foraging - obtaining all you need from the country you're moving through.
Logistics changed a lot with the invention of trucks. Rail-roads had merely pushed forward the logistical base in the form of railheads. Trucks replaced the horse-drawn cart. A truck needs only a small fraction of his load-carrying capacity to transport goods much farther than 250 km. Campaigns such as the partially mobile desert warfare of 1940-1942 became feasible.
Modern armies got used to the availability of great volumes (and weights) of supply and changed themselves in order to exploit this for their advantage. The consumption of ammunition rose in incredible heights during the World Wars (possible in WWI without having many trucks simply because railheads were close to the front-line).
Something changed in the 50's and 60's, when modern armies became fully motorised/mechanised: Soldiers forgot that all these supply requirements were a novelty in mankind's history. The Napoleonic Age when armies went on campaigns with very little logistical supply somehow vanished from institutional knowledge.
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Today we can see the consequences. Logistical bottlenecks are a huge problem for a corps equivalent operating in Afghanistan even though there's almost no fighting and only a weak enemy.
The German army - bound by political constraints in its combat behaviour - spent a great deal of attention on the development of logistics, camp defence and camp services. The whole logistical behaviour of Western troops in Afghanistan seems to be very strange if looked at from a military history angle:
Why is the "comfort" (with associated logistical and manpower requirements) so much better on the main bases than on outposts? What is all that supply volume being used for? How does the "we do almost nothing except caring for ourselves and patrolling" mission there require such a vast amount of supplies when German infantry divisions of 1941-1942 were able to fight in a mobile war with intense battles with few trucks and many horse carts?
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Mankind is both blessed and cursed with the ability to become used to almost everything. The effect of getting used to recent circumstances has a profound effect on logistics: We un-learned the ability of our ancestors to make do with little logistical support.
It should be possible to drop an infantry company from a plane in Afghanistan with some cash and to recover it a year or half later without having resupplied it in the meantime. They could live off the land, obtain what they need in their region of operation. The Afghans manage to live there as well, after all.
Even the thought of such a logistical modesty appears almost crazy nowadays, though. Even special operations forces wouldn't want to even come close (at least not for a year).
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Nevertheless, we should become aware again of the possibility to substitute for the shipment of supplies with other means. The most such means is of course the possibility to obtain material from the region of operations itself (the alternative is to carry more supplies with you).
Long-range scouts can extend their mission duration if they acquire food locally, photovoltaic power is being harnessed to re-charge batteries, armoured reconnaissance and armour spearheads could loot civilian gas stations and vehicles for fuel and lubricants - and expeditionary forces could turn into an indigenous sustainment mode.
We didn't lack warning calls about our dependence on logistical support and motorisation since the 60's, but the effect of these warning calls seems to have been unsatisfactory.
It's a safe bet that this one won't achieve anything of significance, either. Nevertheless, I wanted to vent.