#LOGBOTs – Making Army logistics “hard to find, hard to hit and hard to kill”

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The Infantry wants to “fight light” – what’s holding them back? Manned resupply, and convoy movements, says Jacob Choi, former Combat Service Support Battalion Operations Captain.

Our current capabilities and tactics to resupply combat teams and battle groups face many challenges. Sufficient protection is often lacking, our logistic trucks are often too reliant on non-organic escorts, it is difficult to protect the vast amount of supplies in a Brigade Maintenance Area, and convoy movements are often vulnerable and inefficient.

Despite these challenges, opportunities lie in combining technology advancements including Unmanned Logistic Vehicles (ULVs) with a tactical shift from large logistic nodes to distributed and mobile catching systems. While some companies have already designed ULVs, we have yet to see how they will work at scale – or how they might work in a swarm, if at all.

I want to see our Army introduce fleets of logistic vehicles designed to work in the most contested battlespace – they’ll be swarmed and networked together so that there isn’t a command hierarchy, and they’ll be supervised by a team of Army logisticians. They won’t travel in packets, or convoys – they won’t require escorts or even crews. And here’s the biggest difference – they’ll continuously operate outside a manned logistic node.

They won’t be parked, awaiting tasking – they’ll be mobile caches constantly moving or hiding in the battlespace in support of combat teams. Instead of stores on the ground, awaiting loading, we will have secure and scalable stores on wheels, and able to cross-load with each other to move supplies to forward echelons.

If you’re the section 2IC or platoon sergeant demanding these, I don’t want a resupply request via radio communications or battlefield management systems from you – I want you to use a light, fast interface where I, the logistician, have already suggested your next order to you, based on your manning, equipment and previous order history, similar to how recommendations are made on your Netflix or Amazon account.

This vehicle swarm will work in concert with the scheme of manoeuvre. Sensing an offensive task ahead, they’ll suggest prepositioning stores towards the objective, or cross-load stores ahead of an imminent reorg.

They’ll have your basic combat supplies in modules, loaded on a secure tray or in compartments. Lockers with three-factor authentication will be accessed by authorised personnel for the most sensitive items – pharmaceuticals, explosive charges, etc.

Most ULVs will deploy with a stretcher which can be easily deployed to accommodate a casualty to the collection point, and a mating module at one end will provide a ULV-to-ULV cross-loading interface, doubling as a loading mechanism for dependency vehicles.

This will change how we think about logistic planning, and in turn, how we might employ ground combat forces unlimited by the former manned resupply concepts. Doctrine, TTPs and force structures will need to change to take advantage of the ULV swarms, while logisticians will work alongside combat support elements to exploit the ULV sensors, and ensure their connectivity is resilient.

The obvious benefit is a smaller logistic tail and no escorts required for the ULVs. But two things will stand out for the combat commander – he or she will have more:

Time since the combat commander is no longer constrained to distribution points on either side of tactical actions.

Secondly, the warfighter has more control of space – he or she now has more sensors in the battlespace while having significantly less distance to reach rear for resupply. Specialist equipment such as CBRN or breaching equipment can be called on when a situation requires it – this is especially appealing for custom fit clothing or equipment.

Other modules configured for this mobile fleet to protect, operate and deliver will be water extraction/purification modules, a fuel testing laboratory, drone launch and recovery modules and 3D-printers for RPS or shaped charges. With developments in field services, batteries, water and fresh laundry will be dispersed in cross-loading ULVs.

This concept has the potential to disrupt the next peer-to-peer battle when air superiority is contested or when massed long range fires target a Brigade Maintenance Area. It is survivable against the hypersonic missile threat because we will have made Army logistics hard to find, hard to hit and hard to kill.

Defence Science and Technology Group has already been working on researching swarm robots and this is perfect for Land Systems to apply to ULVs of tomorrow. Swarmed robots already work in the field of logistics – primarily large, flat warehouses where connectivity is uninterrupted.

But our challenge will be to scale up the payload of these swarm robots, design them as sensors for the battlefield, and ensure they are resilient in a contested electromagnetic-spectrum.

Our Army has a proud history of manned logistics working alongside horses, trucks and, now, logistic robots. LOGBOTs is the answer to the “revolution in Army logistics” at the operational level for sustainment to combat brigade elements. An adversary will be frustrated in locating and neutralising our logistic tail, while our friendly forces will have a layered sensor and distribution network that significantly improves resupply efficiency and resilience.

About the author: Jacob Choi recently pitched this concept and won at the 2018 Defence Entrepreneur’s Forum, held in Canberra on 15-16 November. He is an Army logistics officer, having served at first, second and third line logistic units. Jacob’s #DEFAus18 pitch and presentation can be found here.