Recension: From A to B – How Logistics Fuels American Power and Prosperity

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Without logistics, military action would no longer be feasible today. This begins with planning military action: maps must be drawn, infrastructure must be checked for capacity and efficiency, and supply routes must be arranged. During a deployment, logistics must ensure that the correct activity in the correct amount with the correct quality at the correct location at the correct time to the correct recipient and the correct expenses are provided for. However, logistics are not yet finished with this: at the end of the deployment it must be decided which logistics goods are pushed back, given away, or even destroyed. The transport of supplies, necessary maintenance, procurement of replacements and so on can also continue after a deployment. This affects no other army as strongly as the US army. During the Second World War an average American soldier had approximately 16 kg of luggage (with a weapon; today’s value of the equipment: a couple of hundred dollars) – today a soldier’s equipment is comprised of protection and communication equipment, in addition to the usual luggage and weapon. Today, the luggage of an American soldier weighs on average 28.6 kg and comprises a value of approximately 10,000 US dollars (source: Medill Washington, “Lightening soldiers’ loads harder than ever“, UPIU, 18/06/2009). Additionally, today the deployed soldier wants to have a minimal amount of comfort, whether it is only sports equipment or communication devices. According to this the logistics expenditure was not underestimated before and during the href=”Iraq war: during the four month long deployment before the invasion in 2003, TRANSCOM moved over one million tonnes of cargo (corresponds to around 2,717 freight trains) and with 3,900 flights as well as 150 ships, approximately 258,000 passengers from the USA to the Middle East. The logistics were ensured by 150,000 military and civilian personnel. As daunting as this seems, in comparison to civilian logistics companies the numbers are still moderate: United Parcel Service (UPS) carries out about 5 million tonnes of cargo globally in the same period of time with 425,000 employees.

Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics. — Attributed to General Omar N. Bradley.

David Axe, a freelance journalist with years of experience as a war correspondent and for more than three years a regular guest author at, devotes his most recent book to the topic of logistics. It is a reflection of his youth in Detroit, which was characterised by a booming automobile industry in the region and the corresponding logistics for exporting the manufactured products to the whole world, and at the same time a product of experiences of his coverage in the scope of the global operation of the US army. The book is divided into five parts, which are not titled, however demonstrate a running theme. In part 1 it is primarily about the convey supplies during the Iraq war, about trucks and how they could be improved with regards to safety and efficiency. In part 2, Axe’s reflections from childhood permeate, in which he demonstrates the blessing and the curse of the US automobile industry. Parts 3 and 4 concentrate on ships and aeroplanes as means of transportation. Part 5 concludes with an example: the logistical challenges of the devastating earthquake of 12 January, 2010 in Haiti.

Michigan Central Station - with the first recession of the American automobile industry in 1980, production centres in low-wage countries relocated or were even closed down and the suburbs became depopulated (Photo: Яick Harris, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License).

Michigan Central Station - with the first recession of the American automobile industry in 1980, production centres in low-wage countries relocated or were even closed down and the suburbs became depopulated (Photo: Яick Harris, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License).

The USA is addicted to cars – not only the population, for whom private transport has deteriorated, but also the economy in particular as well. Since the 1950s there has been a boom in the automobile industry in the USA, which has significantly influenced economic development. With the increase in automobile sales and the mobility of the population, cities increasingly expanded to the suburbs. The distance between the office and home become farther, however without more time being required to travel this distance. In 1940, less than 20% of households were in the suburbs; 50 years later it was almost half of them. The automobile industry tightened the working potential and thus factories in the suburbs of Detroit and Flint were built, which in turn drew in more people. Every job in the automobile industry brought three more jobs with it outside of the automobile industry. It is no wonder that with the first recession of the American automobile industry in 1980 and the current global financial and economic crisis, production centres in low-wage countries relocated or were even closed down and thus the suburbs also became depopulated. In 2009, for example, 40% of the houses and business in Flint were abandoned.

[General Motors is] a corporation that ruined my hometown and brought misery, divorce, alcoholism, homelessness, physical and mental debilitation, and drug addiction to the people I grew up with. — Michael Moore, “Goodbye, GM“, 01.06.2009.

In the area of infrastructure, the USA went through a building boom in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as somewhat more moderately in the 1980s. Since then there have been as good as no further investments in the infrastructure. This had consequences: in 1990 ten thousand bridges in the USA were designated as structurally unsound, in 2005 it was up to 70,000 bridges. One of these bridges, the 1-35W Mississippi River bridge, collapsed on August 1, 2007 during peak hour traffic and claimed 13 casualties as well as 145 injured. Thus in 2007, both US senators Christopher J. Dodd and Chuck Hagel suggested a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank which was to be available for expenses for the maintenance and repairs of the American infrastructure, among other things. In 2008 US President Barack Obama supported this proposal and suggested that the bank should invest 60 billion US dollars over 10 years into the infrastructure projects. After his successful election, Obama signed a law for the stimulation of the American economy, which invested 27.5 billion US dollars into road construction and 20.5 billion US dollars into public transport (see “Create a $60 billion bank to fund roads and bridges“, PolitiFact, Obameter, 04/03/2009). However, by 2008 the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) disclosed that for the maintenance and repair of the American infrastructure in the upcoming 5 years 1,600 billion US dollars would have to be spent.

MV Paul R. Tregurtha

MV Paul R. Tregurtha

“From A to B” deals not only with military logistics but it is also a successful mixture of civilian and military logistics. Axe is able to combine both areas and continually compares military logistics with civilian logistics and vice versa. For example, he demonstrates that without civilian truck drivers, provisions during the Iraq war would have barely been possible, or that without civilian shipping on the Great Lakes the US Navy would also have had a supply problem with ship workers and officers. The Military Sealift Command (MSC) reserves is comprised of 50–80 civilian cargo ships which can be deployed for military operations. Without the American inland water transportation, the necessary personnel for it is lacking and the United States Merchant Marine Academy, where all ship officers are trained, do not exist. On the Great Lakes, approximately 150 ships are operating, about half of which are cargo vessels sailing under the American flag. The ships are enormous: if the capacity of the MV Paul R. Tregurtha (or a ship with similar dimensions) was transported to the streets, the fleet would encompass approximately 2,000 trucks. Shipping on the Great Lakes is concentrated to the raw material of steel processing and semi-manufactured automobile industry products (for example, for the Ford River Rouge Complex). It is no wonder that shipping on the Great Lakes experienced a boom from 1950 to 1980, when the American automobile industry was experiencing its first recession.

Currently the fate of Europe and all calculations largely depend on the question of food supplies. If I only have bread, attacking the Russians is child’s play. –– Napoleon, 12 March 1807, quoted in Faustus Furrer, “Mut allein genügt nicht”, self-published, 1981, p19.

Often the importance of military supplies on the sea route is underestimated. If the transported tonnage is considered, shipping constitutes the backbone of the provisions of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. 95% of all wares of the US Ministry of Defense are transported by ship. The reason is due to expenses: the transport of a 30 tonne “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected” vehicle (MRAP) from the USA to Afghanistan costs approximately 135,000 US dollars by air; it is only 18,000 US dollars by ship to Karachi (Pakistan) and subsequent transport along the streets to the operational area. Especially in the case of the Afghanistan inland, in contrast to the long delivery time for transport by sea and the security of the transport from Pakistan to Afghanistan, this is why the part of the air freight to Bagram has increased and in 2009 was around 30%. From a technological perspective, the latest trend is the “Lewis and Clark” model of ships with a holding capacity of 7,000 tonnes of wares, 2,000 tonnes of refrigerated food, 3,000 tonnes of operating supplies and 200 tonnes of drinking water for the provisions for the sea route. These logistical suppliers can not only provide for troops on land, but also other ships on the high seas (the technical term for this type of supply is Underway replenishment – UNREP). In addition to 16 supply ships, the MSC is comprised of 16 additional tanks, which are responsible for supplying 280 war ships. For Axe, these deployments are a powerful demonstration of the logistical efficiency of the USA, because this type of supply requires detailed, logistical planning. First, such a supply capacity at sea makes a maritime power, as was the case for example with the US Navy since the USS Marcellus and the USS Massachusetts from 1899 and with the British after the First World War. This ability is currently lacking to a large extent in the Chinese Navy – with the exception of 11 smaller supply ships, it has nothing else to show. However, the British maritime power suffered the loss of its power after the Second World War and today only has 10 supply ships.

USNS Comfort supplied by USNS Peary (16 July 2009).

USNS Comfort supplied by USNS Peary (16 July 2009).

In addition, the MSC has two hospital ships: the USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy. Since 2007, the USNS Comfort was appointed to humanitarian operations in a two year period in South America. It was also the USNS Comfort that could provide a valuable service after the earthquake in Haiti as a floating hospital on the coast of Port-au-Prince, with its 1,000 hospital beds (bunk beds restricted only to severely injured people), 12 operation rooms and 956 hospital personnel in the disaster region (see also: “Ein Rückblick auf die militärische Katastrophenhilfe in Haiti“). The USNS Mercy was deployed for humanitarian operations in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Interestingly, several years prior scrapping both ships had been considered. In the years when the USNS Comfort was not deployed to the South American coast, amphibian attack ships (for example the USS Kearsarge) provided humanitarian aid. Since 2007, they have helped 300,000 patients in South America – it is a targeted “Soft Power” strategy employed that the US military adopts (for a critical essay see “Identifizierung staatlicher oder nichtstaatlicher Scheinhilfe)

The huge dimensions of both hospital ships also have disadvantages: almost all ports in South America are not designed for them. Therefore, the ships remain outside of the coastal waters and the team of doctors with their resources, as well as the patients to be treated on the ships, are transported by helicopters. Especially in he case of disasters, this procedure is not very efficient and construction of a comprehensive basis that is as specific to disasters as possible would be much more desirable. Therefore Steve Huett, the current director of the US Navy’s Airship System Engineering Team suggested at the beginning of September that utilising airships (so called “Angel Ships”) for humanitarian disaster aid, which can transport a load of up to 500 tonnes (see Steve Huett, “Hybrid Aircraft Envisioned Military Relevance“, 02/09/2009 and David Axe, “Future Navy Airships Could Haul Entire Combat Battalions“,, 25/02/2010). These airships can not only travel faster than conventional ships, they can also transport more than a conventional aeroplane. From 2005, under the “Walrus” project, DARPA was also interested in airships for transporting large loads in order to ensure supplies to Iraq. However, one year later US Congress cancelled funding of the programme in order to reduce costs. Huett took over the “Walrus” idea for the US Navy and finally in October 2011 – after the US Navy had not had any airships for 50 years – the MZ-3A (in fact, an A-170 of the American Blimp Corporation, in 2006 bought by the US Navy) was introduced to the public. Before its public introduction, the MZ-3A was already used for testing in several missions within the USA. It produced a scientific platform for security cameras, radars and other sensors.

Improvised mounted armour, à la 'Mad Max' (Photo: Expert Infantry, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License).

Improvised mounted armour, à la 'Mad Max' (Photo: Expert Infantry, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License).

Between 2004 and 2005, the US military could have made good use of this transport by airship in Iraq. The supplies with truck convoys, many driven by civilian employees, is a worthwhile aim for protection, accidents, suicide bombers and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). In particular in April and May of 2004, attacks of the insurgents on US troops – and thus the logistical supply routes as well – were especially high (in both months around 140 American soldiers died in Iraq) and the supplies for the front lines threatened to break down. The drivers partially reacted with questionable, improvised mounted armour, à la “Mad Max”, which in conjunction with IEDs were probably more counterproductive (emergence of additional splints) and with up to 1.5 tonnes of additional weight, depending on the vehicle, drastically shortened life spans. The goal of the MRAP programme was to replace a range of vehicles – from HMMWV to trucks – with a better protected alternative. The result was not one type of vehicle but instead a whole range of new, different vehicles for the most varied operational areas, which however were all concentrated in the geographic region of Iraq. Between 2006 and 2010, the Pentagon bought 15,000 armoured trucks from different manufacturers for around 15 billion US dollars, in the scope of the MRAP programme. However, the development of the MRAP to the Iraq war turned out to be fatal. The streets in Iraq are modern and the terrain is flat with the exception of the mountains on the Turkish border. In Afghanistan, the streets are bad or non-existent and 50% of the Afghani country is mountainous. The first MRAP was sent to Afghanistan in 2007 and the problems with it began immediately: broken axles, defective suspensions and too much fuel consumption. A review in 2009 showed that the Pentagon had used approximately 83 litres of fuel daily for each soldier in Afghanistan – to date the highest fuel consumption per head in a mechanised war (see: “Energy Security – America’s Best Defense”, Deloitte LLP, 2009). As a result of these problems, a new lighter design with a stronger axle and better suspensions was conceived, called “MRAP-All-Terrain Vehicle” (M-ATV). The extradition and deployment of the first M-ATV began in September 2009.

The above summary somewhat belies the fact that a good half of the book does not address military logistics, but instead civilian logistics. This is unusual for Axe who presumably is known by most readers as the author of articles about military subjects, however beneficial for his book. At the same time, he demonstrates that civilian and military logistics have many similarities and are interconnected. New achievements in civilian logistics are integrated in the military and vice versa. The problem with supplies during the Iraq war, caused by attacks on the US army’s supply routes in 2004, demonstrate the risks of the self-protection of the logistics and the connection of infantry training of the logistics formations are taken into account. The publication of the book began at the end of 2011, the texts however were created at different points in time, the one or other text section presumably began in 2009. Here, the digital forgetfulness of the Internet takes revenge; because through this there are several links in the references that are no longer available (the references are however so detailed that usually an alternative URL can be found via Google). This is however only one detail. But it could be avoided where possible if a type of reference data bank in the book was compiled on the internet, where the readers who were interested could access the source material.

David Axe, “From A to B: How Logistics Fuels American Power and Prosperity“, Potomac Books Inc, November 2011, 256 Seiten.

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