Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Beans, Bullets, and Bandages

Military supplies piled up on Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, May 1915 (Source)
In the comments on Juvat's Monday post, my buddy Shaun made an excellent point on an excellent point made by Juvat in the main body of the post. Let me reproduce those for you here (if'n you want to go back and read the whole thing, be my guest, we'll still be here when you get back) -

Juvat wrote:
One thing that I would comment about options for Carriers that I learned through working with those folks was the comparatively limited sortie generation capability a Carrier can produce compared with a deployed USAF Air Wing.
Shaun's comment:
Excellent point on the sortie generation limitations of CV's. There's only so much space for aircraft and the runway has to be the parking lot too. Only so much bunkerage for go-juice, magazine space for bb's, and stowage for stores. Ashore you can have resupply via a constant stream of trucks and aircraft; at sea it comes one pallet at a time over a wire or via helicopter while the supply building charges alongside through the sea. More decks will generate more sorties, which is a strong argument for the more/smaller model. But then you need more pallets, more floating supply buildings, more people, etc. If history is our guide, the war never starts with us completely prepared, and most of what we're prepared for isn't exactly what we need. Best to have a good solid mix of assets and the ability to adapt on the fly. Both of those things are vital to our national defense. I could be wrong, but from where I sit it looks like we have neither today.
Which brings me to the point of today's post: logistics. Specifically logistics as it applies to the military arts. Motivation, training, and high morale will only take an army (navy, etc) so far. Without the means to make war (those beans, bullets, and bandages) the friction of war will eventually grind your force down to nothing.
“Logistics...as vital to military success as daily food is to daily work.”
      -- Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, Armaments and Arbitration, 1912
I am an inveterate wargamer and have been since I was about 12 years old. With the advent of computerized wargaming, things which were only hinted at before, or abstracted out entirely, can now have an affect on how you "fight" your wars. Many games, Sid Meier's Civilization series springs to mind, require the gamer to not only fight his/her digital opponents but also require the gamer to keep the troops supplied and equipped with the latest and greatest whiz-bang gadgets to defeat the enemy.

Some of these gaming systems highlight the overwhelming need to pay attention to logistics. It's not enough to be a brilliant tactician, if your troops aren't supplied, they are simply targets. I remember one very simple (and most enjoyable) game which did a pseudo-realistic job of simulating the Civil War. While it didn't follow any historical pattern that I could recall, one had to raise, train, and equip one's forces. I chose a map with a lot of islands so that both sides would need both armies and navies.

I was very proud of my army and my navy. I had done a lot of investing in developing steam propulsion and the latest in breech-loading weapons. When I finally got my army loaded in my steam driven transports and was off the enemy coast, I spent a number of turns bombarding the enemy defenses. Then when those defenses were in ruins, my army landed. Driving inland I swept all before me until...

Oops, what do you mean I'm out of gunpowder? Seems that I had seen a report of a factory blowing up, the one producing gunpowder, but didn't really pay attention. So there I was, powerful steam driven fleet, powerful army ashore, which had no bullets. Then the game brought another oversight to my attention.

Let me see, warships? Check. Transports? Check. Coalers? Huh, what?

Steam powered ships, and just what do those ships burn to heat the water and make steam? Oh yeah, coal. And just what do you use to get the coal to your forward deployed navy? Huh, wishes and good intentions?

Nope, wrong answer.

My point to all this blathering is that logistics costs money. Lots of money in some cases.

Have a really cool, high tech ship that is stealthy, fast, and powerful? Why yes, yes we do. How much do the gun rounds and the missiles cost? Well, the missiles we have a lot of, yes they're expensive but...

The gun rounds cost more than a missile? Really?

Now about those fast shiny aircraft you built, how much did you spend on spare parts? Not much, oh, that's too bad. Seems that to keep 50% of your birds flying, you'll need to use the other half as spare parts. All of this stuff costs money, lots of money.

Now wouldn't it be easier, perhaps even cheaper, to build this stuff in one centrally located area? So then you wouldn't build the engines in one state, the airframes in another, and all the electronics in yet another? Doesn't it cost money to ship all that stuff to another place to be assembled? What if some of your subcontractors aren't as strict as others in adhering to specifications? So what if the parts from Acme Inc. don't fit (or function) as well as those from Stellar Supply? Well, the end item might not work as well, or at all. Or perhaps some critical component from Acme will fail at just the wrong time.

Hhmm, how'd that salt water get into the lube oil? I dunno, wasn't us, sayeth the contractors.

Some of my thought process behind this post was also inspired by reading reader comments on Whither the Carriers?. War has always been a complex endeavor. As technology progresses it gets more complex. It has been said that "Quantity has a quality all its own." (One source indicates Stalin said that. He, while being a complete a$$hole, wasn't completely stupid.)

So, do we buy 500 F/A-18s? Or 20 F-35s? No doubt those F-35s are (theoretically) hard to find and might even be very capable and deadly. But even if the enemy loses a hundred of his less capable birds to take out all 20 of your F-35s, what are you left with? Squat. Bupkis. Nada.

Twenty Zumwalt-class destroyers? Or a bunch more Arleigh Burkes. We get three Zumwalts and a bunch more Arleigh Burkes. Why? Cost and capability both factor in. Zumwalts (like F-35s) are extremely expensive, about $6 billion a pop (yes, billion, with a "B"). An Arleigh Burke class destroyer will run you about $1.8 billion, not cheap but is a Zumwalt over three times as effective as an Arleigh Burke? Maybe, but three of the latter can be in three different places, one Zumwalt can only be in one place. So three Burkes would be more flexible. And the gun rounds for the Burkes, with a single 5" gun, are a lot cheaper than the rounds for the two 6" "guns" in the Zumwalt. (I put gun in quotes because on the Zumwalt they're actually simple tubes with a very complex loading and firing system. The gun rounds are really just short missiles. The gun spits them out, the rocket motor on the round fires and bingo, you have a "gun" round which is prohibitively expensive.)

So when you lay out your money for things you have to look at how much bang you're going to get for your buck. How many, how capable is each unit, how expensive are the spare parts, how much maintenance is needed to keep the thing at sea/in the air? Defense dollars are not inexhaustible (much to the chagrin of many congress-critters and blood-sucking contractors), you need to spend them wisely.

For a really simple example I hearken back to the days when the progeny were still young. On the pay of a Staff Sergeant, going out to eat mit den Kindern usually meant McDonald's (or Hardee's/Wendy's/Burger King), why? Feeding a family of five, and having everyone satiated, could be done (in those halcyon days) for twenty bucks. In a nice restaurant? Fuhgeddaboudit! A hundred bucks easily. (Not to mention the glares from the other diners as the kids get tired of waiting for their food and start acting like elected representatives, er, brats. Same thing?)

While it's nice to have the latest and greatest, better is often the enemy of good enough. And it always costs more.

Logistics, while it certainly involves beans, bullets, and bandages, is also the art of the affordable. What good is that fancy breech-loading rifle when you only have a thousand of them (and it's hard to get the ammunition distributed), versus 20,000 highly motivated tribal warriors with simple spears?

Lieutenants Melville and Coghill at Isandlwana (Source)
Well, that depends...

The Defense of Rorke's Drift (Source)
Logistics might not win a war, but it certainly can lose it for you.

Ask the Emperor of France the question of how important logistics are. In December of 1812.

Yes, I thought so.

I have written of the Zulu and mentioned, in passing, both the battles of Isandlwana (a disastrous British defeat) and Rorke's Drift (a stunning British triumph. Should you wish to revisit those posts, here ya go. (And here.) For those of you who might be bewildered by the historical references, sorry. I get carried away at times...


  1. Excellent post and thoughts Sarge. Summed it up pretty well.

  2. Amateurs discuss tactics. Professionals discuss logistics.

  3. Old Gamer, Heh? YouTube "Rule the Waves". A poster called TortugaPower has several series explaining the intricacies of the game. You start in 1900 and design, build, deploy and fight your ships up through 1926. Budgets are a nightmare.

    1. Definitely looks interesting. I'll have to re-read Dreadnought and Castles of Steel by Robert Massie. Those books would go hand in hand with RTW.

      Thanks for the tip!

  4. The media, with there silly [because they're out of context] soundbites make it all sound so simple.

    The old DEs in large numbers were pretty darn effective but make today's Burkes and the like look like giants.
    Logistics on those puppies was a nightmare because of space limitations.

    1. Could an old DE even keep up with a modern carrier? Not that the Burke's can, not really, especially if the bird farm is at full grunt. How much time could a DE spend at sea before needing more beans, bullets and go juice?

      Not a lot I'd bet.

    2. There is much that can keep up with a bird farm going full bore.
      The DEs, DDs, and DLs were limited, not so much by the power plant as by the hull size and shape.
      Once they reached a certain speed further turns on the screws (propellers) added little.
      Bunker space for fuel was the main issue for staying at sea.
      Fresh water was also an issue.
      The evaporators had a difficult time keeping up. Crew members didn't take many showers.
      The DE seemed most effective for patrol, picket, and ASW, though they proved themselves battle worthy in The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.
      Optimum cruise speed for a DD was about 17-19 knots for fuel efficiency.
      It still required refueling a minimum of three times to get to WesPac from CONUS.
      That was back when we were burning NSFO.
      The DEs were diesel and I don't know what there range and optimums were as most had already been decommissioned, with the exception of a few DERs (radar pickets).

    3. I meant a nuke bird farm. No other ship in the fleet can keep up with those when they open it up.

  5. One of the better computer games on this subject is Matrix' War In The Pacific (Admiral's Edition is the latest version). It's squarely in grognard territory: The player spends at least as much, if not more time, establishing and improving bases, stockpiling supplies, developing and escorting convoys for supplies, resources and troops as one does organizing battles.


    1. I had to do some checking but I believe that's a Gary Grigsby design, or based on his design, game. Detailed doesn't begin to cover it. I have his War in the East and it isn't for the faint of heart or those in a hurry. Loads of detail, logistics are paramount. Neglect them at your peril!

  6. Jeez Sarge, you are spoiling us with all of your great posts- keep it up! In the past month or two I've listened to a number of discussions by Jerry Hendrix, Bryan McGrath and others on the small vs super-Carrier. Same concepts as you provide apply to the carrier question and destroyer/frigate/LCS/F-35. In an ideal world with unlimited monies and no debt- sure, just mfgr lots of the big boys. Except that we do not live in an ideal world. I am on the side of being prudent and having more Burkes and smaller mobile bird farms. It is not a binary choice, but I want the needle to move away from buying only the brightest, shiniest toys we can find.

    1. The Ford Class carriers are starting to look less and less attractive. Cost way too much and (in my mind) don't provide much more capability than a Nimitz Class. I don't know, time will tell.

      The limitations on the number of CSGs you can have in your arsenal will be the escorts needed. I'm not convinced of their usefulness against a near peer adversary, especially near an enemy held coastline. Fine for planting airfields off third world adversaries with no Air Force and no Navy. But against China or Russia? If they stay in US waters that's one thing, but off the coast of either of those two? Bye bye bird farm.

    2. $14 Billion is a stupid high number for the new carrier. Navy continues to pretend that the carrier is virtually invulnerable- very foolish stance. More than once there has been a diesel electric sub pop up in the middle of a carrier battle group. China has and can afford to shoot hundreds of highly capable missiles at the carrier, only one has to be successful. This is an area I am worried about, but hey, I was Air Force and now am an old civilian so what do I know? ;)

    3. Ah but Ron, we're still tax payers!

    4. OLD, Ron? What is this OLD thing of which you speak? ;)

  7. Great post Sarge.

    I wish more taxpayers would realize that they are expert enough to understand these "complex ishas" and that the fundamentals -- which are very simple -- trump the complexities.

    1. Indeed. But a lot of taxpayers can't see the forest for the trees.

      The lies of our representatives add a certain fog to the equation as well.

  8. Sister to logistics is training. Crew training for an M1 Abrams vs a Stryker? Pilot training for a F-35? Training maintainers? Which system gives the most bang for the buck?

    1. Absolutely. Even though he was a Russian general back in the 18th century, Alexander Suvorov nailed it when he said, "Train hard, fight easy."

  9. It really IS the overhead costs of logistics. The military writer and critic Edward Luttwak has stated that the reason we retired our BBs was not that we couldn't afford to upgrade them or even man them, but that we couldn't afford the braces on the teeth of the daughters of the enlisted supply types at NAS New Orleans, Memphis, etc.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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