Military Wiki

Military logistics is the discipline of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of military forces. In its most comprehensive sense, it is those aspects or military operations that deal with:[1]

  • Design, development, acquisition, storage, distribution, maintenance, evacuation, and disposition of materiel.
  • Transport of personnel.
  • Acquisition or construction, maintenance, operation, and disposition of facilities.
  • Acquisition or furnishing of services.
  • Medical and health service support.


The word "logistics" is derived from the Greek adjective logistikos meaning "skilled in calculating". The first administrative use of the word was in Roman and Byzantine times when there was a military administrative official with the title Logista. At that time, the word apparently implied a skill involved in numerical computations.

17th-18th centuries

By the seventeenth century, the French were using a magazine system to keep a network of frontier towns supplied for sieges and to provide for campaigns beyond their borders.[2]

The British were seriously handicapped in the American Revolutionary War by the need to ship all supplies across the Atlantic, since the Patriots prevented most local purchases. The British found a solution after the war by creating the infrastructure and the experience needed to manage an empire. London reorganized the management of the supply of military food and transport that was completed in 1793–94 when the naval Victualling and Transport Boards undertook those responsibilities. It built upon experience the supply of the very-long-distance Falklands garrison (1767–72) to systematize needed shipments to distant places such as Australia, Nova Scotia, and Sierra Leone. This new infrastructure allowed Britain to launch large expeditions to the Continent during the French Revolutionary War and to develop a global network of colonial garrisons.[3]


Until the Napoleonic wars, the military supply was ensured by looting, requisition or private companies. In 1807, Napoleon created the first Train regiments, entirely dedicated to the supply and the transport of the equipment. However Napoleon typically tried to live off the country—he called it "war feeding war." However it made his army vulnerable to the scorched earth policy conducted by the Russians in 1812, which burned the food supplies Napoleon (and the Russian peasants) had counted upon. The French system failed as well in Spain, in the Peninsular wars, where the supplies found in the occupied territory were insufficient for French needs. The French scrambled to find alternative sources in the face of a guerrilla war that targeted supplies, and the British blockade of Spanish ports. Logistical operations largely took center stage in French strategy. The need to supply a besieged Barcelona made it impossible to control the province and ended French plans to incorporate Catalonia into Napoleon's Empire.[4]

The first theoretical analysis was by the Swiss writer, Antoine-Henri Jomini, who studied the Napoleonic wars. In 1838, he devised a theory of war on the trinity of strategy, ground tactics, and logistics.


Railways and steamboats revolutionized logistics by the mid-19th century. In the American Civil War (1861–65), both armies used railways extensively, for transport of personnel, supplies, horses and mules and heavy field pieces. Both tried to disrupt the enemy's logistics by destroying trackage and bridges.[5]

During the Seven Weeks War of 1866, railways enabled the swift mobilization of the Prussian Army, but the problem of moving supplies from the end of rail lines to units at the front resulted in nearly 18,000 tons trapped on trains unable to be unloaded to ground transport.[6] The Prussian use of railways during the Franco-Prussian War is often cited as a prime example of logistic modernizations, but the advantages of maneuver were often gained by abandoning supply lines that became hopelessly congested with rear-area traffic.[7]

World War I

During World War I, unrestricted submarine warfare had a significant impact on the ability of Britain's allies to keep shipping lanes open, while the great size of the German Army proved too much for its railways to support except while immobilized in trench warfare.[8]

Modern developments


Iraqi Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialist.

Mobile workshop of the French Army.

Roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Pililaau during Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS)exercise.

Logistics, occasionally referred to as "combat service support", must address highly uncertain conditions. While perfect forecasts are rarely possible (this is also true in most sciences) forecasts models can reduce uncertainty about what supplies or services will be needed, where and when they will be needed, or the best way to provide them. Ultimately, responsible officials must make judgments on these matters, sometimes using intuition and scientifically weighing alternatives as the situation requires and permits. Their judgments must be based not only upon professional knowledge of the numerous aspects of logistics itself but also upon an understanding of the interplay of closely related military considerations such as strategy, tactics, intelligence, training, personnel, and finance. However, case studies have shown that more quantitative, statistical analysis are often a significant improvement on human judgment. One such recent example is the use of Applied Information Economics by the Office of Naval Research and the Marine Corps for forecasting bulk fuel requirements for the battlefield.[9]

In major military conflicts, logistics matters are often crucial in deciding the overall outcome of wars. For instance, tonnage war - the bulk sinking of cargo ships - was a crucial factor in World War II. The successful Allied anti-submarine campaign and the failure of the German Navy to sink enough cargo in the Battle of the Atlantic allowed Britain to stay in the war and establish the second front against the Nazis; by contrast, the successful U.S. submarine campaign against Japanese maritime shipping across Asian waters effectively crippled its economy and its military production capabilities. In a tactical scale, in the Battle of Ilomantsi, the Soviets had an overwhelming numerical superiority in guns and men, but managed to fire only 10,000 shells against the Finnish 36,000 shells, eventually being forced to abandon their heavy equipment and flee the battlefield, resulting in a decisive Finnish victory. One reason for this was the successful Finnish harassment of Soviet supply lines.

More generally, protecting one's own supply lines and attacking those of an enemy is a fundamental military strategy; an example of this as a purely logistical campaign for the military means of implementing strategic policy was the Berlin Airlift.

Military logistics has pioneered a number of techniques that have since become widely deployed in the commercial world. Operations research grew out of WWII military logistics efforts. Likewise, military logistics borrows from methods first introduced to the commercial world.

The Kargil Conflict in 1999 between India and Pakistan also referred to as Operation Vijay (Victory in Hindi) is one of the most recent examples of high altitude warfare in mountainous terrain that posed significant logistical problems for the combating sides. The Stallion which forms the bulk of the Indian Army's logistical vehicles proved its reliability and serviceability with 95% operational availability during the operation.

Loss of Strength Gradient

Geographic distance is a key factor in military affairs. The shorter the distance, the greater the ease with which force can be brought to bear upon an opponent. This is because it is easier to undertake the supply of logistics to a force on the ground as well as engage in bombardment. The importance of distance is demonstrated by the Loss of Strength Gradient devised by Kenneth Boulding. This shows the advantage of supply that is forward based.[10]

U.S. Armed Forces classes of supply

The United States Military logistics support is grouped into 10 classes of supply:[11]

Class Description Consumer Class
Class I Subsistence (food), gratuitous (free) health and comfort items. Troops
Class II Clothing, individual equipment, tent-age, organizational tool sets and kits, hand tools, unclassified maps, administrative and housekeeping supplies and equipment. Troops
Class III Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants (POL) (package and bulk): Petroleum, fuels, lubricants, hydraulic and insulating oils, preservatives, liquids and gases, bulk chemical products, coolants, deicer and antifreeze compounds, components, and additives of petroleum and chemical products, and coal. Equipment
Class IV Construction materials, including installed equipment and all fortification and barrier materials. Troops
Class V Ammunition of all types, bombs, explosives, mines, fuzes, detonators, pyrotechnics, missiles, rockets, propellants, and associated items. Equipment
Class VI Personal demand items (such as health and hygiene products, soaps and toothpaste, writing material, snack food, beverages, cigarettes, batteries, alcohol, and cameras—nonmilitary sales items). Troops
Class VII Major end items such as launchers, tanks, mobile machine shops, and vehicles. Equipment
Class VIII Medical material (equipment and consumables) including repair parts peculiar to medical equipment. (Class VIIIa – Medical consumable supplies not including blood & blood products; Class VIIIb – Blood & blood components (whole blood, platelets, plasma, packed red cells, etc.). Troops
Class IX Repair parts and components to include kits, assemblies, and sub-assemblies (repairable or non-repairable) required for maintenance support of all equipment. Equipment
Class X Material to support nonmilitary programs such as agriculture and economic development (not included in Classes I through IX). Civilians
Miscellaneous Water, salvage, and captured material. Troops

Supply chain management in military logistics often deals with a number of variables in predicting cost, deterioration, consumption, and future demand. The US Military's categorical supply classification was developed in such a way that categories of supply with similar consumption variables are grouped together for planning purposes. For instance peacetime consumption of ammunition and fuel will be considerably less than wartime consumption of these items, whereas other classes of supply such as subsistence and clothing have a relatively consistent consumption rate regardless of war or peace. Troops will always require uniform and food. More troops will require equally more uniforms and food.

In the table above, each class of supply has a consumer. Some classes of supply have a linear demand relationship - as more troops are added more supply items are needed - as more equipment is used more fuel and ammo is consumed. Other classes of supply must consider a third variable besides usage and quantity: time. As equipment ages more and more repair parts are needed over time, even when usage and quantity stays consistent. By recording and analyzing these trends over time and applying to future scenarios, the US Military can accurately supply troops with the items necessary at the precise moment they are needed.[12] History has shown that good logistical planning creates a lean and efficient fighting force. Lack thereof can lead to a clunky, slow, and ill-equipped force with too much or too little supply.

Logistics related

Specific logistics operations



  1. AAP-6 2009, NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions.
  2. Creveld, pp. 17–26.
  3. Roger Morriss, "Colonization, Conquest, and the Supply of Food and Transport: The Reorganization of Logistics Management, 1780–1795," War in History, (July 2007), 14#3 pp 310–324,
  4. John Morgan, "War Feeding War? The Impact of Logistics on the Napoleonic Occupation of Catalonia," Journal of Military History, (Jan 2009), 73#1 pp 83–116
  5. Huston, James A. The Sinews of War: Army Logistics, 1775–1953 (1966)
  6. Creveld, p.84.
  7. Creveld, pp. 92–108.
  8. Creveld, pp. 138–141.
  9. Douglas Hubbard. How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business, John Wiley & Sons, 2007.
  10. Boulding, 1962: 262.
  11. U.S. Army Field Manual 4-0 Combat Service Support
  12. Joint Logistics Analysis Tool)


  • Creveld, Martin van (1977). Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-21730-X. 
  • Dupuy, R. Ernest; Trevor N. Dupuy (1970). The Encyclopedia of Military History (revised ed.). New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-011139-9. 
  • Eccles, Henry E. (1959). Logistics in the National Defense. Harrisburg, Penn.: The Stackpole Company. ISBN 0-313-22716-0. 
  • Huston, James A. The Sinews of War: Army Logistics, 1775–1953 (1966), U.S. Army; 755pp online

Further reading

  • Prebilič, Vladimir. "Theoretical aspects of military logistics" Defense and Security Analysis, June 2006, Vol. 22 Issue 2, pp 159–177
  • Thorpe, George C. (1917). Pure Logistics: The Science of War Preparation. Kansas City, Mo.: Franklin Hudson Pub. Co. OCLC 6109722. 
    • Thorpe, George C. (1986) [1917]. George C. Thorpe's Pure Logistics: The Science of War Preparation. Stanley L. Falk (introduction). Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press. LCCN 8600593. 
    • Thorpe, George C. (1997) [1917]. George C. Thorpe's Pure Logistics: The Science of War Preparation. Newport, R.I.: Naval War College Press. 
    • Thorpe, George C. (2002) [1917]. Pure Logistics: The Science of War Preparation. Honolulu, Hawaii: University Press of the Pacific. ISBN 0-89875-732-0. 
  • Ohl, John Kennedy (1994). Supplying the Troops: General Somervell and American Logistics in World War II. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois Press. ISBN 0-87580-185-4.  Biography of Brehon B. Somervell, head of the United States Army's Army Service Forces during World War II.

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