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HomeDEFENCESupply chain management – in war & peace 

Supply chain management – in war & peace 

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Pic: Logistics in war
“Leaders win through logistics. Vision, sure. Strategy, yes. But when you go to war, you need to have both toilet paper and bullets at the right place at the right time. In other words, you must win through superior logistics.”  ~ Tom Peters

The Indian Army with its geographical spread across twenty-nine states of the country probably has the most overstretched logistics chain amongst all armies of the world. In order for the Army to serve its objective i.e. to win a war, it needs to keep on evolving enhanced capabilities taking into account the ever-growing threat and an extremely sensitive operating environment. However, the acquisition of such capabilities requires much more than just hardware. Hence, Supply Chain Management plays an important role to provide a resource to our users in real-time. Logistics will make the difference in war since it will decide the tempo of operations. Unlike in the civil arena, logistics and supply chain management is more complex in the armed forces owing to the inhospitable terrain and far-flung border areas.

“Amateurs discuss strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” That well-worn military saying is playing out for the Army on the disputed Line of Actual Control in Ladakh where it prepares itself for a long-haul deployment against the PLA. During the summer, the key task of the  Leh-based XIV Corps is to stock up its high-altitude border posts with clothing, food, ammunition and fuel for the harsh winter ahead. It is in this little window between April and September, that the  Army gets time to replenish its posts. Now, with no immediate de-escalation in sight on the Ladakh sector and both sides in war-like build up, maintaining crucial logistic supply poses a new challenge. The logistics comprise of building a habitat for troops, the storage of ammunition and warlike stores; bringing in food and supplies; ferrying and storing fuel for vehicles, generators and also for heating the habitat to a temperature suitable for troops; storage of special munitions like missiles and rockets.

The logistical load to be carried daily to feed, clothe, equip and arm the existing troops at Ladakh (approximately one lakh) has to cater for two days’ sustenance each day – one for a summer day and one for a winter day – as there can be no movement of convoys in the winter (November to March) when heavy snowfall precludes the use of the Zojila and Rohtang axes and most of the roads are impassable and closed. This period is termed as the ‘Road Closed ‘period.

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These vehicles and petroleum bowsers then start the arduous journey of hauling the loads from these locations through the two existing axes to get into the Ladakh-Zojila (Zulu) axis that traverses Srinagar onto the Zojila pass (11575 feet) and then to Kargil-Leh and the Rohtang (Romeo) axis that winds its way from Manali to Rohtang pass (13058 feet) and on to even more formidable passes such as Bara Lachla (16043 feet) and Taglangla (17480 feet) and Leh. The convoys carrying stores and supplies ply daily and move to and fro in a very meticulously planned and monitored manner carrying an approximate 300 tons a day. Yet the journey of the stores and supplies doesn’t end at the depots in the forward areas. The supplies have to be delivered to the troops at the forward posts in locations.

Our strategic confidence is high, especially after the successful crash build-up of manpower and logistics resources in Ladakh in a period of eight weeks to mirror China. We should build on this and identify all chinks which could dilute war stamina.

Also Read:

Supply chain management – in perspective

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Is the Supply Chain Management in the Indian Army future-ready?


What Supply Chain Lessons Can be drawn from the Ukrainian Conflict

There are many lessons to be learnt from the war in Ukraine. India has a relative capability differential in China’s favour along its northern borders and in its own favour in the west with Pakistan. The challenge for India would be to successfully utilise the Ukraine model to stalemate China without substantial loss of territory and to defeat the same model when it’s adopted by Pakistan.

Indeed, success on the battlefield often causes supply shortages. As a force advances, its supply lines get longer, requiring more resupply vehicles in order to maintain the same rate of replenishment. The amount of broken and malfunctioning equipment also increases, which in turn increases the demand for spare parts, recovery vehicles and maintenance teams.

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To supply staffs, a breakthrough by their own forces presented problems almost as formidable as one by the enemy, for the methodical disposition forward of depots, dumps, fuel pipelines, and transport systems could not possibly keep pace with racing armoured columns, even if the capacity of supply lines to the rear could be expanded rapidly enough.

More recently, the U.S.-led campaign to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 — widely regarded as one of the most successful military operations of modern times — had its supply headaches. For example, the ground portion of the war famously lasted just over four days, but the U.S. Army’s 1st Armoured Division nearly ran out of fuel on Day 3 while trying to attack the Iraqi Republican Guard.

Weapons and fighters in any ground invasion would not last long without the support of mechanics, medics, engineers, truck drivers, cooks and other crew. The needs of soldiers fighting a modern war are enormous. On average, each Russian soldier goes through about 440 pounds of supplies a day, including food, fuel, ammunition, medical support and more. Russia has sent more than 150,000 troops into Ukraine, organized into various formations.

Since the invasion began, Russia has lost more than 2,000 vehicles, including more than 300 tanks, according to reports. The Ukrainians destroyed and captured some, while others were abandoned. Some of the tanks were generations old, including a Soviet-era tank that first entered production more than 50 years ago.

Just as Russia has sought to seize and retain key logistics infrastructure, Ukraine sought to deny it from the hands of Russia. On the 26th of February 2022, Ukrainian Railways confirmed that all rail links between Russia and Ukraine had been destroyed. This was seemingly an effort to deny Russian military use. Since that point, Russia has been plagued with apparent logistics deficiencies including entire military convoys being halted for days at a time. Military vehicles have also been reported as running out of fuel on route to Kyiv. Russia, having relied heavily on rail for projecting its military force had to rely on vehicles and road networks. This, in effect, physically dislocated Russian columns from supply bases and disrupted the supply chain of the Russian military.

The effect of the war between Russia and Ukraine — two of our principal suppliers of 60 to 70 per cent of weapon systems and spares — and the sanctions on the former have created a serious void in our capability. It would be a test for our diplomacy to get the waivers from the US.

Ukraine has a better defence industrial base than India by all yardsticks. Yet, its success story to blunt the Russian mechanised forces and airpower is built on imported and donated, man-portable second/third generation anti-tank and air defence guided missile systems like NLAW (Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapon), the Javelin, the Stinger and armed drones like the Bayraktar TB2 and the Switchblade. It would take a decade before Atmanirbharta comes of age.

“An army marches on its stomach”, said Napoleon, vehicles move on fuel, and weapon systems are useless without ammunition, shells, and missiles. After 72 hours of battle, the Russian army was woefully short of food, fuel, and ammunition. Logistics failed to keep pace with the battle. On restructuring its divisions into combined arms brigades and battalion tactical groups, the centralised resources of the Combined Arms Army became too meagre and lacked inherent protection. The Russian army also failed to protect its vulnerable tail from Ukrainian formations operating from the flanks and the actions of Special Forces and partisans.

Supply chains are once again being tested, this time by the extraordinary events in Ukraine. The time has long since passed when supply chain disruptions can be treated as one-off events, with organizations scrambling to mitigate the disruption to their business and to keep goods, funds, and information flowing across the supply chain. The conflict in Ukraine reinforces the imperative for most organizations to have in place more resilient supply chains.

As our armed forces restructure into Integrated Battle Groups, we must not make the same mistake. Rear area protection is as important as the battle. In the mountains and in high-altitude areas, our logistic installations and lines of communications are extremely vulnerable to cruise missiles, air and Special Forces actions. Logistic installations must go underground or tunnel into mountains. There is a need for multiple roads with tunnels to the borders. The protection of bridges from ground and air action and the development of alternate routes is extremely important. The logistics of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are equally vulnerable to similar action, and we must exploit it to the hilt. Special Forces, Scout Battalions based on local population and Special Frontier Force can do to the PLA exactly what Ukraine did to the Russian army.

Recommendations: SCM and Crisis Management

The best way to deal with a crisis is to prepare ahead of time.  Map out your supply chain so that you are clear on the details. A good map should include the locations of your supplier’s factories, what each plant makes, their operational status, and their inventory. If there is trouble on the ground, this can help you spot a drop in quality or identify “fake” products. A study from MIT’s Sloan School of Management showed that companies with more supply chain visibility have more consumer trust. If a supplier is critical to you, and they are facing financial difficulties, consider agreeing to an advance or lower rate to make sure they stay in business. Your company might also consider offering a loan or investing money into their company if they are crucial to your operation.

Businesses should have a plan for shortages when a supply chain breaks down. If two products use the same part but it’s in short supply, it’s good to know which product takes priority ahead of time. When customers expect an item and don’t receive it, the result is a negative experience that can affect your brand down the road.

The three most important recommendations to obviate a crisis of this kind are:-

  • Plan ahead with inventory: Organize and plan the current inventory levels to ensure that production schedules can be met in case critical sourcing locations are disrupted by prolonged port congestion and further imposing of stringent customs regulations or tariffs on Chinese imports. In light of COVID-19 and the possibility of extended lockdown measures to contain the outbreak, organizations are advised to consider planning inventory in diverse locations to minimize the risk of not being able to quickly access or ship the inventory when needed.
  • Reduce concentration of risk: The political risks posed by the anti- China boycott in India combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and global trade wars have exposed the dangers of being overly reliant on any single country for critical supplies and materials. While shifts in manufacturing supply chain will not happen overnight, customers will need to consider the risks of concentrating an overwhelming majority for their production or supply networks in a single country amid continued global turbulence.
  • Understand and activate alternate sources of supply. For companies that have multisource key inputs, it is important to move quickly to activate secondary supplier relationships and secure additional critical inventory and capacity. At the same time, companies must take care in choosing alternate sourcing locations for key commodities, as doing so can increase industry reliance on supplier hubs that are already concentrated.


Therefore we need to prioritise the supply chain management methodology to take into account in keeping our workforce healthy and productive by supporting new ways of thinking. Then we need to leverage data to improve visibility into demand, inventory, capacity, supply and finances across the eco system. There would be a requirement to define segmentation to prioritize demand and thereby identify prime micro-segments. Each supply chain scenario must be evaluated to be able to get actionable insights. The requirement of increased visibility, agility, flexibility, risk mitigation, technological innovation and ever-growing expectation from customers for excellence is a huge challenge for supply chain managers and leaders.

Managing people and relationships is an integral part of supply chain management, and effective leadership is of great importance to success. The role of the supply chain leader integrates the management of both people and logistics systems, with the leader continually analyzing market trends, utilizing appropriate information systems and big data sources, making decisions based on these analyses, and promoting innovation to support company growth. In the ultimate analysis, one is reminded of the famous words of Ronald Reagan, the former President of the United States “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

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Maj. Gen. Dr. Rajan Kochhar, VSM
Maj. Gen. Dr. Rajan Kochhar, VSM
Maj Gen Dr Rajan Kochhar, VSM, retired from the Indian Army, as Major General Army Ordnance Corps, Central Command, after 37 years of meritorious service to the Nation. Alumni of Defence Services Staff College and College of Defence Management, he holds a doctorate in Emotional Intelligence and is a reputed expert on logistics and supply chain management. Gen Kochhar, a prolific writer and defence analyst, has authored four books, including “Breaking the Chinese Myth” which was released recently. He is a Senior Adviser with Defence Research and Studies, Member, Manoj Parikkar Institute of Defence and Strategic Analyses, New Delhi, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and Society of Airspace Maritime and Defence Studies (SAMDES). He is also on the Board of Management and faculty with Noida Institute of Engineering and Technology, Delhi NCR.



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