Friday, 23 February 2018

Logistics in the Falklands War: A Case Study in Expeditionary Warfare - Kenneth L Privratsky

This review has been submitted to The Journal of the RCAF

Title: Logistics in the Falklands War: A Case Study in Expeditionary Warfare
Author: Kenneth L Privratsky
ISBN: 978-1-47382-312-9
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
Year: 2016
Pages: 271
Photos/Maps: 54/6

The Falkland’s War was a conflict that no-one anticipated or effectively planned for. A conventional war fought between two individual nations, one NATO the other South American, had simply not been in the paradigm of western planners for literally decades as focus had remained exclusively on the NATO-Warsaw Pact standoff. That the British prevailed was as much a testament to professionalism and their ability to improvise as it was to a heavy dose of luck. Logistics was the key to success in this conflict; the author, drawing upon interviews and primary source material, paints a vivid picture of the challenges facing the support elements of this force. The lessons that he gleans from his research are many and I have identified some of the more significant ones below, covering a broad spectrum of support doctrine.

Effective control of logistics relies heavily upon a clear delineation of command and responsibility. Give the distances involved and the resultant paucity of resources, it was strange that the overall commander of the British Task Force (Commander South Atlantic Task Force) Admiral Fieldhouse, did not sail with the fleet. This left task force logisticians trying to support four sub-group commanders (Rear Admiral Woodward – Commander Carrier Battle Group, Brig Thompson – Commander Landing Force, Commodore Clapp – Commander Amphibious Task Force and Captain Young – Commander Op Paraquet) who each had equal standing under Fieldhouse. Poor strategic and operational communication ability meant that inevitably conflicts arose relating to priority of support.

Additional challenges identified by the author included the breakdown of logistics discipline during the deployment phase to Ascension Island. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual case and has been repeated many times since the Falklands War. Clear marking, tracking information and prioritization is critical if items are not to be mishandled or misplaced. As soon as tracking control is lost over items, especially during a period of intense throughput, it is like randomly placing a book on a library shelf, the item will be most likely lost for the duration of the operation. The same holds true for inaccurate prioritization. Items are handled and given space on aircraft etc based upon their identified priority. Unfortunately, the old adage holds true: if everything is identified as priority, then nothing is priority. The need to maintain logistics discipline, regardless of the pressure to get things out of the door, is absolutely critical to the effective support of an operation.

Another area that the author discusses in detail is the atrophying of skill sets such as amphibious assaults into austere environments fully supported by logistics. Cost cutting and a paradigm of first world support available through NATO nations sapped the British of experience and knowledge. This reluctance to expend defence dollars on realistic training was not limited to the UK but their experience serves as a warning to other nations that it is “too late to buy insurance once the house is on fire”. Many Western members of the NATO alliance find themselves severely limited in their ability to undertake operations of any significant magnitude unilaterally due to a degradation or atrophying of skills and resources due to a reliance upon others to make up any shortfalls.

British victory in the Falkland’s war was not a foregone conclusion. One of the points that the author makes is that, while the British did lose a significant number of assets during the war, predominantly they were picket ships or combat vessels as opposed to support ships. Argentine orders to their pilots were to target the logistics elements of the fleet thereby crippling the British before they could get a foothold on the ground. The pilots, generally, went after the fighting elements and either consciously or otherwise, disregarded their orders. That they did was exceptionally fortunate for the British.

Privratsky’s book is the first to look at the Falkland’s war purely from the perspective of logistics. His work is thoughtful and insightful and conveys messages that continue to be relevant and timely. Many will argue that technology is making the world smaller and more accessible; however, as the Falkland’s war demonstrated, advances in technology raise both the level of expectation of the operators towards their support elements but also increases the degree of complexity that logisticians must overcome in maintaining and supporting far flung ops worldwide. This book contains a significant number of lessons for militaries of all stripes and capabilities and should be reviewed in detail.

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