Civilian expert helps NATO establish communication lines

  • 30 Jan. 2012 -
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  • Last updated: 27 Jan. 2012 09:50

It’s not every day that someone describes to you how a slight mis-measurement on the height of a vehicle led them to destroying the canopy of a public train station – without even realizing at the time. But, then not everyone is like Tony Hurst, who plots and plans the transport of military supplies, including armoured vehicles, from their source to theatres of operations that could be literally anywhere in the world.

“When I worked at British Rail, we were developing ‘Out of Gauge’ routes for the Warrior armoured vehicles used by the British Army,” Hurst explains. “A train is ‘Out of Gauge’ when the dimensions (height, width) or weight exceed the normal operating limits of the rail network. Such trains require a special route and running conditions, e.g. no trains to run in opposite direction, avoiding bridges, speed limits etc,” he says. "During our UK trials we managed to demolish a station canopy en-route, only actually finding this out when we found the debris on top of a vehicle at the destination! On another trial, a Warrior fell off and executed a complete somersault landing on its tracks without injuring anyone including the driver.”

Advising the Alliance

Hurst, 66, is Senior Adviser to the NATO Transport Group and civilian expert. “My role as a NATO civil transport expert is to advise the NATO civil and military authorities on the best use of civil transport industry assets and infrastructure for their needs,” he explains.

He uses his invaluable experience to improve the Alliance’s current lines of communication (LOCs) – transport routes – assess threats to them and establish efficient and cost-effective LOCs when new operations arise. In particular, his experience with wide-gauge transport helped him obtain the agreement of 27 national rail companies to adopt universal standards for the securing of military vehicles, so that supplies could pass through without issue. This type of agreement is crucial to timely and efficient transport of supplies.

The advice offered by Hurst takes account of the quality, condition, and operational capability and capacities of LOCs before a best solution can be recommended.

Supply lines are integral

Supplying the military with everything from food to equipment is an integral part of each NATO operation. But it is not easy. Moving equipment like tanks across continents and through diverse terrain is a complex technical and political issue. For Hurst, it’s about more than airlifting in supplies the fastest way possible. It’s about finding the most cost-effective methods of military transportation – and it’s been a life-long passion.

During his 22 years in the British Royal Air Force, Hurst worked in logistics teams for many operations including the Falklands and Gulf wars before retiring out of the military and moving to British Rail.

“At British Rail, I used my military expertise to develop a surface (rail and road) network throughout the UK to support military freight movement in peace and war time,” he says. “A highlight was moving armoured vehicles through the newly built Channel Tunnel to support the UN peacekeeping operation in Croatia.”

Facing problems

Creating new LOCs is not as easy as simply finding roads and rails, or ports to dock ships. Security of shipments is also a main priority, as is political will and agreement for the shipments to pass through a country which may have nothing to do with the conflict.

“Threats to LOCs are most graphically illustrated by the recent closure of the surface LOC via Pakistan to Afghanistan,” he explains. “In fact, it was the potential problems with this route that prompted my study into surface LOCs into the north of Afghanistan -- that and the escalating cost of airlift support to the International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s ongoing operation in Afghanistan.”

Raising awareness of land routes

One of Hurst’s main aims is to raise awareness among nations of surface transport’s benefits for long distance, heavy-lift freight movement in support of operations. “While air transport provides the means for rapid deployment, rail transport offers a cost-effective method for prolonged sustainment in the longer term,” he says, adding that his motto is “to bridge the gap between military aspirations and commercial reality.”

And in this time of austerity it is also the commercial reality that really matters. “I like to think my military and subsequent commercial experience provides the perfect mix for a balanced and practical outlook to give sound advice to the NATO authorities. Particularly, for the tax payer in every NATO nation, I hope that my efforts contribute to ‘value for money’ in the Alliance cause.”