While the term “logistics” can encompass several different meanings, in essence it has to do with having the right thing, at the right place, at the right time. NATO defines logistics as the science of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of forces. It is of vital importance for any military operation and, without it, operations could not be carried out and sustained. Logistics can be seen as the bridge between deployed forces and the industrial base, which produces the material and weapons deployed forces need to accomplish their mission.
- The services and responsibilities of NATO logistics are subdivided into three domains: production logistics, in-service logistics, and consumer logistics.
- Multinational logistics is a component of collective logistics, which aims to achieve reduction in costs, harmonise life-cycle processes and increase efficiency in logistics support at all times.
- NATO logistics can also be understood through the core functions they fulfil which include but are not limited to: supply, maintenance, movement and transportation, petroleum support, infrastructure engineering, and medical support.
- One of the key logistics principles driving logistic support at NATO is that of collective responsibility which encourages nations and NATO to cooperatively share the provision and use of logistic capabilities and resources.
- The Logistics Committee is the principal committee that supports the North Atlantic Council and the Military Committee as the overarching coordinating authority across the whole spectrum of logistics functions within NATO.
- In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict since 2014, the NATO Logistics Vision and Objectives (V&O) was revised in accordance with developments from the 2010 Strategic Concept, Political Guidance 2015, and the Readiness Action Plan.
More background information
Based on NATO’s agreed definition of logistics – the science of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of forces – logistics covers the following areas:
- design and development, acquisition, storage, transport, distribution, maintenance, evacuation and disposal of materiel;
- transport of personnel;
- acquisition, construction, maintenance, operation and disposition of facilities;
- acquisition of provision of services;
- medical and health service support.
These services and responsibilities are subdivided into three domains:
- production logistics,
- in-service logistics and
- consumer logistics.
Production logistics, also known as acquisition logistics, largely belongs to the industrial domain. It is concerned with the planning, design, development and procurement of equipment and therefore includes: standardization and interoperability, contracting, quality assurance, acquiring spares, reliability and maintainability analysis, safety standards for equipment, specifications and production processes, trials and testing, codification, equipment documentation, and configuration control and modifications.
While the responsibility for equipping and maintaining military forces is primarily a national one, cooperation does take place within NATO in numerous spheres. This is done, principally, under the auspices of NATO’s Conference of National Armament Directors (CNAD) and its subordinate bodies.
In-service logistics bridges the gap between production and consumer logistics. It comprises the functions associated with procuring, receiving, storing, distributing and disposing of materiel that is required to maintain military equipment and supply forces.
Beyond ensuring that weapons systems are available and fit for use, in-service support actually begins with the decision to bring the system into the inventory. For this, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) is the principal organisation responsible.
Consumer logistics, also known as operational logistics, is concerned with the supply and support functions of forces. It includes reception of the initial product, storage, transport, maintenance, operation and disposal of materiel. As a consequence, consumer logistics comprises stock control, provision or construction of facilities, movement and control, reliability and defect reporting, safety standards for storage, transport and handling, and related training.
These roles fall mainly under the responsibility of the Logistics Committee and the Petroleum Committee. Other bodies, such as the Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO (COMEDS), advise the Military Committee on logistical matters in their specific areas of responsibility.
Modes of multinational logistic support
The logistic support options available to a joint force commander range from a totally integrated multinational logistic force to purely national support. In order to supplement purely national logistic support, ease the individual national burden and achieve greater economy of scale, there are four types of multinational logistic support options that may be implemented:
- Pre-planned mutual support, which are mutual support agreements (MSAs) and cooperation between national support elements (NSEs) that are arranged bi- or multilaterally by NATO and/or nations.
- One nation formally undertaking the provision of support and services to all or part of the multinational force as the logistic lead nation (LLN) or the logistic role specialist nations (LRSN).
- One or more nations formally undertaking the service of all or part of the multinational force under the operational control of the joint force commander.
- One or more nations undertaking the service of all or part of the multinational force by forming a multinational logistic/medical unit (MLU/MMU).
The definitions listed above have been drawn directly from the Allied Joint Publication (AJP) – 4.9 series. Also in this series is an elaboration on the benefits, limitations and constraints of multinational logistic support.
Another way of understanding NATO’s responsibilities in the field of logistics is through the core functions they fulfil. NATO is responsible for a number of functions, which can, at times, overlap. They comprise:
Supply covers material and items used in the equipment, support, and maintenance of military forces. The supply function includes the determination of stock levels, provisioning, distribution and replenishment.
Maintenance refers to all actions, including repair, to retain the material or restore it to a specified condition. The operational readiness of land, naval and air forces will depend to a great extent on a high standard of preventive maintenance during peacetime of the equipment and associated material. In addition, the capability to maintain equipment in-theatre is as fundamental as having it available in the first place. One does not work without the other. Consider the former issue of helicopters in Afghanistan: while the country had helicopters to contribute to military operations, it lacked the essential capabilities to maintain them in the field.
Movement and transportation
A flexible capability needs to exist to move forces in a timely manner within and between theatres. This also applies to the logistic support necessary to mount and sustain operations undertaken to carry out the full spectrum of NATO roles and missions.
The NATO Petroleum Supply Chain has to be able to respond to the Alliance’s operational requirements, taking into account deployment distances and dispersions envisaged. Additionally, impacts to the fuels delivery capability must also be taken into account, which can call for increased cooperation between NATO member and partner countries, financial considerations and the need for greater interoperability. As such, the fuels delivery capability is under constant review in order to continue creating innovative ways of responding to new needs.
Infrastructure engineering for logistics
Infrastructure engineering, while not exclusively a logistics function, requires close coordination with logistics as its mission is closely aligned in terms of facilitating lines of communication and constructing support facilities. The acquisition, construction and operation of facilities form the basis for the NATO Security Investment Programme – a long-term bundle of projects that is dedicated directly to NATO installations and facilities for the support of military forces. Overall, the engineering mission bridges the gap from logistics to operations and is closely related to the ultimate success of both.
An efficient medical support system is needed to treat and evacuate sick, injured and wounded personnel, minimise man-days lost and return casualties to duty. It is considered a morale booster and a potential force multiplier. In addition, medical support plays a vital role in force protection. Given that this kind of support is normally a national responsibility, planning needs to be flexible when considering multinational approaches. The degree of multinationality varies according to the circumstances of the mission and the willingness of countries to participate.
In addition to core functions, there are enabling functions, which include:
- logistic information management: this couples available information technology with logistic processes and practices in order to meet the logistic information requirements of NATO commanders and countries;
- reception, staging and onward movement: this is the phase in the deployment process that transitions units, personnel, equipment and materiel from arrival at ports of debarkation to their final destination. Although this is an operational matter, it requires the provision of a significant degree of logistic support;
- contracting: contracting has become increasingly important to the conduct of operations, especially when operating beyond NATO territory. It can be employed to gain quick access to in-country resources by procuring the supplies and services that the commander requires;
- host nation support: if available, host nation support can provide the NATO commander and contributing countries with logistics and other areas of support in accordance with arrangements negotiated and discussed through the partnership of the host nation government. This may reduce the amount of logistic forces and material required to deploy, sustain and redeploy forces that otherwise must be provided by contributing countries.
NATO logistics also monitors several other separate areas that relate in varying degrees to its core and enabling functions. These include explosive ordnance disposal, environmental protection, civil-military cooperation and standardization.
These areas play an important role in the success of an operation. For instance, standardization is the key tool for achieving interoperability. Interoperability has a direct impact on mission sustainability and the combat effectiveness of forces. The minimum requirements for interoperability are commonality of concepts, doctrines and procedures, compatibility of equipment and interchangeability of combat supplies. NATO sets standards which it encourages individual countries to adopt and produces NATO Standardization Agreements for procedures, systems and equipment components, known as STANAGS.
Material and services also form part of logistics, but are not currently treated by NATO. Services for combat troops and logistic activities include but are not limited to: manpower and skills provisioning, housing/accommodation, burials, water provision, canteen, laundry and bathing facilities, map redistribution, and postal and courier service.
The following principles relate to the development of policy and doctrine for all functional areas of logistics including movement and transportation, and medical support (with the exception of Germany, where medical support is not considered as a logistics function). An element of overlap between the principles has been voluntarily introduced to provide a comprehensive and seamless foundation for logistic support to any possible Alliance mission. The definitions below have been drawn directly from the approved 2004 Military Committee document (MC 319/2(Final)), which sets out NATO principles and policies for logistics.
The first principle concerned – that of collective responsibility – is the driving force of logistic support at NATO. Nations and NATO authorities have collective responsibility for logistic support of NATO’s multinational operations. This collective responsibility encourages nations and NATO to cooperatively share the provision and use of logistic capabilities and resources to support the force effectively and efficiently. Standardization, cooperation and multinationality in logistics build together the basis for flexible and efficient use of logistic support, thereby contributing to the operational success.
There is an essential interdependence between responsibility and authority. The responsibility assigned to any NATO commander must be matched with the delegation of authority by nations and NATO to allow the adequate discharge of responsibilities. The NATO commander at the appropriate level must be given sufficient authority over the logistic resources necessary to enable him to receive, employ, sustain and redeploy forces assigned to him by nations in the most effective manner. The same should apply for non-NATO commanders of multinational forces participating in a NATO-led operation.
Primacy of operational requirements
All logistic support efforts, from both the military and civil sector, should be focused to satisfy the operational requirements necessary to guarantee the success of the mission.
Cooperation among the nations and NATO is essential. Cooperation across the full spectrum of logistics, including between the civilian and military sector, as well as within and between nations, both contribute to the best use of limited resources. For non-Article 5 crisis response operations, this cooperation must be extended to non-NATO nations, and other relevant organisations as required.
Logistic support must be coordinated not only among nations but also between nations and NATO at all levels. It must also be carried out with non-NATO nations and other relevant organisations as required. Generic and standing pre-arranged agreements are the tools to facilitate logistic coordination and cooperation. The overall responsibility for coordination lies with NATO and should be conducted as a matter of routine.
Nations and NATO must ensure, individually and collectively, the provision of logistic resources to support forces allocated to NATO during peace, crisis and conflict.
Logistic support must be available in the appropriate quantity and quality, at the appropriate notice, when and where it is required throughout the full spectrum of the Alliance’s possible missions. It must be ensured for any NATO operation, no matter the duration.
Logistic resources must be used as efficiently and economically as possible. Needs must be identified in a timely manner to optimise the efficient provision and effective use of such resources.
Logistic support must be proactive, adaptable and responsive to achieve the objective. Adequate planning which considers potentially changing circumstances enhances flexibility.
Visibility and transparency
Visibility and transparency of logistic resources are essential for effective logistic support. NATO commanders require a timely and accurate exchange of information among nations and NATO to prioritise consignment movement into and within the joint operation area. This allows for redirection in accordance with agreements between the commander and national support elements, as well as for effective employment of logistic assets within the joint operation area.
A hierarchy of policy documents
A formal hierarchy of logistics policies and doctrine exists. At the top are strategic-level logistics policies, which are published as North Atlantic Council Memoranda and Military Committee documents. Then follow the Joint Logistic Doctrine; the Component Logistic Doctrine; Logistic Tactics, Techniques and Procedures; and Logistic Directives.
The NATO Policy for Cooperation in Logistics
In 2001, a NATO Policy for Cooperation in Logistics was developed to improve multinational cooperation. The framework for its implementation is the Concept for Cooperation in Logistics, which is composed of three principal elements:
- the Alliance’s policy and guidance documents that direct and influence NATO logistics in their own domains;
- the cooperation tools (or “enablers”) that promote cooperation in logistics (i.e. policy, doctrine, activities, systems, standards, procedures and capabilities);
- the Harmonisation, Coordination and Control Mechanism, which is the formal mechanism that continuously identifies and manages cooperation objectives and enablers such as when they are put into place and when they are achieved.
Responsibility and authority
All logistics policy documents promulgate the principles outlined in the section above: collective responsibility, authority, primacy of operational requirements, cooperation, coordination, assured provision, sufficiency, efficiency, flexibility, and visibility and transparency.
With regard to the general implementation of logistic support, responsibility and authority have a fundamental role to play. Individual countries have the ultimate responsibility for equipping their forces and ensuring the provision of logistic resources to support the forces assigned to NATO during peace, crisis and conflict. They retain responsibility until such time as they are released to NATO by agreed mechanisms for the Transfer of Authority.
Nations and NATO authorities have a collective responsibility for ensuring that the NATO commander has access to the required logistic information. The NATO commander assumes control of commonly provided resources as directed and is responsible for establishing the logistic requirements for all phases of an operation, as well as the development of a logistic support plan that supports the operational plan. The commander must also ensure that the logistic force structure and the command and control (C2) arrangements have been established and are capable of supporting the operation. His/her key authorities are to:
- command common-funded logistic resources and assume operational control of Multinational Integrated Logistic Units (MILUs) and other assigned logistic assets, as directed;
- redistribute the logistic assets of nations for the support of the forces in accordance with pre-agreed terms and conditions; and
- inspect and require reports on the quantity and quality of logistic assets designated to support the forces that will be under his command.
In sum, with logistic information, the NATO commander has the key authority to ensure that the force is properly supported and to establish a support organisation to meet the operational requirement. The authorities listed above are also applicable to non-NATO commanders of a multinational force participating in a NATO-led operation.
Logistics planning in NATO’s Defence Planning Process
Logistics planning is an integral part of NATO’s defence planning process, which sets out the Alliance’s goals. Defence planning provides a framework within which national and NATO defence-related planning can be harmonised so as to meet the Alliance's agreed requirements in the most effective way. In other words, defence planning seeks to ensure that the Alliance has the requisite forces, assets, facilities and capabilities to fulfil its tasks throughout the full spectrum of its missions in accordance with the Strategic Concept. As such, it covers both NATO's own capabilities and those of Allied countries.
In concrete terms, logistics planning is done through the force planning process and Partnership for Peace (PfP) Planning and Review Process (PARP). It is at this level that the logistic capabilities needed to deploy, sustain and redeploy Alliance forces are identified by the Strategic Commanders in consultation with participating countries. Logistic capabilities can be called upon by NATO commanders as part of the operational planning process to be used in a NATO-led operation. The authority, responsibility and funding for multinational logistic arrangements are established during the operational planning process.
The Strategic Commanders are also responsible for developing stockpile requirements. For this purpose, NATO requirements are listed in the NATO Stockpile Planning Guidance, which is reviewed and sent out to nations every two years. Stockpiling is closely linked to the principles of logistic readiness and sustainability. National and NATO logistic plans must ensure that sufficient quantity and quality of logistic resources are available at the same readiness and deployability levels to support forces until a re-supply system is in place. In addition, combat power must be sustained for the foreseen duration of operations, which necessitates sufficient stocks or at least assured access to industrial capabilities, agreements, contingency contracts and other means, including contractor support to operations.
Vision and Objectives of NATO Logistics
In 1999, the Senior NATO Logisticians’ Committee (SNLC – since June 2010 renamed the Logistics Committee) decided to develop the NATO Logistics Vision and Objectives (V&O). Effectively, it is a planning tool that provides the Logistics Committee with a mechanism to coordinate and harmonise, on behalf of the North Atlantic Council and the Military Committee, the development and implementation of logistics policies and initiatives within NATO. It also ensures that NATO’s broader logistics concerns are taken into account in defence planning.
The NATO Logistics V&O consists of an overarching vision for NATO logistics over a period of 10 years; broad objectives that are aligned with higher-level guidance; and detailed requirements that identify the actions, agents and timeframe for completion.
The NATO Logistics Vision and Objectives process
This process consists of three phases:
- develop and approve the vision and strategic goals;
- develop and approve the objectives and tasks;
- monitor and manage the achievement of the objectives and tasks.
The NATO Logistics V&O covers a 10-year period and is updated every four years, with a review taking place after two years if required. It is approved by the Logistics Committee, but logistics and logistics-related committees are invited to cooperate in its completion. Progress on objectives is reported to the Logistics Committee through an Annual Logistic Report, which is also sent to defence ministers for notation.
Logistics planning in operational planning
Logistics operational planning is part of the NATO operational planning process. It aims to get what is effectively needed in the field of logistics for a specific operation, as opposed to logistics planning which aims to ensure the availability of logistics in general. Three key documents are produced during operational planning:
- the Concept of Operations (CONOPS);
- the Operation Plan (OPLAN); and
- the Contingency Plan (COP).
In addition to these three documents, logistic support guidelines are produced that include considerations such as the geography of the theatre and the political and military situation. Other issues are also taken into account such as the use of multinational logistics, movement planning, medical planning, the role of the host nation and coordination with international organisations and non-governmental organisations.
A number of associated policy committees, organisations and agencies are involved in, or support logistics. They comprise:
- the Logistics Committee (LC);
- the Petroleum Committee (PC);
- Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO (COMEDS);
- the Civil Emergency Planning Committee (CEPC);
- the Committee for Standardization;
- the NATO Supply and Procurement Agency (NSPA);
- the Bi-SC* Movement and Transportation Forum (Bi-SC M&T Forum);
- the Bi-SC* Medical Advisory Group (Bi-SC MEDAG).
(*Bi-SC signifies that the formation in question reports to both Strategic Commanders (SC).)
The Logistics Committee (LC) is NATO’s principal committee dealing with logistics. Its overall mandate is two-fold: to address logistics matters with a view to enhancing the performance, efficiency, sustainability and combat effectiveness of Alliance forces; and to exercise, on behalf of the North Atlantic Council, an overarching coordinating authority across the whole spectrum of logistics functions within NATO.
It carries out its work through four subordinate bodies of which the Logistics Committee Executive Group and the Movement and Transportation Group are the principal ones. The LC reports jointly to both the Military Committee and the North Atlantic Council, or the Defence Planning Committee as appropriate, reflecting the dependence of logistics on both civil and military factors.
The Petroleum Committee (PC) is the senior advisory body in NATO for logistic support to Alliance forces on all matters concerning petroleum, including the NATO Pipeline System, other petroleum installations and handling equipment. The PC is the expert body reporting to the LC responsible to ensure NATO can meet its petroleum requirements in times of peace, crisis and conflict, including expeditionary operations.
The PC was originally established as the NATO Pipeline Committee in 1956, but was renamed twice after that: once in March 2008 when it became the NATO Petroleum Committee to better reflect its wider role and responsibilities; and the second time in June 2010 during a major committee review, when it became the Petroleum Committee and was placed under the LC.
Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO
The Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO (COMEDS) acts as the central point for the development and coordination of military medical matters and for providing medical advice to the NATO Military Committee.
Civil Emergency Planning Committee
The Civil Emergency Planning Committee (CEPC) is responsible for the policy direction and general coordination of civil emergency planning and preparedness at the NATO level. It facilitates integration of civil support and advice on civil issues into Alliance operational planning, including the possible use of military logistic resources for civil emergencies. It coordinates closely with the LC.
Committee for Standardization
This is the senior authority of the Alliance for providing coordinated advice to the North Atlantic Council on overall standardization matters. Since the aim of NATO standardization is to enhance the Alliance’s operational effectiveness through the attainment of interoperability among NATO forces and additionally between NATO forces and forces of partner and other countries, it coordinates with the LC.
NATO Support and Procurement Agency
The NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) is the executive body of the NATO Support and Procurement Organisation (NSPO). Formed in July 2012, it brings together NATO’s logistics and procurement support activities by offering products and services according to its five essential operations:
- Fuel Management, which includes the Central European Pipeline System (CEPS) Programme;
- Strategic Transport and Storage, which includes the NATO Airlift Management (NAM) Programme;
- Systems Procurement and Life Cycle Management;
- Logistics Services and Project Management;
- Support to Operations and Exercises.
Bi-SC Movement and Transportation Forum
Bi-SC Movement and Transportation Forum (Bi-SC M&T Forum) was formed in 1996 and is the senior forum for coordinating Alliance-wide concerns for movement and transportation policy planning between Strategic Commanders, NATO members and designated agencies. Movement and transport matters of relevance to the forum are those that derive from the NATO commander’s movement and transport responsibility and from concepts and policies developed by NATO Headquarters.
Bi-SC Medical Advisory Group
The Bi-SC Medical Advisory Group (Bi-SC MEDAG) provides a forum for medical issues between the Strategic Commanders. Medical matters of relevance to the group are those that derive from the NATO commander’s medical responsibility and from concepts and policies developed by NATO Headquarters.
During the Cold War
During the Cold War, NATO followed the principle that logistics was a national responsibility. Accordingly, its only focus at the time was the establishment of and compliance with overall logistics requirements. This principle governed NATO’s plans and actions until the beginning of the 1990s, when it was understood and accepted that the strategic situation that had underpinned this principle had undergone a fundamental change.
Before the 1990s, NATO logistics was limited to the North Atlantic area. The Alliance planned the linear defence of Western Europe with national corps supported by national support elements. Lines of communication within Europe extended westwards and northwards to Channel and North Sea ports. Planning called for reinforcements and supplies to be sea-lifted from the United States and Canada to these same ports and to be airlifted to European bases to pick up pre-positioned equipment.
The NATO Pipeline System over the years of its existence grew to supply fuel to NATO forces in Europe. The NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA), which would later evolve to become part of the NSPA, was created in Luxembourg, initially to aid European countries in their Foreign Military Sales purchase of US combat aircraft in the 1950s.
In the 1990s, NATO recognised the changed security environment it was operating in as a result of enlargement, Partnership for Peace (PfP) and other cooperation programmes with Central and Eastern Europe, cooperation with other international organisations, and peace support operations in the Balkans. These developments presented significant challenges for NATO’s logistics staff.
The Balkans experience
NATO's deployment of the Implementation Force (IFOR) to Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 1995 revealed shortcomings in Alliance logistic support for peace support operations. The logistic footprint was very large, featuring redundant and inefficient national logistic structures. Experiences from IFOR resulted in major revisions to PfP and NATO logistics policies and procedures and highlighted the need for greater multinationality in logistics.
IFOR's 60,000 troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina were deployed and supplied nationally by road, rail, ships and aircraft over relatively short lines of communication. While the force was able to rely on some host nation support – civil and military assistance from neighbouring countries and even Bosnia and Herzegovina itself – it relied heavily on national support elements with redundant lo