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Joint Air & Space Power Conference 2018

The Fog of Day Zero – Joint Air & Space in the Vanguard

Conference Read Ahead

Outsourcing Logistics – One Step Too Far?

By Lieutenant Colonel Joop Berghuizen, NLD AF

Lieutenant Colonel Joop H. Berghuizen (RNLAF), JAPCC Logistic SME, supporting all levels and examines the many aspects of Logistics and Mobility in relation to NATO Joint Air Power. Before he was assigned to the JAPCC he served in several joined, national and international staff-positions.


As mentioned in chapter 6, ‘resilience is a core element of collective defence’. Within the article several issues are clearly considered part of logistics, thereby making logistics an important component of collective defence. This paper will focus on one of the core issues mentioned in the article, the use of ‘Contractor Support to Operations’ (CSO).

As stated in the previous article ‘The delivery of forces and military capabilities that NATO requires to uphold collective defence largely relies on non-military owned resources. During the Cold War, many non-military owned resources were in state hands and easily transferred to NATO’s control during crisis or wartime situations. However, nowadays, 90 percent of NATO’s logistics are moved by private companies, and 75 percent of the host nation support for forward deployed NATO forces on the eastern flank comes from private sector contracts.’ In other words, NATO is relying heavily on so-called Contractor Support to Operations.

According to NATO policy1 Contractor Support to Operations is the use of pre-planned and/or ad hoc commercial contracts which are specially developed and run by the applicable HQ (or through NATO agencies) entitled to perform such kinds of support activities. CSO enables commercial entities and/or agencies to provide a portion of logistics support to 1) ensure materiel support is available for NATO commanders and the Troop Contributing Nations (TCN) and 2) to optimize the use of military resources and capabilities. The methods of contracting to accomplish this can be very diverse. They often include common technical and system support contracts, dormant contracts (where the execution is postponed until the requirements materializes), high-end assured-access contracts (providing a capability when needed) and Rapidly Usable Enabling Contracts (RUEC), which are a flexible array of pre-planned time and mission critical contracts at high readiness.

CSO applies to a wide range of logistic related functions2, 3 and could include technical arenas, such as maintenance of weapons systems or Computer information systems services. CSO could also provide deployment and sustainment support (i.e. strategic support, Air to Air Refueling, operating an Airport of Debarkation, Air Traffic Control, Firefighting, fuel storage, etc.). In this day and age, CSO is an integral part of all major logistics areas.

On the positive side, the transfer of ownership and responsibility of support operations to the private sector has predominantly provided cost-efficiencies and is often used as a way to eliminate redundant capabilities. However, the redundant capabilities, ensuring resilience, might not be part of contractors’ organization, where elements like leanness and efficiency might increase the risk of being less resilient.

To better understand this way of contracting and the consequences, imagine an emerging crisis that may require the immediate activation or transfer of certain civilian-led support elements. However, the required actions and authorities to do this reside in the Crisis Response Management System of NATO. That poses the following question in the case of a hybrid threat; Does NATO have sufficient indications and warnings to activate the necessary Crisis Response Measures (including support) for Collective Defence in time?

From an operational planning point of view, there are numerous considerations to take into account whether or not to use CSO because CSO entails risks. For example, how reliable is the contractor when faced with the possibility of taking casualties? Will the required level of support capabilities be available, especially in an appropriate level of readiness and quality across the full mission spectrum? With regard to our military capabilities, what about security and activities when host-country or third-country nationals are involved? How do we stay in control of costs? Should we for example activate a dormant contract for training and exercise? Is NATO and its member states able to sufficiently mitigate all the related risks?

To support operations like the enhanced NRF, contracts for critical supplies or services need to be placed on a higher readiness state with more formal contracts (RUEC and Assured access as mentioned above) which will result in higher costs. The question then arises if such support would not be more cost-effective if it was done by NATO and its member states? Likewise, is HN resilient enough to continue to support NATO logistics if it is faced with the choice of supporting NATO or its own people?

Another issue is border crossings4 and the use of Lines of Communication (LOC),5 both of which have been discussed in many NATO committees and is defined as Military Mobility project within the European Union’s ‘Permanent Structured Cooperation on Defence’ (PESCO). Many items have to be resolved like the quality of infrastructure, accessibility of LOC in scenarios that include Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD), and border crossings in the days preceding ‘Day Zero’. Although they initially may not seem related to CSO, there are many correlated issues, e.g. civilian contractors from other nations and TCNs on privately owned toll roads, all of whom are transporting dangerous military goods. Will the contractors still be able to use the LOC and get access to the locations when and where NATO needs them?

In regards to requirements, the challenges associated with the integration of Command and Control for CSO is an element not to be underestimated. This integration will come with costs for operational interfacing and exercises. This is true not only for testing the procedures but also when deploying CSO personnel in exercises. So, is NATO willing to raise the costs of an exercise by enabling a huge number of CSO contracts? In context, these factors begin to cast doubt on the acclaimed efficiency of using CSO for NATO operations.

Because NATO has to be ready to operate across an entire spectrum of violence, force protection of contractors also has to be taken into account. Although contractors can be authorised to carry weapons for self-defence, it raises the question of whether arming them turns them into combatants and, if so, would it be acceptable for both sides (contractor and NATO). As an alternative, providing force protection to the contractors using NATO or TCN forces might not be possible due to the number of contractors that could be involved. For example, during recent US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, contractors frequently averaged 50 % or more of the total DOD presence in-country. In effect, we are saving on logistics personnel but at the same time are laying a huge burden on the highly needed and limited available force protection units. So, is NATO able to protect contractors with the mentioned restrictions?

Considering all the questions raised above, there is a strong relation between and dependency on CSO and the readiness of the Alliance on Day Zero. After all, the Area of Operation is only fully enabled if all the components of logistics are readily available. Although risk mitigation can and should be done before Day Zero (and RUECs are a good solution), unforeseen requirements shall, by definition, result in increased costs and delays in deliveries of capabilities and thus hindering the response at Day Zero.

Possible alternatives, such as increasing stockpiles and the dispersal of storage locations, are an option we all know from the past, but many nations don’t have the ability or willingness to move their national stockpiles to a foreign nation. That being said, it should be pointed out that although stockpiling increases costs, at the same time it solves many of the border crossing and LOC problems and thus mitigates some of the risks that might come with CSO. Therefore, is it logical that the Alliance is using NATO common funding to improve NATO designated airfields but is reluctant to forward the necessary equipment and supplies to run the operations from those airfields?


The ‘evolution’ in logistics which relies more and more on the private sector, and subsequently changes our organizations from an effective to a more efficient one, is increasing NATO’s risks by unintentionally dismantling an agile logistic backbone. The dependency on CSO makes NATO logistics more vulnerable and, therefore, a weaker link in NATO’s deterrence. Nowadays, it seems that NATO is only looking for risk mitigation to solve the problems of CSO. However, does the costs of using CSO for support outweigh the negative effects on resilience and the ultimate effect on the effectivity of NATO operations? Looking at the limitations and risks linked to the use of CSO, should NATO not look for other options to overcome these limitations and risks and, by doing so, NATO could be better prepared to strengthen NATO deterrence and options for Day Zero?

1. ‘NATO Policy on Contractor Support to Operations’, AC/305-D(2016)0009-REV6, NATO, 2018. (Still under silence procedure).
2. NATO Logistics is the science of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of forces. It 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.
3. ‘NATO Principles and Policies for Logistics’, MC 319/3, NATO.
4. In general this are all the issues related to get approval to the sovereign territory of a nation for air, sea and inland surface movements in support of a NATO operation.
5. All the land, water, and air routes that connect an operating military force with one or more bases of operations, and along which supplies and reinforcements move.