Small Wars Journal

COIN Logistics: Let’s Do Camels

Sun, 01/31/2016 - 3:14am

COIN Logistics: Let’s Do Camels

Michael Chandler

After reading Capt. Jason Topshe’s article “Evolving the Marine Corps for Irregular Warfare,” I was struck by his unashamed call for the return to pack animals. It piqued my interest - I’m a Logistics Officer by trade. It wasn’t until the day after Topshe’s article was published - when I read David Kilcullen’s Counterinsurgency - that it all came together and I realized how right Topshe was.[i]

Dr. Kilcullen has six maxims to manage company-level counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, and for me the most interesting one of the six is “travel light, and harden your combat service support.” It blew my mind when I interpreted his proscription - I don’t think he meant “slap armor onto hundreds of Palletized Loading Systems and ride over the roads looking for IEDs with a week’s worth of food and ammunition on the back;” I felt he meant train your CSS (Combat Service Support) soldiers to be fighters and make it easy to integrate these CSS soldiers into the overall COIN fight. Mass of CSS isn’t important; it’s the quality of your CSS soldiers that will make the difference.

They beat it into our heads in Transportation Officer Basic Course (TOBC): “Never get out of the truck.” I got “killed” in training every time I dismounted in TOBC, despite what I thought was our duty and obligation in the Soldier’s Creed to engage and destroy the enemy. Despite our history class recounting that two of our fellow members of the Transportation Corps - Sergeant William W. Seay and Specialist Larry G. Dahl - earned the Medal of Honor for engaging our enemies in close combat, the training I got from TOBC was a 180-degree pivot from Basic Training and Officer Candidate School, I just accepted it as part of the job.

Until, that is, I read Capt. Topshe’s article and Dr. Kilcullen’s book. When I combined the principles of Vietnam-era warrior spirit among transportation soldiers with Capt. Topshe’s suggestion that pack animals become part of COIN and Dr. Kilcullen’s prescription of CSS hardening, I realized that camels are the CSS response to COIN campaigns. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate how (in the forward operating base (FOB) COIN concept) the use of camels in ground distribution[ii] in Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) would not only improve distribution support in these theaters, but would fit into the larger goals of intelligence, deterrent patrolling, and legitimacy that our current CSS strategy is lacking.

Camel Distribution Is Cheaper Than Truck Distribution

The mainstay of the forward support company’s transportation platoon is the OshKosh M1075 Palletized Loading System (PLS). Developed for quick resupply and cargo transfer from Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) convoys coming from the Brigade Support Area (BSA), PLS are the workhorse of tactical distribution. Their payload is 33,000 pounds, and they can carry that weight over a 300 mile range at a speed of 62 miles per hour.

By comparison, dromedary camels weigh about 1200 pounds. Their payload is between 375 and 600 pounds, and they can deliver the payload over approximately 29 miles in a day at an average speed of 2.5 miles per hour. Clearly, it appears that the numbers don’t lie - camels are merely a footnote to tactical distribution, a scheme that works on paper but wouldn’t cut the mustard in real life.

That said, we should look at the drawbacks of both systems before judgment is passed. The mighty PLS has a 100 gallon fuel tank and a 300 mile range on a single tank of JP-8 (because it doesn’t make sense to manage multiple kinds of fuel on the battlefield with multiple supply chains, PLS run on what is basically jet fuel). Some quick math renders a very interesting value: a fully-loaded PLS gets three miles to the gallon. When one factors in the value of JP-8 at around $400 per gallon in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom we realize that every time we fill the tank on a PLS in Afghanistan the taxpayer spends $40,000 and it costs $1200 to move supply one mile down the road.

A camel, on the other hand, doesn’t need fuel. They run on water and food. And while a camel can drink up to 25 gallons of water in a single ten-minute session they can travel for 100 or more miles without drinking again. There’s no need to ship in huge tanks of fresh water for the camels, either - thousands of years of drinking from brackish oases have given the camels the genetic ability to drink water that would make people ill. Food is also a give-me - camels don’t need specialized food, they can eat thorns, dry leaves and saltbush to survive. Granted, the better the feed the sturdier the camel, but one would be hard-pressed to find camel chow that would cost $40,000 per meal.

Another key factor that places camels over PLS as the superior distribution platform has little or no comparison between the two - the need for expensive repair parts. A tow hitch for a PLS costs around $500, a new tire costs about $800 and a blown hydraulic system around $8000. Costs aside, these parts require a supply chain stretching from the National Industrial Base to supply depots to airfields to Sustainment Brigades to BSB and finally to the FSC Maintenance Platoon. Procurement, as well as storage and fuel costs when examined holistically can make a $500 tow hitch cost exponentially more. A camel, on the other hand, needs a veterinarian to give a periodic checkup and a transportation soldier to perform a daily Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services.

Simply put, cost makes the camel a superior financial investment into tactical distribution over the PLS. In FY2015, OshKosh sold its Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) A4 model—which is the base platform—for between $350,000 and $600,000. A camel costs less than a thousand dollars. When combined with their fuel costs, repair cost, and maintenance cost, the camel doesn’t have a peer in tactical distribution. And as an answer to those who are more interested in payload than cost, it only takes about sixty-six camels (give or take a camel) to move the same payload as a PLS, which could easily be done with 20 trained transporters.

Camel Distribution is Safer than Truck Distribution

Detractors of camel distribution have an easy counter to arguments about cost - “you can’t put a price on the life of one of America’s sons and daughters. I’d rather pay a million dollars for an up-armored truck that can survive an IED than use a cheap camel that would risk our soldier’s lives.” I appreciate the danger that transportation soldiers face on distribution convoys, having been on many convoys in both Iraq and Afghanistan gave me a healthy respect for both the armor and the truck and the enemy’s skill with improvised explosive devices. But what if we didn’t have to use the road? PLS carry a large amount of cargo very quickly because of developed and undeveloped roads - whether blacktop, concrete, bituminous concrete, gravel, or packed dirt, the PLS can move with speed - but that binds us to what my Combat Arms brethren would call “the most likely avenue of approach” and makes us a predictable target for IEDs.

Camels remove our dependence on road networks in tactical distribution operations and removes IEDs as an effective tactic against distribution. Camels’ feet are designed to move over hot, sandy terrain and their wide stance and gait (camels move both of their legs on one side when they walk; this is called “pacing”) make them very sure-footed on uneven terrain. When the mission is to move 12 miles to the next combat outpost to conduct resupply camel distribution wouldn’t need to use the road and would reduce risk of civilian casualties to almost zero. More importantly, the camel convoy commander would be given his route carefully and with regard to metrics such as intelligence (more on this later), making sure to never use the same route twice and confounding attempts to use IEDs to defeat distribution resupply. Moreover, using pressure-plate IEDs or mines to create obstacles in the route between our FOBs and patrol bases forces the insurgent to run the risk of harming the very civilian population he is trying to woo. Additionally, the requirement for hub-to-spoke route clearance from FOB to base would become far less, freeing up Engineer assets for other tasks.

Leading camels off road, away from roads and near cover and concealment that benefits the enemy, might lead to small-arms ambushes becoming the preferred tactic for insurgents wishing to interdict resupply missions, but even in this scenario the advantage is to the camel convoy. In this scenario camels make up their lack of armor with organic cover and flexible mobility under fire. Camels are, on the average, twelve feet tall at the shoulder and when kneeling, present cover at about four feet high. They can also be trained, as reported by Outlook Magazine, “to lope along nonchalantly, while the [soldiers] riding them shield themselves by clinging to their side.” They can be acclimated to gunfire - both outgoing and incoming - and maintain an easy temperament in battle, and their long history as a military animal cannot be denied. Of course, it goes without saying that the transportation soldiers charged with handling camels would also have to be versed in squad tactics as well being excellent riflemen, but as mentioned in the introduction, transportation soldiers have repeatedly availed themselves audaciously and tenaciously throughout the history of the Transportation Corps—in the days of Eve of Destruction and Canned Heat, transporters slugged it out instead of fleeing.

Of the four modes of US Army transportation (sea, air, rail, and wheeled), trucks are supposed to be the most versatile form of ground transportation because they don’t need track to carry cargo, but as long as our trucks are wedded to roads, trucks are not much better than more maneuverable, heavily armored trains. Camels reduce route predictability, enhance route creativity and allow CSS soldiers to display a willingness to fight on the ground present themselves as a harder target.

Camel Distribution is More Intelligent than Truck Distribution

One of the secondary foci of army transportation is intelligence is that 88s ride the roads every day through the entire area of operation. They get to know the seams between battlespaces and can often tell, with uncanny prescience and with little more than a regurgitated S-2 brief, that something isn’t right in an area. I have heard several ideas in the last five years about new and better intelligence equipment we can put on trucks to turn them into mobile intelligence platforms - relays, scanners, sniffers, and sensors that run off alternator power. In my humble opinion, the solution to intelligence gathering is not more stuff on more trucks; it’s soldiers on the ground. Camel distribution would be nearer to the population, closer to the ground and slow enough that the properly trained Transportation soldier could be a good source of passive intelligence collection.

Picture the scene - a village between FOB A and COP B is a little suspect. HUMINT suggests that there’s an insurgent presence there periodically, but the bad guys take off as soon as the good guys come up the road. The platoon can’t be everywhere at once; if only they had another squad that could check on the village twice a week or so - or at least pass by - they might give the insurgents reason to find another place to do their thing. Or perhaps there’s a gunfight between the platoon and some bad guys and the bad guys break contact in the other direction, and run directly into forty transporters with radios on the battalion tactical net. Or maybe the camel convoy sees military age males suspiciously putting a burlap bag of something into a well. The point is, rather than being confined to a road, camel convoys would not only be three dozen extra pairs of eyes in the battlespace, but the transporters would have a genuine stake in the fight.

They certainly don’t have much of a stake in the fight while fourteen feet off the ground and staring out a PLS side window that’s eight inches by eight inches while occupied with their primary mission. The average truck commander in a distribution convoy monitors two radio nets, a Blue Force Tracker, the sides of the road for signs of IEDs, intersections for erratic traffic (or pedestrians that just plain step into traffic), the truck in front of his, the road in front of the truck, and the driver to his left to make sure he or she isn’t asleep. The idea that a transporter has the time to smell, hear and see the battlespace from the confines of a PLS cab sounds great in practice, but the truth is it’s often too much to keep track - the TC does a poor job of everything but keeping the truck safe. A camel convoy would have no such problem - on foot, moving at walking speed, and able to see, hear, and smell everything around (granted, some of the smell would be camel). The transporter could truly become a battlefield sensor, collecting intelligence and returning it to the analysts to provide a clearer picture of the battlespace.

The increased likelihood of enemy contact also benefits intelligence efforts. A soldier in a truck who takes fire often relies on the other trucks in the convoy to gauge distance and direction of the enemy contact. The experienced man in the fourth truck can’t see the IED signs up ahead, because the only thing he sees the truck and cargo (often stacked twenty feet high) in front of him. A soldier on a camel convoy can immediately gauge these things since his view is unimpeded, and can call the battalion with a short SALUTE report to bring the trigger-pullers to bear on the target. Another benefit would be the camel convoy’s ability to fix the enemy in a close engagement so the combat arms can finish the engagement. I’m not suggesting the camel convoy maneuver on an objective - that’s not their role - but with proper training in basic intelligence and basic soldiering skills, twenty muskets on line could definitely be an asset.

When given the choice between collecting intelligence through a murky, dusty 64-square-inch window and the full range of human vision, the choice is clear. Camel distribution would do a better job of fulfilling the secondary role of transporters in the Army and, properly integrated, could be an asset in a defensive situation.

Camel Distribution is More Legitimate than Truck Distribution.

The US military has over 24 war-years of conflict in desert countries where camels are used for everything from meat and milk to transportation to display of wealth. Parts of the Middle East hold camel beauty pageants, and prized stud bull camels sell for thousands of dollars to breeders wishing to create champion camel bloodlines. On top of all the benefits to distribution and intelligence that camels bring to the fight in counterinsurgency, the legitimacy US camel convoys would foster among the population would be invaluable.

Throughout the Middle East and the desert parts of Afghanistan, camels mean prosperity. They’re expensive by local standards, they’re a mark of wealth, and they represent prosperity for the next fifty years to whomever they belong to. The average local who saw a camel convoy would at least notice that US soldiers were leading a convoy of camels, and some just might be impressed by a sizeable herd, skillfully managed by trained transporters.

Camel convoy soldiers might find an inroad with locals through conversation and mutual interest, much like two Americans would have a conversation about their dogs. Travelling past a village with a string of camels would certainly be a topic of conversation between the commander at the next shura, and it might give the commander an “in” to talk about something of interest to the locals. Even better, if a camel is injured or old, giving the camel as a gift to the elder or the village would be a thoughtful and well-understood gift. Rather than giving the locals something we think they could use to win their trust and confidence, the commander who gave a gift of a pair of camels might influence those locals; were a unit to redeploy without a relief-in-place, the entire fleet of camels could go to the locals as a gesture of good faith.

Camels are part of desert culture. They’re ubiquitous in those locations and have a close ancestral tie with people in the region. Employing them while engaged in counterinsurgency in a desert makes a lot of sense, if only to display to the population that we, too, appreciate the camel.

A Sea Change for the Ship of the Desert

I am well aware that this essay won’t cause anyone with any decision-making authority to sell the Army’s ground transportation assets tomorrow and invest our money in camel herds. While the reasons why our Army should use camels for company-and-below level tactical distribution in counterinsurgency operations are crystal-clear to me, a lot of things about the way to manage distribution in counterinsurgency must change.

We have to start saving money on distribution in counterinsurgency. Whenever I read the phrase “blood and treasure,” in the back of my mind I instantly realize that the “treasure” part is distribution. Whether fuel, repair parts, building materials or new and better armored trucks, we are spending money we don’t have on things we don’t necessarily need to fight an agile insurgency. If agility is what we are after, camels could be the limiter on the massive amount of materiel we bring to the fight.

We have to quit bringing all this stuff with us to fight a counterinsurgency - if you can’t carry it, you don’t need it. Sprawling tactical operations centers, piles of generators, thousands of tons worth of t-walls mean only one thing - more distribution. Continuous requirements for fuel, water, parts, building materials and the stacks and stacks of containers don’t make our ground forces more agile - they make us more reliant on distribution to prosecute counterinsurgency rather than less reliant. The quote from an Afghan commando is succinct: “if you go fox hunting, don’t bring an elephant to chase the fox.” Camel distribution could work at lower echelons, but only if we take the risk to travel as light as the insurgents do.

We have to take a risk to get benefits. The increased distribution mobility, increased intelligence collection and increased legitimacy with the population we would get by moving from huge, expensive trucks to camels can only be gained by being willing to allow transporters to put their lives in their own hands and move supply with camel distribution. The only thing worse than rejecting the idea of camel distribution out of hand would be to reject the idea out of fear that our properly-trained soldiers can’t take care of themselves in a fight.

We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing. Although our soldiers are professional and do their jobs as well as they can within the paradigm we’ve given them, we somehow are losing the peace. It isn’t my contention that camel distribution will singlehandedly and decisively swing the balance of initiative firmly toward counterinsurgency, I am contending that it’s worth a shot to give it a try - if nothing else, we would save money. The Army’s Operating Concept is “win in a complex world” - does the answer to our distribution have to be equally complicated?

End Notes

[i] Kilcullen, David. Counterinsurgency (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[ii] Throughout this article, I use the term “distribution” when I discuss supply moved by transportation; the operational term “logistics” refers to supply, transportation, and maintenance.


About the Author(s)

CPT Michael Chandler is a Foreign Area Officer pursuing a Master’s Degree in National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is a Logistics Officer, and served as a CSSB Maintenance Officer in Iraq and commanded a Distribution Company in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.



Mon, 02/08/2016 - 3:29am

I’m assuming the purpose of this essay is to draw attention to the inescapable reality that our MIC platforms are so unsuited to fighting in Gray Areas that we must seriously examine a return to beasts of burden in our effort to shape a UW capability that delivers a positive strategic effect.

In my experience the biggest shortcoming of pack animals is the provision of fuel. – i.e. grass. Even a small caravan of animals - say 20 or 30 causes considerable anxiety to the folks who inhabit the route of your march. The largest caravan I ever experienced consisted of more than 150 animals and extended single file for more than a km. A caravan of this size inescapably poses an existential threat to the natives living on your route.

How so?

Come the difficult season (winter, flood or dry) the natives traditionally rely upon the fodder collected from the grassland surrounding their village for their livestock’s survival. Unfortunately your hungry charges have already devoured this life sustaining food source some months hence and as a consequence their livestock starve to death.

The bag of crisp dollar bills you so handsomely compensated them with (when the sun did shine) will amount to naught when six feet of snow, raging floodwater or sand drifts confines their animals to the homestead. One thing for sure when the inevitable happens and their prized goat, cow, horse drops dead you will have made a bitter enemy astride you logistical chain and passage to sanctuary.

You could carry your own hay but if the journey extends for more than a day or so (leave alone months) this policy is self-defeating. You and your beasts will no doubt arrive at the destination in great shape and cheered by every villager along the entire journey. Unfortunately the lack of war-fighter materials hauled does not bode well for the greeting you can expect from your hard-pressed comrades at the sharp end. Your route march will have been made remarkable by the participation of two species of donkey – one with four legs and the other with just the two.

Having said all that if the powers to be demand you must go donkey/mule/horse/camel there are many rules of thumb I doubt have altered much for thousands of years. The following describes my experience:

The load you harness to the beast has to accommodate the most difficult terrain you will encounter for the entire journey the beast will attempt. It is pointless embarking upon your journey with an impressive load stacked high upon your beast, everything ship-shape and Bristol fashion. The happy demeanor of your charges - whooping and a braying whilst trotting along a pool-table flat of soft grass thru pretty apricot orchards will rapidly evaporate in the shadow of a 4000 meter snow-capped mountain pass, chest high river current, boulder-strewn desert, bamboo forest, swamp etc.

If you are of a mind to reach the obstacle and shuttle lighter loads thru the difficult terrain – think again. Your four-legged comrades will take a very dim view if upon the first return; you unexpectedly attempt to reload them and send them the wrong way i.e. back up the mountain . If so you will soon learn the meaning of stubborn as a donkey, kick like a mule, flog a dead horse and the not so well-known – fist-size wad of camel-phlegm on your face from 5 paces and the amount of flesh all of those SOB teeth can remove from your person.

It might seem obvious but most mountain trails cannot accommodate a laden pack-animal going one way and a man down from the other. Furthermore any ‘empty’ beasts returning from in-country will not only be unable to pass, turn around or reverse, but the unencumbered will make it known to their heavy-laden brethren that the ‘load’ of the returnee consists of a slack bridle, a fluffy blanket casually thrown across the shoulders, a few pretty ribbons sewn into their mane and a nose-bag full of tasty oats and sugar hanging from the ‘pommel’.

A even more ferocious bout of the kicking, biting, whipping, spitting noted above will erupt, most likely in a more perilous place you could not imagine.

As always the enemy get a vote.

If your logistical needs condemn you to the utility of beasts your enemy will endeavor to ambush you in terrain that the animals are at their most vulnerable. Switchbacks are easily the most dangerous. Animals cut down above create an avalanche of men, beasts, hardware and ammo crates that smash down upon those exposed on the lower trail/s.

Unlike men animals are unable to take cover. They just stand there until swept away or cut down. Screaming animals and the crack of heavy bone snapping creates a panic in man and beast like nothing else – especially so in the dark. Animals having survived unscathed can literally drop dead from shock hours later.

Ambush on flat terrain barely improves the experience/outcome. Unencumbered by narrow paths and steep graveled inclines, a terrified horse travelling at near 30 mph on a flat firm surface will cut a swath thru men attempting to return fire, take cover , flee whatever. Those flattened are usually killed outright or busted so bad they wish they were dead. If you manage to fight your way out, very few of the surviving animals will be in any state to continue. Their pack harness will have inevitably come apart in the wild melee and the purpose of your mission will be scattered to the wind.

Like I said early I imagine the author is attempting to underline the absurdity of an army that hopes for victory paying $30,000 to fill a single tank of gas in a PLS. The US military had 90,000 plus vehicles in AF. On that basis alone one could argue a bankrupting defeat was impossible to avoid.

So what?

Effective and efficient logistics in a Denied Area is IMHO the key to successful UW. Fortunately for us there is not only a proven example, but it was recorded in minute detail. Not only is this form of haulage cheaper and more efficient (200 kgs a standard load as opposed say 60 kgs for a pack-animal) but when attacked it can take cover and shoot back. For fuel it requires only a bowl of rice, a bit of meat and a few greens once of day to fill its daily fuel consumption needs - let’s say a dollar a day.

However if you want to study the details of these war-winning ‘workhorses’ you need to put aside the romance of TE Lawrence, camels and the peerless Brough Superior and study Giap, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, modified Peugeot bicycles and go for the win.

In 1964 the record haul carried by one of these ‘steel horses’ was 440 kgs from Hanoi to the outskirts of Saigon - a journey of 2000 kms. I imagine after lightening his/her load by near half a ton that particular ‘steel horse’ went back home like a rocket.


I still get feed back about having been an advocate of Bush's oil war policy. What this article inadvertently proves is that if the Bush administration was waging war just for the oil why does JP fuel have such an exorbitant price? What about the threat of WMDs? If WMDs were a threat we would probably not be writing about the virtue of pack animals that might also require protective gear. If the opposition to the Iraq War were correct we wouldn't need camels.
Do not get me wrong, I like this authors ideas and they especially make sense since we have had troops in Afghanistan for over a decade now and the use camels makes sense in a longer war in remote areas and as a further means to make meaningful connections with the locals.
A model of cost and effectiveness might already exist somewhere in the 10th Mountain Museum archives. The Division did try to activate a Muleskinner platoon when it was reformed, Veterinarians need apply. Vets might be more practical for reasons the author has noted.
But I simply can not imagine hundreds of camels making deliveries all over the a country like Afghanistan with a threat of IEDs and small arms and other weapons vehicles with up armor and special design features to deter blasts were specifically designed at great cost to save human lives, soldiers lives.
I don't suppose there is a breed of camel that is impervious to IEDs?


Tue, 02/02/2016 - 7:28pm

Read the book
Animals in the military, From Hannibal's Elephants to the Dolphins of the U.S.Navy
by John M. Kistler

Animals still have a role to play. Logistics is really about getting the right items to the right location at the right times in a usable condition. Many comment dis the animals. But let me make a comparison. In the middle east IDE's can be a issue with land transportation. I theory those supplies can be air lifted or air dropped. But this is not done. The risk to benefit ratio just does not add up. Well one can also do risk to benefit analysis on using animals. There are likely cases were supplying allies using animals is effective. How much Ivory is moving across Africa by human labor. How much of the world still depends on animals to move supplies to remove villages? You also ignore the role of integrating animals in such convoys that can be used as food like goats. So long as America has a technical base it can fight a tech war. But should a hot war start where America heartland takes a hit, units overseas may need to conserve resources and look for alternatives to their logistics.


Wed, 02/03/2016 - 9:57am

Ref BombDoc's Comment:
I agree with Bombdoc's comment regarding the limitations of using pack animals as a logistical alternative to material transport. However, during my experience in AFG RC-East during Task Force Mountain Warrior, we contracted local Afghans and their mules to ferry fuel and other perishable goods to our OPs manned by ANSF and ISAF units. These OPs were positioned at a high elevation in very rugged terrain overlooking our FOB. Although Chinooks were the primary means of transport, pack animals, i.e. mules were best suited to carry goods overland.
The use of these transport animals proved its efficacy. Pack animals were cheap, dependable, and "all-weather". In addition, this business relationship engendered a sense of good will and communication between ISAF/ANSF units and the indigenous community. Despite these benefits, we were keenly aware of the possibility of the TB or other insurgents exploiting this relationship, e.g. intel gathering. We developed and applied measures to mitigate any foreseen risks.
Finally, it was not advantageous to use these animals as a mainstay for our logistical needs. For instance, it was not feasible at the time for the villagers to produce the quantity of animals primarily for our logistical needs. The cost to benefit ratio would not have been to their advantage. The use of pack animals would have been short lived anyway since FOBs or COPs were not meant to be long term. Though the use of these animals benefited only a few Afghans, it proved its worth to the ANSF and ISAF units that depended on them on occasion to receive relief.


Wed, 02/03/2016 - 12:59pm

In reply to by Warlock

Even in the emptiness of the Sahara, movement via camel is over point to point routes between water sources. Granted the width of that route tend to be fairly wide in many places, but inevitably narrows down to engage able choke points.


Mon, 02/01/2016 - 12:42pm

Whenever looking at previous solutions, it's always worth asking, "how did we get here, and why?" We (and the rest of the world) have done animal-borne transport before. In fact, the transition from hay-fueled transport to petroleum-fueled transport took a good 30-40 years in some armies. So why aren't we still using horses, oxen, or camels?

Assume an even swap between drivers and drovers, fuel and fodder, vets and mechanics, and all the other logistical equivalents to maintain the force. It comes down to a matter of speed and capacity. Simply put, it'll take a column of 20-30 pack animals to match a lightly-loaded PLS -- probably more, because regular columns of animals will eat a route barren before long, so the column will need to carry fodder as well -- and they'll require a whole day to move as far as the truck will move within an hour or three, even over a rough road.

While "road-independent" sounds good, it's not quite that free and easy in practice. Animals and people on foot tend to avoid obstacles of one sort or another, and pretty soon, there's a trail for routine movement. There may be more foot trails (and thus more options) than roads, but outside the open desert (and often not even there), cross-country movement is rarely random.

If the animals aren't procured locally, they'll have to be shipped in, at a substantial space penalty over shipping a truck -- a pretty huge hit to strategic mobility. (And I pity the crew cleaning out the C-17....)

That's not to say pack animals make no sense at all -- as specialist transport in jungles or mountains, or for units with a logistical footprint small enough that they don't make a real impact on the local livestock or fodder supply, or if embedded with partner nation units using animal transport, there's a lot of sense to it. Otherwise, it's tough to beat motorized transport.

The US Army's Camel Corps of the 1850s-1860s is a pretty interesting case in using camels for military transport, and the camels proved to be very effective moving around the American Southwest, at one point completing a 4 month, 1,200 mile surveying mission.

Unfortunately, it was eventually cancelled due to a combination of factors related to the Civil War (Jefferson Davis was an early advocate of the project) and a "horse and mule" tradition in the Army, but it proved the utility of camels in military transport.

Entire cost of the project was $30,000 in 1855 (a few hundred thousand in 2015 dollars) to acquire around 70 camels in two trips between Texas and the Mediterranean.

Some possible solutions to the points below: On point 1, leasing/renting animals from locals instead of buying them outright; or bringing our own animals.
On point 3: Train our own people to care for the animals. Maj Wayne of the Camel Corps did it in a matter of months with the help of only 5 experienced camel drovers.

Anyway, this is something worth experimenting with in a training environment and should be relatively inexpensive.


Sun, 01/31/2016 - 11:56am

Interesting article!
Having served as a logistician in both Iraq and Afghan, this suggestion has come up a few times. It has always failed because of the following..

1. Pack/Draft animal populations are generally at subsistence levels in the countries in question. There is little or no free source of animals in the numbers needed without severely depriving the local economy of what animals and fodder are in current use.

2. Increasing the population of camel or mule draft animals is neither simple nor quick. The production of mules needs an interbreeding population of donkeys and horses and has a gestation period of around a year. Camels have a gestation period of some 15 months..

3. The number of trained humans needed to populate an animal based transport infrastructure is not small, and the skills needed, particularly in the strategic management and veterinary support are not widely held within western military populations, and are probably a diminishing asset worldwide. As I pointed out in the introductions, obtaining these skilled individuals from the host population, even if they were available, would have an effect on the local economy that is probably not desirable..

Whilst not doubting the enthusiasm of the writer for a return to the days of animal based logistics, I would suggest that to "have a go" would take at least a period of 5 - 10 years to develop this capability, by which time, history would probably have moved on...!