Thursday, May 30, 2013

Supply chain issues in Aksai Chin

We have seen some very interesting posts about infrastructure in the Aksai Chin region on the Chinese side but this is only one part of the more complicated supply chain problem.

Very few people know the role that superior supply chain management in India played in Kargil and Siachen conflicts. Some people even go so far as to say that the real reason for America's global military supremacy is its superior supply chain management. A few years ago, the USDOD set aside a very large sum of money to work on supply chain issues. A large amount of money was subsequently funneled into applied math programs to work on global optimization problems.

For the purpose of fleshing out the supply chain problem, lets consider the case where India attacks China in Aksai Chin. The how and why are not relevant to the discussion of the supply chain problem. China now has to get materiel to the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA).

In order to do that - let's say China has 10 forward depots distant an average of 50 km from the FEBA. Let's say that there is reasonably good road infrastructure between the depots and the FEBA. Let us also assume that the supplies suffer only 50% losses to last mile problems, IAF interference, and poor intelligence on actual needs on the ground. This means that if the forward depots have about 2 days of warfighting supplies, then they will be empty after just one day of actual combat operations.

Now for arguments sake, let there be 5 reserve depots distant 100 km from the FEBA. These have say 5 days of warfighting supplies at each depot. These will begin shipping their material to the 10 forward depots, - that works out to shipping say 2.5 days worth of supply to each forward depot. Lets say that the supplies suffer only 20% loss due to the usual factors so each forward depot actually receives about 2 days worth of supplies. This means by day 2, the forward depots will have received enough supplies to keep the FEBA supplied for 1 more day - i.e. just barely enough to meet the immediate needs of their current combat operations. 

So far the loss in the chain has been about 1.5 days worth of supplies. This loss will add to the cost of losing anything else on the FEBA itself. If the loss is higher than this, it is likely that the entire PLA posture on the FEBA will collapse as their soldiers will run out of supplies.

This with just two tiers of depots. With more tiers, there will be additional losses, but as the depots get further and further away from the FEBA, the IAF's ability to interfere will decline and as long as critical nodes like Lhasa and Turpan are kept clear, there should not be serious last mile problems.

Now that is a nice static picture. It is a good way to get a rough sense of what the lay of the land will be like.

The real supply chain problem is much more dynamic and it is harder to understand. The key issue that complicates everything is that each shipment of supplies along each link will have a probability of disruption. From the perspective of each node in the supply chain, this probability will be either 0 or 1 for an individual supply packet. If the node is closer to the FEBA, the number will be 1 for a large fraction of the packages, and for a node far away from the FEBA, the number will be 0 for most of the packages. If you know the nodes, and the links you can create a computer program that simulates the supply chain behaviour under different disruption patterns. The output of such a simulation can then be used to create more nodes in the supply chain and carefully position reserves to mitigate points where the supply chain breaks in repeated simulations.

As long as the Indian war plan falls within the boundaries explored by the PLA supply chain simulations - the PLA should be able to resist an Indian attack. If the Indian war plan falls outside the PLA's simulation sphere, then the PLA might not be able to defend against an Indian attack - it all depends on how far outside the simulation sphere the Indian plan falls, and whether the existing distribution of resources along the supply chain is sufficient for the PLA to contain the Indian maneuvers.

Whatever the PLA can do with its knowledge of the supply nodes and infrastructure, the Indian Army can also do as a reverse analysis based on surveillance data. Indians are as good at maths and computing as Chinese people are so there is no limitation on that front.

What applies to an Indian attack on Chinese held Aksai Chin is equally applicable to a Chinese attack on India's position in the region.

So finally some real food for thought. Wars are not won by the bravery of the soldiers alone, the supply chain forms a critical part of each victory - if you out supply the enemy - your chances of victory are higher.

1 comment:

  1. The Indian approach would be to identify all the areas/nodes of high traffic - including their links (i.e. roads et al) and take those out of commission. Such as bridges, rail lines etc. Presurveyed targets might turn out to be erroneous, once the shooting war starts. Targets of opportunity are another thing altogether. Ultimately, this is where a JSTARS sort of ability - with high rez SAR maps and GMTI on top of it, would be very useful for the IAF.