Gaining Decision Advantage, Together

Oct 30, 2023 | Uncategorized

By Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, USAF
Commander, US Transportation Command

The world came together after World War II to establish the greatest period of growth and prosperity in recorded history. The subsequent institutions we built have lasted nearly eight decades and continue to promote peace, education, trade, and support for the common good. Nevertheless, these institutions are aging, and the rules-based order they created is strained. Look no further than Russia’s continued, unprovoked aggression against Ukraine for an example of the changing strategic environment. We must recognize that our work to preserve peace will never be complete.

Preserving peace is a result of coordinating all instruments of power on a global scale. Powerful nations do not rely on military strength alone to overcome challenges. Rather, military strength is best used to deter war, or to provide a credible last resort should all other methods fail. Military credibility relies on a strong foundation of logistics—our fundamental ability to deploy, sustain, and redeploy a combined force to and from anywhere in the world.
The National Defense Transportation Association is an indispensable teammate in the logistics community and critical to providing the credibility our senior leaders rely on. The men and women of the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and across the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise (JDDE) depend on this relationship to accomplish their missions.
But again, our institutions must evolve to remain effective. We must look to the future, identify its broad outlines, and determine what needs to change. With the Joint Warfighting Concept as our guide, and in concert with our allies and partners, we must shape our current systems, processes, and authorities while we have the opportunity to act. Then, as the future emerges, we can provide our most senior leaders with more time and better options to secure a lasting peace—A Decision Advantage.

Threats to the
Logistics Community
The twentieth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, stated we are witnessing a “seismic change in the character of war, largely driven by technology.” Pervasive sensors with mass data processing have accelerated the ability to understand the operational environment. Low-cost platforms, long-range weapons, loitering munitions, and powerful artificial intelligence (AI) tools with large language models can near-instantly close kill chains on maneuvering formations. Gray zone tactics further complicate the environment, including lawfare, psychological operations, digital and intellectual theft, and predatory economic partnerships.

This new character of war is especially dangerous for the logistics community, both military and commercial. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), our “most consequential geopolitical challenge,” employs over 5,000 commercial sealift vessels—the largest fleet in the world and growing. They control approximately 70% of the ship-to-shore cranes used at global ports, and their logistics management platform, LOGINK, is widely used across the globe. They have demonstrated the ability to disrupt shipments and manipulate supply chains, confirming these are not simply tools of economic prowess but pose considerable risks to defense logistics and international commerce.

Our organic and commercial transportation capabilities are as crucial as ever in projecting and sustaining military power, and therefore must be protected. 85% of the joint force required for great power war resides at home in the United States. In conflict, 90% of all cargo would be transported via sealift and 90% of personnel delivered via commercial airlift, and every mission relies on our increasingly vulnerable commercial transportation infrastructure. Using kinetic and non-kinetic means, adversaries can reach well inside our borders to disrupt these forces before they even deploy from the continental United States. Our shared ability to deliver requires strong partnerships and continued attention to the capabilities, processes, and agreements that have shaped the JDDE so far.

Deterring Great Power war in this future environment demands a different way of thinking. We simply cannot sacrifice future modernization for current readiness…we must do both. The technology, lethality, and speed we anticipate will challenge our current authorities, stands to paralyze our operating systems, and break down our antiquated command and control processes. We must characterize the future operating environment and then develop the systems, processes, and authorities that will live up to the test. The result will be more accurate risks, better options, more time, and ultimately favorable outcomes.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — An aircraft marshall guides an Amerijet cargo aircraft bringing goods to the island of Puerto Rico at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Nov. 18, 2017. New Zealand recently shipped 18 pallets of food to the island for distribution by the Warfighter Disaster Response Team working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The food will be given out to families still in need following the destruction of Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)

US Army photo by SSG Evan Lane/Released.

Then and Now
Decision Advantage improves decision quality across the competition continuum—from peace to armed conflict—to preserve time and create better options. Decision Advantage is data-informed, but reliant on people to execute. The USTRANSCOM Warfighting Framework will guide our actions on this path. First, we must shape our Global Mobility Posture—ensuring our agreements and infrastructure are resilient enough to provide Joint Force Commanders with the necessary access to maneuver at will; our Global Mobility Capacity—the multi-modal lift platforms, including those from allies, partners, and our emergency preparedness programs, that can rapidly mobilize to achieve operational objectives; and our Command, Control, and Integration—shaping our systems to reliably transform data into knowledge and provide senior leaders with realistic options with time to act.
Creating Decision Advantage might be a modern term, but it is not a new concept. It was practiced at the onset of the technological revolution of the 90s as we improved systems and processes before Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. We achieved success due to the unprecedented cooperation between allied militaries and commercial partners, but also because of the previous years of work designing the then new Joint Operational Planning and Execution System (JOPES). JOPES was created because the legacy systems and processes of the time would not support planning and command and control requirements of large-scale joint operations. Despite having never been tested in a real-world conflict, and far from perfect, JOPES facilitated a deployment of over 500,000 troops to the Middle East and helped coordinate successful military operations for the United States and 40 allied nations.
More recently, in support of Ukraine, the world witnessed how quickly the transportation industry could source and transport munitions and equipment from locations across the United States to multiple ports of embarkation. The agreements our transportation industry made with trucking companies, rail companies, and the ports of embarkation before crisis had an outsized effect on our ability to respond in crisis. The data available, the systems in use, and relationships in place provided our senior leaders with more time and multiple options to deliver security assistance for Ukraine.
Additionally, we continue to develop our systems and processes for managing and synchronizing global bulk fuel. We developed a Bulk Fuel Feasibility Assessment to determine the optimal way to prioritize global demands during any scenario, from humanitarian assistance to armed conflict. Starting in the Indo-Pacific, we are evaluating each region’s contingency plans, focusing on their bulk fuel capabilities, capacity, and supply chains from refinery to the point of need. Our assessment is ongoing but has already energized initiatives across the Department of Defense and commercial industry to close theater distribution gaps for the entire Joint Petroleum Enterprise.

A Marine from the 4th Landing Support Battalion, Savannah, G.A., directs movement of mine resistant ambush protected vehicles in the Charleston seaport staging area in preparation for loading a cargo vessel, March 2008.

 Photo by MSgt Kevin Young/Released.

Finally, Decision Advantage applies to more than pure warfighting. We can and must use it to support our warfighters and their families. We are transitioning away from the previous system that helped us manage a member’s move from one duty location to another. MilMove, our modernized IT system, provides USTRANSCOM leaders with enhanced decision-making capability across our portfolio of systems. The system will support the Global Household Goods Contract and was designed completely by USTRANSCOM developers. It delivers more, cleaner data on a modern software code and enables countless opportunities to improve the military relocation program and bring much-deserved improvement to the quality of life for our service members and families.

Call to Action
USTRANSCOM has achieved much and learned many lessons over our 36-year history. Our systems, processes, and authorities have served us well, and together with commercial industry and like-minded nations, we have successfully met all of our Nation’s deployment and distribution requirements.
When we look to the future, however, the path looks different. Should deterrence fail, it will be a challenge to even get to the battlespace, and “iron mountains” will not be an option—there will be no fully permissive environment to build combat power. Formations will be smaller, dispersed over large distances, and partially autonomous. They will require constant movement until a limited window opens for a desired effect. That window will quickly close, and formations will disperse, moving to the next location in accordance with their commander’s intent.

Just as we have shown in the past, we must be ready to meet that future. We must develop platforms that can move, deliver, and communicate at relevant speeds. We must refine command and control structures that support mission command while still understanding enough to present viable options to senior leaders. We must rigorously evaluate innovative authorities and processes during wargames, employ what works, and throw out what doesn’t. We must seek Decision Advantage at every turn.

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class George Cardenas/Released.

Our work is already underway. We continue to review the Mutual Airlift Support Agreement with the Republic of Korea, facilitating access to Korean Air aircraft to transport US troops and equipment in a contingency. We are testing modular port management teams to reduce combat units’ reception footprint and time at ports of debarkation. We are also working closely with the Navy to acquire used sealift vessels from the commercial market and supporting the Secretary of Defense with additional authority to purchase foreign-built used ships to immediately regain readiness. This is a start, but much more is needed.
We must do the hard work now to preserve time and options later…our Nation depends on it.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the 2023 NDTA-USTRANSCOM Fall Meeting. I look forward to meeting you in Orlando to discuss more opportunities for Decision Advantage. Safe travels! DTJ

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