Projecting and Sustaining Combat Power at a Time and Place of the Nation’s Choosing
The 2020 NDTA-USTRANSCOM Fall Meeting took place virtually October 5-8, 2020. The event brought together more than 1,500 attendees from government, military, and industry to learn and collaborate. The theme for the meeting was Innovative and Disruptive…2020 Vision for the Future.
Keynote speaker GEN Stephen Lyons, USA, Commander of USTRANSCOM, described three basic strategic messages he often gives to audiences at events like the Fall Meeting. First, with 85 percent of the force elements stationed in the Continental United States (CONUS), America’s ability to project military power on a global scale anywhere in the world at a time and place of our choosing is a strategic comparative advantage. This is USTRANSCOM’s role. Second, the operating environment of the last 20 or 30 years is changing quite rapidly. The National Defense Strategy, global planning efforts, and the joint warfighting concepts all point to this fact. Third, our Nation’s ability to project a joint force on a global scale is inextricably linked to its commercial industry partners.
The level of coordination and integration the command shares with industry is especially important when a crisis occurs, as it did in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. The confidence and trust they have in one another is critical to mission success. This is not something that can be surged when a crisis hits—it must be built over time.
Lyons’ described missions performed by the USTRANSCOM and its component commands over the year and in the wake of the pandemic. The year began with DEFENDER-Europe 20, the largest deployment of forces to Europe in the past 25 years. The exercise entailed the movement of 20,000 troops originating from 52 locations in 24 states in the CONUS using four CONUS ports. In addition, 11 vessels, about 1.3 million square feet of Army equipment, and countless aircraft were moved overseas to 26 destinations in eight countries using six seaports in the European Command. It was an incredibly powerful exercise for everyone involved and demonstrated the command’s ability to move and surge a decisive force when needed.
The command also provided rapid response to US Central Command as a result of Iranian aggression. The movement, speed, and ability to immediately respond to a quick crisis contingency demonstrated in this instance was impressive to leaders in Pentagon and at the White House. The US is unique in its ability to scale at this level.
THE COVID ENVIRONMENT
Lyons recognized the challenges navigating COVID-19 had presented to the Department of Defense and collectively to the Nation. “But for [US]TRANSCOM and for much of this industry, there was no opportunity to stop movement completely. [US]TRANSCOM and the Joint Deployment Distribution Enterprise must—and did—continue to operate despite this contested environment called COVID.”
“At the end of the day we never had the luxury to stop flying planes, sailing ships, or moving the joint force,” said Lyons. He added that the command had to mitigate mission outcomes with appropriate force protection. This consisted of implementing multiple evolving echelons of health force protection. USTRANSCOM also had to contend with finding ways to safely provide transport for highly infectious COVID positive patients, as well as other troops and passengers. The command was called upon to support the State Department’s repatriation of US citizens from overseas, as well as the movement of testing and medical supplies such as ventilators within the US and to partners worldwide.
USTRANSCOM has also been working to test ventilation and the movement of particulate spread in commercial aircraft. Lyons said that results of the testing, which will be released soon, were encouraging. This is good news for commercial air carriers, as their industry had been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. He also expressed the need to collaborate with these industry members to ensure their viability.
Lyons described several complex issues being worked on by the DOD. Concerns over readiness of the organic sealift fleet were brought to light following the command’s Turbo Activation exercise last year. USTRANSCOM, together with staff from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the US Navy, and the Maritime Administration, worked to develop a course of action—a use-buy strategy—to increase the fleet over the next five years.
A top issue Lyons had highlighted to Congress and DOD over the past year was implications for the delay of the KC-46 weapons system. Air refueling is one of the most stressed components in the mobility enterprise, according to Lyons. There is currently positive momentum between the US Air Force and Boeing on a material solution to produce a remote visual system 2.0, which he anticipated being available in 2023.
Lyons briefly highlighted progress in the areas of cyber resiliency and digital modernization. These are areas where the department is heavily invested, and Lyons was pleased with the direction in which they were going. In addition, he mentioned ongoing studies, many of which go to Congress and play a role in shaping future departmental investments in the global mobility enterprise. He also reported there were significant momentum and progress into improving the moving experience for military families.
Finally, Lyons revealed that USTRANSCOM had entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) to explore rapid transportation through space. “Think about moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” said Lyons. “Think about that speed associated with the movement of transportation of cargo and people. There is a lot of potential here, and I’m really excited about the team that’s working with SpaceX on an opportunity, even perhaps, as early as 21, to be conducting a proof of principle.”
TOGETHER WE DELIVER
Throughout his comments on continuing operations, the pandemic, and other subjects, Lyons attributed much of USTRANSCOM’s mission success to its remarkable workforce, component commands, and the partnerships it has within DOD, with other government organizations, and commercial industry.
Lyons closed his remarks by expressing appreciation for everyone who contributed to the command’s vast capabilities. “I could not be more proud of the Airmen, the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, Coast Guardsmen, the civilians, and our industry partners that make up this power projection enterprise. I am just a proud teammate that stands amongst you, but it is incredible to watch this machine every single day and what you’re capable of. And, from the other Combatant Commanders, from the Chairman, and from the Secretary of Defense, let me pass on their personal gratitude for all that you do every day.”