Synchronizing Cross Border Military Mobility in Europe: A Way Forward

May 19, 2023 | DTJ Online

John Gallagher, supervisory traffic management specialist, 21st Theater Sustainment Command briefs the challenges and potential opportunities for the National Defense Transportation Association to assist logistical movements in the European Theater Jan. 25 within the Ramstein Officer’s Club. The NDTA has been assisting military logistics since WWII and desires to strengthen relationships and find opportunities to assist operations within United States Army Europe and Africa.


After a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Defense Transportation Association (NDTA) Europe and Africa Regional Workshop convened with the support of the NDTA Rheinland-Pfalz Chapter at the Ramstein Air Base Officers Club, 24 to 25 January, 2023.  Attendees came from both military and industry across the European Area Of Responsibility (AOR).

Throughout the two-day event, there was a sense of excitement as attendees met face-to-face with friends and colleagues, and shared an impressive catalog of successes.  In the spirit of the NDTA, it was also an opportunity to collectively discuss challenges and solutions.

The NDTA Rheinland-Pfalz Chapter, like other chapters, is key to the Association’s mission.  Chapters are the local venues worldwide that establish the professional programs, mentoring, community outreach, and networking necessary for NDTA’s success.  To get at the heart of pressing transportation concerns in Europe, the NDTA Rheinland-Pfalz Chapter organizes its committee structure largely by mode of transportation.

The Europe & Africa Regional Surface Sub-Committee’s composition is military, government, and industry. Its function is to explore shared challenges largely focused on highway, rail, and a number of cross-border concerns unique to European geography.  Our readers will agree that it is a fascinating time to be working in surface transportation in Europe.  During this iteration of the Regional Workshop, the Regional Surface Sub-Committee convened with a quorum comprised of over half its full membership and was ready to get to work.

At the meeting, the Regional Surface Sub-Committee celebrated the successes of 2022, while acknowledging that they were accomplished only by having reached full capacity of military theater transportation resources.  These transportation resources, known as Common User Logistics Transportation or CULT, are assets that are both limited and in high demand. Because of this, a majority of military shipments across Europe in support of Ukraine have relied heavily on augmentation by the European commercial trucking industry.

US-generated rail and highway shipments of military goods in support of Ukraine in 2022 are likely not sustainable—and certainly not efficient—without new industry solutions, military investments, and, perhaps most importantly, host-nation support across the continent for political action leading to legislative changes.  Legislative changes, either bilaterally or multilaterally, should address the lingering challenges of removing barriers to Freedom of Movement (FOM) for Cross Border Military Mobility (CBMM).

As a logistics community comprised of both industry and government, we are keen to identify what troubles and complicates CBMM.  We are less confident in understanding how exactly both industry and government will go about addressing these issues.  Impediments to CBMM are long-standing in Europe; they are a habitual and customary multi-generational legacy that needs to be modernized and energized by a new generation of leaders.

A few of the issues most disruptive to CBMM in Europe include the lack of harmonization of partner nations’ custom procedures and the potential need for numerous Diplomatic Clearances when crossing multiple borders, as well as the requirements for Hazardous Materials movement, including Class V, weapons, and ammunition, which require timely and costly ADR certifications.1 The NDTA Regional Surface Sub-Committee encourages members to consider avenues, whereby the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union (EU) partners can address all countries’ CBMM needs within the European AOR.

The Regional Surface Sub-Committee members identified streamlined and uniform procedures, and an expansion of ADR compliance is needed.  In the absence of EU-wide modernizations removing barriers to CBMM, the Regional Surface Sub-Committee members also noted that NATO and EU partners could consider creating specific “carve-outs,” or other expedited procedures specific to Ukraine support.

For the US Military, freedom of movement for CBMM remains the most significant peacetime challenge within the European AOR.  It must be conceded that not all military movement problems in Europe—the underlying causes or embedded challenges—can be solved at the military or industry level.  Problems facing cross-border military movements are political in nature and will require political decision-making.  At the Regional Surface Sub-Committee meeting, industry and military transporters agreed that the time for CBMM modernization is now.

Among the Regional Surface Sub-Committee’s logistics ranks—military members, DOD civilians, contractors, and industry professionals—there is a collective pride among different countrymen who share a trade and aim to meet shared objectives.  In transportation and logistics, the mandate is to “get it done.”  That “it” is captured in military transportation mottos Nothing Happens Until Something Movesand in industry slogans that take in stride moving and delivering the near impossible.  In transportation, problems are solved by momentum, literally.  One quickly recognizes this ethos is still strong in Europe.

“Not all military movement problems in Europe… can be solved at the military or industry level…  [They] are political in nature and will require political decision making.”

Even beset by the global pandemic and hindered by the subsequent supply chain crisis, transporters got it done in the largest support operation in Europe since the Berlin airlift.  However, we should not rest on the laurels of 2022.  The transporter ethos and its appetite for momentum are being tested continually in the challenges facing every echelon of US Military transportation and logistics in Europe.  Supply chain disruptions from COVID continue exercising their effects on macro economies around the globe, while the surface movement requirements in support of Ukraine have further stressed transportation throughput.  The evolving movement landscape on the continent has reinforced the imperative for military and industry to work in tandem in response to emerging and enduring global movement challenges.

In 2022, a great example of this problem-to-solution dynamic occurred with the 21st Theater Sustainment Command’s consistent engagements and open communication with the Deutsche Bahn (DB) Railway Company.  The military demand signal to industry can be witnessed in the DB using capital to purchase new heavy rails cars and guard cars.  These specific acquisitions demonstrated a direct and singular responsiveness to the US Military customer.  The Regional Surface Sub-Committee welcomes a dialogue on capital investments by industry to expand shipping and transportation capacity.

Another example of a specific success, albeit specific to Germany and not shared theater-wide, is still important to highlight:  VEMAGS, or Verfahrensmanagement für Großraum und Schwertransporte from the German acronym for “Procedure Management for Large and Heavy Transports.”  VEMAGS is a nationwide online clearinghouse for applications and approval processing for large and heavy transport for all of Germany.  As a lesson learned from the DEFENDER Europe 2020 military exercise, the 21st Theater Sustainment Command was able to add commercial carriers to a Bundeswehr Military Mobility account for VEMAGS, enabling expedited processing for contingencies.

While the Military Mobility VEMAGS process has streamlined oversize and overweight shipments within Germany’s borders, once a border is crossed, new bureaucratic obstacles arise.  VEMAGS use demonstrably shows the need for a theater-wide clearinghouse that serves our European allies and partners in much the way that VEMAGS functions in Germany.  The Regional Surface Sub-Committee welcomes a European-wide VEMAGS-like entity as a further specialization that would streamline CBMM and lead to efficiencies.

The decision gates here are not with current Regional Surface Sub-Committee members alone to open; we will need to expand our aperture on membership and seek to educate and elevate our issues into a transparent dialog with bilateral champions seeking multilateral uniformity of action and the promulgation of new standards.  NATO’s participation in the Regional Surface Sub-Committee was truly informative to sub-committee members.  It engendered a welcomed exchange of information exploring the alternative futures that are possible for CBMM in Europe.

“US-generated rail and highway shipments of military goods in support of Ukraine [are]… certainly not efficient –without new industry solutions, military investments, and, perhaps most importantly, host-nation support across the continent for political action leading to legislative changes.”

It is imperative that the NDTA Europe and Africa Regional Committee welcome expansion of membership in its organization past the logistics specialty and into policy and operations shops across all interested governments.  Given the root causes of the problems hindering CBMM in Europe, new partners in military foreign policy and operations shops need to hear directly from military and industry transporters about the current litany of challenges, as do political officers representing supportive bilateral partners and important multilateral secretariats.  Support to Ukraine hinges as much on reliable logistics and transportation, as it does on military platforms and ammunition donations put to use; momentum in all its forms and meanings.

Anyone watching the industry the last year will, with ease, identify the problems that signal to transporters that we are at—or very near—full network capacity.  The inability to flex additional transportation assets quickly undermines policy planning and operational intents for real European defense and warfighting.  New international and multilateral agreements should be sought out in support of complex, interwoven logistics networks.  The US and its allies and partners around the world are supplying Ukraine with not only lethal aid, but also defensive assistance and humanitarian relief.  It is Europe and NATO’s responsibility to sustain the European transportation network to facilitate these critical donations.

Our current logistics networks are built upon decades of a peace dividend.  Beyond use for commerce, the additional responses that are feasible on the European logistics network mirror the most recent understanding of the existential threats, namely counterterrorism and natural disaster recovery.  Both are reactive.  This reactive momentum is worlds different from efforts that go into national mobilization.  The realistic areas demanding a flex within European logistics networks might focus on staging and delivering humanitarian relief or large police actions, but these options are not at the scale and duration of military conflict with a near-peer adversary.

European logistics, mature as they are, must adapt again to meet what may be demanded.  The scope of what European logistics are currently primed to support is not in line with the NATO operating concepts for near-pear high-intensity contingency operations.  At this juncture, with a year of warfighting in Ukraine and its new supply and demand network, FOM and enhancements to CBMM will likely require centralized planning at the highest levels of European and NATO military and political spectrum and decentralized execution by tenants of the various ally and partner governments’ transportation ministries and industries.

Just-in-Time logistics was a transformational transportation efficiency that realized global commerce and extreme benefit for countless industries. A new transformation must now occur within the networks that the industry supports in Europe.  Instead of “Just-in-Time,” what is called for now is “Just-in-Case” logistics. This means being responsive rather than reactive, anticipatory rather than surprised, and dealing in surplus and not in deficit to create and nurture momentum.  Nothing happens until something moves.

The Regional Surface Sub-Committee is positioned to welcome joint industry and military transporter concerns for CBMM being brought for consideration by political partners that appreciate the delicate balance of national sovereignty, with multilateral security regimes, and supranational governance.  The Regional Surface Sub-Committee Members commit to elevating CBMM issues to political sections of relevant organizations.  Additionally, to convene experts on all possible contributions to help solve the underlying FOM challenges in Europe.

The Regional Surface Sub-Committee also proposes that African logistics and transportation issues be a larger portion of the next Europe & Africa Regional Workshop.  Further still, consultations or meetings with Southern European Task Force Africa should be sought.  The Regional Surface Sub-Committee welcomes partner countries vocally supporting CBMM within NATO’s committee structure to implement systems and processes that generate FOM for the US Military in Europe.

The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or any of its components.

1The Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road, or “ADR” from the French (Accord Relatif Au Transport Internationaldes Marchandises Dangereuses Par Route) is a 1957 Treaty under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe that governs international transport of dangerous or hazardous goods.  U.S. compliance with the ADR is codified in the current NATO SOFA agreement.

By Evan A. Hanson

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