Together, We Cultivate Doubt in Our Adversaries
The situation in Ukraine has once again highlighted the importance of global logistics and the complexity of projecting and sustaining combat forces. For the past few months, we’ve witnessed Russia struggle to effectively supply their troops just 75 miles from its border, while we moved significant amounts of weapons and supplies halfway across the world.
While the US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) team makes the impossible look easy, we’ve worked hard on building and strengthening a robust network of allies and partners, including commercial industry, that we can leverage in times of crisis. The last few years has seen a dramatic rise in the criticality of logistics in competition and crisis. In each occurrence, USTRANSCOM has demonstrated our logistics prowess that has enabled our Nation to achieve our stated objectives. But we can’t allow past success to impede future growth. The future of logistics will look very different.
Ongoing changes in the security environment are profound. The growing ability of adversaries to interdict our logistics capabilities across all domains presents considerable challenges as we face great power competition on a global scale. This has significant implications for our ability to sustain our strategic comparative advantage of projecting a decisive force anywhere in the world. We have enjoyed this advantage for many decades, demonstrating our ability to build up and unleash combat power with relative impunity against a less complex set of challenges.
Throughout the Cold War, our strategy relied upon a persistent forward presence, reflected in a robust network of forward bases, airfields, ports, and railheads. Today, however, over 85 percent of the Joint Force resides in the United States. As a result, we rely upon our ability to swiftly transport and set conditions for military action from a more challenging starting point to respond to global threats.
Changing with the Character of War
Favorable global posture is critical to our ability to project power, and it starts at home. The genesis of our logistics lines of communication is our national highways, rails, and seaports, providing the foundational platforms to project forces globally.
For decades, military planners assumed force projection would occur in an uncontested environment. Now we must be prepared to face direct challenges across all domains, threatening our ability to deliver the necessary force to the point of need. Our adversaries have means—kinetic and non-kinetic—to target and impact our stateside deployment and logistics enterprise, and their capabilities increase each day. Even as our forces depart the United States, the risk persists across their transit. Military leaders and planners must now assume a contested deployment and sustainment of the Joint Force from stateside garrisons and bases, to ships or aircraft, to deployment locations.
This has significant implications for our ability to sustain our strategic comparative advantage of projecting a decisive force anywhere in the world.
The National Defense Strategy (NDS) makes clear that we are in the “decisive decade.” The People’s Republic of China seeks to diminish US influence and displace the current rules-based international order. This places them as our Nation’s pacing threat. The NDS also states Russia poses an acute threat, as demonstrated by its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. As adversaries look to degrade our power projection capabilities, we must continually assess and refine to meet the evolving geopolitical landscape and focus on strengthening and diversifying our infrastructure and agreements to maintain this advantage.
As the world changes, the advantage USTRANSCOM brings to our Nation must evolve at the same pace and scale. While we have had great success over our 35-year history as a functional combatant command, we must continue to innovate and accelerate the changes necessary to remain ready now and in the future. We have sharpened our focus on air and maritime fleet recapitalization and modernization, along with new concepts of operation to ensure we can deploy rapidly in the contested environment.
The talents of the USTRANSCOM team will lead the transportation enterprise to victory against any adversary and maintain our strategic advantage. We are America’s secret weapon, we underwrite the lethality of the Joint Force, advance American interests around the globe, and provide our Nation’s leaders with strategic flexibility while creating multiple dilemmas for our adversaries.
Seed, Feed, Grow
Integrated deterrence, campaigning, and building enduring advantages are the actions the NDS calls for from the Department of Defense (DOD). As USTRANSCOM and the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise (JDDE) implement the strategy, we seed, feed, and grow doubt in our adversaries.
Through integrated deterrence, we seed doubt with the adversary that they can achieve their objectives. This key concept relies on our global logistics posture to facilitate the projection and sustainment of combat-credible forces where needed. To remain responsive and resilient abroad, we utilize the diversity of nodes and routes through commercial and military capabilities at key strategic locations.
Strong relationships with allies and partners are paramount as they facilitate our access, basing, and overflight options, creating a robust distribution network and affording us a positional advantage. This requires a whole-of-government approach, oriented towards strengthening our enroute infrastructure and international agreements to combine with our scalable capacity to generate expanded senior leader decision space—this combination of posture and capacity represents a strategic advantage unique to our Nation. The speed and reliability at which we can employ forces and deny opposing objectives seeds doubt—and our competitors know it.
We feed doubt in our adversaries by campaigning to strengthen deterrence. This begins with geographic combatant commanders’ clearly defined, threat informed objectives against which the command is able to posture and plan. Paramount to our decision process are consideration for vital supply prepositioning and deliberate actions to establish resilient lines of communication. In response to supported Combatant Commander objectives, we mass our military and commercial capacity to generate tempo in concert with other instruments of national power.
USTRANSCOM is also focused on enhancing transportation capabilities through fleet recapitalization, modernization, and new operational concepts. Large-scale exercises enhance our interoperability with allies, partners, and commercial industry by incorporating evolving operational maneuvers where we must aggregate to fight and then disaggregate to survive. From commercial consolidated replenishment at sea with tactical advisors onboard supporting command and control, expanding international port agreements or contracts, air-refueling credible strike platforms that integrate with allied aircraft, and even inserting Marine High Mobility Artillery Rocket System via airlift to shoot and move—USTRANSCOM is committed to leveraging our resilient and secure lines of communication wherever needed, feeding the doubts of the competitor.
By building enduring advantages we grow doubt by reducing our vulnerabilities while accelerating development of our capabilities. Our risk in the cyber domain is great and one of my highest areas of concern is how to conduct globally integrated command and control in dynamic contested environments. We must be able to apply limited resources to the highest priorities and recover from disruption.
Any advantage of technology is irrelevant if our warfighting forces are unprepared for the rigors of competition.
USTRANSCOM cyber mission assurance and modernization initiatives currently underway are working to enhance our network safeguards, protecting our diverse portfolio of information technology systems, which are contingent on secure networks and access to trusted data. Rapidly transforming this data into knowledge is how we create decision advantage and outpace our competitors. Achieving this involves the use of large volumes of data and sophisticated analytics where every platform is a warfighting sensor, connected to the grid or battle network. All these efforts reflect the department’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) strategy, which aims to enable the Joint Force to “sense, make sense, and act.”
Any advantage of technology is irrelevant if our warfighting forces are unprepared for the rigors of competition. From the tactical to the strategic level, few resources matter more than the diversity, skill, and leadership of our officer, enlisted, and civilian members. The development, training, and empowerment of those committed to serve must remain a priority. Retention of their talents and experience can make all the difference—a lesson worth learning from Russia, where conscripts fill their ranks without the benefit gained from the leadership and experience of a non-commissioned officer corps. Without our people, we can’t grow that doubt.
Enterprise Support to Allies and Partners in Europe
Recent successes in Operation Allies Refuge and delivery of aid bound for Ukraine have validated our reputation and generated momentum; however, we cannot rest on our laurels—the risks are too great. Our competitors are watching our every move and quickly digesting lessons learned to improve their positions. Our support to recent events in Europe has demonstrated all facets of the seed, feed, grow approach.
Support to allies and partners in Europe underscores the importance of having an agile mobility force, with both a strategic airlift fleet that can deliver immediately, within hours of notification, and the available sealift that can deliver a much greater volume of materiel that is essential to delivering and sustaining large combat forces. Working across the enterprise to draw equipment from different locations across the globe, transport it into Europe, and transfer it to our partners that will take it directly to the battlefield has been a remarkable feat and demonstrates the value of our partnerships.
Before the invasion, commercial partners rushed to airlift supplies and munitions into Ukraine. When called, Air Mobility Command (AMC) airlifted members of the 82nd Airborne Division, refueled fighter aircraft, and deployed tankers into theater to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) organic capabilities and strengthen NATO’s Eastern Flank. Simultaneously, the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command deployed joint planners, tacticians, and communication capabilities on short notice to all echelons, from the Joint Staff and down into US European Command (USEUCOM) and subordinate commands, to create crucial linkages at all levels.
Then, to reinforce our allies with additional combat power, our Surface Warriors from Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) accelerated deployment of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team from the United States, leveraged our line haul truck-and-train rail networks, transported vehicles to the port of Charleston, loaded them onto commercial ships, and downloaded them at four different ports in Europe. Our Military Sealift Command (MSC) activated cargo, oil tanker, and crane vessels, then command and controlled them via onboard tactical advisors and secure communications to participate in underway replenishment operations supporting the carrier strike group in the Mediterranean and Defense Logistics Agency Europe fuel re-supply. Together, SDDC and MSC delivered Bradleys, Abrams, ammunition, fuel and other vital supplies where needed. Finally, AMC deployed significant volumes of troops and, along with significant support from our commercial partners, continues to deliver critical lethal aid for Ukraine’s defense.
This is how the US projects rapid and reliable power through military and commercial means—fort to port, port to fox hole, airfield to airfield.
Call to Action
USTRANSCOM’s strategic flexibility is not merely a function of our modal capacity, it is a result of our vast constellation of allies, partners, and commercial partners that enable our global posture. All indicators of future operations point to an increased demand to deploy, maneuver, sustain, and redeploy. As we look to the future, we must prepare for operations with a higher tempo, over greater distances. Any concept of operation must include time-synchronized, multinational operations where logistics is fully integrated with all other joint warfighting functions to achieve desired effects.
Our forces must be postured to take advantage of localized domain superiority in both time and space through the employment of tailorable and integrated packages. Leveraging data and analytics will force an evolution from pull to push logistics, where we can forecast supply needs based on expenditure rates and deliver them without prompting. This will require the enterprise to broaden our understanding and employment of maneuver far past service-centric concepts and holistically understand their cumulative draw on our finite capacity.
Within a changing strategic and operational landscape, our logistics and mobility enterprise will continue to play an integral role in assuring our Nation’s defense. Our adversaries continue to grow all-domain threat capabilities, on par with our own in some areas and with the momentum to surpass us in others. Make no mistake, the actions we take now will have a profound effect on our ability to project and sustain a combat credible Joint Force in contested environments.
As we meet in St. Louis for the USTRANSCOM and National Defense Transportation Association Fall Meeting, I ask each of you to bring your questions, raise concerns, and provide any recommendations and solutions you may have. This forum is the place to have difficult discussions and bring about new ideas, as well as continue to build on our relationships. We can’t surge trust during a crisis, and the Nation depends on our allies, partners, and the entire JDDE to deliver in a time of need. See you at the Union Station Hotel!
By Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, USAF, Commander, US Transportation Command