Transforming America’s Force Projection Capability: Strategic Partner Integration Required

Sep 6, 2019 | Defense Transportation Journal

By LTC John Fasching, USA (Ret.)
Senior Consultant, Maintenance, Distribution and Operational Logistics Group, LMI

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released.


While our military force buildup method has served us well in the past, it now places military missions and our forces at unprecedented risk. Adaptive and innovative adversaries are chipping away at long-standing American and partner-nation strategic mobility overmatch in all domains. These adversaries understand and exploit our joint deployment process and vulnerabilities. America’s strategic mobility infrastructure and global transportation capabilities must be more self-protected, defensible, and resilient.

Our capability gaps and shortfalls, coupled with ever-compressing strategic responsiveness timelines, present immense problems for future transportation professionals who plan for and navigate increasingly contested and lethal military operating environments. The US and our partners are updating war plans, implementing incremental improvements and exercising global force projection skills. How can we best assist our senior leaders in prioritizing resources to support our national security interests in contested, multi-domain operations (MDO)?

Leveraging the theme of this year’s upcoming NDTA-USTRANSCOM Fall Meeting, Fostering Partnerships to Preserve Peace and Prevail in Conflict…Then, Now, and Tomorrow, this article offers insight and approaches for effectively overmatching capability in the near term, deterring potential adversaries, and avoiding strategic miscalculations that might provoke armed conflict or prevent winning contested MDO.

Current Situation

As we evaluate the force projection capability gaps and shortfalls associated with great power competition, how we transform strategic mobility has significant national security implications. Our adversaries study our deployment process and systems to field capabilities to offset our advantages. Mitigating strategic risk and meeting the force projection demands of the future requires joint, interagency, intergovernmental, multinational, and commercial (JIIM-C) partnerships and relationships with coordinated, synergistic solutions. The convergence of globalization, technology proliferation, contested MDO and subsequent capability development efforts and competition for resources among Department of Defense (DOD) capability and capacity providers form a wicked problem for military strategists.

The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) states,

“Investments will prioritize prepositioned forward stocks and munitions, strategic mobility assets, partner and allied support, as well as non-commercially dependent distributed logistics and maintenance to ensure logistics sustainment while under persistent multi-domain attack…

The Global Operating Model describes how the Joint Force will be postured and employed to achieve its competition and wartime missions. Foundational capabilities include: nuclear; cyber; space; C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance]; strategic mobility, and counter WMD [weapons of mass destruction] proliferation. It comprises four layers: contact, blunt, surge, and homeland. These are, respectively, designed to help us compete more effectively below the level of armed conflict; delay, degrade, or deny adversary aggression; surge war-winning forces and manage conflict escalation; and defend the US homeland.”1

Implications for NDTA Stakeholders

While avoiding situations that place us under persistent multi-domain attack is optimal, as NDTA members, we must understand this operational reality and plan accordingly. We no longer move unit equipment and sustainment stocks through benign, non-threatening environments. Developing capabilities to enhance our blunt forces (special operations, airborne, amphibious) and better enable the leading edge of surge forces helps address this shift in our joint operating environment. Although we have made incremental investments over time, the last game-changing, holistic investment in US military strategic mobility capability occurred almost 30 years ago.

However, Congress remains interested in force projection capabilities and capacities, as evidenced by the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces (Committee on Armed Services) for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 and specific language on Army watercraft, US ship operator participation in wargames and exercises, and another Mobility Capabilities Requirement Study (MCRS). Also noteworthy, the March 26, 2019 Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses [EMPs] directs that “the Secretary of Defense shall… incorporate attacks that include EMPs as a factor in defense planning scenarios…”.2 Civilian leadership’s concern about increasing threats to our force projection capability and their implications for national security demands our collective energies.

The NDTA community has the knowledge, experience, and influence to solve problems and offer solutions. The Joint Staff J-4 capabilities and concepts division’s invitation for an NDTA subject matter expert to participate in the development of the joint concept for logistics highlights our reputation and trustworthiness as an association.
For 75 years, NDTA individual and corporate members have assisted our military and political leaders in making informed decisions about strategic mobility.

Now is the time to assess America’s force projection capability gaps and shortfalls associated with executing contested, multi-domain military operations, focusing on converging JIIM-C capabilities. Holistic JIIM-C analysis and recommendations will optimize joint deployment process improvements enabling joint combined arms maneuver. US Transportation Command’s (USTRANSCOM) Future Deployment and Distribution Assessments can inform decisions in the movement and maneuver, force application, and logistics communities about how to achieve strategic maneuver capability that is scalable, an effective deterrent, and can defeat adversaries by leveraging JIIM-C capabilities and cross-domain effects.

Expanding America’s capability and capacity to strategically maneuver combat-capable Army formations requires us to think big and differently. Strategic maneuver, while an operational necessity, is niche capability, but DOD should extend strategic maneuverability throughout its ground forces and expand their cross-domain capabilities. Scalable levels of surge forces could arrive immediately employable, further enhancing combatant commanders’ schemes of maneuver during the time-sensitive transition between blunt and surge force operations. Army Materiel Command’s revamping of Army prepositioned stocks to combat configuration is a harbinger of other strategic-level efforts to increase combat readiness, decrease response times, and strengthen survivability and resilience.

Operational Realities

The commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Gen Robert Neller stated, “Our adversaries are not just going to let us go to the fight uncontested; we’re going to have to fight our way across the ocean or under the ocean or in the air.”3

America’s force projection capability must evolve while remaining ready for the challenges of contested MDO against tech-enabled, dynamic adversaries. Our strategic mobility calculus must advance as our problem sets evolve. Although our joint deployment process and platforms have supplied unparalleled overmatch, they were designed to address different strategic challenges, response times, and adversary capabilities. We must adapt to overcome today’s and tomorrow’s increasing threats to large-scale combat operations (LSCO).

Gen Neller’s observation applies to the JIIM-C partners who enable force projection operations. Bold, audacious, innovative, and affordable capability advances must be integrated into the force to enable resilient and survivable surge sealift that can operate through contested environments and enable the Army’s ability to maneuver across strategic distances.4 US naval escorts for ship convoys remain a capability shortfall, and interagency and multinational assets may also lack availability to meet the demand for protecting surge sealift operations globally.

Cross-domain, dynamically reshaped, continuous military operations, with response times measured in seconds, minutes and days rather than months, and enabled by JIIM-C support, start with you. We are called the National Defense Transportation Association for good reason: we form strategic JIIM-C relationships and supply the intellectual capital to outpace our competitors—then, now, and tomorrow.


On the heels of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Congress recognized the strategic risk associated with a six-month military buildup while blunt forces occupied vulnerable defensive positions until offensive operations began. NDTA members’ input helped underpin the nearly $48 billion investment in the early 1990s for an improved strategic mobility solution to mitigate that risk.

The Defense Science Board Task Force on Survivable Logistics is another example of individual NDTA members supplying a candid and hard-hitting perspective and recommendations on protecting, modernizing, and leveraging the mobility triad of airlift, sealift, and prepositioned equipment. The exchange of ideas during NDTA-sponsored engagements further informs capability development in DOD and catalyzes change, enabling America’s military to fight and win our nation’s wars against adaptive adversaries.


Dusting off tactics, techniques, and procedures dating to the invasion of Normandy and the war in Vietnam, an Army watercraft company reintroduced and exercised tactical, waterborne artillery cross-domain fires capability. LTC Damien Boffardi and his subordinate leaders are training the Army’s 11th Transportation Battalion soldier-sailors in enabling artillery fires from the decks of their Army watercraft. This non-standard use of force and materiel solutions repurposes and innovates our movement and maneuver tactics, techniques, and procedures to garner a military advantage by fully exploiting the maritime domain.

Operation Gator demonstrated an Army mission set leveraging our past military history that proved worthy of consideration for expansion. LTC Boffardi’s training plan shows a clear understanding of riverine operations, the strategic environment, and his soldiers’ contribution to achieve combat overmatch. He stated, “It is vital to push the boundaries of the equipment and to empower leaders to use past lessons learned in order to utilize these amphibious assets to their full capability.” This tactical-level Army movement and maneuver training exercise can inform a strategic maneuver capability for Army formations operating in and from the maritime domain to achieve joint-enabled, cross-domain fires and maneuver.

In another recent endeavor, NDTA’s partnership with Christopher Newport University, SDDC, MARAD, and the AAPA at last Spring’s Conference on America’s Ports, demonstrated the resolve to take on the strategic-level challenges of transitioning domains with large formations in near-peer, contested environments.


JIIM-C cooperation overcomes the inevitabilities of future, contested MDO. Given recent experimentation in shipboard cross-domain fires by numerous countries, expect an increase in our own joint experimentation, perhaps even leading to an Army live-fire sea emergency deployment readiness exercise with the experimental fires brigade engaging targets in multiple domains from the weather deck of a US surge sealift ship. Such strategic fires and maneuver capability will be enabled by technology and materials breakthroughs, such as non-TNT, non-toxic, stable explosive in munitions; and small, portable nuclear power generators supporting directed-energy weapons fires, adaptive basing, shipboard life support, and bulk fuel demand reduction throughout the strategic support area.

Technologies can enable dynamic, en route reconfiguration of Army weapon systems and crews to optimize combat power and “fight to the fight” based on probable threats and mission sets. Configuring surge sealift ships for scalable combat readiness in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environments reduces target-rich and lengthy reception, staging, onward movement, and integration of land forces. We depend on a global, combat-ready supply chain that is long, vulnerable, and fraught with strategic risk. Our dialog during NDTA forums informs leadership and enables critical, focused, follow-on conversations at the classified level, such as recurring mobility capabilities and requirements studies and reports to congress.

US Army Europe civilian and NDTA European Region President, Mr. Jason Trubenbach, is bringing JIIM-C force projection and distribution partners together to leverage the NDTA committee framework to solve critical, regional capability and capacity shortfalls in force flow timelines and distribution challenges to sustaining military operations. This effort could lead to successes worth integrating across NDTA for region-specific force projection and distribution offset strategies more aligned to challenges posed by adversaries. Our collective ideas and approaches will assist in transforming military deployments into capabilities for strategic maneuver.

NDTA members advance Defense Transportation System capabilities through opportunities, such as war gaming and experimentation, the American Academies of Sciences Transportation Research Board efforts, Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Joint Staff, and myriad other resources, to advance defense transportation capability commensurate with threats. Tomorrow’s NDTA members will create, operate, and optimize out-of-this-world supply chains as space-based resources are increasingly tapped as military enablers. NDTA members will help transition JIIM-C operations from largely human-in-the-loop, carbon-fuel-driven and predictable, to artificial intelligence-enabled, multi-power sourced and multi-domain resilient.

Starting with the Maritime Domain

In a blog post, LMI’s RADM Sinclair Harris, USN (Ret.) wrote, “A national strategy to maintain American sea power is sorely needed. Even a casual review of the news and commentary by national security strategists highlights that our country demands maritime superiority as a key element of strength and continued prosperity. Anything less would leave the United States and our partners and allies vulnerable to the agenda of others.”5

The Army and other interagency customers of surge sealift capacity can play a critical role in ensuring sea power is up to the challenges of delivering surge force capabilities through fights, to fights. Given our volatile joint operating environment, any service- or domain-specific strategy should leverage cross-domain maneuver and fires capability in overcoming adversaries’ A2/AD capabilities.
Shaping the modernization and recapitalization of the surge sealift fleet to enable joint combined-arms maneuver capabilities in contested environments starts now. The joint staff should lead the advancement of strategic maneuver capability expansion in joint concepts, experimentation, and near-term capability development through the force application functional capabilities board, converging JIIM-C capabilities for cross-domain, joint combined arms maneuver, and informing rapid fielding and recapitalization efforts for the near-term realities of contested MDO.

As JIIM-C planners wrestle with planning and executing LSCO and enabling strategic maneuver and survivability in increasingly lethal environments, we cannot count on new, expeditionary, maritime strategic maneuver lift platforms. Instead, we can repurpose ships to enable strategic maneuver of LSCO-capable Army formations through combat loading of mission-capable Army C4ISR, Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD), and direct-fire formations, reconfigurable for multi-domain vessel protection and offensive operations.

As a logical progression to the Navy and Marine Corps’ distributed lethality concept, the services should jointly explore integrating Army unit leaders, crews and equipment (combat readiness) on surge sealift ships to adapt the joint deployment process and enablers in stride with contested MDO threats. Instead of viewing the ship’s contents as cargo, joint forces can realize a strategic waterborne capability that is analogous to what the Army and Air Force achieve through airborne maneuver, but with exponentially more combat power from the heavier lift capacities of the maritime domain. Strategic maneuver of combat-ready Army formations could supply scalable, 24/7, cross-domain warfighting and C4ISR capabilities on ships.

Joint concepts call for joint combined-arms maneuver. Maritime strategic maneuver is a logical and necessary combat-multiplier for the near-term, end-to-end operational challenges of contested MDO. Maritime strategic maneuver of Army formations serves as the rapid, campaign-quality follow-on to blunt forces to fully exploit joint combined-arms maneuver. Championing near-term, bolt-on/tied-down, work-around, JIIM-C approaches for expanding maritime strategic maneuver capabilities will only be hard until we almost lose a sealift ship carrying surge force cargo or a JIIM-C partner’s capital asset in the course of sustaining the fight. Combatant commanders may soon start populating their integrated priority lists with expanded strategic maneuver capability requirements, prompting the Joint Staff to champion their collective cause with OSD and JIIM-C stakeholders. Simply recapitalizing ships in the standard configurations and roles, or purchasing additional legacy surge ships without making modifications enabling a degree of strategic maneuver capability, only solves a capacity problem—not the capability issues of contested MDO.

Transportation efficiency decreases with combat loading’s lower stow factors, but this approach enables dynamic reconfiguration of assets to optimize joint, cross-domain, combined arms maneuverability en route. These trade-offs and downstream effects must be considered because simply maintaining the status quo might contribute to unacceptable levels of capital and combat losses in future armed conflicts.

Recent deployment operations have largely been administrative and uncontested movements with the major constraints of lift capacity; load, transit, and unload times; and available infrastructure. However, in contested environments, our adversaries target our power projection strengths with a multitude of A2/AD methods to disrupt the combatant commanders’ force flow and scheme of maneuver. Erosion of our long-standing deployment capability overmatch, and key competitive advantage, can constrain achievement of operational objectives, a sea change from an environment where power projection tasks were assumed, viewed as ancillary or a logistics function, and largely taken for granted.

Along with other JIIM-C stakeholders, the Army systemically reviews and reevaluates its modernization priorities. Sustainment modernization priorities for MDO are in development and include installation readiness and strategic power projection as top priorities for readying the strategic support area. Army Field Manual 3-0, Operations, defines the strategic support area as “…the area extending from a theater of war or theater of operations to a continental United States (CONUS) base or another combatant’s AOR [area of responsibility], that contains those organizations, lines of communication, and other agencies required to support forces in operations. The strategic support area includes air and seaports supporting the flow of forces and sustainment into theater.”6

In addition, the Army sustainment modernization priorities cite LSCO and MDO challenges as accelerated deployment timelines, rapid transition from movement to maneuver, and strategic sourcing of Army prepositioned stocks. To combat these issues, Army modernization efforts include adapting a doctrinal foundation for LSCO/MDO, combat configured movement, increased strategic and intra-theater mobility, and movement as a critical system design consideration.

These Army sustainment modernization priorities underpin an expansion of strategic maneuver capability and recognize that our adversaries seek to achieve their ends before a fight breaks out. Adversaries are more likely to achieve their objectives in competition short of war where their influence is greater—gaining advantages through focused efforts, such as obtaining controlling interest in global transport companies, ships, and enabling equipment; investing in and owning critical deployment infrastructure; and adopting advancements in materials science and technologies.

If our adversaries’ competition efforts fail, they will pursue advanced capabilities to target and disrupt US military deployment and sustainment operations. This situation is exacerbated by great power competition in combination with aging US transportation enablers (e.g., sealift ships, infrastructure, industrial base and merchant mariners); our methodical deployment process; and the difficulty of changing how we deploy given policy, practice, law, doctrine, and organizational and cultural barriers.

Moving Forward

Understanding the effects of the 2018 NDS, contested multi-domain operations, and the ways JIIM-C stakeholders can prepare and innovate will drive critical changes across military doctrine, organizations, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities, and policy. We are experiencing changes and improvements to best practices and systems due to disruptive attacks on commercial partners in cyberspace. Current and future contested operating environments exponentially increase the vulnerability of US and partner nations’ transportation enablers. However, commercially available enablers can offer secure tracking of assets and transactions across domains, military services, and even coalition partners.

Blockchain technology enables the automatic processing of transactions through smart contracts and internet of things technology for more responsive supply and logistics capabilities. Commercial partner approaches can ensure compliance or workarounds and enhance readiness and resiliency, even as adversaries gain ground in challenging American force projection overmatch. We are training the next generation of transportation professionals who will plan for and navigate contested, increasingly disordered, cyber-degraded, and lethal military operating environments.

NDTA members and stakeholders are uniquely positioned to help senior leaders in DOD, other US government agencies, and industry address the problems of contested deployments. Our strength lies in our integrated approach to overcome challenges through innovative collaboration, critical thinking, and focused venues for progress to strengthen our force projection capabilities and enhance national security. The annual NDTA-USTRANSCOM Fall Meeting presents JIIM-C stakeholders with the opportunity to engage and share ideas, lessons learned, and ongoing initiatives on how to overcome the operational challenges the defense transportation community faces, so lend your important voice to the dialog. DTJ

1 Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge,


3 Megan Eckstein, “Neller: Marines Must Prepare to ‘Fight to Get to the Fight’ in High-end Littoral Warfare,” USNI News, September 21, 2017,

4 U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Publication 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations, 2028, Tenets of Multi-domain Operations, p. vii.

5 Sinclair Harris, “American Sea Power at a Crossroads,” LMI Blog, May 20, 2019,

6 Army Field Manual 3-0, Operations, October 2017, p. 1-30,


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