Tankers Top Shopping List, Transportation Commander Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 17, 2009 Acquiring a new fleet of Air Force tankers, known as KC-X until an airframe is chosen, is imperative, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
“My top priority remains the recapitalization of our aging tanker fleet,” Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb told the senators. “The KC-X will be a game-changer.”
The aircraft, designed to be a refueler with cargo-carrying capability, will revolutionize the mobility world the same way the C-17 did for in-theater and strategic airlift, the general said.
“It will be the ultimate mobility force multiplier,” he said.
The Air Force selected Northrop Grumman/EADS for the tanker project last year, but rival bidder Boeing protested the decision. Bidding was reopened after a Government Accountability Office found flaws with the process.
McNabb also gave the senators an overview of Transcom’s responsibilities and operations. All told, he said, Transcom aircrews fly 900 sorties per day.
“That’s a takeoff and landing every 90 seconds – sometimes in the most austere areas like Antarctica, sometimes in the most dangerous, like a forward operating base in Afghanistan,” he said.
McNabb also spoke about the newly developed supply routes open to Afghanistan via the northern distribution network. The supply network uses commercial rail and boat to ship nonlethal cargo to coalition forces operating in Afghanistan. The command ships food, fuel, building materials and other supplies from Europe and Central Asia.
But as important as equipment is to the command, McNabb said, it is Transcom’s 136,000 men and women, civilian and military, private and public, who are the true treasures to the nation. Success, he said, is due to the dedicated logistics professionals finding new ways to ensure warfighters have what they need.
Transcom logisticians work long hours, often in dangerous conditions, McNabb said. Aircrews fly night-vision approaches to unimproved airfields or airdrop supplies to troops in Afghanistan. Air refuelers deliver 5 million pounds of fuel “flying every day and night, in the weather, extending the reach of our joint force and coalition partners,” he said.
On the sea, merchant mariners and military and civilian port operators load and operate 35 ships every day in support of warfighters. Terminal operators move thousands of containers, domestic freight and rail shipments throughout the world.
The command also provides contingency response groups and port-opening experts “to open up the flow in contingency or disaster relief operations in support of the warfighting commander,” the general said. Transcom also provides medical crews and critical care teams that tend to wounded warriors and quickly transport them from the battlefield to world class care.
The command could not accomplish its mission without commercial airlift and sealift partners opening new avenues of supply into Afghanistan or supporting the nation in times of surge, McNabb said.
“The logistics team is responsible for giving the United States unrivalled global reach,” the general said. “We are committed to serving our nation’s warfighters by delivering the right stuff to the right place at the right time. Whether sustaining the fight, providing disaster relief or moving six brigades simultaneously, we are there.”
McNabb thanked the senators for providing the command with the equipment needed to maintain the logistics carriers. He pointed to the large medium speed, roll-on, roll-off ships and upgrades to the ready reserve fleet that were key to the command’s success over the past seven years. “The new joint high-speed vessels will give us even greater flexibility,” he said.
He also praised the performance of the C-130J and C-17 airlifters. The airframes “have come of age since 9/11 and have allowed us to change how we support the combatant commanders by air,” he said. “The current C-5, C-130 and KC-10 modernization programs will make an enormous difference in our capability and reliability.”