Transcom Provides America’s Greatest Advantage, Commander Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2011 The greatest advantage that the United States has over any potential enemy is the ability to project and sustain forces anywhere in the world, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command said here today.
“No other nation can do what we do,” Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
A decade of war has meant Transcom is agile and practiced at delivering equipment, materiel and people where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, he said. The service portions of the command –- the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, the Navy’s Military Sealift Command and the Army’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command –- work together closely and constantly, he added.
Experience since Sept. 11, 2001, has changed the way the command does business, the general said. Before, he explained, delivering logistics was relatively straightforward –- officials chose a mode of transport and sent the cargo on its way.
“What we’ve found, like the rest of the industry, is that if you can figure out how to do this intermodally, you can figure out where I can go commercially, and then where I need to go militarily, or I can go surface or air, depending on the threat,” he said.
This allows planners to ensure they are taking care of warfighters while delivering people, supplies and equipment in the most cost-efficient manner, he said.
McNabb cited the mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicles for Afghanistan as an example. Industry officials figured they could produce 500 of the life-saving vehicles a month. When the vehicles first started rolling off the assembly line, they were loaded aboard C-17 aircraft and flown to Afghanistan.
“The question came: If we can build more, can you transport more?” McNabb said.
In the middle of the Afghanistan troop surge, industry officials came to Transcom and said they could produce 1,000 vehicles a month. That ran into Transcom’s requirement to move units into Afghanistan, McNabb said, “and we started looking at different ways to accomplish this.”
The command solved the problem by getting the vehicles to the U.S. Central Command theater of operations via ship and loading them aboard aircraft only for the final leg of the journey. Because it was a short hop, the aircraft carried five M-ATVs instead of three, and they went directly to the units in Afghanistan.
Another example is the opening of the Northern Supply Route. High-value and purely military cargo goes to Afghanistan via air. Other supplies go via ship to Karachi, Pakistan, and then overland into Afghanistan. Transcom forged a series of routes from the Baltic republics, through Russia and the Central Asian republics, or via the Caucasus republics through Central Asia to Afghanistan.
The command took advantage of the contacts that private companies maintain to forge these routes, McNabb said.
“That is the real advantage these companies bring,” he said. The companies have planes and ships, he added, but they also have the network of contacts in the region that allows them to speed the cargo through.
Now, if routes are blocked, other routes can take up the slack, the general said.
Looking ahead, Transcom has the mission of sustaining the service members in Afghanistan while re-deploying the final 48,000 Americans in Iraq by the end of the year.
The command also must plan for contingencies. Last year, for example, Transcom had to provide logistics for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians affected by a massive earthquake and also supported the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The command also lifted goods to Pakistan when that nation experienced catastrophic flooding, and had to do all this while maintaining the logistics needed to fight two wars.
Challenges remain, McNabb said, noting that Transcom needs the services to get new air-refueling tankers. Replacing the 50-year-old KC-135s will save millions of dollars, he added.
The command also is investing in defending its computer systems. About 90 percent of Transcom’s business takes place on unprotected networks, McNabb said, and 33,326 “computer network events” took place against the command last year.
Defense is another priority. “After helicopters, our aircraft are the most shot at,” McNabb said. Last year, he added, 125 aircraft were shot at, and 15 were hit.
As the command continually works to re-invent itself, McNabb said, the Transcom team -- active duty and reserve component servicemembers and civilians, along with private industry partners -- always is looking for ways to perform the mission better.