Transcom Nominee Testifies on Issues, Challenges
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2014 The impact of sequestration, the drawdown in Afghanistan and the situation in Ukraine were among the topics Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva addressed before the Senate Armed Services Committee here today during his confirmation hearing to lead U.S. Transportation Command.
If confirmed by the Senate, Selva would succeed Air Force Gen. William M. Fraser III as Transcom’s commander. He currently commands Air Mobility Command, Transcom’s air component.
If sequestration spending cuts resume in fiscal year 2016 as current law requires, Selva told the senators, there will be “two significant impacts” on Transcom.
“The first will be as an industrially funded organization, where our users that use transportation services pay out of their operations and maintenance accounts for those services,” he said. “The decrease in the availability of those funds is likely to cause a decrease in that demand signal.”
The corollary effect to that, Selva said, is that this would force Transcom to spend more of its own operations and maintenance dollars to achieve the training it could accomplish as a byproduct of fulfilling transportation requirements around the world.
“So there is a bit of a two-sided coin there on the impact of sequestration on the readiness of those fleets,” he told the Senate panel.
On Afghanistan, Selva was asked when Transcom would be at risk of being unable to move all U.S. cargo out of the country by the end of the year in the absence of a signed bilateral security agreement. Last month, President Barack Obama directed the Defense Department to begin planning for a full withdrawal by the end of the year, because U.S. forces would not remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 without a signed agreement in place.
“My understanding, from consulting with the Transcom staff, … is that through the early fall, we still have sufficient capacity in the variety of networks that we’re using to redeploy cargo from Afghanistan to be able to make the decision at that point,” the general replied. If confirmed, he added, he would consult with Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, to provide a more definitive answer.
Selva did note, however, that he is confident the command is on track, as tasked, to remove all necessary equipment from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Asked for his assessment of U.S. flexibility in determining time frames for a post-2014 presence in Afghanistan, the general said the options decrease as the time draws nearer. “I would say we have the greatest flexibility that we have had in the past several months,” he said. “But, as each day passes -- as you’re probably aware -- our options decrease. There is a limit to the capacity of the networks to bring back equipment and [get] those personnel out.”
The general said he would commit to consulting with Austin and with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top commander in Afghanistan, for their assessments on the specific limits of those networks.
“In Transcom,” Selva said, “our obligation is to make sure that the transportation layer and the distribution layer of those networks is prepared for the capacity of whatever comes at us.”
On Ukraine, Selva said he’d make alternative planning for working with Russia a priority if he is confirmed. “I do know as the air component of Transcom, and working directly with the Transcom director of operations, that we have been building alternative plans,” he said.
“The Northern Distribution Network, part of which flows through Russia, consists of five different options for how we move cargo in and out of Afghanistan,” Selva said. Transcom may have to look at alternatives to overflight or transit through Russia, he added.
“If the Russians were to take action to constrain our access to the Russian segments of the Northern Distribution Network, we have other options to move that cargo in and out of Afghanistan,” Selva said, responding to a later question.
“The singular item that moves across that network that would concern me, at this point, is the subsistence cargoes in the form of food and noncombat articles.”
About 20 percent of the subsistence cargoes move through that network, Selva said, adding that Transcom does have several options in the network that don’t include transiting Russia.
Selva expressed his gratitude for the “trust and confidence” he’s received from Obama and the Defense Department leadership in nominating him as the next Transcom commander.
“If confirmed,” he said, “I look forward to working with the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of United States Transportation Command.” This also includes their civilian counterparts, he added, and the vast network of commercial partners that provide the distribution and logistics networks that make the command successful.
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)