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Global Markets, Shipping Shape Military Ops

Aug. 21, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez

About 85% of the joint force resides inside the continental United States. When they need to move to an operation overseas, and their equipment needs to go with them, U.S. Transportation Command will be doing the heavy lifting.

Speaking yesterday at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems Worldwide Conference in Tampa, Florida, Transcom's commander said much of Transcom's capacity to project U.S. military power around the globe relies on commercially procured transportation.

A man in military uniform stands behind a lectern. On the wall behind him is a projection that reads “USTRANSCOM UCP Responsibilities.”
Transcom Overview
Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, provides an overview of what Transcom is doing with big data, the cloud and information technology optimization during the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems Worldwide Conference in Fla., Aug. 20, 2019.
Photo By: David Richards, DOD
VIRIN: 190820-D-SG895-0070C

Just who is the ultimate owner of that commercial transportation — friend or adversary — is something Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons said is being looked at all the time.

"When the sealift industry reorganized — when it was really in a downturn a couple years ago and reorganized and came out with three major alliances — one of those alliances was led by a French company. CGM, I think, is the name of the company," Lyons said.

A large cargo crane moves a container from a ship.
Lighterage System
Sailors assigned to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1, NCHB 5 and NCHB 13 maneuver the docking module for the Improved Navy Lighterage System over the side of the maritime pre-positioning force ship USNS 2nd Lt. John P. Bobo during lift-on, lift-off operations in Apra Harbor, Guam, July 10, 2019. The system is a causeway that resembles a floating pier made up of interchangeable modules, and it is used to transfer cargo to shore areas where conventional port facilities are unavailable or inadequate.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Philip Wagner Jr.
VIRIN: 190710-N-TP834-1081C

CGM has alliances with COSCO Shipping, "the leading state-owned enterprise for China that is buying up all the ports globally, owns all the sealift, includes the sealift that will support PLA activities," he said.

The French-owned CGM also has an alliance with American-owned APL," which is one of our U.S.-flagged companies," Lyons said.

The general said he has spoken with the APL's CEO to discuss concerns,

"The question was, 'What does that kind of alliance mean?'" Lyons said. "You have to recognize that our traders have to trade with [the] Asia-Pacific. That's the vast majority of the trade. But what does that really mean in terms of data sharing and their level of understanding?"

A man in military uniform wears a hard hat and carries a portable radio.  Above him is a cargo container suspended from a crane.
Equipment Operator
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neftali Perez, an equipment operator, signals a crane operator aboard the maritime pre-positioning force ship USNS 2nd Lt. John P. Bobo in Santa Rita, Guam, June 26, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jasen Moreno-Garcia
VIRIN: 190626-N-LN093-1155

Right now, he said, "it's a pretty clear bifurcation."

"But it's something we watch pretty closely," he said, "because we're not only competing for allies and partners, we're also competing for business partners that we're going to count on, that fly the U.S. flag, particularly on the sealift side."

A large industrial vehicle in silhouette against a bright blue sky picks up a shipping container.
Container Handler
An employee operates a rough-terrain container handler to move cargo associated with U.S. Transportation Command Transportation Management System prototype operations at Fort McCoy, Wis. July 11, 2019.
Photo By: Scott T. Sturkol, Army
VIRIN: 190711-A-OK556-7169C

Lyons said a "vendor vetting cell" is helping Transcom keep abreast of who is partnering with whom — and who owns ships that Transcom may one day need to call on to ship troops or tanks overseas.

"It's probably only one of two that are in the department," he said. "[U.S. Central Command] has one focused on their Centcom theater operations. But we have one ... [that] looks inside the subcontracting networks to make sure that our primes are doing business with the folks we want to do business with. We found a few that we didn't want, and we've got to work that through the broader acquisition communities."