WASHINGTON, March 15, 2016 —
U.S. Transportation Command is serving on all seven continents and can respond when called upon, Transcom’s commander told Congress today, but he noted some trends he said are causing him concern.
Air Force Gen. Darren W. McDew told the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee that the pace of today’s operations requires the full effort of the nation’s nonmobilized air refueling and airlift fleets.
“Should the need arise to respond elsewhere in the world, the mobility resources required could exceed existing capacity,” the general said.
McDew said he also is concerned about the command’s ability to operate in the cyber realm. The cyber domain is an increasingly contested area, he said, and the command relies on commercial providers for about 90 percent of its traffic flow.
“Finally, we must remain vigilant and meet the long term recapitalization needs of tomorrow,” he said. “Highest among these priorities are the development of a viable, strategic sealift recapitalization plan and the on-time delivery of the KC-46 Alpha [aerial refueler].”
Transcom must address all these concerns at once, the general said, and the command must meet today’s missions while ensuring the capabilities are present for the future.
The cyber threat is evolving, he said. “All of us probably agree that we couldn’t foretell where we would be today with a cyber threat versus where we were just 10 years ago,” McDew said. “And I'm concerned – as are all of us – where we’ll be 10 years from now.”
The command does a good job of defending its own networks, McDew said, but some of its reliance on commercial unclassified networks may be a problem, because these networks are under attack every day. “So you might not necessarily have to attack my strong position inside U.S. Transcom, but go after someone who provides us a service,” he explained.
The general said he would like some answers to some pertinent questions. “I’m concerned about some definitions that we need to get after,” he said, “and that is when I defend my network, how far out can I defend? What constitutes and attack on a commercial provider? What do they have to report as an attack, because the definition may be not as clear with every single person?”
The command works closely with U.S. Cyber Command, and leaders there understand the concern, McDew said.
Ships are still a mainstay to power projection, the general said. “I can deliver an immediate force anywhere on the planet tonight,” he said. “But to deliver a decisive force, it takes a fully fledged, competent, maritime fleet.”
The Transcom commander said he is concerned with both the number of ships and the number of civilian mariners. “We only have 78 in the entire international market for the United States -- a maritime nation. That’s, I believe, a challenge,” the general said. “We ought to have a dialogue about how important is an international fleet to the United States of America. I believe it's vital to moving military goods and hardware.”
Transportation Command is working closely with the Navy Department to figure how to recapitalize the merchant fleet and how long it will take, McDew said.
The United States needs more than 11,000 mariners in the fleet, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration. “Without mariners, we don’t have a capability, and I believe that U.S.-credentialed mariners [are] important too,” he said. “I've been visiting some of the maritime colleges to ensure that those young men and women understand how much we need them, how much we value their credentials they come out of college with, and we need them to go to sea. And we need them to stay with us.”
Fiscal uncertainty also plays a large role in any decision McDew must make. “The threat of sequestration threatens directly the services, which directly threatens … every single combatant command, because we are organized, trained, and equipped by the services,” he said. “We have great partnership with the services. But their ability to modernize and project that modernization forward and plan forward has been challenged by the up-and-down of the fiscal environment.”
Going forward, a stable predictable budget is crucial, the general told the subcommittee.