Air-refueling capacity and sealift recapitalization are among the biggest concerns for maintaining the U.S. military's asymmetric logistical dominance, Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost said at a rare hearing of two House Armed Services' subcommittees today.
The general and retired Navy Rear Adm. Ann C. Phillips, administrator of the Transportation Department's Maritime Administration, testified before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces and the Subcommittee on Readiness.
U.S. Transportation Command has been instrumental in getting the military capabilities Ukraine so desperately needs to Europe. At the same time, the command still has worldwide responsibilities it cannot ignore. An example of how the command must surge at a moment's notice is the response to recent earthquakes in Turkey. The command worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department to get urgently needed supplies and personnel into the affected areas. At the same time, ships still had to sail in the Indo-Pacific, troops still had to eat in Syria, equipment still had to get to Ukraine.
"I am extremely proud of our team of logistics professionals who lead the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise, continually exceeding expectations and ensuring hope, deterrence and victory are assured as we contribute to our nation's defense," Van Ovost said. "From competition to crisis, the entire enterprise proudly delivers for our nation, our allies and our partners."
Van Ovost told the representatives that the United States "must preserve our logistical dominance. Our organic fleet, along with our commercial transportation partners, must continue to present credible deterrence and requires proactive efforts to recapitalize and modernize," she said. "My highest concerns lie in reductions in capacity and readiness in both sealift and air refueling."
The general told the representatives that the U.S. military is a generation late in recapitalizing the ready sealift fleet to meet U.S. national objectives. "The average age of the 44 roll-on/roll-off ships we use to surge from the continental U.S. is 44 years old," she said. "In fact, 17 of the 44 ships are 50 years or older."
She said she supports the Navy's strategy to buy used sealift vessels on the commercial market. She asked the representatives to give the secretary of defense "discretionary authority to purchase foreign-built, used ships under favorable market conditions without limitation on number."
Congress has acted and approved funding for a sealift recapitalization effort. "I am heartened by the current progress on the first five ships," she said. "We have also taken steps to address the department's shortfall in meeting wartime fuel delivery demands and the vulnerable position of continued reliance on the use of foreign-flag, foreign-crewed tanker vessels."
Transcom works with the Maritime Administration to implement the Tanker Security Program. This will provide assured access to U.S. flagged tankers and begin to reduce risk in sealift tanker capacity.
Van Ovost is also concerned about the challenges in recruiting and retaining civilian mariners.
The general said the air refueling fleet "is our most stressed capability." That fleet is key to maintaining U.S. logistical dominance, and Van Ovost said she supports Air Force efforts to modernize it. "Transcom supports the Air Force's continued efforts towards focused modernization of the fleet, uninterrupted tanker recapitalization, and accelerated pursuit of the next generation air refueling system to ensure our capacity and readiness remains credible to cover simultaneous global requirements," she said.
The command must be fully integrated into all operations. "Future operations will also require high degrees of battlespace awareness and leveraging data to align scarce mobility resources with the greatest strategic need," the general said. "Integration into battle networks, resourcing cryptographic modernization, cybersecurity and ensuring resilient positioning, navigation and timing are among my top priorities."