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General Expresses Concerns Over Readiness in Sealift, Air Refueling

Funding levels must enable the United States to preserve its logistical dominance, Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, said today at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss the president's fiscal year 2024 budget request.

"Our organic fleet, along with our commercial transportation partners, must continue to present credible deterrence and requires proactive efforts to recapitalize and modernize. My highest concerns lie in reductions in capacity and readiness in both sealift and air refueling," she testified. 

Two large ships are moored next to one another.
Moored Together
Fast sealift ships SS Algol, right, and SS Capella, assigned to the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force, are moored in Alameda, Calif., Sept. 28, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Billy Ho
VIRIN: 160928-N-QL471-100Y

The average age of the 44 roll-on, roll-off ships that are used to surge materiel from the continental United States is 44 years; 17 of the ships are 50 years or older, she said. 

"We are a generation late in recapitalizing our ready sealift fleet to meet our national objectives," she said. 

Transcom supports the Navy's strategy to acquire used sealift vessels from the commercial market and supports providing the secretary of defense with discretionary authority to purchase foreign-built, used ships under favorable market conditions without limitation on number, she said. 

"I greatly appreciate your support for stabilized funding towards our sealift recapitalization effort, and I'm heartened by the current progress on the first five ships," she said. 

Transcom has 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, she said. 

Transcom is working with the U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, to implement the Tanker Security Program, which will provide assured access to U.S.-flagged tankers and begin to reduce risk in sealift tanker capacity, she said. 

That program will provide the DOD with assured access to 10 U.S.-registered tanker vessels that may be used to supply the armed forces with fuel during times of armed conflict or national emergency.   

MARAD is an agency of the Transportation Department that administers financial programs to develop, promote and operate the U.S. Maritime Service and the U.S. Merchant Marine. 

MARAD also maintains the National Defense Reserve Fleet as a ready source of ships for use during national emergencies and logistically supporting the military when needed. 

Transcom also fully supports the Jones Act, she said.  

The Jones Act is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States and requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported on ships that are built, owned and operated by United States citizens or permanent residents. 

American workers are critical to joint-force transportation and logistics, Van Ovost said.  

"Maritime stakeholders have been experiencing challenges with recruiting and retaining mariners. We support MARAD in industry efforts to identify strategies that address the mariner shortage and ensure their readiness," she said. 

Van Ovost also addressed the air component of Transcom, saying "The air refueling fleet is the backbone of rapid global mobility and is our most stressed capability." 

Transcom supports the Air Force's continued efforts toward modernization of the fleet, uninterrupted tanker recapitalization, and accelerated pursuit of the next-generation air refueling system to ensure capacity and readiness remain credible to cover simultaneous global requirements, she said. 

A pilot operates cockpit instruments while following close behind another aircraft.
Fuel Up
Air Force pilots from the 144th Air Support Squadron, 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard, approach a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Mississippi National Guard in- a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft during Exercise Southern Strike in the U.S., April 18, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Emily Batchelor
VIRIN: 230418-Z-JL079-3003Y

"Future operations will also require high degrees of battlespace awareness and leveraging data to align scarce mobility resources with the greatest strategic needs," she said.  

Integration of battle networks, resourcing, cryptographic modernization, cybersecurity and ensuring resilient positioning, navigation and timing are among Transcom's top priorities, she said. 

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expires at the end of this year, provides essential and irreplaceable insights on the activities of critical foreign targets, she said. 

"The loss of this authority or renewal in diminished or unusable form would profoundly damage the department's ability to see and mitigate some of the most profound threats against the United States and our allies and partners. Therefore, reauthorization is a matter of utmost priority," she said. 

The global household goods contract will bring accountability that does not exist in the current program of dispersed vendors. "We owe it to our members and their families to ensure that they have the very best relocation experience that we can provide," she said.  

In 2024, the Defense Personal Property Program will be implementing that contract. 

Army Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, commander of the U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander Europe of NATO, also testified about Transcom's importance.  

"U.S. Transportation Command is unlike anything else on the globe and works miracles every day," he said. 

Cavoli also spoke to the importance of allies and partners in strengthening NATO and supporting Ukraine. 

Transcom has played a key role in moving supplies and armaments to Ukraine.

VIDEO | 1:19:43 | Eucom, Transcom Testify About Defense Budget at SASC Hearing, Part 1

VIDEO | 54:26 | Eucom, Transcom Testify About Defense Budget at SASC Hearing, Part 2

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