Back to news

May 9, 2019 | International, Aerospace, Naval

The US military’s logistical train is slowly snaking toward China


A failed Venezuela coup, Iranian missiles and Russian hybrid warfare make for interesting side stories, but the center of military policy is increasingly gravitating toward U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, according to U.S. government officials.

If anything, the challenge is how to quicken the pace because the logistical tail of warfare takes time to put in place and because the Pacific theater is one of the most difficult environments for moving supplies.

“If there's a challenge, it's moving enough focus and enough direction from everything else we're doing towards the Pacific," said Joel Szabat, the assistant secretary for international affairs within the Department of Transportation.

Szabat, whose department deals with U.S. military logistics in wartime, said the center of gravity has shifted so much toward the Asia-Pacific region that even a major crisis on par with 9/11 won't derail the change.

“I don't see, in the near term at least, things that would have us pull back,” Szabat said.

But he warned that new lines of effort must be implemented if that shift is to be sustainable during a war with the region's biggest player — China.

The baggage train challenge

The Department of Transportation is the coordinating arm for civilian airlift and sealift capacity in peacetime and wartime. But the sealift fleet is old and in need of recapitalization.

The size of the fleet is also too small to support the long logistical train required in a Pacific-based conflict, and the ships that do exist are poorly positioned across the operating area and would lack armed escorts in the event of a conflict, according to Szabat.

“For small or moderate-scale warfare exercises, it's adequate," Szabat said. “For the maximum deployment that our military is built for ... it is not adequate to move and sustain. We don't have the mariners. We don't have the U.S. flagged Merchant Marine that we need for that purpose.”

The Marine Corps represents a large component of the military force that would need to be delivered in the event of a war.

“There are 40,000 Marines at any one time that are moving around the world, and 23,000 of those are west of the international date line, so they're in the Pacific,” said Gayle Von Eckartsberg, policy director at Headquarters Marine Corps' Pacific Division. “And then you have your Marines in Hawaii, and that brings that number to over 30,000. And the rest are distributed across other places in the world.”

"The Marine Corps' natural environment is the Asia-Pacific region, and I think we're uniquely capable of operating effectively [there],” she added.

The Corps is posturing to act as the inside force of the region, as it practices littoral operations in contested environments and expeditionary base operations from deep in the Pacific.

“We're today engaged in aggressive war gaming, training and exercises to test out and refine these concepts,” Von Eckartsberg said. “We're going to hug the enemy and we're going to be there first, operate at this level below armed conflict.”

But there remains an “enduring gap in lift capability," Von Eckartsberg acknowledged.

No armed escorts

The Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration is responsible for managing much of the Navy's sealift capability that would be responsible for delivering Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and their equipment into a war.

If there was a conflict with China, Szabat said, there is a high degree of confidence that the Navy, with the use of pre-positioned vessels, will be able to move the initial salvo of personnel and equipment quickly into the area of operations.

“But sustaining a battle means getting supplies and getting the remainder of your forces from [the continental United States] to wherever the battle is,” Szabat said, adding that the fleet for this isn't currently in place.

After the initial war push, 90 percent of logistics would move via civilian vessels and aircraft, according to Szabat. Those civilian assets will need armed escorts at sea, but the Navy has no dedicated escort vessels for the Merchant Marine fleet, he added.

“I used to serve in the European theater. That was a challenge. But crossing the Pacific is four times as difficult in terms of logistics and supplies," Szabat said. “We are not able to move our logistics according to war plans unless we have cooperation from our allies.”

That presents a unique challenge altogether. The biggest change to U.S. policy in the region has been an increased reliance on allies to accomplish missions and long-term goals, and one would assume that the goal is for them to pick up some of the logistical burden.

“But by statute, and national security presidential directive, we are supposed to be able to provide sealift with U.S. ships and U.S. mariners without relying on allies," Szabat said. "We can't do that unless we have the escorts.”

However, allies and partnerships still play an important role.

China's growth is followed closely by that of U.S. ally India. U.S. Pacific Command understands the power dynamics between India and China, which is part of why it renamed itself U.S. Indo-Pacific Command last year, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary Walter Douglas, who leads the U.S. State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

“Bringing the countries of South Asia in is absolutely crucial to what we do,” he said. “India is very much a partner in everything that we do and is central in the Indo-Pacific as we move forward."

Allies, while unable to provide sealift under current war plans, remain crucial to U.S. efforts to counter China.

The U.S. is helping train naval forces for countries like Vietnam; promising to defend the territorial integrity of countries like Japan and the Philippines; performing freedom of navigation patrols through contested waterways; and courting new allies like the small Pacific island nations in Oceania.

“I expect that to continue," Douglas said. "I never want to promise resources until they're delivered, but I think the indications are pretty good that we're going to be doing more.”

On the same subject

  • L3Harris to provide ROVER transceiver upgrade in deal worth over $90M

    October 15, 2019 | International, C4ISR

    L3Harris to provide ROVER transceiver upgrade in deal worth over $90M

    By: Joe Gould WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has selected L3Harris Technologies to provide ROVER 6 transceiver equipment upgrades in support of the U.S. Army's One System Remote Video Terminal program of record, meant to improve situational awareness for soldiers in the field, the company announced Monday at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference. The company did not disclose the value of the award but said it was more than $90 million. The portable ROVER systems deliver full-motion video and geospatial data from manned or unmanned aircraft to enhance reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and general situational awareness on the battlefield. The move comes as the Army envisions advanced manned-unmanned teaming, or MUM-T. Within the last month, the Army acquisitions office for unmanned aerial systems awarded a contract for the Rover 6S and the Tactical Network ROVER2E, a newer version of the man-portable radio. The Army is scheduled to receive its first deliveries beginning in November 2020, the company said at the AUSA meeting in Washington. According to L3Harris, the updated systems expand frequency capability. They also reduce the equipment's size, weight and power needs, as well as add processing resources. They also include Cryptographic Core Modernization. The systems are meant to transform sensor-to-shooter networking and allow increased levels of collaboration and interoperability with virtually all large airframes, unmanned aerial vehicles and targeting pods in theater today. The upgrade included modernizing the waveform the equipment uses such that more users are able to transmit video, according to Kevin Kane, L3Harris' vice president for international business development. “Being able to share that real-time situational awareness more broadly on the battlefield is really what it's all about,” Kane said.

  • ‘Bridge Tanker’ Competition For USAF Looking Less Likely

    March 30, 2022 | International, Aerospace

    ‘Bridge Tanker’ Competition For USAF Looking Less Likely

  • UK Defence Secretary sets out ambitious Defence Prosperity Programme

    March 15, 2019 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security, Other Defence

    UK Defence Secretary sets out ambitious Defence Prosperity Programme

    Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has reaffirmed his commitment to growing Defence's contribution to UK economic growth, setting out a new package of measures to drive productivity and innovation in the sector. In July 2018, Philip Dunne MP published a review of the economic value of Defence, highlighting the crucial role the sector plays in supporting over 260,000 jobs and contributing on average £7bn in exports each year. The Ministry of Defence invested £18.9bn with UK industry in 2017/18, equating to £290 per resident, which supported 115,000 jobs across the country. Ahead of today's Prosperity Conference, bringing together leading defence industry partners in the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry, the Defence Secretary has announced: £500k investment from the Defence Innovation Fund for a pilot programme with industry to further strengthen the international competitiveness and productivity of the UK defence sector. A joint programme supported by Invest Northern Ireland and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to pilot a Defence Technology Exploitation Programme (DTEP) in Northern Ireland, worth an expected £1.2m in Research and Development investment. A commitment to working with the Welsh Government on the potential for an Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute alongside the Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) in North Wales to cement the region as a centre of excellence for innovation. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: These announcements demonstrate the progress we are making in our commitment to boost Defence's contribution to national prosperity. Our world-class defence sector operates at the very forefront of innovation, supporting 260,000 jobs and increasing economic growth throughout the UK. The MOD is playing a central role in the Government's Modern Industrial Strategy and prosperity agenda, ensuring the UK remains a world-leader in defence technology in the years to come. Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: The Ministry of Defence plays a crucial role in Wales and supports thousands of jobs across the country. It is Welsh expertise which ensures the Armed Forces are equipped with the latest technology, and DECA Sealand and companies like AerFin are proving Wales' credentials as a global leader in aviation technology. The UK Government is committed to ensuring this trend continues, and through the Industrial Strategy aims to invest in key industries and infrastructure in Wales to boost productivity and support businesses in creating well-paid jobs. In recognition of the need to improve the quality of data on the UK defence sector available to decision-makers by stimulating greater academic involvement in the area, the Defence Secretary also announced: The proposal to create a Joint Economic Data Hub with industry, sitting within the UK Defence Solution Centre and overseen by a new independent advisory panel, to collect and aggregate economic data from across the defence sector. A commitment to sponsor an international Defence Economics Conference at Kings College London later this year, as the first of a series of events to develop understanding of the significant economic value of Defence. Earl Howe outlined these proposals in more detail at the Defence Prosperity Conference today, before taking part in a panel event with senior industry and government officials. The initiatives build on the Philip Dunne report commissioned by the Defence Secretary, entitled ‘Growing the Contribution of Defence to UK Prosperity', which has been widely welcomed by Government and Industry. Full article:

All news