The Obama Administration’s Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) is long on missions the military will be required to perform. These missions range from the rapid countering of aggression in two different regions of the world to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and rapidly responding to humanitarian disasters. At the same time, defense budgets are coming down and the overseas deployment of U.S. forces is being reduced. The so-called “strategic pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region is not going to be accompanied by much of a shift in deployed forces. It is going to take a decade to finally deploy some 1,500 Marines to Australia.
The military not only is being asked to do the same with less but it is being told to do it from an increasingly disadvantageous strategic posture. A military that is smaller and more centrally located at home must be more agile and responsive if it is going to be effective. Yet, many of the critical enablers to support such a response, never entirely adequate, are further reduced in the administration’s force structure plans. To the administration, this is called “taking risk.” For military planners it means increased casualties, prolongation of the crisis/conflict and courting failure.
The results of the U.S. Army’s year-long “campaign of learning” effort are illustrative in this regard. A critical factor in the success of U.S. intervention across a number of potential scenarios is the earliest possible initial deployment of joint forces. The mere possibility of early entry by U.S. forces can both deter aggressors and reassure allies. In addition, speed of response is critical to a successful outcome in scenarios involving failed states, loose nukes or major natural disasters. After a year of analyses, war games, seminars and workshops, the Army concluded that it can no longer guarantee that it can meet all the requirements of the Defense Planning Guidance. Among the critical shortfalls are insufficient strategic mobility assets, inadequate prepositioned stocks, a lack of the necessary capabilities to support operations from austere air airfields and ports and inadequate ISR to support the required intelligence preparation of complex environments.
The situation at Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) would suggest that the Army’s assessment is correct. TRANSCOM not only manages all the military air and sea lift assets but maintains extensive contracts with commercial air and sea carriers. Commercial shippers provide the support and maintenance of at-sea preposition stocks of equipment and materials. In addition, TRANSCOM contracts with commercial carriers for the movement of people and cargoes as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program and Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement that allow the Department of Defense to call on those private companies in time of crisis or conflict. According to recent reports, TRANSCOM is confronting the distinct possibility that there may not be enough money or demand soon to maintain a viable relationship with commercial lift providers. Without ready access to commercial lift providers, the pace at which U.S. forces could deploy abroad would slow dramatically and our ability to supply those forces once they were deployed would be in doubt.
It is bad enough asking a smaller military to do as much as it was required to do when it was larger. It is worse to make this request of a military that is largely based in the United States. It is almost criminal to make this request and short-change that military on critical enablers that will allow it to get overseas and operate once deployed.
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