Transforming Strategic Mobility
Over the past two decades, the security environment
of the world has changed immeasurably. The United States has become
the undisputed world leader militarily, diplomatically, and economically.
As the United States moves into the 21st century, it finds itself
not only fighting a war on terror but also losing political credibility
because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its policy toward
Iraq, and a floundering world economy. The Bush administration
faces an unstable and unpredictable world in which the United States
is a country others want to either emulate or target.
Stung several times over the past decade by
its inability to project forces swiftly to scenes of conflict,
the Army now is engaged in one of the most remarkable and critical
transformations it has ever undertaken. The heart of the transformation
is to increase the speed at which the Army can project the combat
power of brigades and divisions to any point of conflict around
Since the United States reduced its forward
presence overseas at the end of the Cold War, the centerpiece of
U.S. defense strategy has been power projection-the ability to
rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain military forces in dispersed
locations. Complementing overseas presence, power projection strives
for unconstrained global reach. Global power projection provides
our national leaders with the options they need to respond to potential
Joint Team Projection Limitations
Except for the Army, the U.S. joint team—the
Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Forces—needs
little adaptation to be able to deploy in a short time. Together,
the Navy and Marines make up an expeditionary force capable of
projecting fighting power onto land from a base of operations at
sea that is free of the operational constraints imposed by the
need for air and sea ports of debarkation. Moreover, they are configured,
organized, trained, and employed as a combined-arms force—a
small joint force in itself—capable of independent operations
for a limited period. With forward positioning at sea near potential
conflicts, they provide combatant commanders a means of applying
military power to influence a crisis from its inception.
The Air Force also has adapted itself into
a versatile force designed for expeditionary operations and the
application of air power in virtually any set of conditions around
the globe. The Air Force, while dependent on the U.S. Transportation
Command, has adapted to meet the demands of rapid force projection
required to meet a combatant commander's expectations despite constraints
caused by limited availability of bases and basing rights within
various regions. Special Operations Forces have been configured
and designed for rapid force projection from the outset.
The Army is completely dependent on the Navy
and Air Force (including the Civil Reserve Air Fleet) to project
its forces into the fray. Moreover, the Army's speed of deployment
is a function of several factors—
- The current size and weight of Army units
and warfighting equipment.
- The availability of large transport aircraft.
- The availability of large cargo ships.
- The availability of secure air and sea
ports of debarkation.
- The availability of secure air and sea
lines of communication inside and outside the joint operational
These factors, individually or combined, have
limited the joint team's ability to get land power into the fight
at a speed that allows a combatant commander to influence the crisis
before the actual conflict and post-conflict stages.
The Army offers little to a combatant commander
in his efforts to forestall, deter, de-escalate, or contain a crisis.
Yet, inevitably, the Army must be deployed to achieve any decisive
outcome on land. Although the growing number of stability operations
around the globe amply demonstrates this, the Army's full coercive
and persuasive value remains unrealized. The discouraging fact
is that a combatant commander cannot put all of the joint team
on the field. This condition limits his options and denies him
the ability to employ the full combat potential of the joint team.
Strategic Mobility Problems
Strategic mobility has many diverse problems
across the strategic mobility triad, which comprises airlift, sealift,
and pre-positioned equipment. Each leg of the triad depends on
the others, and each has inherent weaknesses. Strategic airlift
is composed of military airlift and commercial aircraft. The 2001
Annual Report to the President and the Congress projected that,
by the end of fiscal year 2001, the military airlift fleet would
comprise approximately 90 C-17s, 88 C-141s, 104 C-5s, and 418 C-130s.
The C-17 is replacing the C-141. Currently, 120 C-17s are funded
and 180 C-17s are authorized, with a goal of acquiring 222. The
General Accounting Office and the Air Force agree that the military
is 17 to 30 percent short of its required airlift. All of the combatant
commanders list strategic airlift in their top five priorities.
Other factors, such as maintenance posture,
airfield throughput capability, and level of airfield modernization,
exacerbate the strategic airlift problem. While it is true that
the C-17 can land on airfields that are well below optimal standards,
the unloading capabilities of these airfields must be closely scrutinized.
For example, the Army conducted an internal
study to determine the time it would take to deploy the new Stryker
brigade combat team (SBCT) from McChord Air Force Base, Washington,
to Pristina Airfield in Kosovo. The study determined that it would
take 12.7 days to deploy an SBCT. With perfect weather, increased
maximum-on-ground at intermediate airfields, and a 24-hour all-weather
capability at Pristina, the best-case scenario was 7.5 days for
the unit to close on its objective. More importantly, to accomplish
this mobilization, all available military airlift would be in use.
During a crisis, competition for available airlift is intense,
thereby limiting the Army's ability to build land power within
It is clear that the U.S. military will fight
as a joint force in any future operations. The Air Force has its
own requirements that must be considered along with the Army's.
The Air Force has stated a desire to move five aerospace expeditionary
forces in 15 days, which will impose an even greater constraint
on the Army's ability to deploy solely by air. Availability and
competition for airlift assets will further limit the combatant
commander's ability to deter, contain, or quickly and decisively
resolve a regional conflict.
The second leg of the triad, sealift, has
proven that it can move tremendous amounts of materiel; but it
moves it slowly, and modern ports are needed to discharge cargo.
The final leg of the mobility triad, pre-positioning,
is composed of the afloat pre-positioning force (APF) and land-based
pre-positioned equipment. The advantage provided by the size of
the ships in the APF is also a disadvantage because it limits the
choice of ports. In addition, the amount of equipment these ships
carry must be taken into account; the space needed for reception,
staging, onward movement, and integration is immense. Land-based
pre-positioning programs are maintained in Europe, Southwest Asia,
Korea, and the Pacific. The problem with land-based pre-positioned
stocks is that they are difficult to move to other geographic locations.
Analyzing the Strategic Mobility Problem
To make the Army more responsive, each leg
of the triad must be analyzed. Moving forces, repositioning equipment,
and increasing airlift with the use of the C-17 are components
of the solution to the strategic mobility problem. High-speed lift
is the key component that allows the Army to become more responsive
and bridges the strategic mobility gap.
Each leg of the triad has its own proponents
who believe that, given enough money, they can fix the strategic
mobility problem. The proponents of airlift propose buying as many
as 222 C-17s to fix the problem. Proponents of sealift want more
fast-ship sealift and more high-speed sealift. Proponents of pre-positioning
want more land-based and afloat pre-positioned stocks. However,
an analysis of the problem that extracts the correct criteria from
the combatant commanders and the services' requirements quickly
reveals that no one leg of the triad can solve the dilemma.
The criteria developed from this analysis
are speed into theater, readiness of forces on arrival in theater,
force mix into theater, and logistics footprint of the forces.
To meet these criteria, a combination of means and assets from
all three legs of the triad is required to deploy all of the joint
forces to a theater of operations and build combat power effectively
Army Strategic Mobility Needs
The Army is the military service that is hurt
most by the current state of the mobility triad. The Army is composed
of 10 divisions—6 heavy, 3 light, and 1 air assault. It currently
is transforming a portion of its forces into seven medium-weight
brigades to be located as follows: two at Fort Lewis, Washington;
one in Hawaii; one in Alaska; one in Pennsylvania (National Guard);
one in Europe; and one medium cavalry regiment at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The Army is designed around power projection
that relies heavily on pre-positioned equipment. Currently, the
Army's afloat pre-positioning is designed to provide equipment
to establish a land logistics base and support heavy ground forces
that can operate ashore along extended lines of communication.
Equipment for two mechanized infantry battalions and two armor
battalions is loaded on large, medium-speed, roll-on-roll-off vessels
(LMSRs). Pre-positioned stocks also include port-opening watercraft
and containerships loaded with all classes of supplies. The Combat
Pre-positioning Force is located primarily at Diego Garcia, with
some assets in Guam aboard LMSRs. The Army's goal is to have eight
brigade sets pre-positioned afloat.
A look at each area of responsibility reveals
that the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has, in addition to the
afloat pre-positioned equipment, a brigade set in Kuwait and one
more with equipment in Qatar. The U.S. European Command (EUCOM)
has three heavy brigades' worth of equipment; two are located in
central Europe and one in Italy. The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM)
has a heavy brigade set in Korea.
Restructuring the Army
To become a viable and relevant option for
the combatant commanders, the Army must continue to restructure
itself to be more responsive. To do this, the Army must not only
become lighter but it also must take another look at the placement
of its pre-positioned equipment and its forward-deployed forces.
One possible way to become more responsive
would be to deactivate the two forward brigades in Central Europe,
move the equipment to LMSRs, and station them in the Mediterranean
Sea off the coast of Italy with the brigade that is already there.
The pre-positioned brigade set in Italy also would be uploaded
onto LMSRs. The brigade sets that are already in Europe would remain
there to provide assurance to the European Union and North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) that the United States is not moving
out of the region. The medium brigade proposed for Europe should
be located in Italy. This would provide the EUCOM combatant commander
a division's worth of heavy equipment afloat capable of moving
anywhere in his area of responsibility quickly and provide quick
access to this equipment to CENTCOM should the need arise. In addition
to the afloat equipment, there are still the two heavy brigades
of pre-positioned equipment in Central Europe and a medium brigade
in Italy that can react anywhere in the EUCOM area of responsibility
The PACOM commander will benefit greatly from
the Army's transition to medium brigades since two will be at Fort
Lewis, one will be in Alaska, and one will be in Hawaii. To provide
the PACOM combatant commander even greater flexibility, two brigade
sets should be loaded onto theater support vessels (TSVs) off the
west coast of Australia and another brigade set should be loaded
on TSVs off the coast of Japan. Diego Garcia should retain the
brigade set it already has on LMSRs, and an additional set uploaded
onto TSVs should join it.
CENTCOM would retain the flexibility it currently
enjoys but also would benefit from the proposed changes in PACOM
The last unified command to be affected would
be the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). The Army's transition
places a medium cavalry unit, the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment,
at Fort Polk. By placing seven TSVs in the Gulf of Mexico, the
SOUTHCOM combatant commander would gain a heavy punch throughout
Central and South America that would complement the light forces
available from the continental United States. This heavy option
could move anywhere within the Caribbean basin within 48 hours.
The results of the changes would leave land
pre-positioned heavy brigade sets as follows: two in Central Europe,
one in Korea, one in Kuwait, and one in Qatar. The afloat pre-positioning
stocks would have one heavy brigade set on LMSRs and one on TSVs
at Diego Garcia, three heavy brigade sets on LMSRs off the coast
of Italy, two heavy brigade sets on TSVs off the west coast of
Australia, and one off the coast of Japan. Additionally, the medium
brigades located in Hawaii, Italy, and at Fort Polk and one medium
brigade at Fort Lewis would have TSVs collocated to facilitate
movement to any hot spots. This configuration results in five brigade
sets on land, eight afloat brigade sets (compared to one currently),
and four medium brigades equipped with TSVs. The military will
need to procure 12 LMSRs and 56 TSVs to get these forces afloat.
As with any concept, this one has limitations.
Secure sea lanes between sea ports of embarkation and debarkation
would have to be a precondition for employment. Protection from
air, surface, and subsurface threats would have to be provided,
to include mine-clearing operations, particularly at strategic
chokepoints, at port approaches, or in the vicinity of coastal
landing sites. Rendezvous and refueling of TSVs at sea also may
be required. Ports or landing sites would have to be secured and
cleared before disembarking a brigade, much like the critical tasks
associated with Marine amphibious operations.
Repositioning either actual forces or pre-positioned
forces has diplomatic implications both at home and internationally.
Moving the two heavy brigades out of Europe could send the wrong
message to U.S. allies and enemies. The point must be made that
NATO is strong enough to meet the military needs of Central Europe,
but the United States still has two brigade sets that it quickly
could fall in on. A strong message also should be sent reaffirming
the United States' intentions to stay engaged in the region with
the three brigade sets afloat off the coast of Italy and the medium
brigade on the ground in Italy. These forces would show the world
that the United States is involved and positioned to react quickly
and decisively in Europe, Africa, the Balkans, the Black Sea, the
Mediterranean, or the Middle East through the Suez Canal. The afloat
pre-positioned forces in Diego Garcia would allow the combatant
commanders the flexibility to react quickly at different locations
and keep enemies off balance.
The changes proposed in and around the Pacific
Rim would send three clear messages. First, the United States would
remain engaged in its own backyard. Second, the changes would assure
U.S. allies in that region that the Pacific Rim is a very important
area and has the United States' utmost attention. Finally, it would
deter and dissuade any regional power by overmatching any capability
in the region. Keeping the afloat equipment near Japan and Australia
would allow the PACOM combatant commander greater flexibility without
The results of this force reconfiguration
would allow the combatant commander to introduce a substantial
amount of land power within 4 to 6 days of receiving a deployment
order by decreasing the time required for reception, staging, onward
movement, and integration and for transit. Not only special forces,
rangers, or light infantry but also a hard-hitting mobile force
of medium brigades could arrive ready to fight. As the medium brigades
secured the air and sea ports of debarkation, the afloat brigades
would arrive on the LMSRs and join the troops flown in, thereby
achieving the Army Chief of Staff's vision—move a medium
brigade anywhere in the world in 96 hours, deploy a division in
120 hours, and deploy five divisions in 30 days.
The biggest obstacle to achieving the Chief's
vision is the services' self-interest. The Air Force is adamant
about fielding 222 C-17s at a cost of $237.7 million each. The
Air Force would argue that this is the key to fixing the strategic
mobility dilemma. However, the war in Afghanistan has shown that
relying solely on airlift has severe limitations.
With the entire airlift fleet in use in Operation
Enduring Freedom, what will happen if another contingency arises?
Sixty percent of the politically significant urban areas around
the world are located within 25 miles of coastlines, and 75 percent
are located within 150 miles of coastlines. The cost of procuring
enough C-17s to provide adequate lift is prohibitive. However,
a theater support vessel will cost between $65 million and $85
million and have 12 times the cargo capacity of the C-17. Procuring
42 more C-17s than the 180 currently authorized would cost roughly
$9.9 billion. On the other hand, it would cost only $6.5 billion
to procure 56 high-speed TSVs and 12 LMSRs. Thus, adopting this
force structure would result in saving over $3 billion and create
a much more flexible and robust force.
As reported by the National Defense Council
Foundation, the top countries for conflict in 2002 were the embodiment
of possible sudden regional wars. An examination of the list reveals
that many of the countries border the world's oceans, have extensive
coastlines, or are adjacent to strategic waterways. Unless the
United States is granted assisted entry into these countries, which
would seem unlikely in most cases, it would have to resort to unassisted
or forced entry. The relevance of the Army and the influence of
the entire United States military are at stake. Give the combatant
commanders a wide range of options for tackling crises. Fill their
toolboxes with tools they can use. Fix strategic mobility.
Also available at: http://www.almc.army.mil/alog/issues/MayJun03/MS856.htm