Since June 2020, Maj. Gen. Heidi Hoyle has served as the 22nd commanding general of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC)—the Army Service Component Command to the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and a major subordinate command to U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC). A 1994 graduate of West Point who commissioned as an ordnance officer and most recently served as Commandant of the U.S. Army Ordnance School, Hoyle now oversees a workforce of more than 5,000 transportation professionals across the world. In coordination with her deputy, Mike Hutchison, the two have principally prioritized SDDC’s people and their collective ability to simultaneously advance the command’s current readiness and future mobility posture in support of the Army and its joint force partners. Army Sustainment sat down with Hoyle and Hutchison to discuss the expeditionary deployment and sustainment challenges facing the Army as the future of warfare across contested domains continues to evolve.
When we last covered strategic readiness, a key takeaway was that it is perishable and part of our short-term muscle memory. How has SDDC exercised and adapted that same muscle memory to meet the needs of rapidly emerging requirements as outlined by the National Defense Strategy (NDS)?
Hoyle: As we look at 21st-century warfare, especially as outlined in the NDS, we look at many things that have changed how our senior leaders and logisticians need to effectively and efficiently deploy and sustain combat power. The concept of warfare in the 21st century is vastly different than previous conflicts. The biggest difference I see is that it will be done in a contested environment, with threats that are both kinetic and non-kinetic. As we look across the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise (JDDE), we’re taking a strategic and operational view of what’s happening across geopolitical spaces. Our commercial industry partners understand the nation’s priorities and help us to prioritize commercial and military cargo to avoid economic impacts that could undermine domestic and international public support.
Additionally, our new operating environment within great power competition is defined by highly complex technology, which greatly compresses our response timelines. The cyber network is the foundation within which this all operates and can be fragile as great power comes together. Our adversaries will aim to restrict our access to and capability within once familiar terrain. Let’s take China’s Belt and Road Initiative as an example: the key space and terrain they’re after and aim to occupy is being sought so that it will change the way we can project and sustain power. Equities we had full or near-full access to in the past are contested and may change moving forward, so we mitigate risk by ensuring clear and consistent civilian, governmental, and multinational integration and cooperation.
Climate is another key aspect of this changing terrain; the Army recently released its climate strategy to control these changing factors. The recent increase in severe weather events in the U.S. and across the globe has forced the DOD to take a hard, close look at how this will impact future operations. We must commit to deliberate planning that considers environmental factors and regulations we are dutifully called to respect while establishing a framework for exceptions based on contingency demand. We, in the DOD, have committed to upholding the International Maritime Organization’s 2023 environmental plan, which aims to cut vessel carbon dioxide emissions by 40% and 70% in 2030 and 2050, respectively; our close collaboration and partnership with industry will ensure we can do that without any negative operational implications. Industry will help us evolve how we should do business, but it will not change our mission set.
Hutchison: We must emphasize that communication with our industry partners is critical to keep them informed about what we see on the horizon, both strategically and operationally. We do this to strengthen the feedback loop between all parties; by sharing our experiences, we’re strengthening that operational relationship.
Hoyle: That’s a huge piece of the puzzle, effectively engaging in information exchange with our industry partners, almost to a butterfly effect where every piece of data we can share is important and may have positive ripple effects down the line. Our effective collaboration with industry ensures that they remain a critical piece in the strategic and operational puzzle.
Assuming a contested homeland seems to be a mainstay of the Army’s campaign planning. In your talks with industry, did they anticipate the same given their existing roles and responsibilities?
Hoyle: Given our consistent communication, they were certainly in lockstep, as our business is certainly theirs, and vice versa to an extent. For example, the military constitutes a small piece of the rail industry’s business in the continental United States, so the focus has been on maintaining the status quo and their current posture.
Hutchison: One of the biggest challenges of this newly contested space is in the cyber realm. Even though we exist as a small piece of the commercial industry’s business, we’re working alongside them to identify and analyze cyber vulnerabilities in the commercial and defense transportation sector. What is a DOD problem also may play out in the commercial space, so there are certainly incentives for parties to work diligently alongside each other. We’re preparing for updated Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification requirements that will begin in 2025, both in our systems and the contracts with the industry that develops those systems. So, we’re approaching this from all angles in tandem with and alongside our industry partners. We’re not just anticipating contested operations—we’re actively practicing operations assuming some extent of system degradation to verify and validate our ability to move cargo and sustain the force in this new battlespace, starting with our power projection platforms and mobilization force generation installations. Partner capacity adds to the options provided to a commander in that operational and tactical space, and much of this is borne from our execution of exercises like Defender Europe and Pacific.
SDDC has always been a key member of the JDDE—how have your roles in this cohort shifted, if at all, when operating under the assumption of a future contested homeland?
Hoyle: The easy and right answer here is, “No”— we don’t see our role changing. We’re here to deliver the armed forces to their point of need and effectively synchronize global surface deployment and distribution requirements. As a command, we’ve structured our collective lines of effort accordingly: people as our strategic advantage, deployment and distribution readiness in the midst of emerging requirements, and the ability to rapidly evolve for the future. We’ve talked about our commercial partnerships, but another critical piece here is our other national programs, like the Strategic Seaport Program alongside the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, which ensures that capabilities are available to deploy when and where needed. We also have similar programs on our rail and highway networks to communicate and amplify the DOD’s requirements across all nodes in the transportation space and ensure the commitment of the right resources at the right time. Roles certainly haven’t changed, but all stakeholders in this space operate with an understanding of the changing conditions and how we need to be positioned to respond rapidly. When the Army trains, we look at tasks, conditions, and standards. Whether we’re executing counterinsurgency or large-scale combat operations, the standards and tasks we’re committed to don’t change. It’s the conditions that change. We must constantly assess how we operate within our environment’s conditions, and so much of this is enabled by our persistent engagement with industry and the suite of diverse capabilities they’ve brought to past, bring to current, and provide for future fights across any given condition.
Hutchison: Our role certainly hasn’t shifted, but, as Hoyle mentioned, the ways in which we’re able to support that role have advanced. Our information systems and other supporting technology will continue to be some of our central force multipliers, along with the people who execute operations within those systems. We’ve started to treat data as a provided commodity as we order transportation services, and we want to be judicious in how we distribute that data so we can control that information flow as conditions change. We’re tied in with USTRANSCOM on the requirements side of the house as they explore enterprise capabilities to use data and information better. The JDDE writ large has done a good job keeping pace with the transition to a digitally enabled organization, and we’re ensuring our own parallel progress as those conditions change.
How does SDDC strike a balance between their sustained readiness efforts and modernization initiatives? Are the two at odds?
Hoyle: There is certainly a balance to be struck between the two, but we don’t see them as being competing interests. We’re lucky at SDDC to have the Transportation Engineering Agency (TEA) on our staff to lead our transportability assessments so that our readiness can track alongside vehicle modernization efforts. For instance, as the Army evolves from the M113, Armored Personnel Carrier, to the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), we are integrating its varying movement requirements into our operational framework—all enabled by TEA. When we acquire new equipment, we’re able to immediately tie current and future requirements into that acquisition to fully leverage that materiel to its maximum operational affect from day one. As a command, we’re focused on ensuring our current transportation requirements best support immediate readiness but are also tailored to meet future warfare’s evolving needs. So, readiness and modernization really are inextricably linked at SDDC.
Hutchison: We believe we can maintain our current readiness even as we look specifically at what will be needed in 2030 and beyond. Tactically speaking, we check the Program Objective Memorandum (POM) cycle to ensure the readiness of our currently fielded equipment. We’re simultaneously identifying the requirements for future equipment dictated by that outlook toward 2030 and even 2050, with much of this enabled by TEA’s assessments and analysis. We synchronize with Army Materiel Command and the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, on the budget side of this equation so we can address those critical materiel development and acquisition requirements. We, as a command, also work alongside the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain and advance our two military ocean terminals—Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point in North Carolina and Military Ocean Terminal Concord in California—so they’re ready to support our rapid deployment needs when and where necessary.
What are some of the most crucial operational effects sustainers and transporters need to be aware of as SDDC modernizes its key in-transit and business operational systems?
Hoyle: As we work through our modernization efforts, we recognize a key effort is preparing the relevant sustainment and transportation community for any changes, especially those that are systems or based on technology. For example, we were some of the earliest adopters of the cloud for data storage across Army Materiel Command for mission assurance purposes. We’re forward looking in how we want to leverage advances made in artificial intelligence to help us make smarter cargo decisions faster at scale. For instance, we are currently testing new technologies to capture available volume across staging areas at our 842nd Transportation Battalion in Texas. Additionally, we’re focusing on connecting the end-to-end unit move process – from ordering for air or surface movement to stow planning and terminal management and even billing—into a single, authoritative system. With this in mind, we mustn’t take our current capabilities for granted as we work in tandem with industry and academia on these projects.
Hutchison: We certainly rely heavily on the commercial industry to accomplish our mission. Central to that partnership is our ability to intelligently structure contract modes which offer us agility and flexibility. Tied to this dynamic are our port diversification efforts, we want to minimize costly, one-time only, limited duration agreements for stevedoring, or cargo loading and unloading, and other services. Regardless of port location, leveraging regional contracts with one key service provider helps us avoid administrative costs and increases our terminal readiness. Sustainers who recognize that relationship and work to bolster it appropriately to increase our capabilities will be successful now and in the future.
Lt. Col. Altwan Whitfield is currently serving as the deputy director of the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. Previously, she was the commander of the 841st Transportation Battalion at Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and a master’s degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Education from Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama.
Mike Crozier is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.