As the Army continues adjusting its sustainment capabilities toward succeeding in multidomain operations (MDO) environments against peer adversaries, significant challenges remain with the anticipated deployment of forces. Unlike the relative ease with which units deployed from the continental United States (CONUS) during the global war on terrorism, the idea of the U.S. homeland as a protected sanctuary is all but lost. The latest version of Field Manual 3-0, Operations, smartly adds an entire appendix on contested deployments, which details how adversaries will use multiple domains to delay, disrupt, and degrade the projection of forces during large-scale combat operations (LSCO). In confronting these realities, the Army must find innovative ways to navigate the sophisticated tranche of multidomain attacks and get combat forces out the door.
Threats to Sea Ports of Embarkation
Over the last few decades, the world has witnessed several high-profile and severely disruptive cyberspace attacks against maritime port infrastructure. While the most of these attacks have been directed against commercial shipping activities, there is broad agreement these attacks will be used against military surface moves during large-scale deployment. In LSCO, these attacks will only increase in frequency, scope, sophistication, and effect. As the organization charged with strategic mobility, U.S. Transportation Command lists force projection as a focus area on the organization’s list of joint deployment and distribution enterprise challenges.
In recognition of the vulnerabilities in protecting critical infrastructure such as maritime ports, Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 21: Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience was published to enhance cooperation between federal departments with the common interest of securing critical infrastructure. PPD 21 explicitly discusses how physical and cyberspace attacks threaten all 16 critical infrastructure sectors while promoting collaborative action to improve vigilance and mitigate impacts. The security of the Transportation Systems Sector and its maritime subsector is critical to U.S. force projection.
Speaking at the DEF CON hacker conference in August 2023, Jen Easterly, director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, offered candid remarks about the severity of threats the People’s Republic of China posed in using cyberspace attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure during conflict. This warning aligns with the Director of National Intelligence’s 2023 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community and drives home the gravity of how complex the deployment of forces will be during LSCO in the MDO environment.
JLOTS as a Potential Solution
Despite the steep challenges to U.S. force projection from CONUS, much of the current conversation and associated literature is focused on the deployment of forces arriving into theater. Admittingly, delivering troops and supplies into a dynamic area of operations laden with anti-access and area denial capabilities, such as island chains in Southeast Asia, is a tremendously complex endeavor with no clear solutions. However, before that problem is confronted, troops must leave their home ports of embarkation. The importance of this initial problem is worth examining further and creatively exploring all potential solutions. One such solution may lie in an existing capability — joint logistics over-the-shore (JLOTS).
JLOTS is a critical joint capability that enables U.S. forces to enter a land area from sea despite insufficient port infrastructure. JLOTS can augment existing port capacity while allowing friendly forces to dictate access areas for the discharge of equipment. The focus of JLOTS under current doctrine pertains only to the movement of equipment to a destination inside a theater.
What if the U.S. military were to rethink the use of its JLOTS inventory to support force projection from CONUS? What if, instead of using JLOTS to discharge equipment on-shore in a deployed environment, it was used to deploy equipment off-shore from the U.S. mainland? This concept leverages an existing capability and provides the Army with four distinct advantages in the event of a rapid deployment during LSCO in the MDO environment:
- A controlled method for deploying forces generally free from the vulnerabilities of civilian infrastructure dependencies.
- The removal of the predictability of deploying from a limited number of known locations.
- The ability to choose when and where a deployment originates in the event of a cyberspace attack or act of sabotage against a fixed port.
- The allowance of military planners to mitigate expected port congestion caused by affected commercial traffic.
While this alternate use proposal deviates from current JLOTS doctrine and practice, it may provide strategic and operational commanders with a flexible option for deploying forces if the use of fixed ports is denied. With nearly 95,000 miles of coastline and 25,000 miles of navigable waterways, finding supportable JLOTS sites to thwart attacks against known deployment locations may prove critical in a fight against an MDO-capable peer.
To validate this concept as an alternate or supplementary method for deploying forces from CONUS, the military may consider conducting a sea emergency deployment readiness exercise at an established JLOTS site. To make this exercise feasible, planners would have to first identify rail download sites in closer proximity to the JLOTS site, consider a ground convoy movement from the home station, establish and prepare marshaling areas at the designated beachhead, and work with state and local governments to control traffic flows in and around the deployment site.
Projecting forces in MDO will be one of the military’s most significant challenges. The 18 strategic ports listed as part of the National Port Readiness Network are almost guaranteed to have disruptive effects planned against them by peer adversaries. The idea a large-scale deployment from CONUS can occur from a relatively secure strategic support area is an assumption that prevents the U.S. from gaining and maintaining the initiative amid the chaos of an MDO conflict. Examining the feasibility of using JLOTS for force projection is an experiment worth considering.
Maj. Joseph W. Tereniak is a current Advanced Military Studies Program student at the School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was commissioned as a transportation officer from North Georgia College and State University. He holds a Master of Business Administration with concentrations in operations and business analytics from the University of Georgia.
This article was published in the Winter 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.