The situational awareness required by U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) leader Gen. Darren W. McDew is a tall order.
“I need global situational awareness,” McDew said Tuesday during a GEOINT 2017 keynote address.
“Believe it or not,” McDew joked, “we don’t have every single asset we’ll need for every spot in the world today.”
For example, many people don’t realize the logistics required for a force of B-52 bombers to leave Missouri, fly across the world to Libya to drop 100 precision bombs, then return home, he said.
To do so requires 15 TRANSCOM airplanes positioned to refuel the B-52s en route. That’s 15 of TRANSCOM’s 500-plane inventory, but McDew said his 140,000-person command could actually use 1,000 tanker planes.
The general acknowledged that not many people truly understand TRANSCOM’s mission and how it is achieved. The command’s mission involves air, sea, and land military components, plus growing commercial industry support. And the demand for its resources is great.
“The might of this country’s military can only be projected through logistics,” McDew said. “And we cannot continue [to do what we do] without commercial industry … If you only think of [logistics] as moving stuff, then you aren’t devoting the intellectual capital [to consider] how things can be done differently. That is our big challenge.”
Projecting military strength becomes more difficult the farther the services have to travel. As forces are drawn back to the U.S., but missions remain far-flung, there is a greater need to transport military assets to and from areas of operation. With declining numbers of commercial ships sailing internationally under the U.S. flag, and with aging transport aircraft, challenges continue to mount.
“We need your help or we’ll be the best land-locked, CONUS-based military in the world,” McDew said, adding that culture change is another hurdle to overcome.
“I’ve been challenging my people and the people we work with that we must resolve to be different,” he continued. “We must resolve to be better … I believe in my heart that many [people] have risk avoidance. That they give in to elements of fear. If we get locked into doing things as they have always been done, our adversaries will have a much easier time.”
As an example of doing things differently, TRANSCOM would welcome self-driving vehicles, perhaps even self-sailing ships or self-flying planes.
“It’s not if, it’s when,” McDew said of autonomous technology. “If we could do it tomorrow, I’m ready … But, that’s got to be a cyber-protected force.”
McDew said there is still only one great superpower in the world—the U.S.
“But,” he warned, “if we don’t change some things, if we don’t think differently, we may not remain in our superpower status, and it definitely will be grabbed by somebody else.”