Strategic mobility, landpower – Projecting power abroad

Monday, August 26, 2013

AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare has recently released a new publication.

"Strategic Mobility: Enabling Global Responsiveness for America’s Force of Decisive Action" (Torchbearer National Security Report, July 2013) discusses the central role of strategic landpower in projecting power abroad.

Strategic landpower – those joint forces capable of conducting prompt and sustained operations on land in pursuit of national objectives – is an inherently joint endeavor that demands access to a range of ready aircraft, ships and prepositioned stocks.

The United States requires that the Army remain manned, equipped, trained and ready to conduct expeditionary operations anywhere on the globe.

The nation’s capacity for strategic and operational lift has changed very little since the mid-1990s.

Major commitments of ground troops to Afghanistan and Iraq forced the Army to focus primarily on rotational deployments through intermediate staging bases to provide ready soldiers to the fight.

Now, however, the Army and its joint partners must again devote greater attention to the readiness and mission command requirements to conduct very short-notice, rapid deployments of large formations in response to unforeseen contingencies.

After Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Congress invested in several necessary initiatives that significantly improved the "deployability" of strategic landpower.

These fell under four main categories:

Airlift. The nation’s dedicated strategic airlift fleet consists of approximately 222 C-17 Globemaster III and 95 C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft that can carry soldiers, supplies and even heavy vehicles around the world.

Sealift. Most military cargo sent overseas travels aboard the U.S. Navy’s 26 dedicated sealift vessels or the Maritime Administration’s 46 ready reserve ships.

Army Prepositioned Stocks. The Army maintains five large sets of supplies both ashore and afloat to help make equipment and sustainment stocks more readily available far from the United States.

Power-projection infrastructure. Rapid response demands that people, equipment and supplies can flow seamlessly along a network of installations, roads, railroads, airfields, seaports, ammunition plants and depots to points of embarkation.

Although these existing strategic-lift platforms provide some impressive capabilities – and outperform other nations’ expeditionary capability – they also have significant limitations.

The platforms are aging and have seen heavy use during more than a decade of war.

The workhorse cargo ships rely upon the availability of developed ports at both ends of their journey and are therefore vulnerable to adversaries’ anti-access/area-denial strategies.

In addition, budget pressure has forced the reduction of the strategic airlift fleet from 317 cargo aircraft to 274.

The Department of Defense’s most recent assessment as to the composition of strategic-lift platforms has not kept pace with the evolving security environment or new joint force doctrine.

The nation’s current strategic mobility solution set satisfies current scenarios but does not align with direction and doctrine for the future.

A credible and specific study is required to determine which lift platforms and key enablers are the most capable for tomorrow’s missions and which transformational capabilities are most needed to counter adaptive enemies.

The very culture of American ground-force deployment must shift to achieve a new paradigm in which the port of embarkation in the continental United States is understood to be the line of departure for ready forces.

Timely, predictable and adequate investment in strategic mobility is a national imperative for the Joint Force of 2020.

This and other ILW publications are available online at http://www.ausa.org/ilw and can also be obtained by calling (800) 336-4570, Ext. 4630, or by e-mailing a request to [email protected].