Strategic Mobility: Enabling Global Responsiveness for America’s Force of Decisive Action

July 8, 2013

The U.S. defense strategic guidance of January 2012 outlines for America’s armed forces 10 primary missions which, when fully executed, serve to protect and defend the nation’s vital interests worldwide.3 These missions range from countering terrorism, deterring and defeating aggression and projecting power, to defending the homeland and conducting humanitarian and disaster relief, among others. Inherent in these missions is the ability to influence human activity and the environments in which that activity occurs—for armed conflict is a clash of interests between or among organized groups, each attempting to impose its will on the opposition. U.S. joint capability—landpower, seapower, airpower, space and cyber—is strategically deployed and employed to influence that human activity and impact strategic objectives.

The U.S. Army, by its authority in Title 10, U.S. Code, is the nation’s principal land force. Soldiers, in combination with Marines and special operations forces (SOF), form the basis for strategic landpower—the application of power toward achieving overarching national or multinational (alliance or coalition) security objectives and guidance for a given military campaign or operation.4 Just as seapower and airpower provide unique capabilities to the joint force, so too does strategic landpower through its conduct of prompt and sustained operations on land. Notwithstanding, the entire joint force, but especially those landpower forces, requires sufficient strategic mobility assets—airlift, sealift, prepositioned equipment—to enable accomplishment of the primary missions. Strategic responsiveness is an inherently joint concept: strategic landpower moves to a site of national interest to take decisive action enabled by air and naval support. As the speed of information sharing and technology proliferation continues to increase, the speed with which the nation delivers the right forces in support of its vital interests must keep pace.

It is highly likely that the U.S. military will be called upon again in the near future to protect and defend the nation. The potential sources and locations of conflict are nearly limitless—bloody civil war in Syria, simmering discord in Africa, nuclear-armed rogues in North Korea, nuclear-seeking rogues in Iran and countless others. When conflict arises, a favorable outcome for the United States relies on the timely deployment and employment of a fully integrated joint force. Strategic success is not a function of enemy units eliminated or targets destroyed; instead, a favorable outcome for the United States rests on winning the contest of wills with the adversary. To do so requires strategic mobility assets in sufficient number and quality either to deter adversaries or, when necessary, to deploy and enable the joint force to accomplish its objectives. Strategic mobility also requires sustained military relationships with allies and partners who help provide access when possible.

Although the nation’s strategic mobility assets are impressive, forward deployed forces are few; for example, the Army has only three brigade combat teams (BCTs) that reside outside of the United States (one each in Korea, Germany and Italy). Moreover, existing mobility assets have reached the upper limits of their capability and America’s enemies will seek to exploit such a limitation. The Joint Staff has developed sound strategy and doctrine, based on the new reality, to guide and shape the transformation of America’s mobility resources. Now is the time to develop breakthrough capabilities that will help to overcome adversaries’ anti-access strategies and enable the Army to better prevent conflict through improved access to the battlefield; to better shape the environment through improved capability to influence others and build partner capacity; and to more decisively win the nation’s wars when called upon.