Ensuring Multi-Domain Mobility Amidst Global Unpredictability
From Armor & Mobility/August 2017
Gen. Darren W. McDew
U.S. Transportation Command
Gen. Darren W. McDew is the commander, U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. USTRANSCOM is the single manager for global air, land and sea transportation for the Department of Defense. General McDew was commissioned in 1982 following his graduation from Virginia Military Institute. He began his flying career at Loring AFB, Maine. His staff assignments include serving as a member of the Air Force Chief of Staff Operations Group, Air Force aide to the President, chief of the Air Force Senate Liaison Division and the director of Air Force Public Affairs. General McDew served as vice director for strategic plans and policy for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also served as the commander of 18th Air Force, Scott AFB, and commanded at the squadron, group and wing levels as well as at an Air Force direct reporting unit. He deployed in support of ongoing operations in Central and Southwest Asia as an air expeditionary group commander and later as the director of mobility forces. Prior to his current assignment, General McDew was the commander of Air Mobility Command, Scott AFB.
A&M: Can you speak to some of the challenges and concerns facing USTRANSCOM?
Gen. McDew: This is truly an exciting time to be the Commander of United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). Every day, I’m humbled by the selfless sacrifice of the more than 140,000 airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines, coast guardsmen, civil servants, and families who dedicate their lives to our great Nation. This year we celebrate our 30th Anniversary, and our team remains postured to provide rapid power projection and deliver national objectives. Today’s global security environment is more diverse and complex than it was when USTRANSCOM stood up 30 years ago. A resurgent Russia and a rising China present a near-peer threat while Iran, North Korea, and violent extremist organizations persist as regional threats. Our adversaries are continuously seeking new ways to undercut our dominance and counter our power projection capabilities across all domains – land, sea, air, space, and cyber – to contest our standing as a world power.
Additionally, USTRANSCOM, unlike most other combatant commands, is globally focused, and provides a multifunctional, multi-domain, and trans-regional capability to all other combatant commands. USTRANSCOM considers readiness across the entire Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise, which includes the readiness of people and equipment spanning all of the services and commercial industry. We do face future readiness challenges; our global mobility platforms are aging, especially our strategic sealift vessels and air refueling tankers, and our U.S.-flagged commercial sealift carrier numbers are in decline. However, with every challenge comes opportunity. The challenges I highlighted provide opportunities to cultivate our partnerships with joint service and commercial industry, leverage both existing and emerging technologies to maximize our capabilities, and synchronize logistics processes in more effective ways ensuring the Joint Forces’ success on the battlefields of today and tomorrow.
A&M: How is USTRANSCOM addressing critical supply chain challenges in the ever shifting geopolitical environment?
Gen. McDew: Dynamic geopolitics and the varying geography of the Middle East present an ongoing challenge for logisticians and planners, not just across land distribution channels, but across air and sea routes as well. Various nations are vying for influence and power while violent extremist organizations and other agitators seek to undermine regional stability. Operations in land-locked locations like Afghanistan complicate delivery and create limitations on our distribution networks, which requires us to develop flexible options to fulfill requirements. Our relationship with the Department of State plays a significant role in helping us overcome challenges with authorities and diplomatic clearances. Although geostrategic challenges threaten our supply chains, USTRANSCOM leverages the global enterprise to deliver wherever and whenever required. In coordination with our defense, interagency, and commercial partners, we are working fervently to maintain open supply chains in support of our warfighters. I know we can meet this challenge head on, and I remain inspired by the entire USTRANSCOM team’s dedication and drive to make our processes, procedures, systems, and platforms better every day.
A&M: How is USTRANSCOM working to bolster cooperation with Joint Service and Industry?
Gen. McDew: USTRANSCOM partners with Joint Service and industry to maximize a broad range of military and industry capabilities to deliver an immediate force tonight and a decisive force when needed. I often refer to the commercial industry as our ‘fourth component’ as a large portion of our distribution is executed by our industry partners, both in peace and in war. USTRANSCOM’s senior leaders regularly interact with interagency and industry leaders to ensure we’re aligned with current trends and technology –whether it’s drafting our problem statements in cooperation with the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), or introducing an initiative to harden our data which is shared on military and commercial networks, by prioritizing innovation and collaboration to advance our logistics capabilities. At the action-officer level, we leverage the incredible expertise within the commercial enterprise to improve innovation and agility across all levels of our organization. Together with our component commands, our team partners with organizations like the National Defense Transportation Association, which provides a forum to address common interests and ensure the logistics enterprise remains at the leading edge of innovative thinking on force projection. We also participate in executive working groups, industry days, and coordinate with the Department of Transportation on our Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA), Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), and surface trucking and rail networks. We remain keenly focused on building, sustaining, and strengthening partnerships to bolster our logistical capability and modality across the services and in partner with industry. It is by, with, and through these critical relationships that we provide a broad range of options to the President and deliver national objectives.
A&M: Are there technologies USTRANSCOM sees as playing a key role in your future operations specifically autonomous logistics vehicles equipped with cybersecurity tools and how they would be integrated?
Gen. McDew: Although our joint and commercial partners remain critical to maximizing support to the warfighter, providing the best support possible also requires us to capitalize on opportunities to improve our equipment and our systems. One of my priorities is advancing our cyber domain capabilities in which technology plays a critical role. We are examining our cyber vulnerabilities to determine how best to protect our critical supply lines and personnel movements, particularly in our sharing of information with our commercial partners. Our first step in this process is to leverage existing technologies and modernize our network by migrating our systems to the cloud-based networks. However, the protection of our data provides the lens for our modernization efforts, which will require innovative, practical, and measurable solutions, and advanced technologies. Though the future remains uncertain, we know with certainty that our ability to provide mission assurance in a contested cyber environment will be the difference between winning and losing on tomorrow’s battlefield.
We are also looking at the ways in which autonomy can augment our current capabilities. Our initial assessment is that autonomous vehicles have the potential to affect the number of pilots, sailors, and drivers we need to perform some of our most critical functions. Industry is already developing this expertise, and one of the things we’ve learned from our partners is that a robust, autonomous delivery network requires global situational awareness. Maintaining world-wide visibility requires data feeds, digital protections, information sharing, communications platforms, and a myriad of other capabilities to collect, transmit, and manage that information. A large quantity of useful information already exists; it’s how we harness that information and analyze it that will facilitate accurate decision making at the speed of war and enable our ability to capitalize on emerging technologies.
A&M: Any closing thoughts?
Gen. McDew: Despite our successes with digital networks, industry partnership, and advances in technology, we still face many challenges in the days, months, and year ahead. We have already seeing a shift in focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a strategic environment challenged by emerging threats. These trans-regional threats require greater flexibility in our thought processes and ultimately, in our capabilities. As a global distribution network provider, our challenge remains delivering national objectives on any battlefield anywhere in the world, today and tomorrow.
The ability to answer the call –wherever and whenever needed– lies in our workforce. Make no mistake, we, along with the rest of the Department of Defense, are competing for talent with Silicon Valley and Fortune 500 companies. It’s our charge to recruit, train, and retain the best talent America has to offer in our military and civilian workforce. Only by increasing our talent pool will we garner the agility to meet the complex demands of tomorrow. Today, I see the perseverance of USTRANSCOM through its dedicated men and women, and I can’t thank them enough for pushing this command forward. It’s what we’ve done for 30 years, and it’s what we’ll keep doing to overcome complexities posed by future demands.