One area where America has a significant advantage over any putative adversary is in logistics. No other nation can challenge the US ability to conduct overseas operations, deploy and sustain joint forces worldwide, including remote corners of the globe. But it’s not enough! The capability is being urgently enhanced. Summing up pieces of information coming from various sources leads to the conclusion that preparations for combat actions conducted far from home bases are in full swing.
US Air Force exercise capstone Joint Forcible Entry (JFE) – the largest ever – was held on Dec.9-10 to check the readiness for airlifting Army paratroopers. The transport aircraft were escorted by F-15 and F-16 warplanes fighting their way through contested air space to the enemy’s rear. Once landed, the forces on the ground were supported from air. 37 самолетов C-17 Globemaster III and 21 C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft took off from 12 air bases across the country to support the largest JFE event in history. Troops were landed in Nevada. In total, over 100 aircraft took place in the drills.
The training event took place after Mobility Guardian – a large NATO power projection exercise – was held in July bringing together roughly 30 nations. The exercise included all elements of forcible entry operation, including electronic attack and cyber warfare. A С-17 ready to land in any part of the world in 24 hours to deliver the equipment needed to provide for further operations of 4 F-22 или F-35 fighters was an element of the fully integrated scenario.
This month, US and South Korea held “Vigilant Ace”, the largest ever joint air exercise. The five-day Vigilant Ace drill involved 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters, and tens of thousands of troops.
The exercises of such large scale held one by one showed that the capability to conduct power projection operations in the faraway regions is a priority. The infrastructure of other countries as well as pre-positioned stocks is widely used to enhance effectiveness. For instance, on Dec. 1, 2017, the Defense Logistics Agency issued an amendment to a contract notice regarding prepositioned supplies at jet fuel at sites throughout Europe and Africa in support of US military activities. The change specifically added a requirement for supplies of commercial Jet A fuel at three sites: Manu Dayak Airport in the central Nigerien city of Agadez, Houari Boumediene Airport in the Algerian capital Algiers, and Tamanrasset/Aguenar Airport.
The plans are on the way to beef up logistics infrastructure for offensive operations in Europe, including the creation of logistics command and the creation of a military free transit zone modeled on the 1996 Schengen agreement to allow free forces movements across the borders of European NATO members. Powidz, Poland, a village with a population of 1,000, is to become a strategically important NATO hub described as the «center of the center of gravity». The plans include the delivery of more than a brigade’s worth of military vehicles, equipment, artillery and personnel.
This month, the new US C-130J Super Hercules military transport aircraft arrived at Ramstein Air Base (AB) in Germany, to replace one of 14 C-130J’s at Ramstein AB. The aircraft features upgraded avionics, improved lift capacity, superior climb performance, and long-range landing field capabilities. It is part of a rotational process to upgrade existing aircraft.
Looks like the US military really needs the airlift capability expanded and it needs it now. The Air Force is bringing back C-5M Super Galaxy transports recently mothballed due to budget cuts. The C-5 is the largest airlifter built by the United States, capable of carrying a maximum of 135 tons of cargo. It can haul up to 36 standard pallets and 81 troops at the same time or a wide variety of gear, including tanks, helicopters, submarines, equipment, and food and emergency supplies. The Galaxy can 120,000 pounds of cargo more than 5,500 miles — the distance from Dover Air Force base in Delaware to Incirlik airbase in Turkey — without refueling. Without cargo, that range jumps to more than 8,000 miles. The Air Force purchased 131 C-5 Galaxies between 1968 and 1989. Starting in 2013, the service decided to upgrade 52 of them to the new -M "Super Galaxy" standard, which involved swapping older TF-39 engines for new F138 commercial engines. The new engine generates 22 percent more thrust and allows for more cargo to be carried. The planes also received all-glass cockpits, a new autopilot system, new navigation and safety upgrades, an all-weather flight control system, and new flight and engine instrument suite.
An idea is floating to convert transport aircraft like the C-130 Hercules into the airborne aircraft carrier, capable of launching a volley of drones that could fly into a battle space to provide reconnaissance and surveillance. These drones would simultaneously communicate and swarm, confusing the enemy with their numbers and distracting its air defenses.
Military Sealift Command (MSC) routinely employs around 50 ships, a combination of government owned/contractor operated vessels and commercial transports to meet its worldwide responsibilities. The Navy relies on private contractors to maintain both prepositioned logistics ships loaded with equipment and stored at several locations around the world and the Ready Reserve Fleet for mobilization. For example, Crowley Maritime Corporation and its subsidiaries manage some 24 prepositioned and Ready Reserve ships. Private companies also provide routine transportation and logistics services both within CONUS and globally. The Navy is completing construction of the landing platform dock (LPD) 17 class and is set to begin recapitalization of the dock landing ship (LSD) class in 2020, using a hull based on the LPD 17.
LHA 8 is programmed in 2024 as a replacement for the first Wasp-class amphibious assault ship.
Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Global Logistics Support (GLS) provides global logistics for a global Navy. The organization is made up of approximately 6,300 military and civilian logistics professionals operating from 105 locations worldwide, providing an extensive array of integrated global logistics and contracting services to Navy, Marine Corps, joint operational units, and allied forces across all warfare enterprises.
The facts and events summed up above are not front-page stories. They don’t tell much separately but tell a lot when put together and systematized. They lead to believe the United States is urgently preparing for a truly big war waged far away from its borders. The US military is sized, organized, and globally postured to fight it. A doctrine of expanding forces is not as straightforward as producing more fighters and weapon systems. Nothing is possible without logistics. That’s what is given the highest priority as the preparations are intensified.