Moving U.S. Forces: Options for Strategic Mobility Section 3 of 12
February 1997

Chapter One

Introduction

The United States has one of the largest collections of advanced military equipment and some of the best-trained troops in the world. But that military strength means little if the nation cannot deploy its forces quickly wherever they are needed. Indeed, some defense analysts consider the ability of the United States to move forces rapidly over long distances an important means of keeping its status as a superpower.(1)

Moving U.S. troops and military cargo is the role of strategic mobility--the system of equipment, personnel, and logistical know-how that allows the Department of Defense (DoD) to deliver forces over intercontinental distances. Three major types of equipment are used for strategic lift: aircraft to fly cargo and personnel, ships to steam cargo and sustainment supplies from the United States, and ships or warehouses based abroad that the United States uses to "preposition" military stocks closer to regions where conflicts might occur. (This study uses the terms "strategic mobility" and "strategic lift" interchangeably.)

Although this study focuses on strategic (or inter-theater) planes and ships, tactical (or intratheater) mobility assets are also critically important for delivering equipment over shorter distances within a theater of operations. Tactical mobility assets include planes, trucks, trains, smaller watercraft, and other apparatus to handle cargo--such as heavy-equipment transports, elevator loaders for airplanes, railcars, and the like. Policymakers may find the issues involved in planning to receive troops and equipment in distant theaters and to move them to the battlefront mundane. But failing to make such plans can undermine the benefits of buying larger planes and ships.



Why Is Strategic Mobility an Issue for the Congress?

Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, the United States has made sizable investments in mobility forces. The Administration plans to spend nearly $20 billion (in current dollars) to acquire additional sealift ships and airlift planes between 1998 and 2002. But today, competition for those resources is intense.

For example, in order to modernize weapons more quickly, military leaders have called for raising yearly procurement spending from $45 billion in 1997 to $60 billion (in current dollars) in 1998. But such an increase would require more funding than the Administration proposed in its budget for 1997 through 2000 or than the Congress proposed in its 1997 budget resolution for defense for the next several years. DoD might finance more weapons procurement by reforming its acquisition process or by cutting its system of bases and support personnel, but saving money through those measures has proved challenging. Moreover, factors outside the defense budget, such as growth in spending for Medicare and Medicaid, could restrain military spending in the future. Thus, it is important for the Congress to review how much priority DoD should place on mobility forces, and whether alternatives to the



 
Table 1.
Changes in Combat and Mobility Forces Under the Administration's Plan, 1990-1999
Percentage Change
1990- 1995- 1990-
1,990.0 1,995.0 1,999.0 1995  1999  1999 
Combat Forces
Army
   Active divisions 18 12 10 (33) (17) (44)
   Reserve component brigades 57 48 42 (16) (13) (26)
Tactical Air Forces (PAA) a
   Active 2,712 1,784 1,672 (34) (6) (38)
   Reserve 1,054 662 614 (37) (7) (42)
Ship Battle Forces 546 372 346 (32) (7) (37)
Mobility Forces
Intertheater Airlift 
   Planes (PAA) b 380 357 314 (6) (12) (17)
   Theoretical fleet capacity (In MTM/D) c 48 50 50 3 0 4
Sealift
   Active cargo ships d 40 51 44 28 (14) 10
   Ready Reserve Force ships e 96 92 95 (4) 3 (1)
   Surge shipping capacity (In MSQFT) 6.8 4.9 f 8.7 (28) 77 27
SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office based on data from the Department of Defense.
NOTE: PAA = primary aircraft authorized; MTM/D = millions of ton-miles per day; MSQFT = millions of square feet.
a. Includes Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps fighter and attack aircraft.
b. Includes 37 KC-10s allocated to an airlift role. If the Defense Department retires all C-141s and buys 120 C-17s (102 PAI), the number of intertheater airlift  
    planes will fall to 243 in 2007, or 36 percent below the 1990 level.
c. Includes commercial aircraft in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.
d. Includes fast sealift, afloat prepositioning, and common-user charter ships.
e. The Defense Department's most recent mobility study recommends retiring 21 ships by 2002, which would leave 75 ships in the Ready Reserve Force, or  
    22 percent below the 1990 level.
f. Because of cuts in operation and maintenance funding in the Department of Transportation's 1994 budget for the Ready Reserve Force, fewer ships were  
   considered ready to surge in the event of conflict. Since 1995, funding for Ready Reserve Force operations has been provided in the Department of Defense's  
   budget, and the readiness status of previously downgraded ships has improved.


Administration's plan exist that could provide similar levels of capability at a lower cost.

Growing Emphasis on Mobility Forces

The United States is in the midst of reducing the size of its military forces. Under the Clinton Administration's major plan for defense, known as the Bottom-Up Review, most types of combat forces will experience 30 percent to 40 percent cuts during the 1990s (see Table 1).(2) But the same is not true for strategic mobility forces. Although DoD is retiring many of its older planes, it plans to hold current airlift capability relatively constant, expand the number and capacity of sealift ships, and, in some parts of the world where military planners think conflict is most likely, preposition more sets of equipment.

The Congress and the Administration have also spent a larger proportion of defense dollars on strategic mobility in recent years, although that growth is hard to measure precisely because strategic mobility contains many components. One yardstick is a DoD budget category called mobility forces, which includes funding for strategic lift, tactical airlift planes, and the means to run the bases that support mobility operations. Since the Vietnam era, DoD has spent about $7.6 billion (in 1997 dollars) each year for that category, or about 2.4 percent of its total annual budget (see Figure 1). In inflation-adjusted dollars, the United States spent more on active-duty airlift and sealift forces during the mid-1960s than it does today. But at more than 4 percent of the defense budget, today's share is higher.

Moreover, if one included the cost of reserve personnel (who are typically counted in a separate budget category), recent spending on mobility would be higher still. During the 1980s, the Air Force began to rely more heavily on Reserve and National Guard personnel to operate airlift planes. Today, around 60 percent of aircrews for airlift planes such as the C-5 and C-141 are made up of reservists. Including those costs raises annual spending on mobility by more than $2.5 billion, for a total of more than 5 percent of the defense budget.

As noted earlier, the Administration plans to invest significant amounts to modernize DoD's mobility forces through at least the early part of the next decade. In its blueprint for the 1997-2001 period, the Administration included more than $17 billion (in current dollars) to acquire new C-17 cargo planes--one of DoD's largest modernization programs. That translates into about $3 billion to $4 billion in annual procurement spending between 1998 and 2002, with program costs tapering off to a little over $2 billion in 2003.

Reasons for the Administration's Emphasis on Strategic Mobility

Why is there so much emphasis on strategic lift today? One reason is that DoD has reduced the number of troops it bases abroad. In 1989, for example, 48 percent of the Army's active-duty forces were based out-


Figure 1.
Department of Defense Spending on Mobility Forces, 1962-1997 (In total obligational authority)

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office based on data from Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), National Defense Budget Estimates for FY 1997 (April 1996).

NOTE: Total obligational authority refers to the sum of new budget authority provided for a given fiscal year and any other amounts authorized to be credited toward accounts in that same fiscal year, such as transfers between funds or accounts.


side the United States. That figure is expected to fall to 32 percent by 1999, primarily because of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Europe. Thus, if the United States becomes involved in regional conflicts, it will need to deploy forces over longer distances.

A second reason is the experience of the Persian Gulf War. DoD's initial deployment of forces in August 1990 was among the largest the United States has ever undertaken. However, DoD was unable to deliver heavy brigades with tanks or logistical units very quickly, and ultimately, delivering all U.S. forces to the region took about seven months. Although many analysts consider the deployment a success, the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the U.S. forces that arrived first faced considerable risk.(3) DoD's planners now emphasize delivering heavy forces (units that include armored vehicles) sooner so those troops will be better prepared to withstand an attack. And because it is easier to stop an assault early than to dislodge an enemy from territory it has already taken, military commanders hope to deliver forces more quickly than before. At the same time, regional aggressors may also have learned lessons from the Persian Gulf War, such as how to prosecute an attack more effectively or how to disrupt deployments from the United States.

A final reason for the current emphasis on mobility forces is that now may simply be an opportune time to purchase those assets. DoD bought large numbers of tactical aircraft, combat ships, and tanks during the 1980s. As a result, the Administration has postponed modernizing much of that combat equipment until the next decade, leaving more room in the defense budget today for investments in mobility.

But some Members of Congress and even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have argued recently that the Administration needs to begin modernizing its combat equipment sooner rather than later. At a time when resources for all federal programs are limited, policymakers may need to decide whether investing in airlift planes and sealift ships continues to take a higher priority than modernizing combat forces.

DoD Is Reexamining U.S. Defense Strategy

In the 1993 Bottom-Up Review, the Clinton Administration based much of its plan for the size and composition of U.S. forces on a specific scenario. In that scenario, the military would need to counter regional aggressors on the Korean Peninsula and in the Persian Gulf at nearly the same time. Administration officials developed that strategy because of concern that, if the United States entered one regional conflict, a second aggressor might find that an opportune moment to pursue its interests as well. In 1995, the Administration published an analysis of numerical requirements for mobility forces that closely followed the Bottom-Up Review's scenario of two major regional conflicts (or "contingencies," as DoD calls them).

Defense officials are taking another look at that strategy, however. In November 1996, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began a Quadrennial Defense Review --a wide-ranging examination of threats the United States might face, the force structure that would best counter them, and the infrastructure needed to support those forces. The Congress asked that the Administration undertake the review and that an independent, nonpartisan panel of defense experts evaluate the analysis.

The Congress wants a review of defense strategy because the force structure outlined in the Bottom-Up Review has been criticized on several grounds. One critique is that today's approach puts too much emphasis on large-scale scenarios rather than smaller peacetime missions, which are more likely to occur but are more difficult to characterize with one or two planning scenarios.(4) Other defense analysts do not question the Administration's choice of scenarios, but instead wonder whether the United States needs to mobilize so many forces to deter Iraqi or North Korean aggression.(5) Critics have also argued that the Administration's plan is being underfunded or is simply unaffordable.(6)

Some analysts have suggested that the Administration should size DoD's force structure for one rather than two major conflicts. Such a change would probably not have much effect on requirements for strategic lift. Although the Administration's 1995 blueprint for mobility forces was designed with two simultaneous contingencies in mind, military planners assumed that cargo planes and sealift ships would swing from one conflict to the next. So, depending on assumptions about how such a conflict would take place, DoD might need roughly the same amount of lift for just one major contingency.

That does not nullify the importance of the Quadrennial Defense Review for strategic mobility, however. Fundamental questions about how the United States will wage war in the future still have important implications for DoD's lift needs. For example, under current plans, the Army accounts for most cargo that would deploy first to a major contingency. If military planners were to rely on airpower rather than Army forces to blunt an enemy assault at the start of a conflict, DoD might need fewer sets of prepositioned Army equipment and more sealift ships to deliver heavy equipment from the United States at a slower pace.



What Drives Today's Requirements for Mobility Forces?

The role each type of strategic lift plays in a conflict is matched to its general characteristics. For example, because of its speed, airlift is used to deliver troops and equipment in the earliest stages of a military crisis. But airlift is many times more expensive than sealift, making it impractical for moving large numbers of forces or units with heavy tanks and armored vehicles. Sealift is much slower than airlift, but each large sealift ship can deliver the equivalent of more than 300 loads of a C-141, today's most common type of airlift plane. By prepositioning materiel, DoD can deploy large numbers of heavy forces much more quickly than with sealift and much more cheaply than with airlift. However, planners must select sites for prepositioned equipment carefully and recognize that political and diplomatic factors can limit how DoD uses that equipment.

Since DoD bases its numerical requirements for strategic mobility on its plans to fight major conflicts, it is important to understand how military officials believe those conflicts will take place.

Today's Planning Focuses on How to Halt an Enemy Attack

Recent DoD analyses depict three phases of a large-scale conflict. During the halting phase, U.S. and allied forces would deploy to blunt an initial assault by an aggressor, minimize the amount of territory the invader takes over, and defend sites that are important for continuing military operations, such as ports, airfields, and supply centers. If the United States had to operate with little warning and an enemy's attack proceeded swiftly, airlift and prepositioning might be the only means of delivering forces during the halting phase. Under DoD's assumptions about conflicts in the Korean Peninsula or the Persian Gulf region, the first U.S. heavy ground forces would have to arrive within two to three weeks to halt an initial assault.(7) Given the distances involved, that requirement for early combat units would place the greatest demand on U.S. mobility forces.

Once an aggressor had been stopped, the United States would focus its efforts on deploying additional combat forces and logistical support to the region. During that buildup phase, U.S. troops would try to reduce the enemy's military capabilities through sustained attacks. After enough forces had been deployed to the region, the United States and its allies would launch a counterattack, a large-scale offensive using air and land forces to push back the enemy and regain lost territory.

Ideally, civilian and military leaders would receive early, unambiguous warning of an impending enemy assault and would take a few measured steps to deter it. In military parlance, those steps are called flexible deterrent options--measures aimed at deterring enemy advances or aiding military deliveries that can be taken before the official decision to deploy forces en masse and can be revised quickly if the situation changes. Such measures might include sending an aircraft carrier, a Marine expeditionary unit, or a squadron of fighter aircraft to the region or taking steps to prepare equipment at prepositioning sites.

If an enemy attack occurred quickly and with little warning, however, airlift would be the only way to move equipment and supplies to the region until the closest prepositioned equipment arrived. Units that would have priority for early airlift missions might in-clude equipment to provide air defenses, transportation units that operate ports and airfields, light Army units, supplies to set up bases for air forces, initial squadrons of fighters and bombers, and some special-operations forces (see Table 2).

But there is a limit to what airlift can do. Although it can deliver light Army units quickly, the same is not true for units with more than a handful of tanks, since even the largest military cargo planes can carry only one or two of those vehicles at a time. Thus, DoD cannot rely on airlift to complete deliveries of heavy Army units within the halting phase of a conflict. For that reason, military planners have begun prepositioning



 
Table 2.
Strategic Lift Requirements of a Hypothetical Major Regional Conflict
Before  Within Two to Three to Four Weeks
Mode of Lift Deployments Begin Three Weeks and Beyond
Airlift FDOs Air-defense units FIEs for additional Army
Airfield and port units divisions and MEFs
Army light units Army light brigades and
FIEs for prepositioned heavy helicopter units
brigades and MEF (Forward) Fighter squadrons
Special-operations forces
Fighter and bomber squadrons
plus bare base support
Land-Based FDOs Army heavy brigade(s) War reserves
Prepositioning Division base set Ammunition
Afloat FDOs MEF (Forward) MEFs
Prepositioning Army heavy brigade Corps-level CS/CSS
Theater-opening CS/CSS Air Force ammunition
Port-opening equipment Fuel ships
Hospital ships
Surge Sealift n.a. n.a. Heavy divisions
Marine AFOE
CS/CSS
SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office.
NOTE: FDOs = flexible deterrent options; FIEs = fly-in echelons; MEF = Marine expeditionary force; CS/CSS = combat-support/combat-service- support units;  
           AFOE = assault follow-on echelon; n.a. = not applicable.


equipment for Army brigades with tanks and heavy vehicles in or closer to regions where they believe conflict is most likely.

Not all equipment can be prepositioned, however. Military logisticians do not plan to preposition helicopters, radars, radios, or certain missiles because they are too few in number or too difficult to maintain. Thus, although prepositioning reduces DoD's need to transport some cargo by air, airlift would still deliver the remaining equipment and the troops who operate it (so-called fly-in echelons). If DoD plans to deploy a large number of heavy forces quickly in a conflict, the size of those fly-in echelons could be substantial, driving up requirements for early airlift missions.

After halting the attack, military commanders would send follow-on Army and Marine units and supplies to sustain the operation, with most arriving by sealift from the United States. Other supplies and equipment prepositioned on board ships would also steam to the region, including units to develop more extensive logistical supply lines. Airlift would transport equipment for aircraft squadrons, lighter ground forces, and key units such as corps-level artillery. Those deliveries would continue until military leaders believed they had enough forces and logistical support to launch a counterattack.

Army Forces Would Make Up Most Deliveries

For major conflicts, the Army's need for strategic mobility surpasses that of the other military services. That requirement appears to hold true both in the early stages of a conflict and over an entire deployment.

Consider the Persian Gulf War, for example. During August 1990, the Army accounted for about 43 percent (by weight) of all the equipment for early-deploying units that was sent by airlift, fast sealift, and prepositioning ships. The Marine Corps was responsible for the next largest share, about 35 percent, primarily because its Maritime Prepositioning Ships arrived on the scene early. Air Force cargo, which moved almost entirely by airlift, accounted for almost all of the remaining 22 percent.(8)

For a major conflict in the future, defense planners believe that Army forces will constitute about 77 percent of DoD's total workload for strategic mobility forces.(9) The Army's share of the mobility workload would be somewhat lower in the early part of a deployment, when Air Force and Marine Corps units were moving quickly to the theater. But the Army requires a large number of combat-support and combat-service-support units, many of which would deploy later in a contingency (see Box 1). Thus, the Army's share of the total mobility workload would be greater than 77 percent toward the latter part of a deployment.

Since airlift is the most costly mode of transportation, how much of it each service requires is important. During the first month of the Persian Gulf War, Army units (troops and equipment) accounted for some 46 percent, by weight, of all airlift deliveries. The Air Force required about a quarter of early airlift deliveries to set up aerial port operations, establish bases from which to operate aircraft, and deploy tactical fighter wings. Likewise, the Department of the Navy (which includes Marine forces) accounted for another quarter of airlift deliveries in August 1990. Over the entire Gulf War deployment, Army equipment made up the largest share of airlift deliveries, followed by Air Force and then Marine Corps cargo.

Because the Army represents the bulk of what the United States would deploy to a major contingency, the physical characteristics of Army equipment--its shape and weight--are critical factors for mobility planning. Over time, the weight and square footage of Army units have grown significantly as the service has modernized and reorganized its forces. In 1994, for example, a mechanized division was about 49 percent heavier and took up 17 percent more floor space than the same type of division structured under 1987 guidelines. On average, most types of Army units have grown in square

 

 Box 1.
 Types of Military Forces:  A Summary
In order to describe how a major military deployment takes place, it is important to understand a few basic terms about military forces. 

Army Divisions and Brigades.  U.S. Army forces are organized into units of various sizes.  Larger-size units include brigades, divisions, and corps.  Brigades usually consist of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers from two to five smaller units (called battalions).  Divisions are typically composed of three brigades plus additional units in charge of command and control, field artillery, engineering, aviation support, air defenses, and the like.  An Army unit that is fully capable of synchronizing and sustaining combat operations is called a corps.  Corps typically include two or more divisions plus additional units that help to command combat forces and provide logistical support.  In a major conflict, the Army might also deploy echelons above corps—additional units that conduct activities such as providing ballistic missile defenses for all U.S. troops in a theater. 

Light and Heavy Units.  Army units are described as heavy or light depending on how many tanks, armored vehicles, and other pieces of heavy equipment they include.  Armored and mechanized divisions are examples of heavy units.  Airborne and light infantry units are designed to be light enough to be transported by air. 

Combat Arms, Combat Support, and Combat Service Support.  The Army refers to those units that would be directly involved in fighting a conflict as combat arms.  Armored, infantry, and attack-helicopter units are some examples.  Forces that provide operational assistance to combat arms are known as combat-support units.  They include military intelligence; military police; chemical, engineering, and signal forces; and some aviation units.  Combat-service-support units perform logistics and administrative functions such as those of quartermasters, transportation specialists, and medical professionals. 

Air Force Wings.  U.S. Air Force tactical aircraft are organized into wings of approximately 72 planes, with most wings composed of just one type of plane.  

Marine Expeditionary Forces.  The U.S. Marine Corps is organized into task forces of various sizes, each of which includes both ground and air elements.  The largest of those units is the Marine expeditionary force (MEF).  The lead elements of a MEF are designated as a MEF (Forward) a reinforced infantry regiment supported by a Marine air group. 

Navy Forces.  U.S. Navy ships are organized into task forces of various sizes as the occasion demands.  In general, Navy forces tend to carry their own combat equipment, personnel, and logistical support.  As a result, the Navy requires relatively little support from mobility forces for moving dry cargo. 

 
footage by at least 2 percent a year since 1987 and grown in weight by more than 4 percent a year (see Appendix A for more details).

The Army's larger "footprint" reflects the fact that some of today's equipment is more capable and better able to survive enemy forces. But the larger weight of Army units unquestionably poses a bigger burden for mobility forces. Recognizing that burden, many mobility experts have urged designers to pay more attention to a weapon system's "transportability" when designing new equipment.

The Army Has More Ambitious Goals for Deployment

Because senior military officials believe that U.S. troops who deployed to the Persian Gulf War first faced considerable risk, the Army has developed a strategy to reduce that risk. However, the new approach places greater demands on mobility forces.

If the United States needed to stop an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia today, current plans call for deploying an entire heavy Army division within the first two to three weeks of the attack. That goal is much more ambitious than what DoD was able to achieve during the Persian Gulf War, when the first heavy Army unit to arrive, the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, was not fully in place until 47 days after the United States began deploying forces to the region. The Army's current timeline is also much shorter than the goal DoD used in a 1992 study of mobility requirements: delivering one heavy brigade (roughly one-third of a division) 15 days after the start of deployments. (See Appendix A for more information about the Army's goals for strategic mobility.)

Could DoD deploy an entire heavy division to the Persian Gulf in two to three weeks? Because of recent efforts to preposition more equipment in the region, the answer is probably yes. But some defense analysts might question whether delivering so many heavy forces in two to three weeks should be the goal at all.

Airlift Could Be Needed for Special Missions

Airlift is by far the most costly mode of strategic mobility. But in DoD's major planning scenarios, most equipment for a conflict would already be prepositioned or would arrive by sealift. Why then has the Admini-stration chosen to invest nearly $19 billion (in current dollars) in airlift over the next five years? One reason is that transport planes can deliver cargo to locations that do not have access to ports or railroads. Also, for lighter forces, airlift planes deliver equipment much more quickly than sealift ships can. Moreover, airlift is a quick means of delivering cargo to missions such as humanitarian relief operations or transporting military equipment to U.S. forces deployed abroad. But another reason is that some transport aircraft perform special military missions that some defense officials consider important. Whether the United States is willing to pay the higher cost for those capabilities is subject to debate.

Probably the most notable special mission is large-scale, intercontinental airdrop operations. The Army is required to be able to insert brigade-size forces quickly into any region of the world--even countries that are beyond the range of most cargo planes without refueling. During such a mission, airlift planes would drop troops and their equipment by parachute; the troops would then seize control of an airfield and prepare it to receive reinforcements quickly. Since the initial forces would be deploying into hostile territory, military planners set very tight timelines for airdrops. But the United States has used airdrop operations sparingly in the past, especially when paratroopers would need to deploy over long distances; the last time DoD dropped a brigade-size force outside the Western Hemisphere was during the Vietnam War.

Nevertheless, the Army's requirement to prepare for long-range, large-scale airdrops is a key factor in DoD's plans for procuring airlift planes. Only a few types of military transports can be used to drop parachutists. For regions that are closer to the United States, airlift planes could conduct an initial airdrop and then return to the United States to pick up additional loads. For longer-range deployments, however, DoD would need larger numbers of strategic airlift planes to conduct an airdrop and also complete deliveries within the demanding timelines laid out by military planners. Thus, important considerations for the Congress are whether it believes the United States will need to conduct long-range, large-scale airdrop operations in the future and whether that capability is worth the cost.

How Much Civil Transportation Should DoD Count On?

In the past, DoD has often turned to commercial aircraft and ships to help it move U.S. troops and equipment. Although technically the United States could requisition civil planes and ships during time of war, DoD has instead relied on contractual agreements with commercial carriers.

Today, DoD makes use of private airlift and sealift through two programs, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet and the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement. Those programs give commercial carriers various preferences and advantages in obtaining DoD's (and in some cases the federal government's) transportation business during peacetime in exchange for use of their planes and ships during national emergencies. Participation in the programs has varied over time, but DoD has generally been able to expand civil support by providing carriers with more commercial incentives (see Appendix B).

Nevertheless, DoD has purchased its own mobility forces when its needs have diverged from what the civil sector can provide. Today, for example, commercial sealines own very few of the roll-on/roll-off ships that are most useful for transporting military vehicles. Similarly, commercial transport aircraft do not have the wide, unobstructed cargo holds and reinforced floors needed to move the largest pieces of military cargo.

At times, DoD's decisions about what it needs for mobility pit two sets of commercial interests against one another. On the one side are providers of commercial air and sea transportation services, who might lose DoD's business if the military's fleet of planes and ships became too large. On the other side are aircraft manufacturers and shipbuilders, who could gain from DoD's purchases of specialized military planes and ships. Both sets of interests have been active players in the debate over DoD's approach to enhancing strategic mobility.(10)

Ultimately, important trade-offs exist between relying on the commercial sector for transportation during wartime and investing in DoD's own mobility fleet. The major advantage of relying on commercial ships and planes is that it allows DoD to avoid much of the cost of procuring and operating those forces during peacetime, freeing up more resources to modernize combat equipment. Today, however, fewer commercial planes and ships are perfectly suited to DoD's needs. And in some cases, the private sector may not be able to make its planes and ships available as quickly as defense planners would like, or it may be more reluctant than the military to travel into dangerous situations.

How Much Lift Is Enough?

The Administration's goal of creating a smaller but more flexible military has led to a greater emphasis on improving U.S. mobility forces. But deciding how much lift is enough and what types of lift forces to buy are not simple matters. Part of the United States' status as a superpower derives from its ability to send its military forces anywhere in the world. Yet at a time when federal spending is constrained, the opportunity costs of investing in strategic mobility are readily apparent: the United States might otherwise spend those resources on nondefense priorities or on modernizing combat equipment.

Moreover, the factors that entered into DoD's numerical requirements for mobility forces are numerous and complicated. For those reasons, this study reviews the Administration's investment blueprint for the three types of mobility forces, addresses how military planners developed that plan, and evaluates several alternatives for modernizing strategic mobility.


1. David Kassing, "Strategic Mobility in the Post-Cold War Era," in Paul K. Davis, ed., New Challenges for Defense Planning, MR-400-RC (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1994), p. 663.

2. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Report on the Bottom-Up Review (October 1993).

3. Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mobility Requirements Study, vol. 1, Executive Summary (January 23, 1992), p. ES-4.

4. Robert P. Haffa Jr., "A New Look at the Bottom-Up Review: Planning U.S. General Purpose Forces for a New Century," Strategic Review (Winter 1996), pp. 21-30; Paul K. Davis, David Gompert, and Richard Kugler, Adaptiveness in National Defense: The Basis of a New Framework, Issue Paper (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, August 1996).

5. Michael O'Hanlon, Defense Planning for the Late 1990s: Beyond the Desert Storm Framework (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1995), pp. 48-49.

6. Lawrence Di Rita, Clinton's Bankrupt National Security Strategy, Backgrounder No. 1000 (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, September 27, 1994); "Bottom-Up Review: A Flawed Approach to Meeting the Challenges of the New Era," statement of Andrew F. Krepinevich, Director, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, before the House Armed Services Committee, March 10, 1994.

7. Department of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, DoD Airlift Requirements: Report to Congress Required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994 (January 1995), p. 7.

8. James K. Matthews and Cora J. Holt, So Many, So Much, So Far, So Fast: United States Transportation Command and Strategic Deployment for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (Joint History Office, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Research Center, U.S. Transportation Command, 1995), pp. 13, 41, 116.

9. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Mobility (August 1996), p. 17.

10. Owen Cote Jr., Strategic Mobility and the Limits of Jointness, Center for Science and International Affairs Monograph (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, forthcoming), pp. 12-13, 18-26.


Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page