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Is the U.S. Neglecting the Importance of Military Logistics?

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Most people now understand that a smoothly run supply chain keeps the local store stocked with toilet paper. And that’s a good thing. But what might be overlooked is the role supply chain logistics have played in delivering much more important things: democracy during and after World War II, for instance.

After all, what was the D-Day landing of more than 156,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy — and all the equipment and supplies needed to support them — but a massive logistical operation that was mercifully successful? In fact, America’s sealift capabilities have been put to the test many times in many other conflicts since then.

But a U.S. congressman is now warning that the ability to move people and supplies globally has become the Achilles’ heel of the U.S. military. “While the Department of Defense is investing heavily in technology to compete in a new era of great power competition, it has given short shrift to its ability to transport and sustain forces,” Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., wrote in Navy Times. “Our continued lack of investment in logistics will reduce the effectiveness of our maritime forces in combat but, more worrying, is the debilitating effect it will have on our land forces.”

The ranking member on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee in the U.S. House, Wittman noted that approximately 85 percent of all support material prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq was transported by civilian vessels in an operation that took more than a year to complete. Faced with a more urgent situation, the United States might not be able to depend on the same luxury of time and civilian resources.

“Today, our entire military, a force with over 1.3 million active service members and tens of thousands of vehicles and aircraft, relies on an aging fleet of 61 logistics ships to transport and sustain the force,” Wittman wrote. “By comparison, during World War II, the United States built over 2,700 Liberty ships to transport troops and supplies and had a service squadron of 365 logistics ships just to service the Pacific theater.”

Wittman called on the Pentagon to use funding Congress gave it to purchase commercial cargo ships “to help bridge the gap until the organic surge fleet can be rebuilt to meet the requirements outlined in the National Defense Strategy. Inexplicably, the Department of Defense has not purchased a single commercial vessel and still doesn’t have even a plan to reconstitute the logistics fleet.”

Wittman’s letter was published a few days after Navy Admiral James G. Foggo told a webinar audience that he believed NATO is involved in a “Fourth Battle of the Atlantic,” this time with China and Russia. The first three battles were the two World Wars and the Cold War.

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