TransCom, which McNabb commands, came into existence in 1987 during a time of reform and emphasis on joint capabilities following the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Its mission is simple: deploy warfighters, sustain them, and bring them home.
The command and its service components – the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, the Navy’s Military Sealift Command and the Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command – are responsible for the U.S. military’s transportation needs. Whether it’s shipping bullets and beans to U.S. Central Command or household goods from Japan, the command has a hand in it.
The effort is staggering, with 138,000 servicemembers and civilians involved in the effort. Commercial industry partners also shoulder a significant load.
TransCom synchronizes and coordinates the transportation mission. It works with the other combatant commands to best fulfill their transportation requests. And the personnel of the command have demonstrated to the other combatant command that they know what they are doing.
“When we first started, commanders would call and say they needed this many C-17 [transport jets],” said Navy Capt. Chuck Baldwin, the senior Deployment Distribution Operations Center chief. “Now they just tell us what capability they need transported and when they need it. We do the rest.”
The solution to transportation needs may be airlift, it may be sealift, or it may be a combination of the two. The delivery could be made by commercial ships or airplanes or by military assets. The command determines what makes the best sense.
But the bottom line of every decision is what the warfighters need, TransCom officials said. For example, the command shipped the first mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to U.S. Central Command via air because leaders wanted these vehicles immediately. The vehicles have been successful in protecting the lives of American servicemembers who were exposed to roadside bombs and car bombs. Once the first vehicles satisfied immediate needs, TransCom transported the vast majority of the vehicles via ship.
In another case, it made sense to airdrop humanitarian daily rations to Afghans, even though sending the rations via ship was just a fraction of the cost.
The operations center is a large, dimly lit room in the command’s headquarters here. Military and civilian personnel man the facility 24/7, keeping an eye on every military mission globally.
And that footprint is huge. Air Mobility Command has 1,322 aircraft. On any given day, planners schedule 900 sorties, including air refueling missions. An Air Mobility Command aircraft is taking off or landing every 90 seconds. With 123,600 personnel, the command is the largest portion of the TransCom team.
The Navy’s Military Sealift Command is the next-largest component, with a civilian and military force of about 8,100 people. Only about 20 percent of the command’s capacity is dedicated to Transportation Command; the rest goes to replenishing the U.S. Navy’s combat ships. One Sealift Command roll-on/roll-off ship can carry the same load as 400 C-17s, or enough to move all the equipment of an Army brigade combat team. On any given day, 35 sealift command ships are loading, off-loading or underway in support of the TransCom mission.
The Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command has about 4,900 military and civilian personnel. On any given day, the command honchos 100 rail car shipments, 1,961 shipments of household goods, almost 300 privately owned vehicles and 2,298 domestic freight shipments. In addition, the command runs the ports in U.S. Central Command.
TransCom also places a heavy reliance on commercial air and sea carriers. More than 90 percent of military personnel moves are via commercial air carriers. Commercial shipping lines carry most of the food, fuel and supplies needed.
The members of Transportation Command and its service partners continue to improve service and programs in place, officials said. TransCom officials are working with the Defense Department’s office of program analysis and evaluation on a study of mobility capabilities and requirements to be finished in May.