Transcom Commander Looks at Current, Future Challenges

The United States has the world’s mightiest military, but it faces potent challenges. “We’re organized to combat geographically isolated problems… But our future conflicts will cross those regional boundaries. They’ll be transregional in nature.”

The United States has the world’s mightiest military, but it faces potent challenges, a senior Defense Department leader said today.
The fast sealift ship SS Capella returns after completing a 120-hour turbo activation

Air Force Gen. Darren W. McDew leads U.S. Transportation Command. He spoke today at the National Defense Transportation Association meeting in St. Louis, Missouri.

Impacts on the Battlefield

“It’s to deliver an impact on the battlefield. That’s what we’re about,” he said. “… [Our adversaries] know that immediately, we can get someplace at the time of our choosing and deliver an impact. And an overwhelming, decisive force will be right behind it.”

McDew said that since the attacks on 9/11 and the counterinsurgency-focused conflicts the United States has fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military picture has grown “foggier and foggier.”

“We have built a strong joint force, but I see there are still challenges awaiting us,” he said. “We’re organized to combat geographically isolated problems. … But our future conflicts will cross those regional boundaries. They’ll be transregional in nature.”

“Our freedom of movement, and the dominance that we’ve enjoyed in all domains — air, space, cyber [and] surface — we won’t have that anymore. We’ve enjoyed pure dominance in every domain,” McDew said.

‘A Different Fight Altogether’

Tomorrow’s conflicts could include a near-peer nation, he said, which could “instantly involve” five combatant commands.

“We’re going to have contested strategic lines of communication everywhere,” McDew said.

“We’ve had a distinct technological advantage,” he said. “ … But once you start talking about a peer, someone that could match us with technology [and] numbers, that’s a different fight altogether.”

The freedom of movement and dominance that the United States has enjoyed in air, space and cyber won’t be there anymore, the general said. “We’ve enjoyed pure dominance in every domain for the last 15 years,” McDew said. “So what’s got to change?”

One challenge facing the U.S. military is “our own attitudes,” he said.

“What baggage are you carrying forward and perpetuating that adds no value in tomorrow’s fight?” McDew asked. 

Global Area of Operations

He credited Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford with creating a vision for the current and future joint force.

“The fight we will face is not a regional fight, it is a global fight,” McDew said. There are 196 countries in the world, and “the globe is our [area of responsibility].” Dunford, he said, “is forcing us to look at things in a different way.”

“In this global, transregional nature of war, we have to consider all the disruptive influences that we’re going to face,” McDew said. “We have got to better leverage speed, range and flexibility that is inherent in some of the things we do, and look at how we do things smarter, and how we command and control in a different way.”

Command and control investments, he said, do not currently align with a global fight, and future adversaries won’t stop at a national boundary, he said.

Focusing on the Cyber Domain

Cyber should get “much more of our attention” than it does, the general said. “Let me tell you where we are in Transcom,” he said. “We’ve gone from cyber awareness to cyber knowledge. Now, it’s scaring us. If you get to knowledge, it should scare you a lot more than it does. And if you think this is an [information technology] problem, you’re in the wrong place.”

Cyber is an important operational, commander issue, he said, and business environment evolution is another challenge.

“We’ve got shortages across the spectrum when it comes to manpower,” McDew said. Getting after having the right people in the right numbers for the right job is a future challenge, he said, as is baking cyber security into every process.

“We will have to get ahead of [our adversaries],” he said. “Matching them is no longer good enough.”

The nation is at a crossroads, McDew said. After 15 years of war, the United States has the most battle-hardened force it has ever had.

“But does it prepare us for the next war?” he asked. “We need to focus on some of the opportunities [and] find new ways to do business.”  

Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @DoDNewsKParrish