By C. Todd Lopez
About 85% of the joint force resides inside the continental United States. When they need to move to an operation overseas, and their equipment needs to go with them, U.S. Transportation Command will be doing the heavy lifting.
Speaking yesterday at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems Worldwide Conference in Tampa, Florida, Transcom’s commander said much of Transcom’s capacity to project U.S. military power around the globe relies on commercially procured transportation.
Just who is the ultimate owner of that commercial transportation — friend or adversary — is something Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons said is being looked at all the time.
“When the sealift industry reorganized — when it was really in a downturn a couple years ago and reorganized and came out with three major alliances — one of those alliances was led by a French company. CGM, I think, is the name of the company,” Lyons said.
CGM has alliances with COSCO Shipping, “the leading state-owned enterprise for China that is buying up all the ports globally, owns all the sealift, includes the sealift that will support PLA activities,” he said.
The French-owned CGM also has an alliance with American-owned APL,” which is one of our U.S.-flagged companies,” Lyons said.
The general said he has spoken with the APL’s CEO to discuss concerns,
“The question was, ‘What does that kind of alliance mean?'” Lyons said. “You have to recognize that our traders have to trade with [the] Asia-Pacific. That’s the vast majority of the trade. But what does that really mean in terms of data sharing and their level of understanding?”
Right now, he said, “it’s a pretty clear bifurcation.”
“But it’s something we watch pretty closely,” he said, “because we’re not only competing for allies and partners, we’re also competing for business partners that we’re going to count on, that fly the U.S. flag, particularly on the sealift side.”
Lyons said a “vendor vetting cell” is helping Transcom keep abreast of who is partnering with whom — and who owns ships that Transcom may one day need to call on to ship troops or tanks overseas.
“It’s probably only one of two that are in the department,” he said. “[U.S. Central Command] has one focused on their Centcom theater operations. But we have one … [that] looks inside the subcontracting networks to make sure that our primes are doing business with the folks we want to do business with. We found a few that we didn’t want, and we’ve got to work that through the broader acquisition communities.”