Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment discusses resiliency, future concepts during NDTA 2020

OCT. 6, 2020 | by Stephenie Wade

The Honorable W. Jordan Gillis, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, spoke about resiliency and future concepts in logistics during the virtual National Defense Transportation Association-U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) Fall Meeting, Oct 6, 2020.

His presentation, “A Sustainment Vision for the Future: Embracing Innovation and Disruption to Advance,” began with gratitude for support and lessons learned the most recent crisis industry partners and the Department of Defense (DOD) have both had to overcome, COVID-19.

The newly appointed secretary and former Soldier said his new position has provided perspective and even greater appreciation for the work it takes to support international operations.

“This year we were tested by the COVID-19 epidemic and we stood up to the challenge,” Gillis said. “In the initial stages the department and industry faced significant challenges adjusting operations for an uncertain environment, transitioning from a high-ops tempo to nearly a stop of commercial activity and disruptions to military operations.”

In an effort to curtail the spread, the DOD froze permanent change of station moves and training, and delayed deployments. As things have stabilized, industry and organic capabilities have been used to transport critical supplies around the world, to include delivering ventilators to Russia and Indonesia, personal protective equipment and testing supplies from foreign manufacturers, and repatriation of American citizens from foreign countries.

As a result, COVID-19 challenged the DOD to find new ways of applying existing authorities and capabilities to meet both internal requirements, interagency and international partners. Gillis specifically referenced one example of the many creative solutions used this past year involving all partners.

A U.S. Air Force C-17 mission flew supplies from Italy to Memphis, Tennessee, where it was handed off to FedEx personnel to be distributed around the United States. The use of military aircraft allowed for expedited movement during the peak of Italy's outbreak, and FedEx sped up the last leg of distribution.

“The challenges during [the pandemic] highlight the need to build resilient systems to respond to environments constantly changing. We can and must use the lessons learned from this disruption caused by a pandemic as we look towards future operations and emerging threats,” said Gillis.

He said, whether it's a future outbreak or conflict with near-peer or peer competitors, the United States should expect disruptions to all elements of operations in the future -- domestic transportation, deployment modes and nodes, information technology networks and even tactical distribution.

“Gone are the days when we can count on people, equipment and supplies getting to the fight unchallenged,” said Gillis. “Starting as simply as fake social media designed to disrupt at home, attacks both small-scale kinetic and cyber at the installation, at the port of embarkation, in transit, or at the port of debarkation. We have to be ready for the fight to get to the fight.”

Gillis believes regardless of the threat or the capability, resiliency must be included in the analysis and development on multiple levels. The overall network, individual systems, organizations and capabilities should be accessed for ability to withstand an attack and recover independently for a more robust, resilient system.

“We know that resilience comes with a cost, however, the cost of not building resiliency is much greater,” he said. “So we have to build in resiliency wherever possible by developing appropriate policy and doctrine to shape the development of cost-effective capabilities [like] improving the visibility of the network to allow timely and effective decision making, and building robust data capability to anticipate requirements leveraging new technologies.”

“If there is a silver lining of the pandemic, it has allowed us to test our operations at large, specifically logistics and supply chain,” he said.

The outcome is a holistic vision on how to fight and conduct logistics in a future conflicts. Gillis’ department is looking at material and information solutions in its resiliency plan for future concepts.

One example of a material solution that will impact USTRANSCOM is in the maritime domain. The DOD has made great progress towards recapitalizing the fleet, with the first two vessels expected to be purchased in fiscal year 21.

Information technology is and will continue to be a critical element of the resilience required by future conflicts. One USTRANSCOM-led effort will enable all services to be more efficient, according to Gillis.

“Perhaps the most significant of the new technologies for the entire JDDE {Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise} is the transportation management system {TMS},” said Gillis. “TMS will not only improve the performance of the transportation network, but will also provide critical capability to ensure auditability, capturing financial data and performance confirmation in a single system. That result will be more effective end-to-end visibility for both cost and operations.”

“As we look forward to and continue to recover from the COVID pandemic, I challenge us all to look for opportunities to build resilience into our capabilities amid emerging threats,” said Gillis. “We have to identify the opportunities where we can leverage technology in partnership with industry and the department, to increase the flexibility and agility that we will need in contested environments.”

USTRANSCOM exists as a warfighting combatant command to project and sustain military power at a time and place of the nation’s choosing. Powered by dedicated men and women, TRANSCOM underwrites the lethality of the Joint Force, advances American interests around the globe, and provides our nation's leaders with strategic flexibility to select from multiple options, while creating multiple dilemmas for our adversaries.

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