WASHINGTON – Projecting power by quickly moving people and equipment around the world based on the combatant commands’ needs is a top priority for U.S. Transportation Command, according to its senior leader.
To meet that global need, Transcom holds regular exercises and is exploring the use of artificial intelligence, Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons told the Defense Writers Group last week in Washington.
Transcom moves people and equipment by directing the transportation elements provided by the various branches, including the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and the Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.
Lyons, a former CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, said exercises help officials evaluate, for example, how rapidly Transcom can activate a mix of Military Sealift Command and Transportation Department Maritime Administration ships on the East, West and Gulf Coasts. Activated ships are directed to transition from a reduced operating status to a fully crewed status – with quarters made habitable and cargo and gear ready – within five days. Activations are commonly followed by an immediate sea trial.
Transcom began one such readiness exercise Sept. 16. Usually involving only a few ships, the latest event activated 32 vessels so officials could better assess their readiness. An exercise of this scale also tests the capabilities of the support network involved in maintaining, manning and operating the nation’s ready sealift forces. It was a “pressure test” of the whole system, Lyons said, and it validated the ability to activate ships to task. Of those 32 ships, most performed well, but Transcom is still awaiting the final results, which will be known in the coming weeks.
Lyons, who assumed command of the organization in August, said Transcom’s ships are old – averaging 43 years – while commercial shipping averages about 15. Even so, he told the writers, they performed well during the exercise, even in the face of some storms that blew through.
The general said he encourages creative thinking that gives multiple options to commanders and dilemmas for adversaries. Artificial intelligence, for example, is a promising venture.
“We're definitely looking at it,” he said. “We’re trying to be disciplined in the approach. I absolutely see the power of data, particularly in the logistics enterprise.”
Because much of Transcom’s logistics is unclassified, there are opportunities to leverage commercial technologies in AI and machine learning, Lyons said, noting that it could improve decision making, forecasting and other important areas.
Lyons said Transcom has already developed an enterprise data environment as a proof of principle and moved a limited number of systems to the cloud. Over time, he added, the entire architecture will be moved to the cloud. Transcom has nearly 100 information technology systems, so it will take a lot of work to bring it into a cloud computing environment to leverage the data.
“It’s not a magic ‘snap your fingers and you’re there,’” he said. “It’s a very arduous journey over time. We’re a long way from AI today, but we’re working through the fundamentals.”