Pacom weighs pre-prepositioning logistics for disaster response

U.S. Air Force members load a pallet onto a C-17A Globemaster III at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., March 12, 2011. The supplies were in route to Japan for earthquake relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith)
U.S. Air Force members load a pallet onto a C-17A Globemaster III at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., March 12, 2011. The supplies were in route to Japan for earthquake relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith)

Pacom weighs pre-prepositioning logistics for disaster response

by: Donna Miles | .
American Forces Press Service | .
published: August 01, 2012

7/31/2012 - CAMP SMITH, Hawaii -- Along with more rotational deployments, U.S. Pacific Command is eyeing opportunities to pre-position some of the logistics assets being drawn down in Afghanistan to support a future disaster response or other contingency in the Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. Marines began serving six-month rotational deployments near Darwin, Australia, in April, and the Navy will deploy the first littoral combat ship to serve a 10-month rotation in Singapore next spring.

Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, Pacom commander, said he'll seek more of these arrangements that put forces closer to where they might be needed in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis.

That presence, and the experience base it helps to build between U.S. and host-nation militaries, would be particularly valuable following a disaster requiring humanitarian assistance, the admiral told American Forces Press Service. It gives training to the forces that rotate in and out so they are familiar with the region and the regional militaries if they need to work together, he said. "So there is a lot of value to it," he added.

Meanwhile, as U.S. forces draw down in Afghanistan, Pacom is working with the Defense Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify what materiel assets might be transferred to the Asia-Pacific.

"Part of what this office is doing is looking at the options of where we can forward locate humanitarian assistance capabilities in the theater," Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark M. McLeod, Pacom's director of logistics, engineering and security, said during an interview at the command's Honolulu headquarters. "We want to posture them somewhere in the theater that would allow us to react very quickly."

McLeod said many materials to be disassembled from expeditionary camps in the U.S. Central Command area of operation -- tents, blankets and generators, among them -- could be vital in a humanitarian crisis.

Although no part of the world is immune to natural disasters, none experiences them in the number or severity as the Asia-Pacific region. Located on the earthquake-prone "Ring of Fire," it also suffers from cyclones, tsunamis, flooding, wildfires and volcanic eruptions.

"A preponderance of the natural disasters happens in this theater, so the question is raised: How do you get enough assets out here to support all of the things that happen?" McLeod said.

Financial and operational realities would make it impossible for the U.S. military to pre-position everything that would be needed in a disaster response, he said.

To a great extent, the U.S. military will continue to rely on aircraft to surge manpower and emergency provisions when called on to support a disaster response, he said. Sealift will continue to be equally important. Although slower than airlift, it's able to deliver equipment and supplies in bulk.

But with equipment and supplies being moved out of the combat theater, McLeod said, logic dictates sending at least some of it where it's most likely to be needed.

"As opposed to bringing it home (and) putting it in central storage facilities, it might make more sense, when we do this calculus, to forward move (materiel) to a place where we could get access to very low-cost storage capabilities," he said.

He noted several locations, such as Singapore and the Philippines, which offer not only low-cost warehouse space, but also good airfield and port access. Even regional nations not comfortable with a visible U.S. military presence on their soil tend to be open to accepting pre-positioned equipment and supplies, typically tucked away in shipping containers and storage facilities, to support a humanitarian response.

It supports the local economy, McLeod said, while providing a ready force of equipment and supplies for U.S. troops to fall in on if called to support a disaster response. That, in turn, allows them to move in faster and hit the ground running because they don't have to transport it thousands of miles to where it's needed.

"So it is very much a win-win," McLeod said. "We are looking for the opportunities to place those assets out there that will help us address that tyranny of distance."

While officials seek these opportunities, he acknowledged, budget constraints demand good decision-making and business practices.

"The challenge for logisticians in our time of rebalance is to make sure that we can knit all that together as closely as we can and do that efficiently," McLeod said. "Our ability to be efficient will determine our ability to be effective operationally in the future. There is no question in my mind."

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