The quagmire of stagnating U.S. ports of entry and the inability of the domestic supply chain to move products to grocery stores, car dealerships, big box depots, and on to the consumers appears to be Joe Biden’s self-inflicted mess. Consumers looking at vacant shelves may find the Soviet Union-like “horn-of-empty” very vexing, but the dwindling availability of things people buy every day is a troublesome portent for national security.
Lieutenant General Warren Berry, Air Force deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering, and force protection, believes the broken supply chain is a defense problem. The Hill reported that Berry:
“put it aptly when he said this pending crisis in spare parts ‘scares the crap out of me.’ He helped identify the problem when he said that the Air Force has incentivized parts suppliers to largely structure their ‘business model(s) around peacetime demand,’ at the cost of surge capacity in times of war.”
If what the United States is experiencing during this time of “peace” is a harbinger of what can be expected in a wartime crisis, there is trouble ahead. Regarding the current administration’s intervention options, the simplistic, knee-jerk solution was what we heard from Biden at his recent town hall meeting. When asked if he would send in the National Guard to alleviate the supply chain issues leading to product shortages and rampant inflation, Biden responded, “The answer is yes. Absolutely, positively.” As bold and assertive as the president’s answer was, the White House was quick to walk back the words of the leader of the free world, putting out a statement that the administration is “not actively pursuing the use of the National Guard on a federal level.” That’s because such action is the prerogative of a state’s governor. But the use of the U.S. military to assist in unclogging ports and freeing up the supply chain is possible and perhaps worth a try.
The president can use his authority to put the process into action. There is a warfighting command designed, organized, and manned to step in to augment the U.S. transportation system in times of natural disasters and national security crises. The organization is the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), headquartered at Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, IL. Its mission statement: “USTRANSCOM is the DOD [Department of Defense] provider of full-spectrum global mobility solutions and enabling capabilities to our customers in peace and war.” Streamlining the decision-making process, USTRANSCOM reports directly to the secretary of defense, and one of its major subordinate commands is the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC).
The SDDC partners “with Department of Defense (DoD) shippers and commercial industry to provide reliable, cost-effective, global surface deployment and distribution transportation services in support of national defense objectives.” Sounds like just what is needed to break up the logjam at the ports and throughout the domestic supply chain. Furthermore, as a component of a joint service command, the SDDC should be able to identify the most appropriate military units to augment the commercial ports, active duty, reserve, and, yes, National Guard with state governors’ approval.
USTRANSCOM, an organization designed to coordinate and integrate intermodal transportation of wartime goods, could lend its prowess to peacetime, sorting out alternate destinations for cargo ships to facilitate the offload. Action should be taken sooner rather than later.
Without some very rapid solutions, Business Insider tells us, “The supply chain crisis could last into 2023 unless governments boost spending in ports, railways, and warehouses, a shipping exec warns.” The accumulation of container ships at two major California ports is record high. According to Bloomberg:
“The backlog of ships outside the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — America’s largest gateway for ocean freight — is poised to worsen. There’s now a record of 80 container vessels waiting off Southern California, with more on the way from Asia … While counts for ships in port remain the same, total counts have ballooned to 112, surpassing Singapore for the world’s third-largest holding area for container ships.”
There appear to be no solutions or even plans for solutions coming from the White House. And perhaps the major concern should not be fewer Christmas presents under the tree. A Defense News commentary by Seth Cropsey and Harry Halem focused on a threat that is existential:
“The United States is modifying its combat forces to counter China’s likely strategy and force structure. Long-range missiles distributed to all military branches; smaller, heavily armed warships; and unmanned air, surface, and subsurface vehicles are each a part of this solution. But in any conflict lasting longer than hours to days, US forces will need to be resupplied with, once again, the materiel needed to fight a great-power war.”
When America’s war machine cannot engage because planes are grounded for lacking parts, ships are in dry dock needing mission systems, and parts for modern weaponry for ground forces are sitting in containers, then America will not prevail. It may be time to explore using the right military organization to bring order to the supply chain disaster unfolding in America’s ports.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
~ Read more from Dave Patterson.