Logistics is America’s Achilles heel in the Indo-Pacific region. If the United States is to fight and win a Pacific War with China – a war that seems increasingly imaginable over the coming decade – then it must ensure its military sealift system is up to the challenge of great-power conflict.
This demands a sealift industrial base that integrates advances in automation with a revitalized American shipbuilding industry. A new, modern series of WW2-era Liberty and Victory ships must sustain the US in a modern conflict. The lack of these vessels imperils the military’s ability to control the seas and assure the safety of the global commerce on which the US economy depends.
American combat power’s visible elements are a single, albeit important, element of its arsenal. The US military require a variety of combat instruments – the Abrams tanks nearing service in Ukraine, the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters that can combat hostile air defenses, and the US Navy’s 100,000-ton supercarriers are the most visible end of American military capabilities.
Yet the United States is a strategic island, at remove from the Eurasian landmass by the world’s two largest oceans. The great benefit of American victory in both World Wars and the Cold War is the United States’ access to the Eurasian littorals.
In Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the US maintains a military network of allies and bases that provide it the ability to project decisive power into Eurasia more rapidly than any other insular power in history.
Sustaining these forces in the Eurasian rimland, thousands of kilometers from the locus of their power in the United States, requires an immense logistical effort. During both World Wars, the United States engaged in a major construction of its logistical capabilities through centrally directed government support. The Second World War’s effort, expressed through the Liberty and Victory ships, is illustrative.
American shipyards produced more than 3,000 bespoke transports and logistical ships, on average putting two ships in the water every three days. These ships allowed the US to overcome Germany’s armed pressure in the Atlantic – absent the sheer volume of transports put into service during the war’s early years, the Battle of the Atlantic would have been lost.
These ships, along with long-range transport aircraft, formed the core of the United States’ logistical and repositioning capability, gathered under the US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) today.
The combination of global bases, pre-positioned ships, oil tankers, cargo ships, and refuelers at sea, along with tanker and heavy lift aircraft, are the backbone of American power. They enable US forces to transition rapidly between theaters, surge to the most critical areas of the Eurasian rimland and sustain long-term combat operations.
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Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.