Developing the Trans Arabian Network

By Col. Michael Malone, 1TSC OCP (4ESC) | 4th Expeditionary Sustainment Command | March 30, 2016

March 29, 2016 — Executing the movement of logistics across the Trans Arabian Network is critical to supporting ongoing operations in the U.S. Army Central Command area of responsibility.

The CENTCOM AOR includes 20 countries and is separated into three defined groups: Central/South Asia, Arabian Peninsula and the Levant.  

The TAN includes most of the countries in the Arabian Peninsula - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen - and most countries in the Levant: Sinai Egypt, Israel and Jordan.  The development of the TAN is a CENTCOM strategic priority.  The TAN is the interconnection of important sea ports, air ports and road networks within these countries and having access is necessary to facilitate and move all Department of Defense cargo.  In order to optimize use, the TAN must be multimodal in nature - ground, air, and sea.

The 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), which is operating as the Operational Command Post for the 1st Sustainment Command (Theater), is dedicated to fully developing the TAN into a reliable option for movement of logistics throughout the Arabian Peninsula and Levant.

Providing logistical support to military forces on the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant is a significant challenge.  While unit equipment and ammunitions are typically delivered via ship, most other supplies are locally procured or received via aircraft.  Additionally, redistribution throughout the region is heavily reliant on aircraft.  The air centric nature of logistic distribution places significant demands on the Air Force C-17 and C-130 cargo aircraft and crews operating in the CENTCOM Region.  Given the limited quantity and the susceptibility of delay for aircraft due to weather, mechanical problems, diplomatic clearances, and crew rest, supplies may take several weeks to reach warfighters.

The TAN must evolve from its air centric nature and transition to multimodal.  Feasibility, cost and time are key weighted factors in the choice of mode.  All key nodes must be tied together enabling supplies to move freely between sea ports, air ports and key operating bases via ground transport.  Ground transportation is often the most cost effective and potentially fastest means to move supplies.  However, there are several challenges when moving supplies between the various countries that comprise the TAN:

Diplomatic clearances, contracting process, contractor reliability, restriction on military moves, restrictions on the type of cargo and relationships of the various nations are all constraints that must be addressed with every shipment.   Diplomatic clearances is one of the most constricting and challenging of the constraints.  Each country has different clearance processes and timelines.  Timelines are as short as five days for Jordan and Kuwait, but as long as 45 days for Qatar with the rest of the countries somewhere in between.  Engagement by the U.S. Department of State through the various embassies is necessary to streamline the process and leverage Department of Defense capabilities to deliver supplies to warfighters throughout the region.

Except for Kuwait, all shipments of ground cargo on the TAN are conducted by contracted carrier since there is no military movement of cargo.  The primary method to move cargo by ground is with the Global Freight Management contracting system.  GFM currently supports over 300 predefined destinations on the TAN.  The GFM system allows various carriers to bid on each shipment.  The lowest bidder is awarded the contract.  Unfortunately, the lowest bidder is often unreliable and delays shipments or is incapable of making the delivery as required.  Contactors often subcontract the trucks and drivers who must be identified in the clearance paperwork.  The short lead time by contractors providing names or switching drivers at the last minute makes completing the clearance paperwork challenging.  Diligence is necessary to track contractor performance so underperforming carries can be excluded from future bids.  

The 1st TSC-OCP is working to expand the line haul contract in Kuwait (Heavy Lift 7) to include most of the countries comprising the TAN.  The Heavy Lift 7 contract provides dedicated trucks for line haul operations in Kuwait which are executed daily.  This allows the contractor to provide long term employment to drivers, and if the contract gets expanded, it will simplify the clearance process due to driver stability.  Also, it will allow contractors to improve support to the clearance process as they become more familiar with the required paperwork needed for each country’s clearance.  The expanded contract would also eliminate the individual bidding process for each move since all moves across the TAN would have set fees.  

The 1st TSC conducted a proof of principle on the TAN which resulted in a successful move from Jordan to Kuwait. A previous attempt in September 2015 from Kuwait to Jordan failed.  The failure was primarily due to expired customs paperwork.  The 1st TSC plan to execute future movements on the TAN.  These movements will consist of cargo movement from Kuwait to Jordan along with a back haul operation, cargo from Oman to Qatar, from Kuwait to Sinai, and from Egypt and United Arab Emirates to Kuwait.  Initially, the preponderance of cargo will consist of only Army equipment. However, as the process matures and the TAN further develops, all classes of supply from all services will traverse the TAN.  1 TSC will complete the full development and implementation of the TAN in 2016, where cargo will flow multidirectional via ground transport across all countries comprising the TAN.

The TAN provides strategic and operational flexibility to support operations throughout the area of operations.  It offers reduced reliance of aircraft to move supplies and reduces the cost of providing joint logistical support.  Additionally developing the TAN provides the flexibility to move supplies if shipping lanes become interdicted or impassable for any reason.  The Strait of Hormuz has proven to be a choke point into the Arabian Gulf. It happens to be the primary method used by the Department of Defense to sustain operations in the area.  The TAN allows for ships to dock at ports outside the strait, download cargo, and then ground transport cargo to its final destination.  While this method is potentially more costly than surface movement, it provides an alternative and would continue to leave critical aircraft available, providing operational and strategic flexibility.

The Army must continue to develop and build partnerships within the Arabian Peninsula and Levant countries.  The TAN represents an opportunity to further this goal through military to military engagement with U.S. Tier 1 partners.  CENTCOM craft exercises utilize multimodal movement of cargo across the TAN along with expanding the use of all three modes of transportation-air, sea, and land).  

A sustainment brigade headquarters would deploy to facilitate theater security cooperation and develop and staff a partner coordination command that facilitates the use of multimodal movement of cargo across the TAN through partner-nation coordination.  The sustainment brigade structure provides the expertise and rank level to make the partner-nation coordination command successful.  The partner coordination command would ideally achieve several end states: further security cooperation objectives, build partner capacity at the operational and tactical logistics level and increase velocity with reduced cost of moving cargo throughout the area of operation.  

The sustainment brigade would partner with each country that the cargo must traverse to facilitate its movements.  This would provide real-world, ongoing operational and tactical logistics training at the brigade, battalion and lower level for the various countries.  The partnered countries would improve logistic capability along with improved coordination among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Each combatant command should look at how it executes logistics in its area of operations and improve its ability to conduct multimodal logistics with partnered countries. Early development and building of partner capacity is essential for long term success.

While the development, implementation, and expansion of the TAN is important to the CENTCOM AOR, it reflects a microcosm of what the Department of State and Department of Defense needs to do globally.  Each combatant command should look at how it executes logistics or execute logistics during a conflict in its area of operations and improve its ability to conduct multimodal logistics with partnered countries.  The Department of State can work to influence counties to develop cross border agreements to reduce the customs friction for military cargo.