WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and Gen. Darren McDew, commander of U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), discussed the challenges facing TRANSCOM at a SASC hearing today. Inhofe, speaking to the limitations of air and sea transport of service members and equipment, highlighted the risks associated with both. U.S. enemies are developing capabilities that challenge U.S. ability to transport forces by air and sea. Additionally, the U.S. fleet of strategic airlift and sealift is too small and is reaching the end of its service life.
Inhofe underscored the age of both U.S. transport ships and aircraft and highlighted the work that Tinker Air Force Base is doing to maintain the aging KC-135 Tanker fleet; a fleet which is critical to meeting TRANSCOM’s global refueling requirements.
“Tinker Air Force Base is taking the KC-135s down to its skeleton and rebuilding them,” Inhofe said, before asking Gen. McDew what impact the age of our tanker fleet is having on TRANSCOM’s ability to execute its mission both today and in the future. He also noted that the KC-46, our newest aerial refueling tanker, will not be available for some time—increasing the demand on an already aging existing fleet.
“Senator, recapitalizing all of those fleets is a problem. Doing it underneath the budget constraints we’ve had will be nearly impossible,” McDew replied. He emphasized age, lack of maintenance, enemy action and capability as diminishing TRANSCOM’s capacity.
In order to fill the gap, TRANSCOM has been forced to turn to the private sector. While in the past the United States has been able to rely on U.S. commercial vessels to help meet these needs, TRANSCOM may be forced to turn to international commercial ships should shortages of U.S. commercial vessels arise.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. flagged international commercial fleet and Mariner pool has shrunk over time; while we have contingency plans, further reductions may cause us to investigate other options such as using more foreign flagged international commercial vessels manned by foreign crews during crisis or war.,” said McDew in his prepared statement, which Inhofe repeated during his questioning.
“We are in jeopardy now,” said McDew.