Academic journal article Military Review

Solving Deployment Challenges Using a Systems Approach to Understand the Defense Transportation System

Academic journal article Military Review

Solving Deployment Challenges Using a Systems Approach to Understand the Defense Transportation System

Article excerpt

As many biologists and organizational behavior experts have shown, events or problems rarely occur in isolation. Rather, successes or challenging setbacks transpire as interactive behaviors or patterns within systems and networks.1 An understanding of how the components of systems interact is especially critical when considering how the Defense Transportation System (DTS) processes units for deployment. Because of the system's vast number of interdependent parts, solving common deployment readiness challenges depends on observing its components "from the balcony" as interrelated functions, versus attempting to evaluate individual issues as isolated phenomena while standing "on the dance floor." This type of investigation is sometimes called systems thinking. Researchers Melanie Minarik, Bill Thornton, and George Perreault, citing Peter M. Senge, suggest that systems thinking is suitable "when many complex issues surround a particular challenge, when there is a high dependence on the actions of many people, and when there is the potential for ineffective coordination among the people involved."2 All these conditions apply to the DTS.

Therefore, this article examines the DTS from a systems perspective. The study identifies five common problems that hinder the readiness of Army units to deploy as well as five practical solutions that could improve the system's overall functioning: (1) ensure deployability of a unit's equipment by allowing the unit at least six weeks to prepare it; (2) ensure accurate property records by evaluating unit deployment data quarterly and by publishing orders to update organizational equipment lists (OELs) as soon as units receive notification of deployment; (3) ensure efficient and accurate use of information systems by making them user-friendly and fully integrated; (4) ensure a unit's movement priorities are accomplished by applying command emphasis and operations staffplanning; and (5) ensure effective coordination among Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) terminal brigades and battalions (i.e., ports of embarkation [POEs]), installation transportation offices (ITOs), and units by conducting meetings early and often.

Structure of the Defense Transportation System

The DTS is the global transportation infrastructure, managed by U.S. Transportation Command. The structure consists of military and commercial resources such as aerial ports, automated information systems, highways, railways, and seaports. This infrastructure also includes essential customs, in-transit visibility, and traffic management services that enhance the Department of Defense's ability to project power around the world.

As illustrated by figure 1 (page 88), each organization interacting within the DTS is working as a gear in a synchronized effort to move maneuver forces from home station to their designated point of assembly. With that said, everything begins with a supported geographical combatant commander (GCC) generating requirements for forces. Once the capabilities are approved by the joint staff, U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), as the force provider, matches Army forces to the appropriate organizations. From this point, transportation requirements are analyzed and determined by U.S. Transportation Command based on the supported GCC's timelines and mission objectives. This article considers surface and maritime assets for its transportation feasibility analysis of the interconnected components of the DTS.

Once a GCC and the U.S. Transportation Command agree that a surface deployment meets operational requirements, the SDDC begins to identify organic (military) or commercial assets to support the operation. Afterward, FORSCOM pushes the transportation information (e.g., mode or timeline) to the designated unit, simultaneously pushing the data to the servicing ITO.

The ITO is a critical component of this system. It is responsible for assisting units throughout the movement process while also serving as the linchpin between each unit and the servicing SDDC terminal transportation battalion. …

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