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Bill aims to strengthen contested logistics strategy in Pacific

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As the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Pacific face down an increasingly aggressive China, a bi[artisan bill introduced in the Senate aims to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and key countries in the region in order to better protect supply lines and ensure sustained operations, should a conflict occur.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, of Arizona, a member of the Armed Services Committee co-introduced the proposed legislation today.

“With each passing day, China’s military continues to improve and expand its capabilities.” Romney said in a statement to Defense News. “The Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions are clear. In the event of a conflict in the Indo-Pacific, the United States could face challenges effectively moving personnel and equipment in an area that comprises about half of the earth’s surface.”

The legislation “will help us address vulnerabilities and maintain our readiness in contested environments. By strengthening partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, we can better support our troops and uphold our commitments to our allies in the region,” Kelly added in the statement.

The bill would require increased oversight over the U.S. military’s various efforts to conduct logistics and sustainment in a contested environment and also lays the groundwork for increased partnerships specifically for maintenance and repair with allies and partners in the Pacific.

The Defense Department has been working on how to tackle contested logistics from fort to port to foxhole, but the bill would require a review and a report be submitted to Congress accounting for all of the various efforts across military departments.

The legislation would require the secretary of defense to assess each military services’ role within the joint force in a contested logistics environment, the bill states. Specifically, a review would focus on the services’ ability to effectively maintain and repair capabilities, preposition or store materials needed to surge capability or support operations, examine the ability to repair and maintain without dedicated maintenance facilities, and figure out the resources needed to “reduce or mitigate the risks associated with operations in a contested logistics environment.”

A report would be due no later than one year following the enactment of the act.

Local supply chain

Additionally, while Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. are all able to provide product support to the U.S. in a contested logistics environment such as transferring spare parts to the U.S. in order to more efficiently repair equipment in conflict, the bill would require Japan and South Korea to be included in that group of allies.

Japan and the U.S. recently took new steps to strengthen its relationship, vowing to improve command-and-control systems, form an industrial council to build weapons together, network their missile defense systems with Australia’s and start a joint exercise in the United Kingdom.

South Korea and the U.S. are also exploring whether the country’s defense industry could help maintain, repair and overhaul American warships and weapons.

Lastly, the proposed legislation would authorize the Defense Department to conduct maintenance on certain surface vessels in foreign ports under a U.S. Navy pilot program called Ship Wartime Repair and Maintenance, or SWaRM.

In order to ensure ships can be repaired quickly and easily at foreign ports, the Navy’s SWaRM pilot program aims to test out the process of undergoing repairs away from U.S. ports and would allow the service to figure out how to navigate the contracting process, allowing foreign workers to work on American ships and ensuring those workers are trained in accordance with American standards and regulations.

Keeping ships operational to deliver capability to ports throughout the Pacific is critical to sustaining Navy readiness, the bill emphasizes.

The U.S. Army is also considering, as a part of its watercraft strategy still taking shape, how it might use ships, even commercial ones under contract, from allies and partners.

‘Mesh network of friends’

The Pentagon as well as the individual services have been ringing the alarm bells to ensure the U.S. is ready to supply and sustain the force in conflict in the Pacific. The Pacific accounts for over a quarter of the globe and the vast distances the U.S. must travel to within the theater creates an enormous challenge alone.

The U.S. Army has been working to adapt its approach to logistics to prepare for possible conflict with China but also deter it from increased aggression in the region. The service recognized contested logistics as a key contribution to its Multidomain Operations doctrine published in 2022 in a special annex and created a contested logistics cross-functional team in 2023 to develop capabilities critical to operations where projecting, supplying, maintaining and sustaining the force will be contested across the board by near peer adversaries.

The U.S. military has been working with allies and partners to create capability through exercises like Talisman Sabre in Australia, Operation Pathways and RIMPAC. These exercises give the U.S. the opportunity to see what ports might be ideal for delivering supplies via watercraft and where weapons and supplies can be kept on a more permanent basis.

The Army has been building a “mesh network of friends, partners and allies,” Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, who commands the service’s I Corps, said last fall.

Relationships are growing and strengthening, U.S. Army Pacific commander, Gen. Charles Flynn, emphasized in May at a conference in Hawaii. Flynn noted in his speech that the opportunity to increase multilateral cooperation is the highest he has ever seen.

Commanders are working on strategies to lighten the logistics tail in contested environments and keep more capability forward in theater.

Conversations are ongoing with foreign partners about the possibility of tapping local industry in the Pacific to provide repair parts, supplies (even blood) and other capabilities, arrangements that are likely to be essential when the U.S. cannot rely on bringing everything with it to respond to a crisis or conflict.

Following Talisman Sabre, for instance, the U.S. military was given permission to leave behind equipment in prepositioned stock in Australia.

“As logisticians, we need to be successful and to understand the theater and to really set conditions for those joint interior lines,” Maj. Gen. Jared Helwig, the Army’s 8th Theater Sustainment Command commander in the Pacific, said last fall “and build out that architecture that we know that, if we don’t rehearse in competition, will be very difficult to execute in crisis.”

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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