Another Forum has come and gone, and I firmly believe they just get better and better. The planning and execution of the event was absolutely flawless. Kudos to the NDTA Headquarters staff!! The social events were unique and fun. Finally, as always, the sessions provided the very latest information on both current issues and future plans. For me, this year's take away was that the Defense Transportation System (DTS) is coming face-to-face with a dramatically different operating environment that could alter the very nature of that longstanding civilian/military partnership.
As the United States continues to drawdown OIF/OEF, there will be less military cargo and passengers to move. Many of the corporate presenters in the professional sessions expressed concerns about how that business might be replaced. Their unease is well founded. Since the 1950's, the Department of Defense (DOD) has relied on the civil sector to provide a large share of the nations contingency transportation. In exchange for committing aircraft to the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) and ships to the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA), carriers can compete for peacetime contracts to move military cargo and people. The challenge for the DOD has been to balance the need to maintain peacetime readiness and utilization of organic transport resources while simultaneously diverting passengers and cargo to the commercial sector. Too much emphasis on the former means under using the latter which could have long-term implications for future funding, while using more organic lift means less business for our airlines and steamship lines. For the past decade at least, requirements have far outstripped our organic capability, so that a huge amount of business was available not only for CRAF and VISA participants, but other firms as well.
Unfortunately, that situation is going to change. Now, the balancing act between utilizing organic versus commercial lift becomes much for difficult. As one of che steamship line executives noted at the Forum, if business drops to a certain point, it will no longer be attractive for firms to maintain ships under a US flag. As a result, many of the vessels now registered in the US might be shifted to foreign flags so that the lines can reduce...