The Defense Transportation System: An Overview

In today’s post, we are going to give you an overview of an area of the military that is often taken for granted, the Defense Transportation System. Just to provide you with an idea, if you were to take the transportation systems of New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles and put them together, you would still come nowhere near the magnitude of the Defense Transportation System. This article will just be a brief overview of this massive system.

History of the DTS

Over the years of war, one of the major problem areas in the defense program of the United States was transportation, and the control of it. World War 2, Korea and Vietnam all showed that changes had to be made in the structure of defense transportation. There were major flaws between the multi-services (Army, Navy and Air Force), along with the civilians who worked on behalf of national security also. An exercise to understand the transportation system was performed in 1978. It was called Nifty Nugget and this exercise showed a system that was nearly a complete failure.

The first attempt at rectifying the problem was when the Joint Chiefs of Staff were to become the overall management of the transportation system. This idea turned into another fiasco. The JCS formed the Joint Deployment Agency, but the JDA could not keep up with the overall needs of defense transportation. That system started in 1979 and the incompetency lasted until 1987. President Ronald Reagan took the “bull by the horns,” and he forced the Secretary of Defense (Caspar Weinberger) to establish the UTC (Unified Transportation Command).

DTS Hierarchy

The UTC formed what is in use today: USTRANSCOM. The hierarchy of USTRANSCOM starts at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and passes to the NCA (National Command Authority) and moves down to the commander of USTRANSCOM. USTRANSCOM’s base is Scott Air Force Base, and the commander is General Paul Selva of the USAF. From there, the system breaks down into combatant commands and component commands. The combatant commands include:

  • U.S. Transportation Command: Provides support to all military, defense and other government agencies.
  • Strategic Command: This base is at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska and is the main hub for any global strike force.

  • Special Operations Command: This force is the direct lead for defeating the worldwide terrorist networks.

  • Africa Command: As the title suggests, this command is in control of operations in Africa.

  • Central Command: The focus here is an overall outlook. The National Guard normally falls within this command.

  • European Command: this command controls all European operations.

  • Pacific Command: The casualties in Pearl Harbor could have been less if this command would have been in place at that time.

  • Southern Command: Just as it suggests, this command controls issues in the South and works in conjunction with other commands.

  • Northern Command: After all, we have to watch those Canadians (Just to lighten things up, you can giggle now. Yes, we love all you Northern neighbors). This command works similar to the Southern Command.

The component commands are:

  • SDDC (Surface Deployment and Distribution Command): This Army command is in charge of the delivery of equipment and supplies. The lead commander is Major General Susan A. Davidson.

  • MSC (Military Sealift Command): This United States Navy command is in charge of the use of ships to transport the military’s cargo and supplies across the ocean waters, Lead commander of MSC is Rear Admiral Thomas K. Shannon.

  • AMC (Air Mobility Command): Used for the above ground transportation of support for the military and for humanitarian causes, this is under the umbrella of the United States Air Force. The lead commander is General Darren W. McDew.

  • JECC (Joint Enabling Capabilities Command): Every agency must work together as a team. Yes, there are competitions between the different military forces, but when it comes to this situation, we are all family. This command is under the leadership of Brigadier General Sam C. Barrett of the USAF.

Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Army 88N MOS Overview: Transportation Management Coordinator
  2. TC-AIMS II: Transportation Coordinators’ – Automated Information for Movement Systems II
  3. M1070 Heavy Equipment Transportation System HET
  4. 1032nd Transportation Company Virginia Army National Guard Interview
  5. Army Officer ASI 3S: Unit Air Movements Officer

The Final Outlook Of This Article

The Defense Transportation System is a system that a person could study for years, and still never completely understand how it can operate so smoothly. In my research, my head was “swimming” with all the information about this massive system. If you would like more information on DTS, I recommend this official PDF publication

The DTS has also developed a website that makes it very simple to create TDY travel orders through its system. Instead of the old system of filing paperwork and waiting for it to go through the proper channels, DTS has streamlined the methods by the use of the internet. You can view and use that website here: Defense Travel.

No matter what, the system is nowhere near perfect. But as Army leadership works together, the system is getting much better. With technology getting stronger, it is my belief that Defense Transportation will also get better.

That is just my opinion.


We would love to hear about your views of the Defense Transportation System. What are the pros and cons in your opinion? Just leave a comment below to share your thoughts. We look forward to hearing all opinions as long as they are respectable.

Thank you for reading The Defense Transportation System: An Overview.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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