BAGRAM AIR FIELD, AFGHANISTAN
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - As another example of the Northern Distribution Network’s value as an efficient, effective route for supplies into Central Asia, U.S. European Command has successfully tested a truck route from Germany to Afghanistan.
The trial run, also called a proof of principle, consists of two trucks carrying two 20-foot containers each from Germany to Bagram, Afghanistan. The first phase of the test, completed in September, used an international carrier that used drivers and equipment from several of the transited countries to move the cargo. The second phase, slated to begin in November, will entail moving cargo from several different countries in a single convoy.
The route took 49 days, a significantly lower time than most current routes into Afghanistan, and highlighted some areas for improvement that could reduce the delivery time by another 19 days. The route was largely successful, as the Northern Distribution Network has been since its inception, said Air Force Col. Bill Summers, chief of the European Deployment and Distribution Operations Center.
“We have been very successful on the first attempt,” he said. “I think the big important point from our perspective here is that any commercial transportation option that helps connect Afghanistan to Western Europe is good for all countries along the way and certainly for Afghanistan. So we really look at this from an infrastructure and transportation industry process.”
The Northern Distribution Network, a series of rail, road and water supply lines to Afghanistan, has been called the “modern Silk Road,” because of the way it connects Central Asia and Western Europe, Summers said. Having this connection helps boost trade between the countries, he said, noting that a recent study found a $12 billion annual increase in trade between two countries along the route.
While improving the economies and relations between countries in the region is important, one of the biggest benefits of having an over-land supply route from Germany to Afghanistan is providing another way to support warfighters in theater, Summers said.
Prior to this route being developed, the only supply transportation options besides the Pakistan land route, which is fraught with difficulties, were air and sea, said Glenn Paxton, a DLA distribution specialist in EUCOM. Transporting goods by sea takes a long time, he said, and transporting via air is very expensive.
“This is kind of a bridge that gives us more control to kind of breach that middle ground,” Paxton said. “We can actually go by truck. It’s cheaper, and it’s pretty darn fast.”
The NDN was developed in 2008 as an alternative means to deliver supplies to warfighters in Afghanistan’s rugged terrain. Officials from EUCOM and DLA Distribution Europe worked with USTRANSCOM to develop new business processes and expand to include a route originating from Europe, Paxton said.
The cargo moved on the first run was mostly construction material that was readily needed in theater, Summers said. “It’s the kind of stuff … if you were to try to fly it, the cost of the transportation would greatly out price the value of the stuff you’re flying,” he said.
Used as an alternative route for supplies to warfighters and as a way to connect and bolster the economies of Central Asia and Western Europe, the Northern Distribution Network is an important tool for the U.S. as it stays involved in the region now and for the foreseeable future, Summers said.
“I believe everybody’s top priority is to make sure we have a flexible, redundant system that allows materials to get to the people who need them forward,” he said. “But I think from a USEUCOM perspective, certainly, we’re also interested in helping that infrastructure improvement … and then infusing and connecting the economies of Western Europe into Central Asia.”
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