Presidential logistics – the operation behind moving the most powerful leader in the world

With the US general election less than two months away, depending on the outcome, the shape of world trade could be set to change. As Brexit has shown, markets are extremely sensitive to a shift in the political landscape, and often this sort of stimulus can produce unexpected results.

For example, the effect that Brexit had on Japanese exports was not entirely expected. With investors seeking a safe haven for their finances, they chose to divest in the UK, and invest in Japan. This drove up the price of the Yen, which ultimately hit Japanese exporters, as their goods were then more expensive due to the increase in the value of the currency. So, if presidential candidate Donald Trump wins in November, based on his position on NAFTA and Chinese import tariffs, a victory for the republican candidate could shake up global markets in ways that may not yet be known.

But this particular post isn’t about finances and export figures or politics. Instead, this blog post will cover the logistical operation that will inevitably involve either Trump or Clinton come November. This operation being the logistics of getting the leader of the world’s most powerful nation from point A to point B.

With a range of transportation means at their disposal, the US president’s most famous vehicles are often referred to as ‘Air Force One’, and ‘The Beast’.

The latter, also known as the United States Presidential State Car, is a custom built Cadillac (sort-of) and is part of the President’s 25 plus vehicle motorcade. Although bearing the resemblance of a standard production Cadillac, the vehicle is actually based around the chassis, diesel engine, and transmission of those used in the Chevrolet Kodiak (a vehicle predominantly used as either a dump truck, tow truck, or even as a bus!).

It manages a staggering mileage of between 3.7 to 8 miles per gallon. For perspective, Toyota claims its new Prius is capable of up to 94.1 miles per gallon, which is pretty much the equivalent of a journey from London to Coventry on 1 gallon of fuel. Whereas The Beast, on the same amount and in the best case scenario, would only just manage to make it to Wembley Stadium from Buckingham Palace. Worst case scenario and at the lower end of the fuel economy, the President’s car couldn’t even manage a journey from the London Eye to Paddington station.

It’s safe to say that you wouldn’t want this car showing up when you book your Uber then… unless you were planning on coming under artillery fire as part of your journey. Estimated to weigh anything from 6.8 tonnes to 9.1 tonnes (the new London buses weigh about 12.7 tonnes), it is no surprise that The Beast uses such an incredible amount of fuel. The reason for the weight is the sheer amount of defensive counter-measures and offensive technology that is so integral to the job specification of keeping the president safe, and that ultimately makes up the vehicle. With armour plating reportedly 8 inches thick, car doors that weigh as much as cabin doors on a Boeing 757, and 5-inch thick bulletproof windows, the US President is fairly safe whilst travelling around inside the vehicle. To add to this, the tyres are ‘run-flat’, and the entire interior is 100% hermetically sealed and includes an environmental system on board in order to protect occupants in the event of a chemical attack.

Other features of The Beast include rocket propelled grenades, night vision optics, a tear gas cannon, on board oxygen tanks, a foam protected fuel tank to prevent explosions in the case of impact, bottles of the President’s blood type, and infrared smoke grenades that act as a countermeasure to anti-tank missiles. Oh, and also the car has its own airplane.

That’s right. The Secret Service use a Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft (which has a payload capacity of 77,520 kg of cargo) to move The Beast from one location to another on some of the President’s more long-haul trips.

So, to summarise so far, the current logistics markets that are involved JUST FOR THE CAR include: air freight; automotive logistics; defence logistics (the weapons); healthcare logistics (the blood); project logistics (due to the nature of route planning and road closures); and cold-chain logistics (at a stretch given the ‘climate controlled’ nature of the interior environment). Let’s not even get into the reverse logistics operation involved when presidential cars are decommissioned – which involves the Secret Service supervision of deconstruction, in order to ensure the secrets of the vehicle are not given away.

Once you take into account the President, and consider him (or potentially her) to be the ‘precious cargo’ in the context of a logistical operation, the other markets would also include road freight, and intermodal logistics as the president is moved by land, then by air, and vice-versa.

At this point we are brought to, probably the most famous mode of presidential transportation in the world, known as Air Force One. Although technically not a single aircraft, the term ‘Air Force One’ is actually a call sign for any aeroplane that the president is travelling in. Those of you that have seen the film of the same name starring Harrison Ford will remember the bit at the end where he is dangling out the back of a plane, but when safely pulled aboard, the pilot remarks “Liberty 24 is changing call signs. Liberty 24 is now Air Force One.”

Awesome Hollywood moments aside, usually Air Force One comes in the form of a Boeing VC-25, effectively a military version of the 747 airliner that has been modified for presidential transportation. Much like The Beast, the VC-25 has an almost endless list of specialised and classified design features that have been installed to ensure maximum security for the President whilst in the air, but also maximum comfort. The aircraft includes an executive suite, presidential sleeping quarters as well as separate sleeping quarters for guests, a private office (from which the President can address the nation if need be), an operating table in case of medical emergency, and two galleys equipped to feed up to 100 people at a time. Also, the crew of Air Force One are actually trained by Atlas Air, which won the five-year government contract in September 2012.

The VC-25 is able to fly 7,800 miles without refuelling. That’s slightly further than the distance from Washington D.C. to Mount Everest. Even then, the plane can be re-fuelled mid-flight from a tanker aircraft. As with The Beast on the ground, Air Force One is followed by an aerial convoy of cargo transport aircraft, which carry other equipment and staff members needed as part of the President’s entourage (including the Presidential helicopter, Marine One).

Aside from aircraft and cars, throughout history, US presidents have also had their own yachts and rail cars equipped to meet the needs of the job. All of this comes with a hefty price-tag though, with the Washington Post reporting last year that a single day of presidential travel abroad was costing the US as much as its campaign in Afghanistan was per day, at around $200m. That daily figure is more than Stobart Group Ltd.’s annual revenue for 2015.

If US Presidential transportation was a business running 365 days a year (in the same way that most global air freight companies such as FedEx and DHL operate), based on the WSJ’s daily operating expense figure of $200m, it would cost the US government $73bn a year, which is more than DHL’s total 2015 revenue figure ($66.56bn). In fact, this single daily cost is even more than the entire construction cost of Maersk Line’s Emma Maersk vessel, which amounted to more than $145m.

So, for the cost of a single day of presidential logistics, you could literally build one of the largest shipping vessels in the world, and still have around $50m left over, meaning you could probably fill it with cargo too!

Source: Transport Intelligence, September 14, 2016

Author: Sam Sprigg