The Navy and the Marine Corps look to the sea to provide support bases for future expeditionary operations

Sea basing and maritime pre-positioning: the Navy and the Marine Corps look to the sea to provide support bases for future expeditionary operations

Henry B. Cook

Sea Basing is one of the three fundamental concepts underlying Sea Power 21, which is the Navy s vision for how it will defend the Nation and defeat enemies in the 21st century. (The other concepts are Sea Strike and Sea Shield.) Sea Basing also is a principal enabling concept supporting Marine Corps expeditionary concepts, including Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare, Operational Maneuver From The Sea (OMFTS), and Ship-To-Objective Maneuver (STOM). Sea Basing is thus one of the key operational concepts that the Navy and the Marine Corps will use to fight and win the littoral conflicts of the 21st century.

The goal of Sea Basing is to project “joint operational independence” in the largest maneuver area on Earth–the oceans. Sea Basing will give the joint force commander the means to achieve accelerated deployment and employment times for naval power-projection capabilities and enhanced seaborne positioning of joint assets. Sea Basing will minimize the need to build up a logistics stockpile ashore, reduce the operational demand for sealift and airlift assets, and permit forward positioning of joint forces for immediate employment. The overall intent of Sea Basing is to make use of the flexibility and protection provided by the sea base while minimizing the presence of the Marine air ground task force (MAGTF) ashore.

The challenge of Sea Basing is in its logistics sustainment concepts and the details of its implementation. A cornerstone of implementing Sea Basing is the Maritime Pre-positioning Force (MPF) and its future version, the MPF (Future).

MPF and MPF (Enhanced)

The MPF was established in 1979. It currently consists of 16 ships organized into 3 forward-deployed squadrons known as maritime pre-positioning ship squadrons (MPSRONs). MPF ships are privately owned and leased by the Department of Defense. They are capable of both container and roll-on-roll-off (RORO) operations.

Each legacy MPSRON consists of four or five ships and is loaded with pre-positioned weapons, equipment, and supplies sufficient to support a Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB)-sized MAGTF (approximately 17,000 marines) for up to 30 days. The MPSRONs are strategically located at Diego Garcia, Guam, and in the Mediterranean Sea. In a contingency, at least one MPSRON can arrive at a desired, sea-based location within 7 days of notification.

The Navy has pursued an MPF (Enhanced) program to add a ship to each MPSRON. An MPF (Enhanced) squadron will consist of five or six ships, The reason for this expansion is to create additional capacity in each MPSRON in order to embark naval mobile construction battalion (“Seabee”) assets, a Navy fleet hospital, and an expeditionary airfield. All MPSRONs have received their extra ship and assets.

Current MPF Doctrine

Historical approaches to amphibious logistics support of assault forces, which required initial supply and then periodic resupply of water, rations, ammunition, and fuel, depended on the concept of the “beachhead.” However, a beachhead support area stockpiled with all of the combat force’s requirements created an attractive target for an enemy, one easily located and attacked.

Current MPF doctrine is to pre-position large caches of supplies and oversized equipment at strategic locations. A deploying joint force then is airlifted into a theater and received at an aerial port of debarkation. At the same time, the MPF ships loaded with the deploying force’s equipment arrive at the sea port of debarkation (SPOD). These two actions are the “reception” phase of the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSO&I) cycle. The joining of the deploying force with its equipment in marshalling areas near the SPOD is the “staging” phase. The “onward movement” phase is accomplished when the force departs the staging areas and moves to its assigned area of operations. The “integration” phase occurs when the combat force commander places the force in his order of battle. Sustainment of the deployed force begins once it is received and transported to its staging areas and continues until the campaign is completed.

The existing MPF provides mobility and limited in-stream offloading capabilities. Typical MPF operations require ports and airfields to offload cargo, which makes the deploying force potentially vulnerable to enemy attack. The MPF concept was tested and validated during Operation Desert Shield using a fixed port system. MPF ships provided the first heavy armor capabilities in that theater. During Desert Shield, the troops who initially deployed to the region depended on the supplies and equipment from the MPF ships. This materiel enabled U.S. forces to survive during the first critical weeks of the operation.

MPF (Future)

The MPF (Future) [MPF (F)] is similar to the current MPF in that it will be a grouping of ships strategically located around the world. Each MPF (F) squadron will be loaded with all of the equipment needed to support an MEB, and it will be able to transport that equipment anywhere in the world. The MPF (F) will include ships of several types rather than a group of ships of the same kind. The MPF (F) will perform four functions not performed by the existing MPF–

* At-sea arrival and assembly of units.

* Direct support of the assault echelon of an MAGTF.

* Indefinite sea-based sustainment of the landing force.

* At-sea reconstitution and redeployment of the force.

The MPF (F) will have the ability to unload its cargo in an improved port or over the beach in a joint logistics over-the-shore (JLOTS) operation. JLOTS is extremely important since most of the world’s improved ports that are deep enough in draft to receive MPF (F) ships are located in industrialized countries, but most threats to the United States will occur in unimproved areas with no developed fixed-port system.

Under Sea Basing logistics concepts, the MPF (F) will support MAGTFs that are ashore executing the Marine Corps’ STOM concept. Maintenance, repair, medical treatment, and supply operations will be conducted primarily from sea-based platforms. The MPF (F) will become, in essence, a floating warehouse for the forces deployed and operating afloat and ashore. The logistics infrastructure, supported by the MPF (F), will be maintained afloat and replenished in-stride from ships arriving on station from the continental United States (CONUS) or from support bases located nearer the operation. In effect, the MPF (F) will become a synonym for Sea Basing.

Future Sea Basing and MPF (F) Doctrine

Future Sea Basing and MPF (F) doctrine are comparable with current MPF doctrine. In each case, equipment and materiel will be pre-positioned in several places around the world. The difference is that the MPF (F) eliminates the requirement for access to secure ports and airfields. Most flashpoints in the future will be in the Third World. However, a plausible threat envisioned today (such as an asymmetrical threat) might not occur if the adversary understands that the United States can attack an area where no fixed ports exist. Most modern vessels are too big to enter most unimproved ports. But by using a platform at sea, the United States does not have to obtain permission from a foreign government to use a forward base or port. It will be able to take advantage of “Sovereignty of the Sea,” the principal of international law that holds that the open sea (outside of a nation’s territorial waters) cannot be appropriated or claimed by any single nation.

Sea-based operations will take advantage of the maneuver space provided by the sea. The ability to conduct RSO&I in a sea-based environment, far from an adversary’s territory, also will provide added force protection. MPF (F) ships will be able to conduct at-sea arrival, assembly of units, and selective off-loading of equipment needed for the operation. Joint forces will meet the MPF (F) platforms while they are en route to the objective area. The MPF (F) will enhance the responsiveness of the joint team by assembling at sea an MEB or joint force that arrives by high-speed airlift or sealift from the United States or from advanced bases.

The MPF (F) combines the capacity and endurance of sealift with the speed of airlift to rapidly deploy MAGTFs to objective areas, and it adds the capability to provide indefinite sea-based sustainment. The accelerated deployment and employment times possible with MPF (F) will permit the projection of ground combat power within days rather than weeks or months. Efficient mating of Marine forces with their equipment will permit elements of the MPF (F) and MAGTF to arrive in the objective area integrated and prepared for operations. This is a significant advantage over traditional phased amphibious operations.

The MPF (F) will furnish an initial stock of war supplies for major ground combat operations. Once a ground force (a corps or larger) has been established ashore, the MPF (F) can remain in theater as floating warehouses, return to CONUS to serve as additional sealift, or reembark its equipment for staging in preparation for follow-on missions.

Use of the MPF (F) will increase force protection by using the sea as a buffer against an asymmetrical threat. The distance from shore will allow combatant vessels accompanying the MPF (F) to acquire and defeat incoming threats. The use of the MPF (F) in a sea-based support function will shift force protection concerns from the ships themselves to the transfer system required to ferry troops and supplies from the ships to the objective.

In an area of operations, the MPF (F) will provide a sea-based staging area and added maneuver space that will allow the joint force commander to execute the OMFTS and STOM concepts. The goal of OMFTS and STOM is to place a combat force in an adversary’s rear area, where an attack will be least expected and the adversary least prepared. A symmetrical, or conventional, threat will protect its coastline and some strong points, or centers of gravity. But a threat cannot defend everywhere all of the time.

MPF (F) ships will be the platforms that sustain intheater logistics, communications, and medical capabilities. With no beach support area, logistics sustainment will move offshore to the MPF (F) and become the combat force’s waterborne brigade support area (BSA). The BSA will shift from a linear battlefield and will be modified to effectively support the nonlinear battlefield envisioned in Sea Power 21. The MPF (F) will support not only the combat elements of an MAGTF, MEB, or joint task force (JTF) but also the combat support and combat service support elements assigned to it for direct support. The MPF (F) will be an integral part of the sea base, providing follow-on sustainment to maneuver forces ashore.

Needed MPF (F) Capabilities

The MPF (F) must be a part of the total force package and contribute to joint mission accomplishment in four areas: force closure, JTF interoperability, sustainment, and reconstitution and redeployment. Force closure is the process of joining Marine or joint forces deployed from CONUS with their equipment loaded onboard the ships of the MPF (F). JTF interoperability is the ability to reinforce the assault force of an MAGTF already committed to combat. [The MPF (F) will not be a combatant, and it will not have a forcible entry capability.] Sustainment of the assault force ashore requires the judicious use of combat service support resources. The MPF (F) must carry provisions to support an MEB ashore for 30 days and provide maintenance for all wheeled, tracked, and aviation assets supporting the Marine force. Reconstitution and redeployment of the force in the theater while at sea is required so that equipment stored aboard the MPF (F) can be employed in follow-on missions.

Research and development will .be required to develop and integrate some new technologies to support the requirements of the MPF (F). Areas that will require further vision and innovation include–

* Selective onload and offload of cargo.

* Internal ship systems (such as automated warehousing; item, pallet, and container operations; RORO systems; and cargo flow patterns).

* External ship systems (such as ramps, lighterage, and other craft interfaces).

* Modular system and subsystem concepts (such as joint command and control modules and additional berthing modules).

* Aircraft interfaces for vertical replenishment and reception of deployed marines.

* An automated inventory management system that can receive, store, maintain, manage, and deploy the equipment and supplies required for sustained logistics support.

The MPF (F) will allow the logistics base to maneuver in an open sea. It will reduce double-handling of materiel by eliminating the need for shore-based logistics activities. The logistics support required to sustain the force ashore will be reduced, and the operational pause associated with setting up logistics support ashore will be eliminated. Selective offload of equipment and materiel will be the centerpiece of MPF (F)’s sea-based support.

In addition to operating over the horizon, the MPF (F) must be able to perform its offload mission in conditions up to sea state 3 [waves 1.4 to 2.9 feet high and winds 12 to 16 knots], perform essential ship functions up to sea state 5 [waves 6.4 to 9.6 feet high and waves 22 to 26 knots], and survive up to sea state 8 [waves 31 to 40 feet high and winds 42 to 46 knots]. It must also meet level I survivability requirements as defined in OPNAV [Office of the Chief of Naval Operations] Instruction 9070.1, Survivability Policy for Surface Ships of the U.S. Navy. Level I is the basic level of survivability for surface ships.

The MPF (F) must be able to reconfigure to accept the requirements of different task-organized missions. Logisticians will be required to set up an authorized stockage list (ASL) to support operations for a finite amount of time. They then must war-game different scenarios to ensure that the ASL is realistic and that it has a 10-percent overage of all stocks to compensate for any deficiencies in planning. This ASL will act like the warehousing function in a “just in time” supply environment. The capability to offload material selectively will become a necessity. With the MPF (F) as the warehouse, the transportation assets will serve as the just-in-time logistics facilitators.

MPF (F) Challenges

The MPF (F) faces several challenges that must be overcome before it becomes a reality. One will be its ability to function well with both legacy and future transportation systems. The bottom line is that the efficient use and implementation of the MPF (F) will depend on reliable and survivable high-speed transportation platforms to deliver logistics support. The reality is that legacy systems will be used as long as possible, but a smooth transition to future systems must be planned and will be expected.

Another challenge will be force protection. The MPF (F) will become the amphibious forces’ center of gravity and will need to be protected at all costs. It will be the hub of all logistics support for combat forces conducting offensive operations in littoral regions. Combatant ships accompanying the MPF (F) will have to protect it with extreme vigilance. Navy leaders expect that future operations will be conducted in conjunction with the emerging concept of the Expeditionary Strike Group, with the Expeditionary Strike Group providing MPF (F) protection. If this protection is not provided, future combat forces ashore will find themselves deep in enemy territory with no supplies or beachhead to fall back on.

Artificial intelligence systems and expert systems will be required to provide just-in-time logistics in support of the smaller logistics footprint ashore. An expert system will allow logisticians to identify the location of the nearest supply item and its availability, order the item, and arrange the quickest and most cost-effective method for its delivery. An expert system also will automatically reorder supplies that were just removed from storage shelves, which will reduce manpower requirements by eliminating some of the clerical duties associated with restocking supplies.

An expert system will allow planners to run extensive logistics models in support of a landing force and determine the best possible logistics courses of action. A sea-based logistics expert system will reduce the time and manpower needed to support a forward-deployed unit. This will free up resources to increase combat power. The enhanced knowledge of in-transit inventories and total asset visibility provided by a logistics expert system will refine the allocation of transportation resources, improve item availability, and increase the velocity of materiel movement through the entire supply chain.

The MPF (F) is a great concept that is ready to blossom in conjunction with the Navy’s Sea Basing and the Marine Corps’ OMFTS concepts. The MPF (F) will interface with and use legacy and future aviation and amphibious assets. It will support Sea Power 21, Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare, OMFTS, and STOM. It will eliminate the need to depend on fixed forward logistics bases in questionable foreign areas and will provide the platform for force closure, JTF interoperability, sustainment, and reconstitution of the maneuver force for further missions.

The MPF (F) will capitalize on current and future technology and form the center of gravity of the maneuver force. By definition, it must be protected at all costs. All of the maneuver force’s logistics will come from the MPF (F). Maneuver forces ashore may become untenable and reach a culmination point very rapidly without logistics support. Assaulting and taking the objective in OMFTS becomes the easy task. Keeping the troops alive on the objective becomes the intensely difficult assignment. The MPF (F) will be the string that ties Sea Power 21 and Sea Basing together into a coherent vision.

THE AUTHOR THANKS COMMANDER KEVIN F. KELLY, USN (RET.), OF NORTHROP GRUMMAN SHIP SYSTEMS, RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, ADVANCED SHIP TECHNOLOGY, FOR HIS ASSISTANCE IN WRITING THIS ARTICLE.

MAJOR HENRY B. COOK, MSARNG, IS A TRANSPORTATION OFFICER IN THE 184TH TRANSPORTATION COMMAND ELEMENT IN LAUREL, MISSISSIPPI. HE IS A GRADUATE OF THE U.S. MERCHANT MARINE ACADEMY AND HOLDS AN M.B.A. DEGREE FROM WILLIAM CAREY COLLEGE. HE IS A GRADUATE OF THE RESERVE COMPONENT COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF OFFICERS COURSE AND IS EMPLOYED AS A MARINE ENGINEERING SPECIALIST A I NORTHROP GRUMMAN SHIP SYSTEMS IN PASCAGOULA, MISSISSIPPI.

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