So far in the series I have avoided looking forward, instead, have examined four case studies of ship to shore logistics operations spanning several decades, drawn out a set of common success factors and looked at current doctrine and its underpinning resource constraints.
The purpose of this series is not simply to look back but to look forward and attempt to scope a set of requirements for discussion and propose a handful of methods by which those requirements are met.
At the simplest level the UK needs no more ship to shore logistics capability than it already has, which in reality, for Western forces at any rate, is second only to the USA and some way ahead of other major allies like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Turkey and Italy.
The 2010 SDSR mandated that the amphibious capacity, with its attendant ship to shore logistics element, be reduced and defence planning assumptions amended to fit.
If we want to improve our ship to shore logistics capabilities across a broad front then something has to be reduced elsewhere, a solid business case made and subsequent anguish from capability areas being reduced endured.
The first issue is one of capacity, do we have enough for future contingency operations, I tend to think not and it is a capability area we should aspire to improving, achieving some measure of parity with the USA even if it is in a shared/pooled model with other European allies like France, Italy and the Netherlands, all three of which maintain capable amphibious forces.
There are a number of other factors that might influence our desire to ‘do better’ in this area.
Without entering into a debate about the source of climate change, rising sea levels and severe weather seem to both be an observable trend. Of the two case studies one was definitely for humanitarian assistance or disaster relief and another heavily influenced by the need for humanitarian assistance.
The armed forces do not exist solely to provide such capabilities to the worlds disaster victims but it is a core ‘mission set’ for the majority of the worlds military and due consideration given to its fulfilment.
Climate change will result in damaged port infrastructure and therefore increase demand for transporting relief materials over the shore.
Increasing Global Instability
Climate change and competition for resources will also increase instability, along with the gazillion of other factors.
As Western forces inevitably decrease in size due to increasing personnel costs the upstream engagement approach and an increasing reliance on other nations to provide the bulk of the manpower points to a future where we provide the enabling capabilities for partners.
Enemy Anti Access Capabilities
Operations in coastal areas will need to be conducted in an environment where anti access capabilities fielded by potential enemies are increasingly sophisticated.
One response to the increasingly dangerous littoral is to approach it from over the horizon and this is driving a broad range of capability improvements as part of the US Air Sea Battle doctrine. The increasing distance between the objective and sea base decreases cycle time and therefore force build-up when using legacy equipment so speed is all.
The problem with speed, sea basing and the whole ship to objective manoeuvre thing is it demands large quantities of cash to both implement and maintain, see the V22 and LCAC for evidence.
Put simply, the UK does not have the cash to do this so an alternative to high speed over the horizon is needed.
A US Shift to the Pacific
Whilst it is probably true that the speed and completeness of any pivot to the Pacific may well change the shift is a likelihood that Europe is going to have to face up to.
Logistic enablers are one of the areas in which European forces lean heavily on the US for.
If buying LCAC’s and V22′s is off the menu the obvious answer is to improve the throughput of existing capabilities and create new ones that do not utilise high speed ‘connectors’ but instead enable the remediation and augmentation of existing port facilities.
To complement those, an improved capability to enable offload at a wider range of non port locations and at a higher throughput would allow sufficient mass to be built up ashore much quicker than currently, thus delaying the need to open or seize a port, would compound the enemies planning challenges.
Enabling both to make use of civilian shipping would also be a valuable addition.
Any broad improvements would involve a range of technologies characterised by being relatively simple, readily available and low cost.
We are fortunate that Europe possesses a wealth of design and manufacturing expertise in this area reinforced by recent advances in engineering in support of the offshore energy industry.
In the next couple of posts I am going to cast a gaze over the current state and specific examples of ship to shore logistics in the UK, Europe and for comparison, the USA.
Then, on to potential solutions.
Other Posts in the Series