The four case studies of ship to shore logistics in the previous posts have shown that whilst the nature, scale and individual circumstances might vary there remains a surprising degree of commonality, things that were important on D Day were still as relevant in Haiti a few years ago.
When I started this I had no preconceived ideas about what the ‘essence’ of ship to shore logistics, as opposed to combat amphibious operations, but it is obvious from the case studies that these golden threads are repeated.
The collective wisdom of all those involved over the years has been used and reused but sometimes the same issues appear and often lessons have to be re-learned.
Is there a Top 5, maybe;
ONE – Command and Control
For each of the four case studies command and control was imperfect, normal operational friction or something else?
One thing that does seem to create more friction and opportunity for command and control breakdown is because ship shore sits across the boundary of the land and sea domains. Into this boundary layer are many organisations, civil and military.
Joining these may well be other nations.
It is a complex brew.
In 1982 there was the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Marines, Royal Logistic Corps, Fleet Air Arm, Army Air Corps and a collection of civilian vessels with different owners all involved with getting men and material onto the beaches at San Carlos and this might be argued to be the simplest of the four case studies.
Resolving command and control issues can only ever be effective by continual practice and familiarity.
Familiarity between those parties was one of the fortuitous coincidences in 2010 in Haiti, many of the participants had recently been involved in a number of exercises and simulations for a similar scenario.
So if you want things to work well, especially with unfamiliar personnel and different organisations, you have to practice.
I know that is a rather obvious thing to say but am going to say it anyway
TWO - Survey and Clearance
Each of the case study operations required extensive survey and geographic intelligence.
This could be obtained by aerial photography, satellite imaging, LIDAR or other remote sensing technology, side-scan sonar, echo sounding or divers taking measurements with clinometers, penetrometers and tape measures the demand to know what conditions will be encountered during the ship to shore operation is a constant.
Underwater obstacles, beach gradients, soil conditions, tides and even the weather can have a significant impact on the success or otherwise and this is before we even factor in enemy positions, mines and other less than friendly obstructions to progress.
Depending on geography the areas to be surveyed could be very large, Iraq in 2003 for example, the large approach waterways to Umm Qasr.
Once surveyed and obstacles located those obstacles need to be classified, is that impression on the side-scan sonar a mine or bit of litter thrown overboard by some careless sailor a decade previous.
Once one knows where the obstacles are and what they are they might have to be cleared
This can be clearing mines or blocks of concrete, there are a wide variety of potential obstacles and an equally varied means of clearance.
Not every ship to shore logistics operations will have obstacles, in fact, making choices about where to land might be influenced by the presence of obstacles; whether other locations can be selected or clearance carried out easier in another.
Survey and clearance are closely linked and we might as well throw in weather as well
THREE - Existing Ports
If the objective is high volume, not all ship to shore operations need high volumes however, then an existing port offers the best option. This of course create a military problem because the enemy knows this and will no doubt have something to say on the matter.
It is easy to deny a port through active or passive defensive measures.
We were lucky that the Iraqi’s failed to react soon enough, they could have put Umm Qasr out of action for a lot longer had they been more competent. The degree of damage in Haiti put the port out of operation for a long time but could have just as easily been done by a small team of combat engineers, a truckload of PE4 and a weekend.
Modern amphibious operations are more or less about appearing where the enemy isn’t and given that ports are obvious places an enemy will be, it kind of puts existing ports out of bounds because they are too militarily expensive to secure against a competent enemy.
That said, the amount of pristine beach real estate in the world is decreasing and as population growth drives people to the coast the number of ports is rapidly increasing. We should no longer think solely in terms of over the beach but making use of port facilities that might range from marina for pleasure craft to a container port and all points in between.
We might also note that not every ship to shore logistics operation has an enemy involved, for example Haiti
FOUR - Cargo Handling
The reason the ISO container is such a dominant force in global logistics is because they reduce double handling when transitioning from one means of transport to another. In the ship to shore context, as seen in Haiti, having full containers reduces the number of crane movements. Particular attention should be paid to ensuring efficient container packing, they are not just empty boxes to throw stuff in.
The efficient handling of containers and pallets is a pre-requisite for success, the less they are handled the better.
Mechanical Handling Equipment (MHE) and qualified and experienced should never be skimped on.
Getting stores off ‘the beach’ and forward is another crucial aspect, its is not enough to simply dump them at the assembly area.
FIVE – Civilian Capabilities
Finally, all the recent ship to shore logistics operations have needed to a greater or larger extent, the capabilities on offer from civilian organisation.
Salvage, heavy lift, port construction and offshore exploration all have complimentary capabilities and expertise and the UK, it must be said, has an embarrassment of riches in this sector.
We might like to think how we can exploit them.
This is not an exhaustive list of course but they do re-occur often.
In the next sections I am going to look at how these come together, compare them to what we have and what I think we should have
Expect a bit of grim reality followed by a fantasy mexeflote!
Other Posts in the Series