I know there is already an acronym in use, EDPI or Expeditionary Deployed Port Infrastructure, that was supposedly going to join up with the MARS Joint Sea Based Logistics Ships, Operational Maintenance and Repair (OMAR), Maritime Intra Theatre Lift and Future Landing Craft but these ambitious programmes, each one of them trying in some way to keep up with Uncle Sam’s sea basing concepts.
Without exception and despite many PowerPoint presentations and case studies they seem to have fallen by the wayside as other equipment programmes have taken priority, Type 45, Astute and Carrier Strike for example.
In my little world fantasy, where logistics gets equal billing with the fats pointy shooty stuff, this is an important element of any UK expeditionary capability and one which with imaginative thinking can access a number of non defence budgets.
We might also want to consider a joint capability with our European allies, none of whom have anything like the capability the UK has even now. I have made the point throughout this series that with a withdrawal and redeployment of US forces and thinking from Europe to the Pacific ‘we’ should be planning to stand on our own two feet for operations in Africa, around the Mediterranean and possibly, the Middle East.
Responding to natural disasters in support of aid agencies is likely to continue as a core mission and for a joint capability, a valuable addition to Europe’s soft power aspirations.
In the previous post, I made the case for a greater emphasis on using existing ports. This does not need to be an enemy port in the traditional sense but a port that might have an ambiguous security situation, one that has been damaged by a natural disaster or simply neglected due to conflict. Not every port is going to have to be taken by force before being used, in fact, I would probably say this is the least likely scenario. Much more likely is a port that does not have the space, capacity or facilities but is willing than the opposite.
We should also challenge the accepted wisdom that selected offload direct to the objective, from a sea base, operating in high sea states, is automatically the answer. There is nothing wrong with the OMFTS/STOM concept at all, it is the logical outcome of the proliferation of enemy anti access capabilities such as precision guided weapons, anti ship missiles and mines but it is simply too expensive to deliver at any meaningful scale because of the tyrannies of distance, cycle time, the resultant logistic penalties of high speed and investment across the board in expensive technologies.
In this final half of the Ship to Shore Logistics series I am going to propose two concepts, the first being firmly in modest camp and the second, an exercise in thinking big!
Concept 1 is simply about port augmentation and enablement for RN/RFA and civilian shipping. Its primary goal is to allow large ships to discharge directly to existing ports without having to cross load to landing craft or Mexeflotes as this is where the time penalty is greatest.
It assumes that the existing port has some damage or neglected but the key elements remain largely structurally intact. Aids to navigation may be in a poor condition, maintenance dredging not been carried out and port equipment in disrepair.
This state could have been caused by a poor security situation, economic issues or damage caused by a natural disaster. It is also assumed that although security might not be completely assured, major combat operations have either ceased, or not commenced in the first place.
Priority will be given to RORO shipping but break bulk and container ships will also form part of the matrix. It will make extensive use of existing capabilities and those that are new, are low cost and off the commercial shelf.
The concept contains a series of component capabilities that can be deployed individually (including some by air) or as a collective group aboard existing shipping.
- Survey and clearance
- Repair and Utilities Provision
- Aids to Navigation
- RORO Enablement and Mooring
Concept 2 makes many of the same assumptions as Concept 1 but is much more ambitious in its execution.
In addition to facility repair and RORO offload into an existing port it will also enable the offload of break bulk, RORO traffic and containers into any location. These locations will be preferably existing ports but in the absence of such, undeveloped beaches and other sea/river terrain should be exploited.
The security environment may also be more challenging but direct combat operations will have ceased.
Bulk fuel offload will also be a Concept 2 component.
Far from cheap, it is an exercise in ‘thinking big’ but I will also discuss how it can be provisioned and paid for without cutting Carrier Strike!
Think of it as a modern day Mulberry with a preference for ports rather than wind swept beaches or an improvement on the already impressive US JLOTS that cuts out the cross decking to lighterage.
Components of Concept 2 will include those as Concept 1, plus;
- Piers and Causeways
- Amphibious Vehicles, Hovercraft and Landing Craft
- Fuels Transfer
- Dedicated Transport Vessels
- Wave Attenuation
- Materials Handling
What characterises both concepts is the complete absence of technology development.
Every single element is either in service or could be bought into service by making use of existing equipment already widely available in the civilian market. There will of course be integration challenges and in no way am I say it will be trivial but the UK and Europe have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hydrographic survey and offshore engineering, the benefit of the North Sea oil industry and more recently, offshore wind development, have led to advances in many of component areas of interest.
Other Posts in the Series
Ship to Shore Logistics – 26 (Expeditionary Port Access – Concept 2 – Deployment and Funding)
Ship to Shore Logistics – 27 (Summary)