Ship to Shore Logistics


UK amphibious doctrine has for some time seen a heavily opposed landing as a last resort and the assumption is that because of the proliferation of anti ship and anti tank guided weapons any such approach would be suicidal without the strongest level of battle space preparation. The true value of an amphibious capability is being able to appear in an area that is only lightly defended, secure an area inland using heliborne troops and establish a beach head before johny foreigner realises what has happened. Amphibious operations encompass a wide range of activity but the amount of vehicles, stores and personnel even a light role unit requires means that logistics are key.

Once the pointy sharp stick stuff has been done, the logistics follow up will generally include the Bay class LSD(A) and combinations of LCU Mk10’s and Mexeflotes to get the bulk of the stores onshore. As capable as this is, a deep water port with container handling and roro facilities will for any operation of decent scale, be a pre requisite for continuing operations. The Points class RORO ships and commercial vessels will then bring the bulk of the materiel. Of course, not all operations start with an amphibious assault and not all operations are of such a scale that they need a deep water port.

Amphibious logistics are simply about throughput, the ability to offload from ships, usually onto smaller ships/hovercraft and deposit their cargo onto shore, ready for movement inland. Its a complicated, finely choreographed, operation that has to deal with many variables. This has resulted in many imaginative solutions and proposals, mainly from the US of course but in some respects the UK with its Albion/Bay/Mexeflote/Points capability has many advantages. The QinetiQ partial air cushion catamaran (PACSAT) demonstrator shows that the UK can still innovate in this area. The PACSAT concept from IMAA builds on the sidewall hovercraft from the sixties. As innovative as it is, it still doesn’t solve the problem of capacity, for that one needs a port, not a beach.

The earthquake in Haiti bought into sharp relief the need for port facilities, even the combined capabilities of a number of nations amphibious ships, serious capacity did not start moving until port facilities had been re-established. The allies faced exactly the same problem of logistics in 1942, when they started planning for D Day. Planners knew there was little chance of securing a deep water port, so basically built their own, the Mulberry, the remains of which can still be seen. The principle problems were twofold, providing a protected anchorage and some means to bridge the gap between the shore and a ship at anchor. Although amphibious transports were used, everything from the DUKW to the LCT, the Mulberry was instrumental in the success of the operation. A little known aspect of Mulberry was the US RHINO floating barge ferry.

Rhino Ferry
Rhino Ferry


These diverse systems have evolved into the UK Mexeflote and very impressive US JLOTS, seen below in a couple of videos.

UK aid unloaded in Haiti

Soldiers, Sailors train 'over the shore'

Despite being very impressive for RORO cargo these still do not handle break bulk or ISO containers particularly efficiently, container handling is especially slow in comparison with established.

It is arguable whether any significant advances have been made since Mulberry and Rhino.

Instead of planning ever more expensive large scale hovercraft, PASCAT or T Craft, we should perhaps be concentrating here, improving a known and thoroughly unglamorous capability, yet one which is likely to be increasingly used. As it becomes easier to deny ports and push amphibious operations further away from within striking distance of such facilities  the need to deliver actual real life bulk cargo, which means containers, into an austere location, will be more needed than ever.

Piers for use on beaches

This was the basic requirement laid down by Winston Churchill to the D Day planners, and the resultant Mulberry’s handled between 5,000 and 7,000 tonnes per day. Although the situation was of course quite different, one wonders what the transfer rate was in Haiti?

We always assume these are new problems that no one has ever faced before but in this case, again, we have been here before, particularly in the aftermath of the Falklands Conflict.

Based on technology and systems developed for the North Sea oil industry, the Falkland Islands Intermediate Port and Storage System (FIPASS) was designed to resolve a number of issues; port access, refrigerated warehouse space and personnel accommodation. Six North Sea oil rig support barges (300×90 ft) were connected together and linked to the shore via a 600 foot causeway. Four of the barges carried warehouses, with provision for refrigerated storage.  In addition there was accommodation offices, which include a galley and messing facility for 200 persons.



The first cargo ship to use Flexiport unloaded 500 tonnes of general cargo and 60 ISO containers in 30 hours, by way of comparison, the same load, offloaded using Mexeflotes took 21 days

All this cost £23 million, or about £50 million in todays money.

The company responsible for FIPASS (ITM Offshore) developed the concept further but have since gone out of business, Flexiport is now marketed and supported by ASP Ship Management. One of the key advantages to using barges is they do not transmit any load to the sea bed, improving siting flexibility. Flexiport is designed to turn any coastal or river anchorage into a working deepwater port by mooring custom designed and built pontoons in sufficient depth of water to enable ships to lie alongside and connecting the quayside formed by the pontoons to the road system ashore by a prefabricated bridge or causeway.

Of particular interest is the container port concept.



Simulation has confirmed this can handle 150 TEU’s per hour and can be expanded to include accommodation, storage, repair, aviation support or RORO facilities. It is very flexible and quick to install, except for the causeway to shore.

The US has also been looking at improvements to their capabilities and as might be expected, have come up with some fantastic solutions but one of the lowest profile yet potentially revolutionary, is the Lightweight Modular Causeway System or LCMS.



LCMS was originally designed to enhance interoperability between MPF, MPF(F), and JHSV, the wider programme even looking at PASCAT designs. The Joint Enable Theater Access Sea Ports of Debarkation (JETA/SPOD) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) has demonstrated that a hybrid design, incorporating elements of land based tactical bridging equipment and floating causeways can support significant loads up to main battle tank weight. Although it is primarily designed for direct unloading of intermediate ships it could be combined with the Flexiport. The system is compact, allowing 120 feet of causeway to be shipped or stored in a space with a footprint equal to that of three 20-foot ISO containers.

Unlike other systems, the LMCS uses no in-water connections. And in contrast to the current causeway systems (ELCAS) can be deployed by seven trained personnel and be operational in approximately 3 hours. An equal number of personnel can recover the system in approximately the same time. The system is stored in a folded configuration with floatation bladders empty. When deployed, the system is sequentially joined, or assembled, and the floatation bladders are inflated. The bladder nearest the shore can be partially inflated as needed to provide a ramp-like entry and exit point. A unique feature of the LMCS is that the floatation bladders will not be filled with high-pressure air. Instead, they will be rapidly filled with only the volume of air suitable to provide floatation for the roadway system. This significantly speeds up deployment times and can be done with a prepressurised compressed air system (similar to that used to inflate aircraft emergency exit slides) or with a lightweight portable blower system that is smaller than a commercial vacuum.

LCMS has also investigated a powered system for dragging ISO Containers of 463L pallets along its length using a deployable winch system.

LCMS Container Transfer
LCMS Container Transfer


On its own it will also enhance ship to shore capabilities but as we mentioned above, the causeway from a Flexiport to shore can be a construction bottleneck, combining the two would yield significant benefits.

Instead of having to transfer containers, vehicles and break bulk cargo from container or RORO ships onto shallow draft lighters (JHSV etc) so than can mate with the LCMS causeway, combining it with a large Flexiport allows these deeper draft cargo vessels to unload directly, cutting out the middle man and supporting significant offload capacity in the early stages of an operation. Container and break bulk offload would use commercially available handling equipment

Container Tractor
Container Tractor


The standard sized offshore barge is in widespread use, designs are mature and there are many manufacturers. Usage includes floating pipe layers, accommodation, heavy lift cranes, power stations, ROV operation and salvage. Since the Flexiport concept was envisaged things have moved on considerably, dynamic positioning and other technologies have lowered operating costs and improved utility.

Offshore barge
Offshore barge
Offshore Barge Heliport
Offshore Barge Heliport



For other designs have a look here and here

Some have limited self deployment capability but in general are either towed or carried on FLO/FLO vessels.

FLO FLO vessel carrying offshore barge
FLO FLO vessel carrying offshore barge


One of the claimed advantages of the Flexiport model that uses these offshore barges is that they float, therefore no load is placed on the sea bed. Their size, anchors and ballasting will contribute to stability but if absolute stability is desirable there are other options.

Jack up or self erecting barges are used for salvage, craning and offshore construction, especially for wind turbines. This design could be used instead of the free floating type. If more mobility is required the offshore wind turbine industry has created a solution, the MPI Resolution, Discovery and Adventure. These combine the features of a jack up construction barge with a normal self propelled vessel. Although smaller than the larger offshore barges above they are much more mobile. Although much smaller than an offshore barge, because they sit on the sea bed, stability for load handling is assured and it is unlikely that anything above 100 tonnes would be handled anyway.

The first of the class was constructed for less than $30 million

MPI Discovery & Adventure Jacking Animation 2

MPI Resolution Jacking Video

Using a similar design concept, the vessel could be converted to act as the Flexiport loading pier, with a container handling crane and a self deployable lightweight floating causeway.

Deployment time could be measured in hours not weeks, as with conventional methods.

Solutions can often be found in the offshore industry but we tend to ignore them and go off on tangents, designing bespoke military solutions.

This is innovative but not high technology, and an area that is crying out for investment.

It would not even be a large investment.

The FDR littoral series of posts is summarised below;

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Hover and Raiding Craft

Part 3 – Fires and Support Craft

Part 4 – The C3

Part 5 – Ship to Shore

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Sven Ortmann

“The true value of an amphibious capability is being able to appear in an area that is only lightly defended, secure an area inland using heliborne troops and establish a beach head before johny foreigner realises what has happened.”

…establish a beachhead…
You’re ambivalent on what this means, so just in case of a misconception, I’d like to point out the proper tactic after a landing on a lightly defended beach:
Rush inland ASAP, do not waste combat troops on establishing strong defensive positions!

Anzio should serve as a warning:

Therefore, you should land small battle groups (reinforced battalions) with some built-in redundancy (in case of accidents). These battle groups should be combined arms-capable (tank, infantry, mortar) and move quickly to exploit the void like oversized recce elements.

LST + pontoon seems to be especially well-suited for this unless you use specialized marines (in that case I’d recommend MLC 60 LCM sleds (open sea swimming and land combat vehicle separated, unlike in the EFV).

Dominic Johnson

I’m afraid I disagree.
The one thing Lucas appears NOT to have done is *secured* a beach head.
He sat in a basin and allowed the Germans to take the surrounding mountains and rain artillery down on him.

Had he strung his army out in a rush on Rome, the resulting counter attack would likely have destroyed him.

After a second read maybe I’m just overemphasing bits of your arguement.

I’d say your initial forces need to be far enough to keep enemy forces away from the landing site, but close enough to be supportable.

So in the Anzio case, initial forces should have secured the surrounding heights, and then waited for enough forces to land to mount a proper assault.

Sven Ortmann

The key problem was that he was sitting at the beachhead, not advancing.

The proper tactic would have been to use the landing for a turning movement, dissolving the strong defensive line to the south by cutting its lines of communications.
The resulting mobile phase would have allowed a link-up even if the beachhead was lost to a counter-attack.

The offensive behaviour is important in an isolated landing becuase it adds depth (=ability to delay & use unit tactical defence) and because (formation) tactical offensive is often the best defence when defensive positions are weak (such as armour divisions stalling enemy Corps counterattacks by assaulting the Marshalling areas in order to prevent a cut-off offensive against the flank of troops flowing through a line gap).

Mike W

Some posts ago I suggested that large wheeled amphibians might possibly still be the answer to some of the logistical problems associated with over-the-beach landings. Did you consider this or are they just too small and slow for present-day needs?

Dominic Johnson

I must admit, I’m a bit surprised at how long it saeems to take to unload ships, even with mexafloats and the like.

Surely a dedicated landing ship could be laid out so cargo trucks could drive on an on ramp, be quickly loaded with an ISO container, and drive off an off ramp.
Drop their cargo on the beach/surroiunding area with a self carried crane, then drive back to the landing ship for another ISO container.


Mike W

What a brilliant idea, Dominic J! I won’t say I’d already thought of it because I hadn’t. Yes, it does take a long time to unload using Mexeflotes. They present a big target too and a lot of equipment could go down as the result of one hit.

Dominic Johnson

Erm, I’m not sure if you’re taking the p*** or not…

Yes its a big target, but if it could unload 200 20FEU ISO containers in 6 hours, is it a worthwhile risk?

Mike W

Not at all! No irony intended. A very good idea and should be investigated.


IRT the LMCS is that a current US system? The USN has now completed the production run of INLS pontoon barges in several different configurations.

USN practice is only to carry those on MPS ships (which is definitely limits throughput IMHO). The INLS are frequently made up into RRDF Ro/Ro Discharge Facilities which were not mentioned?

The problem with assembling any barge system be it large or small is how does a navy sealift the pieces to the objective area? One must have a Flo/Flo of sufficient deck area (and/or mulitple ships) for the transport of larger barges and landing. For smaller LCU/LCM type lighterage, its is again a matter of how many (spots) are avilable to lift such lighterage?


P.S. I served on a dedicated landing ship the USS Newport and it presented its own set of problems.

First off it was a large target close to shore. It had drive through capability as do some USAVs, but its cargo payload was limited by the rqmts of beaching, and it only had about 15,000 sqft of usable deck area.

So the pro and con of such type ships is debatable. While the obvious flexibilty of LSD(A) is notable as a counterpoint.

BTW the US Army had large wheeled amphibians the BARC 60 which had enormous cargo decks and were notoriously slow (which I can attest to from a slow ride way back when).

Dominic Johnson

Always good to hear from someone with first hand knowledge.

“The problem with assembling any barge system be it large or small is how does a navy sealift the pieces to the objective area?”

Thats true.
To answer I can only say either the armed forces take logistics seriously and buy the kit at the expense of whizzy bangy stuff, or they dont.

I’m under no illusions that a ship capable of landing 400 10FEU shipping containers by dropping them onto the back of cargo rangers (see my comments on FDR – Medium Weight Vehicles), driving the rangers along 200 feet of Mexafloat onto the beach, dropping off the container with a self carried lift, and then driving back to the ship along a different Mexafloat path for another load would be cheap.

However I believe it is essential.
If we assume it can match the speed of the Flex port system, it would do in hours what current systems need a month for.
Short Term risk to the ship would be much greater, but overall risk is much lower, and of course ground forces can get their gear quicker.


We need to add a good-sized, heavy lift ship class to the fleet. ;) (maybe based on a stripped down MLP?)

They could carry these barges with INLS/ELCAS components and tugs on top. Float the barges out in theater, tie them down, and use the barge cranes to deploy the tugs and causeway segments. Two heavy lift ships could carry four 90m x 27m barges and quite a bit of INLS/ELCAS, I would think.

How fast can you load a pre-configured barge onto a heavy lift ship? Unload? A few hours?

We could preposition loaded barges around the world and mate them up with heavy lift ships as needed.

LCMS sounds great, if it can deliver. One has to wonder how well it will do in rough surf with large amounts of tonnage going across it over days or weeks. Maybe they don’t have to last that long if they are so quick to set up and compact to carry. Just use em, abuse em and throw them away when you’re done. Disposable causeway.


gents Bsmitty knows I think the MLP is cobbled together design making work for NASSCO! Any other navy which needed a good semi-submersible could long term charter one. But the US Congress does not like long term charters of (those nasty) foreign built ships!

Having managed the MV American Cormorant for a number of years, I came to appreciate the value of a clear deck Flo/Flo. Her original load was 22 pieces of US Army port support equipment made up into “rafts”. A full loadout takes about 12 hours depending on tides and availablity of the “cargo” and tugs. One can perform partial loads or discharges in much less time.

Rule of thumb: Up to 6 hours for a full submersion (but only 1 hr from the 1 meter dry level). About 12 hours for a dry deck and another 12 to completely install seafastenings and other lashings.

The key factor in semi-submersible loading (other than deck area needed and arragnements) is sea state. Of to be more dramatic, the “cargo” can NOT be bouncing around over the work deck and landing blocks. Typically the Flo/Flo loading manual will specify the maximum allowed winds and seas. One does not need glass calm IF the above are in unison.


IRT MLP, I just read an article on the MLP posted on Inside the Navy which quoted a Marine “expert”. Here is an extract of my comments sent forward:

The MLP should be viewed as multi-functional interface platform ship not merely a “pier ship” – what a contradiction in terms! Secondly IF the Navy does not open up the MLP to be a clear deck aft semi-submersible, then they are creating another exquisite ship intended for limited roles. The reduction in LCAC spots is a function of the deck area limited by hull dimensions and impacted by other installed systems on the MLP. The fact that the Navy decided to start with a tanker hull basically limits the end result from the beginning. Instead the Navy could have bought/built an existing design Flo/Flo with a significantly larger deck area and the appropriate hull form to maximize lift and stability. This is obviously a project to help NASSCO’s order book.

Such a design could lift larger landing vessels (JHSV, LCU, LSV etc) than what is apparently contemplated for the SSC. Making the SSC fit into amphib wet well docks means it will be nothing more than a “neo-LCAC”. I understand that the SSC will be somewhat bigger than current LCACs, but that does NOT significantly improve throughput or overcomes the Navy’s lack of spots for its hovercraft.

IF the MLP were to be designed as very large parking lot for many vessel types, it could be much bigger and more capable.

The Navy is apparently not taking full advantage of Flo/Flo ship capabilities and spending a lot for a chopped up work deck to boot.