In the previous posts, I looked at potential precursors to amphibious or port operations, namely survey, mine countermeasures and explosive ordnance disposal. I concluded that whilst these three areas when taken in isolation were in great shape with strong existing capabilities and promising development paths the grey areas where they join, ports and beaches, were perhaps less well developed, especially with regards to ‘taking the man out of the minefield’
That said, these are relatively minor concerns in the grand scheme of things.
The next piece of the jigsaw is to look at amphibious assault capabilities.
The MoD helpfully publishes all the main doctrinal publications.
British Defence Doctrine JDP 0-01 Edition 4 is the main document.
It lists the ten principles of war; Selection and Maintenance of the Aim, Maintenance of Morale; Offensive Action, Security, Surprise, Concentration of Force, Economy of Effort, Flexibility, Cooperation and Sustainability.
Subordinate doctrinal documents describe a number of other subjects in which ship to shore logistics has relevance.
British Maritime Doctrine as defined by JDP 0-10 ,for example, describes one of the attributes and roles of British Maritime Power as Lift Capacity;
For the UK, all major operations need maritime support to deploy, sustain, withdraw, or re-deploy forces. Airpower can be used to achieve extremely rapid effect with light forces for short periods, and provide an air bridge for more substantial operations. It can also be a more practicable method of moving personnel, even large numbers.
However, sealift is the only practicable means of deploying equipment and logistic support and then sustaining them at anything other than very small scale, due simply to the sheer volume of equipment involved.
Even when an operation is a landlocked state, the majority of lift required to deploy and sustain a joint force will be achieved from the sea. Sealift permits land and amphibious forces to transit to theatre, poise offshore if required, and then enables joint power to be brought to bear ashore. It also may be the only means available for gaining initial theatre entry if access basing and overflight permissions are not forthcoming from other states.
The Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary are the only force able to provide sealift in a threat environment. In a benign environment, with maritime force protection teams embarked, the strategic Roll-on/Roll-off ships (RO/ROs) provide the major MOD contribution; larger operations generally utilise commercial chartered shipping.
Protecting the unhindered passage of sealift is an important duty for maritime forces.
Another tier of documents, the Joint Tactics, Techniques and Procedures includes 4-05 Operational Infrastructure.
In Section 2 is a description of categories of infrastructure;
Sea ports of disembarkation.
Marine and maritime operations may be supported for a short time only, by over-the-beach facilities using specialist equipment. However, a seaport provides a significantly greater degree of flexibility and logistic capacity.
Harbours and port facilities can take years to develop. It is highly likely therefore that use will be made of existing ports to support an operation rather than build a new one.
Nevertheless, additional facilities may be required at a port either for ship-to-shore transfer or to store materiel prior to transit. Port infrastructure is generally large, heavy and requires specialist design and manufacture in order to cope with the high loads and damaging environment.
This can be very time consuming.
A key requirement during early planning for an operation will be to confirm that any intended Sea Port of Disembarkation (SPOD) has the requisite handling facilities. Often older ports will have cranes designed to off-load cargo from inside the holds of ships.
More modern ports are designed around bulk container handling.
Military operations are likely to require roll-on, rolloff (Ro-Ro) facilities.
Unfortunately, these are not commonplace in ports worldwide. A deployed force may therefore need to repair and develop indigenous facilities. Annex 3B gives more detail on the requirement for infrastructure to support marine and maritime operations.
Annexe 3B (mentioned above) provides more detail of infrastructure requirements, to summarise;
Sea Port of Disembarkation. A Sea Port of Disembarkation (SPOD) is principally a location to offload personnel, stores, vehicles and other equipment from Strategic Ro-Ro and commercial shipping. RN/RFA use of the SPOD would be determined by Maritime tasking, the extent of the joint operations area and amount of shipping competing for berths at the SPOD.
Forward Logistics Site. A Forward Logistics Site (FLS) provides a dedicated Maritime Intra Theatre Lift (MITL) node for RN/RFA shipping.
Forward Mounting Base. In the context of maritime operations, a Forward Mounting Base (FMB) is a location, possibly sited within the joint operations area, remote from the combat area, which has the facilities to enable the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) to undertake:
(1) Tactical re-stow of munitions, vehicles and equipment within the attributed shipping.
(2) Weapon and equipment upgrades to ships (usually by contractor).
(3) Crew rotation on submarines and RFA.
(4) Recuperation combined with deep maintenance.
(5) Battle damage assessment, repair or recovery and
(6) Other logistic activities that cannot be easily undertaken in a busy SPOD.
Combat Service Support Area. Initial marine landing operations are supported through a temporary Beach Support Area (BSA). This may quickly evolve into a Combat Service Support Area (CSSA).
A CSSA provides a much more substantial degree of support than a beach support area.
It enables the Embarked Military Force (EMF) to replenish and acclimatise prior to further operational tasking.
Infrastructure must provide for the storage for 2nd line stocks and other logistic functions that may be required.
Forward Support Unit. A Forward Support Unit (FSU) provides 1st/2nd line engineering support for vessels. In addition to holding spares an Forward Support Unit may also provide environmentally controlled storage for munitions. It may operate from a forward mounting base.
Annex 3B2 also describes additional requirements;
Berthing facilities for RN, RFA and Chartered Commercial Shipping (with appropriate licensing and Host Nation Support).
Helicopter operating areas.
Ramp to accept Strategic Ro-Ro vessels.
Container crane and other handling equipment required to unload materiel.
Personnel, mail and cargo handling facilities.
Secure storage for all classes of supply (including munitions).
Temperature controlled storage for medical supplies, such as blood products.
Water and fuel supply facilities.
Appropriate hard standing.
Force protection and life support facilities.
Integration with line-of-communications transportation (such as main supply route).
Assured access to logistics Information Systems.
Headquarters and technical accommodation.
Offices for port agency representatives.
The final doctrine type publication to look at is JDP 4-00 Logistics for Joint Operations
The diagram below, from JDP 4-00 provides a good overview of how the various elements fit together.
Annexe 4 has the specifics for the maritime environment including this section on Joint Sea Basing;
Joint Sea Basing. Joint Sea Basing (JSB) is an option to complement expeditionary operations by providing land effect from the sea. JSB is not restricted to logistics, but may include strike, command and control (C2), Close Air Support (CAS) and fires.
Logistically, the use of properly loaded ships, RFA or commercially chartered, to support other Components may assist in issues such as FP, the environmental impact on stocks and even the Joint Desired Order of Arrival (JDOA), where capability held in the Maritime force could allow earlier movement of FE that might otherwise have had to await lift assets.
Use of the JSB for logistic support will be determined by the logistic estimate process and will involve a high level of coordination between the Maritime Component and the JFLogC. The JSB can be used to provide C2 facilities for HQ JFLogC.
Further detailed information can be found in BR 2002 ‘Maritime Operational Logistics and CB 2002 Naval Manual of Logistics for Operations although these are not publicly available.
This wasn’t specifically to discuss doctrine but to explain how amphibious operations sit within a much larger construct.
It should be obvious that going over the beach is only carried out if operational need dictates and then only in limited quantities for a limited duration.
UK amphibious doctrine has long since dropped the need for opposed landings in the traditional D Day/Iwo Jima style and emphasis’s raiding, limited theatre entry or support for other operations, as mentioned above.
Much like our dalliance with effects-based operations, RMA and the whole rapid reaction trend that culminated in FRES there was also a similar trend in maritime and amphibious operations and a whole new raft (see what I did there) of terms, ship to objective manoeuvre (STOM) and operational manoeuvre from the sea (OMFTS). Both have their origins in the USMC with Operational Manoeuvre from the Sea (OMFTS) envisages launching and supporting forces from ships up to 25 miles offshore against targets up to 175-200 miles inshore. It emphasises using the littoral and offshore as a ‘manoeuvre space’
Ship to Objective Manoeuvre (STOM) can be seen as a tactical support concept that allows forces to move swiftly from shipping to inland objectives without the need to establish the traditional lodgement and built up beach logistics areas. OMFTS is of course nothing new, the Falkland Islands was a classic example, including what might reasonably be called Joint Sea Basing before the term was institutionalised. In that context, Sea Basing was sustaining the force ashore solely from a distributed sea base, or collection of ships but the critical difference between 1982 and what is envisaged by the STOM/JSB concept is that we needed an intermediate step, the shore. STOM in the context of 1982 was shore to operational manoeuvre.
Where STOM differed from the traditional approach was its preference for both manoeuvre and sustainment from the sea base using helicopters and tilt wings. Because water, ammunition and fuel drives the logistic footprint of a deployed force this preference puts a great deal of emphasis on heavy lift helicopters and due to the distances required, fast ones.
Without, therefore, significant rotary lift, this sustainment element becomes impossible or at the very least, extremely difficult. The Falkland Islands demonstrated this perfectly, although we tend to focus on the single Chinook in theatre (BN) the bulk of the rotary lift was carried out by smaller helicopters and lots of them but even with this, sustaining the force was an extreme challenge and one which may well have been impossible to carry on should the campaign have lasted longer.
Logistics ships were very far from being ‘over the horizon’ when moving stores to the shore. They would assemble and get ready well offshore but at night would move to San Carlos and discharge their cargoes within spitting distance of the beaches. The ships were hastily loaded and cargo holds often inaccessible and despite the best efforts of the 17 Port Regiment selective re-stowing on the journey South and at Ascension Island proved problematical, Ascension of course having very little port facilities. Without knowing where everything was and with complete accessibility the ability of the force commander to make sure that stores arrived at the right place and the right time was hampered.
The lack of a true sea base and rotary lift had significant impacts; STOM was not possible, a conventional Beach Support Area and logistics build up was required which took time and allowed the Argentine forces to exact heavy losses whilst those combat support and combat service support elements were established ashore. Later in the operation, delays in resupplying, especially ammunition, would result in a number of delays putting British forces at a tactical disadvantage. The basic lack of lift was also compounded by command and control issues such as the amphibious commander being in charge of all helicopter movements and the land force commander not having access to the relevant helicopter radio network.
STOM, therefore, needs lots of vertical lift if it is to achieve the objective of striking deep inland from over the horizon with any meaningful force size. Sustainment does not necessarily need an over the horizon sea base but having one reduces vulnerability by placing the sustainment bulk over the horizon and away from shore based threats.
There is nothing at all wrong with STOM as a concept, it being a credible and sensible reaction to increasingly effective shore based threats and the UK does have the capability, just not at a significant scale.
Even the US forces with their huge amphibious and vertical lift capability recognise that sustainment of the deployed force using just helicopters is impossible except in certain limited scenarios, the tonne-mile calculations just don’t add up and when CASEVAC, aircraft attrition and adverse weather are factored in it becomes even more ridiculous.
Complete asset visibility and the ability to optimise aircraft loading and flight plans so partially loaded flights and wasteful light return journeys are minimised is also a prerequisite, but very difficult to achieve.
This has resulted in a desire to counter this inability to use only helicopters (and in the USMC’s case the V22) with a more lethal and lighter force, mass and protection being substituted for speed and combat power.
Think we have heard this one before.
Forces becoming lighter to match logistics constraints and not because of the need for lighter forces.
With finite lift available a force commander will have to make difficult decisions between using helicopters for combat manoeuvre and logistics support.
STOM and JSB are feasible concepts, they costs an arm and a leg though and as usual, our doctrinal eyes are bigger than our budgetary belly.
We do at least call them different things, Maritime Contribution to Joint operations, Command and Control Warfare, Maritime Fires, Air / Ground Manoeuvre Forces, Force Projection, Sea Based Logistics and Force Packaging!
I will discuss this in greater detail later in this document but for now, a look at existing capabilities and equipment available to the joint commander.
Current Capabilities and Equipment
Landing Platform Dock (LPD)
From the Royal Navy website;
The Albion Class, Landing Platform Dock ships (LPD) primary function is to embark, transport, and deploy and recover (by air and sea) troops and their equipment, vehicles and miscellaneous cargo, forming part of an Amphibious Assault Force.
Four davits carry the LCVP Mk5 landing craft and they are also equipped with a side loading ramp.
The most important feature of this class of vessel is the very large floodable well dock with enough room for four of the large LCU Mk 10’s in two rows or combinations of smaller craft. The central barrier can also be removed.
Above the well dock is a mobile gantry crane from Houlder and SCX Special Projects that can lift 4.5 tonnes, mainly used for stores pallets for example. The JSP 467 compliant installation used surplus equipment from HMS Ark Royal. Personnel accommodation depends on overload conditions but normally it is a couple of RM Companies plus supporting personnel, about 400 personnel, although the exact nature of the embarked force will vary considerably depending on needs and can be increased to around 700 in overload conditions.
Vehicle carried can include everything from Land Rovers to Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks and everything in between at a capacity of approximately 500 lane metres. Although they have a large Chinook capable flight deck there are no hangar facilities, although the last refit did improve aviation facilities including the ability to operate two Chinook’s simultaneously.
If HMS Ocean has a higher number of personnel but very little in terms of vehicles and stores, the LPD’s reverse that relationship and also include significant command and control facilities as well. They are essentially, landing craft carriers with enough space for a reasonable amount of vehicles and personnel.
They are powerful and effective vessels.
SDSR 2010 mandated that one of the pair would be held at extended readiness, rotating in and out of service with the other for refits such that one was always available for tasking and training.
HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion are due out of service in 2034 and 2033 respectively.
Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH)
The Royal Navy has a single LPH in service, HMS Ocean.
HMS Ocean was bought into service in 1988 for the modest cost of £154 million although there was a great deal of controversy at the time, mainly regarding competition and build standards. That said, she has given excellent service although sub optimal component selection caused a number of issues that have hopefully been addressed during recent refits.
At over 21,000 tonnes she is a large vessel that can carry an embarked military force of approximately 500 personnel, or more in overload conditions. In addition to the embarked military force she has a small vehicle deck, four LCVP Mk5 landing craft and a helicopter hangar with enough room for 12-18 aircraft depending on type and size. She has embarked Chinook, Lynx, Apache, Merlin and even US Blackhawk’s during a number of operational deployments.
Although there is no well dock, a small Stern Ramp and Stern Ramp Support Pontoon are fitted to allow vehicle and personnel access to landing craft or Mexeflote’s. The three pontoon sections are stored on deck and lifted onto the water’s surface using a deck crane.
Vehicle capacity depends on the type of vehicle but 20-30 light vehicles and trailers seems to be the norm.
Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) ‘Bay Class’
Based on the Dutch/Spanish Enforcer class the Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) replaced the Knights class. There were a number of issues bringing them into service, try the NAO report for starters. The four entered service between 2006 and 2007; Cardigan Bay (2006), Mounts Bay (2006), Lyme Bay (2007) and Largs Bay (2006).
All vessels are operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, not the Royal Navy.
They are large vessels (16,160 tonnes displacement), much larger than the Knights class they replaced but have a relatively small crew of less than 60. The well dock is smaller than the Albion/Bulwark LPD’s but can still accommodate a single LCU Mk 10 or Mexeflote.
Smaller landing craft or work boats can be carried on deck and lifted to the surface by the 30 tonne capacity deck cranes.
Mexeflote’s are side loaded, one on either side of the hull.
Capacity includes 1,150 lane meters for vehicles and containers, 2,000 tonne cargo capacity and accommodation for between 350 and 700 personnel depending on overload conditions. Like the Albion/Bulwark class they have limited aviation facilities apart from a large helicopter deck but stores and vehicle (1,200 lane metres) capacity is greater although landing craft capacity is much lower.
In addition to their amphibious role they are used to support the mine countermeasures flotilla in the Gulf, acting in the command role where they have also been used to trial the Scan Eagle unmanned system. Although they have a very large flight deck that can spot two Chinooks the aviation capabilities are relatively austere. To mitigate the lack of permanent hangar they can be fitted with a Rubb hangar.
The 2010 SDSR resulted in Largs Bay being sold to the Royal Australian Navy and she is now named HMAS Choules.
RFA Mounts Bay is still in ‘maintenance’ at Falmouth, reportedly because of a lack of engineers.
Civilian Strategic RORO Service
The 1998 SDSR recognised the need for a strategic RORO capability in light of increasing expeditionary requirements and likely trends in the commercial shipping sector. It was predicted that RORO vessel size would increase and evolve leading to a reduction in charter availability. The ships would replace the RFA Sea Crusader and RFA Sea Centurion.
A contract was let in 2000 to the AWSR Shipping consortium comprising Andre Weir, James Fisher, Bibbly Line and Houlder Hadley Shipping after competing bids from Novomar, Maersk and Sealion failed. The £1.25 billion PFI specified that 4 of the 6 vessels would be used by the MoD exclusively and the remaining pair available for commercial charter but one on 30 days and the other on 30 days notice to return to MoD service.
AWSR subsequently placed an order for 6 vessels to a German company, Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft or FSG. FSG were to build 4 and Harland and Wolff, the remaining two. Hurst Point, Beachy Head, Eddystone and Longstone were the FSG built ships and Anvil Point and Hartland Point built by Harland and Wolff.
Crews are British when on MoD service and Sponsored Reserves, in a similar model to that used by the Heavy Equipment Transport PFI. AWS provide the ship management arrangements, Bibby, crew management, Houlder the finance and construction management and James Fisher a range of other support activities.
18 months ahead of schedule the ships were fully available for service in 2003 and the PFI agreement expires in 2024.
The design chosen was the RoRo 2700, an existing 23,235 tonne design.
All ships have the same characteristics except Beachy Head, Eddystone and Longstone that have more powerful 9 cylinder 8,100kw engines than the others and therefore have a maximum speed of 21 knots; Hurst Point, Anvil Point and Hartland Point have a maximum speed of 18 knots. All have bow thrusters and a crew of 22.
The ships are 193m long, 26 metres wide and have a draught of 6.6m
Their capacity is listed as 2,700 lane metres, trailer capacity is 35 on tank top with a maximum height of 5m, 62 on the main deck with a maximum height of 6.8m and 67 on the upper deck with a maximum height of 6.8m. Container stowage capacity is 72 TEUs on the tank top, 272 TEUs (double stacked) on the main deck and the 324 TEUs (double stacked) on upper deck, all these on Mafi trailers. Direct stow container capacity is approximately 411 TEU with 60 10kw/32A reefer plugs available for refrigerated containers.
Access to the decks is via a side ramp and a 16.4m long by 17.0m wide stern ramp and internal ramps to all decks. The stern ramp has twelve 2.7m wide fingers to enable access to narrow linkspans. Tests have also been conducted to prove the stern ramp can access a Mexeflote at sea for transfer to other ships or direct offloading to shore. None of the ramps are self supporting but the stern ramp has a rated capacity of 85 tonnes and the side ramp, 75 tonnes.
The deck crane has a capacity of 40 tonnes at 25m outreach and 36 tonnes at 28m outreach. Drivers accommodation is in in 6 two berth cabins.
The contract has operated with little fuss and no problems but as as part of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review an evaluation of needs and costs came to the conclusion that the two non permanent vessels could be released from the contract. Longstone and Beachy Head were subsequently sold to CLDN becoming the MV Finnmerchant and MV Williamsborg.
In March 2013 the management contract was extended with Andrew Weir Shipping to 2024 and a number of consolidations have seen Foreland Shipping, the owner and operator of the vessels, now fully owned by the Hadley Group.
The UK offers the residual capacity of the 4 permanently available vessels to the NATO Sealift Consortium as part of the Sealift Capability Package (SCP). This also includes three RORO ships on assured access, residual capacity of 5 Danish/German ARK RORO ships and a single Norwegian vessel.
The recent Exercise TRACTABLE also saw once of the vessels being used with Mexeflotes for direct offload to the shore, interestingly, it was an Army only exercise.
In support of amphibious operation could be aircraft potentially from all three services; the Royal Navy (including the Commando Helicopter Force), British Army and Royal Air Force.
Wildcat, Apache, Merlin and Chinook are all capable of operation from amphibious shipping although the Army Air Corps Apache and Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters are not routinely embarked aboard ships for extended periods.
The total force of 30 Merlin HM2 helicopters have been used to support amphibious operation training and exercises although it is perhaps sub optimal. A much better option for shifting personnel and stores in support of amphibious operations will be the 25 Merlin HC3/3a helicopters of the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) being made available under the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme.
The programme has two phases, Phase 1 will see the delivery of 7 aircraft with interim marinisation features including a powered folding rotor head and tie down points that will enable the CHF to bridge the gap between the Sea King HC4’s going out of service in 2016 and the full Merlin HC4/4a package achieving Full Operating Capability in 2020.
Phase 2 will modify the balance of the HC3/3a aircraft and the interim aircraft so that a final identical configuration will enter service. This final HC4/4a configuration will have the same cockpit as the Merlin HM2, a folding tail, powered folding rotor head, DASS and range of other improvements and modifications. Phase 2 will commence in 2016 with deliveries starting the year after.
Although the Merlin is relatively fast and has a good range with a voluminous cabin able to accommodate in excess of 20 personnel or 16 stretchers, their lift capacity is not brilliant at about 4.5 tonnes (although an improvement on the Sea King).
A Scan Eagle detachment may also be available for amphibious operations.
The Chinook helicopter is fast, has a large internal and sling load capacity and is well protected but it is not optimised for maritime operations. It would however, add greatly to the offload rate for an amphibious operation and so it is unlikely it would not be considered for deployment if capacity requirements warranted it.
The video below shows Royal Marines making use of RAF Chinook helicopters during the 2014 Exercise Joint Warrior.
The main use for the CHF Wildcat helicopters will be for ISTAR, potentially joined by the Scan Eagle RPAS. Apache AH1 and whatever replaces it will provide the littoral manoeuvre force with a significant increase in firepower, teaming with Wildcat as required.
Landing Craft, Vehicles and Pontoons
The two amphibious (or deep wading) vehicles available to the Royal Marines are the Hägglunds/BAE Bv206 and BVS10 Viking. Both are used for transporting personnel and light stores with the latter providing a greater degree of protection.
The Royal Marines choice of primary protected mobility vehicle has been largely coloured by their traditional NATO role of operating in Norway, the BV series of vehicles have excellent over-snow performance. This high level of mobility in snow also provides high levels of mobility in other soft terrain such as marsh and beach. The Royal Marines Snow Trac’s were one of the few vehicle types able to operate in the Falkland Islands in 1982.
A £38 million recapitalisation contract was let to BAE in 2012 to rebuild existing vehicles and bring them up to the Mk2 specification, the contract has resulted in 99 Viking BVs10 Mk2 now in service.
The upgrade included;
A completely new front and rear car hulls featuring the latest mine-protected, v-shaped underbodies of the Mk2. The entire fleet will be given a major overhaul, brought to a common standard and certified for a 14 tonne gross weight, with suspension, braking and other modifications carried out as required.
Nineteen rear cars will be converted to a new crew-served weapon variant and nine more will allow the firing of the standard-issue BAE Systems 81mm mortar from the vehicle.
The Viking provides protection against small arms and shell fragments with improvements against RPG warheads afforded by bar or slat armour as needed. The Mk II also provide additional hull shaping and a range of other protection/survivability features building on lessons learned during operations in Afghanistan. It is available in troop carrying (12 personnel), repair and recovery, ambulance and command variants.
A complete Viking can be sling loaded by a Chinook helicopter but not the Merlin, even when the front and rear cabs are separated.
A number of the older Bv206 also remain in service.
In addition to the protected high mobility vehicles the Royal Marines have the usual range of light utility and logistics vehicles common with the British Army and specialist equipment such as skidoos for use in Arctic terrain.
Aboard the LPD and LPH are small detachments of Royal Marines that operate the landing craft, aboard HMS Bulwark for example is 6 Assault Squadron RM. The UK uses two principle landing craft designs, the LCU Mk10 and LCVP Mk5
Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) Mk5
these smaller craft are generally used for personnel only although they can carry small vehicles and light stores up to a weight of 6 tonnes. With a top speed of 24 knots the LCPV Mk5 is carried on davits on the assault ships (HMS Bulwark and Albion) and HMS Ocean.
They have also been deployed from other vessels as deck cargo and deployed using cranes. The moveable and removable deck shelter provides essential protection against the elements for personnel aboard, a lesson from extensive operations in cold weather. The UK has 12 LCVP Mk5’s, obtained in two batches and purchased at a cost of £750k each.
Landing Craft Utility (LCU) Mk10
Part of the programme for the Albion and Bulwark LPD’s were new Landing Craft Utility, Mk 10, replacing the Mk9’s carried aboard HMS Fearless and Intrepid. The LCU Mk10’s are large craft designed for transporting personnel, stores, armoured vehicles and large plant.
Their roll on roll off design (stern and a bow ramps) is designed for ease of loading and unloading in the well dock of the assault ships. Up to 120 troops (100 in normal operating conditions), a Challenger main battle tank or other heavy or logistics vehicles can be carried.
The LCU Mk10 can be used for general movement of equipment and operate independently for up to a couple of weeks with its 9 man crew out to a range of 600 nautical miles. Interestingly, the bow ramp can be used to lift an inflatable raiding craft out of the water when operating as a mother ship for raiding parties and such like.
The LCU Mk10 is just under 30m long, with a beam of 7m, a draught of 1.7m when disembarking and a top speed of 9knots. Click here for details of the engine and propulsion. A total of 8 LCU Mk10’s were bought into service in the £35million programme, all delivered between December 2001 and February 2003 with a pair of prototypes in addition to the eight.
The RORO capability is especially useful but as the wheelhouse impinges onto the load area at the stern it is not wide enough to accommodate a TES Challenger 2 vehicle and derivatives. Although not normally armed they have been seen recently with a range of automatic weapons on manually aimed mounts, mostly from ISTEC
The Mexeflote came into service with the British Army in the early 60’s, a result of work carried out at the Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (of Bailey Bridge fame)
Technically, it is called the Harbour and Landing Ship Logistics Pontoon Causeway Equipment, the Mexeflote is elegant in its simplicity. Comprising three types of hollow steel pontoon sections with internal bulkheads they can be pinned together to form lighterage rafts, jetties, piers and floating platforms in the manner of big boys Lego.
Built into the sides and ends of the pontoon section are recessed slots into which connectors are fitted, multiple pins for multiple sections. The bow sections are angled and articulated to facilitate loading and beaching. The manually operated, demountable articulator is mounted in a recess in the aft section and is connected to the forward section by an articulator ram. The pontoon sections can be carried individually and assembled in-situ but the norm is for the assembled raft to be secured to the sides of the carrying vessel for transit and when required, simply lowered or free dropped into the water. Initial work established that free dropping created significant deceleration forces in excess of 30G so the hook assembly was modified to disengage at 16 degrees resulting in much lower deceleration and the avoidance of ‘belly flopping’. Their main use when first introduced was not as a ferry but as a 250ft causeway to the beach for the LSL that could open their bow doors and discharge vehicles without beaching.
They are now used mostly in the powered ferry role.
When in the water the propulsion units are craned over the side and secured in place and that is it, they are more or less ready to go.
Stores and vehicles can either be craned from larger ships or driven onto the raft when docked to a ship equipped with a well deck or ramp. Recovery is a reverse of this process.
Each Mexeflote is usually commanded by a junior NCO and crewed with 4 or 5 other ranks.
Total payload depends on the size of the assembled pontoon;
- a. The Type A raft is 20.12 metres x 7.32 metres x 1.45metres. Capacity 60T
- b. The Type B raft is 38.41 metres x 7.32 metres x 1.45 metres. Capacity 120 T
A Maxi Mexe configuration is also possible and this has a rating of 180 tonnes.
The propulsion units, are also rather special. Modular Z Drive propulsion units from Sykes Hyrdromaster provided the motive force when used as a powered raft and although it might not look particularly seaworthy can be used in 1.5m wave height conditions. In 1994 the Army ordered an additional 50 units and in 2000 upgraded most of them.
The Z Drives have now entirely been replaced with OD150N units from Thrustmaster.
Although the Mexeflote design pre-dates the widespread global containerisation they can fit inside ISO containers but are not sized to be completely compatible, two for example, are 50mm too long for a 20 foot ISO containers and when stacked two high, are again slightly too large for a Hi Cube container. The individual pontoon sections do not have corner castings for ISO twistlocks either.
During the Falklands conflict, loads of up to 200 tonnes were carried and Mexeflote’s moved two thirds of all the supplies transferred from the various ships at San Carlos, they were instrumental in success Operation Corporate
Since then they have been in continuous use.
Although it is not used often Mexeflotes can be used as an intermediary linkspan or beach pontoon to enable landing craft to discharge without beaching. The landing craft can drop its ramp onto the Mexeflote and its vehicles driven off and on to the beach.
For shifting volume and weight, there really is no substitute.
Workboat’s, RIBS, Inflatables and Hovercraft
Completing the category are a number of workboat’s, rigid inflatable boats and hovercraft that could be used to support amphibious or littoral operations.
Excluded here are the Hard Hulled Riverine Craft, Mk6 Assault Boat and Searider boats.
Combat Support Boat
Although mostly used by the Royal Engineers in support of bridging and dive operations the Combat Support Boat is also used by the Royal Logistic Corps to support amphibious and port operations.
The Mk1 CSB, built by Fairey Allday Marine, was used by the Royal Engineers, US Army and Marine Corps, Greece, Turkey and South Korea, and built in a quantity in excess of 1,000 units. In 2,000 these were replaced by the RTK Marine Mk2, each Mk2 CSB is powered by twin Yanmar 6LP diesel marine engines that drive twin Hamilton HJ274 Waterjets via ZF Model HSW 630 gearboxes.
Top speed is approximately 30 knots and they have a cargo capacity of approximately 2 tonnes or 12 personnel.
C130 and Chinook transportable they are powerful for their size and versatile craft.
Unladen weight is 4.75 tonnes, length 8.8m, beam 2.77m and draught 0.65m. BAE now own the design and marketing rights to the CSB although the dedicated trailer is supplied by Oldbury
Army Work Boat
in addition to a number of Combat Support Boats, 51 (Port) Squadron RLC have four Army Work Boats made by Warbreck Engineering in Liverpool, subcontracted to VT Halmatic (now BAE). The four are named WB41 Storm, WB42 Diablo, WB43 Mistral and WB44 Sirocco, yes, the Army owns a Mistral!
They are 14.75m x 4.3m, weigh 48 tonnes, have a top speed of 10 knots and are equipped with firefighting equipment. When deployed they are usually carried as deck cargo on a specially designed cradle and craned to the surface as needed.
The Army Workboat can be used as tugs for Mexeflote’s, positioning other pontoon equipment and for handling flexible pipelines, especially those used in the JOFS fuel system described below.
Inflatable and Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIB)
Also now owned by BAE the VT Halmatic Arctic and Pacific Rigid Inflatable Boats are used by the Royal Navy for general transport tasks and boarding operations, in service since 2004. Powered by a Yanmar marine diesel engine and Hamilton HJ 241 waterjet they have a top speed of approximately 30 knots. Each has a length of 7.8m, beam of 2.57m, draft of 0.5m and a hoist weight of 2.5 tonnes. The slightly smaller Pacific 22 MkII is also in service.
The small Zodiac FC470 Inflatable Raiding Craft MkIII’s are commonly used where their low weight, shallow draft and ease of deployment are important.
Offshore Raiding Craft
Designed and built by Holyhead Marine, the Offshore Raiding Craft is in service with the Royal Marines used in insertion, patrol and security operations. The 9m craft are heavily armed and able to travelling at speeds up to 40 knots, available in three versions (mid, rear and front console), able to carry up to 8 personnel in addition to the 2 crew. Beam and draught are 2.9m and 0.6m respectively. The ORC trailer is supplied by Tex Engineering and with the ORC weighs 5.4 tonnes. They are powered by a 250hp Steyr Marine M256 engine driving a Rolls Royce FF270 waterjet’s.
39 are in service.
Feedback from operations in Iraq showed that whilst the in service Griffon 2000TD was able to withstand greater small arms damage than imagined, the crew were exposed so its replacement would need improvements in this area.
The primary role of the LCAC (L) (R) is as an air-portable, fully amphibious craft capable of the high speed movement of 16 fully equipped troops and crew of 2 over water, ice, mud, marshland and beach. Able to maintain a speed of 45 knots whilst fully laden the replacement is much faster than the older version and there are a series of additional improvements. In addition to be being able to be deployed from the RN/RFA assault craft they are air portable by C130, A400 and C17.
Their side panels can be retracted to reduce the width to enable air portability.
Swimmer Delivery Vehicles
The final part of the mix is potentially the first to be deployed. To carry out covert beach or landing area surveys, other information gathering tasks and special forces insertion the Royal Navy has a number of Swimmer Delivery Vehicles that can be carried on the Astute submarine fleet using a deck shelter.
The SBS use three Mk 8 Mod 1 Swimmer Delivery Vehicles that can be launched and recovered from a role fit shelter fitted to the Astute class of SSN’s designed and built under Project Chalfont by BAE, a replacement for Alamanda system as fitted to the long out of service Trafalgar class HMS Spartan that was designed and built by BMT and Kockums.
Specialist Plant and Equipment
I have a view that the existence of specialist plan and equipment is what separates those serious about amphibious operations and those not.
Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicles
To recover damaged, destroyed or broken down vehicles from beach areas during amphibious landings and push stranded landing craft back into open water specialised vehicles are needed.
The surf zone is a difficult operating environment and the vehicle must be sufficiently protected, have sufficient pulling and/or pushing power to deal with vehicle casualties and landing craft and be heavy enough so they can operate whilst subject to wave loading.
By 1996 it was obvious a replacement for Centurion BARV’s and Falklands veterans was needed.
Invitations to tender were issued in 1999 for the Future Beach Recovery Vehicle and four companies responded; Hagglunds, Pearson Engineering, Marconi Marine Land & Naval Systems and the Dutch company, RDM Technologies, who had developed a Leopard 1 based BARV for the Dutch Marines.
Hagglunds won (who had then become part of Alvis, now BAE) with a design based on a Leopard 1A5 Main Battle Tank. Four were ordered at a total cost of £7.5 million with one dedicated for trials and development.
In 2001 the Hippo Beach Recovery Vehicle was unveiled with Lord Bach stating;
The Hippo is vital for the success of an amphibious assault across a beach. It can manoeuvre in water up to ten feet deep and can be used to clear crippled vehicles from assault lanes and recover stranded landing craft.
We hope that these new vehicles will enter service a year ahead of schedule in parallel with the entry into service of the new assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, from which they will operate.
The design is broadly similar to previous generations but with obvious ergonomic improvements and a revised gearbox that decreases speed but increases torque.
Designed to recover vehicles up to the size and weight of Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank or fully loaded DROPS plus trailer the Hippo has a weight of about 50 tonnes, has two days fuel, protection from small arms and artillery splinters, a crew of four and can operate in up to 2.95m of water.
It is also designed push the 240 tonne LCU Mk10 and lighter LCVP landing craft of the beach.
HMS Albion and Bulwark have one each and the other two are used for training with 11(Amphibious Trials and Training (11 ATT)) Squadron Royal Marines and as a war reserve.
Although you can never have enough heavy plant the beach role creates some very specific requirements.
Sand and shingle beaches might not be able to support the weight of heavy vehicles and shingle especially, can cause many problems for tracked vehicles. Repeated trafficking of a small area will also likely make things worse and so trackway can be used to enhance the surface.
The UK has a total of 22 Medium Wheeled Tractor Winterised/Waterproof, the JCB 436 EHT, that can each operate at a fording depth of 1.5m with an additional splash height of 0.5m. It is also modified to be able to operate in -46 degree Celsius temperatures and can be fitted with the Ulrich Trackway Dispenser and a number of other attachments.
The video below shows the Ulrich Trackway Dispenser in action with the Faun Class 30 trackway. Class 30 has now been renamed the Medium Ground Mobility System (MGMS) and Class 70, Heavy Ground Mobility System (HGMS). Heavier vehicles can use the trackway beyond its classification but this depends on the ground bearing capacity and number of passes before the trackway becomes unusable.
Continuous lengths can also be joined using a joining strip.
From Faun’s website
MGMS is a military specification system that facilitates the launch and recovery of a temporary roadway. A standard MGMS provides one 32m length of roadway as standard, further spools containing additional 32m lengths can be stored and deployed by the same FASTRACK. MGMS can be deployed by a trained two-man team in less than 6 minutes. The aluminium TRACKWAY will withstand repeated loads of up to 30 tonnes (rated to MLC 30).
MGMS is suitable for tracked and wheeled vehicles up to 30 ton, and is chassis mounted by crane, MGMS can also be deployed by tractor to create a solid beach landing area, utilising the BEACH DISPENSER system. MGMS provides access for these vehicles into areas where there are no roads, or roads have been damaged. MGMS enables boggy or marshy terrain to become accessible to medium sized vehicles.
MGMS is best suited to adverse terrain conditions, including snow, marsh, mud and sand in a variety of climates. MGMS can also be used as shelter and tent flooring. MGMS is in use worldwide in a variety of military engineering applications, including humanitarian and disaster relief.
Mobile plant, especially mechanical handling equipment is vital to the success of amphibious operations.
The Royal Logistics Corps and Royal Engineers, through the C Vehicle PFI, have a number of important pieces of MHE used onboard ships and at ports and on the beach support area. Medium and Light Wheeled Tractors are used for a variety engineering roles; earth moving, excavating, mechanical handling trenching, dozing, grading and digging.
Supplementing the wheeled tractors are a couple of telehandler designs, also from JCB.
These are the most numerous of C Vehicle equipment and have a broad span of users replacing the Volvo 4440’s and JCB 410’s (both of which are not telehandlers but converted loaders). The requirement for loading and unloading ISO containers dictated some of the size and mobility specifications and there are two models, the Telehandler 2,400Kg which is a JCB 524-50 and the higher capacity JCB 541-70 called the Telehandler 4,000Kg.
Each has a number of variants with the smaller version coming in standard (150), standard with sideshift (150), winterised (15) and winterised with sideshift (15).
The larger version has two variants, standard with sideshift (85) and winterised (6).
If the above are for loading and unloading containers, handling pallets and other logistics tasks the role of handling the containers themselves falls to the RLC’s Kalmar Rough Terrain Container Handlers (RTCH). In the late nineties the US Army recognised the need to take advantage of civilian containerisation and issued an operational requirements document to which Kalmar, Caterpillar and Liftking Industries responded. The contract was awarded to Kalmar in 2000 with deliveries on the first batch of 346 RT240 Rough Terrain Container Handlers being completed at the end of 2004, other orders followed and it is still in production.
The US Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) Operation Iraqi Freedom after action report provided a glowing testimonial;
Vital to the rapid resupply of divisional troops are rough terrain container handlers (RTCH), as most of the corps and theatre logistics pushes arrived on flatbed trailers with containers.
They are relatively manoeuvrable and the extendable boom, rotation and sideshift top handler allow precise placement of the container. The designers have also built in an ingenious system for reducing its height, by moving the operator’s cab to one side, lowering it and then sinking the boom next to the cab the total height of the container handler is less than 3metres, thus enabling transport in a C-17 aircraft but at 53.5 tonnes it is a big lift, filling the C17 with its 3.65m width, 15m length and 2.98m height in shipping configuration. This preparation for air transport can be carried out in less than 30 minutes by one person with no external assistance, and without removing or dismantling any part of the machine.
The reduced height also greatly simplifies road moves, bloody clever.
Unlike most container handlers the RTCH uses a single tyre arrangement. Both axles are driven and steered; crab-steer is possible and all steering is computer controlled for precise tracking. The axles are unsprung and two-wheel drive and single-axle steer is possible for road travel.
About 20 RTCH were obtained under an Urgent Operational requirement for Operation Telic and the National Audit Office report noted that over 9,000 containers were used;
Increasingly, the Department’s operations involve the use of International Organisation for Standardisation specified-shipping containers. Operation TELIC necessitated the use of some 9,103 such containers and exposed shortfalls in the Department’s ability to handle these containers both in the United Kingdom and in-theatre. While the Department procured an additional 20 container handling vehicles, 6 Supply Regiment highlighted that it had only three container-handling vehicles to deal with several thousand containers.
Although you can pick up containers with a crane that requires more personnel and is much slower, moving containers is a specialist function that needs specialist equipment. The RTCH is not specifically tasked with beach operations there is no reason why they couldn’t be used in an amphibious operation support role.
At Marchwood there is also a range of specialist MHE that although not used when deployed, is still a vital element of the supply chain. The MoD recently let an £87m contract to Briggs Equipment for the Defence Mechanical Handling Equipment requirement that includes just over 3,000 pieces of equipment ranging from forklift trucks to container handling equipment.
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The ability to sustain the fuel requirements of an amphibious force is also a good indicator of actual combat capability.
In 2010 KBR were awarded a £22m contract to deliver the Joint Operational Fuel System (JOFS).
JOFS is a broad ranging system designed for both operational and exercise use and is defined as;
JOFS is a generic term covering all special purpose military equipment designed to enable the receipt, storage, testing and treatment, and supply of bulk fuel quickly, safely and efficiently on deployed joint operations, within the Land environment anywhere in the world, in diverse climatic conditions, over extended lines of communication, for extended periods of time and where the Host Nation’s infrastructure is broken, damaged or non-existent
To quote QinetiQ (who were involved with the decision support, bid support modelling)
The goal of the Joint Operational Fuel System was to deliver a fully integrated modular military fuel capability that will receive, store, test/blend, dispense and distribute bulk fuel from ship to shore, by air transport, by bulk carrying vehicle, by rail tanker, by inland waterway and using host nation support. This system will replace ageing fuel handling equipments which will not meet the demands of future expeditionary operations. The current deployable fuel handling capability for expeditionary operations, known as Tactical Fuel Handling Equipment, is supplied by a plethora of individual systems. It is based around cold war designs and is not considered expeditionary by the user community
The project manager added;
In all there were sixteen diﬀerent equipment lines when the project was started. The equipment could only be operated in a static location. Equipment had not been designed for rapid movement and ease of use in the ﬁeld. We needed to develop a solution that delivered the fuel to the right place at the right time and in the right quantity
The complete Joint Operational Fuel System, as can be seen from the images below) is pretty comprehensive and includes ship to shore elements but entirely correctly, priority has been given to operational use in Afghanistan. In 2013, Vikoma were awarded a £2.5 sub contract from KBR to deliver a number of ruggedised powerpacks for pumping equipment and tanker rollover spill containment systems. This new contract was to add to a previous one, the output from which have been successfully used in Afghanistan. Another manufacturer, Barum and Dewar, provided the specialist storage cases.
Joint Operational Fuel Systems Project (JOFS) pumps, 160 of them, come in three flavours, Light Forces Pump (LFP) with a capacity of 400 litres per minute at 4 bar, Medium Duty Pump (MDP) with a capacity of 680 Litres per minute at 6 bar and the Heavy Duty Pump (HDP) with a capacity of 2,000 litres per minute at 6 bar. These pumps can be remotely powered up to 15m away from the Vikoma powerpacks, this means they are outside of the hazardous area The system is compatible with current Air Portable Fuel Containers (APFC) and can be used with either Aviation or Diesel fuel, depending what assets require re-fuelling. The Small Container Convoy Refuelling System (SCCRS) is designed to provide a 7 point refuelling unit for refuelling multiple vehicles at once. JOFS Phase 2 enables the deployment of a Primary Bulk Fuels Installation (PBFI) which has a capacity of 600,000 Litres with support for aircraft fuelling, aircraft defuelling and bulk road tanker filling. It can simultaneously refuel and de-fuel either two tankers or up to six aircraft.
Most of the JOFS components are provided by the UK company, DESMI, who also provide much of the pumping equipment for RN/RFA vessels and RAF fuel installations. DESMI produce some excellent fuel handling systems; the Aviation Fuelling System, Bulk Fuel Installation for Temporary Sites, Containerised Ground Fuel Stations, Air Landed Aircraft Refuelling Point (ALARP), Forward Air Refuelling Point (FARP), Helicopter/Light Aircraft Refuelling System and Air Delivered Bulk Fuel Installation
The video below shows JOFS in action in a ship to shore role, making use of Army Work Boats, RE Divers and Mexeflote’s to bring aviation fuel ashore, the system is called the Towed Flexible Barge Discharge System (TFBDS), supplied by DESMI and Trelleborg, 5 are in service. The barge or dracone has a capacity of 300,000 Litres, once it has been filled by connecting to an RFA (or civilian) tanker the barge is towed to within 200m of the shoreline and connected to a manifold raft. this raft is then connected via flexible pipelines to the onshore installation that uses 136,000 Litre flexible pillow tanks.
Storage and handling of fuels and lubricants is a complex and demanding business, especially the relationships between military and civilian regulations and who does what across the three services and within (RE and RLC), have a read of JSP 317 if you don’t believe me!
Both the Oshkosh articulated high capacity tankers and lower capacity MAN SV based tankers are distinctive in appearance and beyond differences in capacity and mobility, carry out the same role. The Unit Support tanker carries 7,000 Litres, the Close Support Tanker 20,000 Litres and the Tactical Aircraft Refueller 15,000 Litres. All have metering, pumping and filtering equipment and carry an assortment of ancillary items like pipeline and manifolds. The UST has also been supplied in a winterised and waterproof variant.
For operations in Afghanistan the MoD purchased 20 ISO tank container based Fuel Dispensing Racks from WEW in Germany. These are ground mounted and not used whilst mounted on the vehicle.
The Royal Marines comprise 3 Commando brigade, 1 Assault Group, Royal Marines Band and Special Boat Squadron.
3 Commando Brigade has units from both British Army and The Corps of Royal Marines, who form the bulk of the UK amphibious assault capability.
3 Commando Brigade comprises
40, 42 and 45 Commando; each a battalion sized amphibious infantry unit equipped with the standard British small arms ad infantry support weapons such as mortars and Javelin ATGW’s.
43 Commando Fleet Protection Group; provides a range of security tasks for the UK deterrent and force protection for deployed RN/RFA vessels.
30 Commando Information Exploitation Group; a battalion sized group primarily tasked with the provision of ISTAR, EW and logistic support functions but also including air defence (Starstreak missile) and communications.
Armoured Support Group; Operate the Viking protected mobility vehicles
In addition to the main body of Royal Marines in 3 Commando and the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) there are a number of relevant specialist units.
1 Assault Group; provides the training lead and specialist equipment operation personnel for landing craft, hovercraft, other small craft and boarding operations. Smaller squadron and individual detachments are distributed across the RN assault vessels and other locations.
Commando Logistics Regiment; The CLR is an unusual Regiment because it contains personnel from the RN, RM and Army. Its basic role is to provide all manner of combat service support to 3 CDO
From the MoD;
The CLR is situated at Chivenor in North Devon. It is home to about 620 personnel from all three Services, including mechanical engineers, medics and logisticians. No other unit has such an eclectic mix of cap badges working together.
The regiment’s purpose is to provide every aspect of combat service support for 3 Commando Brigade, anywhere in the world. In particular the regiment’s aims are to provide support for brigade amphibious operations when sea-based, during offload across a beach or port, and over a large battlespace on land.
Specifically, the Landing Force Support Party (LFSP) has the role of beach logistics support. Read more about the Commando Logistics Regiment here.
17 Port and Maritime Regiment are relatively new, being formed in 1949 as a Corps of Royal Engineers unit, tasked with operating ports and beaches in support of the armed forces. In 1965 the Royal Corps of Transport was formed and assumed the port operations role from the Royal Engineers.
The role of 17 P&M is quite varied;
The Regiment has three Port Squadrons, a Port Enabling Squadron, a REME Workshop and a Headquarters Squadron. It operates a wide variety of vehicles, plant, railway equipment and vessels, including Ramp Craft Logistic (RCL), Workboats, Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP), MEXEFLOTE rafts and Rigid Raider Craft. It also has the only military Dive Team in the RLC; they are responsible for a range of tasks including port clearance and vessel maintenance.
The basic role of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment is to load ships at one end of the supply bridge and unload them at the other using road, rail and of course, shipping. The two port squadrons are organised on equipment lines, 51 Squadron, work boats, 52 Squadron, Mexeflotes and 53 Squadron, HQ and Port Enabling, although recent operations have seen these dividing lines soften a little. 17 P&M are within the 104 Logistics Support Brigade which also includes air movement, postal and courier and movement control.
17 P&M are twinned with an Army Reserve Regiment, 165 Port and Maritime Regiment. 232 Transport Squadron RLC(V) re-roled to a port squadron under the Army 2020 Reserves plan. 165 (Wessex) Port and Enabling Regiment will saw 102 Port Squadron and 275 Railway Troop withdrawn from the order of battle. 165 also subsumed 142 Vehicle Squadron RLC(V), and 710 Operational Hygiene Squadron RLC(V). 165 now consists of 142 (Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars) Vehicle Squadron, 232 (Cornwall) Port Squadron, 264 (Plymouth) Headquarters Squadron, 265 (Devon) Port Squadron,266 (Southampton) Port Squadron RLC, and 710 (Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars) Operational Hygiene Squadron.
Marchwood is home to 17 Port and Maritime Regiment RLC and the Sea Mounting Centre. In March 2015 it was announced that Solent Gateway Limited were the preferred bidder to manage and develop the commercial potential of Marchwood whilst still retaining its core role. It is interesting that the announcement also stated that the operator would also provide a deployable Reserve capability as part of the Army’s Total Support Force. Solent Gateway is a partnership between GBA Holdings and David MacBrayne Limited, incidentally David MacBrayne is the ferry operator wholly owned by the Scottish Government.
24 Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers provides the British Army amphibious combat engineer capability. The Regiment, unusually, has only a single Field Squadron, 59 Commando Squadron. 54 Commando Headquarters and support Squadron combines the traditional role of HQ and field support. One might assume that a regular squadron would be paired with an Army Reserve squadron within a single regiment but that would be thinking logically! Instead 131 Commando Field Squadron has been retained in the recent organisation changes resubordinated to 32 Engineer regiment.
170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group Royal Engineers used to be called the Military Works Force and includes a range of specialist engineering disciplines including port operations. 65 Works Group is a wholly Army Reserve force and consists of a number of specialist teams, 509 STRE being ports infrastructure. 509 STRE is a small team, less than 30 personnel all in, but they retain the core of the UK’s port infrastructure engineering capability. Their role includes professional assessment, design consultancy and construction supervision.
29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery provides fire support for 3 CDO using principally, the 105mm Light Gun.
Korps Mariniers; the Royal Marines and Dutch Korps Mariniers have a long history of cooperation with the Royal Marines and together form the UK/NL Landing Force (UKNLLF). The Korps Mariniers is organised and equipped on similar lines to the Royal Marines.
The Response Force Task Group is described as ‘intrinsically joint and relies upon elements of all three services to function
Thoughts on the UK Amphibious Capability
The description of capabilities above hopefully demonstrates that the UK does, in fact, retain a fairly reasonable set of equipment, skills, personnel and general capabilities in support of amphibious, and that in fact, you know, we are not all doomed!
When you look at the ability to covertly survey a beach, clear mines, land light forces by sea and air, prepare a beach for repeated trafficking, get stores and heavy vehicles over the same beach and sustain them with specialist capabilities like fuel dracones and pumping equipment you should see that this is not a capability for show, it is a capability for doing.
Over the beach fuel, covert survey and specialist beach recovery vehicles are all indicators of a serious force, they might be showy but they are essential and that the UK has managed to retain these little discussed capabilities is testament to good decision making.
But there is the reverse side of the coin.
SDSR 2010 basically saw the Army trying to minimise support for 3 Commando Brigade because, let’s be honest, it wanted to prioritise the field Army and not the Royal Navy. You can argue that one all day long but it was only after a series of fairly fraught negotiations that some of the combat support functions were retained, specifically the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers. 3 Commando also lost the attached 1 Rifles. 29 RA has lost a number of light guns and 24 RE has not formed a second commando engineer squadron.
The future is also less than rosy on the ships front.
HMS Ocean is due out of service in the 2018 timeframe with no replacement. Although she will not be missed by many I think HMS Ocean has delivered sterling service for what was, not a lot of money. The role of HMS Ocean will be absorbed by the QE class carriers. Although the decision will have to be confirmed by SDSR 2015, the mod music seems to be that both QE carriers will be bought into service. Whether this means both in service simultaneously or both in service in a paired rotation like HMS Albion and Bulwark is yet to be decided.
My money is on the latter, one in service at any one time.
In many ways, the large and modern QE class will be streets ahead of HMS Ocean but in others, it has a few features (or lacks them) that makes it somewhat of a less than perfect replacement. No landing craft or vehicle deck means that embarked forces will have to go ashore by helicopters only and with minimal vehicles. There may be some room in the hangar or on deck for vehicles but parking Land Rovers next to F35B’s in the main hangar does not seem like a recipe for a stress free voyage.
The more helicopters onboard for Royal Marines means fewer F35B’s or Merlin HM.2’s for ASW.
When you only have one ship in the LPH and fixed wing aviation role the conflicting demands of those missions conspire to compromise both. It is also likely that our single QE carrier will operate further offshore than HMS Ocean for obvious reasons. This results in longer transits to shore, reduced cycle times and momentum.
OK, so buy some V22’s like the USMC and reduce cycle times to shore or beyond to the objective. However desirable this might be, the chances of such a project coming to fruition remain highly unlikely.
Which means there are two choices, bring a QE close to shore or just accept a reduced operational tempo during ship to shore transfers.
Maintaining both HMS Albion and Bulwark at the same specification will need future spending as they get to their out of service dates towards the 2030 timeframe and this will be difficult to find. Due to cost pressures they only had relatively limited aviation facilities and so would find it difficult to take up any slack from the withdrawal of HMS Ocean.
Personnel shortages continue to degrade capability in the RFA.
The strategic RORO service now only has 4 vessels on permanent charter instead of the original 6.
The entire 3 Commando Brigade has the sum total of 99 protected mobility vehicles (Viking) and an eclectic collection of other soft skinned vehicles.
Whilst the Mexeflote is one of the wonders of the modern world, they are getting long in the tooth and in need if replacement.
Helicopters are a rare bright spot, the Merlin HC4/4a will be a step change compared to the Sea Kings although there are potential problems with the maintenance of availability and during the transition, capacity will be fairly low. Whether the Apache Attack Helicopter replacement programme will give operations from ships any priority is in question, aspirations and trade offs during project definition stages might clash. The lack of a powered rotor fold/brake for the Chinook fleet also continues to constrain their use in the amphibious role.
So maybe we are doomed, after all!
One way of looking at the UK’s amphibious capabilities is to imagine them as an elastic band.
At rest, it maintains a neat shape.
During an operation a number of factors will try and bend the elastic band into one of an infinitely variable shape. Pulling on the band will be factors such as enemy capabilities and disposition, the physical environment and operational objectives.
A non-combatant evacuation might only need helicopters and light force protection, an amphibious raid could require a mix of surface and air capabilities, a longer term littoral security operation would focus on offshore raiding craft, hovercraft and ISTAR at the expense of landing craft and offload rates and so on.
In a coalition operation we might be able to rely on others for control of the air and thus dedicate the future aircraft carrier to the LPH role, a UK only operation might not have this luxury and therefore, the amount of helicopter lift available would be constrained by fixed wing operations.
All the amphibious ships have overload capacity, if the operation is conducted at distance, we might not be able to take advantage of this. If we can get personnel aboard from adjacent safe areas and conduct a short voyage to the operational area then overload is possible.
If the operation is to be carried out under any kind of threat of enemy action then pretty much everything changes, an administrative offload is very different to a semi opposed landing conducted under threat of indirect fire or air attack.
Other variables include readiness and availability states, particularly for helicopters during the Sea King to merlin transition.
There are many variables.
Simply totting up the number of bunks and lane metres might be useful, it can only tell a small section of the overall story.
It worth looking at though.
To make this a meaningful exercise we have to make a number of assumptions.
- HMS Bulwark is available with her normal landing craft
- HMS Ocean is available with her normal landing craft
- 6-7 Merlin HC3/3a’s are available
- 1 LPD(A) is available from the fleet of 3
- 2 Point RORO ships are available
- Bullets, bombs and missiles are not flying so we can make use of the RORO ships close to shore
- The mine threat is either non-existent or being dealt with prior
- Force protection is provided by Royal Navy vessels
- No overload
This is not at full stretch, maybe with sufficient time we could increase the LSD(A) and RORO ship numbers but is a good baseline.
What can this force deliver?
HMS Bulwark; 400 personnel, 500 lanes metres, 4 LCU and 4 LCVP
HMS Ocean; 400 personnel, 4 LCVP and 6 Merlin and other helicopters
RFA Cardigan Bay; 350 personnel, 1,200 lane metres, 2 Mexeflote, 1 LCU and various stores
RORO x2; 5,400 lane metres
Totting these numbers up gives us 1,050 personnel and 1,700 plus 5,400 lane metres, or 7,100 in total.
I have been a shade conservative on the troop numbers to accommodate personnel involved with aviation and landing craft operation and maintenance, and other similar tasks.
A lane metre (or LIM) is usually defined as a metre of deck space that is 2 or 2.1 metres wide. It is a convenient way of providing a rule of thumb for vehicular loading aboard vessels that also takes into account lashing spacing. A Land Rover 110 type vehicle would consume approximately 6 LIMS, Viking, 9 and a HET with trailer, nearly 28. A vehicle wider than 2 metres will of course require multiple LIMS.
As can be seen from above, the bulk of the LIM space is on the RORO vessels with only 1,700 available across the amphibious shipping, Bulwark and Cardigan Bay. HMS Ocean does have some but it is limited.
How will this force get ashore?
That depends on how many ‘waves’ we want, whether they are required to fly or travel in landing craft. Assuming we have 7 Merlin’s available for lift from HMS Ocean and 400 personnel. Distribution and packing density can vary but working on 20 personnel per cab HMS Ocean could put the force ashore in 3 waves. The speed of offloading at the objective will depend on the distance to HMS Ocean, i.e. the ship to objective distance. Regardless of the distance, that is 140 personnel at a time.
Substitute Merlin for Chinook and the numbers basically double, or half, depending how you view it. If we could fit 5 Chinook on the deck of HMS Ocean whilst still having the capability for a handful of Apache or Wildcat then we could do 200 at a time, the whole force in two lifts. The Merlin or Chinook could then be used for medical evacuation and moving stores forward.
Over at HMS Bulwark, a similar number of personnel are being shuttled ashore in LCVP’s and LCU’s. The mix between the two would depend on the number of vehicles or specialist plant required. If it is pretty much all personnel and minimal vehicles then the 4 LCU could do it one go. In reality, it would likely be a mix. Following these in would be additional personnel and vehicles from the LSD(A) and their two Mexeflotes would be able to unload the RORO vessels but only if it was safe to do so, neither are warships. Whilst the LSD(A) has self defence weapons the RORO vessels do not, they are completely unarmed.
The offload rate depends very much on distance between the ships and shore and sea state. If the risk environment pushes the amphibious shipping then we are down to a snail’s pace.
Admittedly, this is a rather conservative overview using back of a fag packet maths but even accepting that, the result is somewhat adrift of the aspiration to land and sustain a brigade sized unit over the beach. Throw in some enemy action and poor weather and things get even worse.
Now fast forward to 2020, no Ocean and who knows what other reductions as a result of SDSR 2015.
But at least we will have the carriers on their way in.
One of them could easily replace HMS Ocean capacities but as discussed above, there exists potential for conflict between provision of fast jet and rotary aviation and the distance offshore it will be held.
It would be foolish to say these conflicts could not be resolved because the new aircraft carriers will be extremely flexible, but there is only likely to be one of them and one of them can only be in one place at a time.
The USMC has recognised the increasing risk of staying close to the shore because of proliferating anti-access capabilities and formulated various strategies to operate from a sea base at least 25 nautical miles off shore, over the horizon at a minimum with aspirations for even more. This has driven investment in the V22, LCAC and other systems. Meanwhile, the UK dabbled with faster landing craft in the form of PACSCAT and the Force Protection Craft to escort them but this did no go forward and the idea is in the same state as the Monty Python parrot.
Can we keep up with Uncle Sam and if not, what use would the UK’s amphibious capability be in a coalition operation where the USMC was in the lead?
So all this points to an uncomfortable reality, whilst all the pieces of the jigsaw are there, and impressive they are too, we cannot land and sustain anything other than an amphibious battlegroup of roughly a thousand personnel unless we are operating in a benign military and physical environment, and sustaining even that might be a challenge.
Without continued investment it will continue to fall behind the curve and the future is not looking particularly rosy either.
It is easy to fall into a pit of despair and declare the end of the world as we know it but perhaps it is time to recognise the limitations of our capability and resize 3 Commando Brigade to match reality or pony up the funds to realise our aspirations, this would of course mean sacrificing other capabilities unless the magic money tree delivers.
Is keeping the ability to land and sustain a Brigade from ship to shore worth sacrificing a frigate or three, a handful of Army Regiments or an RAF fighter squadron?
Kidding ourselves is not an option; tough times, tough decisions.
Next post, a look at the air assault subject.
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