Change in Ship to Shore Logistics

The case for change in ship to shore logistics comes in three parts;

  • A case study review
  • Current capabilities review
  • A look at the future

Case Study Review

The Mulberry harbours and D Day was perhaps the apogee of ship to shore logistics but as incredible an achievement as they were, they still could not match the offload capacity of the existing French and Dutch ports.

Even a massive mobile port like mulberry was no match for an established port.

PLUTO was less of a success but the lesser known TOMBOLA exceeded all expectations although more fuel was delivered by tankers and ports than any other method

Even ingenious and innovative systems like PLUTO and TOMBOLA were no match for an established port

Of course, these are obvious conclusions and certainly no surprise to the D Day planners but do worth reinforcing when looking forward.

There are a number of others, many of them obvious but easy to ignore;

  • Not invented here, hubris and inter service rivalry is corrosive and counter-productive.
  • Civilian industry has solutions that can be exploited for military need.
  • Training in realistic scenarios is essential to success.
  • The weather can really screw things up.
  • Separating loading and unloading from tide and wave is the key to high offload rates for expedient solutions.
  • Accurate surveys are critical to success.

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 the scale of the challenge had many echoes of D-Day; a need for joint service cooperation and a number of technical challenges to overcome for example. What we did not have was the luxury of time, no time to develop new and novel solutions, no time for testing and no time for practice beyond what was available on the journey south. Argentine commanders considered the most likely British landings would be in the same place as they did, close to Port Stanley. Their USMC training and doctrine told them to ignore the other options and so they extensively mined the beach areas to the north of the airport and other beach locations, the same beach locations they used in their invasion.

Land where the enemy is not.

Intelligence about possible landing sites was essential; local knowledge gained by RM personnel over many years, technical information collection and close observation by special forces were all used extensively.

As in 1944, accurate surveys are critical to success.

Establishing the Beach Support Area (BSA) took much longer than expected because after the initial attacks at San Carlos the various stores ships were withdrawn with only those unloading allowed in the area. The enemy action had an effect on the build-up in a way that was simply not envisaged. Despite being moored very close to the beach, Individual ship offloads took a long time because the force had no options other than the use of lighterage i.e. Mexeflotes and landing craft.

Offload rates are function of distance from shore and the number of transport modes.

Packed fuel (jerrycans) was a problem, the initial landings saw Mexeflotes ferrying Bedford POD’s (fuel tankers) back and forth between Ajax Bay Red Beach and ships in San Carlos water, refilling at the ship end and discharging into jerrycans at the land end. If one looks at many of the pictures of Mexeflotes in San Carlos a Bedford POD is almost a constant fixture. This was not efficient but given the relatively low numbers of vehicles the task force had at their disposal it was not a battle loser in the way that the lack of fuel has been in the past.

Fuel demand should not be underestimated and the method of transfer from ship to shore must cater for the estimated demand, and more.

The lack of a single fuel policy also meant that the fuel distribution system had to cope with aviation fuel, diesel and Civgas.

A single fuel policy is a must.

Normal usage rates or (Daily Ammunition Expenditure Rates – DAER) were regularly exceeded, sometimes by spectacular margins.

Usage estimates must be established against recent operations and realistic exercises.

The difficult terrain and lack of transport meant distributing stores onwards from the Beach Support Area was difficult, getting it onto a beach was one thing but getting it to the point of use was very much another. A lack of palletisation and poor-quality packing materials were a constant problem. MFO (Movements Forwarding Office) boxes were often used for stores and whilst these might have been fine for moving between married quarters they were not for ship to shore amphibious logistics. Spillage dues to damaged boxes and the need to repack created many needless delays and stores

Unit load devices; boxes, pallets and containers maximise efficiency.

In Iraq in 2003, the invasion was largely a land based affair but the build-up that preceded it made use of already established ports although these established ports would need temporary augmentation.

The use of ports is a constant and is not all about the combat phase.

During the operation to open Umm Qasr the key challenges were a damaged and neglected port and waterway infrastructure, and the inconvenience of Iraqi mining. Counter mine and EOD operations took much longer than expected and in the port, had to lean heavily on Australian clearance teams because they were the only ones with an established method of port clearance.

Ports are a unique environment for mine and EOD clearance and need a separate approach, even if that approach may exploit already in service equipment and personnel.

Outside the port and in the approach waterways the mine countermeasures task demonstrated the potential of unmanned system and the complexities of working with foreign flagged civilian merchant vessels and insurance providers.

Shallow water mine countermeasures will probably be needed before prior to any kind of amphibious operation, speed, the ability to determine debris from a mine and confidence in the final result are critical.

Local labour was and a broad array of civil engineering expertise were vital.

Ports need skilled and low skilled personnel

Haiti in 2010 was a very different operation conducted with the absence of an enemy, it was a humanitarian disaster relief operation (HADR) in the aftermath of the powerful earthquake that severely damaged the port at Port au Prince.

The geography and time of year also ensured that sea conditions were benign, another place and another time may well have completely changed the ability of responders to get so much ashore so quickly.

Solutions must be capable of operating in adverse weather and in varied environments.

Information and reconnaissance assets were invaluable but by Day 2, Google had made available high resolution satellite imagery which would form the basis of a number of innovative mapping and survey applications and arrangements with all responders reporting it as having a very positive impact on the response.

Accurate surveys and information were vital, yet again, but some of this can come from open source and civilian providers.

Despite the local GSM infrastructure being damaged the communication tool of choice was the Blackberry, being able to integrate civilian communication systems was a key lesson as was the power of web services and SharePoint.

An information system that can differentiate and segment information and work over low bandwidth unreliable data networks will be able to be used for a wide range of military and civilian contingencies.

The divers at the seaport operated in atrocious water conditions without appropriate protective equipment simply because none was available and the lack of joint training and equipment between the Army and Navy dive teams introduced unnecessary delays. Divers actually took daily doses of antibiotics and were constantly monitored for health problems, all for the lack of proper PPE.

Hazardous working environment protection should not be an optional extra.

The importance of material handling equipment (especially the Kalmar RTCH), being able to clear pathways out of a port area and the ability to move supplies out of port areas were again reinforced. Apparently minor capabilities like building a RORO ramp out of compacted earth and hardcore had a huge impact on the ability to flow stores through the port.

Material handling equipment (MHE) is never available in enough quantities but they need trained people to drive them.

The ISO container continued to prove it is much more efficient than break bulk, the ability of the SS Cape May and SS Cornhusker State to load break bulk into containers was invaluable in the reduction of crane and lighterage movements, moving half empty containers is a fools errand. Whilst the JLOTS piers and lighters were invaluable for moving plant and vehicles to shore the amount of double handling required for palletised and containerised stores meant in reality, it was quite inefficient. If it has wheels, JLOTS is very good, if it doesn’t, there is great deal of double and triple handling to be considered.

Reducing crane movements and double handling through the use of pallets, containers and effective ship berthing is what actually makes the biggest difference for throughput.

The potential of the USNS Grasp was little understood, although she stayed the longest of any ship and offered invaluable salvage, survey and diver support she was initially characterised by SOUTHCOM as offering limited capability.

Survey and salvage are key enablers.

Delivering anything by helicopter, despite being very photogenic, is low capacity and inefficient, particularly for dense stores like water. Much was made of the water generation capability of amphibious warships and carriers but getting it to the point of need was another matter.

The large Army landing craft provided greater utility than the USMC and USN would like to admit, they should be considered a key asset.

Although the smaller ports around Port au Prince were in some cases undamaged they were arguably under-utilised in the response, some of the JLOTS personnel and equipment might have been better used for this and indeed some of the civilian response did actually make use of these smaller ports.

Ports, again.

Whilst many focus on the military response one could reasonably argue that it was a number of civilian governmental and commercial organisations that actually did the heavy lifting and received less credit than they should have. Military Sealift Command, The Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit, US Coast Guard, Transport Command, Crowley Marine, Titan Salvage, Seacor and Resolve Marine being notable examples. They were rolling quickly, often with only verbal agreements in place, Crowley even had a small float plane fly in a survey team on the 18th of January, the Sea Express and Cape Express combined with the Marcajama and SS Cornhusker State and the survey and debris removal paved the way for the port to open with the Crowley barges.

Civilian providers, techniques, equipment and expertise is just as useful as military, if not more so.

The step change in throughput when the two barges arrived was noticeable (although the actual profile in reality would have been smoother); as soon as the second Crowley barge was in place JLOTS was only used for military traffic. The first barge arrived on 13th of February after salvage and debris removal commenced on the 3rd of February. If this salvage operation had commenced earlier the barges may have been available sooner and the need for much of the JLOTS capability diminished. That a single cheap and simple barge with a crawler crane could deliver more than double the assembled military capability throughput is an interesting observation.

Large barges allow ships to dock directly, reducing crane moves and transfer to lighterage.

To summarise the case study observations;

  • Ports are always used and it is much more efficient to repair a port than build your own.
  • If you can’t make use of an existing port, bringing your own is a valid option but make sure the offload and loading infrastructure is separated from the sea and has sufficient ability to unload containers and vehicles.
  • Civilian industry has solutions that can be exploited for military need.
  • Training in realistic scenarios is essential to success.
  • Solutions need to be robust and resistant to weather and extremes of climate.
  • Accurate surveys are always critical to success.
  • Mine countermeasures, like surveys, are critical to success.
  • Salvage, repair and dredging are have relatively low resource requirements but potentially large impacts on port operations.
  • Bulk fuel capabilities is just as important and vehicles and stores.
  • Offload rates can be hugely increased by reducing crane movements and allowing larger ships to offload directly, without lighterage.
  • Don’t ignore people and skills, especially the locals where applicable.
  • Material handling equipment, containers and pallets contribute significantly to efficiency and offload rates.
  • Large landing craft and amphibious vehicles are extremely useful.

Current Capabilities Review

Observing and analysing past amphibious and ship to shore logistics operations can provide a vital insight into the requirements of today and tomorrow but they do not tell all the story.

When you look at the UK’s 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 it is clear 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 not 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 whilst it is perfectly formed, it is small and there are some clouds on the horizon.

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. We 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 on-board for Royal Marines means fewer F35B’s or Merlin HM.2’s for ASW or AEW.

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.

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.

One could argue that we have, and are likely to, make use of ports more than beaches and therefore, the balance of investment should go to the port augmentation and enabling capabilities that whilst there, are relatively small and established mostly on a reserve basis.

For survey and mine countermeasures, both the Army and Royal Navy have very well established and modern capabilities with a strong development path. However, we could make a reasonable argument that the port environment is one which has not benefited from the advances in unmanned systems to ‘take the man out of the minefield’ and a lack of joint training for port clearance and survey points to a shortfall.

Is it worth strengthening the port and over the shore logistics capability in a time of budget stress and shrinking amphibious capabilities?

A difficult question with no easy answers.

I am of the opinion that traditional amphibious combat capabilities remain vital for the UK and would not be in favour of reducing that at the expense of improved port and logistic capabilities but the fact remains that ports will be just as vital, if not more so, than beaches.

Future Operating Environments

It is rather a hackneyed thing to say but the world is changing, and that means the world’s shorelines are changing also.

The MoD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) regularly publish a document called Global Strategic Trends which describes the context for defence and security out to 2045.

It is available from this link

Global Strategic Trends is an excellent document that should be used to inform capability generation. One of its themes is that of urbanisation.

With 70% of the global population likely to live in cities by 2045, urbanisation will be a particularly important theme in developing countries. Urbanisation is likely to enhance economic and social development, but – without mitigation measures – may also lead to pressure on infrastructure (and the environment) which could contribute to social tensions within the urban population. Urbanisation and the effects of climate change are likely to result in an increase in the magnitude of humanitarian crises, particularly since the majority of urban areas will almost certainly be either on, or near the coast, making these cities vulnerable to flooding.

The world’s population increasingly moving to cities and those cities are increasingly situated on coastlines.

The United Nations also publish an annual report on urbanisation.

Migration to coastal regions is common in both developed and developing nations and population density is observed being higher in coastal cities than in other areas.

If the current trends in population growth, urbanisation and migration continue over three quarters of the world’s population will be living within 150km of the coast.

Night Sky 2009 and 2030

By 2030 it is predicted that the coastline between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will be a single urban sprawl housing 40 million people. In South East Asia 75% of all cities with a population in excess of 2.5million are on the coast. Closer to home, the Mediterranean basin has one of the highest population densities anywhere.

This recent video from RUSI of David Kilcullen discussing the ‘urban littoral’ is well worth the time to watch;

Population growth results in an increased level of coastal land development, dredging, land reclamation, pipelines, port development, marinas, storage facilities, fisheries and mines. Sea walls are built, flood defences built and in general, nice, easy to access coastline becomes increasingly under threat.

In the developing world, the lack of effective governance and land management means land development generally wins over beach preservation. Where beaches, coral reefs and mangrove swamps are retained it is because they are valuable to local economies but they will be under constant pressure.

Coastal terrain is incredibly varied, a marina, deep water port, beach, mangrove swamp, mudflat, industrial facility, rocks and cliffs and a load more. Existing amphibious capabilities are generally limited to beaches.

What this will result in is a shortage of areas in which amphibious forces can approach objectives will reduce and continue to reduce. If the objective is to capture a port then the chance of accessible coastline being within practical reach of that port becomes increasingly low. The point of access to the objective becomes a very long ruler which compounds the logistics problem.

In short, as the world’s population grows, urbanises and concentrates in coastal regions amphibious operations become very complicated as terrain that can be accessed by existing system reduces in availability.

If course, I am not saying the worlds beaches are an endangered species but that options are reducing and will reduce further as these trends continue.

The images below show a selection of coastal terrain from various parts of the developed and developing world that shows its increasing diversity, development, and resistance to conventional ship to shore logistics capabilities;

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Shore Environment 21

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Shore Environment 24 (Yemen)

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Increasing population and globalisation means increasing trade.

Increasing trade means increasing shipping activity.

This does not necessarily mean more ports and ships, it has generally meant bigger ships (New Post Panamax and Malacca Max for example) and fewer ports, supply and demand driving the need for greater efficiency, automation and fewer ‘platforms’

Infrastructure needed for different types of cargo (bulk, liquids, RORO and containers) has also resulted in port specialisation. Felixstowe for example has no RORO, bulk or liquid cargo facilities whatsoever. Increasingly large and specialist ports act as hubs and more numerous feeder ports collect and distribute on short sea routes, typical hub and spoke configurations being the norm.

There are about 500 container ports worldwide able to handle more than a thousand TEU’s per year with the largest able to handle container capacity in the millions per year but it is noteworthy that less than 20% of worldwide ports handle containers in any meaningful manner despite the high penetration of containerised traffic which means container handling equipment is not as widespread as might be imagined.

The smaller ports (and inland ports) tend to be multi-purpose and in order to meet the demands that result from consolidation in mega ports they are both being developed and becoming more numerous.

Below is another collection of images but this time, showing the range of diversity of small to medium size port infrastructure.

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So more and better ports at the smaller scale but fewer ports and high levels of automation in the mega ports.

If we believe that future operations in Africa may be more likely than less, port trends in Africa are important to consider. Here we find that port density compared to coastline is low and large areas do remain undeveloped. There are many small and medium sized ports approaching capacity, quality of aids to navigation, machinery availability and dredging consistency also plagues many African ports.

As ships get larger so do their draughts and this is often a limiting factor.

This means if a ship absolutely needs to access a port it can either offload to lighters or arrive at less than capacity so decrease their draughts, none are ideal

One survey found that in order to access ports in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield the average utilisation of US sealift ships was a mere 23% of their maximum capacity, the implications of which should be obvious to all.

During Operation Restore Hope in Somalia the first three US prepositioning ships to arrive at Mogadishu had to turn around and go elsewhere or back to Diego Garcia because it was too shallow.


The conclusion I am drawn to is that the UK and others have emphasised the combat element of force projection over an ‘enemy shore’ and whilst not ignoring the logistic element, have not given it sufficient budgetary or intellectual priority.

Ports survey, enablement and augmentation and the ability to transfer significant quantity of materials at a sufficient pace over an enemy coastline (or through a port) are simply not good enough for today’s forces with their voracious appetites for fuel, stores and ammunition.

Look at the F35B or Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers and compare them to what was available for the D Day planners, they couldn’t be more different.

Do the same for the logistics elements.

What you actually see is a set of equipment that would not look out of place on Gold or Omaha beaches and in fact, when taken in the round, is probably not as capable.

Survey and MCM have progressed enormously but how would they cope with the same D Day obstacles and mines?

Today’s capabilities are also still hopelessly tied to beaches. All well and good, but increasing urbanisation means beaches are giving way to the built environment and therefore become fewer in number. As suitable beaches become fewer in number they become more obvious and therefore easier to defend.

This means the simple expedient of landing where the enemy is not becomes increasingly difficult and the whole basis on which amphibious operations are based, increasingly tenuous. Urbanisation and industrialisation of the coastal environment is funnelling amphibious operations into an ever decreasing number of locations. If bypassing the coast is not practical for operations at scale, the inescapable conclusion is that amphibious operations must be able to exploit terrain other than beaches.

This points to two requirements;


[box bg=”#” color=”#” border=”#” radius=”0″]Be able to exploit a greater range of small and austere ports for logistics activity whether those ports are well found or degraded, and be able to repair damaged ports so they can receive shipping.[/su_note]


[box bg=”#” color=”#” border=”#” radius=”0″]Be able to exploit a wider range of coastal terrain than just beaches where ports are not practicable[/su_note]



Table of Contents


Case Studies

The Normandy Landings

The San Carlos Landings

Umm Qasr


Current Capabilities

UK amphibious Doctrine


Mine Countermeasures

Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)

Amphibious Assault and Logistics

US Amphibious Logistics

Making a Case for Change

Increment 1


Survey and Initial Operations

Repairing and Augmenting the Port

A Summary and Final Thoughts on Increment 1

Increment 2


Existing Solutions and Studies



Shore Connector

Wave Attenuation

Closing Comments

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