US Amphibious Logistics
As a contrast, it is interesting to see US amphibious logistics capabilities and if you thought the UK has some impressive systems the US puts them, mostly, to shame, as of course, one might imagine.
The underlying trend, led by the US, has seen a requirement to operate further offshore in response to area denial challenges, but this does not mean everything has to be launched from 65 nautical miles off shore.
The Operational Manoeuvre from the Sea (OMFTS) and Ship to Objective Manoeuvre (STOM) concepts are entirely logical when one looks at the prevailing threats; advanced surveillance systems, anti tank missiles that can easily destroy landing craft and other lighters and finally, anti ship missiles that are both difficult to defend against and devastatingly effective. Add in fast attack craft, mines and guided rockets and the zone between the beach the horizon becomes a very unfriendly place for amphibious shipping.
The sea basing concept foresaw a far offshore collection of logistics and combat vessels that could deliver forces and all their sustainment needs directly to the objective without needing to build up stores at a beach location or operate in vulnerable areas close to shore.
The cornerstone of the sea basing leg of Seapower 21 was the Maritime Propositioning Force (Future) that proposed a 14 ship squadron able to sustain a USMC brigade. The MPF(F) was the support echelon, not amphibious assault.
Making maximum use of these would require large numbers of V22’s and CH53K’s to avoid a concentration logistics ashore. The sea base would eliminate the need to organise, redistrubute and repack supplies onshore and palletise what was needed, to order, whilst afloat. Technical challenges included total asset visibility in the deployed logistics management system, ship to ship transfer of stores and vehicles in high sea states and very high fuel usage rates.
The planning requirement for the 14,000 thousand strong Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) is just under a thousand tonnes per day and even with the excess of airlift available to the US forces it was not deemed practical at distances roughly greater than 60 nautical miles offshore. A larger number of LCAC hovercraft were seen as the answer, especially when less than ideal conditions and aircraft losses were factored in.
From a 2010 RAND study, the MPF(F) squadron would consist of;
- 1 LHA(R) large-deck amphibious assault ship
- 1 modified LHD large-deck amphibious ship
- 3 Lewis and Clark (T-AKE) cargo ships
- 3 modified LMSR sealift ships
- 3 mobile landing platform (MLP) ships each capable of operating six landing craft, air cushioned (LCAC) surface connectors
- 2 legacy dense-pack MPF ships taken from existing squadrons.
In addition, the US Navy and Army would obtained a number of Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) that would be used to transfer personnel to the theatre ready to join the MPF(F) In typical US fashion it was a bold and ambitious concept but even the well trousered US forces have had to recognise that the concept is largely unaffordable.
The main problem with standing far offshore is that to deliver volume to shore your cycle time becomes a huge problem so in order to avoid trickling materials onto shore and increasing vulnerability throughout the supply chain the need for speed becomes ever more apparent. This need for speed has penalties, put simply, reduced payloads and increased capital and running costs.
A month after the Haiti earthquake the MPF(F) programme was cancelled, it had been on the cards for some time before that.
The simple reality was the envisaged concept of sea basing lacked clarity and was too expensive in a military environment that was still focussed on campaigning in Iraq and Afghanistan and instead of operating without host nation support the word ‘partnership’ was getting a good airing. Our old friend intra and inter service politics played its usual ‘best supporting actor’ role. What ultimately emerged was a more modular and bottom up concept that made greater use of existing ships and capabilities buttressed with one or two new systems, the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) for example.
These would use fixed wing and rotary aircraft supported by a range of other capabilities to drive safe lanes to shore that would then enable the follow on forces and logistics packets to reach their objectives by launching closer in, a more pragmatic approach than attempting to do everything from 60 nautical miles at high speed.
We are all aware of the V22 tilt wing, LCAC hovercraft and the ongoing struggle to replace the ageing AAV7 amphibious assault vehicles. The fundamental difference between the US and pretty much everyone else in NATO is that the US still believes an opposed landing is possible. Of course it is possible with enough spending, which is arguably why everyone else decided it isn’t.
So sea basing as a concept remains in loose terms but some distance away from the original ambitious concept.
Still in place is the ability (although at a lower level) to selectively palletise stores onboard the Large Medium Speed Roll On Roll Off (LMSR) ships and transfer them to either the V22/CH53, LCAC or landing craft. In the case of the LCAC, vehicles will be crossdecked from the LMSR onto the new Mobile Landing Platforms (MLP). Pallets will be transferred to landing craft using conventional over the side cranes.
Critics have suggested that the sea base concept was misunderstood by both the US Navy and US Marine Corps, the former concentrating on carrier strike and the latter seeing everything through the lens of amphibious assaults against peer enemies bristling with advanced anti access weapons.
If USN/USMC Sea Basing was the favourite child of the modern transformational all singing all dancing brave new world of Sea Power 21 then the ugly ginger step kid was the US Navy/US Army Joint Logistics Over the Shore (JLOTS) and it here that I am going to concentrate for this section.
Joint Logistics Over the Shore (JLOTS) Overview
Logistics Over The Shore (LOTS) is defined as;
The process of loading and unloading of ships without the benefit of deep draft-capable, fixed port facilities; or as a means of moving forces closer to tactical assembly areas.
When Army and Navy LOTS operate together under a Joint Force Commander LOTS becomes JLOTS.
The threat environment is described as;
Joint logistics over-the shore (JLOTS) operations are normally conducted in a low threat environment. Primary threats to consider are air and rocket attacks, attack by adversary ground forces, guerrillas or insurgents operating behind the lines, and sabotage. Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives warfare is considered possible.
Sea Basing was supposed to largely replace JLOTS, instead of anchoring ships close inshore and using D Day era landing craft and pontoons Sea Basing was high speed, largely airborne and of course very expensive. JLOTS on the other hand is in comparison, cheap as chips. I get the impression that those in charge of JLOTS had a look at Sea Basing, realised it was all expensive nonsense and decided to carry on normal jogging, both programmes occasionally talking to each other but essentially moving along in glorious isolation with one side viewing JLOTS as a transitional solution to sea basing and the other an important capability that will always be needed regardless.
JLOTS is not for use when there is opposition in the area but then again, neither was the MPF(F). It is not very mobile and takes time to establish but when it does get going, throughput can be significant, unmatched by anything else. One of the initial proving exercises, despite many disruptions due to higher than expected sea states, demonstrated an offload of over 800 containers and 1,300 vehicles in 14 days. To do this required 67 different units, a total of 5,000 personnel, 70 small craft and a large onshore build.
Impressive, hell yes, especially when compared to the LCU/Mexeflote capability the UK enjoys but look again at those numbers.
5,000 personnel for a start, that is significant ration strength to support and if replicated in the UK would represent nearly 15% of the total British Army strength. 800 containers in two weeks, as a comparison, London Gateway can handle about 125,000 containers in the same period!
Its principal mission is to allow Sealift Command vessels to discharge in damaged or inadequate ports or over the beach and some of the equipment can also be used for in theatre support and movement post deployment. It can augment existing ports, supplement damaged ones and create one from scratch with the ability to conduct Roll On Roll Off (RORO), Load On Load Off (LOLO) and bulk fuel transfers using pipeline systems. If one looks at the systems on display later in this section and compare them with the Mulberry Harbour in D Day case study the lineage is obvious. Design and materials improvements have improved speed, safety and deployment resources but apart from the obvious difference of pallets and containers the concepts are more or less the same. Containerisation has delivered many benefits but what it has done is concentrated port operations into a smaller number of ports with the necessary equipment and space to handle very large and heavy metal boxes, moving containers over the shore using JLOTS is difficult.
The complete JLOTS capability requires a many personnel, the JLOTS 2008 exercise for example had the following participants;
Expeditionary Strike Group 3, Naval Beach Group 1, Amphibious Construction Battalions 1 and 2,, Beachmaster Unit 1, Assault Craft Unit 1, Expeditionary Health Services Pacific, Naval Cargo Handling Battalions 1 and 12, and Maritime Expeditionary Security Group 1. Army units participating included the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, 45th Sustainment Brigade, 24th Transportation Battalion, 169th Seaport Operations Company, 368th Seaport Operations Company, 331st Causeway Company, 705th Transportation Company, 443rd Transportation Company, 481st Heavy Boat Unit, 175th Floating Craft Maintenance Unit, and the 109th Quartermaster Company
The US definition of Joint can sometimes be interesting, both Army and Navy maintain similar, but different, capabilities that do the same thing, lighterage being a good example.
JLOTS has a myriad of components and it would be impossible to list them all here but the main ones are shown in the diagrams below, JLOTS over a bare beach and JLOTS using an existing port.
Planning preference is to augment an existing port because of its proximity to main supply routes and other facilities. Just parking the whole JLOTS capability in the middle of nowhere means roads and offloading hardstanding have to be built from nothing. The vast majority of JLOTS is designed for installation and operation between Sea State 2 and 3. ELCAS for example ELCAS can survive up to sea state 5 conditions but only operate at a maximum sea state of 2 because of potential damage to the pier and inability of the cranes to safely offload stores in the associated high wind speeds.
Generally speaking, JLOTS only operates at a maximum of Sea State 2 because of the impacts of crane pendulation, dissimilar motions between large vessels and lighters, surf impinging on causeways and issues caused by surf zone waves on the stability and safety of all components.
Pontoons, Lighterage, Causeways and Small Boats
The ‘small ships’ of JLOTS are of course the workhorses, without which nothing would move.
Maritime Prepositioning Force Utility Landing Craft – MPFULC; The MPFULC is not formally part of the JLOTS system but is often used as a workboat.
Landing Craft Mechanized; Both the Army and Navy operates the LCM-8 (LCM MOD I) which is a familiar bow loading landing craft. The MOD II LCM is a smaller vessel that can also be used as a light tug
Landing Craft Utility; The Navy LCU-1600 and Army LCU-2000 can each carry significant loads and discharge over the bow or sides either onto a beach, causeway or pier. Army LCU-2000’s can carry 350 tonnes of cargo a distance of 4,500 miles at a top speed of 11 knots. The Army craft cannot enter the well dock area of USN Amphibious ships as it is too large. Navy LCU-1600’s can carry 160 tonnes of cargo a distance of 1,200 nautical miles at a top speed of 8 knots, it is worth mentioning at despite generally being a Navy craft, the Army also operate a small number of them. In the images below, note the use of a non dedicated vehicle to push the landing craft back, in contrast to the UK and Dutch forces
Causeway Section Powered and Side Loadable Warping Tug; Both the CSP and SLWT are powered by a 360 degree rotating propulsion unit that provides significant power and good manoeuvrability, they are not dissimilar to the British Mexeflote.
When fitted with an A Frame and winch the Causeway Section Powered (CSP) becomes a Side Loaded Warping Tug (SLWT). Both are used during the initial establishment of JLOTS, the warping tug being used mainly to construct and maintain position of the unpowered causeways.
Improved Navy Lighterage System; In 2003 the Navy issued a contract to Marinette Marine Corp for the manufacture of a a new systesm to replace the 50 year old Navy Lighterage System called the Improved Navy Lighterage System that was designed to operate in sea state 3 and be survivable in sea state 5 although with what level of safety I am not sure.
INLS consists of powered modules, non powered modules intermediate and beach), a warping tug and other components. They are transported on the decks of Maritime Prepositioning Ships and offloaded over the side assembled at sea using the INLS Warping Tug
Army Tug Boats; It would be remiss not to mention the Army’s tug boats as well.
Floating Causeway Piers; Again, the Army and Navy have different versions, as shown in the schematic below
The Army’s version is called the Trident Pier
In the Haiti case study the use of a causeway pier on White Beach was covered in some detail. Looking closely at the image you can see the causeway is slotted into the beach to provide directional stability. After cutting the slot using heavy plant the operation is called ‘stabbing the beach’. The slot is still there in Haiti, click here for a Google Maps view.
Causeway Ferries; The same modules can be combined to create powered ferries, much like the UK’s Mexeflotes, again. Instead of a simple tapered bow section the INLS ferries can be fitted with a ramp as shown below. The 3 or 4 section INLS causeway ferry can be assembled in 2 hours.
Vehicles and Hovercraft
Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo 5 ton (LARC-V); The LARC-V is a Navy amphibious vehicle that have benefitted from a 2006 service life extension programme. They are also in service with Australia and can be launched and recovered from a variety of ships.
Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC); The LCAC is a high capacity high speed hovercraft
Impressive but a bit thirsty and expensive to operate
Roll on Roll Off Discharge Facility (RRDF)
The preferred method of offloading RORO ships is for vehicles and containers to be driven down the ships ramp onto a floating platform called an Roll On Roll Off Discharge Facility or RRDF. They are then transferred from the platform to lighters. When weather and sea conditions preclude safe operation of the RRDF vehicles and equipment will be loaded onto lighters over the side.
Unsurprisingly, there is a Navy and Army version
The INLS RRDF uses the larger INLS modules.
Elevated Causeway (Modular)
The Expeditionary Elevated Causeway is a portable modular structure that can be built out from the beach to a distance of 3,000 feet (914m) and up to a depth of 20 feet to allow small vessels to come alongside and discharge their cargo, mainly containers.
They are installed by the Amphibious Construction Battalions of US Navy and their main purpose is to bridge the surf zone and decouple the loading/unloading equipment from waves and tide. Smaller vessels coming alongside to load and unload can be secured and the cranes on the ELCAS-M only then have to deal with movement on the vessel, not itself.
First used on operations during the 2003 operation to invade Iraq the ELCAS-M was used to augment an existing Kuwaiti naval base, providing additional loading and unloading capacity.
The pier 40 foot by 8 foot ISO container sized modules are supported on 2 feet diameter hollow steel piles that are driven in during construction as the causeway is assembled from the beach to the sea. The piles are driven in sequence and modules attached until the required length is achieved. Individual piles are 30 foot long and welded together as they are installed. Softer soil conditions will require longer piles to be used, in Kuwait for example, many had to be 90 foot long to achieve sufficient load bearing strength. In order to accommodate two way vehicle traffic the pier is 24 feet wide.
When the piles are driven to the correct depth they are pinned to the module and cut off flush to avoid interfering with traffic and crane operations. The pier head is wider to accommodate two 175 tonne cranes and two turntables that allow trucks to be turned within their diameter which negates the need for vehicles to reverse along the full length of the pier. Lighting is also installed to allow 24×7 operations.
It should be noted that the ELCAS-M system is not designed to accommodate large ships but lighters, small logistic support vessels and pontoons/barges although the Lightweight Modular Multi-purpose Spanning Assembly (LMMSA) was tested in 1990 to interface ELCAS with a floating RORO discharge platform.
The fender strings shown above alleviate some of the lateral forces between ELCAS and the lighter, they are the same size as normal ELCAS modules but only one wide. Elevating the pier head and causeway 15 feet above mean water level allows tidal ranges of 8 feet and wave heights of 7 feet to be accommodated
Logistics Support Vessel
The Army operates a small number (8) of General Frank A. Besson class Logistic Support Vessels or LSV’s
With ramps at the bow and stern they are used to carry vehicles and stores in a RORO configuration and can beach directly or onto landing platforms as required, 900 tonnes when operating in a JLOTS environment or over double that when operating from conventional ports.
There are two variants, one with a bow shroud and one without
JLOTS has three main means of transferring water and fuel from ship to shore, the Amphibious Assault Bulk Fuel System (AABFS), Offshore Petroleum Discharge Systems (OPDS) and Inshore Petroleum Discharge Systems (IPDS).
AABFS can transfer approximately 2.6 million litres per day and the OPDS/IPDS nearly double that. Time to setup differs drastically, the AABFS can be in place in less than 8 hours but the more robust and higher throughput OPDS takes several days. One of the biggest differences is that the pipe for AABFS floats and the OPDS is laid on the sea floor
The SS Chesapeake Bay is an OPDS tanker and in order to lower the heavy Single Anchor Leg Mooring into the sea it ballasts down to what looks like a heavy list until the SALM can be lowered.
The MSC MV K.R. Wheeler is a modified DP2 Platform Supply Vessel built by Edison Chouest and was introduced in 2007 to replace the SS Chesapeake and SS Petersburg.
She carries eight miles of pipeline on 5 large spools that can be lifted onto INLS causeways ferries and other lighterage. This is double the distance of the OPDS system and can be deployed much quicker with fewer personnel. Instead of using cumbersome mooring lines the KR Wheeler makes use of dynamic positioning and the 165 foot long tender vessel, the MV Fast Tempo, is used to run the pipes from the Wheelers stern to tankers and ashore from the bow.
The Fast Tempo was formerly a crewboat designed and built by Breaux Brothers of Louisiana
A LARC is used to carry the Beach Terminal Unit to shore where it is linked to other pipeline, pumping, storage and distribution systems. Pumping rate is 1.7 million US gallons per 20 hours. The new system is now called the Offshore Petroleum Distribution System, still OPDS though. It can also be used for fresh water. The final and most important advantage of the new system is that the specially constructed, multiple layer flexible pipe can be laid over rocks and coral. What the Wheeler has shown is that modern commercially available materials and systems can radically improve capabilities and reduce costs, read more here
Observations and Summary
There is no doubt that JLOTS, MSC and associated capabilities are hugely impressive and their maintenance and improvement is testament to those charged with ‘keeping it real’ whilst the sea basing, OMFTS/STOM and Pacific Pivot crowd spend vast sums on high tech platforms. The new USNS Montford Point has attracted significant controversy as the far offshore concept keeps ringing up large bills.
As the US disengages from Europe, in the future and if the UK and Europe were to attempt to improve ship to shore logistics capabilities they would do well to look at JLOTS as a starting point.
That is not to say it is without limitations, far from it in fact.
Despite the recent new introduction of the new OPDS and JHSV, both incidentally based on civilian technology, the majority of JLOTS would not look out of place on Omaha beach. The collection of Army and Navy systems each have their own issues and incompatibilities, they are manpower intensive, slow, still rely on lighterage (even when using ELCAS-M), organisationally very complex and are limited in sea conditions above Sea State 3. ELCAS-M requires all components to be landed first, then the pier is built out from the shore, a lengthy process, although it does provide some insulation from sea state issues.
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