The Navy is leveraging an opportunity during the African Partnership Initiative deployment to establish its first Sea Base off Liberia. OK so it is a bit unclear what is being transfered, and it looks to mostly be humanitarian in nature, not exactly heavy military equipment, but it is certainly something we are interested in nonetheless. The news started on Thursday.
Military Sealift Command ships USNS 2nd LT John P. Bobo and USNS LCPL Roy M. Wheat arrived off the coast of Monrovia, Liberia, in the Gulf of Guinea March 20, to participate in a sea-basing and humanitarian aid distribution exercise in conjunction with U.S. Marines and Africa Partnership Station ships USS Fort McHenry and HSV-2 Swift.Pretty straight forward stuff, both Ro/Ros are big ships, so if they are fully loaded with humanitarian supplies Liberia is feeling the blessing of a considerable donation. We are unable to get a feel for the impact this has on Liberia, it is simply impossible to evaluate the impact of the supplies themselves without independent media coverage, which appears absent. However, we are very interested in the Sea Basing process, and the MSC article gives us an idea of what is going on.
Bobo and Wheat are U.S. Navy cargo ships that are part of Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron One, or MPSRON One, one of three squadrons that preposition U.S. military equipment in strategic locations at-sea for rapid delivery ashore in response to military or humanitarian crises.
Sailors embarked aboard Bobo and Wheat will assemble the MPSRON's Improved Navy Lighterage System, or INLS, which is a roll-on/roll-off discharge platform comprised of barges and ferries that allow ships to off-load cargo at sea and deliver it ashore when traditional harbor facilities are unavailable.
Once the INLS is assembled, cargo from Bobo, Wheat and Fort McHenry, including trucks, equipment and humanitarian aid supplies, will be transferred at sea from Bobo to Swift while the high speed vessel is docked on the discharge platform. Swift will then ferry these supplies to Monrovia where they will be delivered to a number of schools and medical clinics in Liberia.
That is the basic idea, but we get more detailed information from a Marine Corps News article from today.
“This seabasing portion is designed to take future operational concepts and execute them using today’s platforms,” said Michael Harvey, prepositioning officer, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe. “We are taking equipment that was originally designed for ship-to-shore movement and we are using it as a ship-to-ship connecter.”
Assisted by their naval counterparts, the Marines’ mission was to transfer seven Marine Corps vehicles embarked on the USNS 2nd Lt John Bobo of the Maritime Preposition Squadron One, to the Navy’s new Improved Navy Lighterage System. The INLS is a system of floating causeways designed to move equipment from ship-to-shore. After a short ride on the INLS, the Marines drove the vehicles from the INLS platforms directly into the well deck of the USS Fort McHenry, where they are being prepared for the next phases of WATC 08.
“We are dealing with multiple naval platforms during this exercise, tying in with African Partnership Station,” said Lt. Col. Clarence R. Edmonds, Eurasia regional planner, Marine Forces Europe. “[The INLS] gives us the stable platform we need to offload vehicles and equipment from one ship to another at sea.”
The exercise marked the first time that the INLS had been assembled and used in an open sea environment, Edmonds said. The capabilities provided by the INLS make it possible for the Marine Corps to operate in more flexible ways.
“The seabasing environment gives us the opportunity to offload select equipment, materials and supplies to conduct arrival and assembly operations at sea,” Edmonds said. “This gives us multiple capabilities to execute a mission ashore, within a very limited time frame and with a very limited footprint (ashore).”
The successful demonstration of the offload and transfer of equipment to the USS Fort McHenry marks only the first stage of the total WATC 08 mission. When vehicle preparations are complete, the Marines and sailors will load them back on the INLS for transfer to the High Speed Vessel Swift, which will then take the Marines and vehicles into the Port of Monrovia in order to conduct the humanitarian assistance mission.
The article notes the WATC 08 mission will continue through April 5th. Hopefully we will continue to get more photography and descriptions of the Sea Basing process, and maybe some American journalists who pretend to give a shit about Africa can find time in their busy schedule fawning over politicians to inform us what our Navy has been up to down in the Gulf of Guinea. Unlikely.
As the first official Sea Basing operation that best highlights the transshipment ideas of Sea Basing, naturally we are very interested. The promise of this capability in the future could change the way the Navy provides humanitarian assistance in the future, and also potentially change the way amphibious assault is conducted in the future. We have several questions. Which platform carried the INLS to the theater? How long did the transfer of 7 vehicles to the Fort McHenry take? Does anyone know what weight the crane on the Bobo is rated for? What about the INLS, how much weight can it support? Can we get some better details and statistics of the total operation?
We ask because while we are certainly pleased the capability is being evaluated, this looks like it would be slow, and we don't get the impression this scales beyond lightweight vehicles and lightweight supplies that are humanitarian in nature. Example, we wonder if this process would work for sending the supplies and Seabee equipment ashore necessary to build an air strip for C-130s, or even C-17s. I'd like to see how quickly a one of these Ro/Ro ships could transfer an entire MEU to a 3 ship amphibious group. If the Marine Corp can get to that point with existing equipment, we think that would be a major capability.
We know, baby steps, and we agree this is a great first step. There simply isn't enough information to get an idea of whether this is a legitimate capability, or simply a limited capability where we are getting a lot of news for what amounts to be a small demonstration.