The Haiti relief operation featured a number of key US and allied military assets in shaping the overall capability. In this interview, Sldinfo talked with one of the most knowledgeable US analysts of the seabasing concept in the US military. Jim Strock is Director, Seabasing Integration Division of the Capabilities Development Directorate Marine Corps Combat Development Command. An earlier interview with Jim Strock can be found on http://www.sldinfo.com/?p=189.
Sldinfo: Most people don’t understand the function of a sea base, but in Haiti, virtually the entire world could see a sea base in operation. Could you comment a bit on how sea-basing capability was demonstrated in Haiti?
Jim Strock: Number one, as we’ve always said, there’s no cookie cutter definition of a sea base. Sea bases are assembled out of resource pools available to joint force commanders, and they’re tailored for specific missions. So if you look at Haiti, I think the first thing down there was the USS Truman carrying helicopters. The Truman effectively went down there as a transport deck to get some vertical lift assets in there. The 22nd MEU on the USS Bataan instantly back loaded. They had just gotten back from a routine deployment on 7 December and turned right around and back loaded on the very ships that they’d just come off of.
Sldinfo: After the initial insertion what other elements were deployed for the sea base?
JS: The hospital ship, USNS Comfort, I believe, got underway and went down. Then DoD activated one of the crane ships, one of the T-ACS crane ships. These ships are from the Military Sealift Command Ready Reserve Force, which is able to sandwich itself between an ordinary container ship and some sort of lighterage or a pier and very quickly trans-deck or trans-load containers off container ships to lighterage and things like that, more on that in a minute.
Then, very fortuitously in the existing MPS Program that we’ve had for years as you’re probably aware, we have a facility at Blount Island, Jacksonville, Florida, where our MPS ships routinely go in on a periodic basis. All the assets are downloaded. The ships are sent off to Charleston for American Bureau of Shipping Inspections and meanwhile the equipment at Blount Island is refurbished and updated and restocked and so on. So we had the USNS Lummus in Blount Island empty. She’d just been off-loaded and so instantly at Blount Island, they back loaded the Lummus with a variety of engineering equipment: water purification, power generating, bulldozers, earthmovers, forklifts, things like that. Then I believe the US Agency for International Development rushed other supplies down to Blount Island, and they back loaded that on the Lummus and sent the Lummus into Haiti. Then one of our other pre-positioning ships, the USS James E. Williams, was sitting in Charleston, and they pulled her out and sent her to the common user pool for military sea lift command, so that she could perform logistic shuttling.
And boom: You have a sea base! They also took down – I think either the Lummus or the Williams – took down the Navy’s Improved Lighterage System (INLS), which gave you the ability to transit supplies and equipment to shore because, obviously, there was no usable port infrastructure. So other than getting airplanes into the Dominican Republic and also outlying airfields in Haiti, and other than having helicopters down there to lift supplies off of the amphibia ships and such, this was a new capability to deliver supplies.
For the initial, critical grueling period of that event, the only way that you could extend any sort of relief capabilities to shore was through the sea base.
Sldinfo: Your point being it’s a very flexible concept, which can be tailored to the solution presumably if the assets are available.
JS: That’s correct.
Sldinfo: But there must be tremendous pressure on the assets with the global deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
JS: There are but it was surprising what was available on the East Coast at the time. Of course, the Comfort was sitting up near Baltimore. They got her underway in short order. The crane ship got underway in short order, which speaks highly of the ability to maintain ships under reduced operating status yet activate them very quickly.
You had elements of the amphibious fleet ported in Norfolk. You had obviously a carrier homeport in Norfolk. You had the 22nd MEU and the Battaan who were crucial for landing support parties ashore to help organize the air heads and organize each landing areas where they could in order to move supplies to shore. The maritime pre-positioning ship came out of Blount Island. The amphibs came out of Norfolk.
Sldinfo: The crane ship: you were describing how it had been activated.
JS: This belongs to military sealift command. It’s in there generically. It’s in their Ready Reserve Fleet, and these types of vessels are available on call in a reduced operating status. I don’t know if it was a 5-day or a 30-day – probably a 5-day because they got her underway pretty quickly – and so you had key players out of the Navy, obviously 2nd fleet.
You had military sea lift command involved with the crane ship; the hospital ship and the MPS ships are all military sea lift command assets. So that speaks highly of the fact that you can designate a joint task force commander, and you can make assets available to him. I’m sure the combat logistics force had one of their new T-A-K-E’s down there, I believe, one of their underway replenishment ships. And you had coalition ships operational as well.
Sldinfo: So the main function of the sea base in this case was to put a coordinated capability that could augment fairly quickly the limited capacity of helo rescue efforts?
JS: The purpose of the sea base was really to establish the initial ability to introduce bulk supplies and equipment into the country in the absence of a port and infrastructure: I don’t even think the pier is fixed yet. Generically we call it JLOTS – Joint Logistics Over the Shore – which can be brought to bear very quickly to setup effectively a surrogate pier facility, so you can get supplies from ship to shore.
Sldinfo: Let me ask you a final question then, which is kind of in summary. In your view, what does Haiti show about the sea basing capability?
JS: It shows how quickly a sea base can organize, deploy, and respond to an assigned mission.
***Posted February 21st, 2010