Monday, September 15, 2014

Sea Basing

What the heck is sea basing?  Ten different people will give you ten different answers depending on their particular agendas.  Is it a means of providing direct fires ashore?  Is it the stepping off point for an amphibious assault?  Is it an aviation-centric floating base?  Is it a transfer point for movement of materials from one ship to another?  Something else?  All of the above?

Of late, the term sea basing has come to be associated with amphibious assault, particularly as a means to transfer material from larger cargo ships to smaller ships or connectors for subsequent movement to the beach.  OK, fair enough.  That’s the flavor of sea base that we’ll confine this discussion to.

Before I go any further, let me relate a brief, totally unrelated anecdote.  The other day I was returning from a trip to the grocery store.  I exited the store, hopped in my car, and drove to within about a mile of my house at which point I stopped, got out, and transferred the groceries to another car.  I then drove that car to my driveway at which point I stopped and transferred a few of the grocery bags to a small cart which I then pulled up to the house.  As I was doing so, I couldn’t help but reflect on the incredible inefficiency of the whole process.      That’s it.  End of story.  OK, possibly the anecdote wasn’t totally unrelated.  I take it you see the analogy?

The inefficiency of using a sea base to transfer cargo from one ship to another, just miles away from the ultimate destination is striking.  Constructing an actual platform, be it a Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), a simple barge, or whatever, is an expensive inefficiency in the process of moving equipment and supplies to their destination.  It’s also an incredible inefficiency in terms of the time and effort required to unload a previously loaded large ship just to reload the items onto a smaller vessel so that they can be unloaded yet again a few miles further on.

Are we sure that designing ships that can unload directly over the beach wouldn’t be a better way to go?  We had such a vessel, the LST, and opted to retire them with no replacement.  Was that really a wise move?  But, I digress ….

What’s that, you say?  What sea state can this sea base material transfer operation take place in?  Good question.  I don’t know but I suspect not much.

The Sea Base is not only expensive, inefficient, and time consuming in use, but it offers the enemy an incredibly lucrative target.  We aren’t planning on having many platforms that can fill this function so destroying a couple of them can halt an assault in its tracks.  In this age of aircraft and missiles with ranges of hundreds or thousands of miles, the Sea Base will always be within range of enemy weapons.  Of course, there’s always submarines – an SSK assigned to take out our Sea Base is a highly effective tactic and very difficult to prevent.  I’m sure we’ll provide protection but the enemy only needs one aircraft, missile, or torpedo to get through and they’ll undoubtedly devote some pretty substantial efforts to that end.

A Sea Base is one of those ideas that probably makes an impressive PowerPoint presentation but suffers a bit in the real world.

On a related note, there are other types of sea base operational concepts that may make sense such as basing for an offshore Army aviation unit but those are topics for another time.

I can’t help but think that the time and money spent on developing the sea base concept would be better spent on designing and building cargo/transport ships that can unload directly over beaches and/or in far more shallow water ports than currently accessible.  Perhaps something along the lines of a RO/RO LST is what we need?

The Sea Base should be a candidate for base closure in the next round of cuts!


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    1. Why not focus on a portable/floating dock system that allows the LMSR to deliver to an non port beach? Seems to me we could figure out how to have cheap floating barges that go out to the LMSR and allow their RO/ROs to come right off.

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    3. B.Smitty, are you objectively considering the flip side of capacity which is survivability? A few, large ships represent a very vulnerable, attractive, and high rewarding target. Numerous smaller vessels such as an LST represent a more distributed, overall safer means of ensuring that a significant portion of the load makes it to shore.

      If an enemy can hit the one (or few) MLPs/AFSBs or whatever we're using as the sea base transfer point, the entire assault is finished.

    4. How far out, from the beach, can the INLS go to provide a drivable dock from the RO/RO? The Defense Industry Daily webpage says it is fine up to Sea State 3.

      Seems to me that defending this is alot like the issue of bridging rivers. They provide high value targets with aertillery usually very close, but the Engineers get it done. Why is using INLS any different?

    5. B.Smitty: "Without MLP ..."

      I know. That's what I said in the post. I then went on to describe why that's bad and what we should do instead.

      You seem to support the sea base concept over direct unloading at the beach/port. OK. Why? What advantage do you see in sea basing that more than offsets the inherent inefficiency and vulnerability?

    6. B.Smitty, you don't see that as an incredible vulnerability? You recall a previous post in which I mentioned that hitting those ships would make for a fantasic Pearl Harbor scenario for China?

      You don't see the MLP/Sea Base as an even more incredible vulnerability? Destroy the MLP and the assault is over.

      We certainly can afford any number of LSTs. It's just a matter of prioritizing our spending.

      You have to wonder how we mananged to move divisions and armies in WWII without these 90 giant ships and how we managed to get all the men and gear ashore in invasion after invasion. That almost suggests that it can be done without sea bases.

      I seem to recall you arguing for distributed firepower in the green water discussion and here you're arguing for highly concentrated capacity. Hmmm ........

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    8. B.Smitty, if I understand the thrust of your comments, you believe the sea base concept is the ultimate, perfect solution to our assault needs and requirements. At worst, you grudingly acknowledge a few minor faults but believe that sea basing is the best solution possible given the budget we have to work with. Is that a fair assessment of your position?

      If so, I can only imagine the unrestrained joy among enemy commands who look at our assault capabilities and note that damaging or destroying a couple of MLPs would totally abort any invasion attempt.

      Once again, shockingly, we'll have to agree to disagree!

    9. B.Smitty, sea base was the point of the post so it's a little hard to dispense with the term! I'm using the term in its current, most common usage.

      Few people, the Navy included, seem to make the distinction you do between assault and sustainment.

      I continue to offer the observation that a few MLPs offer an incredibly lucrative target for the enemy and that distributed transport in the form of RO/RO-LSTs are a far safer and more versatile approach.

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    1. B.Smitty, to use your analogy, how many loads, unloads, reloads did the TV undergo to get from the ship to my store? Several, undoubtedly. Inefficient, to say the least! The most efficient process would have the cargo ship pull up next to my home. We're mixing land and sea movements so the analogy falls apart but it illustrates the issue.

      You may disagree with my conclusion about sea basing but the fundamental inefficiency of loading, unloading, and reloading is factual and inherent. The question is whether the inefficiency becomes the lesser of evils when the other factors such as survivabililty are considered.

  3. The Defense Science Board did a pretty thorough study on sea-basing in 2003 that is still pretty valid since the Navy hasn't really followed most of their recommendations. I think you would find it very informative.

    Randall Rapp

    1. Randall, I've read it. It contains a number of fundamental logic flaws that invalidate or, at best, negate the supposed advantages.

      The main flaw is that it requires extensive combat support to ensure its protection. If that degree of support is available then it would be just as safe to land the material directly ashore via RO/RO-LSTs rather than go through the exercise of unloading/reloading.

      The secondary flaw is that it is self-limiting to only light combat operations. There is no mechanism proposed for getting tanks and other heavy equipment ashore.

      While not a logic flaw, the document emphasizes that their concept is a FUTURE concept and will require the development of new ships, connectors, helos, etc. I suggest that given the preceding logic flaws the money and effort would be better spent on designing new RO/RO-LSTs.

      I can go on but you get the idea.

      Was there a particular aspect you wanted to draw my attention to?


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