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!