Thursday, May 19, 2016

MLP Update

Here’s an interesting data point for the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) in its role as a transfer point for pre-positioned cargo.  A DOT&E test verified the design transfer spec, stating,

“When the MLP was positioned 25 nautical miles from the LCAC shore landing site, it met its timed transfer requirement, enabling Marine Corps equipment for a reinforced rifle company to be moved to shore in less than 12 hours.” [from DOT&E 2015 Annual Report]

So, the MLP is capable of transferring the equipment for a single reinforced rifle company over a distance of 25 miles in 12 hours.

The Navy has two MLPs and will have three MLP-AFSBs.  I assume the MLP-AFSB would be capable of functioning as the MLP but I don’t know that for sure.  On the other hand, it’s likely that the MLP-AFSB would not be available for the MLP cargo transfer role because it would be occupied performing its designated MCM role.

The question, then, is whether two MLPs (possibly five) have sufficient throughput capacity to support a major assault in a relevant time frame?  Of course, this also assumes that the MLP can maintain that transfer rate indefinitely.  My guess is that the 12 hour test was something of a max effort and could not be indefinitely sustained by either the crew or the equipment.  Regardless, is this sufficient transfer capability?  I don’t know the answer.  If there’s an amphibious logistics expert among the readers, please chime in!


Transfer capability and capacity aside, the MLP seems to have met its design specs according to the DOT&E assessment.  Notably, the ship’s tested range significantly exceeded the spec (12,000 nm vs. a spec of 9500 nm).

I’m on record as stating that the MLP seems to be a vulnerable weak point in the amphibious assault scheme in the sense that there are very few of them and they represent such a vital capability.  A semi-intelligent enemy would make them a priority target and the loss of even one would seriously cripple an assault.

All that said, it’s nice to see a vessel at least meet its design specs!


  1. "All that said, it’s nice to see a vessel at least meet its design specs!"

    I agree with your statement about its vulnerability. But while I was reading this all that kept going through the back of my head was that it was a ship designed to meet a goal, and that it succeeded and was approved by DOT&E.

    Many times in the LCS/F-35 debates some pro-program people attack DOT&E's methods and purpose.

    To me this proves right here that if you create a reasonable goal, and design to that goal intelligently, you can get past DOT&E; that they aren't some insurmountable naysaying ogre blocking the path towards a bright new future.

    1. Jim, you like almost everyone, have a complete misunderstanding about what DOT&E does. IT DOES NOT SAY YES OR NO TO PROGRAMS!!! It simply takes the specifications ESTABLISHED AND PROVIDED BY THE NAVY - let me say that again, ESTABLISHED AND PROVIDED BY THE NAVY - and tests to see whether those specifications are met. That's all.

      If DOT&E had the power to say yes or no, the LCS wouldn't exist nor would the F-35.

      DOT&E is an obstacle only if you believe that systems that fail to meet THEIR OWN SPECIFICATIONS are a good thing.

      Apparently, I need to do a post on this.

    2. I think that would be helpful.

      I knew DOT&E couldn't stop a project. As you said, if they could have, F-35 and LCS would have been scuttled years ago.

      If you read some of the pro program people though, they attack DOT&E as old fashioned and too picky in order to undercut their reliability as a source. I believe because so much of the criticism has come from there.

      Its similar to the argument 'Well the F-1X plane had all sorts of teething issues....' argument they use to hand wave away the F-35 issues.

    3. Anyone who attacks DOT&E does not understand their role nor the use of statistics and experimental design. DOT&E takes the provided specification(s) and designs an experiment that will statistically prove whether the specification is being met. One successful test (or one unsuccessful test) does not prove the system works.

      DOT&E has no opinion about the programs they test. They simply test and see what happens. Then they report it.

  2. Am I being thick? Why would it take 12 hours to move a single reinforced rifle company? There are 3 LCACs and each one can take 165 men (with a personnel shelter). The company doesn't have that many vehicles. Assuming each return trip takes about an hour and a half including loading/unloading, aren't we talking about 24-ish LCAC round trips? Maybe less with re-fuelling etc but how many round trips can it need for a single reinforced company?

    That said, 25nm isn't enough - you're still within range of plenty of artillery systems.

    1. The test was not described in detail so I have no idea what equipment and how much was required to be moved. Just a thought - you're assuming the exercise was LCAC limited. It may have been or it may have been transfer limited between the cargo vessel and the MLP. That is, after all, the purpose of the MLP.

      You're assuming 3 LCACs. The MLP is capable of handling 3 LCACs at once but the brief test description did not specify how many LCACs were used. Could have been more or less.

      I have no specific knowledge but your assessment of 1-1/2 hours per LCAC round trip seems optimistic. I'd guess that a fully loaded LCAC in any kind of sea state would do about 30 kts (the claim is higher but that's under favorable conditions). So, call it 45 minutes one way or 1-1/2 hours round trip. Loading and unloading equipment (personnel will be faster), especially at the beach with limited cargo handling equipment would require 1-3 hrs per load/unload so call it 2-6 hrs total. That adds up to 3-1/2 - 7-1/2 hrs per round trip and that's without side stops for fuel or maintenance of the LCAC itself.

      As I said, pure speculation on my part but nothing goes as quickly as we imagine.

    2. Your points are all valid but 1 company per 12 hours? If it's at all opposed it sounds pretty suicidal to me. Don't tell me they're assuming all opposition will be eliminated by prior bombardment.....

    3. 25nm is well outside tube artillery range - even the newer 155/52 guns only range to 40K yards, and that with base bleed rounds.

      Also, if you configure LCACs with personnel shelters, that blocks cargo and vehicle storage.

      I suspect the real time waster is aboard the MPP ships as breaking out dense packed cargo is time consuming.


  3. Here are a picture and video link which shows the Navy testing the MLP. Does the USN expect to have calm water like this 25 miles or more off an enemies coast? If you tie two ships together and there is some swells, even modest swells and waves, those fenders are going to move around and get out of position and then you have two steel hulls rubbing against each other and it will cause damage. And is that causeway between the ships stabilized to compensate for ships movement? And the low part of the deck on the MLP, what happens when you have crew and troops on it and a wave breaks over it?

    It seems like they are getting ready to fight a calm water war. Now these ships are big, bigger then a WW2 battleship so they can handle some weather, but weather schedules itself for no man. And you don’t often see ships tying themselves closely out on the ocean because its just asking for damage

    1. Reading the report cited below it appears that they tested the operation in sea state 3 though other tests were in sea state 1 and close to shore in protected waters.

      “””The MLP (CCS) is operationally effective provided that operations are conducted in a safe, well-guarded area with Sea State 3 conditions (equates to significant wave height up to 1.25 meters).”””

      But even then they had mooring lines problems and if wind and waves were in different directions I bet they would have had difficulty keeping the fenders in place. They also had problems with the causeway and had to suspend transfer of Marine equipment.

      It seem to me the system was pushed into production before proper testing was done. Finding a place which is well guarded with predictable sea state 3 or less that is at least 25 miles to sea from a proposed landing zone might be hard. They should have built or converted just one of these ships first and tested the heck out of it and find ways to increase transfer speed and sea state ability.

      Right now the 12 hour one Marine company standard seem very weak, I wonder how long it would have taken to land at any of the WW2 landing zones with this rate of transfer?

    2. "... I wonder how long it would have taken to land at any of the WW2 landing zones with this rate of transfer?"

      You ask an excellent question. Bear in mind that the Navy only has, or ever plans to have, 2 MLPs and 3 AFSBs that might be able to function as MLPs (I've never heard one way or the other about that). So, the landing rate for the entire military is 2 Companies per 12 hours (or 5 Companies if the AFSB can be used). That's not an invasion, that's a tourist stop.

  4. Here is a report that contains some details on the tests (and some recommendations showing that even a successful test can encourage further improvements and show what doesn't work):

    1. That's the report I cited in the post.

  5. Fine diversion from the fundamental incapacity to perform a full MEU-GCE FIRST WAVE. And an odd combination of go-slow MLP with go-fast LCAC, with two LCAC burning as much power than one whole MLP at full-bore 15 knots...

    This 15-knots V-max coastal tanker derivative will be fine for leisurely HA/DR missions - if folks are willing to wait...and an MLP is in the right ocean.

    Or possibly as a mid-ocean parking-lot for certain assets to be distributed to passing Amphibs and for hardware replenishment ?

    It just will never be where the Marines would need this heavier-hauling capability. Even 30+ years old LSD-41 will do 22knots, which adds up across oceans.

  6. The MLP is a bastardization of the civilian heavy sealift FLO/FLO - the offload time is mostly irrelevant because it is really setup to help offload MPP ships.

    All this is a tacit acknowledgement that the gator navy is insufficient for operations.

    It also shows that trying to transship densely packed stuff from one-ship to another, and then offload that stuff to a "connector", AKA landing craft -LCAC in this case, is slooow.

    Imagine if the MLP was actually a simple FLO/FLO that carried a large commercial platform or barge that had proper ramps and cranes, and storage facilities to offload not just USN and USNS ships, but also commercial container and RO/RO ships. Imagine this platform serving not just the sea base, but also as a pier head to support an austere harbor. The "Think Defense" blog did a very nice treatise of this concept. What a shame the USN/USMC have access to a large checkbook, but their heads stuck in the sand.



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