We have often discussed the various aspects of Marine Corps amphibious assaults. All too often, though, we tend to focus on the shiny pieces like MV-22s, F-35Bs, AAVs, amphibious ships, LCACs, etc. without really paying much attention to the far more important logistics requirements. It doesn’t matter if you can seize a beach or airfield if you can’t get fuel, water, ammo, food, etc. to the troops and their vehicles. Think Defence website has done a few extensive posts on amphibious assault logistics and engineering over the years including the recent UK amphibious assault overview (1,3). These are highly recommended reading.
Let’s build on our previous posts and take a look at the Navy (USN) and Marine’s (USMC) amphibious assault fuel logistics. It is worth noting that the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) notional fuel requirement during an assault is over 1.2M gallons per day! (2, p.4-3) For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll be concerned only with the movement of fuel from offshore to land. The storage, transport, and distribution of fuel after it has gotten ashore is a ground operation and not part of our assault logistics operation, per se.
For starters, there is a division of labor and responsibilities.
“The Navy is responsible for getting bulk fuel to the beach high water mark where the fuel is received by Army or Marine Corps bulk fuel units.” (2, p.2-3)
Beyond that, there are a few different systems for fuel handling:
- USN - Offshore Petroleum Discharge System (OPDS)
- USN - Amphibious Assault Bulk Fuel System (AABFS)
- USMC – Tactical Fuel System (TFS)
Offshore Petroleum Discharge System (OPDS)
The OPDS system consists of the bulk fuel carrier (tanker) and the associated pumps, hoses (bottom lying), and equipment necessary to transfer the bulk fuel from the ship to a shore receiving station. The tanker is equipped with booster pumps and spread mooring winches, a recoverable single-anchor leg mooring (SALM) to accommodate four tankers up to 70,000 DWT, ship to SALM hose lines, up to four miles of six-inch diameter conduit for pumping to the beach, and two beach termination units (BTU) to interface with the shoreside systems. (2, p.3-8)
For example, SS Petersburg (T-AOT-9101) is a tanker built in 1963 and is one of five such tankers fitted with the OPDS. The ship has a capacity of 225,000 barrels of JP8 fuel.
The system can support fuel transfer rates of up to 1.2M gallons per day (1000 GPM for a 20 hour operating day). Note that capacity limit is exactly the same as the MEF notional fuel requirement for an assault. If the usage is even slightly higher than anticipated (and usage is always significantly higher than anticipated!) or if losses occur (it’s a peer opposed assault so of course there will be losses!) then the fuel transfer capacity will be insufficient to sustain the assault.
If the tanker is located within two miles of shore, dual transfer lines can be set up to further increase the transfer rate. (2, p.3-8) However, this increases the risk to the entire system by being closer to the enemy. Recall that Navy doctrine is keep ships 25-50+ miles offshore so setting up critical tankers within 2 miles of shore seems completely counter to doctrine. The Navy doesn’t think an Aegis/Burke can survive 2 miles from shore so how will a tanker survive?
Apparently there are very few OPDS equipped ships. I’ve seen reports of up to five such ships but I’ve only been able to document one existing ships: USNS Wheeler. I suspect that the others, if they existed, have been retired.
Amphibious Assault Bulk Fuel System (AABFS)
“The AABFS provides a fuel line from the supplying ship to the high water mark ashore where the fuel lines are connected to shore-based bulk fuel systems of the landing force. The AABFS consists of buoyant, 6-inch (diameter) reinforced rubber hose lines up to 10,000 feet in length. Two or more buoyant lines can be connected to achieve greater distances between the ship and the shoreline. However, they require floating booster stations to perform fuel transfer when the distance is more than 5,000 feet. Buoyant hose systems are employed to support the initial phases of amphibious landings. An AABFS can be installed in 4 to 6 hours under favorable surf conditions.”
Tactical Fuel System (TFS)
“The Marine Corps family of TFSs [tactical fuel systems] was originally designed and deployed in the 1950s to replace the 55-gallon drum and 5-gallon fuel can as the primary method for MARFOR’s bulk fuel support. The basic design of collapsible fuel tanks, trailer mounted pumps, fuel hoses and valves, filtration vessels, and miscellaneous components has provided a solid foundation for the evolution of the family of TFSs to meet the ever changing operational and tactical fuel support requirements of the MAGTF. Today the family of TFSs provides a wide range of storage tank sizes ranging from 500-gallon to 50,000-gallon capacities with receipt and pumping rates ranging from 125 gallons per minute (GPM) to 600 GPM.” (2, p.3-1)
Amphibious Assault Fuel System (AAFS)
The AAFS is the largest TFS and is used to receive, store, transfer, and dispense bulk fuel to all elements of a MAGTF including distribution by hose line to airfields. Fuel can be supplied to the system by almost any source, ships included. System storage capacity is 1.12M gals and is stored in the systems six tank farms.
“The AAFS has approximately 5 miles of 6-inch assault hose and uses 600-GPM pumping capabilities. Using quick-connect, cam-lock fittings, the AAFS can be assembled without tools and is compatible with the other Marine Corps TFSs.” (2)
The AAFS consists of six subunit assemblies (2):
- Beach unloading assembly – receives bulk fuel from offshore sources
- Receiving assembly – accepts fuel from any source
- Two booster stations – used when the distance between storage stations exceeds the systems pumping capacity
- Two adapting assemblies – adapts the system to provide connection to other systems via common and compatible hardware
- Two dispensing assemblies – dispense fuel
- Six tank farms – provides the systems storage capacity
Other Tactical Fuel Systems include,
- Tactical Airfield Fuel Dispensing System
- Expedient Refueling System
- Helicopter Expedient Refueling System
- Six Containers Together (SIXCON)
We won’t examine these because they all begin their conceptual operation with the assumption that the fuel has already reached land and been distributed to the various systems for further distribution to individual units.
Having grasped the basic concept of fuel transfer from ship to shore, we can see some important considerations. Systems require the fuel supply tankers to operate within a few miles of the beach. This is at odds with Navy doctrine calling for all ships to stay 25-50+ miles out to sea. There are several implications, here.
- A fuel delivery system cannot be set up until the landing area, meaning a 25-50+ mile radius inland as well as out to sea, has been secured and rendered reasonably safe from enemy fire.
- Bulk fuel delivery cannot occur during initial assault efforts and may be significantly delayed if the assault landing site cannot be quickly secured. Thus, it is more than conceivable that an assault could falter due to lack of fuel while the landing site is being contested.
- The fuel transfer starting points and ships/equipment are at fixed locations and will present attractive, vulnerable targets. As such, they represent a single point of failure for the entire assault – kill the fuel pumping point and you kill the assault.
- With only two OPDS ships, we have a significant vulnerability in our amphibious assault capability. If one or both of these ships were sunk, our over-the-beach assault capability is effectively neutralized.
The overall conclusion from all this is the same as we’ve seen time after time. Navy leadership is so focused on the shiny, sexy, new, Burkes and Fords that it is ignoring the logistics and support ships that actually make a fleet a viable instrument of war. We need to refocus and start designing a fleet that can actually fight and that means a lot more support vessels. Who cares whether we have a 355 ship fleet if we can’t support them?
(1)Think Defence website, “UK Amphibious Capability – Today and Tomorrow”, 15-Apr-2017,
(2)USMC, “Petroleum and Water Logistics Operations”, MCWP 4-11.6, Jun 2005, p2-3
(3)Think Defence website, “US Amphibious Logistics”,