So, how robust is our logistics (let’s focus on fuel for the rest of this post) supply chain? Can we sustain a forward operating ship or group? Does the chain have weak links that are particularly susceptible to disruption so that an entire operation and supporting supply chain could be neutralized by disruption of a single link?
From the USNI article,
The Navy is struggling to find support to buy new logistics ships, even as a new study finds the Navy’s current plans to recapitalize that logistics fleet are insufficient to support distributed operations in a high-end fight against China or Russia. (1)
A new study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments finds that the Navy needs to spend $47.8 billion over the next 30 years beyond what it has currently laid into its plans in order to build a logistics fleet that could refuel and resupply the Navy and Marine Corps in a fight. (1)
That’s $1.6B per year beyond what the Navy has budgeted. Yikes! Where’s that going to come from, especially since logistics ships aren’t shiny and sexy?
The secretary [Richard Spencer, Secretary of the Navy] said the Navy has not properly funded its fleet logistics and sealift ships in the past because they fall lower on the list of priorities, but he said the Navy needs to do better now and that he hoped the CSBA study would have a forcing function to make the Navy and lawmakers figure out a good path forward. [emphasis added] (1)
So, the Secretary of the Navy hopes that a CSBA report will ‘force’ the Navy to do what’s needed? Hey, Mr. Secretary, it’s your Navy. Why don’t you order the Navy to do what’s needed? You should probably also be firing the current Navy flag rank for not having already done what professional naval warriors should have. I can only conclude that you, sir, are as incompetent as the rest of the Navy leadership.
The study’s main conclusion is,
The service should invest in large consolidated logistics tankers (T-AOTs) that could act as forward gas stations for the fleet oilers, allowing them to stay in theater instead of retreating to a port to fill back up. The study recommends accelerating the acquisition profile of the John Lewis-class fleet oilers (T-AO-205), moving to a two-a-year procurement instead of the current one-a-year plan, which would not only speed up the timeline of growing the Navy’s refueling capacity but also reduce cost from about $550 million per hull to about $500 million per hull, Walton said. The study recommends investing in light oilers (T-AOLs), akin to an offshore support vessel, that would be smaller than the fleet oilers and ideally suited to refuel a small surface action group or medium and large unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). These smaller oilers could be pushed further into contested waters because of their lower cost … (1)
What should our supply chain look like? In simplest terms, something like this:
- US (main supply) to
- Pearl Harbor, Guam (fixed storage/dispersal) to
- T-AOT (sea-based dispersal hub) to
- T-AO fleet oiler (forward dispersal) to
- T-AOL light oiler (forward high risk dispersal)
Unfortunately, two of those links, the T-AOT large tanker and T-AOL light oiler do not exist, at all, and the T-AO fleet oiler is too small in number.
Want a laugh? Try this,
CSBA recommends having 143 logistics-related ships by 2048 instead of the Navy’s planned 50.
Our professional naval warriors fall 93 logistic vessels short of what the CSBA study calls for. One of the two organizations is way off base. I’m pretty sure it’s our professional naval warriors.
To paraphrase a well known truism of warfare, ‘amateurs build carriers, professionals build logistic ships’. What are we building?
Let’s dig a bit deeper and look at the vulnerability of the individual links in the chain.
US (main supply) – Our main supply is reasonably secure and robust
Pearl Harbor, Guam (fixed storage/dispersal) – These main holding sites are vulnerable to attack, especially early in a war, as the Japanese demonstrated in WWII (though, inexplicably, they did not hit the main fuel tanks in the attack on Pearl Harbor). The fact that we only have two major sites in the Pacific theatre further emphasizes their vulnerability. In a war with China, we have to assume Guam will be eliminated as a functioning base on the first day.
T-AOT (sea-based dispersal hub) – We have no large tankers so this link doesn’t even exist. If we had tankers in sufficient numbers, the numbers alone would reduce the risk to this link.
T-AO fleet oiler (forward dispersal) – We have insufficient numbers but, again, numbers alone decrease the vulnerability of this link. There is a bit more risk here due to the concept of operating these ships in the combat zone. We need to consider proper protection for these high value units.
T-AOL light oiler (forward high risk dispersal) – Again, we have no small, light oilers and, given the CSBA concept for operating them far into the combat zone, they would be extremely vulnerable on an individual basis. Sufficient numbers would be what makes this link robust.
It’s clear from the above preceding considerations of the individual links that the weak point is the land based storage/dispersal sites at Pearl Harbor and Guam. They represent single points of failure. Neither base is well defended against the kind of attack assets China would apply. If Guam is eliminated at the outset we almost completely lose our forward supply chain and would have to depend entirely on oilers that would have to return to Pearl Harbor to refill (assuming Pearl Harbor, protected by distance, survives).
The key to operating in the combat zone is logistics (fuel, in this case) and we are paying scant attention to it. We lack the links in the chain, the requisite numbers to provide robustness and survivability, and the defenses to protect the land links/bases. If we’re serious about operating in the combat zone (and if we aren’t, why do we bother with a Navy?) then we need to get serious about building up and hardening the supply chain. Guam, in particular, needs to be greatly hardened, in the generic sense, against attack to ensure that our forward fuel supply remains intact.
(1)USNI News website, “Study Says Navy Logistics Fleet Would Fall Short in High-End Fight”, Megan Eckstein, 17-May-2019,https://news.usni.org/2019/05/17/study-says-navy-logistics-fleet-would-fall-short-in-high-end-fight