Thursday, August 18, 2016

Marine-driven changes make 2 ships more lethal

Military Sealift Command is making Marine-driven changes to its nontraditional fleet to give amphibious forces a greater edge on an ever-evolving battlefield. The developments promise to advance the Corps’ use of alternative platforms for everything from maritime security and riverine missions to disaster response and flight operations.

The MV-22 is also key to this new concept. Its ability to deliver forces hundreds of miles from a host ship could enable, for example, forces to fall in on an existing missile battery or establish advanced bases in multiple locations across an archipelago like the Philippines, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments who previously served as special assistant to the chief of naval operations and director of his Commander’s Action Group.

As such, one key conversion will enable dry cargo and ammunition ships to stow an MV-22 Osprey.

MSC dedicated two dry cargo and ammunition ships (the two oldest) to the Marine Corps pre-positioning fleet: Lewis and Clark, and Sacagawea. They provide ammunition, food, repair parts, stores and small quantities of fuel — but the aft flight deck is a highlight among Marine strategists who have used ships from the T-AKE class as alternate command, control, operational and logistics platforms in recent exercises.

Landing an Osprey is not enough. The Corps has asked for a converted hangar that will allow an MV-22 to be folded and stowed. Sacagawea will receive these modifications during a regular overhaul planned to run from October through January, said John Thackrah, MSC’s executive director. Lewis and Clark is scheduled to receive the same modification during its regular overhaul in June 2018. There are no plans to install the hangar modification on the remaining 12 combat logistics force T-AKEs, though all are capable of landing an MV-22.

“This is good because today we often do not exploit the full capacity of T-AKEs,” Clark said.

Dry cargo and ammo ships aren’t the only ones slated for an amphibious upgrade. Two expeditionary fast transports — Spearhead and Trenton — have upgraded cranes that allow boats and personnel to launch from the mission bay. That modification will eventually be added to all EPF ships, Thackrah said.