One of this nation’s asymmetric military advantages over every conceivable adversary is our ability to project power from the sea. Most people know about the role that nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, surface combatants and nuclear-powered attack submarines play in providing the United States with an unmatched capability to influence events on land from a secure position in international waters. Carrier-based aviation generated a significant fraction of the combat sorties conducted by all U.S. forces during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Cruise missile strikes launched from U.S. cruisers, destroyers and submarines have been the leading edge of the coalition military operations against Iraq, Afghanistan and even Libya. Earlier this year, the presence of a half dozen missile-equipped destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean was sufficient as a visible threat to get the Syrian regime to cough up its chemical weapons.
Some might be familiar with the Navy/Marine Corps amphibious warfare team. Centered on a fleet of some 28 ships and the elements of a Marine Corps Air/Ground Task Force (MAGTF), this constitutes a flexible, tailorable military capability. During Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Central Command deployed a division-sized Marine Expeditionary Force in the Persian Gulf as a threat to the flank of Iraqi forces in Kuwait. More typically, the Navy/Marine Corps team deploys in the Marine Expeditionary Unit/Amphibious Ready Group (MEU/ARG). The MEU consists of a reinforced infantry battalion supported by additional command and control, logistics and aviation elements. The ARG half of the combined capability typically consists of three amphibious ships — a LHD, LPD and LSD — which not only provide transportation for the MEU’s air and ground elements but can serve as a sovereign base at sea with advanced medical care, intelligence capabilities and support facilities. The large LHD and LPD amphibious warfare ships allow the MEU/ARG to deploy with its own air force consisting of MV-22 Ospreys, AV-8B short/vertical takeoff and landing fighters (to be replaced by the F-35Bs) and AH-1W attack, UH-1N utility and H-53E heavy lift helicopters. The MEU/ARG is this nation’s premier crisis response capability.
But probably only a few individuals outside the defense community know about the Maritime Prepositioning Ship (MPS) squadrons that provide the U.S. military with a critical, mobile, sea-based capability that supports the flexible deployment of forces and supplies. The MPS squadrons consist of a mix of bulk carriers, fuel ships, roll-on/roll off equipment carriers and ammunition ships. Each squadron has sufficient equipment, supplies and ammunition to support a Marine Air-Ground Task Force for 30 days.
The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) is a new addition to the MPS fleet. It is designed to provide the flexible logistical capabilities required in order to support a broad range of military operations. The MLP will significantly and affordably expand the carrying capacity of the MPS and serve primarily as a base at sea, transferring equipment, fuel and supplies to other ships that will deliver them to shore. The MLP ship class is based on an existing commercial design. The approximately 80,000 ton, 785-foot ship provides 25,000 square feet of vehicle and equipment stowage space and 380,000 gallons of JP-5 fuel storage. The MLP can be mission configured through the use of add-on modules that support a vehicle staging area, vehicle transfer ramp, large mooring fenders and up to three air-cushion vessels at a time. What is particularly important about the MLP is that it will allow amphibious operations in the absence of ports. This class of ships will be equipped with a mission deck and the means to allow loading and unloading of the floating cargo.
The first MLP, USNS Montford Point, was delivered on time and on budget in May 2013. The second ship, USNS John Glenn, was launched September 2013. The third ship of this class, the future USNSLewis B. Puller, is currently under construction.
No other country has sea-based capabilities even remotely similar to those deployed by the United States. Whether it is a carrier battle group, MEU/ARG or the MPS with the MLP, these are military forces that provide this country not only decisive asymmetric advantages over prospective adversaries, but also the means to conduct large-scale humanitarian and stability operations around the world.
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