Sea-Basing and the Maritime Pre-Positioning Force (Future)

By Cook, Henry B. | Military Review, July-August 2004 | Go to article overview

Sea-Basing and the Maritime Pre-Positioning Force (Future)


Cook, Henry B., Military Review


SEA-BASING, defined as projecting joint operational independence in the largest maneuver area in the world, is one of the synergistic operational concepts the Navy-Marine Corps team will use to enhance their capabilities to fight and win the littoral conflicts of the 21st century. (1) Sea-basing is a principal enabling concept supporting the Chief of Naval Operations' (CNO's) Sea Power 21, the U.S. Marine Corps' expeditionary maneuver warfare, operational maneuver from the sea (OMFTS), ship-to-objective maneuver (STOM), and other expeditionary concepts. (2)

Sea-basing allows the joint force commander (JFC) the means to accelerate deployment and employment times of naval power-projection capabilities and the enhanced seaborne positioning of joint assets. (3) Sea-basing minimizes the need to build a logistics stockpile ashore, reduces the burden on sea and airlift assets, and allows forward positioning of joint forces. (4)

The overall intent of sea-based operations is to use the flexibility and protection the sea base provides to minimize the Marine air-ground task force's (MAGTF's) presence ashore. (5) The challenge of sea-basing lies in its logistical sustainment and the details of its implementation. The bases of sea-basing and its implementation are the maritime pre-positioning force (MPF), maritime pre-positioning force (enhanced) (MPF[E]), and MPF (future) (MPF[F]).

MPF and MPF(E)

The MPF, established in 1979, consists of 13 ships organized into 3 forward-deployed squadrons. (6) An MPF squadron (MPSRON) normally consists of four or five ships. The ships are privately owned. Three companies operate them, but the Department of Defense leases them. The ships handle container and roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) operations. Each MPSRON supports a Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB) of approximately 17,000 marines. Each MPSRON is outfitted with weapons, equipment, and supplies sufficient to support an MEB-size MAGTF for up to 30 days. The supplies are pre-positioned at 3 locations (Diego Garcia, Guam, and the Mediterranean Sea). (7) In a contingency operation, at least one MPSRON can arrive at a directed location within 7 days of notification. (8)

An MPF(E) squadron is a standard MPF with an additional ship that carries Naval Mobile Construction Battalion ("Sea Bee") assets, a Navy fleet hospital, and an expeditionary airfield. (9) Two of the three MPSRONs are augmented with these assets. (10)

Historical approaches to amphibious logistics support of assault forces required initial supply and periodic re-supply of water, rations, ammunition, and fuel and depended on the concept of the "beachhead." A beachhead support area (BSA) stockpiled with all the requirements of the combat force becomes an attractive and easily located and attacked target. (11)

Current MPF doctrine is to pre-position large caches of supplies and oversize equipment at strategic locations. (12) Joint force personnel are then airlifted into theater and received at an aerial port of debarkation (APOD). At the same time, MPF ships loaded with equipment arrive at the sea port of debarkation (SPOD), which begins the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSOI) cycle.

The joining of joint force personnel with their equipment in marshalling areas near the SPOD is the staging phase. Onward movement is accomplished when joint forces leave the staging area and move to assigned areas of operation. Integration occurs when the combat force commander places forces in his order of battle. Sustainment begins once the joint force is transported to the staging areas and continues until the campaign ends.

The existing MPF provides mobility and limited in-stream offloading capabilities. (13) Typical MPF operations require ports and airfields to offload cargo, which makes forces vulnerable. (14) The MPF concept, tested and validated during Operation Desert Shield through a fixed-pert system, provided the first heavy armor capabilities in theater. …

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