Maritime Prepositioning

I love it when a relative comes to me asking questions… because sometimes it means I can put together another article.  On the other hand, it means they think I’m a better source than Google, so I’m thinking about charging them for answers.

In this case, I was asked about T-MLP-2 USNS John Glenn – what’s it for, and why does it look so weird. 

What’s it for?  Maritime Prepositioning.

Okay, while the answer is accurate as far as that goes, it didn’t quite satisfy their curiosity.

So, I expanded… or was it expounded?

Maritime Prepositioning is strategic power-projection – getting stuff the military needs where it needs it as fast as possible, by having it stationed closer than in port in the United States.  The Military Sealift Command's (MSC) Prepositioning Program meets this need with non-combat auxiliary ships - combining the lift capacity, flexibility, and responsiveness of surface ships with the speed of strategic airlift.  The program supports the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Defense Logistics Agency (which makes sense, what with MSC being responsible for the Department of Defense's ocean transport needs).

There are over 30 ships strategically positioned around the globe and divided up into three maritime prepositioning ship squadrons located in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean (at Diego Garcia) and the Western Pacific Ocean (Guam and Saipan). These ships have sufficient equipment, supplies and ammunition to support a Marine Air-Ground Task Force for 30 days.

 When needed, these ships are able to deploy on short notice to a crisis region and offload vital equipment, fuel, and supplies to initially support our military forces when ever needed - either in port or offshore via in-stream offload.

As noted, the Prepositioning Program supports all the branches of the military, and so based on the branch they support, the Prepositioning ships are sub-divided into three separate categories:

Combat Prepositioning Force - supports the Army

Logistics Prepositioning Ships - supports the Air Force, Defense Logistics Agency, and Navy

Maritime Prepositioning Force - supports the Marine Corps

There are several types of ships involved – and smaller craft as well.  Starting off with the ship that prompted the article, there is the Mobile Landing Platform (MPL).  The MLP goes somewhere, then anchors and settles in (literally – it takes on sea water and lowers itself in the water for better access) to allow logistics movement of cargo, equipment, and troops from sea to shore – it’s essentially a seagoing pier for when there’s no access to on-shore piers (or no piers at all).  The MPL primarily supports LCACs – Landing Craft, Air Cushion.

Also part of the MSC Prepositioning Program are:

 T-AK Cargo Ships -

T-AKE Advanced Auxiliary Dry Cargo Ships

T-AKR Roll-on/Roll-off Cargo ships

T-AOT transport oiler

T-AG Generic Auxiliary craft (used for Offshore Petroleum Distribution)

High Speed Vessels (HSV-2 or Westpac Express Class)

T-AVB Aviation Logistics Support Ships (kept in a reduced operating status)

Some of these ships were purpose-built for military cargo, while others were converted to the purpose, and are self-sustaining – having cranes to load or unload at sea or pierside.  If equipped with a vehicle ramp, the ship is able to “interface” with the MLP.  Not all ships with the hull designations listed are assigned to the Prepositioning Program; some are part of the Military Sealift Command's Sealift Program.

Small craft are also part of the Prepositioning Program – as mentioned there are LCAC as well as LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanical), and various Utility Boats.

The INLS – Improved Navy Lighterage System is also part of the Prepositioning Program – in essence, the system is a series of platforms that acts as a causeway or ramp from ship to shore.

As to the second question - why’s it look so weird?  Well, it’s based on the Alaska Class crude oil carrier, and modified so it could operate as a transfer point between large ships and small landing craft (LCACs and such) for the mission.  And if you think that MLP 1 and 2 look a bit weird, T-MLP-3 USNS Lewis B. Puller was “improved” with flight deck to support helicopter and V-22 Osprey operations (testing and certification to begin in 2016), becoming a hybrid of sorts, with the designation of T-MLP-3 / T-AFSB-1 (AFSB - Afloat Forward Staging Base).

Continue Reading...