Marines Battle ‘Tyranny Of Distance’ in Pacific Pivot
As the U.S. Marine Corps shifts its focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, the business of lift and logistics also shifts — from the fairly straightforward process of supplying troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to the enormous challenge of operating in a vast hemisphere of oceans and islands.
In fact, the Corps lacks the necessary lift to transport all Marines where they need to go in the Pacific, said Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos. “That’s one of the things we’re struggling with” as the Corps shifts its focus back to the sea after a decade of ground wars.
Amos told an audience Sept. 18 at The Atlantic Council in Washington that although there are 20,000 Marines in the Pacific theater, that number should increase to about 22,000 in the near future.
And while the Corps’ return to its expeditionary roots aboard Navy ships is well underway, Amos said the services have identified some creative solutions to the lack of lift in the vast Pacific region.
“We are building joint high speed vessels (JHSVs), that’s in the budget, and those things are very, very effective,” even with the sea state limitations under which they operate. But in permissive seas, having several JHSVs in service means that “you can move a lot of Marines and a lot of equipment around once you get down in [the Pacific].”
He even broached the possibility of hiring commercial ships to transport Marines and equipment.
Implicit in all of this talk of lift is the ability of the Corps to project power ashore from the Navy’s amphibious warships. Almost all of the nations in the Asia-Pacific region have one thing in common, Amos said: “thousands and thousands of linear miles of coastline. One of the things an amphibious force can do … is that we put the country that we might go to war with on the horns of a dilemma, because you can’t possibly defend an entire coastline.”
But to do that, you need a way to get Marines and their fighting vehicles ashore.
After the cancellation of the Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program (EFV) in January 2011, when development costs reached $3 billion — each EFV was projected to cost about $24 million — the Corps turned to what it called the Assault Amphibious Vehicle Service Life Extension Program. This effort involves using two vehicles — the Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC) and the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) — to meet the requirements laid down in the EFV program.
The Corps has completed an analysis of alternatives for the ACV but has declined to release the results of the study, which wrapped up in June. The MPC evaluation, however, has reached the stage where the service says the vehicle can be tested in the waves and on beachfront property.
On Aug. 16, the Corps awarded development contracts to four industry teams to supply the service with operational prototypes for the MPC. The Marines will evaluate the vehicles at the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch at Camp Pendleton, Calif., with further evaluations at the Nevada Automotive Test Center in Carson City, said Manny Pacheco, a Marine Corps spokesman.
Winners each received $3.5 million contracts to deliver an MPC system demonstration and study vehicle for water performance evaluation, survivability testing, and an analysis of human factors and stowage capacity starting this fall. The contracts are set to run until August. The teams are being led by:
Lockheed Martin, which is submitting the Havoc eight-wheel-drive, based on Patria Land Systems’ eight-wheel-drive armored modular vehicle, in use by six European countries and deployed in Afghanistan with Polish forces.
- BAE Systems, which has teamed with Iveco to use a version of its 24-ton Superav eight-wheel-drive, which is being used by the Italian Army.
- General Dynamics and SAIC have also been awarded contracts, although these companies were less forthcoming about their designs.
- General Dynamics declined to specify which vehicle it will ship to the Corps for testing. And although SAIC didn’t respond to requests for comment, the company said March 23 that it would partner with Singapore Technologies Kinetics to offer the Terrex eight-wheel-drive armored personnel carrier, which has already been fielded by the Singapore Armed Forces.
Pacheco said the MPC may eventually replace about half of the aging fleet of amphibious assault vehicles, which the EFV was supposed to replace. The Corps is expected to issue a request for proposals for the ACV in the spring.
As from amphibious lift, another major hurdle for the Corps’ Pacific pivot is logistics.
In March, Assistant Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford praised logisticians for the transition of equipment from the two ground wars but warned that the Corps’ plans for the Pacific will sprout new challenges.
“I’m actually laying awake at night worrying about a couple of things that logisticians ought to be laying awake at night worrying about as well,” Dunford told the Marine Corps Association banquet in honor of the Corps’ logisticians of the year.
He warned that having Marines in Australia, the Philippines, Guam, Okinawa and around Southeast Asia on a daily basis will require logisticians to determine ways to sustain a force that’s distributed much differently from years past.
“There’s not a whole heck of a lot of gear just laying around to redistribute,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Hudson, commanding general of Marine Corps Logistics Command, during a Sept. 18 phone interview. Hudson said once equipment begins to consistently go through the repair process, gear will then be available for redistribution.
Resetting equipment takes a couple of weeks once refurbishment begins, but — depending on the availability of funding, personnel, tools and replacement parts — it could be months from the time a piece of equipment gets on the repair line after its return.
“We try to build the layouts and have a good steady line of repair before we initiate it so we don’t get a vehicle in the middle of a rebuild cycle and then [have to] let the vehicle sit until [we] can get that last part,” Hudson said.
Col. Joseph Whitaker, logistics plans and operations branch head, said getting equipment from Afghanistan to the Pacific region is relatively simple, but getting the right equipment in good condition and in a timely manner will be the challenge.
“Overcoming the vast expanse of the Pacific, more aptly referred to as the ‘tyranny of distance,’ will require leveraging all the assets of the joint force at our disposal,” Whitaker said. “Intra-theater lift by air, land and sea, Defense Logistics Agency stores of consumables, supplies, ammunition and repair parts, in-theater depot maintenance facilities, Naval Logistics Integration Supply Chain and host nation support and agreement are all critical to orchestrating meeting the challenges.”
Hudson said Marine Corps Logistics Command is pursuing several ways to provide logistical and operational support to Marine Forces Pacific commanders over the next few years.
“We have the Marine rotational forces down in Darwin, Australia. How would that equipment set be managed? Who would manage it? I think that’s something that Marine Corps Logistics Command could very well do,” Hudson said.
The Installations and Logistics Directorate is developing a logistics blueprint for the Asia-Pacific region that will include using 3rd Marine Logistics Group for regional support and Logistics Command to conduct overflow maintenance support and distribution management. The Marine Corps will partner with the Navy’s 7th Fleet logistics supply lines and countries in the region to enable the transition.
Beyond the task of repairing large quantities of equipment worn by more than a decade of war, Marine Corps Logistics Command must also make sure that installations provide up-to-date training facilities, desired family housing and programs.
“Providing the appropriate infrastructure and sustainment plan around these Marines is the challenge and [is] critical to their success,” Whitaker said.