The Navy and Marine Corps will operate new platforms at the Freedom Banner and Ssang Yong exercises that start in South Korea this week and experiment with new concepts they hope will streamline and improve future amphibious landing capabilities in the Pacific.
The first-in-class USNS Montford Point, delivered last year, is slated to link up with the USNS GYSGT Fred W. Stockham -- a large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off cargo ship -- to test joint seabasing capabilities, Marine Corps officials said.
Joint seabasing is essentially a base at sea from which amphibious assaults are launched on land-based targets.
The exercises will mark the first time a ship like the Stockham has moored itself to a Montford Point-class mobile landing platform in the Pacific since initial testing took place in San Diego.
Marine Corps officials hope the Montford Point class will revolutionize combat readiness in amphibious landings when port facilities and airspace are restricted. They will be able to get closer to a target and allow forces to be more combat ready when an assault takes place.
"We've never done this before," said Marine Lt. Col. Robert Sellers, exercise logistics officer for 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. "It's a big deal and hopefully it goes well."
The maneuvers, officially a part of Freedom Banner but also a piece of the Ssang Yong amphibious landing exercise, begin Wednesday when the bigger and faster Stockham moors "skin to skin" with the Montford Point, Sellers said. Marines will then be able to separate and reconfigure gear on the Montford Point's spacious, flat deck. When an assault takes place, Marine officials want them prepared to fight.
The Montford Point, which can submerge its midsection, will then launch landing craft air cushions and amphibious assault vehicles in a simulated port seizure.
The ships will perform a reconfiguration at sea on March 9. Landing craft will ferry equipment from the Stockham to the Montford Point and back again. On March 17, they will again moor together and simulate a combat replacement ashore.
USNS ships are operated by civilian mariners under the Military Sealift Command, said Capt. R. A. Rochford, commander of Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron Three. The challenge for them will be interfacing the ships in various sea conditions.
"This is a great opportunity for the Navy and the Marine Corps," Rochford said. "There are a lot of opportunities to see what this can do."