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F.O.B.s Afloat

There's a quiet revolution afoot in the Navy and Marine Corps, a new way of doing things that promises massive leaps in capability. It's called Seabasing, and nobody outside of the services seems to know anything about it.In a nutshell, Seabasing involves grouping together cargo ships and amphibious assault ships into a huge offshore logistics and aviation base. Think traditional amphibious operations times ten, and sustainable for a month or more. Or think a huge Forward Operating Base (FOB), only afloat.seabas1.jpg The idea behind Seabasing is to avoid the diplomatic complications of basing ground troops and aircraft in host countries. Turkey showed us back in 2003 that even seemingly staunch allies can waver at the last minute when they blocked the 4th Infantry Division from opening a northern front in Iraq. Seabasing sticks to international waters and grants us flexible, sustainable access to most of the world's trouble spots.Seabasing hinges on hardware, oh yes, but it's mostly old hardware. In contrast to the pet projects of other services like the Air Force's F-22 or the Army's Future Combat Systems, there is no single Seabasing budget line to attract the attention of critics. Rather, Seabasing calls for using existing big-deck assault ships -- the Tarawas and Wasps and their eventual replacements, the LHA(R)s -- to support the aviation component, and San Antonio-class LPDs and Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPSs) to support the people and cargo part. Lewis and Clark-class logistics ships, designed to support carrier battle groups, will shuttle between ports and the Seabase with fuel, dry goods and ammo. You see? Every piece of the puzzle has a traditional use that disguises its future major role in the Seabase. Clever, huh?Besides the big ships, the most important component of the Seabase is what the Navy-Marine Corps team calls "connectors". These are the smaller platforms that shuttle people and stuff between the Seabase ships and between the Seabase and the beachhead. There are some connectors already in widespread use in the fleet, such as Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCACs), traditional landing craft and helicopters. Emerging connectors include catamarans and V-22 tilt-rotors. There has been some talk of designing new tilt-rotors and air-cushions for the connector role, too.Really, Seabasing is a concept -- or, to use an Army phrase, a "system of systems". The inherent modularity of the idea means you can swap new platforms into the Seabase as necessary. Want a larger aviation component? Add an aircraft carrier or two. Want more forcible entry in a dense air-defense environment? Plug in some submarines carrying SEALs plus more LCACs and Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles. Need to sustain ground operations against an armored opponent? Base an Army division aboard your amphibs in place of the traditional Marine Expeditionary Force. Is it a natural disaster you're dealing with and not some rogue state? Convert berthing into medical wards, detach medevac choppers to the assault ships and maybe even add a hospital ship.The possibilities are endless.One problem: Just one quiet, lurking diesel sub could mean serious trouble for your big, fat immobile Seabase. That means work for flotillas of Littoral Combat Ships equipped with anti-sub modules, I imagine.In March, Marine Commandant Michael Hagee addressed the Senate Appropriations Committee on the subject of connectors. Read his testimony ...

High-speed connectors will facilitate the conduct of sustained sea-based operations by expediting force closure and allowing the persistence necessary for success in the littorals. Connectors ... will link bases and stations around the world to the Seabase and other advanced bases, as well as provide linkages between the Seabase and forces operating ashore. High-speed connectors are critical to provide the force closure and operational flexibility to make Seabasing a reality.* Joint High Speed Sealift. The Joint High Speed Sealift (JHSS) is an inter-theater connector that provides strategic force closure for CONUS-based forces. The JHSS is envisioned to transport the Marine Corps non self-deploying aircraft, personnel, and high demand-low density equipment, as well as the Armys non self-deploying aircraft and personnel, and Brigade Combat Team rolling stock and personnel, permitting rapid force closure of this equipment. Additionally, the JHSS will alleviate the need to compete for limited strategic airlift assets, and reduce closure timelines by deploying directly to the sea base rather than via an intermediate staging base or advanced base. The JHSS program is currently in the early states of capability development and has merged with the Armys Austere Access High Speed Ship program. Current fielding of the JHSS is projected in Fiscal Year 2017.* Joint High Speed Vessel. The Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) will address the Combatant Commanders requirements for a forward deployed rapid force closure capability to support the Global War on Terror. The JHSV will enable the rapid force closure of fly-in Marine forces to the sea base from advanced bases, logistics from pre-positioned ships to assault shipping, ship-to-ship replenishment, and in appropriate threat environments, maneuver of assault forces to in-theater ports and austere ports. Army and Navy programs were recently merged into a Navy-led program office with an acquisition strategy intended to leverage current commercial fast ferry technology, and acquisition of a modified non-developmental item (NDI). Contract award for new vessels is expected in Fiscal Year 2008, with delivery in 2010. To meet the current and near-term Combatant Commanders requirements, the Department of the Navy continues to lease foreign built vessels until the JHSV is delivered.* Westpac Express (WPE) is providing support to III MEF and other Okinawa-based forces, enabling III MEF to expand off-island training and engagement while reducing battalion-training days spent off island. Additionally, WPE played a key role supporting the Indian Ocean tsunami relief effort. HSV-2 Swift provides a test bed for research and development prototypes as well as an operational platform in support of current real world requirements. Most recently, HSC-2 played a key role in support of JTF Katrina, providing high-speed delivery of supplies, equipment, and personnel to ships and ports along the US Gulf Coast.* Joint Maritime Assault Connector. The Joint Maritime Assault Connector (JMAC), previously known as the Seabase-to-shore connector, will replace the venerable legacy landing craft air cushion (LCAC) as a critical tactical level platform supporting Marine Corps assault forces, as well as joint forces operating within the Sea Base. In comparison to the LCAC, the JMAC is envisioned to have many enhanced capabilities, such as the ability to operate in higher sea states, increased range, speed, and payload, increased obstacle clearance, and reduced operating and maintenance costs. The JMAC is planned for fleet introduction in Fiscal Year 2015.Marine aviation will undergo significant transformation over the next ten years as we transition from 13 types of legacy aircraft to seven new platforms. We developed a new transition strategy to better balance numbers of assault support and TacAir aircraft based on operational requirements. This strategy supports our Seabasing concept and enables Ship-to-Objective Maneuver utilizing the Joint Strike Fighter, MV-22, and Heavy Lift Replacement, recently designated CH-53K. At a distance of 110 nautical miles, a squadron of MV-22s will lift a 975-Marine battalion in four waves in under four hours. Similarly, the CH-53K will replace our aging, legacy CH-53E helicopter, lifting more than twice as much over the same range and serving as the only sea-based air assault and logistics connector capable of transporting critical heavy vehicles and fire support assets. An Assault Support Capability Analysis is underway to determine the optimal mix of MV-22 and CH-53K aircraft required to support Ship-to-Objective Maneuver and Distributed Operations. Similarly, the Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter represents a transformational platform that will generate 25 percent more sorties and provide a multi-spectral engagement capability for the Expeditionary Strike Force.* CH-53K. The CH-53K is our number one aviation acquisition priority. Consequently, the CH-53K received full funding in 2005 and has reached "Milestone B" statusinitiation of system development and demonstrations. Our current fleet of CH-53E Super Stallion aircraft enters its fatigue life during this decade. The CH-53K will deliver increased range and payload, reduced operations and support costs, increased commonality with other assault support platforms, and digital interoperability for the next 25 years. The CH-53K program will both improve operational capabilities and reduce life-cycle costs. Commonality between other Marine Corps aircraft in terms of engines and avionics will greatly enhance the maintainability and deployability of the aircraft within the Air Combat Element. The CH-53K will vastly improve the ability of the MAGTF and Joint force to project and sustain forces ashore from a sea-based center of operations in support of EMW, Ship-to-Objective Maneuver, and Distributed Operations.* Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) is our number one ground acquisition program, and it replaces the aging Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) that has been in service since 1972. It will provide Marine surface assault elements with better operational and tactical mobility both in the water and ashore, and will exploit fleeting opportunities in the fluid operational environment of the future. Designed to launch from amphibious ships stationed over the horizon, it will be capable of carrying a reinforced Marine rifle squad. The EFV will travel at speeds in excess of 20 nautical miles per hour in a wave height of three feet. This capability will reduce the vulnerability of our naval forces to enemy threats at sea and ashore. Our surface assault forces mounted in EFVs will have the mobility to react and exploit gaps in enemy defenses ashore. Once ashore, EFV will provide Marines with an armored personnel carrier designed to meet the threats of the future. The EFV has high-speed land and water maneuverability, highly lethal day/night fighting ability, and enhanced communications capability. It has advanced armor and nuclear, biological, and chemical collective protection. These attributes will significantly enhance the lethality and survivability of Marine maneuver units.

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