|Photo by Grady Fontana|
July 20, 2016 - Despite continued conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, the U.S. remains committed to a refocus of strategic priorities to the Pacific region. While long-running conflicts and territorial disputes dominate regional issues in the Pacific, each military service continues to hone their maritime tactics, techniques and procedures in support of the rebalance to the Pacific region.
One of the biggest challenges when operating in the Pacific region is the vast area covered—almost half of the earth’s surface.
Post 9/11 and after more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps and Army are rediscovering, redefining and re-evolving their amphibious roots while working closely with the Navy—and in times of fiscal constraints, the services must find ingenious ways to operate at reduced costs.
From June through August, U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) will be conducting a series of bilateral exercises designed to promote partnership and interoperability between the U.S. and three Southeast Asian countries’ militaries: exercises’ Hanuman Guardian in Thailand, Keris Strike in Malaysia, and Garuda Shield in Indonesia.
Since personnel and equipment deployed from the U.S., the exercises presented a formidable logistical challenge that U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) mobilized, along with Military Sealift Command (MSC).
Military Sealift Command’s contracted voyage-charter MV OCEAN GLORY recently conducted a backload of about 250 items in Sattahip, Thailand, as part of the mobility operation PACIFIC PATHWAYS 16-2 (PP16-2).
The OCEAN GLORY is a general purpose, heavy lift, commercial ship from Intermarine under contract by MSC to support PP16-2, a USARPAC mobility operation that supports the three USARPAC exercises and links them into a single operation by using a single MSC charter vessel to carry a designated task force and their force package equipment for the entire duration.
Pacific Pathways is an innovation that links the series of USPACOM-directed Security Cooperation exercises with allied and partner militaries, and reduces the tyranny of time, distance and cost impacts compared to a multi-vessel liner service.
“The ‘pathway’ is the link between these previously-independent bilateral and multilateral exercises, and the unit is mission-tailored and task-organized for the entire series of exercises,” said U.S. Army Col. Bob Curran, mobility director, USARPAC. “The Pacific Pathways concept commits a designated task force and their force package equipment to the entire duration of a pathway.”
The MV OCEAN GLORY departed Tacoma, Wash., in mid-May with equipment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and a detachment of ship riders, and made a stop in Hawaii to embark more gear, before arriving in June to Thailand, in support of exercise Hanuman Guardian, to offload equipment for U.S. Army Task Force Lancer, made up of elements of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division from JBLM and 2nd Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade from Hawaii.
After Hanuman Guardian, the equipment will voyage to Malaysia where some equipment will be discharged to support Keris Strike. Immediately after the offload, the OCEAN GLORY will transit to Indonesia to discharge gear for exercise Garuda Shield. At the conclusion of the exercise, the ship will backload all gear from Indonesia, then Malaysia before returning to Hawaii and JBLM.
“Prior to Pacific Pathways, an equipment set endured on average 90-days transit time per exercise from home base to exercise country and return on liner service solutions,” said Curran. “For three exercises this amounted to nine months of the year where the equipment was inaccessible to the unit which resulted in increased maintenance days and reduced readiness.”
The Pacific Pathways’ single MSC charter vessel solution for three consecutive exercises corrected this dynamic.
“During sail on a MSC charter vessel, unit representatives on the vessel can execute preventive and minor maintenance and coordinate for replacement parts to arrive at the next exercise,” said Curran. “This facilitates sustained readiness throughout the course of a Pacific Pathway to ensure equipment is operational.”
Pacific Pathways also provides MSC staff invaluable training benefits. The operation tests MSC staff’s ability to train and evaluate charter vessel process, activation and operations to strengthen interoperability in the joint and combined environment.
“Pacific Pathways allows commercial and merchant marine crews to execute military sea movement in support of USARPAC that replicates contingencies and familiarizes the crews with USARPAC coalition partner port locations and operations,” said Curran. “Pacific Pathways provides invaluable MSC training to operate continuously for up to six months with an Army force package to multiple ports.”
Pacific Pathways provides a strenuous training work out for MSC. During a PP16-2, MSC, USARPAC and host nation networks execute multiple lift on/lift off operations in multiple sea ports under time constraints.
“I’m working with three different ship agents, three different cargo agents, two different (Surface Deployment and Distribution Command) battalions, and multiple different host nations,” said Christopher Cassano, plans and exercises officer, Military Sealift Command Far East, based out of Singapore. “It’s just a lot to manage. A regular movement, especially a commercial movement is relatively simple. The biggest challenge is all the coordination with the various host nation partners, the various exercise participants, and the different logistics teams.”
MSC has learned that having a single MSC representative supporting all the various location greatly enhances efficiency, especially when working with a commercial vessel that’s not accustomed to working with the U.S. military.
“What’s interesting about this ship is it’s the first time she’s flying the U.S. flag, it’s first time she’s handling military cargo, and it’s also the first time for most of the crew as well,” said Cassano. “They’re learning as we’re learning.”
According to Capt. Christopher Hill, merchant marine and master of the OCEAN GLORY, at each port the OCEAN GLORY has operated in while supporting PP16-2, military representatives have met him at the various ports when the ship arrived, which facilitated streamlined processes and smooth transactions.
“We’ve never worked so closely with Military Sealift Command, or in some cases the Army and the Navy,” said Hill. “It’s a culture of teamwork—everybody pulling together to accomplish a common goal.”
Despite the vast operating area of the Pacific region, and the various numbers of players involved in the complex mission of supporting multiple exercises, PP16-2 has proven to be a resourceful force multiplier.
MSC operates approximately 115 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.