The Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) combines the capacity and endurance of sealift with the speed of airlift to bring a MEB capability to bear on a military problem. The MPF Program provides equipment and supplies to enable the rapid deployment and employment of two MEBs from prepositioned shipping. The program will continue to evolve to meet the challenges of a constrained fiscal environment as well as a strategic environment with greater anti-access challenges.
Evolution of Maritime Prepositioning: The elimination of the Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron-1 (MPSRON-1) took place in FY12. As a result, its ships were transferred to the U.S. Transportation Command’s Strategic Sealift Fleet, or reassigned to MPSRON-2 or-3. The Marine Corps collaborated with the Navy extensively to enhance the capabilities of the two remaining MPSRONs, to include the addition of a legacy maritime prepositioning ship to each squadron. This enhancement attained a higher lift capacity of the MEB requirement per MPSRON, retained critical sea-basing enabling capabilities within each MPSRON, and maintained the MPF’s ability to support combatant commander (CCDR) requirements. However, with the evolutionary increase in size and weight of combat equipment and vehicles during the past decade, actual capacity in % of a MEBs TE has decreased. This is an issue that will need to be addressed in the coming years.
In addition, the Corps’ afloat and ashore prepositioning capabilities are programmed for other significant changes through 2025 and beyond. We view both our amphibious ships and maritime preposition forces as expeditionary assets that complement each other with specific strengths to employ across the range of military operations (ROMO). Changes have occurred in the afloat program, where the capability to conduct sustained sea-based operations with limited host nation infrastructure in the Joint Operating Area (JOA) provides a greatly expanded set of options for CCDRs. Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) can operate in higher sea states and provides greater throughput capacity for an in-stream offload where conventional port facilities may be damaged, inadequate, or nonexistent. A seabasing module has been added to round out MPF and facilitates a more selective offload of tailorable options scalable across the ROMO. A Crisis Response Force Package (CRFP) has also been combat loaded onto specific vessels to be accessed quickly, as a balanced MAGTF developed around a reinforced infantry battalion.
While the Maritime Prepositioning Force program provides significant capability to CCDRs, it is limited in some areas, especially in the ability to conduct sea-based operations in higher sea states. The closure of forces requires a secure airfield and a secure port or beach landing site in the JOA — a significant constraint to some operations. In-service MPF platforms can embark limited personnel pier-side, at anchor, or while in transit. However, the platforms lack the billeting and support services to facilitate a sea-based force.
The dense packing of the ships is designed to optimize available space, but precludes the conduct of assembly operations aboard MPF ships. MPF platforms can support the limited employment of forces from a sea base, but this requires significant planning prior to back-loading the ships during the preceding MPF maintenance cycle (MMC). Also, since there are no maintenance facilities aboard MPF vessels, all reconstitution must be done ashore before back-loading any of the equipment or supplies. These are all areas that we are tracking and seeking modernization opportunities for, in order to improve operational employment options for the remaining years of service in current MPF ships. Additionally, modernization efforts, as well as ongoing naval integration operational capability, employment, and offload studies are being leveraged in order to inform MPF and strategic sealift recapitalization requirements. Replacement of these aging ships will be a necessity as we near 2030.
Dry cargo/ammunition ships (T-AKEs) added to the MPSRONs enable selective access to and the offload of supplies, allowing the building of tailored sustainment packages for forces operating ashore. Adding two Expeditionary Transfer Docks (T-ESD) in FY15 provided the capability to conduct limited at-sea, sea state-3, selective offload, and vehicle/ cargo transfer from an LMSR to LCAC and future ship to shore connector (SSC) craft. The addition of these ships provide additional employment options to CCDRs.
Finally, creation of the CRFP concept during 2014/2015 has since evolved into the current construct of a single CRFP laydown in each MPSRON. The CRFP provides an additional option to employ an expeditionary, balanced, and sustainable MAGTF (reinforced rifle company, company landing team, etc.) capable of conducting limited crisis response. Select equipment and supplies are loaded among three ships (1 T-AKR (LMSR), 1 T-AK, and 1 T-AKE) in each MPSRON to facilitate a more rapid offload of those items required to support a CRFP. Loading of the ships in this manner will be complete at the end of the current MMC-12 by April 2020.
While most active ships in the prepositioning fleet strategically place military supplies and equipment at sea, there are Navy Fleet Support, Expeditionary Support, and Auxiliary ships that are in service (e.g. LCC, EPF) or activated from reduced operating status (ROS) when needed to support the Navy-Marine Corps team. These inactive ROS ships include two aviation logistics (T-AVB) ships (SS Curtiss and SS Wright) that provide at-sea intermediate maintenance activities for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft; and two hospital (T-AH) ships (USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort). The hospital ships each contain 12 operating rooms and up to 1,000 beds. Each of these ships are in ROS but when called into action can be underway in five days with an expanded crew of more than 60 Civilian Mariners (CIVMARs) and up to 1,200 medical personnel.