Archive for the 'disaster response' Tag

When you scan over it fast – it is really just a small transport, right? For such a small ship with such a humble mission – JHSV continues to bring a lot of interest. Why?

Along with co-host and fellow USNIBlogg’r EagleOne, we hosted a panel discussion this weekend focused on just one thing; the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).

To discuss this curious little ship for the full hour, we brought together John Patch, CDR USN Ret., Associate Professor of Strategic Intelligence at the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, and “Leesea” a former SWO who has managed sealift ships for the Military Sealift Command since 1980 to include the original charter of the HSV WestPac Express.

Why do we need JHSV, what requirement does it meet? How is the program from a manning, shipbuilding, and development perspective viewed? What missions can/should it do and how should it be armed, if at all?

Grab a fresh cup of coffee, and click here to give it a listen and help us ponder.



One little-noticed facet of America’s Haiti-bound expeditionary aid effort is the SS Petersburg (T-AOT 9101), a 45-year old vessel that is, right now, tied to a Bay Area pier, preparing to deploy. Why is this Ready Reserve Force asset, one that needs ten days to get going–and one of the furthest-flung pieces of equipment the United States has called into service for Haiti relief–getting activated? Isn’t it odd the military reached all the way to an Alameda pier for a tired old tanker–a tanker that makes only about 15 knots?

Well, it’s because the SS Petersburg is much more than a tanker! The SS Petersburg is a tanker built around an offshore petroleum discharge system (OPDS), and, as such, the ship is one of the only available government assets that can, while anchored offshore, receive and pump a lot of fuel ashore. OPDS is a key piece of expeditionary tech–those trucks, amphibious armored vehicles and generators have a hard time running without fuel.

In Haiti, there’s only a few weeks supply of fuel available–and we’re not done surveying Haiti’s fuel receiving terminals. Those terminals may be inaccessible for some time. Though accounts vary, the Wall Street Journal says the fuel terminals are damaged:

Two other Haitian terminals used to bring in fuel have also been heavily damaged, said Mr. Villard.

The U.S. military is also conducting an assessment of the port of Varreux, just to the north of Port-au-Prince’s main port, as a possible place to begin pumping fuel. Gen. Allyn said he expected to resume fuel deliveries there “in the very near future,” though the assessment will take another day or two.

Without receiving terminals, the fuel has to come in via road–from harbors elsewhere in Haiti or the Dominican Republic. But with the roads and weak harbor infrastructure likely to be clogged, the SS Petersburg may still be useful. From Navytimes:

“Within 48 hours of arrival on station, [Petersburg can begin] pumping 1.2 million gallons per day from up to four miles off shore and at water depths down to 200 feet. If the ship is moored within two nautical miles of the shore, two different products may be pumped simultaneously through two separate conduits,” according to information from MarAd.

Fuel supply is critical for any amphibious venture–and the advantage of having a means to receive refined fuel without need of port facilities is, these days, a tactical necessity.

Look to history–The advance from the World War II D-Day beachheads was supported by one of the first undersea pipelines, the aptly-named Operation PLUTO, or “Pipe-Lines Under the Ocean.” It was operational by August 1944, sparing space in the wrecked Cherbourg Harbor for other vital cargoes.

The SS Petersburg, when it arrives at Haiti, may help alleviate pressure on the feeble, crowded ports. It may allow those working to clear blocked harbor channels and open pier access to focus on insuring that traditional dry cargoes can get access to shore. (The Marines have an expeditionary bulk-liquid transfer system, but their ability to utilize that system at Haiti may be somewhat limited).

OPDS is not just for expeditionary use, either. For established bases like Guam, Diego Garcia or, oh, Ascension Island, damage to established fuel receiving infrastructure would rapidly degrade their inherent military value.

Interestingly enough, OPDS platforms only really emerged as a defense asset in the eighties and nineties:

“…the prototype SS Potomac (OPDS-1 built in 1957 converted to OPDS in 1985); SS American Osprey (OPDS-2 built 1958 converted 1988); SS Chesapeake (OPDS-3 built 1963 converted 1991); SS Petersburg (OPDS-4 built 1963 converted 1994); and, SS Mount Washington (OPDS-5 built 1963 converted 1995).”

What is rather odd is that the United States now only has three of these vessels–well, technically, two. The SS Petersburg’s sister, the Chesapeake (T-AOT 5084), is, after serving in the Gulf Region, a hulk, mouldering away in the National Defense Reserve Fleet over in Beaumont, Texas–in “logistic support” status. That means the poor SS Chesapeake is being stripped to keep the SS Petersburg operational (The SS Mount Washington is awaiting disposal in Suisun Bay).

The second, MV Vice Adm. K.R. Wheeler (T-AG 5001), is a brand-new charter vessel:

Wheeler’s improved capabilities include the ability to pump 500,000 gallons more fuel per day, operate in more difficult environmental conditions including surface currents of up to three knots and winds of up to 40 knots, and install pipe over an ocean bottom of rock and shell in addition to mud, sand and coral.

Wheeler also requires far fewer people to deploy its distribution system than its predecessors, which required about 200 people. Wheeler’s crew is made up of 24 civilians working for private companies under contract to MSC – 16 civilian mariners operate and navigate the ship, and eight systems operators, six of whom join the ship only during fueling evolutions, operate and deploy the distribution system.

But the Wheeler, well, she’s busy doing serving the national interest–someplace else. Part of the Guam-based Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron Three, the ship was last seen operating off Korea (August-September 2009), training to provide refined fuel to fuel-hungry units ashore.

Here’s a great MSC video of the OPDS in action–a wonderful overview of what OPDS offers.

Given the importance of fuel for disasters and other contingencies, I’m rather shocked that the U.S. only maintains two of these vessels–and that nobody out there in the private sector seems to have made a similar system available for use. In any island, isolated region–or devastated urban area–fuel access is a force multiplier. And for any military service thinking about expeditionary ventures, a OPDS is critical–particularly when mission requirements demand an efficient means to engage and leverage civilian assets. These civ-mil “connectors” are too few and far between.

The OPDS is a critical and un-sung piece of the disaster-response tool kit. If American policymakers think missions like the Haiti disaster response will become a routine task for America’s “Global Force For Good,” then the U.S. needs a few more nifty offshore petroleum pumping stations like the MV Vice Adm. K.R. Wheeler.

NEXTNAVY.COM



Five years ago, in days after the Indian Ocean Tsunami, I wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe–a piece that, with the Haiti disaster, remains a relevant cautionary tale today:

The tsunami response, being hailed as one of the biggest U.S. military disaster relief missions in history, has been less effective than portrayed. When a deployment of just 40 navy helicopters requires 6 days, more than 9,000 sailors and $7 billion of military equipment, something, somewhere, has gone wrong, reinforcing Rumsfeld’s belief that the United States needs better tools to project power in the strategically critical zone where land meets sea.

Ships made for controlling the high seas have little utility in crowded, shallow waters. The enormous aircraft carrier off Indonesia, the Abraham Lincoln, has little to offer. With a medical staff of 40 and 17 small helicopters, the floating airbase is a marginally useful asset for anything other than all-out warfare.

A group of three amphibious warfare ships in the arriving expeditionary strike group can do more. Their complement of about 23 large helicopters and landing craft will speed the distribution of fresh water, food and medical care to areas cut off by the tsunami. But three amphibious ships can’t cover 3,000 miles of affected coastline.

An underlying problem is strategic. America simply lacks a presence in shallow intertidal zones. Had fast-moving assets been nearby, the Bush administration, by getting firsthand information from the disaster zone, would have better understood the scope of the tragedy and avoided making an embarrassingly low initial aid offer of $15 million.

This diplomatic fiasco is reason enough to demand an immediate transformation of American military posture. But Rumsfeld’s vision of a future Navy isn’t perfect. He overlooks the mundane nonfighting aspects of present-day military power. That is a problem for two reasons. First, the United States has a long history of using the military for diplomatic and humanitarian gain. Second, it is often the military support system that does the most in furthering American aims…

With the Haiti earthquake, we’ll discover that a lot has changed in the space of five years.

Today, in the aftermath of this earthquake, the initial response will be enormous. Unlike the Indonesian Tsunami, our initial aid may end up becoming a long-term commitment–lest we wish to see a desperate human tsunami start out for the U.S. from a shattered Haiti. Help sent to Haiti, however, may also pull assets from Afghanistan, forcing policymakers into an ugly debate over the relative importance of the Western Hemisphere vs. Afghanistan and Iraq.

At present, prior commitments are taking a backseat to lending a needed hand. A whole raft of ships are heading to help. The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) may stop off at Mayport to become, largely, a helicopter carrier (populated with Army helicopters, perhaps?). Not only will this highlight the importance of having a second carrier-ready port on the East Coast (and, in the process, hand ADM John Harvey’s call for strategic homeportingsome extra “omph!”), this will give the Carl Vinson crew a chance to grab extra gear for the task ahead.

The USS Bataan (LHD-5), USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) and USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) are going to sea, and will likely prep for Haiti duties. Amphibs are the poor bloody infantry of disaster-response operations, and this deployment should be expected. That said, the USS Bataan is familiar with MV-22 “Osprey” operations, suggesting that the 24th MEU’s attached combat-ready MV-22 squadron may get it’s first real humanitarian/support to civil authorities mission. The ships with the 24th MEU may go as well, but we’ll see.

An Osprey deployment to Haiti will be high-profile test–an unexpected tasking, done under a full-bore media glare. It will likely not have the maintenance padding (the extra spare parts and private maintainers to allow for “aggressive sparing“) Ospreys enjoy on their overseas junkets. This is a real test. Now, to the Osprey’s benefit, this is low-altitude work in almost ideal conditions–and, as I’ve said before, a perfect way to demonstrate this platform’s effectiveness. If they go, expect to see the Osprey pressed into moving critically-injured foreign nationals from Haiti to Guantanamo for staging/stabilization and evacuation–a high-profile mission where speed is of the essence. (Might we see some of the first MV-22 operational landings on a U.S. aircraft carrier? I mean, in an emergency, anything might happen…)

Aviation, however, will be a sideshow (OK, an important sideshow). But the ports–and all the aid that will need to flow through them–are key. And the Coast Guard is already reporting that they’re damaged.

The earthquake’s havoc was challenging the ability to move supplies into the hardest hit areas, U.S. officials said. The damage threatened supply lines to the impoverished city and country, which relies in large part on ship-borne deliveries…

“The initial reports we are getting, it [the sea port] is very heavily damaged,” U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. James A. “Jim” Watson IV, director of Atlantic area operations, said in an interview from Portsmouth, Va. “If the port is severely damaged, that makes it very, very difficult” to get relief supplies in.

This situation offers amphibious vessels–the ones with well decks–an opportunity to really strut their stuff–giving the Marines another high-profile means to demonstrate why their next-generation big-deck amphibs need their well-decks returned.

As far as harbor exploitation goes, the USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) will likely have a hard time approaching a pier–meaning that her value as a large hospital will be reduced.

It’d be nice if the shallow-draft JHSVs were in service right now, but instead we’ll see if the former Hawaiian Superferries will be utilized or if the PCU Independence (LCS-2) gets orders to forgo commissioning and get underway for a mission. If the LCS-2 were sent, that’d be one heck of a familiarization cruise–but why not? Even if it just was to serve as a shuttle, what’s there to loose? Isn’t the LCS meant to be expendable? But, then again, the LCS-2 program office shouldn’t feel too bad…with the newly commissioned USS New York (LPD 21) stuck pier-side, the LCS-2 folks have some room to maneuver.

Will the local harbors need salvage expertise and resources? Will this disaster demonstrate our relative shortcomings in salvage assets? ADM Harvey may be right to worry about the utility of harbor infrastructure to blockade a port–but having a second port available won’t solve the problem. How would we be able to open a blocked U.S. port quickly–if we had to? Are we ready to do what we need to do–if we needed to do it? I don’t think so–and Norfolk isn’t the only problem, either.

We’re in the early stages of this thing–and we’re only looking at some initial signs and indications with this blogpost. I mean, in a few days we’ll probably be cheering as Navy Seabees start clearing blocked roads. There are a lot of ways this post-disaster situation may evolve. But, right here, right now, we’ve got an eerie warning of the future world–full of weak states crumbling under the blows of an unexpected natural disaster.

Read more at NEXTNAVY.COM



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