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From Sea Base to Shore

The 'Sea Base' is dead, but sea basing is alive and well

Some 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water, the majority of major population centers are on or near coasts and the currently defined “arc of instability” – dozens of failed or hostile states, running from the Caribbean Basin through Africa to South and Central Asia and across to North Korea – is largely coastal.

The only surviving new vessels of that plan are three Mobile Landing Platforms, the first of which was christened the USNS Montford Point (T-MLP 1) on March 2, 2013, and the Lewis & Clark-class of dry cargo/ammunition ships (T-AKE), which are Combat Logistics Force (CLF) underway replenishment vessels.

But only the U.S. Navy has a blue water fleet able to operate, simultaneously, on all the planet’s major oceans, providing a mobile force not needing any other nation’s permission when it moves into place during a crisis. That fleet is by far the largest in the world, with more supercarriers (100,000 tons or more) than all other navies’ smaller flat-tops combined, plus more large-deck amphibious warfare ships of similar size to most other carriers than the rest of the world’s fleets.

Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC)

A Landing Craft, Air Cushion, or LCAC, flies onto the flat deck of heavy lift ship MV Mighty Servant I to load equipment and supplies for transport to shore during a Mobile Landing Platform demonstration near San Diego. Rob Wolf photo

Until 2010 and the cancellation of the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future), the Navy and Marine Corps were moving forward with a seabasing plan that envisioned the formation of several multi-ship floating naval bases. According to the Navy Expeditionary Warfare Directorate at that time, these planned seabases would “provide a sovereign, maneuverable and secure area that can be used to assemble, project and sustain combat power relatively unconstrained by political and diplomatic restrictions.”

By 2013, according to Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the Navy officially was no longer using the terms “seabasing” or “sea base”. The only surviving new vessels of that plan are three Mobile Landing Platforms, the first of which was christened the USNS Montford Point (T-MLP 1) on March 2, 2013, and the Lewis & Clark-class of dry cargo/ammunition ships (T-AKE), which are Combat Logistics Force (CLF) underway replenishment vessels.

The new LPD 17-class, to which the USS Arlington (LPD 24) belongs, and the three-ship Amphibious Readiness Groups to which they typically are assigned, were not part of the original seabasing plan. However, current circumstances have resulted in new approaches and definitions, utilizing a far larger part of the shrinking U.S. Navy fleet in a revised concept that, while no longer called seabasing, nonetheless seeks to accomplish the same concept.

 

Semantics – Or Policy Change?

In March 2012, the Navy’s Expeditionary Warfare Directorate was redesignated from N85 to N95 as part of the reorganization of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OpNav), placing it under the new office of the Deputy CNO for Warfare Systems. At that time, all elements of the old N85 were converted – Naval Special Warfare Branch (N951), Mine Warfare (N952), Amphibious Warfare Branch (N953), Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Naval Coastal Warfare Branch (N957) and N95V – the Sea Base Branch.

Under the old N85 organization, the Sea Base Branch was responsible for the concept, concept of operations (CONOPs) and capabilities development for the Sea Base Pillar of the USN Sea Power 21 roadmap. While it was renamed as part of the transition, the follow-up decision to drop all official references to seabasing led to a further reorganization within the new N95.

“We still have the seabasing concept, but the N95V Seabase Branch will be discontinued,” according to Marine Corps Maj. Calvin Austin, assigned to the Amphibious Warfare Branch. “It still exists within N95, we just don’t have a separate branch specifically focused on that. But the seabasing concept is still good and will still be practiced, under different names. The littorals are a great place for that, with our Navy/Marine Corps team able to operate from sea to shore.

“I’m the current seabasing person [at N95], keeping my ear out for any related efforts across the enterprise, the OPNAV staff looking for a subject matter expert to talk about seabasing or interacting with the Marine Corps, etc. The focus is on amphibious warfare because it was very closely linked to the Amphibious Warfare Branch.”

Sea Basing

The Military Sealift Command roll-on, roll-off container ship USNS 2nd LT John Bobo (T-AK 3008) conducts a sea basing initiative with the high speed vessel Swift (HSV 2) as part of the Navy’s West Africa Training Cruise 08 (WATC), March 24, 2008. The Navy used the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) to transfer Marine vehicles between the Bobo and the Swift before the Swift brought them ashore. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elizabeth Merriam

So while the terminology has changed, the basic seabasing concept remains in full force, albeit modified to deal with fewer new ships, a smaller overall fleet and a downsized Navy and Marine Corps, set against a growing demand to project and maintain U.S. military capability around the globe.

“Naval expeditionary operating environment means forces afloat, operating from the seabase to deploy/employ,” according to Jim Strock, director of the Marine Corps Seabasing Integration Division. “That is summed up by a term we call CAESAR – close-assemble-employ-sustain-and-reconstitute to the seabase.

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...