- Earlier this year, the Army moved to get rid of the majority of the boats used to transport troops and material.
- There was immediate backlash to the plan, as there is a continued need for the boats and no apparent replacements.
- Eventually Congress got involved, and the Army is now conducting a mandatory review of its watercraft requirements.
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Ground combat is the US Army’s main domain, but a lot of that ground is surrounded by water.
That’s why the Army’s plan to get rid of most of its boats and the units overseeing them, caused immediate dismay.
As of November 2018, the Army’s fleet included eight Gen. Frank S. Besson-class Logistic Support Vessels, its largest class of ships, as well as 34 Landing Craft Utility, and 36 Landing Craft Mechanised Mk-8, in addition to a number of tugs, small ferries, and barges.
Landing craft move personnel and cargo from bases and ships to harbours, beaches, and contested or damaged ports. Ship-to-shore enablers allow the transfer of cargo at sea, and towing and terminal operators support operations in different environments.
“The Army has these unique capabilities to redeploy their forces or insert their forces into an austere environment if needed,” Sgt. 1st Class Chase Conner, assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade, said during an exercise in summer 2018.
In 2017, the Army awarded a nearly billion-dollar contract for 36 new, modern landing craft. But in January 2018, then-Army Secretary Mark Esper, who is now secretary of defence, decided the Army Reserve would divest “all watercraft systems” in preparation for the service’s 2020 budget.
Esper said the Army had found $US25 billion that could be cut and spent on other projects.
The Army memo starting the process said the goal was to “eliminate all United States Army Reserve and National Guard Bureau AWS (Army Watercraft Systems) capabilities and/or supporting structure” — nearly 80% of its force.
The memo was first obtained by the website gCaptain.
In early July, several Army watercraft — including former USAV SSGT Robert T. Kuroda, one of the eight Besson-class Logistics Support Vessels the government planned to sell — appeared on the General Services Administration auction website.
Later in July, the listing for the Kuroda was taken down, according to The Drive. By the end of July, plans to auction nearly half of the Army’s roughly 130 watercraft were halted.
Source: The Drive
The order to halt reportedly came from acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and included a hold on the deactivation of watercraft positions and the transfer of Army mariners to other non-watercraft units.
The Army confirmed in early August that it halted sales to conduct a study ordered by Congress, after lawmakers who disagreed with the plan moved to withhold funds for deactivations until the Army reviewed and validated its ability to meet watercraft needs.
The study started in June (the auction listings were pulled because the study was ongoing, a defence official told Military.com) and is supposed to be concluded by the end of the fiscal year.
The 2019 fiscal year ends on September 30. Asked about the status of the Army’s watercraft on September 4, McCarthy said the service was thinking long and hard about what it needed and what it would need to replace.
The study is being done “to ensure that we have the requirements appropriately aligned with the combatant commanders,” McCarthy told reporters at the Defence News Conference in Washington, DC.
“It’s multiple theatres that have requested this capability, so it’s ensuring they have the right sets of equipment, but also how would that be impacted by a recapitalization schedule, because many of the assets are ageing, so we’d have to replace several of them,” McCarthy said.
Powerpoint slides and accompanying notes describing the Army’s plan, reported in January by Stars and Stripes, said the deactivation process was faster than usual, as units are typically identified for deactivation two to five years in advance.
All the military branches have tried to find areas in which to save money. But the rapid and drastic nature of the Army’s watercraft divestment alarmed lawmakers and experts who worried about the service’s ability to deploy in the future, particularly in light of doubts about sealift capacity.
In conducting the review, McCarthy said on Wednesday, the Army “took a step back and said we have to make sure we get the requirements right, and then what would be the appropriate acquisition schedule to recapitalize these capabilities.”
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