In the event of a major conflict with China or Russia, the U.S. Navy will likely be too busy with combat operations to continually escort the large sealift effort it would take to transport what the Navy estimates will be roughly 90 percent of the Marine Corps and Army gear the force would need to sustain a serious conflict.
That’s the message Mark Buzby, the retired rear admiral who now leads the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, received from the Navy, and has instilled a feeling of urgency around a serious cultural shift inside force of civilian mariners that support a sizable war effort.
“The Navy has been candid enough with Military Sealift Command and me that they will have adequate ships to escort us. If you’re by yourself, go fast and stay quiet,” Buzby said in a recent interview.
Along with Rear Admiral Dee Mewbourne at Military Sealift Command, who received operational control from the surge force within a crisis, Buzby may be working to coach mariners on issues that may seem basic to experienced Navy personnel however are new to many civilian mariners.
Losing ships and qualified mariners would rapidly put enormous pressure on U.S. logistics trains if the nation had to support a serious war effort overseas. With far fewer qualified and trained mariners than existed during World War II, along with an all-but-extinct commercial shipbuilding sector inside United States, sealift would rapidly turn into a massive strategic liability if Russia or China could actually begin sinking ships in numbers as Germany did during both World Wars.
Today, the Maritime Administration estimates that to use both the surge sealift ships, the 46 ships within the Ready Reserve Force and the 15 ships inside MSC surge force, including the 60 U.S.-flagged commercial ships within the Maritime Security Program available to the military in the crisis, the group of fully qualified mariners is definitely hardly enough.
They need 11,678 mariners to man the shops, as well as the pool of available, active mariners is 11,768.
That means inside a crisis each of them would have to arrive for that surge, as outlined by a recently available MARAD report to Congress. By contrast the U.S. had about 55,000 active mariners inside the years just before World War II, with this number swelling to over 200,000 in the height in the war, based on most sources.
This ensures that significant losses on the list of available pool of mariners is likely to dissuade some from volunteering and would lose mariners with critical skills required to operate the fleet for months and even years in a significant contingency. Even without losses, MARAD estimates the nation is approximately 1,800 mariners short if virtually any rotational presence is necessary.
To try and offset these daunting challenges, MSC and the Maritime Administration are becoming their mariners to concentrate more sailors in terms of digital emissions. For decades, U.S. Navy ships were required to be mindful of electronic sniffing equipment that could identify U.S. warships from the specific electronic emission produced by a large fire-control radar or military communications gear.
Often U.S. ships will let down all systems except a small commercial navigation radar to appear to be, electronically, simply a commercial vessel, as well as go dark as a whole. That kind of electronic trickery will be vital to preserving the sealift fleet whether it has to function with Russian or Chinese military around the prowl inside the Atlantic of Pacific theaters, Buzby said.
“Admiral Mewbourn at Military Sealift Command and I have talked quite a bit concerning this and are trying to get the word out to individuals who we want to do things differently,” Buzby said.
“Turn your navigation lights off, turn your Automatic Identification System off, turn your radars off, inform your crews not to use their mobile phones, those Emissions Condition stuff that we in the Navy are familiar with this are completely foreign to your merchant mariner and are seen as an imposition.
“But it harkens returning to some of the hard lessons we learned in World War II wherein 1942 the Germans were sinking us left and right,” he noted.
As MARAD and MSC has dug to the issue, they’ve been astonished by vulnerabilities who have arisen, Buzby said.
“Even some from the equipment that’s on ships now automatically transmits data,” he said. “We put new cargo-control consoles on our Kaiser-class oilers at MSC, the other of the things we discovered just after was that those things are talking constantly.
“When we thought i was setting EMCON on the ship, these consoles were just merrily sending signals out and now we had no idea that they were doing that. Diagnostic functions, those forms of things. So we were required to discover how to turn that off. And its considerably more prevalent on our commercial ships.”
Military Sealift Command is focusing more about operating inside contested waters, said Tom Van Leunen, the command’s spokesman.
“We are operationalizing the force, that’s been Adm. Mewborne’s focus since he got here. We’re focused on preparing mariners for your more technical operational environment,” Van Leunen said.
As section of those efforts, the command is promoting a basic and advanced operations course for the mariners and continues to be playing more fleet exercises, he explained.
Mewborne’s efforts on “mariner resiliency” happen to be setting the right tone, Buzby said. The effort targets containing electronic emissions, becoming toned to be able to combat damage over very long stretches plus a sobering reminder in the end, he added.
“The last bullet point on one from the slides is ‘Learn the best way to swim,’” he explained. “It’s to that point.
There’s not going to be a lot of destroyers around us as we take those ships over there. We’re going to be hitting the sea buoy, cranking it up and going hell-bent for leather, looking to stay undetected.”
Battle of the Atlantic
The lessons from World War II are for the minds of several inside the U.S. military’s high command in terms of logistics.
The head of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Adm. James Foggo, has recently declared the renewed competition with Russia “The Fourth Battle with the Atlantic,” referring to the standoff with Germany within the third and fourth World Wars, and also the standoff with Russia throughout the Cold War.
But with the expansion of NATO to former Soviet satellite states, the Battle with the Atlantic will sprawl from the Eastern Seaboard all the way to the Baltic and Black seas, areas that Russia has fortified with anti-access, area denial weapons as well as other capabilities in recent years.
In an October 5, 2018 presentation with the Atlantic Council, Foggo pulled up a picture in the immense landing and sustainment force on the beaches of northern France in 1945 to indicate that which was granted by containing German submarine activity inside the Atlantic.
“Operation Overlord. Look at everything stuff,” he was quoted saying, pointing in the picture. “That would not have happened whenever we hadn’t won the Second Battle from the Atlantic. That battle raged throughout the first few years of the war and also the Germans almost brought us to our knees while using Wolf Pack tactics.”
To that time, Foggo said that centering on logistics is a crucial part in the upcoming NATO exercise Trident Juncture, happening in and around Norway in October and November.
“We have 45,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines; over 60 ships; 120 aircraft, and 10,000 vehicles,” Foggo said. “So we have been really testing our response to an Article 5, our ability to move rapidly and much more importantly, we’re testing our capability to conduct operations inside ‘Sixth Domain’ of warfare and that’s logistics, which can be essential.
“When you have 45,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and every one of their kit, you’ve reached get it there. So that’s several lifts of aircraft, several roll-on/roll-off or sealift ships which may have to enter, you have to put the vehicles on the ground.”
But as the alliance is constantly scrape the rust off its large-scale logistics trains, the question of perhaps the mariners will show up to man the lift vessels can be an open one, and the one that Buzby ponders from his office on the MARAD.
“We are inclined in to a contested environment, so we will have attrition to handle, in ships along with the people who sail with them,” Buzby said. “Who knows, that may dissuade some people.
“The tradition from the Merchant Marine is we go to sea it doesn’t matter what, damn the torpedoes. Most of us believe that our people will stop dissuaded. But until they walk up the gangway, you never know.”