Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Hidden Side of the U.S. Navy: Military Sealift Command

On Sunday 20 July 2014, we had a discussion on Midrats with Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D. about the "Military Sealift Command - Past, Present and Future." Many of you may have heard of MSC, but not know all that much about it. So, if you missed the show, here's a chance to catch up:

Online Military Radio at Blog Talk Radio with Midrats on BlogTalkRadio

Professor Sal also sent along this PowerPoint presentation that helps further the discussion:

Professionals talk logistics.

Because tactics and strategy are driven by it.


  1. Well great. The problem with MSC staffed fleet support ships is that they save money (?) by crewing to civilian vice military standards. That's all fine until the ships have to actually operate in a demanding real war scenario(think cyclic carrier ops and the consequent necessity for 24/7 all stations used replenishment) the crew poops out at about the 18 hour point. Now what? You have to stop ops for support ship crew rest. The other biggie is damage control. Our CLF are HVUs in the most basic sense. Any adversary would--if they have any sense--target them first: They're a much "softer" target than a CV, and if they're gone the CV eventually becomes a large aircraft hanger full of empty weapons magazines. I know that the CIVMAR crews will do their very best, but there are not enough of them (again, to "Save" money) to do the DC necessary for significant damage.
    Yep "Professionals think Logistics", but real professionals think logistics all the way through.

    1. You raise some good points.

      I do note, however, from my experience as a JO on an AE during hectic wartime ops that we couldn't replenish 24/7 either. Spotting cargo for unreps and vertreps takes time that allows some in the crew to catch a quick nap and some chow.

      One of the real issues we faced was a lack of sufficient assets in the CLF to reduce the load on the assets in place when the need arose (in my case, the 1972 NV "Easter Offensive"). All the CLF ships on station were worked hard.

      On the other hand, MSC ships have handled to load over the past 10 years of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, though admittedly in a relatively low threat environment.

      Of more concern is the adequacy of the "escorts" for these HVUs if they have to transit through more contested waters which I believe is the point of your last sentence. How would the threat of mining of seaways or of lurking "bad guy" submarines or surface units (think Somali pirates) affect combat support ops? It's been a very long time since the U.S. Navy has not had domination of the sea and it would be easy to overlook such threats.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    2. Sal Mercogliano2:53 PM

      As we discussed, they do not save money as such, but free up Navy crews for service on board combatants. The issue about crew pooping out really pertains to all vessels. MSC CIVMAR auxiliaries are crewed more than standard commercial ships and 24 hour ops is not a real issue as many on station AKE, AO, or AOE can handle that level of tempo.

      You are exactly correct about the danger of targeting soft targets and even assuming the previous armament on the Supply AOEs, they are extremely vulnerable to surface and sub-surface attack and need escorting in a true war time environment.

      This is one of the reasons that I raised the issue about CIVMARS assigned to shore billets to provide that level of knowledge that is needed to the combatant commanders.

      You also make the point why we need to maintain four ATF and four ARS in case of damage and to be able to pull out vessels that are damaged - as demonstrated by the engine fire on the Canadian AOR that had to be towed into Pearl Harbor by Sioux.

      Right now we segregate out our logistics and as professionals we need to incorporate the knowledge in MSC and provided by the merchant mariners with the Navy its sailors.

    3. All of the CLF ships I was in (XO of an AE, CO of an AO and an AOG) were organized into "Rig teams" and ship control teams. We always had at least 2 more rig teams than rigs (including VERTREP), and Blue and Gold ship control teams. This gave us the ability (with just a "little" strain on the CO) for extended full up replenishment ops--and we did 24/7 for more than 48 at least on a couple of occasions.

      Quite agree on escorts--since we will not/cannot arm the T-Ax ships to defend themselves.