NAHA, Okinawa, Japan -- Naha Military Port here is currently undergoing its first dredging operation since 1989.

Home to the 835th Transportation Battalion, one of 599th Transportation Brigade's three forward battalions in the Pacific, and Military Sealift Command Okinawa, this major hub in shipping for military and other government service cargo is currently unable to support medium draft vessels for unit moves.

"We have a great team here with Military Sealift Command and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," said Lt. Col. Kelvin Simmons, 835th commander. "They are the experts on dredging. As far as I am concerned they are part of the team.

"We make sure we keep them informed of vessel operations, so they can de-conflict the ship ops and dredging operations," Simmons added. "When we have ships in, they just move the dredging. We have never had any issues or slowed down any operations because of the dredging."

"The powers that be argued for four years on whether the harbor would be dredged to 34 or 38 feet," said Thomas Walters, director of MSC Okinawa.

Walters said he recommended that they dredge to 38 feet so that they could accommodate more ships.

"If the depth had been 38 feet, 67 vessels, roll-on, roll-off (RO/RO), prepositioned cargo fleet, and surge fleet for sealift could all come in," he said.

"However, they are dredging to 34 feet, which will accommodate 26 ships; this will work for most contingencies," Walters said.

"At the end of the day, we will still be limited in what we can bring in, 26 of the medium RO/RO fleet," said Simmons. "But 26 is a lot better than what we can bring in now, which is zero."

Not only is the channel being dredged for depth, it is also being widened to accommodate longer vessels.

"The requirement for the width of the channel must be 50 percent of the length of the vessel," said Walters. "A 720-foot vessel can come in at 110 meters if the channel is straight. However, the channel at Naha has two doglegs, so we need it wider there."

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did the environmental survey and awarded the contract," said David Barrett, construction control representative for the Corps of Engineers. "The contract was awarded in May 2018, preconstruction surveys were started this February, and dredging began in April.

"The biggest challenge of the project for the USACE was at the start: getting the permits and finding the right people," said Barrett.

"The Japanese Coast Guard, Pilots Association, Ferry Captains, Tourism Industry, Department of Education Archaeological Office, Naha Port Authority, and the Okinawa Defense Bureau all had to come together and agree on the dredging," Barrett said.

Mud that is hauled out of the harbor is treated to form a type of concrete.

"They are using a system that adds a hardening agent and makes it into a type of concrete at almost the same time it is dug out," said Barrett. "They haul out 1,200 cubic meters a day, and they are turning that 1,200 around in a day. They have 45 dump trucks that are taking the finished product down to a landfill after it is processed."

The project had some excitement in June.

"They found unexploded ordnance in the form of a 1,100-pound bomb, and removed it the next day," Barrett said. "The Japanese explosive ordnance disposal team floated it, put it in water, and towed it away. They took it three miles out past the airport."

Simmons appreciates the added capacity the dredging project will bring to the port.

"Dredging expands the capability to sustain the force throughout the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations, Simmons said. "We will be able to load more cargo out of Naha Military Port as a strategic port. To bring larger vessels in will be a boon to the command and to our customers.

"The dredging of Naha Military Port is a strategic platform for humanitarian assistance as well as operations," Simmons added. "It will give us extra resources when an earthquake or tsunami hits."