Mitigating Risk in AWS Operations


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FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii-Using a closed-loop system of risk management, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command (8th TSC) assesses, evaluates and mitigates risk to its Army watercraft systems (AWS) while conducting joint operations to support theater opening, theater sustainment and theater distribution within the U.S. Indo-Pacific area of responsibility (AOR). The AWS are subjectable to increased risk, as they continue to conduct maritime operations within the vast AOR. Because of this risk, the 8th TSC commander, Maj. Gen. David Wilson, has implemented a risk management conference to be held prior to sailing, placing special importance on the risk mitigation aspect of the sailing orders process for these missions. This approach emphasizes a safety and risk management focus to protect the force while enhancing the unit’s ability to conduct safe AWS operations.

The sailing orders process

Army Regulation (AR) 56-9, Army Intratheater Watercraft Systems, dictates sailing orders are required to get a vessel underway and are the official authority for an Army vessel to conduct its operations. At a minimum, sailing orders must contain a memorandum cover sheet, deliberate risk assessment worksheet (DRAW), voyage plan, pre-sail checklist, crew list and deployment orders when required. The emphasis on safety is part of the DRAW, pre-sail checklists and crew list of the sailing order process.

  • Deliberate risk assessment worksheet. The 8th TSC uses the Army’s standardized risk mitigation process as its baseline for conducting safe operations. It entails using a DRAW to identify hazards, assess the risk of those hazards, develop controls and make risk decisions, implement controls, and supervise and evaluate. Prior to every AWS mission, the 8th TSC holds a risk management conference, hosted by the commanding general, to go over the DRAW. This allows for a more comprehensive worksheet that has received input from and was communicated with personnel down to the lowest level, showing even the most junior members of the command how much risk mitigation is a priority.
  • Crew list. During the risk management conference, the crew list is gone over to ensure the crew members have the right certifications, received regional intelligence briefs, conducted the emergency drills/rehearsals and are up to date on the necessary vaccinations.
  • Pre-sail inspections/tests. In addition to the Transportation Branch Marine Safety Office’s triennial safety survey, 8th TSC AWS units conduct annual, monthly, weekly and on-demand inspections to ensure everything is in good working order. These inspections are outlined in Training Manual (TM) 4-15.21, Army Watercraft Safety, and range from checking communications equipment to navigation equipment to safety equipment. Upon completion, the inspections must be recorded and kept for regulatory requirements and historical records.
  • Drills/rehearsals. It is the vessel master’s responsibility to ensure all drills/rehearsals are conducted in accordance with TM 4-15.21 and logged in the vessel’s official log. These drills include abandon-ship drills, fire drills, and emergency-response drills with other lifesaving appliances the vessel has onboard. Logbook entries must include at a minimum the date and time of the drill, muster or training session; the survival craft and fire-extinguishing equipment used in practiced emergency drills; and any pertinent guidance or technical information relevant to the safety and survival of personnel or equipment and systems that were disseminated. Additionally, mission rehearsals are meticulously conducted to ensure personnel are familiar with all facets of operations as well as the implemented control measures. During this whole process, the safety officers take an active role in assisting commanders with the necessary tools to make informed decisions. They make sure pre-sail inspections are completed and hazard tracking systems are working properly. Whenever needed, they provide additional training to ensure the unit can maintain operational readiness and safeguard resources.
  • Sailing orders approval. These steps are tracked and recorded in a risk management packet as part of the mission’s sailing orders. These packets provide a comprehensive snapshot of risk mitigation, ensuring proper command decisions are being made when approving missions.

Real-world results

The catalyst of mission success is the commander’s application of deliberate risk management into all missions. Since June 2020, the 8th TSC’s AWS have conducted numerous high-risk missions throughout the U.S. Indo-Pacific AOR in support of the Joint Force while facing real threats and experiencing zero safety incidents. They have transported long-range fire equipment, critical assets and forces west of the International Date Line; performed opposing forces tasks; participated in joint training exercises; and most recently retrograded Marines Rotational Force-Darwin assets to Okinawa, Japan, without incident.

Additionally, the 8th TSC’s AWS conducted its longest voyage since World War II in July 2020 when it sailed logistic support vessel USAV CW3 Harold C. Clinger from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, through the Panama Canal Zone and on to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. This movement took 42 days and required coordination with the geographic combatant command headquarters, U.S. Pacific Fleet and three Navy fleets (2nd, 3rd and 4th fleets). This demonstrated that the AWS remains capable of moving in and out of contact with authority, is capable of marking and bypassing maritime obstacles, is able to protect its platforms, and provides relevant operational incident reports associated with its mission.

Broader applications

No matter the formation, units can build upon the Army’s risk management process to take a deeper look into its approach to safety and increase its ability to protect the Army’s top priority — its people. The 8th TSC is the Indo-Pacific Theater’s senior Army logistics unit. It is responsible for theater opening, theater distribution and theater sustainment operations throughout the vast region. The units represent 167 different skillsets, with 35 unique capabilities, to include military police, explosive ordnance disposal, AWS, dive, engineer, and transportation and sustainment operations while ensuring Army and joint operational forces possess the adequate sustainment architecture to fight and win across an AOR encompassing more than 100 million square miles (roughly 52 percent of Earth's surface), 36 countries and 16 time zones stretching from the waters off the west coast of the United States to the west coast of India, and from the Arctic Ocean down to Antarctica.