Watercraft Sustainment: Navigating the Indo-Pacific to Strengthen the Force

By Capt. Josiah R. Graham and Col. Theodore O. WhiteMay 24, 2021

USAV LTG William B. Bunker (LSV-4) returning to dock at Joint Base Pearly Harbor- Hickam  after completing its Defender Pacific 2020 voyage at sea.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – USAV LTG William B. Bunker (LSV-4) returning to dock at Joint Base Pearly Harbor- Hickam after completing its Defender Pacific 2020 voyage at sea. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
U.S. Army and U.S. Marine M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems are staged onto Logistics Support Vessel-4 LTG William B. Bunker, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, at Kin Red Beach Training Area Oct. 31. Orient Shield 21-1 is the largest U.S. Army field training exercise in Japan that tests and refines multi-domain operations.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army and U.S. Marine M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems are staged onto Logistics Support Vessel-4 LTG William B. Bunker, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, at Kin Red Beach Training Area Oct. 31. Orient Shield 21-1 is the largest U.S. Army field training exercise in Japan that tests and refines multi-domain operations. (Photo Credit: Maj. Elias Chelala) VIEW ORIGINAL

On Nov. 19, 2020, USAV LTG William B. Bunker (LSV-4) returned to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH), Hawaii after completing 94 days of continuous operations at sea and culminating 20,000 nautical miles of operations. During its underway operations, it supported multiple Army and joint training exercises, conducted a proof of principle and experimentation tasks, and performed theater opening, theater distribution, and theater sustainment tasks. On July 18, the USAV Harold C. Clinger (LSV-2) sailed from JBPHH to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, completing a 7,500 nautical mile sail and the longest point-to-point sail of an Army watercraft since World War II. Coordinating the movement through the U.S. Navy maritime operations center (MOC), the vessel traversed multiple fleet locations and the Panama Canal. The MOC synchronized the transition of overwatch between multiple maritime agencies.

The employment of Army watercraft began as early as World War II (WWII) and grew to a fleet size of approximately 127,000 watercraft of various types owned and/or operated by the Army. Before WWII, the majority of Army watercraft were troopships under the jurisdiction of the quartermaster general to transport personnel and cargo to ports all over the world.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese rapidly seized island chains throughout the Pacific. The Army had a significant capability gap in the Army fleet when it identified the need to bridge the “last tactical mile.” The Army modernized the Army watercraft systems (AWS) initially by leasing, purchasing, and commandeering vessels. Fishing trawlers were used as landing craft, ketches used for logistics support in shallow waters, and large vessels to transport cargo in support of riverine operations. It was with these watercraft that Gen. Douglas MacArthur was able to rapidly deploy troops and supplies executing the first amphibious assault on Oct. 18, 1942, on New Guinea.

Strengthening the Pacific

AWS continues to play a pivotal role in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility as a strategic force enabler for theater opening, theater distribution, theater sustainment, and operational maneuver. AWS are capable of delivering logistical support to thousands of established ports and unimproved beaches. With a pacific fleet size of six operational watercraft and 35 remaining in Army pre-positioned stock (APS), the strategic footprint appears small at a glance. However, the impact of these six operational vessels on sustainment and maneuver support has been demonstrated through the support of multiple Pacific Pathways exercises throughout the first and second island chains of the Pacific.

The Pacific Utilities Logistic Support Enablers – Watercraft (PULSE-W) mission persistently provides critical logistics distribution, sustainment, and maneuver support west of the International Date Line (W/IDL) to III Marine Expeditionary Force, Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Army Japan, and U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) utilizing two landing craft utility (LCU) vessels. The PULSE-W watercraft operating W/IDL significantly enhances joint interoperability by providing the 8th Theater Sustainment Command (8TSC) with assets capable of simultaneously supporting theater sustainment, theater distribution, and theater opening. AWS as a force enabler allows the 8TSC to support the theater joint force land component commander (TJFLCC) and fulfill the Army support to other services requirements for the operational plan (OPLAN) execution.

East of the International Date Line, four logistics support vessels (LSVs) are stationed at JBPHH. The vessels provide regular inter-island lift capability to the 25th Infantry Division and have extended their operational reach across the IDL to support the joint force and international partner nations.

AWS Support to Joint Maneuvers

During the summer of 2020, the 163rd Transportation Detachment (TD) maneuvered the USAV LTG William B. Bunker (LSV-4) throughout the Pacific demonstrating the importance and utility of AWS in the joint sustainment enterprise. The LSV-4 was critical to the successful employment of maneuver units and the proof of concept efforts including High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) deployment to a Pacific island W/IDL within the Second Island Chain to perform experimentation of beyond-line-of-sight targeting and redeployment of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) assets to Japan.

Defender Pacific 20 (DP20)

Leveraging AWS to support the scheme of maneuver was given a high degree of consideration while evaluating the options available to the USARPAC commander to deliver critical warfighter equipment sets to semi-permissive and degraded areas in the Pacific.

The 163rd TD supported the multi-domain task force (MDTF) commander by conducting joint beach landing analysis and maneuver of tactical long-range fires assets from Guam to a Pacific island W/IDL within the Second Island Chain. Army mariners and U.S. Marine Corps engineers met the MDTF commander's intent, and training objectives despite the challenging conditions of the selected beach-landing site. The concept of maneuver to project and emplace forces anywhere in the Pacific, regardless of degraded port and aerial facilities, adds significant complexity for the sustainment and warfighting planners. Capability projection in the complex multi-domain U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) Theater is a challenge that forces Army planners to seek Joint solutions to enable movement and maneuver, and sustainment operations during competition, conflict, or crisis.

Valiant Shield 20 (VS20)

Shortly after “hitting the beach,” the LSV-4 returned battery elements of the 17th Fires Brigade to Guam, refitted and loaded a mix of berthing modules, critical weather analysis equipment, and 24 additional personnel to support the USINDOPACOM J81 experimentation efforts during VS20. To establish and test interoperability with our joint partners, LSV-4 integrated into a tactical convoy with a Navy maritime prepositioning force formation to communicate, maneuver, and join the Navy vessels’ formation while underway. This exercise proved that the LSV was a viable option to transport personnel and employ intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets as part of a joint maritime force.

While executing VS20, LSV-4 was integrated into the shooter-to-target network with the MDTF as part of the larger Link-16 network providing opposing force target support for the exercise. This was the first time the 8TSC integrated a vessel into a joint common operational picture via the link-16 network involving the MDTF, a Navy aircraft carrier, and submarine, as well as other ISR assets.

This proof of concept demonstrated successful execution of joint maritime integration between Army and Navy vessels and helped to redefine future missions to include communications interoperability testing. The vessel was not only capable of transportation but facilitated an adaptable command and control platform that provided an alternate option to the supported element for fire acquisitions while underway.

Marine Rotational Force – Darwin

After addressing critical equipment repairs to the main generator, the LSV-4 set sail again for Darwin, Australia, to support the redeployment of the MRF-D. The support to MFR-D showcased the LSV as a flexible and adaptable platform to transport critical assets W/IDL. Incorporating the LSV in its redeployment plan for MRF-D allowed III Marine expeditionary force (MEF) to realize the significant cost savings of AWS and conduct target of opportunity operations that traditional sealift transportation does not allow the Joint Force.

After delivering the MRF-D assets to Okinawa, Japan and with less than 24 hours’ notice, the LSV-4 was reallocated to support Orient Shield 21-1, a joint bi-lateral exercise between the U.S. Army Japan, III MEF, and the Japanese self defense force. An Army PULSE-W LCU tasked to support the exercise experienced a catastrophic mechanical failure. The 163rd TD reconfigured Hawaii-bound III MEF equipment to make space on the deck to support the 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines, and 17th Field Artillery Brigade to exercise amphibious loading, deployment, and offload of their HIMARS and support vehicles. The flexibility of the crew and vessel ensured mission success for the Joint Warfighter and the bilateral exercise.

Distributed Logistics Network, Maintenance, and Successes via Contract Support

During the LSV-4 transit, in support of operation DP20 and VS20, MRF-D, and Orient Shield, Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-A) proved to be a valuable resource for the vessel engineers. The LSV-4 chief engineer and crew achieved an operational readiness rate increase of 10% during the exercises. This can be attributed to accurately monitoring maintenance/supply statuses, service data input, man-hour accounting, and reporting of deficiencies. Although the system has limitations regarding offline reporting, the chief engineer leveraged the S-4 and vessel support operations team to accurately report the change in maintenance status via chat surfer, maritime SECRET Internet Protocol Router Network, and updated logistics requirements for near real-time results. The following deficiencies were noted when leveraging the specific modules of the enterprise system during sustainment operations:

  • Plant Maintenance
  • Inventory Management
  • Warehouse Management

LSV Maintenance Plan (Plant Maintenance). The plant maintenance module provides users with equipment readiness and enhanced personnel qualification management capabilities. GCSS-A configuration has been a hurdle for maritime sustainers as the fleet was manufactured over many decades, with sustainment level repairs and modifications made on a vessel-by-vessel basis. With the proper configuration, lessons learned during the execution of current operations have proven the standardization of the LSV maintenance plan is feasible. To provide the end-user with a snapshot of equipment readiness at strategically placed intervals ensuring mission success, the maritime community as a whole must develop a configuration for both garrison and high operations tempo organizations. This will set the stage for increased readiness by way of leveraging the greater logistics network through predefined requirements.

Z-Nonstandard (Inventory Management). The inventory and warehouse management modules together provide intelligent stock placement, full traceability, visibility, deliberate excess, repairable management, and proof-of-delivery capabilities. In the case of DP20, it was found that several Class IX repair items, that are not cataloged within GCSS-A, could be added with the Wave 2 ordering process (cage code, part number) which will enhance support capabilities. By identifying these items while in a garrison environment, organizations forward will have access to a more robust solution set to address immediate and sometimes emergency repairs.

Additional Stockage Listing (Ware-house Management). In order to support the warfighter concept, the Army’s maritime community must create demand within GCSS-A. This includes adequate planning, forecasting, net asset computation, planned delivery times, and excess management capabilities, which meet or exceed the requirements of the watercraft community. ASL review should and must be conducted annually by the chief engineers and supply representatives to practice command supply discipline program and command maintenance discipline program functions.

During the 94-day sail, the crew dedicated numerous hours attending to the above-mentioned task within the GCSS-A interface. By leveraging the Army Field Support Brigade and Field Support Representatives support and coordinating through 8th Special Troops Battalion vessel support operations, both routine and emergency repairs were conducted simultaneously during DP20 and MRF-D redeployment. For the 6-month duration of DP20/VS20, the 163rd TD operated at a 90% operational readiness rate and accounted for over 10,000 man-hours.

Composite Watercraft Company (CWC) – Fielding for the Future

As the DOD looks toward the future of the USINDOPACOM AOR so does the Army as it plans to modernize its watercraft fleet. To increase joint operability, a capability gap was identified in the current fleet’s ability to integrate into the joint force, defend itself as part of a naval maneuver force, and operate at the same speed as the naval fleet. As such, the development of the maneuver support vessel (Next) and maneuver support vessel (Light) began. The intent of the MSV(N) is to potentially replace the older Besson class LSV’s with a vessel that can deliver a similar payload while maintaining a high state of combat effectiveness and maneuverability. The MSV(L) will replace the current LCM’s with the same desired effect.

With this modernization, AWS will be able to truly bridge the “last tactical mile” allowing the Navy the freedom of maneuver in the “blue water” Pacific and the download of personnel and equipment virtually anywhere. Both vessels are equipped to maintain their beach landing ability making them a maneuver force enabler in the joint domain. Carrying approximately 8,800 sqft, the MSV(N)’s ability to maneuver at the speed of Naval and Military Sealift Command vessels means the next AWS fleet will have the capability to deliver brigade- and division-size units to any number of island chains in the Pacific. In the joint domain, this last tactical mile will give the combatant commander the option of deploying larger Navy assets in tandem with AWS to ensure Soldiers, Marines, and their equipment are delivered per the TJFLCC Commander’s plan and on his timeline to fight at a moment’s notice.

To provide C2 and sustainment, the Army is currently fielding CWCs. As proposed by Maj. Gen. John P. Johnson, when he was the USARPAC deputy commander in 2019, the CWC’s “enhance the watercraft mission command, maritime operations, and maintenance capabilities while providing flexibility and rapid response during LSCO.” The current structure of the CWC will include 5 LCU’s, 2 Small Tugs, 4 MSV(L), as well as a harbormaster operations detachment tasked with providing maintenance support to both internal and external AWS organizations in the AOR. Fielding the CWC will take what was once a disjointed maritime operation and centralize sustainment support and orders execution. As a rapid ready force in the Pacific, the CWC’s will ensure AWS always maintains a high state of readiness IOT provide both the sustainment commander and combatant commander freedom of action to conduct theater opening, distribution, and sustainment and provide maneuver support options enabling OPLAN execution to maintain the freedom of navigation in an open and free Pacific.


Capt. Josiah Graham, commander of the Transportation Company Pacific, 8th Special Troops Battalion, 8th Theater Sustainment Command. Graham holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Central Florida.

Col. Theodore O. White is the deputy commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Fort Shafter, Hawaii, and has completed command at every level through brigade. He received his commission as a quartermaster officer from Florida A&M University with a degree in accounting and holds master’s degrees from Vanderbilt University and The Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy.


This article was published in the April-June 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.


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