On a small U.S. Army Garrison in Western Japan, the 10th Support Group Ammo Depot relies on water transport capabilities to move ammunition around multiple ammunition depot facilities in Hiroshima Bay.
The vessels the 10th SG AD uses are known as Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM).
“This is the only Army Depot that has its own water-lift capability due to the use of the LCMs,” said Lt. Col. Michael Gallucci, the 10th SG AD commanding officer.
The LCMs assigned to Pier 6 in Kure are transport vessels built during the Vietnam War.
Although future plans call for the LCMs to be eventually phased out and replaced by the new Maneuver Support Vessel (Light), or MSV(L), the watercraft operations team in Kure are getting their use out of the LCMs.
“There are future plans for the LCMs to be phased out by MSVs. They are 40 percent larger, can handle more and have a better draft. They are more efficient and modern. The process for the replacement will likely be a long one,” said Dylan Beaver, the chief of storage and distribution and watercraft operations for the 10th SG AD.
Currently, the LCMs’ primary are used for moving munitions to and from the three-port locations around the bay with the flexibility to conduct operations at nearby Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. According to Beaver, this gives the 10th SG AD the flexibility to deliver ammunition directly to and from the air station’s pier.
Having the watercraft alleviates several challenges to the 10th SG AD mission.
Moving ammunition by truck is bulky and time-consuming. The ammunition sites around Hiroshima Bay are connected by small two-lane mountain passes. The bridges that connect the islands and peninsulas in the area have limited capacity for weight. By moving ammunition by watercraft, it removes a logistical hazard and also reduces potential safety issues.
“There are two bridges between Hiro Port, Akizuki Ammunition Storage Site and the mainland. This avoids host nation conflicts. Using our watercraft reduces the need to transport ammunition by land,” said Beaver.
Due to the topography and landscape of the area, the LCM watercraft also provide the added benefit of providing more efficient supply routes.
“To travel by vehicle between the sites can be up to a two-hour roundtrip. This also maintains our ability to transfer materials from U.S. military to U.S. military and does not have to involve outside entities,” Beaver said.
The importance of the 10th SG AD’s use of the LCMs was highlighted five years ago. In 2018, Japan received record rainfall. Due to the steep hills surrounding Hiroshima Bay, there were many mudslides. 10th SG AD personnel lost homes and many Hiroshima Prefecture community members died.
“Bridges, railways and roads were wiped out and repairs lasted months. There were no passable ways to get around. During that time, we partnered with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force to move personnel and equipment to help with the disaster recovery in multiple locations,” said Beaver.
Today, the LCM mission fluctuates with demands. The LCMs have routinely conducted more than 500 missions of movement of supplies, mail and ammo, according to Beaver.
The crews that operate the LCMs are also the only six mariner contractors employed by the U.S. Army. They are required to maintain full mariner licensing credentials that are commensurate with the Japan Coast Guard’s requirements.
Each vessel has a three-man crew of a coxswain, chief engineer and a deck seaman.
The coxswain is the helmsman, radio operator and navigator. This position pilots the boat. He is the ship’s master and controls the crew.
The chief engineer is in charge of keeping the vessel working and afloat. This person is in charge of maintenance and ensuring all the systems on the boat are functioning properly.
The deck seaman is the line handler and the spare lookout. He is also the free hand to take care of anything that arises as the vessel comes to shore.
Amongst the future plans to upgrade to the MSV(L) craft, Beaver’s wish list includes building an apprenticeship program to train personnel for future crew position vacancies.
"The future of Japan’s logistical movements will mirror what they have found out through centuries. It’s through the water, not through mountain roads,” said Beaver.