MSC Logo
Press Release

MSC PAO 98-40
September 29, 1998
For more information, contact:
Marge Holtz or Bridget Morris
(202) 685-5055

MSC and Marine Corps prepare for future

Anchored six miles off the North Carolina coast on a beautiful September day, the crew of MV 1st Lt. Jack Lummus assisted the U.S. Marine Corps with exercise Urban Warrior '98, serving as a platform for the Marine communications and supply delivery assessment.

The Maritime Prepositioning Ship Lummus is normally prepositioned in the Western Pacific, one of four MSC ships that together carry enough equipment, supplies and ammunition to support a Marine Air Ground Task Force comprising up to 17,000 military personnel for 30 days. Lummus was on the East Coast for biannual maintenance of the ship and equipment.

Exercise Urban Warrior '98 is part of a larger experiment known as Sea Dragon emanating from the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Va. It is estimated that, by 2010, 80 percent of the world's population will live by the beach, or--more specifically--within 300 miles of the coastline.

In this changing world, defense experts also anticipate that threats will no longer come from clear enemies with known war-fighting capabilities; rather threats will come from smaller, unknown enemies who will use subterfuge and terrorism to accomplish their goals. The recent American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania illustrate the nature of this new threat.

In anticipation of this population shift and the changing nature of war, the Marine Warfighting Lab instituted Sea Dragon to examine ways to meet the threats of the 21st Century.

One goal of Sea Dragon is to maintain all logistic operations at sea rather than setting up a base ashore. This has profound implications for Military Sealift Command. As the Navy continues to downsize personnel and ships--including amphibious ships--MSC will increasingly pick up the slack.

MSC ships are noncombatant vessels, operating behind the battle line, and are not considered likely targets of enemy fire. Their noncombatant status enables MSC ships such as the Lummus to maintain an average crew size of less than 40 while Navy ships of similar size generally have crews in the hundreds.

MSC ships' merchant mariner crewmembers can also be hired as necessary, while the Navy, even in peacetime, must employ a large number of Navy combatant personnel in case of war. The skill levels of MSC's merchant mariners also enable MSC ships to operate with smaller crews. The net result of these cost differences and Navy downsizing is to make MSC an attractive Marine Corps partner as the Corps explores potential sea-based operations.

Sea Dragon is a multi-tier experiment, exploring not only sea-based operations, but also warfighting in an urban environment. Urban Warrior's goal, as part of the larger Sea Dragon project, is to examine the best ways to meet threats in an urban environment, which poses unique challenges such as narrow roads, tall buildings and a plethora of communication-interference sources.

The event off the coast of North Carolina was the final trial in a series of four Urban Warrior experiments. In this exercise, the Marines dealt specifically with overcoming logistic communication and supply delivery challenges.

Using a lap-top computer, a satellite phone and a satellite antenna embarked on Lummus, Staff Sgt. Joseph Foster, Lance Cpl. E.R. Chajon and Lance Cpl. E.B. Cardwell successfully connected to the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., mainframe computer, accessing supply lists. Foster also used the satellite phone to speak with Camp Lejeune logistics personnel.

In this exercise, the mainframe computer was ashore; however, the Marines' eventual goal is to have the sea-based operation's supply database aboard ship and accessible to the Marine deployed ashore. In the ideal scenario, the base of operations would be approximately 25-40 miles offshore, out of range of artillery fire, but still accessible via computer to the foxhole approximately 150 miles inland. Maintaining an offshore base would give the Marines greater flexibility and maneuverability than the current practice of securing a base of operations ashore.

The second part of Urban Warrior was to establish a timely, limited-risk means of delivering the supplies from ship to shore. The Marines used a personal watercraft identical to the recreational ones found on any U.S. waterway with one key difference--automation. The personal watercraft was programmed in advance by Marines ashore using the global positioning system. GPS allows the Marines to program an exact path using computer-mapped navigational coordinates.

From the shore, Marines sent the preprogrammed watercraft out to Lummus and then back to shore. Alongside Lummus an accompanying safety boat took over control of the automated craft for the final few feet of its trip. This was a precautionary measure taken to ensure that the automated personal watercraft did not collide with Lummus. The watercraft, under GPS, then returned to shore. The Marines put cargo aboard the unmanned watercraft and repeated the trip, eventually increasing the cargo weight to 300 pounds.

The Marines' goal is to develop a relatively-inexpensive, remotely-controlled watercraft that could accommodate a few thousand pounds of equipment. The craft would have a low equipment-replacement cost and would not carry personnel aboard, preserving valuable funds and even more valuable Marines. A remotely-controlled helicopter for supply delivery is also under consideration.

As the 21st Century approaches, the Marine Corps continues to examine the potential of sea-based operations in this changing world strengthening the Corps' strong partnership with Military Sealift Command.