Prepo Afloat:  Key to Power Projection

by Kim A. Richards

Army Logistician January 1998
Pre-positioning equipment and supplies on ships near overseas theaters is crucial to executing the strategy of power projection from the United States.  The Army's role in this mission is growning.

The Army can position a heavy fighting brigade-consisting of 123 M1 Abrams tanks and 60 M2 Bradley fighting vehicles, a supporting artillery battalion, an engineer battalion, and air defense and support forces-in a potential crisis area anywhere around the globe in a matter of days. This capability, unparalleled by any other nation in scope or combat power, is the result of the Army Pre-positioned Afloat (APA) program. Although it is still evolving, the APA program is on track and already has demonstrated logistics success.

Pre-positioning provides worldwide logistics services to the unified commands in support of the Army's power projection strategy. The APA program is designed to store Army vehicles, equipment, and supplies aboard Navy-owned or commercially leased ships in strategic locations throughout the world. When units deploy by air to a specific destination, they will meet the pre-positioned equipment, which will have arrived at the same location by sea. The advent of the APA program has enhanced the Army's ability to get heavy forces on the ground quickly.

The Army's afloat set, called Army Pre-positioned Set-3 (APS-3), contains materiel for two tank battalions and two mechanized infantry battalions of tremendous combat power, critical sustainment for the brigade, additional corps sustainment assets, and port-opening equipment. This materiel currently is placed aboard 12 ships stationed at Guam and in the Indian Ocean. These ships are capable of docking at improved ports anywhere in the world and deploying combat forces to close on tactical assembly areas in 15 days. By the time the APA program completes its expansion in fiscal year 2002, the Army will have pre-positioned 2 million square feet of materiel in support of power projection.

Prepo Afloat: Needed for Power Projection

Since 1991, the Department of Defense (DOD) has conducted a host of force structure reviews designed to achieve significant adjustments in our forces, procedures, and organizations. The Base Force Review, the Bottom-Up Review, the Commission on Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces, and, most recently, the Quadrennial Defense Review investigated the global security environment following the end of the Cold War and determined that the world remains a dangerous and highly uncertain place. In addition to considering the global security environment, each review also examined U.S. defense needs in order to devise a strategy-based, balanced, and affordable defense program. All of the reviews endorsed the concept of robust pre-positioning of stocks afloat and the development of large, medium-speed, roll-on-roll-off (LMSR) ships to execute that mission.

As the world situation and the role of the U.S. military change, so does the Army's method for getting troops, equipment, and supplies to the battlefront. The end of the Cold War, a decline in personnel and resources, and the advent of new doctrine and technologies are driving the Army to transition from a forward-deployed force to one that is based in the continental United States (CONUS) but is capable of projecting appropriate forces anywhere in the world. Pre-positioning equipment, supplies, and munitions afloat supports the warfighting requirements of the combatant commanders in chief (CINC's) by ensuring rapid delivery of war reserve materiel to them.

Pre-positioning of war reserve equipment afloat speeds response to the CINC's by overcoming two fundamental deployment problems. First, pre-positioning reduces reliance on relatively slow sealift deliveries from CONUS to overseas theaters. Second, pre-positioning avoids the high cost of the large airlift required to deliver sizable quantities of unit equipment in time to meet a CINC's needs.

The Army has been in the business of positioning critical combat equipment and sustaining supplies on ships to support deploying soldiers for several years. The concept of using afloat stocks as a critical force deterrent blossomed during Operation Desert Storm. Since that time, the Army has expanded the APA program from 4 ships carrying general supplies to 14 ships carrying 870,000 square feet of cargo.

At the request of Congress, DOD conducted the Mobility Requirements Study in 1992 to define future mobility requirements in light of the revised National Security Strategy, force reductions, potential security threats, and lessons learned from the Persian Gulf War. The objective of the study was to determine the capabilities of the strategic mobility forces programmed by DOD to deploy and sustain combat and support forces, identify shortfalls in those capabilities, and recommend solutions to eliminate the shortfalls. The study concluded that DOD needed to pre-position more heavy combat capabilities. The pre-positioning of those capabilities is needed to meet the national military objectives to stop enemy advances early, reduce risks, and speed the successful conclusion of major contingencies.

Prepo Afloat: Already A Success

The APA program is working. Since its inception, the Army has consistently demonstrated its ability to provide heavy combat power to meet regional contingencies in less than 48 hours. Operations Vigilant Warrior and Vigilant Sentinel are examples of the program's success. Vigilant Warrior was an exercise conducted by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in 1994 to provide for the defense of Kuwait against renewed Iraqi aggression. Vigilant Sentinel, which began in 1996 and continues today, is conducted to deter potential aggression in the CENTCOM region.

During these exercises, five LMSR ships were downloaded in Southwest Asia to support the operation. The downloaded equipment was reconfigured into four battalion task forces, each composed of two tank companies and two mechanized companies, and a forward support battalion. The battalion task forces were reorganized and placed on four ships, one on each ship. This allowed greater flexibility for employing the equipment by allowing the warfighter to offload individual ships, complete with all supplies needed to support the battalion. Supplies on the remaining LMSR ships then could be offloaded or left on the ships for further deployments as determined by the commander. Ship discharge packages also were developed to provide additional materials-handling equipment to facilitate offloading operations. The use of this equipment significantly enhanced CENTCOM's military-to-military cooperation with the armed forces of host nations.

Prepo Afloat: Still Growing

Several initiatives aimed at improving the readiness of Army equipment pre-positioned afloat are ongoing. A multistage sealift modernization program will improve equipment readiness by transferring equipment from existing ships to newer and larger vessels specially designed to store cargo at sea. These transfers will be complete by fiscal year 2001. As equipment is moved between ships, it will be modernized and maintained in like-new condition, thereby improving the Army's combat capability in virtually any part of the world.

By 2003, the APA program's modernization and expansion efforts will provide the Army with 2 million square feet of cargo on 15 new or reconditioned ships. This set of ships will include eight LMSR vessels, two container ships, two ammunition ships, two heavy lift ships, and one crane ship. This enhanced ability will allow the Army to land eight heavy combat brigades in response to any regional contingency.

The Army continues to invest in its sealift capability so it can support mission milestones into the next century without having to depend on foreign shipping. Over the past year, five Navy LMSR ships have been named for Army Medal of Honor recipients and are being prepared for pre-positioned afloat missions. These LMSR ships are a series of Navy transport ships that provide greater power projection capabilities to deal with post-Cold War and projected 21st century contingencies in support of the Army Vision 2010 strategy. These ships provide the critical combat equipment that allows Army forces to deploy rapidly for contingencies and humanitarian efforts worldwide.

The first of these converted and reconditioned Navy LMSR ships, the USNS Gordon, named for Army Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, was uploaded in February 1997 at the Combat Equipment Base-Afloat in Charleston, South Carolina, the Army's primary maintenance facility for cargo uploaded on pre-positioning ships. Laden with Army equipment, ships like the Gordon will provide flexibility and help U.S. defense planners to meet contingencies worldwide. The pre-positioning of equipment aboard the Gordon and its sister ships provides the United States with a nonintrusive forward presence in key areas around the world. The USNS Shughart was the next LMSR ship uploaded, in June 1997 in Charleston, followed by the USNS Yano in October 1997. The USNS Gilliland and USNS Soderman are scheduled to be uploaded in fiscal year 1998.

Although the threat of global war is diminishing, the Army must still be prepared to project its capabilities rapidly and effectively from the United States to any location where U.S. interests may be threatened. The ability of U.S. combat power to influence world events depends on the ability to arrive in time to make a difference. The Army Pre-positioned Afloat program will continue to rely on APS-3 ships to deploy Army equipment rapidly for contingencies and humanitarian efforts worldwide. ALOG

Kim A. Richards is a logistics management specialist with the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Department of the Army. She is the primary action officer for the Army's Pre-positioned Afloat Program. She has a bachelor's degree in English and biology from Heidelberg College and is pursuing a master's degree in business and technology administration.