By John Thackrah, Executive Director, Military Sealift Command
Today marks the creation of the Naval Overseas Transportation Service in 1918 to carry cargo during World War I. Sealift capabilities played a key role in our nation’s defense then, and are still crucial to our Navy and DOD’s ability to operate forward – where it matters, when it matters.
Post-World War II, our nation consolidated its sealift transport services into a single entity in 1949 – the Military Sea Transportation Service, later re-named Military Sealift Command.
Fast forward to 2015, and MSC has grown from a handful of missions to more than 20. Our command is a critical part of our Navy, efficiently and cost-effectively operating some of our fleet’s most innovative ships. The growing number and diversity of our ships honors the spirit of our forerunners, and highlights the trust we’ve earned over decades.
Take our mobile landing platform, for instance. The first ship in the class, USNS Montford Point, demonstrated during last year’s Rim of the Pacific exercise and again during the Pacific Horizon 14 exercise that it can meet the growing needs of our Marine Corps for sea-basing assets.
Montford Point and its sister ship, USNS John Glenn, have two primary capabilities: transfer of equipment, personnel and sustainment at-sea, and delivery of vehicles and equipment ashore. In tandem with sealift vessels like USNS Bob Hope and high-speed transport ships like the joint high-speed vessels, MLPs allow large-scale logistics movements from sea to shore, which reduces reliance on foreign ports.
Another exciting set of ships is the afloat forward staging base variant of the MLP. Unlike Montford Point, AFSBs like the recently launched USNS Lewis B. Puller add a flight deck, equipment storage and repair spaces. The variant can provide a base of operations for everything from counter-piracy/smuggling, maritime security and mine clearing to humanitarian aid and disaster relief. We expect that Lewis B. Puller will undergo at-sea testing prior to its delivery this year.
Finally, our joint high-speed vessels spent 2014 proving their versatility in real-world operations and exercises. USNS Spearhead, the first ship in the class, completed the first leg of its maiden deployment to U.S. 6th Fleet last May, and deployed again to U.S. 4th Fleet after a short pit-stop in Little Creek, Virginia. These are hard-working ships – just a few weeks ago, Spearhead departed Virginia and is currently operating in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.
Our Navy and Marine Corps team has been actively discussing and testing what these ships can do, and we’ve discovered that they are useful for missions beyond their original design. In November, USNS Choctaw County participated in Bold Alligator 2014 and conducted proof-of-concept testing that included small boat launches and helicopter operations.
I am confident that as we continue to explore other mission sets that include theater security cooperation, non-combatant evacuations and counter-illicit trafficking detection and monitoring, the JHSV will continue to prove itself as a valuable fleet asset worldwide.
Bottom line, MSC is grateful for the expanding responsibilities entrusted to us, and ready to hit the ground running in 2015.