Blue-Green Logistics at the Pointy End … Integrating Logistics to Strengthen the Navy/Marine Corps Team in a New Naval Era

    In their June 2013, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, “A New Naval Era”, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, and Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, foresee a future naval force “that thinks together, plans together, trains together, and deploys together on a wide range of ships.” The CNO and commandant put forward the concept that to sustain the relevance of the future naval force, Marine detachments must integrate into and deploy on more platforms “such as afloat forward staging bases (AFSBs), destroyers, littoral combat ships, mobile landing platforms, and Joint high-speed vessels.” In short, the Navy/Marine Corps team must expand further throughout the force, well beyond the traditional amphibious platforms.

Marine and Navy Food service attendants empty trays in the wardroom scullery of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4).  (Photo by MC1 Brian P. Biller)

Marine and Navy Food service attendants empty trays in the wardroom scullery of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (Photo by MC1 Brian P. Biller)

    For the Navy/Marine Corps team, logistics is the critical enabler for deployed expeditionary operations. Due to a long history of working side-by-side with the Marine Corps, the amphibious Navy has already established a viable structure of operational linkages with Marine Corps logistics. Since 2003, the Joint Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV)/Headquarters Marine Corps Naval Logistics Integration (NLI) initiative has forged stronger and closer ties between traditional naval logistics operations and support of Marine expeditionary operations. Within the traditional Amphibious Ready Group (ARG)-Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) deployment model, NLI has advanced the furthest, albeit primarily on the big deck amphibious assault ships (LHAs/LHDs) with the most logistics resources. To capitalize on these existing achievements and proceed further down the Navy/Marine Corps integration path, we must continue to develop NLI into a modular, seamless, and robust process that can be used by any size Marine Corps unit embarked and operating from any Naval platform.

NLI Background

    The NLI initiative kicked off July 2003 with the formation of the Naval Logistics Integration Group, co-chaired by the Navy’s director, supply, ordnance, logistics operations division (OPNAV N41) and the Marines’ director, logistics plans, policies, and strategic mobility division. The NLI program is chartered to improve future naval logistics through the integration of Navy and Marine Corps logistic chain capabilities and capacities. NLI attained some quick wins by integrating Marine units into existing deployed Naval cargo routing through Fleet logistics task forces such as CTF53/CTF63/CTF73, high priority expediting through the Priority Material Office (PMO), repairables retrograde through the Navy’s existing advanced traceability and control network, and leveraging combat logistics force (CLF) ship stocks to replenish Marine consumables. NLI has made greater strides in the years since then, both behind the scenes and at the operational level. To establish the existing basis for further development, we can discuss the operational level integration in the context of the ARG/MEU team and, specifically, how Navy and MEU supply and logistics operations work together onboard LHAs/LHDs.

The Starting Point – NLI Today on Big-Deck Amphibs

    The overall structure of supply operations on big-deck amphibs would look familiar to any Supply Corps officer. It has the most in common with carrier supply departments, though only supporting half the craft and executed with a bit less than half the people – mustering around 180 Sailors overall. The differences become apparent when you peel back the layers and look a bit more closely. LHAs/LHDs are the only operational entities where Navy supply is at least partially integrated with Marine Corps logistics. The level of integration differs throughout the supply department, varying from parallel processes with no integration (disbursing) to full integration (aviation logistics). This integrated environment is unique to most Supply Corps officers’ experience and makes for an incredibly interesting tour—the opportunities to overcome new challenges keep everyone on their toes.

    The mission of the LHA/LHD and its embarked forces, along with the rest of the ARG/MEU team, is to be the theater’s ready response force. The scope of operations can span from executing high-end company to battalion-sized amphibious or vertical assault raids, serving as the stand-by reaction force supporting special operations, conducting non-combatant evacuations, or providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The fluid environment and unknown nature of the tasking requires necessarily robust logistics support structures that allow the ARG/MEU team to stay as logistically ready as possible in support of any potential tasking. Like the carriers, LHAs/LHDs and their associated ARGs are also very limited assets, conducting longer deployments to meet Combatant Commander force level requirements. In recent years, large portions of those deployments take place in areas that are more difficult to support logistically, such as the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, etc. These are typically outside the most concentrated naval operations areas, limiting theater ability to assign dedicated CLF assets as the carriers traditionally have, thus reducing the frequency of available at-sea replenishments.

    The LHA/LHD supply department focus and mission is very much like the carriers, but in some areas will also extend ashore. On the readiness side, the operation is identical to a carrier in structure, scope, and responsibilities. There are four readiness divisions/sub-divisions: S-1 Stock Control, S-6 Aviation Support, S-8 Material Division, and S-8A Hazardous Materials/Environmental. Each varies in level of integration.

  • S-1 Stock Control. Stock control operates just like a carrier stock control division, executing surface and aviation funds, maintaining the ship’s RSUPPLY database, administering credit cards, etc. In addition, they hold and manage funds for embarked units, such as the amphibious squadron (PHIBRON) and assault craft unit detachment. For the Marine side, there are no personnel integrated, but the MEU uses the military interdepartmental purchase request process to transfer funds into the ship’s “OPTAR Other” account. These MEU funds support NLI issues of consumables and incurred port costs. The stock control officer can also work closely with the MEU supply officer to leverage the MEU’s contracting officers on-the-ground in foreign ports or operational locations to realize efficiencies with non-contract port services and in supporting logistics movements ashore. 
Marines participate in a stores onload aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4).  (Photo by MCSN Veronica Mammina)

Marines participate in a stores onload aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (Photo by MCSN Veronica Mammina)

  • S-6 Aviation Support. This operation functions identically to the S-6 division on a carrier and provides all parts to support Marine aircraft maintenance. The division supports all aviation operations for the ARG/MEU, not just those on the LHA/LHD. There is always a detachment of aircraft permanently operating from the ARG’s LPD and supported by the LHA/LHD Aviation Consolidated Allowance Listing (AVCAL). At various points while deployed, other aviation detachments also operate ashore supported by pack-up kits built from the LHD AVCAL. To achieve these operations efficiently, S-6 is the only directly integrated supply division onboard. A Marine aviation supply officer and supply Marines from a Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MALS) are directly assigned to the division and work for the S-6 officer. The MALS Marines serve right beside Sailors as expeditors in the supply response section and play a vital role in retrograde processing. Integration of this division functions well because aviation supply practices and systems are shared between the Navy and the Marine Corps. For all intents and purposes, the LHA/LHD supply officer is the MEU Aviation Combat Element’s supply officer. The S-6 division model is the perfect example of “what could be” if this level of integration were spread throughout the supply operation. 
  • S-8 Material Division. Just like the carrier, S-8 is responsible for all consumable storerooms covering surface and aviation parts as well as common use office, habitability, and cleaning consumables. Marine personnel are not integrated into the division, but, in addition to their primary workload receiving, stowing, and issuing aviation consumables for the MEU aircraft, the division issues common use consumables and cleaning gear to support MEU requisitions. The extra workload from issuing these common use consumables is relatively small and completely supported organically without Marine augments. 
  • S-8A Hazardous Materials/Environmental Support. This division controls hazardous material issues and turn-ins for both the ship and the MEU and also runs the plastic and waste processing room. As equal generators of environmental waste, the MEU augments this team with a significant number of Marine “ship taxes” to assist in processing all the waste. The Marines integrate very well and this hard-working blue-green team professionally tackles a very dirty and critical job. 
  • Material Control Officer (MATCONOFF). In the ARG/MEU team, operational logistics and material control is actually the closest point of blue-green integration. The LHA/LHD MATCONOFF functions much like a carrier principal assistant for logistics (PAL) combined with covering the material movement role of the CSG/PHIBRON N4. The Supply Corps officer assigned this role varies by LHD, but can be the lieutenant commander assistant supply officer, or more commonly, one of the three lieutenant readiness division officers. The MATCONOFF is intimately involved with daily blue-green logistics synchronization for intra-theater cargo moves and “last-tactical-mile” movements from shore-to-ship and vice versa, otherwise known as pax-mail-cargo (PMC) movements. Through NLI, the MEU has transitioned to moving the majority of their inbound material flow through the naval logistics system alongside the Navy’s ship material. The MATCONOFF is actually expediting and coordinating all cargo flow to the ship, for both Blue and Green customers. To execute this task, the Material Control Officer works very closely with the MEU S-4, MEU Tactical Logistics watch team, and the Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) PMC Coordinator (which functions like the carrier’s Air Transfer Officer–ATO).

    On the Services side, supporting Quality of Life for the Sailors and Marines is fairly standard, with the Navy taking responsibility for the shipboard portion with Marine assistance. The Marines handle all of their own services once they push ashore. Services integration also varies throughout the operation. 

  • S-2/5 Food Service. This is a normal Navy Food Service operation with the same processes, menus, and records keeping, except Marines are fully integrated into the manpower. Top-notch Marine Cooks augment our Navy Culinary Specialists and Marine Messmen augment the Navy Food Service Attendants (FSAs) to help serve and take care of the extra 1,800 Marines onboard. In both cases, they are very professional and capable young men and women getting the job done side-by-side with our cooks and FSAs. There are still some challenges to overcome. As an example, Marine Messmen only serve 60 day assignments and can come and go during that time as units rotate ashore and the embarked Marine population cycles up and down. There is also some sensitivity in the Wardroom Hotel Services area about what the Messmen should and shouldn’t do. Overall, the full integration is very effective and it would be very easy to integrate Marines in this fashion into any food service operation on any platform. 
  • S-3 Sales & Services. Ship’s Store and Laundry operate just like normal, but they are also augmented with Marine “ship taxes” serving 60-day assignments to handle the extra volume of business driven by supporting 1,800 Marine customers. Barbers, on the other hand, are a non-integrated, completely parallel organization. Marine barbers cut Marine’s hair; Navy barbers cut Sailor’s hair. If there are Marines waiting and the Navy barber is idle, there is no crossover and vice versa. This seems like an easy candidate for full integration. 
  • S-4 Disbursing. Disbursing is completely non-integrated. There are two separate, independent, fully functioning disbursing offices, one Navy and one Marine. They both use the same Navy (and Marine) Cash system, but otherwise use different automated systems to conduct their business. There is quite a bit of crosstalk and they help each other out on a regular basis, but this also seems like an easy candidate to move towards full combination.

    The preceding describes integration at the divisional level, but there is also significant integration at the senior leadership level. In my case, as Supply Officer, I worked closely with the MEU S-4 and PHIBRON N-4. We met formally twice weekly to orchestrate the big picture logistics plan, while the daily action officer-level Logistics Synchronization meetings coordinated tactical-level details. This “Senior Logistics Synchronization” group included me, my MATCONOFF, the PHIBRON N4, the MEU Command Element S-4 and his Supply Officer, the Combat Logistics Battalion XO, the Battalion Landing Team S-4, and the Aviation Combat Element S-4. We would typically review the planned cargo flow, hot material, replenishments-at-sea, PMC windows from shore, and planned beach detachment movements for the next month. We also used the opportunity to resolve any friction points and discuss lessons learned. All in all, throughout deployment, the integrated blue-green logistics team very capably supported the combined logistics requirements of the ship, MEU, and rest of the PHIBRON.

NLI for the Future

    In “A New Naval Era,” Adm. Greenert and Gen. Amos also said, “Now, more than ever, the Navy/Marine team must better integrate its capabilities to be effective. […] We need to remove seams that have an impact on our ability to fight as a naval team.” NLI has taken the first steps and driven some level of integration in the amphibious forces. Overall, the current implementation of NLI at the operational level is very effective, but it still requires significant investment of logistics leadership resources on both blue and green sides to make it work. The Navy and Marine Corps must forge ahead to further integrate logistics processes and make them transparent to the user so NLI can be effective on any platform.

    In general, the guiding principle for extending NLI should be to continue to simplify the process. Smaller and non-amphibious platforms may not have the senior logistics leadership bandwidth to drive the integration and make NLI function efficiently. Even in our existing ARGs, NLI is principally an LHA/LHD entity … it is much more limited on the smaller LPDs and LSDs. NLI must be simpler, easier, and a close match for existing processes, so it can integrate into the normal logistics support methods on any platform. Marine units deploying on smaller platforms will necessarily be smaller tactical packages (company-level or platoon-level teams) and won’t have the flexibility to bring a large logistics manpower component. If we establish clear boundaries on shipboard Navy and Marine logistics responsibilities, we can avoid overlap, reduce inefficiencies, and allow these smaller Marine units to dedicate more manpower to tactical operations.

A pair of MH-60S Seahawk helicopters transfers supplies to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) during an underway replenishment. Boxer is the flagship for the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.  (Photo by MC1 Brian P. Biller)

A pair of MH-60S Seahawk helicopters transfers supplies to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) during an underway replenishment. Boxer is the flagship for the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (Photo by MC1 Brian P. Biller)

    This article is not intended to provide the solutions for further integration … merely to start the conversation by laying out the issues and some ideas for moving ahead. Here are some discussion points:

1) Inbound material flow – Navy (blue-side) should be responsible for tracking and coordinating all material flow to the ship and units embarked. This is an extension of current Fleet freight routing practices—tying Marine unique DOD Activity Address Codes to the embarked ship’s cargo routing information file. To best accomplish this, the Marine element could embed an appropriate number of supply Marines into the ship’s supply stock control and material stores operation, much like current practice with MALS Marines and S-6 aviation support.

2) Material flow ashore – Marines (green-side) should be responsible for tracking and coordinating all flow of material from ship to shore and support of units operating ashore. This support can be drawn from the ship using the embedded supply Marines, but the Marine unit would own the shore-facing process and flow. This is currently a blended process with some flow owned by the ship and some by the MEU. Intent is to simplify the lines of responsibility and make the process more transparent.

3) Expand common requisitioning process with IT interfaces – Much like the Naval Aviation Logistics Command Management Information System automatically interfaces aviation requirements to the ship’s Relational Supply (RSUPPLY) system, the Global Combat Support System – Marine Corps, the Marine’s ground logistics IT system, should also interface consumable requirements directly to RSUPPPLY. This would remove the current requirement for Marines to qualify as repair parts petty officers in order to use RSUPPLY to requisition their material. Marines already share use of Navy PMO’s Integrated Supply Information System for ordering and expediting high-priority material.

4) Training/Education – On the Navy side, robust segments on NLI and Marine logistics terminology should be incorporated into both the Navy Supply Corps School (NSCS) Basic Qualification Course for new ensigns and department head courses, as well as enlisted logistics specialist A-school and C-schools. For Marine logistician courses, similar expanded segments on the shipboard aspects of NLI would be useful. The Marine aviation supply officer course is collocated at Newport, R.I., with NSCS, so there are additional opportunities to combine NLI education and sit side-by-side with Navy students.

5) Hazardous materials (HAZMAT) – All common Marine HAZMAT should be screened for authorization and incorporated into the shipboard hazardous material list so there are no barriers to stocking required items in shipboard storerooms when Marines embark.

6) Consumable stock levels – Standard Marine consumption factors for high-use consumables and HAZMAT should be developed for different size and composition Marine units. When a Marine unit embarks, ship supply officers can automatically adjust onboard stock levels or inbound replenishments to support.

7) Disbursing – The Navy disbursing office could provide all Marine embarked Navy/Marine cash needs and process any disbursements necessary as directed by a shore-based Marine personnel office. Appropriate communications channels and linkages would have to be developed.

8) Services and “ship taxes” – When a Marine unit embarks, there is an additional strain on ship’s services: Food, laundry, environmental, etc. If the embark is for a significant amount of time, a 3 percent ship tax could be covered by a few additional Marine augments. A small addition to Navy manpower assigned in the barbershop could support embarked Marines directly, eliminating the requirement to assign Marine barbers.

9) NLI Playbook – Broaden the official NLI Playbook to discuss common language in more detail, fully describe and dictate shipboard NLI support structures, and provide planning factors for embarking different size Marine units and operations.

10) Berthing – Break down blue-green social barriers by fully integrating stateroom berthing, meaning no troop spaces and blue spaces, at least among officers. Living side-by-side could better tie Marines into shipboard life and create that critical opportunity for casual cross-talk.

    These are only a few suggestions for the near future. For the very long term and as a completely “out of the box” idea, much like the Marine Corps relies on the Navy to provide chaplains, corpsmen, and medical corps officers, the Marines could potentially “outsource” supply and logistics operations to Navy Supply Corps officers and supply enlisted ratings. This support could function much like our current expeditionary supply officers supporting Seabees, riverine squadrons, EOD units, and SEAL teams. The Navy chaplains, corpsmen and doctors are an integral part of the Marine team; in the future, there is no reason why the Navy Supply community couldn’t become just as integrated.

    To meet the CNO and commandant’s vision for a well-integrated and highly effective Navy/Marine team in a new naval era, we must start by removing seams in the logistics core enabler. The current NLI program has made great strides in the amphibious forces, but we need to drive further logistics integration to attain the goal of Navy and Marines operating effectively together from any platform. Navy and Marine Corps NLI Leadership should consider the ripe opportunities and chart the way ahead to extend NLI to naval platforms of all capabilities and sizes.

By Cmdr. Eric Morgan, SC, USN; Former Supply Officer, USS Boxer (LHD 4)