By Lt. Brittany E. Keith, Assistant Readiness Officer
Commander, Task Force 63 Naples, Italy
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Port personnel load cargo onto the Military Sealift Command’s USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE 5), a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship in Portsmouth, U.K. - –photo by Lt. Brittany E. Keith
When USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Carrier Strike Group (CSG) departed Norfolk on their 2018 deployment, it was business as usual in U.S. 6th Fleet. That quickly changed when the decision was made for the strike group to remain in the U.S. 6th Fleet’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) instead of proceeding to the U.S. 5th Fleet as originally planned.
To make things even more interesting, two surface combatants from the CSG were pulled away upon arrival and operated for the vast duration of their deployments independently from the carrier. Those two ships remained in the U.S. 6th Fleet AOR when Truman returned to homeport for an unannounced mid-deployment upkeep. During planning discussions for Truman’s return, it quickly became clear that the second half of the deployment would be unusual and historic. This was mainly due to former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis’ new concept used to classify future deployments, Dynamic Force Employment (DFE), being discussed more widely between multiple supporting staffs.
Almost all CSG deployments are widely publicized leading up to departure, but the second half of Truman’s deployment was to be very close-hold. At Commander, Task Force 63 (CTF 63)/Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa (MSCEURAF), we have a time-tested method of providing logistics support that flexes the intra-theater supply distribution network. However, lead time and planning for a strike group is always challenging. Not only did senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials direct the deployment details be kept at a need-to-know level, they also wanted the CSG to operate in more austere and demanding areas, something that hasn’t been done since the end of the Cold War.
The High North
The high north, as we coined it, is the upper North Sea and Norwegian Sea, and extends north past the Arctic Circle. Having a strike group operating there for the first time in more than 30 years meant a new support plan needed to be developed to sustain the ships and embarked Sailors. The existing U.S. 6th Fleet logistics chain wasn’t designed to sustain prolonged operations in the high north. This meant CTF 63 had to work hand-in-hand with U.S. 6th Fleet, NAVSUP Fleet Logistic Center (FLC) Sigonella, Type Commanders, NAVSUP transportation and distribution, and the CSG to formulate a new distribution plan to support the ships operating in the northern latitudes.
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Port personnel load cargo trucks with materiel at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, U.K., for transport to loadout operations in Portland, England.
To accomplish this and establish strong communication channels, we implemented weekly video teleconferences with supply partners. These calls brought new ideas and solutions. One idea generated from these teleconferences was that instead of sending materiel to our traditional logistics hub in Sigonella, NAVSUP FLC Sigonella stood up a comprehensive Logistic Response Team (LRT) in the United Kingdom (U.K.). This substituted for the logistics support representative, postal and other transportation billets that had previously been organically available to the Navy in previous decades. The LRT allowed for materiel and mail to be directed to the U.K., thus shortening the transit time for shipments and reducing costs for intra-theater distribution. The LRT worked with commercial carriers to deliver repair parts to CSG ships during scheduled port visits, support replenishment ship port visits, and carrier onboard delivery (COD). CTF 63 scheduled cargo support flights as required to ensure the uninterrupted flow of high priority repair parts to Truman’s various beach detachments.
The next challenge was how to move items too large to be sent commercially. Air Mobility Command (AMC) channel flights have established routes that cannot be changed without extensive lead time and planning. Working with our Air Force partners, we were able to use an existing channel mission from McGuire Air Force Base directly into the U.K. This presented an additional planning challenge requiring Navy personnel to be placed at McGuire to ensure U.S. Navy cargo was load planned on every available AMC mission to the U.K.
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Port personnel load cargo trucks with materiel at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, U.K., for transport to loadout operations in Portland, England. –photo by Lt. Brittany E. Keith
Maintaining a DFE posture required us to wait and shift the cargo routing information file (CRIF) and mail routing instructions to the very last moment; it meant not sending out any of the usual cues for port visits, and planning every logistics movement in a near communications vacuum. Working with other nations to plan an LRT, port visits, and food deliveries without being able to tell them why brought new challenges as well.
Working closely with the already established Air Force presence in the U.K., we were able to alleviate some of these concerns. The LRT piggy backed on the use of an Air Force warehouse and staging area at Royal Air Force (RAF) Mildenhall, from which they handled materiel coming directly from the United States and then directed it onward to port visits and United States naval ship (USNS) on loads. Having boots on the ground in the U.K. allowed for a near seamless process of routing cargo, and reduced the need for husbanding agent support.
Over the course of two months, the LRT processed and sent out 423,700 pounds of cargo and mail in RAF Mildenhall, using more than 50 separate commercial shipments. In addition, they processed 131,463 pounds of cargo and mail for 48 CTF 63 flights in support of COD flights and on loads. Using Mildenhall as the central location allowed for deliveries to all ports used in the U.K.
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HAZMAT cargo is stored in a laydown area inside one of the warehouses at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, U.K., awaiting transport to Portland, England.
In preparation for the deployment to the high north, additional port assessments were conducted by MSCEURAF to locate suitable locations for ammunition, stores and cargo deliveries. CTF 63 Combat Logistics Force (CLF) schedulers worked extensively with British Royal Navy counterparts to ensure pier availability for three different USNSs whenever in port replenishments were required. Supporting USNSs were able to load in new locations during 2018 with better staging areas than had been used previously in Northern Europe. One new location, Portland, on the south coast of the U.K., allowed for a seamless on load of 37 trucks in one day. U.S. Navy personnel in the U.K. assisted in 11 separate on loads of U.S. Navy ships that supported 47 replenishment-at-sea events. The teamwork of CTF 63 and our logistics partners made for a highly successful CSG northern deployment.
Dynamic Force Employment
CTF 63 laid a solid foundation for every ship, submarine, and squadron in the Navy that deployed in 2018 aligned with supporting DFE objectives. DFE is a major paradigm shift for the Navy to employ a more agile naval force that is strategically predictable, yet operationally unpredictable. Being operationally unpredictable to our adversaries while remaining mission ready at all times is logistically demanding. CTF 63 was at the forefront of optimizing the supply chain to more rapidly respond to operational schedule changes through direct and open communications with key stakeholders. This diverse group included NATO allies, Military Sealift Command, NAVSUP, Defense Logistics Agency, Priority Material Office, Forward Deployed Regional Maintenance Centers, and numerous other supported task forces. This responsive logistics network quickly scaled in scope and size from sustaining two ships to 15. This new responsive supply network with U.S. Navy boots on the ground reduced the transit time for repair parts from the United States to the operating area, allowing high-priority parts to be sent via COD support missions and streamlining in port replenishments for cargo and mail deliveries to the supporting CLF ships.
–photos by Lt. Brittany E. Keith