photo BCR Marne - Marine Nationale
Contributor: Malcolm Warr – Defence IQ
It is said that effective afloat support is decisive in maintaining the wide spectre of current naval operations around the globe. From supporting troops engaged in expeditionary missions, the
protection of crucial shipping lanes, to engaging in humanitarian missions, afloat support has never been more important and this trend will only continue to grow into the future.
In peace and war, the present mission of naval logistics for most Navies is to provide and sustain operational readiness by getting the right support to the right place at the right time. In
peace, operational readiness stems from the ability of naval forces to accomplish a wide range of day to-day taskings. In war, operational readiness is the forerunner of war fighting
But is this enough in the war fighting age we now find ourselves in?
As I write, dawn is breaking over a tranquil Indian Ocean. A naval auxiliary from a Western Navy is on the horizon. But all is not as it might be. That vessel is carrying military stores. It does
not hold goods that might provide aid to Somalia or Yemen. Its mission is entirely directed at support for military forces in the Gulf. Yet it cannot support smaller navies around the Gulf
It’s a national asset, occasionally used to support other forces on an ad hoc basis. It carries no Command & Control capability to provide a platform for aid to civil power operations. It is
expensive to build and is expensive to operate.
Naval afloat support is broadly speaking, 60 years old this year. The modern Fleet Train was born out of the need to provide support to US Forces operating across the Pacific, although small and
successful attempts were also being made concurrently by the German submarine flotilla to resupply its submarines using Milch Cows – or ‘Milk Cows’ – in the furthest reaches of the Atlantic.
By the end of the Second World War, the US Navy had built specialised afloat support vessels. The Kreisgmarine relied on Type XIV U-boats which were amodification of the Type IXD, They had no
torpedo tubes or deck guns, onlyanti-aircraft guns. Due to its large size, the Type XIV could resupply other boatswith 400 tons of fuel, four torpedoes, and fresh food that were preserved
inrefrigerator units. In addition, the boats were equipped with bakeries, in order toprovide the luxury of fresh bread for crews being resupplied.
And by the end of the Second World War, the Royal Navy had understood that ‘Fleet Trains’ complemented (and in due course largely replaced) naval resupply bases around the world and were a vital
and integrated component for a Blue Water Navy.
30 years ago, a Royal Navy Task Force sailed to the South Atlantic to uphold historical Sovereign rights. That task force would not have succeeded without interconnecting afloat and ashore
support provided by dedicated military, merchant seamen and civilians. ‘Logistics is the sinews of War’ so said Admiral Sandy Woodward, a Task Force commander quoting an earlier commander of an
18th century campaign.
But that was 1982, is a new approach needed in 2012?
source BMT Defence Services
Modern afloat support is now said to apply to support for Oceanic Navies in the form of Sea Basing or near offshore logistic support and traditional fuel and solid stores support in dedicated
naval vessels or chartered ships.
But the last thirty years has seen a perceptible shift from direct military intervention from sea to land based operations supported by air bridges and commercial charter.
Latterly, operations have included external military force, humanitarian aid and reconstruction capability and stimulation and support for internal asymmetric agents.
I first had direct involvement with this trend when invited by the UK Government to investigate how UK reconstruction and military activities might be conducted through the Iraqi Port of Basra
during the second Gulf War but I also saw nascent elements of military/civilian co-operation during the first Gulf War when periphery countries were used to store and transit supplies and thence
in Rwanda and Somalia during the 1990s and also humanitarian aid in Montserrat and in East Timor.
In all of these interventions, where the humanitarian role of the armed forces has evolved, discussion has focused around three separate categories: military support to emergency or disaster
relief efforts, the problematic notion of humanitarian intervention and the provision of humanitarian assistance during combat operations.
The first category has proved to be the least contentious certainly from British experiences in places like Mozambique and Montserrat. In these types of humanitarian disaster relief operations,
the UK military has acted as a subcontractor to the wider foreign relief effort through its Department for International Development (DFID).
The military including key naval forces has been deployed for a specific task within a permissive environment which has allowed them to adopt a benign force posture.
However, co-ordination of effort with local forces and humanitarian aid (mostly NGO) organisations has not been without problems. In many instances, NGO dislike working with military and naval
forces, yet do not have the Command and Control structures to allow them to deliver aid optimally. Nor are most NGOS able to set up and pay for sophisticated supply chains and transport links. In
turn, the military find dealing with freewheeling and loosely managed civilian aid workers, challenging.
While there is no such thing as a standard operation, the key tenets covered in Humanitarian/Disaster Relief Operations are universal.
The UK Government sees CIMIC as a key enabler to facilitate missionsuccess in Civil Military Cooperation. It sees CIMIC as a process rather thanan activity.
The UK Government suggests that military services engaged in such activities should, whenever possible, take advice and overall direction from a coordinating civilian authority or humanitarian
agency and should hand over responsibility for the humanitarian task at the earliest opportunity.
However, in 2010, the UK Homeland Security Minister went further, and suggested that non defence departments should provide money to establish a UK CIMIC organisation which uses cores Military
Command & Control capability and experience but embraces the wider aspects of modern intervention by acting as a platform for civilian NGOs and civilian multinationals with reconstruction and
infrastructure development capability.
The Chinese have already adopted this approach. Naval Afloat support is part of a broader Chinese, diplomatic, economic and structural approach to protect its homeland.
The Indian Navy ten year plan spends time explaining how its Navy will be part of wider Indian humanitarian aid effort.
Way back in 1996, the USN Naval War College issued a White Paper that offered a revised naval strategic maritime concept that embodied from the Sea, a concurrent examination of the naval
operational logistics elements necessary to support multi-faceted sea driven operations.
According to the USN, naval forces are vital in shaping the environment needed to enhance national security. A strong naval team capable of deterrence, war at sea and from the sea, and operations
other than war is essential to that effort.
And key to that strength, is naval logistics – i.e. the total integration of highly trained and dedicated personnel within a complex network of technical support, facilities, transportation,
materiel, and information.
Is it time that governments should stop talking about stand alone naval afloat support to maintain the spectre of current naval operations around the globe and direct a much wider sea based
logistics effort directly linked to economic imperatives?