Before we start writing our series on the evolution of landing craft, let’s address one of the greatest challenges of amphibious operations.
Amphibious landings generally give the attacker the initiative to chose the time and place of their landings. As such, gaining an initial foothold is generally successful, provided reasonable attention has been paid to tactical realities.
Maintaining that initiative is the challenge. The key to this is ensuring a sufficient buildup of troops and logistics to overpower any enemy counterattack.
While the Marines have a reasonable force structure for landing the initial waves of an assault, the buildup phase is therefore critical. And the Marines and the Army both have significant numbers of ships dedicated to carrying the vehicles and supplies that any buildup would require. What is often lacking is a means to land those vehicles and supplies ashore in the absence of significant port facilities.
And so the Marines and the Navy have teamed up to build a ship especially intended to connect those prepositioned vehicle carriers with the landing beaches.
The Mobile Landing Platform is designed so that vehicles can be driven off of the prepositioned ship, onto the MLP, and thence onto a Landing Craft Air Cushion for delivery to the beach.
Based loosely on the design of a large semi-submersible heavy lift ship, the MLP can provide docking for up to three LCACs. While designed with fiscal austerity in mind, you’ll notice that the MLP has significant open deck space. Couple that with a reserve of power and water, that means that it can be configured for other purposes rather easily.
T-MLP-1 USNS Montford Point alongside a Bob Hope Class T-AKR in preparation for vehicle transfer exercises.
It’s important to note that the MLP is not an amphibious warship, nor indeed a warship of any kind. It belongs to the Military Sealift Command, and is crewed by Civilian Mariners. It is an auxiliary to support other ships.
Let’s take a look at an MLP in action.
Two MLPs, the USNS Montford Point and the USNS John Glenn, have been delivered.
The basic design of the MLP is also at the heart of the Afloat Forward Staging Base, which will be used as a mothership for mine hunting operations and other forward deployed elements that would otherwise require significant pierside facilities.
USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-MLP-3/T-AFSB-1)
The Puller and a second, as yet unnamed AFSB are due for delivery in 2015 and 2017 respectively.