A bit more on Logistics Over The Shore (LOTS)

Logistics Over The Shore is the process of moving troops, equipment, supplies and fuel from seagoing transport vessels into a theater that either has no port facilities, or, as in the case of Haiti, has damaged or destroyed port facilities.

The Navy, through the Military Sealift Command, has the majority of the LOTS assets in our country, but the Army does have a significant role to play.

First, the Army has Transportation Battalions that specialize in running port operations, either conventional ports, or via LOTS.

Next, the Army also has some significant capability through its watercraft. The two types most applicable here are the LCU2000 (Landing Craft Utility) and the Logistics Support Vessel (LSV).

The LCU2000 is a small(ish) vessel that is mostly used intra-theater, for short-haul trips, though it can also be used as a lighter to offload large vessels that can’t get into a port or harbor. The Army is sending three from the 97th Transportation Company (Heavy Boat) to Haiti to assist with efforts there.

LCU2000

The LSV is a larger, ocean-going vessel that can be used either inter-theater, or intra-theater, to move heavy equipment and supplies.

Both types of vessels are owned and operated by the Army, not the Navy. Most of the Army’s watercraft are operated by the Reserves, but the LCUs being sent are from the active Army. They should provide considerable improvement to efforts to move supplies into Haiti, and, perhaps just as importantly, move trucks and other lift into Haiti to move supplies inside Haiti.

Just as an aside, these are logistical vessels, and are NOT suitable for conducting an assault landing. That’s a job for the Marines and the Navy. They have the specialized ships, vessels and training to conduct amphibious assault. The LCU and the LSV are strictly for providing supplies to forces already ashore.

This is frustrating

If this doesn’t get you steamed, I don’t know what’s wrong with you:

It was not known whether the action reflected a high-level policy decision at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or confusion in a city where dozens of entities are involved in aid efforts.

I found this via the Instapundit, where a reader adds this tidbit:

The “aid” agencies did the same thing in Afghanistan. Being a logistics specialist, I volunteered to help an American NGO with rebuilding schools, and was on the ground in Kabul in January of ‘02. (I later ended up in charge of UNICEF’s warehouse/distribution operation for all of the new school supplies…leaving me with a complete and total disdain for all things UN-related.)

For the NGO community, to be seen co-operating with the US military was the kiss of death. NGO co-ordination meetings specifically warned against co-operation with the US military, as opposed to UN agencies. The supposed reason was that they wanted a clear line between the “killers” and those that were “there to help”. They would actually COMPLAIN that the military was out doing things like rehabilitating wells and such, whining that these were things that should be left to the aid agencies. The irony of the fact that we were all sitting in a meeting, DISCUSSING it, while the US military had already been out DOING it, was completely lost on them.

Sounds like it’s same-old, same-old. Nothing but tools, the lot of them.

I am ready to punch someone in the face over this. The Obama administration made the decision that USAID would be the lead agency in Operation United Response. Fair enough. But the point of the operation is NOT to make the US government look good. It is to provide succor to the people of Haiti. Who in USAID or in the administration made the call that the Army shouldn’t hand out rations? It isn’t like the Haitians don’t have the memory of the US Army and other services being there. The whole country was occupied in 1994, and the Marines ran the whole country for a decade or so earlier in the century. And the whole point of having the military there is that they are THE logistics experts at getting things into the area and distributing them in an austere environment with little or no functioning infrastructure.

I’m not saying USAID and NGOs don’t have a valuable role to play. But right now, it sure looks like the only role they want to play is that of spoiler, and that is going to cost lives and certainly goodwill.

Haiti and the tyranny of logistics

We’ve been following the massive effort to bring succor to the people of Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.

There’s a massive rush by concerned citizens and groups to get aid to the Haitian people. But there’s two problems. First, getting aid to Haiti. Second, getting aid distributed inside Haiti.

Just getting supplies to Haiti is problematical. Haiti is on the island of Hispanola, so you can only get there by ship or by plane.

For airplanes, there’s really only one airport in Haiti, at Port au Prince. The runway is open, but the airport doesn’t have the capability to refuel or otherwise service aircraft. That means that airplanes need to land with enough fuel to fly out to another airport to refuel. But every pound of fuel that they have to have on board to get out is a pound that can’t be devoted to aid supplies. Also, the airport isn’t designed to accommodate large numbers of flights daily. There is little parking space, and very little cargo handling equipment. What little there is, is designed to handle luggage, not large pallets of relief supplies.  The earthquake pretty much demolished all the navigation and air traffic control facilities as well. The Air Force has taken over the airport, and they have special teams (Combat Controllers) who are providing air traffic control services. But there’s still a very real limit on the number of planes that can get into the airport. And airplanes, as big as they are, can really only carry a tiny fraction of the volume of supplies needed. If you want to move large amounts of supplies, you need ships.

The “Port” in Port au Prince, however, is badly damaged. The cranes at the port that would handle containers have collapsed, and the quay where ships would tie up is either collapsed or blocked. And no one really knows what other hazards are in the port right now.  We discussed briefly before some of the Navy’s early response efforts to the earthquake.  We briefly mentioned the amphibious warfare ships the Navy is sending. These will be among the first folks on scene able to move bulky cargo ashore, using their landing craft. That’s a good start, but sooner or later, we’ll need to be able to unload cargo ships. First, the Coast Guard is sending the bouy tender Oak to Port au Prince. More than just tending bouys, she’ll survey what needs to be done to open the port. Navy Construction Battalions (the famous SeaBees) will also be on scene soon to improve the port facilities.

But there’s a pretty good chance that the port won’t be usable for quite some time. So, how do we get the supplies ashore? Well, last March, we discussed the Army’s history of amphibious warfare. We briefly mentioned that the Army has a capability to send logistics over the shore.

Not surprisingly, the Navy/Marine Corps team has even greater ability to conduct Logistics Over The Shore, or LOTS.  EagleSpeak, who seems a decent sort for a lawyer, has an excellent overview of what LOTS looks like. It’s not as good as a fully functional port, but it can provide a much greater capability than just using the airport, or the limited capacity of the amphibious warfare ships. All of this takes time to set up, but it has to be done if we are to provide any relief.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dH04m5fEUY]

So we’ve addressed some of the problems facing just getting supplies to the island. But what about the supplies that have managed to reach Haiti? Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. It was a mess long before the earthquake. There is very little infrastructure. Few good roads existed, and many that did have been damaged or destroyed. Getting food and water to people where no roads exist is a huge problem. Well, you say, just use helicopters! That’s a natural thought, but it just isn’t enough. The video linked here shows just how futile it is to try to feed and water people by helo. You pretty much have to move supplies by truck. That’s an area where the Army and the Marines excel.  It’s a fair bet that the troops of the 82nd Airborne that are there (from the division’s reconnaissance squadron) are busy determining which roads are servicable, which need repairs, and where supplies are needed. They are busy setting up Landing Zones, distribution sites, selecting sites to set up water purification units, and such.

Now, obviously, as involved as the military will be, it isn’t an all military show. There’s several  foreign governments helping out, as well as tons and tons of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other charities. Galrahn at Information Dissemination has an excellent roundup of what the Navy is doing. Be sure to delve into the comments, as there is a discussion of some of the challenges facing the military in working with NGOs. Some are used to working side by side with the services, and some are insistent on going their own way, with the possibility of friction and duplicative effort.

Haiti- Military Response to Humanitarian Disaster

We’ve seen the utter devastation of Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti. And by now, you may have heard that the US is starting to send relief and aid. Let’s take a quick glance at what some of the services are doing.

Haiti was a mess before the massive earthquake. Some of you may recall that the US military intervened in Haiti back in 94 because of political instability.

In this case, the military (and civil branches of our government) are intervening to provide humanitarian assistance.

First on the scene has been the US Coast Guard. Recon overflights by USCG HC-130s have provided the “first look” at what has been damaged. They are looking at different things than a news crew might. For instance, while a news crew looks for the most emotionally moving issues, the overflight looked to see what infrastructure was in place to support further operations, such as what airfields appear usable, and what is the condition of the port facilities (not good, it appears).

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.4463316&w=425&h=350&fv=]

Coast Guard helicopters have also already evacuated several US citizens for medical treatment, and the USCG C-130s will (or may have already) provided evacuation to non-injured US citizens.

Next are several Coast Guard cutters. They won’t be able to provide much in the way of direct relief, but will provide greater information for follow-on forces and some command and control assets to marshall the first wave of relief forces, until they can provide their own control.

The Navy of course, is jumping in with both feet. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, already at sea, is enroute, and should arrive today. Aircraft carriers may not be the best platform for humanitarian missions, but they ain’t all bad. They have a nuclear powered fresh water plant, and they make a great heliport. It looks like the Vinson has loaded aboard a couple squadrons of Navy helos to support relief efforts. Carriers also have a nice pool of manpower available to help with the logistics.

The Navy is also sending the hospital ship USNS Comfort. That’s gonna take a little while. The Comfort is held on a “5-day alert” status. The ship has a crew on board, but its medical staff are all at their “day jobs” and it takes a little while to round them up. Then it takes a little while to get there.

In addition, the Navy is sending several amphibious warfare ships to Haiti. ‘Gators, as they are fondly known in the Navy, are very useful for humanitarian missions. They can carry and distribute large volumes of cargo in places with little or no port infrastructure. They can operate and support large numbers of helicopters. They have excellent on-board hospital facilities. They also carry a lot of Marines, which can provide  a ready pool of trained and well organized manpower to aid with search and rescue, distribution of supplies, triage, evaluation and evacuation of the injured. The ‘gators also have excellent command and control facilities, which they can use both to organize US forces, but also help non-governmental organizations with their communication problems.

The Army is getting involved as well, of course. They will be deploying a battalion of troops to provide manpower and a small command and control element. Behind the scenes, US based elements will be getting the logistics rolling. If there’s one thing the Army is good at (all the services, really), it’s moving large amounts of stuff to places that aren’t used to getting large amounts of stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Army helicopters operating from the Carl Vinson, either. They’ve done that before (in fact, the Navy used one of its carriers as a helicopter carrier for Army helos in the ’94 intervention in Haiti- the first time they’d done that).

The Air Force will provide the bulk of air transport to move relief supplies. Expect to see a lot of C-130s flying in water and humanitarian daily rations, as well as blankets, medicines and other supplies.

Coordinating all these efforts is the US Southern Command, which has responsibility of all US operations in Latin America. They’ll be the folks coordinating the military effort, trying to see that stuff gets where it is needed most.

As a practical matter, using the military for humanitarian operations is terribly efficient. It’s expensive, and the platforms and people are being used in ways they weren’t intended to be used. Still, the military has gotten fairly good at it. We’ve seen the military conduct disaster relief operations in the wake of the tsunami of 2005 and several other natural disasters around the world, as well as in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. One thing the military is very good at is learning what they did right, and what they did wrong during those operations. Still, there is only so much the military, or anyone, can do in this case. The loss of like in Haiti is horrific. The best we can hope for now is to prevent widespread disease, and to give these poor people a fighting chance at mere survival. Please pray for them.