The Army is looking to reduce or even eliminate much of its fleet of boats that is tasked with moving equipment to distant shores for battle, even as they acknowledge that the Navy’s role in that mission is suffering from a lack of funding and priority.
A report by Stars and Stripes revealed a briefing in early January that referenced directives in June from Army Secretary Mark Esper to “divest all watercraft systems" from the Army Reserve.
That move and others noted in the briefing slides obtained by Stripes could eliminate the Reserve and Army National Guard units, and jobs and civilian support that operate the maritime capability.
“The Army is assessing its watercraft program to improve readiness, modernize the force and reallocate resources,” Army spokeswoman Cheryle Rivas told Stripes.
Savings in cuts from the program could be diverted to other programs for the upcoming 2020 budget. But that would signal a quick end to eight units, civilian facilities and as many as 746 positions, as typically such kinds of deactivation are done with two to five years advanced notice.
The analysis on whether to cut, how much and where is being conducted.
But an immediate impact on the Reserve side would likely be felt with the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, which manages nearly all of the Reserve boats out of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Twenty-seven of the 105 vessels in the Army inventory are run by the reserves, Stripes reported.
As recently as November, Army Times sister publication Defense News reported that the Army was pushing Congress to act on a “looming sealift shortage” top brass said would create “unacceptable risk in force projection” within the next five years.
That was a reference to the Navy’s surge sealift capacity, which would provide as much as 90 percent of the Army and Marine Corps equipment in a major war.
The Army’s G-4 logistics document obtained by Defense News noted that the unacceptable risk could begin as soon as 2024.
“By 2034, 70% of the organic fleet will be over 60 years old — well past its economic useful life; further degrading the Army’s ability to deploy forces,” according to the G-4 document.
The Army’s fleet includes a variety of vessels from small landing craft that date to the 1960s to cranes, barges, tugboats and larger ships capable of carrying up to 15 Abrams tanks.
The Navy ships are special-purpose, roll-on/roll-off vessels run by Military Sealift Command and the Maritime Administration.
The command includes 26 pre-positioning ships, 46 Ready Reserve Force ships and 15 roll-on/roll-off surge force ships.
A 2019 Navy budget proposal sought $242 million over the next five years to build a new platform to replace the aging vessels. But House Armed Services Committee members didn’t think that amount was enough to beat back the shortfall that officials claim is coming.
But even with funding support and shifts in the Navy approach and priorities, that might not solve the Army’s transport problems.
Many of the ships hauling Army and Marine gear are not capable of off-loading in less developed or more forbidding ports and areas, especially those with the potential for adversary attack or access denial.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.