OKINAWA, Japan (May 22, 2014) – One glance at a world map, and it’s quickly clear that the Pacific Theater is both huge – 9,000 miles wide and half the earth’s surface – and very blue. Its massive seas hold about 25,000 islands with the majority of its population residing close to the shore, and its natural disaster-prone geography leaves its nations constantly preparing for the unknown.
When it comes to logistics and readiness, the region’s essentially a gigantic waterworld that demands a team effort in maximizing even the most uncharacteristic capabilities of each service and organization.
Two crews of Army watercraft operators are wrapping up a five-month mission at the end of May that successfully demonstrates how operationalizing the unique Army capability in the Pacific contributes to that team effort.
With 8th Theater Sustainment Command at the lead, and 10th Regional Support Group exercising operational command from its headquarters in Okinawa, the endeavor labeled Pacific Utility and Logistics Support Enabler-Watercraft, or PULSE-W, began in January.
“When you look at the sheer tyranny of distance in the Pacific and the geography, you realize that you need as many routes by as many modes as possible to be able to provide the freedom of action and flexibility to support and sustain operations here,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen Lyons, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command commander. “Army watercraft are extremely relevant in achieving that, while also providing external lines of communication into impacted areas.”
PULSE-W, while relatively simple in its concept, which is to maintain an enduring presence of Army watercraft that cost-effectively delivers cargo throughout the Pacific, produced results reflecting immeasurable potential when it comes to supporting joint and multinational forces, and decreasing watercraft response times to natural disasters in the region.
The proof of principle operation began with the activation of two Landing Craft Utility 2000s vessels from Army Pre-positioned Stocks at Yokohama North Dock in Japan, manned with 16-member crews from the 97th Transportation Company, Fort Eustis, Va.
While historically operational in the Atlantic, LCUs pre-positioned in the Pacific have typically only been drawn bi-annually for validation or for specific exercises in the past.
These boats provide freedom of movement to deliver tailored force packages to the point of employment, which is critical in this theater, said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Roth, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command’s Sea Operations lead on PULSE-W.
He said, their small size, shallow draft, and flat bottoms allow them to navigate and enter austere environments, but they can also carry 350 short tons, the equivalent of four C-17 loads, on their 2,500 square-foot-deck.
“As long as something needs to move from one place to another, we’re a viable asset,” said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Carman, the first mate of one of the PULSE-W boats, LCU 2035, U.S. Army Vessel Port Hudson. “You’re not going to move what we can move on any aircraft, so if you’re trying to move something of any significant weight or size, watercraft is automatically irreplaceable out here.”
Once activated, the two PUSLE-W LCUs immediately began demonstrating their relevancy as they worked with sister services and logistic enterprise partners.
They sailed to White Beach, Okinawa, which serves as their forward-operating port, to pick up and transport Marine and Army equipment and ammunition to Thailand in support of Cobra Gold 14, the largest multi-national exercise in the region. They then traveled to Chinhae, Korea, to complete five round trips transporting obsolete ammunition to Hiro, Japan. Finally returning to Busan, Korea, they supported III Marine Expeditionary Force by moving redeployment cargo back to White Beach.
They again loaded ammunition and equipment, this time to support Balikatan 14, and departed for the Philippines, where they ultimately retrieved and transported return cargo to White Beach following the exercise.
Using the LCUs versus commercial surface lift resulted in more than $7 million worth of cost avoidance to the Department of Defense, and proved that the small, self-sufficient crews and watercraft could maintain the tempo.
“These are utility vessels, so they’re designed to handle a lot, but there’s so much that may go unseen when it comes to keeping them going,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Mccarthy, the vessel master of LCU 2035. “Even when we’re not underway, the crew’s constantly doing the checks and maintenance on hundreds of systems, and always learning about every area of the boat. We’re self-sufficient and we adapt.”
“PULSE-W has done exactly what it was designed to do,” explained Carman. “It’s been a great opportunity for the Army watercraft community to show what we are capable of. We’re really just transporters using boats. If we’ve got an open deck, and there’s cargo that needs to be moved, we’re going to get it done.”
He said it’s also served as a training experience for the crew. The familiarity they gained from traveling the Pacific seas and exchanging port operations and vessel knowledge with Japanese Self Defense Forces and the Philippine navy also increased the region’s overall preparedness for future natural disasters.
With the proof of principle concluding, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command’s sea mobility team is now scheduling future cargo transports and support efforts with partners throughout the region, and relief LCU crews from Fort Eustis are projected to arrive in Okinawa sometime next month for the operations sequel, PULSE-W II.