'Gators on the Other Side of the Pond

By Lieutenant Commander Steve Mitchell, U.S. Navy

Under the NATO command structure, ComUKNLPhibGru reports to Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT), as part of NATO'S Maritime Rapid Reaction Force and as part of the Atlantic Multi-National Maritime Force (MNMF). In May 1993, the British and Netherlands governments formally made the group available to the Western European Union as a multinational European Force capable of crisis response, peacekeeping, and humanitarian missions,

In the national command structure, ComAW now commands the newly formed unit. It is subordinate to Commander in Chief Fleet (CinCFleet) and Flag Officer Surface Flotilla (FOSF), yet answers functionally to Headquarters Royal Marines (HQRM) for matters on amphibious warfare. CinCFleet is roughly equivalent to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command; HQRM equates to the Commandant of the Marine Corps; and FOSF, a type commander, fulfills essentially the same role as Commander, Naval Surface Forces (Pacific/Atlantic).

HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid both assault landing ships (LPDs)-form the unit's core; they are scheduled to be replaced in 2000 and 2002 by two new 16,500-ton LPDs. The new assault helicopter carrier Ocean is scheduled to join the squadron in 1998. Support ships include a mixture of landing ship logistics (LSLs) of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), and ships taken up from trade (STUFT). The Royal Fleet Auxiliaries correspond to our Military Sealift Command (MSC) vessels, but work more closely with Royal Navy ships on exercises and actual operations than their MSC counterparts. Although crewed by Merchant Navy personnel, they come under the operational authority of CinCFleet. The commercial STUFF shipping is under temporary contract to the Ministry of Defense to provide extra lift capability for the Amphibious Squadron, a necessary concept because the Royal Navy simply cannot afford the cost of extra specialist shipping. The concept proved very successful during the Falklands Conflict. One roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) ferry has recently been procured to provide additional strategic sealift capability; the Royal Navy hopes to buy a second Ro/Ro soon.

In 1998, HNLMS Rotterdam, a new dock landing ship, is scheduled to add a substantial capability to an already versatile and combat capable group.

The command itself is divided into two separate staffs: maritime and amphibious. Both are headed by the Chief of Staff, a Royal Navy commander. The maritime staff consists of five officers-three British, one Dutch, and one American. All have extensive tactical action officer experience in battle group operations, but their professional backgrounds are quite different. U.S. Navy surface officers tend to have broader backgrounds than their British and Dutch counterparts, who are more specialized in their areas of expertise be they communications, navigation, antiair warfare, undersea warfare, etc. The amphibious staff includes Royal Marines, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, and British Army. Overall, these officers manage amphibious shipping, troops, equipment and air assets during the course of an exercise or operation.

Prior to the formation of the Amphibious Squadron, ComAW did not involve itself in the day-to-day tracking of workups, inspections, material condition, personnel. That has changed and it will be interesting to see how this concept, which now parallels U.S. procedures, develops in the future.

One of the more striking differences is the way the staff is formed after embarking in HMS Fearless, the flagship. Certain portions of the ship's wardroom actually augment and become members of the staff, e.g., the Commanding Officer assumes the role and title of the Flag Captain with the Chief of Staff answering via him to the Commodore, followed with further augmentation by the ship's engineering, weapons, medical, supply, and meteorology and oceanography officers. This system, which works well in practice, removes the barriers that tend to exist on a U.S. Navy ship with an embarked staff.

Ashore in the United Kingdom, ComAW and the staff of 3 Commando Brigade are co-located at the Royal Marines Barracks Stonehouse, within the city of Plymouth. This arrangement ensures the closest joint planning in preparing for contingencies. The UKNL Landing Force is a brigade-size unit some 4,500 strong, consisting of a headquarters, three ground maneuver units (40, 42, and 45 Commandos), together with combat engineer and logistic support, mortars, antitank and air-defense weapons, helicopter aviation, reconnaissance sub-units, and artillery. It is especially equipped and trained for employment in mountain and cold-weather operations.

The Dutch contribution is 1st Battalion Royal Netherlands Marine Corps, a landing craft detachment, 7th Netherlands Special Boat Squadron, plus other task organized combat and combat service support elements. The units are based in the Netherlands, but rapidly join up with the rest of the force when needed.

During the initial stages of an amphibious operation, which are essentially maritime, the commodore-as Commander UK/NL Amphibious Force-always has command. Once the landing force is established ashore, the brigadier (also a one-star commander) as the Commander UK/NL Landing Force takes over and the commodore assumes a supporting role. The force can thus be activated at very short notice with both staffs simply embarking in HMS Fearless for a smooth transition to operations.

HMS Fearless, ComAW's 12,500-ton flagship while embarked, has been in service since the mid-1960s, but she has very capable command-and-control facilities. A full suite of high data-rate land and maritime communications, along with an extensive command information and intelligence system, keep commanders and their staffs in the picture. She carries a force of up to 550 personnel and deploys them using helicopters, landing craft utility (LCUs), landing craft vehicle and personnel (LCVPs), and rigid raiding craft. Her well deck is too small to accommodate any landing craft in the U.S. inventory, yet her twin-spot flight deck is capable of landing CH-47 Chinooks and CH-53E Sea Stallions as well as a full range of smaller helicopters

The ship's biggest drawback is her austere accommodations. When amphibious force and landing force staffs are embarked along with the troops, there are more than 1,000 souls on board. There is no "hot racking," but privacy is almost nil.

The shipboard chain of command is different from that of the U.S. Navy. The commanding officer, a very senior captain, fulfills his traditional role, but the executive officer, a commander, number two in the chain of command, also is a head of Departments. As in the U.S. Navy, he is in charge of heads and beds, but he also is head of the operations and deck departments. The operations officer, navigator, and the first lieutenant all lieutenant commanders-answer directly to the XO for administrative matters and to the CO for operational matters, yet they themselves are not considered heads of departments. The chief engineer or marine engineering officer, weapons engineering officer, supply officer, and medical officer round out the remaining heads of departments. All are senior in rank-commander-and age compared to the typical U.S. Navy equivalent "amphib" department head. Although very specialized in their fields, they perform essentially the same functions as on a U.S. Navy ship. The chief engineer and weapons officer, in particular, essentially are limited duty officers and have done nothing but marine engineering and weapons engineering, respectively, throughout their careers. They are ineligible for command at sea.

The underway bridge watch team also is constituted differently from its U.S. Navy counterparts. If the team were to be imported to the bridge of a U.S. warship, the captain surely would not sleep at night! This is not to say that the bridge on a British warship is unsafe, it's just that a different set of standards are applied. There are no port, starboard, or after lookouts unless absolutely necessary because of low visibility or when entering a busy port, for example. Under normal steaming conditions, only the officer of the watch (OOW)-who is similar to our officer of the deck-and one other officer under instruction will be on the bridge. The OOW is the conning officer and quartermaster all wrapped up into one. The boatswain mate of the watch, helm, lee helm, and one or two enlisted communicators round out the rest of the team.

The operations room or combat information center (CIC) is lean-manned under normal steaming conditions and provides what we would consider comparatively limited navigation and shipping support to the bridge. It does provide radar support, but there is no dead reckoning trace or maneuvering board to be found (as is required) in a U.S. Navy CIC. Another striking difference is that during amphibious ship-to-shore movements, U.K. doctrine does not require the ops room to provide positive control to small boats transiting to the beach. There are no grid positions relayed over a radio net or by visual signals, and one will notice the absence of plotted boat lanes on sheets of dead-reckoning paper. The coxswains merely are given the boat lanes plotted on a chart, a hand-held global positioning system receiver, and told what time to assault the beach: the rest is left up to them. Again, as foreign as this approach seems, it works well enough given the space and communication limitations on the Fearless.

There are three main conditions of readiness onboard a Royal Navy ship: open-ocean steaming, defense watches, and action stations. All three roughly correspond to our Conditions IV, III, and General Quarters. During an exercise or operation, the normal modus operandi is for the ship to fall into defense watches or port-and-starboard watches for the duration, which can last for weeks or months, as was the case during the Falklands Conflict. Beyond that, the operations room has the normal watch stations of a U.S. Navy 'Gator CIC.

During the planning and throughout JTFEX 96-Purple Star 96, this staff and the staff of Amphibious Group Two in Little Creek, Virginia, developed a very strong working relationship for what was the first major non-NATO U.S./U.K. bilateral exercise in recent history. So good was this relationship during the exercise, that ComAW was designated Central Control Officer and charged with responsibility for ship-to-shore movements of both British and U.S. landing craft. One of the highlights of the exercise, it demonstrated conclusively that both major NATO amphibious staffs are capable of coordinated action.

Of course, with the recent development of the Combined Amphibious Force Mediterranean concept, ComAW expects to see its very important role in the Mediterranean continue well into the next century in the form of support to Exercises Destined Glory and Dynamic Mix.

Lastly, albeit still under much discussion, is the possibility of standing up a European Marine Amphibious Readiness Group or EuroMARG. Amphibious warfare has now become the "flavor of the month" among many European nations. As in the Mediterranean, all participating countries surely will be given the opportunity to practice the Commander Amphibious Task Force/Commander Landing Force role among themselves with the added benefit of increasing the interoperability so necessary in times of crisis.

 

 
 

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