ARGs Need Dedicated CODs

Captain F. Byron “Oggie” Ogden, U.S. Navy

In general, the Navy provides logistics support with replenishment-at-sea using Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships, but it takes days or weeks for such support to arrive. During sustained combat operations, when more timely replenishment is required, the ARG must rely on MEU MV-22B assets to make up for the Navy’s capability gap. Still, the MV-22Bs are mission-essential assets, and as such, operational requirements often outweigh ARG logistical demands when the MEU assigns aircraft. The problems in ARG logistics were highlighted during my time in command of the Wasp (LHD-1) ARG.

From 1 August to 6 December 2016, the Wasp ARG and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (22 MEU) conducted Operation Odyssey Lightning, a series of precision air strikes against Islamic State targets in Sirte, Libya. Odyssey Lightning was the longest sustained strike operation by an independent ARG in U.S. naval history. The logistics demand was significant and persistent, and it strained the Navy’s logistics support. It took a long time for personnel, mail, and cargo to reach the ARG, which consisted of the USS Wasp (LHD-1), San Antonio (LPD-17), Whidbey Island (LSD-41), and detachment two of HSC-22, as well as the men and women of the MEU. To overcome the substantial time constraints imposed by the use of logistics ships, MEU MV-22Bs carried people, mail, and cargo from the logistics hub at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, (400 nautical miles from the ARG; well outside the MH-60Ss’ range) to the ARG as often as possible.

This capability gap exists in every AOR, though it may be worst in Seventh Fleet because of the vast distances among ships and logistics hubs in the Pacific—many times greater than what the Wasp ARG experienced in Fifth and Sixth fleets.

Dedicated V-22 detachments assigned to deploying amphibious squadrons would be a viable solution to filling this critical logistics capability gap. V-22s assigned to the amphibious squadron would relieve the MEU from having to provide long-range logistics support, freeing the MEU to focus on its primary missions.

While the movement of personnel, cargo, and mail is one of the missions assigned to the MH-60S detachment, this aircraft is not suited for long-range or high-volume logistics. It is best suited for vertical replenishment within the ARG. V-22s, on the other hand, have several advantages over the MH-60Ss including: operational speed (275 knots, compared to the MH-60Ss’ 160 knots); endurance (4.5 hours compared to 3.5 hours); and cargo capacity (24 passengers or 20,000 pounds, compared to 10 passengers or 5,500 pounds). The CMV-22 also is capable of being refueled in flight, giving it greater operational reach.

Carrier strike groups (CSGs) have used this concept successfully for decades, with dedicated C-2 Greyhound COD aircraft. The CSG model bases CODs out of a major logistics hub—such as Rota, Spain; Sigonella, Italy; or Souda Bay, Greece—when the hub is in range. This “dirt detachment” concept only consumes minimal flight-deck real estate (from point of departure to first logistics hub), and the maintenance detachment is usually shore based, using the infrastructure already in place at the theater logistics hubs.

Currently, unplanned maintenance can be handled at sea by the E-2 squadron’s technicians on the CVN, as the E-2 and C-2 are very similar. When the Navy replaces the C-2 with the CMV-22B, the CSGs will no longer have a common maintenance team. However, in the case of the ARG, the Navy V-22 detachment will have access to the Marines’ maintenance expertise. In addition, using CVM-22Bs for ARG logistics would have an added benefit over the CSG model, because all ships within the ARG have flight decks capable of supporting V-22 operations. In a CSG, C-2s (and future CMV-22Bs) can only land on the CVN; an HSC or helicopter maritime strike (HSM) squadron helicopter must move things the “last tactical mile” to other ships in the strike group.

The Navy should purchase eight CMV-22Bs more than the 38 planned for CSG COD duties. These additional eight aircraft would form four detachments of two aircraft each, with two detachments each stationed on the East and West coasts, to meet the needs of the ARGs. One detachment would be deployed with an ARG, and one would belong to the ARG executing work-ups. Assigning the detachments to the amphibious squadrons would allow tactical commanders to support the entire ARG without having to balance logistical needs against MEU mission requirements. The CMV-22B detachments will not replace the HSC detachments but will free HSC aircraft from a secondary mission.

The nation and the Navy get a “big bang for their buck” from the amphibious ready group. Together with the embarked MEU, the ARG is called on frequently as the force of choice for major operations, as the Wasp ARG’s experience with Odyssey Lightning illustrates. Having dedicated, long-range air logistic support to keep this force on station makes good operational and fiscal sense.

Captain Ogden is a career rotary wing naval aviator who commanded the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group and Amphibious Squadron Six. His previous command assignment was commanding officer of HS-5. He is currently the executive officer of Tactical Training Group Atlantic.

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