By Michael Carr – U.S. Army Maritime capabilities will be radically reduced this year as the service deactivates and divests itself of numerous vessels, watercraft equipment, watercraft systems, Soldiers, and Units. At least eighteen (18) of its 35 Landing Craft Utility (LCU) will be sold off or transferred to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO). Landing Craft Utility (LCU), a versatile 174- foot landing craft capable of carrying 500 tons of cargo, personnel and containers, is the workhorse of the Army Watercraft field.
Joint Logistics Over the Shore (JLOTS), a combined service capability to ensure US Military units are able to offload personnel, supplies, equipment, fuel, and water in austere environments, depends heavily on Army LCUs and the US Army’s Watercraft command and control capability. Army Harbormasters, LSVs, LTs, LCMS, and its dedicated Watercraft Soldiers, specifically trained as mariners, are essential to the functioning of JLOTS for both military and humanitarian missions.
Eight Army Reserve Watercraft Units and their civilian maintenance facilities are listed for closing. These Units represent hundreds of AGR (Active Reserve), TPU (Reserve), and Civilians. These units presently support, train, and deploy Army Watercraft Soldiers throughout the world, and maintain dozens of watercraft, from 70 ft. Small Tugs to 315 foot LSVs and Barge Derrick Cranes.
As stated in the Army’s Memo initiating this decision, “Army Watercraft Transformation Through Divestment of Capability and Force Structure by Inactivation of Units”, the intent is to “eliminate all United States Army Reserve and National Guard Bureau AWS (Army Watercraft Systems) capabilities and/or supporting structure”.
There appears to be no discussion on how the US Army plans to support their present maritime operations, and possible future commitments while eliminating nearly 80% of its present force, which resides in the US Army Reserve. Soldiers who are now in the Maritime field, and who have spent their careers training to be Army Mariners, will be “assessed into units where they can best serve the needs of the Army Reserve whiles also being gainfully employed”.
Army officials are also removing Watercraft positions within the assignment system, to ensure Soldiers in the future cannot be assigned to maritime duties, indicating there is no plan by the Army to reconsider their actions, or bring back a watercraft capability should the world situation change. A final line in the Army’s plan to eliminate watercraft is the instruction to “Remove all markings prior to turning in systems and vessels to DRMO”. A sad ending to a capability, which has existed since World War I.
Our questions include asking how the Army now plans to respond to military and humanitarian aid in remote and austere locations, where ports and harbor infrastructure do not exist?