If, in a future war against Taiwan or the resources of the China Sea, the US Marine Corps aims to occupy a bunch of small island outposts within the range of Chinese missiles – and to be clear, that is plan, they will need two things.
One way to get there.
Some means of restocking.
To transport Marines to their remote island bases, the US Navy is developing a new class of small amphibious ships that, in theory, would blend in with civilian maritime traffic. Lightweight, 5,000-ton displacement amphibious warships would weave their way through China Seas instead of making their way.
To solve the supply problem, the US fleet could apply the same principle to other ships. Instead of loading food, fuel, and ammunition onto large, vulnerable military shipping vessels, the Navy could pack supplies into standard commercial shipping containers and pack the containers onto government-contracted civilian ships.
Ships would slip into the steady flow of maritime commerce and drop off their containers at ports near island Marine outposts.
It’s a proposal from Christian Morris, a US Navy Reserve Water Transport Officer, and US Military Sealift Command Heather Bacon-Shone Navy. “We should be looking for more ways to keep our 21st century shipping hiding in plain sight,” Morris and Bacon-Shone wrote at the Center for International Maritime Security.
The Navy and Military Sealift Command operate dozens of transports. (Too few, critics argue.) These ships are mostly large and gray. They are obviously military ships and big targets for Chinese warplanes, submarines and rockets.
But MSC has access to 60 cargo ships owned by commercial shipping companies. Federal authorities provide vessel operators with a retainer under the MSC Maritime Safety Program. In wartime, the Pentagon could take all 60 ships, load them with military cargo, and add them to large convoys under Navy escort.
It might be safer to disguise the ships, however. “To locate a smuggled military sea transport cargo, it would be devilishly difficult to find a particular ship in the company of hundreds of lookalikes,” Morris and Bacon-Shone wrote.
There is a problem. The identities of the ships in the MSP are common knowledge. Here is the last list. Commercial vessels usually broadcast their identity and location using the automatic identification system. In the event of a crisis, Chinese forces would be looking for the 60 MSP ships.
Darkness is not an option, Morris and Bacon-Shone explained. “Coastal countries that track maritime traffic assume that non-AIS targets are either warships or bad actors engaged in illegal activity anyway, attracting inordinate attention and potentially even aggressive engagement.
Lucky for the Navy and the undercover officers it would assign to guard the sneaky cargo, it’s possible – damn it, easy – to fake an AIS signal. The Russians routinely usurp the AIS tracks of NATO warships.
The main disguise of MSP ships would be another ship’s transponder. After that, it’s all about relaxed sailing. “Your [transponder] the code could be just a standard AIS runway and look like a commercial runway, and if you keep a slow forward speed and don’t run any easily identifiable radars with naval traffic, then you got mixed up, ”he said. said Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy aviator and author of Supply and maintain a navy.
There remains the problem of this last kilometer. An MSP ship can hail in a large harbor without revealing its true purpose. But it certainly cannot anchor off a small islet in the China Sea without announcing itself. and the Marines is resupply.
This means that the final leg of the delivery must fall on the military forces who can navigate or fly quickly, under cover of darkness or bad weather, and fight to defend themselves if the Chinese spot them.
Tiltrotors and low-flying cargo planes could do the job. Some analysts believe the Navy’s underutilized combat ships could serve a similar purpose. Submarines could do that too, as they did in World War II.