Navy and Marine officials will be able to put brand-new seabasing ships through their paces next month in a Pacific-based exercise designed to highlight the concept.
Called Culebra Koa, the exercise will feature Marines and sailors operating in and around a mobile landing platform and joint high speed vessel alongside traditional amphibious ships. Set to begin in mid-May, the exercise will take place on and off-shore in the Hawaii operating area, said Navy Lt. Lenaya Rotklein, a spokeswoman for the Navy's 3rd Fleet.
Participating in the exercise will be the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, based out of San Diego; Mobile Landing Platform Montford Point, the first of the MLP class; and the Joint High Speed Vessel Millinocket, the third of its class. While Navy and Marine Corps units will participate in the exercise, Rotklein could not say which units or how many troops as the details are still being finalized.
The exercise will serve as a proof of concept for Navy and Marine Corps officials, who have hailed seabasing as a way to expand global reach, improve crisis response and enhance the capabilities of amphibious platforms.
I am pretty excited, and so is the commandant of the Marine Corps," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said of the seabasing concept during a round-table discussion with Military Times in late March. "This is why I feel really good about Marine Corps/Navy integration. We are going to have an exercise with the JHSV with an MLP and with an ARG, to work out their concept of ship-to-shore, and the connector's piece in the future. We are going to get a really good look at that."
Rotklein said the exercise will be schedule-driven, rather than scenario-based, although details of what would take place during the exercise were still being developed.
As is tradition with such exercises, the name of Culebra Koa was chosen with care and reflects history.
"'Culebra' pays tribute to the first fleet landing exercises conducted by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps between 1935 and 1941 on the beaches of Culebra Island, [Puerto Rico]," Rotklein said in an email. "And 'Koa,' which means 'warrior' in Hawaiian, recognizes the location of the exercise off the coast of Oahu."
Culebra Koa represents one of the first opportunities to have the new platforms operating side-by-side, and in conjunction with traditional amphibs.
The Montford Point, modeled after an Alaska-class oil tanker with a center deck that can flood to take on landing craft and other connectors, was christened in March 2013. Its capabilities were highlighted during the major multilateral exercise Rim of the Pacific last summer, where it participated in docking and launching operations with amphibious assault vehicles and connectors including the Landing Craft Air Cushion. Navy officials have said they hope to declare initial operating capability for the ship this month.
The Millinocket, one of five JHSVs for which construction has been completed, was christened in April 2013 and delivered to the Navy 12 months ago. The Navy's plans for the Millinocket include mounting it with the cutting-edge magnetic rail gun in 2016.
Both the MLP and the JHSV represent improved capabilities for the Navy and Marine Corps, Greenert said, noting that the first of the JHSV class, the Spearhead, is now on its second deployment to U.S. Africa Command, with planned trips to European Command and Southern Command as well.
"You will see the JHSV in every theater in the future," Greenert said. "You will see move of those as soon as we start integrating them."
The MLP, and particularly its afloat forward staging base variant, has the potential to assist with amphib missions, Greenert said. The AFSB variant includes a flight deck instead of a flooding center deck.
He used the evacuation of U.S. personnel from Yemen in late March as an example of a mission that could be aided by an AFSB in the future.
"We had to scurry down the [amphibious assault ship] Iwo Jima; she was headed to do maintenance," Greenert said. "We had to turn her around and bring her back. If we had the afloat forward staging base that we are building, the two that we have under contract and we want to build at least a third, we would have been able to keep her on station there. She could have done the things that we had to scramble the Iwo Jima back and forth to do."