Picture this: The Army’s Fleet – A review of Sail Army by Stephen Harding

Picture this:  The Army’s Fleet

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Sail Army

A Pictorial Guide to Current <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” /><?xml:namespace prefix = u1 />U.S. Army Watercraft

By Stephen Harding

Pictorial Histories Publishing Company

Missoula, Montana

Reviewed by Edward Lundquist


On a cold day in 1776, General George Washington turned to Colonel John Glover, an infantryman of the 14th Continental Regiment, to ferry himself and 2,400 men across the Delaware River.  This may well be the U.S. Army’s first major employment of watercraft to support operations. Soon after, the Army used watercraft for back lift, when it ferried 900 Hessian captives back across the Delaware.
So began the Army’s long association with boats and ships of its own, quite apart from the Navy.  Altogether, the Army today has about 250 ships, boats and service craft.  Not as many as the Navy, but much larger than many other fleets in military service.  Much of this fleet is designed and employed to provide intra-theater lift.  While ships of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command are tasked with getting Army cargo to the theater of operations, it is the Army’s responsibility to get that cargo offloaded and delivered where it is need within the theater.
The Army can call upon a wide variety of vessels, some quite large, to do the job.  Harding shows us, in detail, the big and the small.  The largest include the GEN Frank E. Besson, Jr. – class Logistics Support Vessels (LSV), which displace more than 4,000 tons and are 312 feet long with a 60-foot beam. 
The new Theater Support Vessel Spearhead (TSV-1X) is not only big, it is fast.  Built in Australia to commercial high-speed ferry standards, Spearhead can achieve sustained speed of 40 knots and faster, even when crossing the ocean.  With more than 14,000 square feet of cargo space accessible by ramp, it loads and unloads rapidly. The TSV concept was validated with another converted high-speed ferry, the transformational Joint Venture (HSV-1X), shared with the Navy.  Both services liked what they saw, and the Navy acquired Swift (HSV 2) to support mine-warfare operations.  I’ve been aboard Joint Venture, and was amazed by the amount of room to embark personnel, and the internal volume for vehicles and cargo. These fast and flexible catamarans may be the precursor to a fleet of the future.
It is a challenge to get the Army’s service craft to where they would be needed to support a significant offload. 
The Army's smaller watercraft (smaller landing craft, floating causeways, small tugs, etc.) are moved to the operational area either aboard leased commercial vessels or aboard Navy cargo ships. “The larger Army vessels (LCUs, LSVs, the larger tugs and the TSV) are self-deployable, meaning that they are capable of sailing anywhere in the world under their own power and manned by their own crews,” Harding says.
In places where the U.S. keeps cargo ships loaded for contingencies, it also keeps watercraft ready to support the logistics operation.  On Diego Garcia, for example, an island outpost in the Indian Ocean, prepositioning ships are stationed at the ready, loaded with weapons, ammunition, fuel and supplies to support the Marines, Army and even Air Force.  One ship carries an entire fleet hospital.
Several years ago I went aboard the MV Strong Virginian, a heavy-lift multipurpose vessel that at the time was supporting the Army’s prepositioned cargo operations on Diego Garcia. Strong Virginian , a lift-on/lift-off vessel, uses her 600-ton capacity cargo boom to lift extraordinarily heavy cargos, and therefore requires no shore-side assistance for cargo operations. Strong Virginian’s topside spaces were stacked with Army utility boats and landing craft to support in-theater cargo movement at undeveloped ports during contingencies.
“Once they've reached the operational area, the Army watercraft are manned by soldiers who have flown in from bases in the U.S.,” Harding says.
A sizeable portion of the Army fleet consists of tugs both large and small.  Being a tug boat sailor myself, I’m rather fond of tug boats, and over the years the Army has had some real workhorses.  Many of the service’s tugs have featured the classical lines long associated with tugs, but some of the newer craft – like the diminutive ST-900 class, have a new look.  The 60-foot ST-900 boats have a narrow one-man pilothouse.  At 100 tons, they are actually quite powerful for their size.  These tugs can be carried into theater aboard a larger ship.
The relationship between Army mariners and Navy sailors is a good one, in that the two groups often work together during logistics-over-the-shore exercises, according to Harding. Large Navy vessels bring Army vehicles and equipment to the operational area, where sailors and soldiers work together to offload the cargo onto smaller Army watercraft for the journey from ship to shore.
Harding says the Army's watercraft fleet is similar to the Navy's fleet of small craft in that both fleets are operated and maintained in the same ways. The same skills are important (seamanship, ship-handling, navigation, etc.), the ships are painted the same color (haze gray), and they operate in many of the same regions. The fleets are different, however, in that the Navy's fleet of landing craft is primarily intended to move people (Marines) from ship to shore, while Army landing craft are intended primarily to move cargo (Army vehicles and equipment) from ship to shore, and along rivers and other waterways within the operational area.

Harding tells me that he wrote his book for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is his expertise on the subject.  “First, I think Army watercraft do an important job, especially in supporting operations in Iraq, and I thought other people would be interested in hearing about the vessels and the jobs they do. Second, as the author of six other books, I was looking for a new topic to write about, and this topic has never been written about in book form. Third, because I have written a dozen or so magazine articles about Army watercraft, I'm about the only writer I know who could put this together.”


Captain Edward Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is a senior technical director with the Center for Security Strategies and Operations, Anteon Corporation, Washington, D.C.  He supports the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Directorate.

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