Strategic Transport Integrated Naval Group (Sting)
Subject Area - Strategic Issues
Title: STRATEGIC TRANSPORT INTEGRATED NAVAL GROUP(STING)
Author: Major David D. Cobert, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: To develop a Marine unique capability to rapidly deploy a division-sized MAGTF, for any given crisis situation, and upon entry into theater, immediately employ the force for offensive operations.
Background: The Marine Corps is currently exploring ways to employ forces in crisis situations using the emerging concepts of Operational Maneuver From The Sea(OMFTS), Over The Horizon (OTH)and Ship To Objective Maneuver(STOM). However, these concepts ride on the principle of employing Marine forces from traditional gray bottom amphibious ships or utilizing newly designed MPF ships in conjunction with the Mobile Offshore Base or MOB concept.
My proposal is to merge the capabilities of MPF and the envisioned capabilities of the MOB into a single system, thereby giving the Marine Corps the ability to rapidly and seamlessly deploy and employ ground and air forces with minimal Ready To Operate(RTO) time. The savings in RTO would significantly improve the ability of the NCA to act and/or react to emerging crisis situations with the prompt and decisive introduction of offensively oriented, combat ready forces into a given theater.
Recommendation: That the STING concept proposed in this document be explored for feasibility as a viable alternative to traditional amphibious shipping and operations and as an alternative to the MOB concept.
This paper introduces the reader to a future concept called
the Strategic Transport Integrated Naval Group or STING. The
STING concept is similar to the Mobile Offshore Base or MOB
concept currently under development at the Naval Surface Warfare
Center at Carderock, Maryland 1, at the CNO's N-85 Expeditionary
Warfare Branch 2 and at the Marine Corps' Combat Development
Center 3. There are some important differences, however, in the
STING concept vice the MOB. Those differences are the speed,
flexibility and adaptability that the STING can bring to a crisis
situation when coupled with the emerging concepts of Operational
Maneuver from the Sea(OMFTS), Over The Horizon(OTH) and Ship to
Objective Maneuver (STOM). While the technical issues involving
STING have yet to be tested, it is this author's belief that
STING in conjunction with OMFTS, OTH and STOM will represent the
next significant step in the evolution of amphibious operations.
That step involves melding the rapid deployment capability of the
U.S. Army's 82d Airborne Division with the staying power of the
Marine Corps' Maritime Prepositioned Forces in order to give this
Nation a military response capability required for warfare in the
"Because of the time gap between strategic cause and effect, the successful strategist must mold the strategic environment
from the outset and seize the initiative, thereby forcing others to react. Simply put, policymakers or strategists who passively wait for an opponent to act can make no strategic decision of their own, and eventually will be at the mercy of their adversary. Thus, seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative allows one to set the strategic agenda, to shape the strategic environment in directions of one's choosing, and to force an opponent constantly to react to changing conditions that concomitantly inhibit his ability to regain the initiative.
Moreover, maintaining initiative provides a number of advantages beyond the ability to force an opponent to conform to one's purpose and tempo. Controlling the pace of events permits a closer connection of ends, ways, and means. This, in turn, promotes more effective and more efficient implementation of policy. It provides increased freedom of action in formulating and adapting strategy to the evolving context."4
As a construct for understanding the STING concept, the
following short story illustrates how operational initiative,
using the STING as a combat multiplier, can have a significant
effect on the strategic environment within international affairs.
January 10, 2010, the NCA just received an intelligence
warning that the country of Ankar is massing forces along the
Bengali-Ankar Border Zone (BABZ). In anticipation of possible
contingency operations, the NCA ordered the Marine Corps' newest
fleet of MPF Strategic Transport Integrated Naval Group (STING)
ships into the region. CINCPAC has dispatched a CVBG into the
region as well. Elements of the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps and
an Air Force Tactical Air Wing have also been put on alert
status. The I Marine Expeditionary Force has been issued a
warning order to prepare for possible contingency operations.
The Bengali-Ankar Border Zone (BABZ) is part of a long
running dispute over resources and territory between Bengali to
the north and Ankar to the south. The mineral-rich border zone
is a mountainous 200 mile wide region which equally straddles the
east-west international border between the two countries. The
BABZ runs perpendicular to the south flowing Tiger River. Both
sides claim the entire region based on ancestral and political
The Tiger River, long a source of economic wealth for both
nations, stretches nearly the entire length of both countries and
empties into a vast river delta to the south in Ankar. Bengali is
in the process of constructing a large hydro-electric dam at the
only feasible geographic location just north of the BABZ. Once
completed, the dam will provide additional irrigation sources and
will also provide a major source of power for further foreign
investment and industrial development. The dam in 90% complete.
Unfortunately for Ankar, the Tiger River is also of major
import to this country which relies on a network of streams and
manmade canals to feed its farmlands. Additionally, the Tiger
River is the only source of water for the majority of Ankar's
population. If the Tiger River is dammed, major portions
of Ankar's farmland will become deserts, further reducing
agricultural production in a country with little arable land.
Negotiations concerning the dispute have been on-going for
the past five years in the U.N. General Assembly, ever since the
Bengali Peoples' Coalition (BPC) first announced the dam project.
Numerous Ankari opposition parties have put pressure on the
newly elected Ankar Popular Government (APG) to stop the dam
project. Bengali opposition parties have also threatened
political anarchy if the BPC does not act immediately to protect
the dam project.
On January 29th, Ankar military forces launched a violent
and devastating attack north into the disputed region, forcing
Bengali border forces to fight a delaying action. Ankar's intent
is to seize and destroy the dam and construction site and
force a shift of their border north of the construction site.
This shift would place the bulk of the BABZ within Ankar's
Since Bengali's independence in 2005, the United States
has been the defacto guarantor of Bengali sovereignty. The BPC
therefore placed the majority of its national treasure into
economic development vice military readiness, the Tiger River dam
being the centerpiece of its development program. Bengali is
counting on the Tiger River dam to give it an edge both
politically and economically within the region. The loss or
destruction of the Tiger River dam would have a major negative
impact on Bengali both economically and politically, setting the
country back 10 or more years and possibly destabilizing the
entire region. The BPC has issued a strong denunciation of the
invasion and has called upon the United States for immediate
Ankar forces have enough provisions to sustain offensive
operations for 6 days, thereafter, resupply of its forces
becomes tenuous. Ankar is counting on being able to accomplish
its military objectives within 5 days, where upon the APG will
seek a cessation of hostilities in order to negotiate with
Bengali from a position of strength.
Intelligence sources indicate that although the Ankari
forces are mostly footmobile with some truck mounted and some
mechanized forces; if left unchecked, they could accomplish their
objectives within 5-7 days. Within 24 hours of the opening of
hostilities, I MEF ground combat units are airborne aboard C-17s
on their way to link up with the MPF (STING) ships already on
station 100 miles off the Ankar coast. Within 48 hours, I MEF
ground and air forces will be engaged with Ankari military
forces. Within 96 hours, I MEF forces will have forced a
cessation in hostilities and will have caused the withdrawal of
Ankari military forces out of the BABZ. Within 7 days, I MEF
forces will have turned over peace enforcement duties to lead
elements of the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps and will have nearly
completed the backload and retrograde of personnel and equipment
from the BABZ AO.
The above fictionalized account of a international crisis
centers on the need to resolve the conflict quickly with the
introduction of U.S. military forces. In this scenario, time
becomes the all important critical factor. Indeed, in a recent
lecture at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, a
distinguished speaker noted that; "future forces will have to
fight upon arrival...there will be no more six month buildup of
forces such as we saw in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Time is
not only the critical factor, but [it] is also the implicit
parameter in future conflicts." 5 In other words, the future of
international conflict resolution through the application of
military force is TIME. Time is such a factor in future
conflicts, that the United States has spent billions of dollars
developing global reach airlift and sealift assets and continues
to build and maintain costly forward deployed naval, ground and
air forces, although many of those assets have been relocated
to the continental U.S.
Not only is time a factor in future international conflicts
but unpredictability in the international scene and a declining
military budget weighs heavily into how this Nation should plan
for future conflicts. The convergence of these factors have
caused the Department of Defense and the Services to think of
innovative ways in which deploy and employ military forces.
The Marine Corps, with its long history of innovation, both
technologically and doctrinally, stands again at the forefront of
leading the other Services in the deployment and employment of
military forces. The innovation of the MPF program, the V-22 and
AAAV and the doctrinal development of OMFTS and its twin
sub-doctrines of Over The Horizon (OTH) and STOM points the way
for employing our Navy and Marine forces in the future. What is
missing, however, is the next step beyond traditional amphibious
operations, i.e., beyond PERMA and its associated time in
executing these operations.
The Marine Corps, as an institution, is still wedded to the
idea that Marines, when not part of a forward deployed MEU(SOC)
or an MPF, must embark aboard amphibious (gray bottom) shipping,
steam to an Amphibious Objective Area (AOA), and conduct an
assault. This is a slow process even under the best of
circumstances. Even with the innovations of the V-22 and AAAV,
the same basic principles of PERMA apply when dealing with the
deployment of forces larger than a MEU(SOC). Although the Marine
Corps developed and validated the concept of Maritime
Prepositoned Force shipping as a means of speeding the deployment
of Marine forces overseas, a concept the U.S. Army is quickly
adopting for its own forces, a newer approach is needed. This is
especially true when facing short response times in future
conflicts or the unavailability of shorebased ports or airfields.
The development of the MOB has been touted as the answer to
the problem of rapidly deploying and linking up forces at sea,
which could conceptually reduce deployment and employment time.
Although the concept is technically feasible, the MOB still
falls short of the Marine Corps' real need. That need is
the ability to SEAMLESSLY project forces into a fight ANYWHERE in
the world as RAPIDLY as the U.S.Army's 82nd Airborne Division
while at the same time giving that force the SUSTAINMENT and
FLEXIBILITY associated with a traditional amphibious ships. The
key to making a Marine force rapid, powerful and sustainable is
the ability to drive down the "Ready To Operate"(RTO) time of
that force as it transitions from deployment to employment; i.e.,
reduce RTO from flying time to fighting time. Time, as
mentioned before, is the critical factor. Time is what STING
gives to the CINC and to the NCA during a crisis.
The STING represents the relatively simple idea of merging
the MOB concept with the traditional MPS ship. MPF (STING) ships
are newer class merchant container ships which are part of the
MPSRONs that are forward deployed in each of the world's
major oceans--the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian. The main
innovation is that all of the MPSRON ships have been modified
with a lightweight and flexible folding flightdeck. This
cantilevered flightdeck runs 500' in length, from the ship's
superstructure to the bow, and 300' in width, when fully extended
from its downward travel position.
When called upon, 12 MPF(STING) ships steam at 30+ knots
toward a selected rendezvous site near the crisis location. Upon
arriving in the crisis area, the ships extend their flightdecks
and perform linking operations which marry them together,
"pontoon-bridge" fashion, into a 3600' long by 500' wide flight
deck, able to accommodate C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft and a
variety of rotary wing aircraft to include the V-22. The
flightdeck structure on each ship is composed of lightweight
"smart materials" 6 which can sense shifts in stress and torque
at the critical linking positions and can adjust accordingly.
The entire length of flightdeck is further stabilized at zero
degrees using a GPS-computer controlled hydraulic system which
adjusts the entire platform to the pitch, roll and yawl of
each ship. The overall effect is similar to a rigid vehicle
frame traveling over a bumpy road with 12 independent suspension
wheels absorbing the shock.
Each ship is combat loaded with equipment for Marine
mobile/mechanized units and contains two LCACs and an Air
Cushioned Vehicle Landing Platform (ACVLAP)5, for rapid
instream offload of rolling stock. Supplies, both bulk and
liquid, are loaded in small, square, containerized, air-
transportable pods stored underneath the flightdeck. They are
readily accessible to the flightdeck or to the well deck of the
ship. Among the 12 ship STING configuration, there is one TAH
hospital ship and two TAVBs (one Marine and one Air Force). All
three of these ships are configured with the 500' by 300'
flightdeck which can link together with the other MPF(STING)
The flightdeck itself is capable of handling take-offs and
landings along the outer 250' wide by 3600' long runway portion
of the flightdeck, along with simultaneous troop unloading
operations along the inner 250' wide by 3600' long ramp area. A
500' by 300' maintenance area at the far end of the flight deck
is reserved for strategic aircraft repair, which incidentally is
part of the Air Force TAVB.
An open air troop tramway runs along the length of the
flightdeck near the superstructures of each ship. Wide-aisle
escalators, located near each ships' superstructure, allow easy
access to the lower decks containing the vehicles and equipment.
The STING ships also have modularized C2 components which give a
CJTF and his staff a redundant capability to run operations from
the MPF (STING).
Once the STING is formed, the ground elements of a division-
sized MAGTF could deploy with minimal equipment i.e. personal
equipment and a basic ammunition load, land on the STING
flightdeck and immediately, depending on the location of the
STING to the coastline, go into the assault using the STING as a
"regional airport" transfer point. Ideally, without a coastal
missile threat or a significant air threat, Marines would
disembark from C-17 or C-130 transports, move to awaiting AAAVs
and/or standby for inbound V-22s/CH-53s and launch from the STING
without it delinking. This, of course, would be the ideal
situation, however, a more realistic scenario would be one in
which the Marines, after offloading from strategic airlift, would
stage temporarily below decks while the STING delinked and moved
into dispersed attack positions in order to negate missile or
The beauty of the STING system is its speed, flexibility and
adaptability to the situation at hand. The STING can delink and
reform at will depending on weather conditions, enemy threats or
simply to provide various sized flightdeck configurations for
different types of aircraft. This is not to say that the MOB
cannot perform some of these functions; however, the MOB or a
series of MOBs, as currently envisioned, must be prestaged in
specific geographic locations, i.e., the most likely crisis
areas, in order to make up for its slower speed. Furthermore,
although the MOB can provide a 3000'- 4000' long by 300' wide
runway, it still requires MPF ships to rendezvous with the
structure in order to complete the marriage of personnel and
equipment. This cannot be considered a seamless operation.
The MOB also represents a system which, aside from its
estimated costs at between $2.67 billion and $4.14 billion, 7
could become an unused floating "white elephant," should the
situation not require an offshore airfield. Even in the
envisioned MOB configurations that depict warehoused equipment
aboard each module, the size and seakeeping characteristics of
the modules themselves negate their ability to "make port" to
offload their cargo and equipment. This again severely reduces
the flexibility of the system and almost invites an "if you build
it [the MOB], they will come" situation, whether or not it is
really needed. Furthermore, although the MOB has been evaluated
to withstand seastate 6 conditions and greater, the current and
future LCACs and AAAVs will only to operate in seastate 3.
MPF(STING) ships can, if the situation dictates, offload in
port or in stream in the traditional manner and can backload and
reconstitute forces from a seaport upon completion of the
operation after it has delinked. Above seastate 3, amphibious
operations would normally be suspended; therefore, STING ships
can, as mentioned earlier, rapidly delink and seek better sea
conditions within or outside the crisis area in order to perform
its personnel and equipment marriage. Thereafter, the ships can
again be dispatched and used as any amphibious ship would be used
in an amphibious operations.
Given the Marine Corps' reputation for innovation, the
next issue is; "how does STING fit into the over Naval
warfighting structure?" What is envisioned is that the STING
concept will eventually replace traditional amphibious
gray-bottom ships and would, in fact, be the "new" class
amphibious ship utilizing industry standard container ships and
bulk carriers as the baseline ship.
The idea of using commercial ships adapted for amphibious
use, vice constructing highly specialized Navy ships for that
purpose, is not without precedence. Not only has this been a
maritime tradition based on economies of scale, but the overall
requirements of transporting military personnel and equipment has
changed little since the time the Romans landed at Carthage. The
difference, of course, is the rapidity of movement of modern
vessels, the adaptation of aircraft for ship use and the
ability to conduct forcible entry operations.
STING, as an integral part of a total Naval force which
would be either already on station within the crisis location or
deployed from CONUS, has that ability to rapidly deploy and
employ large Marine combat forces into a crisis location in order
to force a quick cessation of hostilities. The STING can
provide these capabilities in the form of a "coup de main" in a
crisis situation and, if needed, the "coup de grace" would come
from follow-on heavy Army and Air Forces.
Current MPF forces, on the other hand, still apply the
archaic principles of building up forces ashore in a "benign"
environment, moving to contact with an enemy force, and blunting
an onslaught. STING forces, however, can be inserted within 2
to 3 days of the onset of hostilities and can surprise an enemy
force by the sheer weight of numbers at any point within the
battlespace. The age old adage that says mass, in terms
of men and material, has a quality all its own will be as true
for future conflicts as it has been for past conflicts. STING
gives the Marine Corps that mass. STING also gives the Marine
Corps time. Mass and time equals victory on the future
Notwithstanding the opening scenario, one need only to ask
what the outcome could have been during the opening days of the
Korean conflict in 1950 had a STING force been available to
either blunt the Korean onslaught or conduct an Inchon landing
earlier in the campaign. Would the Japanese Malayan
campaign of WWII or the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive of
1975 have been as successful had the enemy contended with the
rapid insertion of a U.S. STING force?
Finally, would the British have been forced to take such
costly casualties, if they would have been able to rapidly
introduce heavy ground and air forces into the Falklands using an
MPF (STING) force to counter the Argentine buildup at Port
Stanley? As one can see, the rapid introduction of forces into a
conflict which can fight and sustain themselves upon arrival,
utilizing a STING concept, could produce the greatest tactical,
operational and strategic advantage for any nation willing to
In sum, this concept attempts to demonstrate how, with some
imagination and some innovative ways at looking at a particular
problem, the Marine Corps could advance along the evolutionary
track of amphibious operations. Although many technical aspects
of STING must be worked out, operational issues concerning
employment of this system are no more challenging than the
challenges faced by the amphibious planners of the 1920s and 30s.
Having the will to leap forward in bold and innovative moves vice
taking incremental "baby steps" has always been the hallmark of
the Marine Corps.
What is needed for the STING concept to work is the
willingness to test it and find the ever present "holes"
which accompany any new idea, and to develop workable
solutions to solving the many challenges that the concept
proposes. Given where the Marine Corps has been and where it
must go, the challenges for developing a more rapid and seamless
Marine force to better meet future CINC requirements must be
explored and overcome, if the Marine Corps is to remain a viable
entity now and in the future.
1 Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, Year in Review-1994 (Carderock, MD: GPO 1994) 13.
2 Memorandum for the Director, Assessment Division, N-85 (Washington: Ser N853/4U650298 23 Nov 94).
3 Major Jay Sorg, USMC, MPF 2010 Concept Brief for CMC, Quantico, VA, 6 December 1995.
4 Johnsen, W.T., Johnson II, D.V., Kievit, J.O., Lovelace, Jr., D.C., Metz, S., The Principle of War in the 21st Century,
Strategic Considerations, (The Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College Publication, Ft. Levenworth, KS 1 August 1995). 96.
5 Command and Staff College Lecture, 15 January 1996, Quantico, VA.
6 Curt Suplee, "Structures with a Sense of Self," The Washington Post 6 January 1996: A3.
7 N-85 MOB Brief (Washington: 21 November 1995) 9.
Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, Year in Review-1994. Carderock, MD: GPO 1994: 13.
Memorandum for the Director, Assessment Division, N-85,
Mobile Offshore Base(MOB). Washington, DC: Ser N853/4U650298:
23 November 1994.
Sorg, Jay, Major, USMC, MPF 2010 Concept Brief for CMC. Quantico, VA: 6 December 1995.
Johnsen, W.T., Johnson II, D.V., Kievit, J.O., Lovelace, Jr., D.C., Metz, S., The Principle of War in the 21st Century,
Strategic Considerations. The Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College Publication, Ft. Levenworth, KS: 1 August 1995: 96.
Command and Staff College, Lecture. Quantico, VA: 15 January 1996.
Suplee, Curt, "Structures with a Sense of Self." The Washington Post: 6 January 1996: A3.
CNO, N-85, MOB Brief. Washington: 21 November 1995: 9.
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