Strategic Transport Integrated Naval Group (Sting)


CSC 1997


Subject Area - Strategic Issues






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


21st century.


"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


military assistance.


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


aircraft threats.







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


employ it.


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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