MPF[F] Developments

In the early 1980's, the Department of the Navy sought to counteract the post-Vietnam War reduction in amphibious lift capability and to provide theater assets in the Arabian Gulf after the fall of the Shah of Iran. The result was the Near-Term Prepositioning Ships, which contained the equipment and supplies for a combined arms Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The goal was to combine the cargo capacity of prepositioned ships with the speed of transport aircraft delivering a "Fly In Echelon" of Marines to quickly form a combat-ready brigade in-theater. The concept proved successful, and the program was expanded to replace the near term ships with three squadrons of MPS, each prepositioned in a forward theater, ready to meet with a fly-in echelon of Marines. These three squadrons are today's maritime prepositioning force.

The leases on the current Maritime Prepositioning Ships begin to expire in 2009. The Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future) - MPF(F) - will be a key enabler to sea-based operations. It will allow Marines to better exploit the maneuver space provided by the sea to conduct joint operations at a time and place of their choosing.

The MPF Future concept was articulated by the Marine Corps in 1997 as a result of the changing world environment and a coincident change in Marine Corps operational doctrine. This doctrine supposes that land bases in-theater may be more difficult to obtain. The Marine Corps changed doctrine to minimize the amount of shore-based support required for a Marine expeditionary brigade, and to call for operations from the sea whenever possible. The Marine Corps need is driving the new MPF(F) system, even before the current MPS squadrons are set to retire.

The FY 2005 Budget accelerated the lead MPF (F) from FY 2008 to FY 2007 to reflect an emphasis on Sea Basing capabilities. The Fiscal Years 2005-2009 plan procures three MPF (F) ships and advanced construction for an MPF (F) Aviation variant. The goal is to have the initial operational capability of the first MPF(F) ship in 2011. The Analysis of Alternatives for MPF(F) was completed in 2004.

Navy officials met at the Pentagon in July 2004 to discusss plans for MPF(F). A point decision was not expected as the outcome of the [MPF(F) summer meeting. The goal was to progress to a point decision in the fall of 2004. The ship design and approach for MPF(F) was a radical departure from the past. Some of the things, such as roofs on ships, were trying to exploit the significant investment the Navy and Marines were making in new aviation. MPF(F) vessels are envisioned using helicopters and V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, but not fixed-wing jets such as the Joint Strike Fighter. The requirement is to land two Marine battalions within eight to 10 hours, one by surface and one by air, within the hours of darkness. And also to provide sustainment for two brigades ashore, either Marine or Army. One requirement is to do a selective off load in sea state four. The MPF-F ships would contain most of the material needed to sustain the force in the first 20 days of operations. They would also hold all of the equipment for the follow-on assault units that would be transported to the war zone by aircraft or high-speed vessels.

In the FY-05 budget process, appropriators significantly cut the MPF(F) program. The proposed FY-06 budget the Navy submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense in August 2004 delayed construction of the lead MPF(F) vessel from FY-07 to FY-09, leaving only four such vessels in the long-term budget.

In May 2005 Secretary of the Navy Gordon England made a decision on the MPF(F) squadron configuration, of 14 ships. The squadron design, as well as the number of squadrons (anywhere up to three), was undetermined as of late 2005.

The FY 2005 budget provided for ships in the National Defense Sealift Fund (NDSF). The NDSF budget includes funding for the development of mission variants for the FY 2007 MPF(Future) and the FY 2009 MPF(Aviation). Budget also includes MPF(F) C2 Variant lead hull contruction costs incrementally funded begining FY 2007. Follow-on hulls (qty 2) remain funded under NDSF BLI 011000.

Acceleration of the lead MPF(F) from Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2007 in the Fiscal Year 2005 budget reflects an emphasis on Seabasing capabilities. The Fiscal Years 2005-2009 plan procures three MPF (F) ships and advanced construction for an MPF(F) Aviation variant.

By early 2005 the two major US shipbuilders - General Dynamics (GD) and Northrop Grumman - proposed alternatives to options to the MPF(F). Rather than a new, single MPF-F ship, both shipbuilders proposed spreading the task among several vessels. This would take ships being built today at a known cost, rather than design new ones like the MPF-F at an unknown price. Using existing design and shipbuilding infrastructure could reduce the cost of the projects.

General Dynamics proposed alternatives to the MPF-F, including a new combatant-like aviation-focused ship with a high degree of survivability, called the Joint Strike Ship (JSS) and another, based on commercial designs optimised for cargo, called the Joint Preposition Ship (JPS).

A Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) MPF(F) Milestone Decision Review was scheduled for 09 June 2005, but was delayed.

With some estimates suggesting a cost of $30 billion per MPF(F) squadron, in May 2005 the Navy and Marines decided to follow a strategy uing existing vessels and designs. Under this plan, which was submitted to Congress on 06 June 2005, a combination of classes would be used in 14-ship squadrons. These would include two LHA-R amphibious assault ships, one LHD general-purpose amphibious assault ship, three modified T-AKE Lewis and Clark-class auxiliary cargo and ammunition ships, three modified Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-on/Roll-off (LMSR) ships and a pair of existing pre-position force ships.

The new plan include three of a new class of ship called the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), a carrier for LCACs [Landing Craft Air Cushion]. The MLP would be a troop carrier and a staging location where forces could marry up with their equipment before going ashore on LCACs or by air. The MLP would be 800 ft (244 m) long and built to commercial standards. It would be a semi-submersible, abiled to "pump up and pump down" to ease taking on cargo. The ships would have speeds of about 20 kt (37 km/h).

As of early 2006 it was established that the MPF(F) squadron will be comprised of two LHA Replacement large-deck amphibious ships, one LHD large-deck amphibious ship, three T-AKE cargo ships, three LMSR cargo ships, three Mobile Landing Platform ships with troops, and two legacy "dense-pack" MPF ships taken from existing squadrons. The Mobile Landing Platforms, the only new-design ships in the plan, will be based on current technology. This mix of ships will be capable of prepositioning critical equipment and 20 days of supplies for the future MEB.

The total cost for the squadron is estimated to be $14.5 billion. By substituting three MPF(F) civilian-crewed ( ) big-deck assault ships operated by the MSC for regular Navy amphibious landing ships, the Navy will save up to three thousand active-duty billets.

To maximize their cargo capacity, legacy prepositioning ships are "dense packed" with vehicles and supplies. This makes the selective off-load of particular items difficult. During Operatoin Iraq Freedom Army logisticians unloaded eight hundred containers from an ammunition container ship to get at the 560 they wanted. To provide the space necessary to move cargo about internally, selective-offload T-AKE and LMSR ships would be less densely packed. Selective-offload ships woudl carry less cargo than regular cargo ships of equivalent size and would be designed with roomier holds with fewer impediments to the movement of matériel.

The squadron will be supported by a single high-speed ship, sometimes referred to as the Rapid Strategic Lift Ship (RSLS), which would deliver nondeployable helicopters to the squadron's three big-deck amphibious ships. At an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, this would result in a total squadron cost of $15.8 billion, not counting the equipment stored inside the ships.

The future Maritime Prepositioning MPF(F) Squadron will be part of the transformational SEABASING capability as defined in the SEABASING Joint Integrating Concept and will provide the key capability of a rapid response force of a 2015 MEB in support of the 1-4-2-1 strategy. MPF(F) with its associated aircraft, personnel, logistic chains, and surface and air connectors will provide rapid force closure and support forcible entry through at-sea arrival and assembly and force employment from the Seabase. In addition, it will replace current aging MPS capability.

The Fiscal Year 2007 Budget request includes $86M of National Defense Sealift R&D funds to develop technologies to support future sea basing needs in MPF(F). The first MPF(F) ships are planned for Fiscal Year 2009 with advanced funding scheduled in Fiscal Year 2008. The proposed family of ships solution is a low cost, low risk solution for meeting the MPF(F) requirements. The solution leverages existing ship designs to control risk while allowing for broad participation of the industrial base.

To help pay for the sea-basing squadron, the current thirty-five-ship amphibious force will fall to thirty-one ships, with a combined lift capability of no more than 1.9 MEBs. Under the best of circumstances, then, it appears that the total number of Marine expeditionary brigade equivalents that the Navy will be able to lift in the future will be less than it can today: the current Sea-Based Transport Force can lift 4.9 MEBs (1.9 brigades on amphibious ships plus three brigades on MPF ships), whereas the planned future force will lift no more than 3.9 MEBs (1.9 brigades on amphibious ships, 1.0 on MPF[F] ships, and 1.0 on legacy MPF ships).

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