US ORDER OF BATTLE: TSUNAMI RELIEF
Thanks to an alert reader for pointing my attention to this piece from last week. Marine Lieutenant General Conway, the Director of Operations or J-3 for the Joint Staff, sayeth thus:
We have committed at this point six C-130 aircraft for airlift support. They will be operating out of the airbase at Utapao. We have committed nine P-3 aircraft, four of which will operate out of Utapao. The other five will operate out of Diego Garcia. As we speak, there are at least two P-3s in the air, conducting that initial observation and reconnaissance of some of the damage sites to further the assessment. The Lincoln Carrier Strike Group was in Hong Kong. It has been diverted now to the Gulf of Thailand. It has aircraft in the air doing a reconnaissance of the Molucca Straits to check for debris before it would transit. If it's clear, and early reports indicate that it might be, the five ships associated with that carrier strike group will take position off the island of Sumatra. It has embarked aboard 12 helicopters, which we find extremely valuable in these types of scenarios, that will be employed depending upon the results of the assessment team. The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group was in Guam. It is foregoing port visits there and in Singapore to move rapidly to the Bay of Bengal. It's estimated to be on station sometime on or before 7 January. It has seven ships associated with the strike group, carries 25 helicopters, which will be valuable to us again in disaster relief. There are four additional Cobras that will also be instrumental, we think, in reconnaissance efforts. Twenty-one hundred Marines, 1,400 sailors embarked aboard the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group and 15th MEU. The commander has also opted to move five of his prepositioned ships out of the squadron located in Guam. These five ships have fresh-water-producing capability. Each ship can produce 90,000 gallons of fresh water a day, and of course that'll be extremely valuable as we have a number of requests already for fresh-water supply. There is a sixth ship that has a field hospital embarked aboard that can be phased ashore, again, dependent upon the results of the assessment teams and the need. Just before I stepped over I discovered or was told that there are two additional ships out of the squadron located at Diego Garcia that Admiral Fargo is also ordering to action. They will embark as soon as possible and get under way, again, for assignment in the affected region. Those two ships also have a 90,000-gallon fresh- water production capability.Quick thoughts on this: This will be a major test of the Expeditionary Strike Group concept, which is a marriage of seven or so Navy ships and subs, with a full Amphibious Readiness Group, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. This marriage first started in the fall of 2003 with the deployment of the 11th MEU. It is the latest incarnation of the centuries-old Navy-Marine Corps team and we'll see it in action. The 15th MEU was headed in that direction anyway for Iraq. it has just been expedited in its journey [quick aside: wonder what it was like to be on a large ship in open water when the tsunami struck? haven't heard much about this . . .] Next thought: the five prepositioned ships from the squadron located in Guam is Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron Three, or MPSRON-3 to those in the know. The US possesses three of these squadrons and they are truly an awesome capability: each squadron carries enough equipment for an entire Marine Expeditionary Brigade – 17,000 personnel, give or take, and can sustain such a force for 30-60 days or so with no follow-on logistics. [Interesting bit of trivia: each MPSRON ship is named after a Medal of Honor recipient. Take the MV 1st LT Baldomero Lopez for example, named after a Korean War hero. 1st Lt Lopez was famously photographed right before he died, leading his Marines in the invasion of Inchon.] Also, while this squadron is based in Guam, it is unlikely that they were all there. The ships usually "go from port to port" to use a gratuitous Austin Powers reference. So while for now the US is making do by flying in supplies on C-130s into Thai airfields and ferrying supplies from the Lincoln battle group with the few helicopters aboard, the real action will start in about three or so days when the Expeditionary Strike Group gets on station and its helicopters, especially its CH-46s and CH-53s are on hand. MEUs are also trained for humanitarian relief before they deploy . . . while the Lincoln can do a little, this is really the bread and butter of an expeditionary force like the Expeditionary Strike Group. Still more to come tonight . . .