Tactical

Army activates first overseas watercraft unit in decades

The Army recently activated its first composite watercraft company outside the United States in decades, a move that comes as the service seeks to expand its maritime capabilities in the Indo-Pacific theater.

The 5th Transportation Company, a composite watercraft company, was activated on Feb. 8 at Yokohama North Dock, Yokohama, Japan, according to an Army release. The development was first reported by the U.S. Naval Institute.

The unit will include 13 ships and 285 Army mariners, Gen. Charles Flynn, commander of U.S. Army Pacific Command, said during a June 2023 change-of-command ceremony.

The unit’s equipment lineup, which was previously outlined in a 2021 Army release, features five landing craft utility vessels, four maneuver support vessels, two tugboats and a harbormaster operations detachment for maintenance.

Army Times previously reported that the Army Futures Command’s new Cross Functional Team-Contested Logistics is looking at expanding the use of autonomous watercraft to resupply soldiers in island chains across the Pacific, both during future exercises and in a potential conflict.

“Envision a swarm of these autonomous vessels going out to various island chains, not having to beach because we can have the UAVs come in, meet somewhere over the water, grab portions and take that area’s portion — ammo, food, blood, whatever it is — to the point of need,” said Rob Watts, team deputy director.

The Army announced the launch of a prototype Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) in October 2022, the first new class of Army watercraft in more than two decades. The vessel, a 100-foot-long landing craft with a 360-nautical mile range, will replace the Vietnam War-era Landing Craft Mechanized-8, according to the release.

The moves signal an about-face from developments in 2019, which indicated the Army was looking to cut its fleet of vessels despite a critical shortage of Navy transport ships for wartime scenarios, Army Times previously reported.

Then-Army Secretary Mark Esper informed Army senior leaders in January 2019 that they would take steps to “divest all watercraft systems” from the Army Reserve, where much of the force’s watercraft resides. But by August 2019, those plans had been paused, pending the results of a congressionally mandated study on the Army’s watercraft restructuring.

At an Association of the U.S. Army Sustainment forum in 2019, Maj. Gen. Steven Ainsworth, then-commander of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command in the Reserve, said 96% of the service’s watercraft companies were in the Reserve.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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