The Marine Corps and Office of Naval Research have extended their request for information (RFI) to industry on how to improve seabasing operations through future connector capabilities and improvements to interoperability among the current platforms, in the hopes of finding more capability-boosting tweaks hiding in plain sight.

The RFI was originally set to expire on Aug. 29 but has been extended to Nov. 28, Jim Strock, director of the Marine Corps’ Seabasing Integration Division, told Defense Daily in an Aug. 29 interview. “I’ve gotten some good input thus far and it was due to expire today, and now we have 90 more days.”

The Joint High Speed Vessel. Photo: U.S. Navy
The Joint High Speed Vessel. Photo: U.S. Navy

“Our goal is to ensure that as we look forward to developing connectors and refining our seabase platforms, our goal is to ensure that we have the greatest degree of interoperability between connectors and seabased platforms, and also the greatest degree of interoperability between the connectors themselves,” he said.

For example, during operational testing for the new Mobile Landing Platform, the ship demonstrated interoperability with the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) and the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), as well as skin-to-skin marriage with the Large Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off ship for transfer of goods at sea.

“We know in the future we want to see, can the [Landing Craft Utility] marry with the MLP (Mobile Landing Platform)? We don’t know,” Strock said. “It wasn’t the original design intent to do that, but we need to find out. It’s ideas like that. Can we bring the Navy’s Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) alongside MLP and operate that in tandem with a Joint High Speed Vessel for a three-way marriage of those capabilities?”

Strock said the responses to the RFI could help further fill out his long-term “large integration matrix,” by which he hopes to explore all manner of combinations of current and future seabasing assets and connectors–both surface and vertical lift–to explore the full range of options for moving goods around at sea.

Some of the testing will come naturally–the LCAC replacement, Ship-to-Shore Connector, will hit initial operational capability in fiscal year 2020, the JHSV is not even halfway through production and the MLP will hit IOC in early FY ’15, so a lot of testing is already scheduled. Still, that testing will only evaluate whether the platforms can operate with certain other platforms, based on the key performance parameters and other requirements. “What I’m talking about is taking it to the next level,” Strock said, and creating a matrix to test these new platforms against all manner of platforms in the Navy and in the joint force.

In many cases, current assets that are physically incapable of interfacing have relatively simple fixes. For example, the Navy built its INLS on its own, and the Army built a very similar Modular Causeway System. Strock said the two look very similar from a distance, but “I think the Navy’s system, the top of the barge for the lighter is eight feet above the water, and the Army’s system, the top of the lighter is four feet above the water. So these two things can’t work together.”

The solution, however, is the relatively simple Joint Universal Causeway Interface Module that ONR is working on now. Strock said the ideas he’s hoping to get from the RFI are not high-tech and expensive, but rather retrofits he can make to allow systems built at different times by different offices to work together in the joint-service seabase.

“I’ve concluded before and I’ll tell you again, there’s a lot of seabasing and connector capabilities out there that are probably hiding in plain sight, so we need to continue to examine them as these systems like the Mobile Landing Platform and Joint High Speed Vessel come online.”