Today, up to 90% of all supplies delivered to US forces are by waterborne logistics. Army watercraft help provide Army and joint forces in theater opening missions or resupply operations. The Army has close to 300 watercraft vessels, built for varied missions, ranging from tugs to LSV's. The primary purpose is to provide delivery of all needed tonnage through fixed ports or beaches not accessible to deep draft vessels in order to sustain deployed forces.
In 1982, the US Army decided to officially name seagoing vessels built for, used by and manned by Army personnel. Up until that time, the US Army simply identified support vessels by their alpha-numeric assigned ID's. Logistic vessels needing to support Army operations by sea were divided into three types - LVS (Logistics Support Vessel), FS (Freight Supply Ship) and BDL (Beach Discharge Lighter). The decision in 1984 was to combine all types into one class - this being LVS.
The General Frank S. Besson-class is a Logistics Support Vessel (LSV) able to complete a number of mission types - from delivering humanitarian aid to island countries like Haiti in the Caribbean to service in the Middle East such as Iraq. The Besson-class is the largest support vessel in the United States Army and is designed to give the Army a global strategic capacity to deliver vehicles and cargo with a maximum gross tonnage of 2,000 short tons (though some vessels in the class have greater capacity). The ship has a flat bottom with bow and stern ramps and the ability to beach in as little as 6 ft of water. Operations in underdeveloped countries often have limited ports and capacity's to serve military sealift missions. The vessels that best support this type of use have shallow drafts able to transport varieties of cargoes with the ability to remain on station for long periods. The LSV has been built for supporting this mission. The bow, as advertised, was streamlined allowing the ship to move through rough water. When viewing the vessel from the front, the bow looks nearly flat and, with her flat bottom, the vessel's sea-keeping seems poor-to-average at best. She seems a perfect fit for costal missions and use in major rivers but perhaps not for those "deep blue" water voyages. However, her crew has already indicated two trips to Iraq with each crossing taking 45 days to complete from her home port.
The vessel's cargo deck is 10,500 square feet and designed to handle any vehicle currently in the US Army inventory and can carry 26 x main battle tanks or 30 x M2/M3 Bradley's. If the mission required it, the ship could hold 45+ x Light Armored Vehicles (LAV) or 37 x M1127 Strikers acting as an intra-theater line haul roll-on/roll-off cargo ship. On humanitarian-type missions, the load capacity can accommodate 48 or more 20 ft double-stacked cargo containers and, if needed, electrical power hook ups to handle refrigerated containers.
During Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, Army watercraft delivered tanks, ammunition and food stuffs to many locations along the Persian Gulf Coast.
Logistics Over-the-Shore missions (LOTS) using the LSV's moving at 12 knots or less meant getting nowhere fast. The US Army decided a need was at hand and the TSV (or Theater Support Vessel) was devised. The TSV will fill the same mission as the LSV's except with a greater capacity (1,250-ton) and helicopter pads suitable for large military helicopters and a two-part, hydraulic vehicle ramp that allows rapid loading and discharge of vehicles from the stern or port/starboard sides. The greatest modification is speed increases up to four times as much as an LSV. Additional advantages include the ability to better maneuver at greater distances off shore than the LSV while also reducing the number of vessels needed for a particular mission. In 2002, the Army leased the ship "Spearhead" from an Australian company. If all works out, the fleet is expected to increase to 17 vessels.
Today, as with the men and women that have gone before them in times past, the US Army soldier needs to be resupplied with ammunition, food, parts and more in order to sustain the mission at hand. The US Army family of watercraft supplying this logistical need is just what the doctor ordered.