5 years, 4 months ago
In The 26th MEU, the USS San Antonio, and Military Equipment, we detailed our objections to the job that Northrup Grumman had done in constructing the amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio, with its snarled electrical cables, unreliable steering, and general poor craftsmanship throughout the physical plant. It is wasteful of time and resources, and certainly hampers the ability of the U.S. Marines to perform during their duties.
In a time when pirates are endangering shipping lanes in the extremely busy Gulf of Aden, the U.S. Marines should be engaging and killing pirates. Ralph Peters, OpFor and The Captain’s Journal have weighed in describing the solution to the problem of pirates. But the Marines are wasting time in Bahrain rather than contributing to the global war on terror or protecting shipping lanes.
The USS San Antonio has yet another major mechanical problem. It has sprung an oil leak, and is in port in Bahrain to repair and weld piping.
Their ship is stuck at a Bahraini port, but that doesn’t mean extra liberty for some leathernecks with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Marines and sailors with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based MEU who are aboard the amphibious transport dock San Antonio “continue to train aboard and from that vessel,” according to a MEU spokesman.
The ship’s maiden deployment with the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group out of Norfolk, Va., was interrupted Oct. 31 when it entered a yard in Bahrain to fix major oil leaks. Navy officials projected the maintenance would be finished within two weeks. This marks the latest problem for the ship, which has been plagued with performance problems, and was delivered late and $1 billion over budget.
But problems with the ship — criticized Monday by Navy Secretary Donald Winter, who said he “continues to be unsatisfied” with its performance — have not stopped its Marine inhabitants from participating in training exercises and classes.
“This training includes leadership, martial arts, physical training, infantry and other job-skills training they would normally conduct underway,” MEU spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper said in an e-mail. “Accessibility to land actually expands these Marines’ opportunities to conduct physical and small-unit training outside the confines of the ship, and unit leaders exploit these opportunities whenever possible.”
Elements of the MEU’s battalion landing team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, and Combat Logistic Battalion 26, are on the ship, but they were not scheduled to participate in current training exercises, Piper said.
The 26th MEU set sail for a six-month deployment aboard the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, the San Antonio and dock landing ship Carter Hall Aug. 29. Those ships are currently in the 5th Fleet area of operation.
As expected, the Marines and Navy put a good face on this, but many Marines are surely grumbling under their breath, while their brothers suffer in Afghanistan, pirates plague the Gulf of Aden, and Islamists continue their takeover of Somalia. The long war is proving to be too difficult to encounter these kinds of problems during deployment. With radiograph, dye penetrant testing, and visual inspection, there is absolutely no excuse – none – for welding problems to become manifest while at sea on a new ship. This demonstrates that there is a QA problem somewhere that badly needs to be fixed.
But this also raises the important question of whether the existing MEU structure is the best way to implement the strategic vision of the Marine Corps Commandant for an expeditionary force. It might be wise to train to perform naval-based and amphibious operations, and perhaps this should be among the regular qualifications of Marines of all billets. But first of all, the use of an MEU with all of its expense, to work out the problems associated with a new ship is a questionable value judgment. Second, the use of a Battalion Landing Team (BLT) to spend seven months aboard a ship performing humanitarian missions, shows of force and practice maneuvers while their brother suffer in Afghanistan and pirates maraud the Gulf of Aden forces the question of whether command deployed this MEU in the most efficient manner to perform the most important mission.