The Army Abruptly Pulls Ship Auction Listings And Halts Plans To Slash Its Naval Fleet

The service had controversially planned to sell off dozens of ships and other watercraft, inactivating multiple units in the process.

General125 via Wikimedia

The U.S. Army, at least for the immediate future, has put plans on hold to gut its obscure and underappreciated fleets of amphibious ships, landing craft, tugs, and other maritime assets. The General Services Administration, or GSA, which had previously announced it would be auctioning off dozens of these vessels over the next year and a half, has pulled down all of the existing listings offline. The first to go was for USAV SSGT Robert T. Kuroda, one of the Army's eight General Frank S. Besson class Logistics Support Vessels, or LSVs, which disappeared shortly after The War Zone first reported it was up for sale and highlighted the potential controversy surrounding selling it.

On July 25, 2019, gCaptain, citing an anonymous source, was first to report that Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy had ordered an end to the previous plans to divest as many as two of the LSVs, along with 18 LCU-2000, up to 36 LCM-8 landing craft, 20 tugs, and a pair of floating crane barges. The memorandum reportedly also puts a stop to the inactivation of at least nine watercraft units and reassignment of those personnel to other positions with the Army. The LSVs, which you can read about them in more detail in this past profile at The War Zone, are the largest ships the Army has and Kuroda is one of the newset and most capable.

The War Zone had previously reached out to the Army for additional information about the sale of the various vessels, which the service refers to collectively as watercraft systems and that have earned the nickname "the Army's Navy," as well as the inactivations. We had been in contact with Army public affairs officials already and followed up again after gCaptain's report last week. At the time of writing, the service was still working with us to confirm the existence of McCarthy's order or to provide responses to our other queries.

However, the disappearance of the auction listings for Kuroda and various other Army vessels from the GSA website all but confirms that the divestments and inactivations have come to a halt, at least for the time being. It's not entirely clear why this happened or when the Army reversed course in its decision.

US Army

The USAV SSGT Robert T. Kuroda.

What we do know is that The War Zone first reported that the Kuroda, among other Army watercraft systems, was up for auction on the GSA's website on July 11, 2019. By the next day, that particular listing was gone, despite the auction listing having said it would be open for bidding through the end of the month.

At that time, GSA said that the Army would have been responsible for delisting the ship and that they did not have any specific information about why the service had done so. Listings for three tugs and a crane barge remained online. The banner advertisement, seen below, remained at the top of the GSA Auctions website.

GSA

A screenshot of the banner ad on the GSA Auctions website on July 11, 2019.

As of July 25, 2019, when gCaptain's report emerged, GSA had modified the banner ad to remove any mention of the LSVs. It subsequently disappeared completely, along with the listings for the tugs and the crane barge. This would suggest that the Army only made the decision to halt its watercraft plans entirely on or about July 25, even though the service appeared to have already reversed its decision to get rid of multiple LSVs immediately after The War Zone's report.

It remains unclear why exactly the Army decided to change course, but Army leadership is in the midst of its own transition. On July 23, 2019, the Senate confirmed Mark Esper, previously the Secretary of the Army, as Secretary of Defense. On July 25, 2019, Senators also confirmed U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Stefani Reynolds/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP Images

Mark Esper, now Secretary of Defense, at left, and U.S. Army General Mark Milley, who is set to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, during their respective confirmation hearings in July 2019.

How this impacted the Army's plans for its obscure naval fleets, or could continue to influence them in the immediate future, remains to be seen. Still, even if the service only expects the halt in its plans to be temporary, postponing the divestments and inactivations could provide an opportunity to reassess the decision. Members of Congress who have begun to see reports about the watercraft decisions in the media may also make their weight felt in any such discussions. The War Zone has received responses from readers that range from appalled to puzzled.

As The War Zone has noted on multiple occasions now, the Army's naval fleet offers important, organic capabilities for the service, especially with regards to a potential conflict in the Pacific region. The “tyranny of distance” there could easily mean Army units would find themselves operating across fronts thousands of miles from the main logistics hubs.

According to gCaptain, Advocates of significant cuts to the Army's watercraft fleets reportedly have argued that they fill roles better served by the U.S. Navy's new Expeditionary Transfer Dock logistics ships and the hovercraft landing craft that service is developing to replace its Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC), the latter of which The War Zone has covered in depth here. In 2011, the Navy had also taken exclusive ownership of were then called Joint High Speed Vessels (JSHV), which subsequently got renamed as Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transports, or EPFs. The Army had expected to use these catamaran vessels to help rapidly move personnel and equipment, especially around in the Pacific.

The remaining Army ships, especially the LSVs, could still help move cargo between intermediate staging points or within littoral areas without further straining the Navy's already heavily in demand amphibious and logistics ships, or having to hire additional chartered vessels. Contracted ships might not be willing or able to operate in a combat zone, either.

It had seemed particularly short-sighted to start the divestments with the 6,000-ton displacement Kuroda, which, together with her sister ship USAV Major General Robert Smalls, forms a subclass of the General Frank S. Besson class. These two ships, which are the youngest of the LSVs and cost $26 million to build, displace 1,800 tons more than the other six LSVs on account of a revised bow design and other features to improve their ocean-going capabilities, which would be particularly useful in a Pacific scenario. Kuroda and Smalls have a range of 6,500 miles and can discharge their cargos right on the beach without the need for specialized port facilities after arriving at their destination.

Army LSVs and other watercraft have also shown their worth during non-combat disaster relief and humanitarian assistance missions, again offering additional capabilities without having to further burden Navy ships or hire additional contracted vessels. The Puerto Rico Army National Guard also has a few of the landing craft, meaning they are even better positioned to respond to domestic crises there.

It remains to be seen how permanent the Army's decision to keep its watercraft fleets, as well as units that operate them, intact might be. For the immediate future, though, the Army's Navy has made an abrupt change of course and looks set to sail on for some time to come.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com