MONROVIA, Liberia (NNS) -- Over a four-day period Sailors and Marines conducting the West Africa Training Cruise (WATC) 08, under the command of Africa Partnership Station (APS), successfully built and used the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) for it's first sea trial.
"WATC '08 started from numerous events put together under one exercise that falls under APS," said Lt. Col. Roy Edmonds, lead planner, Marine Forces Europe. "Sailors and Marines from 4th Marine Logistics Group and Naval Beach Group 2 are here to demonstrate sea basing capabilities by bringing together multiple building block like structures and putting them together to create a mobile platform at sea."
The INLS is a redesign of a floating dock system originally used during World War II. Composed of smaller component links the system pieces can lock together to create ferries, causeway piers, or roll-on, roll-off discharge facilities to transport cargo and equipment from ship to shore while leaving a minimal footprint tailored to the individual mission.
The construction began aboard container & roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Lance Cpl. Roy M. Wheat (T-AK-3016) when various commands from Naval Beach Group 2 worked together to crane the links off of the ship and combine them into their final structures.
"Usually when we do stuff like this it's pier side in Jacksonville and it is different doing this on water," Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Antoine Salik, crane operator, Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 said. "On the pier you have no pitch and roll it's just lift and put it on the pier, unlike how it is out here on the ship but we adapt and over come."
Once the construction on the INLS components was completed the discharge facility was transported to container & roll-on/roll-off ship USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo (T-AK-3008) where it was loaded with Marine Corps vehicles.
"Putting together a mobile platform at sea that we can lift on, lift off Marine Corps vehicles is similar to the capability that is provided to us through causeway ferries. Now we can move those vehicles from one platform to another platform while altogether sustaining the force at sea," Edmonds said. "What this does is it gives us really a robots' capability to operate off shore and move equipment and personnel to ports that we can operate out of."
The vehicles were then transported to the staging deck aboard amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) where the ship's crew and the members of Assault Craft Unit 2, piloting the roll-on, roll off discharge facility, would attempt to dock an INLS structure in a well deck for the first time.
"We got to play a significant role in proving our capability, to take a written concept like ILNS and make it a successful executable operation for moving equipment and personnel from ship to sea base to shore," Fort McHenry 1st Lieutenant, Lt. Diane Middleton said.
"I think the reason it went so smoothly is the cooperation and teamwork between the Marines and the Navy. I am lucky in having an experienced deck department with experienced line handlers, who have done operations like this before with a landing craft unit (LCU). They have the mindset that it's just a longer LCU, and they're able to take that and incorporative it with ILNS, and that is why I think this evolution went very well," Middleton continued.
Once the Sailors secured the discharge facility in the well deck members of the 4th Marine Logistics Group simply drove the vehicles off the platform rolling directly into the staging area.
While Fort McHenry's crew worked with the discharge facility, John Bobo moored next to the INLS causeway. As part of the exercise, Marines reloaded the platform and the discharge facility and departed Fort McHenry to rendezvous with John Bobo, again exhibiting the ability of the INLS to dock with an amphibious vessel to transport cargo from ship to ship the once the roll-on, roll-off discharge facility and causeway ferries were attached to the causeway, High Speed Vessel 2 Swift moored next to John Bobo, where ready receive Marine vehicles were transported to ship to shore.
This is the first time INLS has been used successfully at sea to transport cargo from ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore. During the rest of WATC the INLS will be used to aid in transporting humanitarian assistance supplies to Monrovia as part of the APS contribution to the area.
As part of the Navy's new global maritime strategy, Africa Partnership Station is a U.S. Naval Forces Europe-led initiative, executed by a multinational staff aboard Fort McHenry and Swift.
Commander Task Force 365 and training teams from various U.S. and European military commands, as well as governmental and nongovernmental organizations are embarked on board Fort McHenry to enhance cooperative partnerships with regional maritime services in West and Central Africa and the Gulf of Guinea on a seven-month deployment.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe -Commander, 6th Fleet or Africa Partnership Station, visit www.navy.mil/local/naveur/.