U.S. Navy Boatswains Mates assigned to Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 prepare a U.S. Navy Improved Navy Lighterage System Causeway Ferry for on-loading during Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore 2016 (JLOTS ’16) June 13, 2016 on Naval Magazine Indian Island, Wash. JLOTS ’16 is a joint service, scenario based exercise designed to simulate disaster and humanitarian assistance in the Cascadia subduction zone. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kenneth Norman).

Former Navy utility boat coxswain Jarod Palm has been watching the struggles of the Navy’s Gaza Trident Causeway with a knowing eye. In the Navy, Palm was assigned to a Navy Seabee command and trained some of those operating the Gaza Trident Causeway pier. He’s seen firsthand what contributes to some of the problems with the different boats, ships, and equipment used to carry out the Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, or JLOTS, capability. 

“In my experience, the reason why it’s so sensitive is, number one, the equipment is old,” Palm said. “Number two, it’s all ‘Lego bricked’ together, and that platform is actually held together by line.” 

The system deployed to Gaza has proved to be a struggle to keep open and was this week shut down for the third time since May 17 when it was relocated to the Port of Ashdod, Israel, to avoid incoming harsh weather. 

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Still, the U.S. and its allies have delivered 7.7 million pounds of aid across it to date. 

The third factor, said Palm, is how the equipment is stored when it’s not in use. A lot of the equipment is stored in dry storage aboard Navy ships pre-positioned around the world. 

He said different elements of the system would often break down during training operations. 

What is JLOTS

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Jonathon Daniell sent a prepared statement to Task & Purpose in response to several questions, with technical expertise from CW2 Jason Earl, Master, Army Watercraft Systems. According to them, JLOTS is the capability of delivering cargo from sea to shore in austere environments or when port facilities are unavailable. 

JLOTS is a complex system used to either establish a port, upgrade a sub-optimal port, or provide intratheatre lift. Different capabilities of JLOTS include a physical pier to deliver different types of aid or combat sustainment, an offshore petroleum discharge system, an inshore petroleum distribution system, or specialized lines that can pump drinking water onto shore for distribution. 

The structure of a JLOTS operation typically starts with a large Navy ship anchored off the coast with a roll-on, roll-off-discharge facility placed adjacent to the ship — military jargon for a large floating dock that is also anchored. 

Trucks, containers, or equipment will be lifted or rolled onto the floating dock, where it’s loaded onto a ship or boat that transports its payload to the shore, where a causeway will enable delivery to land.

There are different types of causeways available. Palm saw the Trident Causeway pier used in Albania and Guam during his time in the Navy, the same causeway used in Gaza. The Trident Causeway pier is made up of multiple Modular Causeway Sections that can span up to 1,800 feet long, depending on mission needs and geography of the coastline. 

Each section of the Modular Causeway System consists of six 20-x-8 feet pontoons and three box-end 40-x-8 foot pontoons. The pontoons have an “integral connection system” that enables each section to be modular. The pier is assembled at sea and escorted by tugboats and rammed into the beach, and then Army and Navy personnel anchor the distal end to the ocean floor. 

But one of the three shutdowns on the Gaza pier was due to rough sea states that broke the pier. It was transported to Israel for repairs before it was re-anchored in Gaza. 

Construction Mechanic Chief Liam Anderson has spent a significant amount of time training on a more long-term solution for JLOTS operations: a modular elevated causeway system. Once built, it can stay in place for up to two years before requiring disassembly or repairs. 

“They have a big erector set, which consists of 4.5 x 8 x 40 foot long containers that snap together to form a pier,” Anderson said. “The Seabees maintain the capability of building it anywhere between 800 to 3,000 feet long, as long as the ground beneath can support it.”

The other option involves different boats that can land on the beach to deliver supplies by dropping a ramp that vehicles or personnel can offload directly onto the beach. Security concerns in a wartorn area, the topography of the coast, and many other factors play into how a JLOTS operation is conducted.  

JLOTS and sea states

Sea states are a measurement of wave height and are rated on a sliding scale of 0 to 10. The Gaza coastline regularly experiences a sea state of 4 or higher. The maximum sea state that JLOTS can be executed in is a sea state of 3 or less; anything higher risks damage to the pier, equipment, and those carrying out the operation. 

There are many different structures and equipment available for the JLOTS capability, and each one has different capabilities and sea conditions it can handle before breaking, though the cut for personnel on causeways is a sea state higher than 3. 

“Typically, sea states must be at a three or less, but other weather conditions can have operational impact,” Daniell said. “Sea state 3 is from 1’8” to 4’1”, and the height of the Modular Causeway Section is 4.5’.”

Anything higher will have a strong effect on the structure and increase the likelihood of damage and structural integrity compromise. 

JLOTS is an important capability of the U.S. Army, but it entails almost every branch under the Department of Defense. JLOTS can look different every time it’s implemented based on the current environemnt it’s used in. Palm described it as a unique capability of America’s armed forces, based on his experience during training implementation of JLOTS. 

“We can put equipment anywhere we need, even if there’s no port and it’s a shitty beach,” Palm said. “[…] ‘Hey, look, we can drop 2,000 Marines and 1,000 vehicles on a shitty beach any day.’’”

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