Like a ship’s hull with too many barnacles, seabasing is laden with unnecessary conceptual debris that has obscured its central tenets and confused its core strengths. As the Navy ponders its roles and corresponding force structure for the coming decades, it is worth putting seabasing in dry dock and stripping it clean. Only then will a vision appropriate to the 21st century emerge.
2010 was an important milestone for the concept of seabasing. Eclipsed in recent years by large-scale ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, seabasing once again occupied the limelight in January when a powerful earthquake struck Haiti, closing the main seaport and limiting air traffic to an antiquated and quickly overwhelmed airfield. The Navy and Marine Corps responded quickly by dispatching considerable assets to the scene, including an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship and a hospital ship. By hosting extensive relief efforts offshore, the Haiti naval operation seemed to validate the seabasing concept in its entirety. Yet less than a month later, the Navy effectively canceled the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future), the most significant seabasing acquisition program to date and a pillar of the Marine Corps’ 21st-century vision. What was once billed as revolutionary and transformational met an anticlimactic end, described as a concept that is “valid but not currently within the Navy’s fiscal reach.”
This contradictory turn of events suggests it is time to take a fresh look at a pivotal post-Cold War concept.