USNS Millinocket Flexes in Philippine Archipelago during PHIBLEX

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U.S. Navy photo by Grady Fontana/Released
U.S. Navy photo by Grady Fontana/Released

USNS Millinocket Flexes in Philippine Archipelago during PHIBLEX

by: Grady Fontana, Military Sealift Command Far East | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: October 15, 2016

SUBIC BAY, Philippines — The Military Sealift Command (MSC) expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Millinocket (T-EPF 3) recently participated in Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise 33 (PHIBLEX), transporting and supporting equipment and personnel from the U.S. Marine Corps’ 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Sept. 24- Oct. 15.

During PHIBLEX 33, the Millinocket voyaged to Okinawa, Japan, on Sept. 24 to embark 3d MEB Marines and gear, then continued to Subic Bay, Philippines. On Oct. 1, the Millinocket travelled to Puerto Princesa, Philippines, to embark Philippine Marines and equipment before commencing exercise operations at the Naval Education and Training Command in Zambales, which saw the vessel conducting ship-to-shore logistics and personnel maneuvers, and refueling operations.

The Millinocket is a 338-foot-long aluminum catamarans designed for rapid inter-theater troop transport and sea basing. The ship can transport about 600 tons of military troops, supplies and equipment for 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots on jet propulsion.

“(For PHIBLEX), we had a combination of Philippine Marine Corps and U.S. Marine Corps personnel and assets on the ship—approximately 200 short tons of cargo aboard the ship,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. James Richardson, logistics chief, 3d MEB. “The Millinocket is a good platform because the ship is small enough that we can get in and out of different places; it’s not like a big ship that requires tug boats to get into ports.”

With a draft of about 15 feet, the Millinocket is not only fast, but also flexible and maneuverable, allowing the ship to reach places in shallow waters that the larger steel-hulled ships cannot.

“The benefits that we gain in this platform is that we can get in and out in ports that are shallow, that have not been frequently visited by other MSC ships,” said civilian mariner Captain Erwin Lao, master of USNS Millinocket. “This platform is very flexible. Because we only draft 4.3 meters, and most ports in the Philippines are in that category, we don’t have any problems selecting ports.”

One of the features that gives the Millinocket a unique appearance is that the ship is not painted, maintaining the aluminum exterior finish, saving on overall weight.

“The benefit of not painting the ship is that it reduces the weight of the ship. T-EPF is after speed—in the last sea trials we reached 43-45 knots; our maximum speed,” said Lao.

Since the Millinocket was delivered to MSC in March 2014, the vessel has been limited to theater security cooperation events and exercise participation in the Pacific; however, the potential for this platform is still evolving.

“No doubt when it’s time to do some heavy deployments to different areas, such as a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) mission, this ship can be a great asset,” said Richardson. “Especially, due to the communication assets aboard the ship (that are critical during an HADR event)…this is a perfect platform for HADR; we can pull in anywhere and provide a service.”

To further enhance flexibility, the Millinocket has a flight deck that can accommodate the Marine Corps’ CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter. During PHIBLEX 33, the Marines transferred cargo and personnel from ship to shore in Luzon, Philippines, while conducting refueling operations from the ship, further enhancing Marine Corps and naval integration, and integration with the Philippine military counterparts.

In addition to organic capabilities, the Millinocket has a program called the adaptive force package, which allows the ship’s mission bay to be outfitted with different types of suites that are self-contained in customized shipping containers fastened to the deck. The adaptive force packages range from refrigeration units and added berthing, to medical stations and communications suites.

“We have a 22,000-square-foot mission bay; we can load supplies in there,” said Lao. “If it’s a medical mission, we can have those medical containers aboard and hooked up; it’s plug-and-play. In this PHIBLEX mission, we required an additional freezer and chill boxes. Once those boxes were hooked up, it was good to go.”

The Philippine Marines also found the ship accommodating and effective.

“Riding in this ship was a good experience,” said Philippine Marine 1st Lt. Miguel T. Sabando, acting company commander, 54th Marine Company, 4th Marine Battalion. “It had good accommodations and the crew was very hospitable in giving us what we needed. The biggest benefit of coming on this ship for us was that it was very large and accommodated our trucks and cargo. We need this type of ship for logistics support, especially if we were to have a natural disaster; this ship is beneficial to operations in the Philippines.”

Lao agreed, “I’ve seen this mission as one of the most successful I’ve been a part of. Philippines is an archipelago, there’s a lot of ports that have never been visited by deep draft vessels. This ship has a lot of capabilities and a lot of potential in shallow waters. We can get in and out of many ports.”

“It’s important to practice with the Philippine Armed Forces,” said Richardson. “If there’s a HADR and we utilize the T-EPF to come out here and support the relief, we could easily embark them. They get accustomed to working with us as well as we get accustomed to working with them. Since they’ve been on the ship, everyone has been meshing together; one team, one fight.”

PHIBLEX is an annual, bilateral training exercise conducted by U.S. Marine and Navy forces and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. PHIBLEX 33 consisted of a maritime security-focused command post exercise; multiple field exercise events, to include an amphibious capability demonstration and artillery live-fire; and humanitarian and civic assistance projects. All events are designed to advance cooperation, improve interoperability and assist in strengthening our bilateral relationship. It includes forces from 3d MEB, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Combined Task Force-76, and the AFP.