Army Activates New Watercraft Formation in Japan

February 9, 2024 4:55 PM
Maj. Gen. David B. Womack, Commanding General, U.S. Army Japan, shakes hands to congratulate Capt. Miata Schenaker, 5th TC Commander, during the unit’s official activation ceremony held Feb. 8 at Yokohama North Dock. US Army Photo

In the service’s latest move to bolster its presence in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Army activated the 5th Composite Watercraft Company at North Dock, Yokohama, in Japan on Monday.

Also known as the 5th Transportation Company, the unit was active between 1917 and 1997, with its last assignment involving operating the service’s logistical support vessels in Hawaii. Twenty-six years later, the unit is now at the forefront of the Army’s maritime transportation efforts in the region as a composite watercraft company. The 5th Composite Watercraft Company is the second formation of its kind and the first to be forward-deployed outside the United States.

First deployed by the Army in 2021, the composite watercraft company is composed of 200–300 personnel and can support the command and control, maintenance and operations planning for up to 16 vessels. According to Army documents, the unit will be capable of conducting a variety of missions, including intratheater lift, water terminal or harbor operations, waterborne tactical and joint amphibious operations, riverine operations and logistics over the shore operations. While the exact number or composition of watercraft was not listed, the company “may include a combination of logistics support vessel; landing craft, utility; landing craft, mechanized or maneuver support vessel-light; and small tug detachments,” according to the documents.

In a media call last April, Maj. Gen. Joel Vowell, commander, U.S. Army Japan, told reporters that the 5th Composite Watercraft Company will receive up to 14 vessels in the coming years to support the joint force.

The Army announced plans to increase its watercraft presence in Japan last year by basing the Army watercraft unit, which the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (SCC) lauded in their 2+2 talks last year. According to the joint statement, the ministers welcomed the Army watercraft unit as it would “further strengthen alliance maritime mobility in Japan.”

Tokyo also plans to activate a similar formation focused on watercraft operations. The joint “maritime transport group, consisting of service members from both the Japan Maritime and Ground-Self Defense Forces, is slated for activation in 2025.

The 8th Theater Sustainment Command’s Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Jered P. Helwig, hosted Staff Delegates Mr. Tim Nelson, Ms. Alexia Sikora, Rep. Steve Womack, Mr. Ryan Keating, Rep. Tim Ryan, Mr. Andrew Noh, Rep. Marilyn Strickland, Ms. Shiouyu “Theresa” Lou, Mr. Semaj Martin-Redd, and Rep. Trent Kelly, on a tour aboard Logistics Support Vessel 4 (LSV4), the LT. Gen William B. Bunker, on August 23, 2022 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Hawaii. U.S. Army Photos

Major Gen. Jered Helwig, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific’s (USARPAC) 8th Theater Sustainment Command, told USNI News that the 5th Composite Watercraft Company “reinforces the importance of Army Watercraft in the Indo-Pacific theater.”

“By adding strategic capabilities, like Army watercraft, we can better respond to a myriad of contingencies in the region from HA/DR (humanitarian response and disaster relief) to crises,” Helwig added.

In a recent article for Proceedings, the commander of USARPAC, Gen. Charles Flynn, mentioned basing the 5th Composite Watercraft Company in Japan is part of the service’s broader efforts to expand logistical support efforts across the Indo-Pacific. Flynn highlighted the unit as the Army filling “critical capability gaps—in this case in intratheater distribution.”

Similar efforts are planned for Australia, where the Army plans to rotate watercraft and create an enduring logistics support area for prepositioned equipment following a meeting last July.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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