NOVEMBER 30, 2022 – Marine Corps Systems Command recently teamed up with I Marine Expeditionary Force, the U.S. Air Force’s 22nd Airlift Squadron, and industry on a job requiring some heavy lifting: transporting two MAC-50 All-Terrain Cranes cross-country from California to Mississippi and back.
The joint collaborative effort in late October—which aligns with the Defense Department’s vision of building a resilient joint force and defense ecosystem—ended up saving the Corps valuable time and money, on top of the cost avoidance realized by the Corps’ MAC-50 service life extension program.
Because purchasing and fielding brand-new heavy equipment for Marines can be costly, the Marine Corps uses service life extension programs when economically feasible to prolong the lifespan of certain legacy vehicles and systems. Service Life Extension Programs—or SLEPs—are designed to return a vehicle or system to “like-new” condition in order to prolong the system’s lifespan. The MAC-50 All-Terrain Crane is one such system.
“The current crane, which was procured with technology from the mid-2000s, has seen numerous deployments in various locations over the years and was heavily utilized by Marines in Afghanistan,” said MARCORSYSCOM’S Material Handling Equipment and Construction Equipment Team Lead Michael Farley. “The MAC-50 Service Life Extension Program tears down the vehicle to its frame and completely rebuilds it.”
MARCORSYSCOM’s Program Manager for Engineer Systems is responsible for providing Marines with power, fuel and water systems, explosive hazard defeat capabilities, and the construction and material handling equipment they need to execute various transportation and logistics-centered operations.
Modernizing legacy MAC-50s
MARCORSYSCOM’s Material Handling Equipment and Construction Equipment Team works with an industry partner, Taylor Defense Products, in Louisville, Mississippi, to modernize and refurbish the legacy MAC-50s.
Farley noted each crane undergoing the SLEP receives a rebuilt engine, transmission, axles, hydraulic cylinders and boom assemblies. Air conditioning units are replaced and hydraulic, electrical and electronic systems are replaced or rewired with “better, more reliable components.” Each refurbished crane also comes with an operator cab “redesigned for operator comfort” and is equipped with a new safe load indicator to support load lift technology upgrades.
Yet, despite the team’s numerous upgrades modernizing the cranes, Farley said the MAC-50 SLEP program saved the Marine Corps money.
“A new crane would cost the Marine Corps at least $1.3 million each, based on other services’ program costs,” he said. “The Service Life Extension Program costs about $500,000 per crane and extends the life of each crane by ten years. By using this program instead of buying new cranes, the Marine Corps realized a cost avoidance of $80 million.”
Another challenge faced by the Corps is transporting each crane—weighing over 69,000 pounds—to Mississippi for SLEP refurbishment, and once refurbished, from Mississippi to its intended destination.
“MARCORSYSCOM had a requirement to field two MAC-50s to I MEF, and I MEF had a requirement to turn in two legacy MAC-50s to the [Mississippi] company rebuilding the MAC-50s,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Travis Bestul, engineer equipment officer for I MEF at Camp Pendleton, California. “Typically, the MAC-50s would be transported to and from Camp Pendleton by a tractor-trailer. However, we worked with I MEF’s Air Force mobility liaison on a training opportunity for the Air Force to move larger equipment using their C5 Galaxy [aircraft].”
According to Farley, a typical round-trip journey by tractor-trailer from Mississippi to California would take about 10 days. However, by collaborating with the Air Force, the Marine Corps completed the exchange over a single weekend. The collaboration also provided an excellent training opportunity for both Marines and Airmen.
“The availability of the opportune lift via the C5 Galaxy provided I MEF and MARCORSYSCOM the ability to execute the concept of transporting the MAC-50s while providing valuable training to the Air Force Aircraft Loadmaster Course and Embark Marines,” said Bestul. “This concept is crucial in ensuring this can be done and personnel are trained if required to support combat operations.”
Because each crane is roughly the size of a tiny house and weighs about 35 U.S. tons, the logistics behind moving two of them via aircraft required a lot of planning and effort.
“Non-palletized, non-containerized cargo requires an Air-Transportability and Test Loading Activity letter, which are engineer-tested loading instructions designed to ensure safe operations when mixing aircraft and cargo. The aircrew trained to and executed those instructions,” explained I MEF Air Force Mobility Liaison Lt. Col. Nicholas Torres. “As a joint force, Marines and Airmen also created, verified and executed mission-specific load plans to ensure aircraft in-flight safety. While this is a behind-the-scenes activity, joint processes that ensure aircraft, cargo and personnel show up with the same plan is a unique skill that has to be rehearsed to ensure velocity when it counts.”
As an Airman attached to I MEF’s Marine Air-Ground Task Force Deployment and Distribution Operations Center, Torres said he aims to create joint training opportunities out of what would otherwise be unilateral training events.
“In this specific case, airlifting the MAC-50 cranes familiarized C-5 aircrews with transporting this unique cargo set,” said Torres. “In addition to the training value, each joint event represents a cost savings of anywhere between $150,000 to $250,000 in airlift fees. The cost to the Marines, of course, was $0 as we were able to roll the partnership under training funds.”
One team, one fight
Ultimately, the effort’s success was due to interservice coordination and collaboration with industry. Marines from the 1st Landing Support Battalion—who, incidentally, received one of the refurbished cranes—provided crane support and accompanied the legacy and refurbished cranes to and from Mississippi.
Airmen from the 22nd Airlift Squadron flew the equipment staged by the 14th Logistics Readiness Squadron, but only after it was cleared for flight by the 452nd Aerial Port Support Flight joint inspection team.
The Marine Corps and Air Force team exchanged the legacy for the refurbished cranes at the Columbus Air Force Base, located about an hour from Taylor Defense Products. Personnel at Columbus Air Force Base were critical in coordinating the C-5 Galaxy aircraft and staging the refurbished MAC-50s for the exchange, also contributing to the mission’s success.
The program office anticipates delivering all of the refurbished MAC-50s to Marines by mid-2024, said Farley. Though the program office has fielded 74 refurbished MAC-50s to date—including the two recently airlifted ones to the 1st Landing Support Battalion in Camp Pendleton and the Combat Logistics Battalion 7 in Twentynine Palms, California—Farley said this was the first time PM Engineer Systems was able to leverage a C5 Galaxy in their MAC-50 fielding efforts.
“This was a great opportunity for all parties to actually execute this mission,” said Farley. “Not only did this effort save time, but it gave the Marine Corps and Air Force a great training opportunity that they rarely get until there is a real-world crisis.”
Story by Ashley Calingo
Marine Corps Systems Command