The previous post about Marine assault transport problems has generated fascinating responses. There seems to be general agreement that the Marine’s current transport capabilities are inadequate but there is less agreement about what alternatives would be better. Various people have suggested various specific or generic platforms that might offer better performance. However, none of the options fully address the overall problem to a satisfactory degree. I’m not an expert in this area so I don’t have a specific solution to offer but I can see and define the problem. Let’s look a bit closer at the transport platform itself.
If the current transports don’t meet the needs, what would, generically? What characteristics should a Marine transport platform have?
There are three aspects that need to be addressed:
Movement over high threat territory
Transport of troops
Transport of equipment
These aspects demand certain obvious characteristics that are not always compatible. Let’s look at those characteristics in isolation and then we’ll try to assemble an overall requirement.
Stealth. Almost by definition, the assault transports will operate in the heart of high threat environments and multi-faceted stealth would greatly enhance survivability. In particular, stealth in the IR range would enhance survivability against shoulder launched SAMs. IR countermeasures are also desirable but IR stealth should be an inherent characteristic. Stealth in the radar ranges, while nice, is probably less of an issue for platforms that will operate at low altitudes. Acoustic and visual stealth would also be helpful for countering manually/optically controlled gunfire. Unfortunately, there is no stealth measure that can counteract the “wall of lead” anti-aircraft tactic.
Speed. This one’s obvious. The greater the transport’s speed, the less the exposure time.
Maneuverability. Threats will appear and will have to be evaded. The greater the maneuverability, the better the chances of survival. Given the speed and proximity to the ground, maneuverability might have to be automated. The threat warning/reaction time is going to be too short for human interpretation and reaction. Software controlled evasive maneuvers may be required. Unfortunately, the degree of coding sophistication required to do this may be beyond our current abilities as demonstrated by the software problems plaguing so many weapon systems.
Armor. Armored bottoms and sides of the transport would be desirable to mitigate the danger from small arms and shrapnel bursts. Armor sufficient to counter larger caliber gunfire is desirable as well. The use of armor on the transport would be analogous to armored humvees and whatnot.
Size. From an efficiency point of view, the maximum load possible is preferred. The more troops and equipment that can be carried on a platform the better in terms of efficiency. It’s better to complete the delivery of an assault unit in one wave than in multiple waves.
Lift Capacity. A transport must be able to transport the heaviest item the MEU uses which is the Abrams tank. Further, it would be desirable to be able to transport multiple pieces of equipment rather than one at a time.
Internal lift of equipment is preferred over external sling so that the transport platform can perform at least some maneuvering and retain as much speed advantage as possible. Of course, the internal lift needs to be rapidly unloadable.
So, given the preceeding characteristics, what would our ideal transport look like? It would be a very stealthy, high speed, highly maneuverable, armored platform of large size and with enormous lift capacity. Unfortunately, some of these characteristics are mutually incompatible. For example, a heavily armored transport can’t also be very fast and maneuverable. Size negates stealth. And so on…
So where does that leave us? We can’t have all the characteristics we’d like so we need to balance characteristics which means we have to prioritize.
Stealth seems the most desirable characteristic and will do the most to enhance transport survivability. This is the biggest bang for the buck and since we’re talking more about IR, acoustic, and visual stealth, as opposed to radar stealth, we ought to be able to achieve it economically.
Armor seems the next most desirable and is almost as valuable as stealth. It does no good to deliver troops that have been decimated by shrapnel along the way. Further, we absolutely do not want to concede cheap kills. If a transport is killed by a direct hit from major caliber gunfire or a large SAM, that’s one thing. However, a cheap kill by small arms, smaller caliber gunfire, or shrapnel must be avoided.
Speed and maneuverability are desirable though only marginally compatible with the need for armor. To the extent possible, speed and maneuverability should be provided although, as pointed out, maneuverability may not be achievable to a relevant extent.
Size is the most ill defined characteristic. On the one hand, we want the largest lift possible but on the other hand we don’t want to suffer too large a loss due to the loss of an individual transport. As some readers pointed out, a squad size (maybe two-squad size?) transport may be the optimum. The ability to transport 50-200 troops, while efficient, simply risks too much in a single platform.
Size is also a factor in equipment transport. Here, there is no option. We must be able to transport the heaviest item, the tank (or make the decision that we can’t conduct armored aviation assaults). I have no idea what kind of transport can do that.
So, now where are we? We seem to need a squad (maybe two-squad?) size helo that is very stealthy, armored as much as possible, and has as much speed and maneuverability as possible given the armor it carries. A stealthy version of the Soviet/Russian Hind series might be in the general vicinity of what’s needed?
|Stealthy Hind for Transport?|
As far as equipment transport, I’m seeing that we may need a second, different transport that is dedicated to equipment transport since the requirements are so different. The main characteristics would be internal lift, stealth, speed, and rapid loading/unloading.
I don’t see any way to transport tanks without going to a cargo plane type of approach similar to the Army and that wouldn’t seem possible for a typical Marine assault. If the Marines can’t bring tanks along then we need to re-evaluate what type of assaults can be done. While tanks wouldn’t be absolutely necessary for raids and lower end assaults it would be foolish to conduct tank-less assaults against peers who have armored capability. It’s possible that inland assaults can only be performed against lower end threats and that higher end threats must be attacked via beach or port assaults so that heavy equipment can be delivered. I’m venturing out of my element at this point so I’ll leave the discussion here.
What I’m convinced of is that the Marines/Navy are, at this moment, conflicted about what to do and how to do it. The haphazard acquisitions that are being pursued and the contradictory statements emanating from Marine/Navy leadership are proof of that. The Marines/Navy need to quickly settle on an approach and, hopefully, it will be based on strategy rather than budget.