Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gen. Amos at West 2014

General Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, spoke as part of a panel discussion at West 2014 (1).  One of the topics he touched on was connectors and sea basing which is highly relevant given some of our recent post discussions.

Referring to our relationships with foreign countries over the next couple of decades, he stated,

“… they’re not going to want us to build bases.  Those days, for the near term, are gone.”

Amos went on to explain that this means that sea basing will be the focal point of operations. 
That’s a fascinating statement of belief.  I tend to believe he’s right.  If so, consider what that means in relation to future operations in the South/East China Seas and how it will impact our dealings with China.  We aren’t going to have any more bases than we have now and what we have now are few and far removed from the area of interest.  The challenge of operating forward from vastly removed bases will be enormous.  Imagine if we had had to conduct the Pacific war in WWII strictly from Pearl Harbor, without the benefit of intermediate island bases.

This means that all of our equipment had better be long range and long endurance.  Platforms like JSF and LCS are going to prove only marginally useful.  Short range weapons like Harpoon are going to be nearly useless.

Amos suggested that the most useful ship in the next couple decades is the amphibious ship, in whatever form.  He notes that the missions will be partner training, humanitarian assistance, presence, etc.;  he specifically does not mention high end combat.  He’s clearly viewing the fleet through the lens of peacetime activities.  He says,

“The truth of the matter is we don’t have enough amphibious ships right now.  We’re meeting less than half the needs of the Combatant Commanders.”

He then goes on to discuss connectors.

“We need connectors that can not only haul a lot of stuff but we need connectors that can actually go to high speed.”

“… the sea base that’s 75-80 miles off the coast …”

“… we need to change the paradigm.  We tend to think of a connector as something that we carry in the bowels of a ship.”

Referring to a large amphibious force and sea base,

“You’re not going to have enough connectors that you’re just going to be carrying organically with your shipping that you have.  But if you had some connectors that would go high speed when required but would perhaps fold up and perhaps be able to stack these connectors on some type of gray bottom ship, excuse me, black bottom ship and then just at the signs … something bad is going to happen… then you sail that ship.”

Clearly, this is a reference to the LCU-F or a remarkably similar vessel.  He goes on to describe a vision of 20-30 of these connectors folded and stacked on the deck of a cargo ship and transported to the area of operation just as the Marines and their equipment would be.  The connectors would have a speed of 25-30 kts, according to Amos.  He further states that the Corps is going to allocate money to R&D of such a connector and concludes by saying that this is an area that we’ve missed the mark on.

His statements support the conclusion that we drew from the previous post on transport attrition (see, Amphibious Assault Attrition).  The amphibious ships just don’t have enough organic connectors to support a sustained, opposed assault and would be hard pressed to support even an unopposed, sustained assault.

These comments, interesting enough on their own, again highlight the meandering direction of the Corps, right now.  There was no mention of the F-35, MV-22, or aviation assault.  To be fair, that was not the topic, however, this demonstrated that the Marines are trying to be all things (expeditionary air force, light infantry aviation assault, conventional amphibious assault) in a time of severely constrained budgets.  While they may want to be all things, the budget won’t allow it and the budget choices that the Marines are making show the path they’re committed to.  The acquisition of the MV-22 and F-35, the cancellation of the EFV with no replacement on the horizon, the drawdown of personnel, the reduction of tanks and artillery from the heavy end of things, and the multi-billion dollar price tag for new amphibious ships all show that the Marines are going to be a light infantry, expeditionary air force for the foreseeable future.  The Marines can talk all they want about traditional amphibious assault but the money simply isn’t there.  By committing everything to the F-35 they’ve cemented their path, for better or worse.

(1) U.S. Naval Institute West 2014 Conference, 11-13 Feb 2014

5 comments:

  1. Or one could view this from another angle:
    - no word on F-35B since more lines of blog-posts have been generated already on it than design-, construction- and operational lines of code for the type all taken together.

    - MV-22 'is there' already, doing work in more and more circumstances.

    - Aviation assault ?

    - Cancellation of EFV was necessary since while fast, it was just lightly armored and worst of all had absurdly short range on water, which would have for the next 30-40 years forced the ARG to stay within reach of even third-tier shore-defense - a catastrophic conceptual error on the part of EFV-designers and program-mangers.

    - Once you move the ARG/MEU to 80nm, then all 'self-deployment' reflexes of APCs is done with for good. Only fast heavy-lift LCU-types and LCAC-2/SSC would haul them to often touch the beach with indeed dry wheels and tracks. You'd still need amphibious capability to cross tidal streams, rivers, lakes, ponds. And for that, 7 knots water-speed is adequate.

    And in this age of fiscal contraction, that leaves AAV-7, but
    - with a more powerful drive-train for speed,
    - up-armor in keeping with experiences in Iraq,
    - bigger-bore turret,
    all on the basic body.

    Cancellation of EFV thus allows a clear focus on what he is the first Commandant to do by calling for fast heavy-lift Connectors and putting money towards this.

    Should he indeed support LCU-F, then the reduction in heavy-weight items would be temporary until that type proves indeed able to move up to there MBTs at 19kts across 1500nm - which then allows dusting off the parked gear for reinsertion into amphibious active duty.

    LCU-F's range of other in-the-field reconfigurable (Amphib-based) missions makes her more attractive yet, from
    - 55,000 gals combat-tanker (= 180+ AH-1 refuels) and thus Bingo-platform,
    - MARSOC-base with 2x helos 2x RHIBs, drones etc.
    - Inshore Fire Support via HIMARS/MLRS/155mm/203mm,
    - USMC MASH-unit equivalent,
    - Mine-hunting/sweeping-base,
    - Inter-Theater least-profile 200-tons load Transport at apparently only about 10-11 feet of air-draft,
    - Long-Range Self-Deployment.
    etc.

    General Amos is the first Commandant - as a pilot of all things - to focus on the essential nature of Connectors to the amphibious future of USMC and USN.

    For him to take the initiative to commit to R-&-D on that matter, he has on that matter redefined the relationship between USMC and USN, clearly impatient with what current heavy-lift connector he is supposed to do his amphibious work with. As viewable on YouTube, he does so on several occasions.
    End of Part 1 of 2.

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  2. ComNavOps,
    after the Ellis Group offered a preview of the new USMC-Doctrine in last November's PROCEEDINGS (pp. 24-29), what General Amos discussed on Wednesday this week is his first such pointed indication of what USMC's future holds. His 7-minute (plus more later) focus on Connectors is an unambiguous commitment to the amphibious mission after over a dozen years in the desert and the mountains.

    Finally, he put a spot-light on the 'unloved' LSDs and LPDs, stating that there are not enough of them - quoting under 50% of what is deemed necessary, if I recall correctly - and that they are the 'Swiss Army Knives' of naval vessels capable of doing things nobody else can, and with ever-changing float-in/float-out self-deploying 'mission-modules' such as via LCA and LCU-(x).

    And that ties in with CNO's 'Payload over Platforms' thinking.
    We may have enough CVN, DDGs etc, to last for a bit. Amos's Wednesday announcement on Connector-development underscores the emergence in USMC and overall USN Littoral tactics of well-deck ships that uniquely can bring those MEU (and other) 'payloads' to the theater.

    When he discusses 'stacking' LCU-(x) by the dozens aboard a commercial carrier even, then he likely will be less amenable towards 'short well-deck' Amphib-proposals which further reduce amphibious lift-capability - quite against his new emerging Doctrine.

    So, the next 'fight' may well be over the LSD-41/49 replacements. They better have long well-decks at a 440-feet minimum, as LSD-41 was designed with over 30 years ago. LCU-F needs 440-feet to fit 6x of them per LSD-41, i.e. 6x 200tons of assault-load.

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  3. Part 3 of 2

    Had Carter's plan to buy 24 LSD-41s not been curtailed to 8x plus 4 (shorty LSD-49s) by Reagan in favor of one more CVN, USMC would now have astonishing amphibious capabilities.

    To catch up,
    - using the SLEP'd LSD-41 level of now 21st-century readiness as a fiscal baseline,
    - 'dolling her up' with just an external applique of radar-reflective angled light plating from waterline to bridge,
    - we may find that a 'new' copy would come in at under $700 million, including those SLEP-upgrades,
    - with the class costing on average $211/ship
    - plus upgrades,
    - times at worst 170% inflation-rate since 1981.

    That is, if we lend credibility to the 2006 RAND study "Why has the Cost of Navy Ships Risen ?" . They conclude that WITHOUT endless tinkering with a type, economies of scale do indeed kick in, vessel-cost stays steady or declines (LSD-41 from $339 mill #1 hull to $151 for last four hulls - numbers per Global Security.org).

    So figure a
    - 2012-14 SLEP-level,
    - radar-applique'd LSD-41/21
    - at say 250 million then-Dollars,
    - multiplied by 170% inflation-rate
    and things begin to look fiscally quite promising.

    LPD-17 costs multiples if that and yet offers only 42% of well-deck area/capacity.

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  4. Amos is irrelevant. he has months left as Commandant, people are already speculating on his replacement and most importantly.....NO ONE IS LISTENING TO HIM ANYMORE.

    my take on this is that he's trying to shape his legacy. he is and will continue to be known as the Commandant that screwed the ground side and made the USMC imbalanced toward aviation.

    this gambit is just his attempt to put a finger on the scale and get historians to give him a break on his time in the big chair.

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  5. Solomon
    do you think that his successor
    - can do magically resolve F-35 matters which you on your SNAFU-Blog been extensively and endlessly unhappy about ?
    - can do without amphib-fleet correct Connectors ?
    - will instead find an APC (and funding) that will do all the things you and the EFV hoped for ?
    - will immediately toss out the forth-coming Amphibious Mission-centric Doctrine ?

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