This is a companion piece to the previous post (see, “The Amphibious Inflection Point”).
When it comes to amphibious assault, the Navy seems to think that their job is done once the helos, LCAC’s, or whatever have left the amphibious ship. Unfortunately for the Marines, that’s only the beginning of the job against a determined and capable enemy.
We’ve already discussed the difficulties in sustaining an assault due the lack of ship to shore transport. A competent enemy knows this and will make every effort to interdict and disrupt the flow of supplies to the landing site (see, "Amphibious Assault Attrition"). Cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, mortars, and artillery will create a continuous rain of explosives. How will the Marines defend against this onslaught while they attempt to get heavier weapons ashore? Well, this is where the Navy comes in. Historically, meaning during the assaults of WWII, the Navy moved up close to the shore and provided the initial umbrella of protection until tanks, artillery, and heavy weapons could be brought ashore. Similarly, today, it will be up to the Navy to provide the counterbattery protection the Marines need until they can get their own artillery ashore and set up their own counterbattery capability. It will be up to the Navy to provide a cruise/ballistic missile shield. It will be up to the Navy to provide C-RAM anti-rocket, anti-mortar protection during the initial assault. The Navy has to provide the umbrella that will protect the Marines until they can get established.
Naval aviation can’t do the job. Aircraft are far too slow responding to provide counterbattery fire. Aircraft have only a very limited ability to engage cruise missiles and no ability to engage ballistic missiles. Aircraft have no ability to provide anti-rocket and anti-mortar protection. Even setting all those problems aside, an assault against a determined and competent enemy will see the skies over an assault being a contested aerial no-man’s land. Our limited naval aviation assets will be fully tied up trying to establish even a limited area of aerial superiority. There won’t be any assets available for ground support even if the aircraft were capable of providing it.
Here’s the catch, though – the Navy can’t provide this kind of protection from 50 or 100 or 200 nm out at sea. There’s no way to shoot down a mortar shell from those distances. Counterbattery fire can’t even reach the shore from those distances.
The Navy has doctrinally moved out to those distances out of fear of land launched anti-ship missiles (see, "In Harm's Way"). However, the Navy has forgotten that they are in the business of combat and with combat comes risk. Whatever happened to the tradition of standing in harm’s way? It’s not just a saying. In order to exert a dominant influence on events, it’s necessary to go where the most good can be done and that generally means standing in harm’s way.
An assault force just can’t protect itself during the initial stages. The Navy has to step in and act as the Marine’s shield until they can get their own artillery and AAW assets ashore and operating. If the Navy refuses to do that, an assault will have no hope of success against a determined, competent enemy.
The baffling and disappointing aspect to this is that the issue of protective fires hasn’t even been raised, as far as I know. The required equipment and capabilities largely do not exist and no one is looking at developing them. In fact, doctrinally, we’re moving in the exact opposite direction. We’re moving farther out to sea and further away from being able to provide the protective shield the Marines will need. It’s odd that the Marines haven’t raised this issue, either, although the emphasis on aviation based assaults may explain the lack of concern from the Corps.
We need to beef up the Navy’s self-defense capabilities, as previously described, and regain the warrior’s mentality. That will give us the ability to stand close to shore. Then, we need to develop the specific counterbattery, cruise/ballistic missile defense, and C-RAM capabilities that will protect the Marines while they get established.
Currently, the Navy has no counterbattery capability although the technology base is certainly there. A dedicated counterbattery radar and an effective gun are required. Whether an existing Navy radar can be adapted for this role is an open question. Aegis could probably provide the counterbattery radar capability but shouldn’t be diverted from its main function. Gunfire could be supplemented by a navalized version of the Army’s M270 MLRS/ATACMS which would provide ranges of 40-150+ miles.
The Phalanx CIWS has been adapted to the land based C-RAM but it is limited in range and does not exist as a sea-based weapon. A longer range C-RAM type weapon probably needs to be developed.
Perhaps what’s needed is a small, specialized “umbrella” vessel that can move very close in-shore and provide the C-RAM and counterbattery support that is needed.