As mentioned in the previous posts (see, "Out Of The Business"), CSIS hosted a Q&A session with BGen. William Mullen (1). He covered several topics that are noteworthy and deserve some additional attention.
Mullen addressed the major limitation of the current connectors,
“Because the connectors we have, the LCACs, the LCUs, the Joint High Speed Vessel, none of those things will go into an unprotected beach.”
The consequence of that, according to Mullen, is,
“We have to have the ability to have that thing [connectors] bring us in to just outside small arms range and then get off it and swim ashore.”
That’s a major doctrinal statement there. He’s saying that the Marines do not view the current connectors as survivable in an opposed landing, hence, the Marine’s focus on an armored amphibious vehicle (AAV/ACV/EFV/whatever). You’ll note that this is somewhat at odds with the emphasis on aviation assault but that’s just one of many contradictory views the Marines currently hold. If this is true, then the armored amphibious vehicle is the key to the Marine’s future (again, at odds with the aviation emphasis) and makes the decades long dithering over such a vehicle almost incomprehensible.
This statement from Mullen gives us the Marine’s view of an amphibious assault. Connectors will transport armored amphibious vehicles to a point short of the beach and the vehicles will swim the rest of the way. What this vision doesn’t allow for is the transport and landing of heavier assets like tanks and artillery, at least in the initial wave. That makes the initial combat somewhat problematic and, at the very least, requires close co-ordination with Navy and aviation assets for the missing heavier punch. Unfortunately, given the probable lack of air superiority in a contested landing against a peer, aviation support will probably be sporadic, at best, and naval support is doctrinally non-existent, at the moment.
Referring to connector alternatives, Mullen made sure to emphasize the importance of the traditional amphibious ship,
“Anything we do alternatively can’t replace any of those gray hulled ships.”
That sounds like a scripted Navy-Marine talking point!
Mullen noted that one of the significant differences between the Army and Marines is that the Marines have never used an armored fighting vehicle (AFV) whereas the Army has, in the form of the Bradley. He gave no impression that a Marine AFV is under consideration and stated that Marines use armored vehicles as transport. Again, a significant doctrinal point whose wisdom is highly debatable.
The Marines have requested that the LCAC replacement, the Ship to Shore Connector (SSC), be given the ability to launch AAVs or a similar vehicle while at sea rather than having to wait to get to the beach since the SSC is not going to land on a hostile beach. That makes sense given the previous statements.
Mullen addressed a question about interim AAV upgrades and responded by stating that an upgrade program is in progress but won’t start “turning wrenches” until 2019. I’m not an expert on combat vehicles but a relatively simple upgrade program requiring 5 years to even begin seems absurd.
The Marine’s plans for the near future seem to be centered on the ACV 1.1/1.2. He stated that the ACV 1.1 would be purchased in small quantities to experiment with and then the 1.2 version would incorporate the lessons learned and constitute the bulk of the procurement.
Mullen had this to say about the focus on the ACV over the AAV,
“Frankly, we had such problems with our AAVs in
that we stopped using them outside the gate and we never even took them to Iraq .” Afghanistan
Well that’s interesting!
|EFV/ACV - Key To The Future?|
Mullen noted the relationship between aviation based assault and ground/amphibious assault. He acknowledged that the aviation assets had only a limited ability to transport vehicles and then only in a permissive environment. The difficulty in achieving a suitable permissive environment provides the rationale for the continued need for a ground/amphibious capability, according to him.
Addressing the general need for an AAV type vehicle, Mullen stated,
“To us, we see the ability to have an independent deployer that swims ashore without any connector as a service defining capability.”
Mullen addressed the connector issue shortcomings,
“With the route we’re taking, LCUs and LCACs probably aren’t going to be enough. What else is there out there? What else can be done?”
So, the Marines apparently recognize a serious shortcoming but are doing little about it beyond a few paper studies and investigations. With such a significant problem, one can’t help but wonder why the Marines budget and focus is so skewed to the aviation side especially given the previous statement recognizing the vulnerability of aviation transport.
He went on to cite the JHSV with an at-sea ramp capability as an option that the Marines are requesting. The JHSV would transport vehicles to just outside small arms range and discharge the vehicles into the sea. Of course, the JHSV is built to purely commercial standards and operating it to just outside small arms range still leaves it squarely in rocket and missile range. That’s a questionable use of the JHSV.
Of course, one could ask why, if the Marines see the combination of LCAC and LCU as insufficient, are we pursuing a simple replacement of the LCAC and a perhaps somewhat more capable LCU rather than far more capable and robust replacements that would be sufficient?
Responding to a question about the vulnerability of connectors to shore based missiles, Mullen noted that the Marines would operate with the Navy and Air Force who would suppress shore based anti-access (A2) fire. However, he then went on to say that the Marines see their role as getting a “bubble” of capability ashore to aid in the counter A2 operation. That’s fine, but there’s a Catch-22 at work: how do the Marines get ashore to aid in the counter A2 operations if the counter A2 operations haven’t yet succeeded? - and, if the counter A2 operations have succeeded enough to get the Marines ashore then their assistance in the counter A2 operations isn’t really needed. He did not acknowledge that logical inconsistency. He also cited the V-22 as aiding in getting the Marines ashore to help with the counter A2. Again, he did not address the vulnerability of the V-22 to air defenses in a counter A2 environment. I’m sorry but the Marines doctrine and concept of operations seems heavily dependent on wishful thinking!
Finally, although this was not his closing statement, it should have been.
“As the fiscal environment gets more constrained, we have to think harder.”
Please, Marines, think a
LOT harder than you currently are!!
(1) http://csis.org/event/future-amphibious-connectors-getting-ship-shore, Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Future Amphibious Connectors: Getting From Ship To Shore”, Brig. Gen. William Mullen, Director, Capabilities Development Directorate,