Saturday, July 19, 2014

Future Connectors - The Marine Corps View

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 Iraq that we stopped using them outside the gate and we never even took them to 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, 15-Jul-2014

41 comments:

  1. I like the idea of a robust connector.

    Something like the Caimen90 as a starting platform
    http://www.bmtdsl.co.uk/media/5119403/AMPD002_0214_Caimen90.pdf

    Vital areas receive added armor (possibly modular) and the vessel is protected by Sea Trophy (modified from the land based vehicle active protection system.

    I wonder if software could be added to armored vehicles to allow them to fire safely while on board and approaching landing sites.

    Also I wonder if such a craft could be modified to act as a littoral patrol vessel etc to get as much use out of the craft as possible.

    I would like the US navy to buy a few and experiment with what can be achieved.

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  2. I do not think the LCAC and LCU replacements along with the UHAC are logistics vessels - the problem is the USMC cannot figure out its assault craft needs. In fact, the Corps cannot figure out how many marines should be carried in its tactical elements!

    Note I am broadening the issue to include helicopters as well, because the key issue for designing any vehicle to carry assault troops is settle on the size of the tactical element it should carry!

    Consider that a standard USMC rifle squad is 13-men, but the UH-1 can carry eight, the LVTP-7/AAV can carry 21 (theory), the V-22 can carry 24, the defunct EFV was supposed to carry 17 - see the confusion here?

    I would suggest that no helicopter, landing vehicle, APC etc. be designed to carry more than 13-men (a squad) into an assault. Otherwise you expose too many troops to a lucky mine, RPG, or KPVT machinegun burst - all cheap, common weapons even on third world battle fields.

    I would also suggest that the Corps consider the new version of the British LCAC(L) - much smaller (and cheaper) hovercraft that carries about 13-troops.

    GAB

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    1. GAB, good point about vehicle size. How does that impact the numbers of vehicles required (fairly obvious - more are needed) and the lift capacity for those vehicles on the amphibious ships? Can we lift and operate the required number?

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    2. CNO,

      If we are willing to have a serious discussion - yes we can (and should) meet the sea lift requirements, the problem is that the politics of the discussion will largely invalidate: the F-35B, V-22, H-53, and other favorite service parochial programs.

      It will also push the Corps away from infantry centric operations to a more balanced infantry-mechanized operational approach - a logical move that is long overdue.

      But just as the Corps was uninterested in the H-60 program, and the H-47 program; it appears to be uninterested in the FVL program.

      I predict that by 2025, the Corps will be unable to afford the H-53K in any significant numbers because of the procurement cost of the F-35B,, and the mission capable rate of the V-22 fleet will be in the toilet due to the O&M costs of the V-22.

      Significantly the AH-1 and UH-1 fleets will also be at the end of their air frame lives with no replacement in sight.

      Of course the H-47s and the BlackHawks currently being purchased this FY will still be flying strong alongside their FVL replacements.

      The ghosts of USMC Commandants past are face palming themselves over this mess.

      GAB

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  3. The biggest problem is OMFTS (operational maneuver from the sea) and STOM (ship to objective maneuver) have distracted the Corp from the the most important part of an amphibious landing, THE LANDING. I wish they had never switched from the LVT to the AAV terminology, because LVT (LANDING, vehicle, tracked) shows the most important purpose for the vehicle, getting marines ashore. Any capabilities they may bring past the beachhead are a bonus, and entirely secondary. But all the focus on the inland objectives first distorted requirements.

    Randall L. Rapp

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    1. Randall, that's a fascinating perspective and certainly seems plausible and contributory if not primary. The entire military fell into the grip of an obsession with technological solutions to challenging problems some time ago and have not yet emerged from it. OMFTS and STOM may welll be examples of that. Certainly, the focus shifted from the bloody reality to the shiny toys used to whisk troops around the battlefield without regard to the realities of the task.

      Very good comment!

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    2. So first some history of the LVT from my memory of First to Fight by LtGen Krulak.

      In 1940 the USMC was starting to develop landing craft. They wanted a landing craft with a bow ramp that could unload onto the beach like what we had seen the Japanese use in China. This led directly to the Higgins boat of WWII fame. However the Higgins boat could only land on soft surfaces and could not traverse a reef to land troops ashore on an A-toll.

      This led to the decision to try a tracked vehicle that could traverse a reef and land the troops ashore. Exactly like Randall said it was a Landing craft first, last and only.

      Once the battle started on the islands the LVT found a new job, as a truck. Again compare a LVT to a Higgins boat. The Higgins boat could carry supplies to shore, ammo, water, chow, and so on. It then needed to be unloaded either by a vehicle already on the beach or by a vehicle it brought along to unload it self. Then the supplies would be loaded onto a truck and the truck could carry the supplies to front lines.

      Now the LVT could be loaded with supplies in the ship, traverse beaches the Higgins boat could not and then drive directly to the front lines. It could then pick up the wounded and take them right back to the ship. No build up on the beach required.

      This worked great for fighting in the pacific where islands only had 10-20 km^2 total area. However, as time went on the LVT that operated strictly as a landing craft made less and less sense compared to what Marines were actually doing. What we really wanted was an APC.

      In the last ten years there has a been a massive rift created between the APC/IFV we need to fight on land and the capabilities of a LVT we need to come ashore. What you are seeing the massive amount of frustration at trying to square this circle. Are we willing to trade a crap ton of land combat capability for a LVT that can swim from 25nm out? Once ashore will Marine infantry go into combat on foot only, with MTVRs and LVTs used strictly for road marches? When the infantry are fighting do we want to have a massive parking lot 4 km behind them and the infantry with only supported by tanks?

      Or do we want a IFV that is capable of fighting next to the infantry and providing them with immediate 25-30mm direct fire weapons support? Do we want to have fast moving armored warfare or can we accept slower moving motorized infantry fighting on foot with tanks in an infantry support role?

      The USMC recognizes the value of fast moving amored warfare as show in MCDP-1 Warfighting. We also want to continue the tradtion of a LVT that can land troops ashore on many beaches. We cannot afford 2 different vehicles. The compromises necessary for one make it suck at the other one. What do you choose?

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    3. USMC 0802,

      You are asking the right questions, but I think IFVs are not the solution.

      The point is to get the infantry intact to their objectives and prevent them from having to go to ground against artillery, or deploy to root-out harassing threats like snipers. My vote goes for more tanks supporting infantry in APCs. The Russians may very well be onto something with the BMPT, but I favor larger HE projection (mortars or direct fire). The APC becomes a true battle taxi (not a fighting vehicle) providing the infantry with speed, and protection from the greatest threats artillery, mines, and automatic weapons fire.

      My thought is that a deployed USMC landing force needs to be built like a spear that is thrust against the weakest point of the enemy defenses.

      At the spear point are MBTs, supported by specialized combat engineering vehicles (which will included robotic mine clearance vehicles), with combat engineers in HAPCs based upon tanks. This force punches through the beach defenses and carries the fight inland.

      The shaft is the infantry following in wheeled APCs that leapfrog ahead and dismount for the decisive action. For someplace like Korea, we may need to put a portion of the infantry in HAPCs to support the initial assault.

      Supporting Artillery and logistics units are also wheeled or tracked.

      Specialized forces will include reconnaissance, air-landed infantry, air defenses (and C-RAM!).

      The Navy will be required to expend intensive fire during the initial breach, as well as massive aerial interdiction to isolate the breach, and of course destruction of the enemy maritime strike-surveillance network and C-4ISR nodes.

      Twelve (12) 20-40 meter gun boats with automatic 120mm mortars will be required just to lay IR smoke (1500 rounds) and provide a heavy HE suppression (1500 rounds) of potential defenses. Another six 50 meter missile boats with 57mm or 76mm guns will be required to protect the beach approaches and to provide auto cannon suppression of emerging targets. And none of this addresses obstacle reduction, and other supporting fire requirements.

      Unlike WWII and Korea, the entire force should be designed to blow through the first 300-600 yards of beach in less than 30–minutes, and thereafter move at 30-40mph onto its objectives.

      GAB

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    4. GAB, now that's the begining of a doctrinal approach to amphibious landings. You've begun to address some of the foreseeable challenges and laid the foundation of a comprehensive approach. Unfortunately, I see little (no) evidence of this type of thinking taking place inside the Corps (perhaps it is and I'm just not privy to it?).

      The initial fire support, which you've addressed with gun boats and missile boats, appears to be totally neglected by Marine doctrine and the references that are made to it are contradictory even within the JP document.

      Just out of curiosity, where would these gunboats come from in terms of transportation to the landing area? Trans-oceanic self-deploying? Nested on amphibs or commercial container ships? Something else?

      Would these boats utilize a mothership?

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    5. "Unlike WWII and Korea, the entire force should be designed to blow through the first 300-600 yards of beach in less than 30–minutes, and thereafter move at 30-40mph onto its objectives."

      That could potentially require some heavy duty breaching capability, depending on the specifics of the defenses! That, in turn, affects the composition of the initial wave, as you've suggested.

      Thanks for the C-RAM shout-out!

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    6. CNO,

      My USMC "BMPT" would be an modernized M728 CEV (built on a new chassis of course).

      My HAPC would be something like an IDF Namer.

      My AEV would look a lot like the Leopard 2 AEV (Pionierpanzer 3 Kodiak).

      The drones would be rebuilt M60 tanks with the turrets removed and mine plows and flails and other counter-mine gear.

      The fire support could come from something like the new MkVI PB with AMOS (gold plated version), NEMO, or Cardom (low cost) 120mm mortars.

      The boats would be transported buy any ship with a modern heavy lift, active heave compensated crane, in well decks, launched over the side, etc..

      All of these vehicles and weapons exist now and nothing I am proposing would surprise the people who planned the landings at SWORD Beach, or Inchon.

      Back then they armed LCTs and sub chasers and anything that could mount a rocket, stand up to a 4.2" mortar, or was stable enough for a howitzer or other gun.

      All of it was common sense from our fathers and grandfathers

      GAB

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    7. GAB,

      How do you build up that level of combat power quickly on the beach? Each CEV, Tank, and HAPC requires a separate LCAC trip.

      How about going the route espoused in this article,

      http://projects.militarytimes.com/pdfs/marine-procurement.pdf

      Develop a flying crane version of the CH-53K which can lift a reasonably-sized MPC, say 18-20 tonnes (think LAV-III, not HAVOC), and bypass shore defenses.

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    8. Smitty,

      I really like the idea of a flying crane, and have wondered aloud for a long time why we do not have the means to insert a BMD type vehicle during a vertical envelopment (parachute, air land, or helicopter). It would be a great capability for a reconnaissance element up to the size of an LAV company.

      That said, a sky crane is not a panacea.

      1. I cannot remotely imagine trying to do (yet another) NEO in Beirut and finding even a single HLZ for a V-22 or CH-53 sized aircraft that is not subject to immediate direct automatic weapons fire up to 23mm in caliber, or indirect 82mm mortar fire. Forget MANPADS, hellos are vulnerable to everything including land mines! And an HLZ sized for four simultaneous CH-53 lifts is a big HLZ unless it is truly remote.

      2. The procurement unit cost of an H-53K is over $124 Million. The procurement unit cost of the SSC (LCAC replacement) is $55.5Million. PASCAT, CNIM’s EDA-R (L-CAT) and others are far less costly than the SSC to buy and operate. You cannot ignore the costs. And how many H-53s is the Corps going to actually buy and deploy with an ARG? Four, maybe?

      3. Air landed LAV type vehicles may work wonderfully in many situations, but they are seriously overmatched in urban terrain, and even a T-55 (still plentiful) is a problem. The Corps requested tank support from the USA for Fallujah, requested again in the ‘Ghan, because there still remains the need for armor. Using air landed infantry in conjunction with wheeled APCs as part of a combined arms operation is smart, particularly if you have heavy armor and engineer support.

      4. LAV type vehicles also require engineer and logistics support that likely cannot be provided by helicopter assets – certainly not for prolonged operations. I still have yet to see any realistic 3-day + fight the goes down with pushing at least fuel over the beach. How are we going to run the artillery and heavy mortars?

      GAB

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    9. Agreed it is no panacea. That being said, we don't need an assault landing force that is an end-all-be-all. We need it capable enough to establish (or assist in establishing) a lodgement for follow-on forces. STOMing small, foot-mobile infantry units won't do it. Assaulting via AAV could, assuming you can get their amphibs close enough to shore to deliver them without eating a bunch of AShMs.

      Trying to deliver heavy vehicles in the initial wave directly to the beach via SSC/LCAC sounds like a recipe for disaster.

      If anything, I see mechanized vertical envelopment as complementary to traditional landings. If you can hit them from behind, they won't be able to focus on the beach. A fast moving LAV force could search for AShM launchers on the ground in the enemy's rear area.

      A LAV-type vehicle also fits more of the other Marine missions better than HAPCs and Tanks.

      A skycrane H-53K-variant would be an expensive aircraft, but it can lift its payload at 120kts vs 35kts for the SSC/LCAC and can bypass minefields and other static defenses. Yes, air defenses are an issue. One system can't get around everything.


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    10. "Trying to deliver heavy vehicles in the initial wave directly to the beach via SSC/LCAC sounds like a recipe for disaster."

      zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

      The historical record supports having armor land directly with the first wave(s). The USA ignored reason and ended up with Omaha beach.

      I am not wedded to the type of vehicle that gets AFVs ashore, but I am certain that landing AFVs and AEVs in the first wave is essential.

      This is not my original idea, but resulted from USMC policy recommendations made by veterans of WWII. It echoes British and Canadian experience in WWII. And it was revisited by the Krulak board after the 1st Gulf War.

      I accept the generic 8x8 wheeled APC as a good trad-off of speed, protection (against artillery, mines and small arms), but these are protected transport, not fighting vehicles.

      Technicals with KPTV machine guns and RPGs are a problem for most wheeled 8x8s.

      There is a reason why Israel and others have embraced the tank - Heavy APC team.

      I you how you will evacuate embassies in places like Beirut, or Karachi? Wheeled APCs are not the answer. Light infantry are not the answer.

      GAB




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    11. I like the Tank - HAPC/HIFV concept. I'm just skeptical you can get them ashore rapidly enough, in sufficient numbers, especially assuming any kind of resistance on the beach. The connectors are very vulnerable.

      I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

      Technicals with machine guns are outmatched by LAVs with 25mms in stabilized turrets. RPGs are certainly problematic, so you have to evaluate when and where air-lifted armor can work.

      Embassy evacuation depends on the circumstances. If we are facing semi-random riots, then 8x8s or helicopters can get in and get out faster. Turreted 8x8s are also sufficiently intimidating.

      If you are facing more than that, then yes, you'd need to bring more combat power ashore.

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    12. Smitty,

      Good points, but…

      The problem of deploying light infantry centric forces on ships is that it does not compete well with simply parachuting and or air landing a similar U.S. Army force.

      Looking at the problem from a tax payer prospective, a Ranger Regiment or one or two striker battalions or can provide faster, world-wide response than all of the Navy/USMC ARGs.

      To add insult to injury, the Army solution is cheaper (no gators), keeps the troops in garrison, possibly in CONUS, and the troops have unimpeded access to training ranges (unlike the ARG deployment cycle).

      If you want to get downright ugly, I believe that the 101st airborne division could execute a vertical envelopment from Maritime pre-positioning ships better than a USMC division from specialized amphibious ships. If facing a potentially hot HLZ, there is no way the UH-1/V-22/H-53 matches the UH-60/H-47 combination.

      Note the Russian airborne brigades still maintain the ability to air drop a full tracked mechanized battalion.

      The Navy and Marine Corps strengths traditionally came from the unmatched material lift ships provide, alongside their strategic mobility.

      The current force does posses more capability than its Army counterpart, is expensive to maintain, is slower to respond, has lost much of the logistics support that it once enjoyed (too few ships), and does not scale up well against even a modestly equipped foe (tanks! Even old T55s!), and has demonstrated weaknesses in urban environments (tanks!).

      This is UNSAT.

      GAB

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    13. Typo from the last paragraph:

      The current force does [not] posses more capability than its Army counterpart, is [more] expensive to maintain, is slower to respond, has lost much of the logistics support that it once enjoyed (too few ships), and does not scale up well against even a modestly equipped foe (tanks! Even old T55s!), and has demonstrated weaknesses in urban environments (tanks!).

      GAB

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    14. "Technicals with machine guns are outmatched by LAVs with 25mms in stabilized turrets."

      zzzzzzzzzzzzz

      This is incorrect.

      The LAV is vulnerable to 14.5mm KVPT fire as well as 23mm ZU-23 fire.

      GAB

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    15. "The LAV is vulnerable to 14.5mm KVPT fire as well as 23mm ZU-23 fire."

      It is, but a stabilized 25mm turret outranges a pintle KPV and the turret optics give the LAV a better chance to shoot and hit first.

      If a crane CH-53K variant could lift 18-20 tons, then the LAV/LAV-III could have MEXAS installed. This would protect against at least 14.5mm HMGs. Obviously, in situations where deploying via helo was not required, you could install MEXAS and cage armor to bring you up to Stryker level.

      Certainly LAVs are not tanks. No argument there. But LAV-equipped Marines flown in by helo will be far more capable than foot-mobile Marines flown in by helo.

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    16. "The Navy and Marine Corps strengths traditionally came from the unmatched material lift ships provide, alongside their strategic mobility."

      To that I would add "the once-upon-a-time-but-no-longer ability to conduct a high end (combat heavy) amphibious assault".

      The previous statements are the crux of the issue. Once the heavy assault capability is lost (as now) we're left with debating low end, light infantry operations and not only do the Marines offer nothing unique in that realm, as GAB points out, they probably aren't even the best option - the Army has better options.

      Discussing LAVs or APCs or whatever, while important for those low end operations, misses the larger question of what the Marines bring to the table if they've ruled out traditional amphibious assault.

      One could still make a case for a unique Marine contribution even in the absence of traditional assault but only if the Corps is completely aligned with that, meaning procurement, equipment, doctrine, training, and naval support. Trying to maintain the illusion of a traditional amphibious assault while only half gearing and training for the low end is a recipe for failure across the entire spectrum of operations. The Marines need to pick what kind of force they want to be and then become the best at it. Right now, they're all over the map and probably incapable of doing any of them well.

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    17. Marine MAGTFs bring a lot more to the table than parachuted airborne troops. Parachute airborne units bring very little firepower or vehicular mobility with them. So while they can get to a crisis anywhere in the world faster (assuming the MAGTF isn't already local), they are very short on sustainment, mobility and combat power. An existing MEU has AAVs, a tank platoon, and possibly LAVs, as well as helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

      Stryker units can be flown in, but require fairly substantial and secure APODs. A local MAGTF can build up combat power faster, within a certain radius from the ARG, and requires no airfields. Stryker units also don't have tanks. The MAGTF does.

      Agreed on the hot LZ discussion. An Army style air assault unit has better rotary assets for that. IIRC, Marine doctrine doesn't emphasize landing in hot LZs. They'd rather land further away and walk.

      I don't think the 101st could do a vertical envelopment from MPS ships better simply because there aren't enough helo spots on MPS ships. Now flying from a Maersk AFSB would be a different story.

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    18. “Marine MAGTFs bring a lot more to the table than parachuted airborne troops. Parachute airborne units bring very little firepower or vehicular mobility with them.”

      Tell this to 18th Airborne Corps, or the 75th Ranger Regiment. Seriously, have you participated in, or seen a Ranger BN airfield seizure, a BN, brigade, or division sized airdrop?

      The problem remains that because the Navy and USMC cannot breach a 1,000 meter wide assault lane from the sea, the MEU will remain an infantry centric battalion sized force deprived of fire support and logistics. And it will be trying to improvise its logistics using four H-53s and a handful of V-22s to run 650 tons of supplies a day through an air corridor.

      Without sea-lift, the MEU can airlift its artillery, but cannot maneuver the 155mm towed battery on the ground because it cannot get heavy trucks as prime movers over the beach. That is *not* a credible force.

      At least 82nd and 101st will have artillery because the M119 105mm gun (and more importantly ammunition) can be moved by air dropped prime movers, light vehicles, even man handled. The Corps chased the bigger is better motto, and will lack reliable artillery support in any scenario calling for forced entry operations.

      This limits a MEU to the low end of the combat spectrum – which is okay, but not really a compelling reason to build and sustain $6Billion dollar LHDs, $1.7Billion dollar LPDs, and a ~$1Billion LSD.

      The low end threat is however perfectly within the capability of rangers, paratroopers and attached forces (Strykers, AH-64s, MH-60s, etc.) - even MBTs can be air landed. I

      The army force will be backed by 18th Airborne Corps with long standing relationships to USAF units that practice aerial delivery and supply, and have pre-staged, on-call, pallet loads of beans, and bullets sitting rigged for parachute drop right *now*. This is sufficient to support up to a brigade with little effort. If the Navy and USMC try to do something like this they will be improvising at 11th hour.

      I am a fan of the USMC, but massively critical of the current ARG-MEU force structure. It isn’t the infantry battalion that is the issue; the problem is that the Navy and USMC are not properly supporting it to be the fearsome weapon that it should be.

      GAB

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    19. GAB,

      What are the biggest weapon systems a battalion-sized 75th RRF brings with them when they airdrop? 60mm mortar? Javelin? What level of vehicular mobility do they have? A few HMMWVs? They have no artillery, no tanks, no APCs/IFVs, no helicopters.

      They have to drop basically ON their target or at least within walking distance. They have to seize an airfield immediately to enable follow-on forces. They can't face anything more than light resistance without major augmentation. A well-fought mechanized company would ruin an RRF battalion's day. A ragtag but determined band of irregulars armed with technicals would as well (see Task Force Ranger).

      I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but the Rangers, 82nd and 173rd are all very light infantry units when airdropped. Paradoxically, the 82nd used to actually be "heavier" than our light infantry divisions were. They had more organic vehicular transport. This is why the 82nd was used in OIF and not another light infantry division. Not sure if this still holds true after the IBCT redesign.

      The USMC can breach an assault lane in certain circumstances. Maybe not against top-flight opposition, but the vast majority of ops won't be against top-flight opponents.

      I'd certainly rather have a MEU landing in places like Somolia than a Ranger battalion. The MEU brings tanks, Harriers, attack helos, rotary lift, AAVs and LAVs, as well as 120mm mortars and 155mm artillery. We saw what happened to lightly-equipped Rangers. The Somalis didn't mess with the Marines, when they were there.

      I am with you, though, in wondering why we are spending so much on Marine aviation and amphibs when they lack capability against top-flight opponents. I've commented on a number of blog posts that the Marines should adopt a lighter MEU organization more along the lines of a 101st DRF(+).

      http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014-03/sustaining-our-amphibious-capability#comment-1291491545

      http://navy-matters.blogspot.com/2014/01/aviation-assault-transport.html?showComment=1389550287677#c6202182514305172946

      http://navy-matters.blogspot.com/2013/12/lcs-asw.html?showComment=1387464036399#c8975995846360852256

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    20. B.Smitty, as an aside, I'm impressed as can be that you can recall and cite specific comments! I'm constantly struggling to remember where I wrote some specific comment or other and I can rarely find them. Do you catalog or database your comments or do you just have a very good memory? Regardless, I'm impressed!

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    21. Google is my friend. ;) I searched for "B.Smitty" and "101st DRF". Navy Matters came up twice. I had to dig a bit more to find the USNI thread, but i recalled having detailed conversations with Col. Fuquea over there.

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    22. Smitty,

      Actually it is the ARG that will be limited to heavy mortars.

      The 82nd airborne division drops with 105mm howitzers and the means to move and resupply them, which sounds like a disadvantage compared to the USMC M777 towed 155mm howitzer; until you realize that neither the H-53, nor the V-22 can carry a vehicle internally that can move the marine artillery!

      So the Marines can airlift the M777 into the fight, but unless they seize a beach to bring in their trucks, they cannot move the howitzers or their ammunition – UNSAT!

      Instead, the marines will have to sling load the M777 *and* the tow vehicles. External loads severely restrict the speed and range of V-22s and helicopters. So not only will the Marines have serious issues with artillery, they will also have real issues with troop lift. All of which will screw with the ~600 tons of logistics that somehow have to be flown from the ships, while the MEU commander is screaming for tactical troop lift. This is silliness.

      This situation is a result of the Corp’s pig-headedness in insisting upon the H-53 over the H-47 (which can carry HMMWVs internally BTW) – a fight that went right to the desk of the SECDEF. The error was compounded by the Corp’s decision to eliminate the 105mm howitzer.

      Worse, this problem will continue for decades, because the USMC wants no part of FVL program, but the Army is certain to ensure the HMMWV replacement JLTV/M-ATV/whatever fits inside the FVL aircraft, because the Army is the executive agent for both programs. They certainly do not give a crap about USMC needs if the Corps refuses to participate.

      Other airborne advantages: unless the ARG is literally sitting on top of the target the airborne forces will get there first. This will likely decide the issue right there. Do not forget that the ARG will have a tough time reaching targets much beyond 100nm inland if it plans on using all of its air assets, and certainly not if it has to sling-load crap .

      Second advantage is Rangers will definitely come with all of the SEAD, AC-130s, and every trick in the book to kick down the door and seize an airhead. Over that airhead will flow whatever support the ground force commander requires from Strykers, to MLRS, to H-60s, to M1 tanks. Look at how USAF and USA bases are co-located. That hose is setup to move everything from a battalion up to a division subject to C-17 availability. And C-17s are designated to be ready for a brigade sized move.

      Is an airborne the solution to all ills? Far from it – but the given the options it is likely to be the best call in spite of USMC protests.

      Now, if the Corps were to tune their doctrine and acquisition, I think that they can provide a much better capability. Ideally we would link the ARG to the airborne DRF to get the best of both worlds. I also think the Russians have the right concept with their airborne mechanized infantry.

      GAB

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    23. You can't get around sling-loading stuff. The CH-53E can sling an MTVR at curb weight, though not very far. They did have a program for a light weight prime mover, that could be lifted via V-22, but I think it was canceled before they completed the purchase.

      The MAGTF still comes with AH-1Zs and Harriers, though, as well as EFSS. So it still wins the organic fire support category.

      If needed, the MEU/MEB/MEF can benefit from all of the Joint assets too. They just aren't as reliant, and honestly should practice more with them.

      Organically, the 82nd and other airborne units are just lighter than Marine units. It's not a knock. IMO, both styles have their place. if we can move a MAGTF to the scene, preemptively, it can be ready to intervene faster than a Stryker unit, with much more capability than an airborne unit.

      I'd like to see us build a BMD-style vehicle as well. I even like the 30mm/100mm armament of the later BMD-4s, though the ammo storage is a typical Russian nightmare.

      I've oft thought about our variant using a 30mm and 105mm howitzer combo. The ammo for the 105mm is only a bit longer than the 100mm, and we have plenty of stocks available. Put the ammo in an armored bustle rack serving an autoloader. A modern, tandem 105mm HEAT round could be developed which might penetrate > 800mm armor behind ERA. That'd be sufficient to kill just about any tank from the side, and all but the heaviest/newest from the front.

      We could adopt a gun launched ATGM like LAHAT for longer-ranged tank killing.

      This type of armament would be effective against a wide variety of common battlefield targets. 105mm HE is much cheaper than firing TOWs or Javelins at buildings and fighting positions.

      Anyway, sorry for the off-topic.

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    24. The CH-53K will be able to carry a pair of HMMWVs internally, with room to spare. The CH-47 can manage this, but only if you grease em up real good. There isn't much clearance.

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    25. Smitty,

      The point is that faced with situation where a *vertical envelopment* is the only option, the current LF of an ESG/ARG, cannot effectively employ artillery due to a lack of prime movers and other restraints. This leaves the marines without true artillery; a serious, serious issue.

      EFSS is a heavy mortar, not artillery. It is a good mortar, but you might look at the Battle of Tora Bora for a reality check on the perils of substituting mortars for proper artillery.

      The 82nd ready BN will airdrop with its artillery, ammunition and prime movers making combat ready from the start. Light infantry, but at least properly equipped light infantry.

      GAB

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    26. The CH-53K is another gold plated procurement item: $124Million per aircraft (on paper), that will not even reach PDR before the next round of sequestration hits kick in. Do not expect it to be purchased in quantity, if at all.

      Assuming the H-53K survives, it will not be able to carry the HMMVW replacement, the M-ATV or JLTV.

      H-47s cost $26Million, are in current production, are absolutely capable of pretty much every task an H-53 can do, but does it for less expense and far more reliably. Ever compare the class A mishap rate of H-53s to H-47s?

      Pinning hopes on an undemonstrated aircraft that cost five (5!) times as much as an H-47 is silly.

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  4. “That could potentially require some heavy duty breaching capability, depending on the specifics of the defenses! That, in turn, affects the composition of the initial wave, as you've suggested.”

    It is heresy to say it on this side of the Atlantic, but during the Normandy invasion the British and Canadians at SWORD and Juno Beaches fought the same Germans as we did, yet they managed defeat the obstacles, mines, and defenses to get off their invasion beaches in about 30-minutes!

    The British were able to do this because they devoted a massive effort to developing all sorts of engineering vehicles specifically to breach the German defenses (Hobart’s funnies). Now we have 70 some years of advancement and refinement in earth moving technology, forestry products and agriculture vehicles. And then there are the advances in robotics. This is a straight forward engineering problem we should be able to beat.

    I am more concerned about the mines in the approaches to the beaches and in the surf zone.

    GAB

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  5. One possible connector nobody is currently looking at was in development during WWII to deal with their A2/AD threat (U-boats). The heavy lift sea plane. The Navy should really be developing a cargo seaplane with at least C-130 capability, preferably C-17. This would also be useful for general logistics (I've seen several post about the difficulty of air transport of the F-35s engine), especially for groups without a nearby carrier. I could also solve the navy's aerial refueler problem.

    Randall Rapp

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    1. Randall, I think I asked this before and I apologize if you already answered but how do you see this seaplane being used? What specific roles? How close to a combat front? Who/what would the aircraft interface with and how would it be unloaded? Given unloading considerations, is it limited to only built up ports and airbases? How does the seaplane nature of the aircraft affect its rated lift capacity?

      Thanks!

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    2. Hi! I'm new here, having found this site searching through online seaplane and flying boat news.

      I found Navy publication pertaining to this NSWCCD-20-TR-2004/08 "Use of Seaplanes and Integration within a Sea Base"

      Because of their size and ability to land and operate in water, whereas everything else ditches and sinks, I am researching seaplanes/flying boats potential in humanitarian endeavors in the areas of search-and-rescue, disaster response, evacuations, disaster recovery, and firefighting. There exists opportunities in commercial aviation and tourism markets.

      On pages 10-11, it states, "The Russian manufacturer Beriev produces a large range of multipurpose seaplanes, such as the Be-200 and A-40 aircraft, with much improved performance. In addition, the Shin Meiwa company in Japan retains production capability for the US-1a, an aircraft with exceptional rough water capabilities. U.S. seaplane activities are limited to a proposal to convert Lockheed Martin C-130 aircraft to float planes and a number of notional concepts for very large transports."

      On pages 14-15 The Convair Tradewind was designed to operate in seastate 4 conditions, along with the Shin Meiwa US-1A and Beriev A-42PE. All these aircraft have a high power to weight ratio. High power-to-weight ratio enables high acceleration to allow the aircraft to accelerate through the critical hump period faster and get airborne quickly.

      I recall a TV documentary on the development of the C-130 showing landings on carriers (touch-and-go) and it was stated then a seaplane version was researched but no prototypes built.

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  6. I see it in pretty much the same roles as the cargo planes I mentioned, The C-130 and C-17, with pretty much similar rules as to where it is allow to operate. Optimally it should be able to unload in the field, one difference I think would be important for it compared to more standard cargo planes would be a cargo hatch on the upper body, to allow cargo to be craned out by ships. The configuration I imagined would be two doors splitting along the length of the plane with a light (2-5 ton) crane arm fitted between them that would act as a reinforcement for the airframe in flight. Because of the structural requirements for the nose/prow it probably won't have a forward ramp, but a rear ramp should be possible. Optimally I would prefer if it could flood down so it could act like a flying well deck, allowing deployment and retrieval of light boats, minisubs, and amphibious vehicles.

    Randall Rapp

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    1. Randall, you've got a fascinating idea, there, that I'd like to hear more about. However, I'm having trouble visualizing the role. Help me out some more. The C-XXX's operate behind the lines to provide logistics supply and troop/equipment movement. If a seaplane operates behind the lines then presumably we could simply use a normal C-XXX.

      Using a seaplane to supply a ship is interesting but, again, it would have to be at least somewhat in the rear area and the ship could just as easily meet up with a supply ship or return to a port/base. A seaplane couldn't come anywhere near meeting the complete resupply needs of a ship.

      Setting that aside, how would the supplies be transferred from the seaplane to the ship? You mention a crane but no Navy warship has a crane with an arm that extends longer than 20 feet or so beyond the side of the ship. How would the seaplane "nestle" up to the ship so that its cargo bay was accessible and the plane's wings (much longer than 20 feet) didn't "push" the plane too far away from the crane? Try an overhead sketch of the idea and see how the plane and ship would be arranged and let me know.

      If the seaplane were resupplying supply ships rather than warships that might be worthwhile but would the seaplane's cargo capacity be worth the effort and cost relative to the ship's cargo capacity?

      It's an interesting idea. Help me understand your thought process some more.

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    2. You could notch the stern of the ship and allow the nose of the plane to nestle into the stern of the ship.

      This would allow for much better access to the plane's cargo hold.

      GAB

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    3. A seaplane could come aboard an MLP but again the wingspan would be an issue and I don't think there is a crane with enough reach. Just thinking out loud.

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  7. There is a document(pdf) on sea-basing I was reading when I thought of this. A Congressional Budget Office study, July 2007, titled "Sea Basing and Alternatives for Deploying and Sustaining Ground Combat Forces". You should check it out. Also the Navy has plenty of experience with aircraft folding wings. As for what it would carry to the sea-base primarily troops and equipment that doesn't do well in long term on board storage (the document I mentioned above mentioned that helicopters don't pre-po as well as ground vehicles). Even a fast (JHSV) cargo ship could easily be several days round trip from a friendly port, compared to a seaplane.

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  8. I'm not saying a seaplane solves all the logistic problems, but it gives you an additional set of options that heavy lift helicopters and fast cargo vessels (kind of in between) don't cover.

    Randall Rapp

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