Friday, January 9, 2015

Attack Transport

The backbone of the American amphibious fleet in WWII was the attack transport, designated APA, which carried troops, their equipment, and around 20 landing craft to get them ashore.  Over the course of the war, hundreds were adapted from civilian ships or purpose built, many as sub-types of the Victory ships.  A typical example was the Haskell class, built during the last couple of years of the war.

Class:                         Haskell Class APA
Length:                       455 ft
Displacement:           6900 t (light)
Troop Capacity:        1500 troops
Cargo Capacity:        150,000 cu.ft., 2900 tons
Cost:                           $2M ($34M in 2014) – data from Wiki Victory ships


Contrast those specs to today’s Wasp class LHD.

Class:                         Wasp Class LHD
Length:                       831 ft
Displacement:           40,000 t
Troop Capacity:        1900 troops
Cargo Capacity:        ??
Cost:                           $1B each ?

The Wasp is twice the length and several times the displacement – a much bigger vessel.  Despite the size difference, the troop capacities are similar.  I’m not suggesting that the two vessels are, overall, equivalent.  The Wasp operates an aviation group and offers extensive medical facilities among other capabilities. 

Even a comparison of landing craft is not really relevant.  The Haskell carried around 20 landing craft while the Wasp can operate 3 LCACs or several LCMs in addition to helos which perform a landing craft role, to an extent.

There are two key points, here, and they’re related.  First, on a relative basis, the troop and cargo capacities of the Haskell are excellent and surpass the Wasp. 

Second, is the cost.  Unfortunately, I can’t find definite cost numbers for the Haskell but, presumably, they’re similar to the Victory ship costs.  Clearly, the cost per embarked troop strongly favors the Haskell class.  That’s not surprising given that they were essentially civilian ships and had limited functions.

What does this suggest regarding future amphibious force structure?

We’ve created a modern amphibious ship that has a LOT of capability but that capability comes at great cost and great risk.  If we lose an amphibious ship we lose a huge amount of capability.  Further, the emphasis on the aviation side has resulted in a ship that has a limited capacity to actually land the embarked troops and cargo in an opposed landing scenario.  Helos are marginally useful to move troops or very light equipment but are extremely vulnerable.  LCACs are not currently envisioned as first wave landers.  In addition, as we’ve previously discussed, the numbers of landing craft are too small to sustain a landing in the face of any attrition at all (see, "Amphibious Assault Attrition").

Perhaps the time has come to take a page from the WWII model by separating the troop/cargo transport and landing function from the aviation support function.  A modern Haskell, meaning a commercial cargo/transport/landing ship, could be built for $100M-$200M.  Separately, a new small helo carrier could fill the aviation and medical functions – a scaled down America without the troop berthing and support and without the ground combat equipment storage.

A commercial transport ship would need an easily deployed landing craft that could be carried in large numbers on the transport as was done in WWII.  Of course, such a landing craft does not currently exist but that should not be too difficult to develop.

The helo carrier could, of course, also operate an F-35B if those prove viable.  Such a carrier would, presumably, be significantly smaller, cheaper, and less expensive to operate than the current big deck amphibs.  When the well deck, Marine berthing, Marine equipment storage, and all the troop support functions such as food storage, galleys and mess, water requirements, heads, etc. are removed from the big deck amphib we should have a greatly reduced size carrier. 

APA - Model For The Future?

In conjunction with a discussion about a small helo carrier we need to recognize that helos are not a viable assault landing craft.  As landing craft, they’re limited to transporting a small raiding force.  Thus, a helo carrier would de-emphasize the vertical assault function and optimize the aviation element for close air support and counter-helo work.  The transport helos should be reduced in number and used for short battlefield troop movements.  In addition, eliminating the helo landing function would free up capacity on the helo carrier for more attack helos or F-35Bs.

A small transport would not be a viable “cruise” vessel.  The cramped spaces would not be conducive to a several month deployment as is currently done to maintain an afloat MEU.  The transports would be used only as needed which would have the side benefit of reducing operating costs.

In fact, it might be possible to combine the Maritime Pre-Positioning ship function with such a use-only-when-needed transport.  The transports could be pre-loaded with Army/Marine gear and marry up with their troops when needed.  This might also reduce or eliminate the need for the inefficient MLP if the transport can unload directly to its own landing craft.  The key, of course, is developing a suitable landing craft.

A small transport is not the most efficient amphibious vessel.  For ultimate, pure efficiency we’d need a mammoth vessel capable of holding the entire Marine Corps, all their equipment and supplies, every required landing craft, and the entire helo and fixed wing aviation force.  Of course, that would provide the enemy with a single target which would have a very short life expectancy.  Even the current sized amphibious vessels offer very tempting targets.  Consider that a MEU only has three ships – sink one and the assault is over.  Yes, I know that a MEU is not a full-fledged assault force but the idea and the vulnerability scales up to MEB or whatever size force the assault needs.  The more we can break up the assault force and distribute its equipment, the better.  C’mon, we figured this out in WWII.

I do not advocate a blind return to the past but I do advocate a very careful consideration of past practices before we abandon them and this is one of those instances.  We learned how to conduct amphibious assaults in WWII and our methods were based on hard earned experience.  Before we turn away from those practices and move in a different direction we need to be sure that the move is a wise one.  Our modern tendency to concentrate our amphibious forces in fewer, larger ships may not be wise or affordable.  It’s time to bring back the simple attack transport.


49 comments:

  1. I saw the reference to the Haskell class APA and I thought of my father who served on APA -137 during WW II. Good read.
    Harry K

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    1. Harry, my father also served on an APA, the Henry T Allen. APA-15, in the Pacific. I hope the post triggered good memories.

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    2. Certainly did thanks.
      Harry K

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  2. The entire amphibious ship issue is something of a misnomer: the USN no longer has amphibious ships, just highly specialized (over specialized and gold plated) ships that carry administrative landing craft and VSTOL aircraft.

    The whole concept is currently a colossal mess. $1.7B for a LPD is outrageous even by cold war standards and unsustainable. We cannot even decide on what the lift requirement is as the USMC has not updated its requirements for over a decade, even though even common vehicles like the HMMWV has added over a ton of weight, the MPC/EFV issue remains in flux, other tactical vehicles like the JHSV are going to be much larger. Efforts to reduce the footprint of the MEU have led to a wholesale divestiture of armor, even though troops and marines in contact repeatedly request tanks: USN/USMC 2003 after action studies show that 93% of the fuel usage in the 2003 Iraq war was due to tactical wheeled vehicles not tracked tanks and AAVS!

    Rethinking the issue suggests that we:

    1) Decide in exactly what force(s) we are going to put across the beach which in turn will drive the landing craft and amphibians we need to carry.

    2) Ditch the concept of a well deck in favor of either a floodable deck in a FLO/FLO or plan to launch the assault craft using ramps or cranes. The well deck is not any faster during launch, and seriously compromises ship hull integrity.

    3) Toss the concept of a LHD/LHA in the dust bin and admit that we need a carrier for the aviation support (not necessarily a CVN). Chuck the overspecialized/obsolete USMC airframes like the H-53, and go for commonality with the Army airframes – FVL, H-47, and H-60s.

    4) Talk to commercial shipbuilders who build container ships, tankers, RO/ROs, and FLO/FLOs (hint that expertise left the shores of the USA decades ago) and see what sensible modifications can be done to modern containerships to get better compartmentalization, add aviation facilities, and add modern cranes. Look at incorporating sensible self protection measures like a close in weapon system, and some anti-SWARM weapons like 35-76mm gun(s) and Hellfire or Gryphon. 30 knot capable hulls are completely possible.

    5) All of the C4ISR should be in modular containers that can be moved ashore. No more expensive permanent installations and the redundant costs of shipboard gear sitting idle in dry-dock when the ship is in a yard period.
    The future ARG should consist primarily of very fast transports derived from large commercial RO/ROs or container ships. To that core, we should add smaller specialized ships like a catamaran LST, and perhaps an APD.

    GAB

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    1. Very good comment. You've hit on the heart of the issue with your observation that the Marines must first decide what forces they'll fight with. All else flows from that, as you point out.

      Regarding your Point 5, do you envision the modular containers incorporating their own sensors or do you envision them interfacing with whatever ship or ground sensors happen to be available?

      Regarding your suggestion about the composition of the future ARG, I see the ARG and the amphibioius assault force as two different entities with two different missions. The ARG is a rapid response force, deployed to high risk but low threat areas. Its role is to provide a quick but light response. The amphibious assault force, in contrast, is a heavy duty force intended to seize a beach or port as the initial step in a larger invasion. Thus, the APA concept as described in the post would apply only to the assault force, hence the suggestion that the APA would stand idle most of the time as opposed to cruising as part of an ARG. The ARG vessels would be whatever is required for the light, rapid response mission.

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  3. Oops, JTV, not JHSV!

    GAB

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  4. In defence of helicopter insertion
    Much is made of assault, but little of getting there first.

    A while back on snafu the question was asked ' what can a couple of ospreys loaded with marines hope to accomplish against a couple of zubr loaded with mech inf'

    I suggested arrive first with 155mm guns

    In usually for one of my ideas it ranked interesting rather than stupid.

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    1. TrT, you make a very good point about "getting there first". It's somewhat akin to "fire first, effectively". The only caveat is that helo insertions are limited to small forces with little staying power. Of course, you might answer that that's what follow on forces are for!

      I don't know enough about this aspect. How many helos in a MEU are capable of slinging a 155 gun and how much ammo can they carry?

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    2. It was purely speculative on my part.
      The V22 has the payload weight to move The 155mm towed gun (m777?)
      A couple of guns, a third for shells, a fourth for crew and spotters.

      Not a self sustainable force, but anyone trying to land off mass landers would have a very bad day.

      Of course if china has snuck a couple of manpad teams on the theoretical island...

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  5. CNO,

    You know I'm a fan of a modern APA/AKA. However I don't think we can strictly compare stats of a WWII APA with a modern LHD.

    Firstly, APAs packed troops in like sardines, with bunks five high, to get 1500-1900 on a ship. We'd have to evaluate how long we'd expect an APA(X) to be at sea before determining how dense we could pack people in. The expected living standards are much higher now than they were back then.

    Second, the APAs largely LO/LO'd bulk cargo down to landing craft, and had marines go over the side on nets (IIRC). An APA(X) would need a way to offload rolling stock via RO/RO, and preferably have Marines walk down ramps or visit the helipad to get ashore.

    An APA(X)/AKA(X) would also need a way to launch and recover AAVs. This remains an important capability for amphibious assaults.

    The choice of lighterage to use is significant. Use LCACs and gain all of their benefits (e.g. beach accessibility, "feet dry", speed, mine resistance)? Or use a displacement craft like the old LCMs with their drawbacks (e.g. slower, far fewer beaches accessible, sometimes "feet wet", did i mention slower)?

    LCACs would likely require a platform to fly up on, or a well deck to fly into. Both have ship design and/or operation sea state restrictions. I'd be interested to know the results of the ILP platform testing. That seemed like a simple way to enable LCACs, if it worked.

    Personally, I wouldn't want to give up significant helo landing capability. It's still pretty handy to have. I'm not a huge fan of the V-22 for the Marines, but i do think it's a useful aircraft to pool at the theater level. It would be nice if the helo carrier could carry and operate them. If the CH-53K lives up to its billing, it should be a major improvement (granted with a major price tag).

    With 20/20 hindsight and total power to rewrite history, I would've put the Marines on the H-60/H-47 combo, just like the Army. This would've saved billions as well as moving both of those programs forward with all services contributing to them. However at this point, we may be beyond the point of no return with the V-22 (having already bought many of the planned buy). Getting the Marines to accept the H-47 vs "their" aircraft isn't going to happen either, unless the CH-53K program completely tanks.

    For ship designs, one could look to a commercial conversion like HMNZS Canterbury as a model. It was based on a commercial 125m RoPax ferry (Ben-My-Chree). It has a stern ramp for mating to lighterage or AAV launch & recovery, but no LCAC capability. It carries a pair of LCMs on deck, launched and recovered via cranes.

    The MARAD AMH project included a much larger, 199m RoPax design. The estimated price for the 3rd in class was $190 million. Performing a Canterbury-like conversion on this type of vessel might be an option.

    Or you can separate troop and cargo/vehicle movement into two vessels. But then you have the issue of how to mate up troops to their kit during/before/after the assault.



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    1. B.Smitty, I tried, and may have failed, to make clear that beyond the general capacity comparison I was not directly comparing the WWII and modern ships. They are different animals performing different roles.

      I explicitly stated that a modern APA would not be a cruising ship as part of an ARG. The APA would load, move to the assault location, and unload. Troop comfort would be a decidely secondary issue.

      I fear you've completely missed (or I failed to make clear) my point about connectors (or lighterage or whatever term you want to use). I have no use for LCACs in their current guise. They are large, unwieldly, and maintenance intensive. I'm calling for a new landing craft that can be carried in large numbers aboard the APA and loaded directly from it. What form that would take, I don't know.

      I also called for complete separation of the aviation and troop functions. A modern APA would have no hangar and, likely, no flight deck. The benefit simply doesn't justify the cost or space.

      Conceptually, we need a modern Higgins boat. As a separate issue, how we get tanks and other heavy equipment ashore in the initial wave is a major problem that needs to be addressed.

      We cannot separate troops and their equipment. The loss of either vessel would be catastrophic - not that the loss of a ship full of combined troops and equipment wouldn't be - that's also the point behind more and smaller troop transports.

      I hope that's clearer.

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    2. The APA may not be a cruising ship that's part of the ARG, but it still may have to spend significant time at sea, either transiting from far away bases, or waiting for the proper conditions for an assault. It takes 10 days at 20kts just to sail from Hawaii to the Philippines. An amphibious assault fleet may have to wait offshore, or take a circuitous route to avoid detection, before launching the assault. So the APA may need to support troops for up to 2-3 weeks.

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    3. IMHO a flight deck is a requirement on an APA, if for nothing other than MEDEVAC. V-22 and CH-53 compatibility also makes sense IMHO. Offloading troops via helicopter is still an important capability, even if the APA doesn't house and maintain the helicopters. A hangar would be a luxury.

      Not sure I buy into the modern Higgins boat idea, but if you go that route, how bout <a href="http://www.griffonhoverwork.com/products-services/hovercraft-range/2400td.aspx>this</a>? The Brits like theirs. Then at least you can access the same set of beaches as the LCAC/SSCs (i.e. up to 70% of beaches vs only 25% for displacement landing craft). You'd still need a way to interface the APA with them (either well deck or ILP).

      Also, an AAV is far better than a Higgins boat for the initial landing. It's armored, has better organic firepower, and can climb over reefs and sandbars. Plus it can come ashore and keep moving. Troops wading ashore from Higgins boats are limited to their "Leather Personnel Carriers" once ashore and have only whatever body armor and weapons they can afford to carry (and not drown).





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    4. Oops, forgot to close quotes. Link to the Griffon 2400TD,

      http://www.griffonhoverwork.com/products-services/hovercraft-range/2400td.aspx

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    5. A flight deck serves no useful purpose this vessel. Medevac would occur to a fully equipped amphibious ship, not to a bare bones APA. It is not possible to cycle enough helos, one at a time, through a flight deck to load a useful number of troops for an airborne assault or transport and would certainly not justify the cost/space. Making the flight deck bigger to accomodate more helos at once simply takes the design right back to LHA.

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    6. You're taking me way too literal. I'm not suggesting an exact replica of a Higgins boat made out of modern materials. I'm suggesting that some of the characteristics of a Higgins boat are needed today: ability to be carried in large numbers on the APA, ability to launch and load from the APA, ability to carry a significant number of troops, CHEAP to build (hence, readily available in quantity), absolutely minimal crew, ability to land on any beach, etc. Open questions would be the amount of armor, if any, the speed, and the cargo capacity.

      The biggest weakness in our current amphibious capability is the inability to get armor ashore in the initial wave.

      AAVs (of whatever flavor) are not a replacement for a Higgins boat since they are a one way, one time delivery. Now, for follow on troop and equipment deliveries we do have the LCAC/LCU/LST/LCM options that could be developed but the initial wave is the weakness. The AAV is fine for getting troops ashore (setting aside the range issue) but does not address the tank, artillery, CEV, heavy equipment needs in the initial wave.

      The short of it is that we don't currently have a viable amphibious assault capability against a peer.

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    7. Tanks, artillery, CEV, heavy equipment never go in the initial wave. It's preferable to airlift Marines to seize blocking positions and land AAVs first.

      Most heavy equipment requires an LCAC or large landing craft. These are very vulnerable to even small arms and mortars. You need Marines on and beyond the beach to clear enemy infantry first. Then land the heavy stuff.

      You can fit a Griffon 2400TD in roughly the same space as two Higgins boats. The hovercraft carries fewer Marines but travels three times as fast. It can also handle many more beaches than a Higgins boat.

      You need a helipad to airlift wounded off of the APA, not the other way. An austere ship with 500+ Marines on board will have injuries in the normal course of operations and little ability to deal with them.

      You can lift 55 Marines per CH-53 sortie. Only ten sorties to move 550. A pad opens a lot of flexibility without that much cost. It's worth it, IMHO.

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    8. I would hope that we can agree on a couple of things.

      First, just because we do something, currently, doesn't mean it's right. Conversely, it doesn't mean it's wrong. I would, however, point out that we're doing a lot of things that are doctrinally and tactically questionable.

      Second, in many respects we've drifted very far away from the hard learned amphibious assault doctrine of WWII. The wisdom of that drift is highly questionable.

      Specifically, WWII amphib assault trends were towards getting more armor ashore in the initial landing. As you point out, we've relegated armor to a follow on activity. Why? I would suggest that it's not because there is good tactical reason for delaying the arrival of armor but because we have no practical means to deliver it in the initial landing. This brings us back to the first point of (hopeful) agreement - just because we do it now doesn't mean it's right. If we run up against a peer with tanks, IFVs, and fortifications opposing our infantry assault, we'll be in a world of hurt. We're going to discover that having infantry and CEVs in the initial landing is suddenly going to seem like a very good idea.

      You've identified a Catch-22 without realizing it. You state that we need infantry to clear a landing site before we can bring armor ashore. However, in an opposed landing against enemy armor and fortifications we'll need armor to clear the landing site. So, we need a clear site to bring armor ashore but we can't clear the site without armor. Catch-22.

      Wounded aren't going to go to an APA, they'll helo'ed or connectored (?) directly to a LHA.

      Do you actually see a CH-53 as a viable, survivable assault transport in an opposed landing? You know the survivability of helos over a modern battlefield as well as I do. By the way, you're presaging yet another post!

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    10. We CAN get more armor ashore today. We can land as many AAVs as we can dump off the back of our ships and will fit on the beach in one wave. That's why the ACV program is so important.

      The amphibious tractor is how we get armor ashore rapidly, in the first wave.

      What we can't do is land heavy armor at the same rate. It requires large, easily-targeted landing craft, which we don't have that many of (comparatively). Each LCAC can only carry one tank per lift. LCUs can maybe carry two?

      Yes, the CH-53 is viable, if used properly. Use it to reinforce or bring forces ashore after the initial landing has secured an area. Use it after a corridor has been sanitized by airpower.

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    11. B.Smitty "Tanks, artillery, CEV, heavy equipment never go in the initial wave. It's preferable to airlift Marines to seize blocking positions and land AAVs first. "

      ==================================================================================

      Tell this to the British and Canadians who landed more troops directly in the face of the most heavily section of the German defenses at Normandy and suffered fewer casualties than the U.S. in doing so - largely because of "Hobbarts Funnies" - the tanks and specialized engineering vehicles that *led* the invasion.

      The U.S. Army was apparently unconvinced by your arguments as well and continued experimenting with ways to introduce tanks into the first wave of an amphibious assault well into the 1960s:

      “Battle experience during WWII repeatedly proved the great value of armor during the initial stages of amphibious landings or river crossing operations.” Pg 310 R.P. Hunnicutt’s “Patton, a history of the American Maiin Battle Tank. [There is an entire section on CEVS, and one on amphibious tank equipment.]

      You might also consider the comments of Lieutenant Colonel. Stuart, USMC, a WWII veteran of multiple campaigns who noted in 1949:

      “… the proper timing of the landing of tanks is simply resolved - *they must be landed in strength with the assault*. Therefore, to strengthen our beach assault, we must not only have more tanks, but land them in *their normal assault formation* where they are most effective – with or slightly preceding the assault infantry, not an hour or more later!”
      [the colonel’s emphasis]

      pg 122, “Marines Under Armor” by Kenneth Estes

      GAB

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    12. Would it be nice? Most certainly! But we do land lots armor in the initial wave with AAVs.

      GAB said, "The U.S. Army was apparently unconvinced by your arguments as well and continued experimenting with ways to introduce tanks into the first wave of an amphibious assault well into the 1960s"

      The key phrase is "experimenting with". To my knowledge, nobody has figured out a good way to land large numbers of MBTs in the initial wave.

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    13. "The key phrase is "experimenting with". To my knowledge, nobody has figured out a good way to land large numbers of MBTs in the initial wave."

      True. However, the purpose of this blog is not to merely restate what is currently done but to explore better ways of doing things. Thus, from my perspective, the discussion does end with "that's the way we do it". Instead, that's the starting point to ask "why" and "can we do it better".

      So, take the next step. Give me an idea for getting tanks and CEVs ashore in the initial stage.

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    14. "But we do land lots armor in the initial wave with AAVs."

      I do not consider AAVs to be armored combat vehicles. While they some degree of armor protection, their offensive weapons are quite limited. If we're going to attempt to assault a peer with main battle tanks, IFVs, prepared fortifications, anti-tank weapons, artillery, mines, and obstacles with nothing more than AAVs, we're going to wind up on the losing end by a wide margin.

      The lessons of WWII assaults are clear. We ignore them at our peril.

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    15. Oops! That should read, " ... the discussion does NOT end with ..."

      Why is there no edit function on comments?! Of course, I could also check my work better but that would be too easy.

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    16. There's nothing stopping us from developing a better-armed ACV. The EFV had a 30mm autocannon. One could envision a 105mm or 120mm tank gun-armed ACV. The EFV was also better armored than the current AAV, though not close to MBT levels.

      Personally, I don't think we will ever attempt to an amphibious assault vs peer who has all of that stuff near the beach without a WWII-sized call to arms, years of preparation, and conversion to a wartime economy. But that's just MHO.

      Our regular, heavy armored forces would have trouble dealing with a peer's heavy armored forces on their ground, even assuming our forces magically materialized ashore and didn't have to perform an amphibious assault. We are talking about a "peer" after all.

      Expecting amphibious forces to do this is a bridge too far.

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    17. If we accept your opinion, which I happen to largely share, it leads us to ask why we need a 30+ big ship amphib force or a 180,000 man Corps (or whatever the actual number is). If all we're going to ask the Marines to do is raids/rescues/HA-DR then we don't need all that other stuff.

      Two ARGs would be more than adequate and that's six ships. Using the 3:1 ratio, we only need 18 amphibs, not 30+.

      The problem is that while our Army and Marines are downsizing and lightsizing, becoming fast, mobile, and light, the rest of the world is upsizing and building MBTs and other heavy forces. We can continue gearing for police actions but sooner or later we'll have to fight Russia, China, Iran, NK, or some such. When that day comes, we'll wish we had those tanks, artillery, and whatnot that we're shedding in favor of lightweight jeeps.

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    18. I'll repeat, the purpose of this blog is not to summarize what we currently can, or cannot, do but to explore ways to do what we can't or do what we can in a better way.

      "Expecting amphibious forces to do this is a bridge too far."

      Probably true, currently. However, if we want to be able to do that, as the Marines claim, then we need to explore how to accomplish it rather than just give up. How do we get heavy armor ashore in the first wave? How do we get C-RAM defense ashore very early (or provide for it from ships!)? How do we get CEVs ashore and integrate them into our assault tactics? Do we want infantry on the beach or do we want them in IFVs and tanks (ala Merkava)? Can we sustain a major assault over a beach or do we need a port? And so on with hundreds of other questions.

      Of course, this all ties back to a guiding strategy. Do we envision needing to conduct opposed assaults to support our strategy? Well, if we had a strategy, we'd know the answer. But we don't ...

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    19. I think the 30 amphib force can be justified on the grounds that they are needed to provide persistent, forward presence.

      Ten ARGs generate two constantly deployed ESGs at a more realistic 4:1 ratio (1 deployed, 1 on the way, 1 on the way home, 1 home).

      I'd prefer to go a different route to fill those requirements, though. I don't think we get the bang for buck from these ever more expensive amphibs.

      As to why we need a 180,000 man Corps, I don't have any good answer. If I was Emperor, I'd merge the Corps and Army. We only need one land force service, IMHO.

      They shouldn't be their own service simply because they have a different ride to work than the rest of the Army. We don't need two sets of doctrine, two sets of training, two sets of organization, two procurement pipelines, and so on. We have airborne and air assault units that live happily in the Army. Marines could too.

      I know saying such things is a stoning offense in some parts.

      On putting heavy armor ashore:

      If you want it to go ashore in the first wave, you need to make swimming tanks. EFV was a 35 ton vehicle. Russian T-72s are only 42 tonnes. In theory you could build an MBT on the lighter, smaller end that was either fully buoyant, or mostly buoyant but used detachable floats.

      It may not have as much armor as a 70 ton Abrams, but it would certainly be better than an AAV or EFV.

      It needs to fit in reasonable numbers in the well deck and lower parking areas of an amphib and can't require major assembly during the launch phase. It needs to be launchable at similar rates as AAV/ACVs and have similar swimming speeds.

      Tanks on landing craft will never generate the closure speed you need.

      Just MHO.

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    20. 10 ARGs!!! For simple, low end raids??!! If we're really only doing the low end stuff, each ARG could be replaced by a Company size, single amphib. How many amphibious assaults have the Marines conducted over the last 30 years that required more than a Company? We've had this discussion before and the answer is none.

      As far as getting armor ashore, it's the Abrams or nothing. Trying to come up with a light tank that will be asked to go up against heavy tanks is a losing proposition. We have to stop our current tendency to lightsize. Instead, let's figure out a way to get an Abrams ashore quickly. This goes back to my comment about a modern Higgins boat. What would it take to make a landing craft that's a few feet longer and wider than an Abrams and can do 30 kts? I have no idea but that's the kind of starting point we should be looking at.

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    21. You don't want to risk a company on a raid without reinforcements available. You can quickly get in a "Blackhawk Down" scenario with no backup. If you want a company-sized raid, you better have a battalion backing it up.

      Now do we really need an LHD an LPD and an LSD just to carry a reinforced battalion? No, but the Marines would have to reduce the size of their MEU if we shrunk the ARG.

      When you say "Higgins boat", I think you really mean LCM (Mike Boat). Higgins boats carried maybe four tons, max. LCMs were designed to carry vehicles and tanks. 'course LCM-8s could only go 9kts loaded.

      The closest I know of to what you want is the British PACSCAT demonstrator. Of course it was 30m long and couldn't do 30kts fully loaded. It also suffers from the same problem all displacement (or semi-displacement, in this case) landing craft have: beach accessibility.

      The only 30kt landing craft in existence that can carry an M1 is an LCAC.


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    22. A tank built with today's technology could be in the 40-50 ton range and have M1-level protection. We would have to accept some compromises like an autoloader, possibly moving the crew to the hull and using ERA and/or and ADS instead of just passive protection.

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    23. Smitty: "The key phrase is "experimenting with". To my knowledge, nobody has figured out a good way to land large numbers of MBTs in the initial wave."

      ======================================================================

      The British Stood up an entire specially equipped *armored Division* to deal with Normandy and the Rhine crossings in addition to equipping the rest of the force with specialized amphibious and engineering vehicles.

      The division was the 79 Armoured Division commanded by Sir Percy Hobart who developed all sorts of special weapons, vehicles, and demolitions (aka “Hobarts Funnies”) to deal with a very tough German army of 1944.

      Through the 1960s there were plenty of people in the USA and USMC who wanted to avoid fiascos like Tarawa and Omaha.

      GAB

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    24. Smitty,

      I am having a hard time following your reasoning against landing a tank on a beach to support an assault.

      This is an engineering problem and there are engineering solutions to the problem.

      I am thunder struck that you argue that AAVs are sufficient and then argue that there are no LCTs that can do the job because of speed when most LCTs are as fast or faster in the water as an AAV! Then you cite beach access issues when MBTs have long had a deep wading capacity making this irrelevant!

      GAB

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    25. Gab,

      I'm not arguing AAVs are sufficient. CNO has said we have no way to put massed armor on the beach. We do. It's not tank armor, but AAVs are armored. EFVs would have been more armored. Presumably ACVs will be more armored as well.

      Yes, it would be nice to put tanks on the beach in the initial waves too.

      CNO asked for a 30kt landing craft that can carry an MBT. It wasn't my requirement.

      Yes, we could buy $4 million LCM-1Es (modern Mike boats) and have each carry one M1 with a snorkel kit. Will M1's get stuck in the sand underwater? Hard to say.

      They could follow immediately behind or intermingled with the AAVs. Of course the tanks can't fire while in the LCM due to the bow ramp. So the AAVs and other systems will have to take out targets on the way in. Upon hitting the beach, will an M1 be combat capable with a snorkel kit attached? Dunno. Probably could remove it with explosive bolts.

      Since the LCMs are bearing tanks and largely unarmored and unarmed, the LCMs will make for favorite targets. But if we buy enough of them, and the beach is wide enough to accommodate AAVs and LCMs landing at the same time, we can get tanks ashore.

      Of course it takes time to unload the tank, back the LCM up, turn it around, and move out of the landing zone. So follow up waves have to wait for this to happen before landing.

      On the other hand, if you were to build an amphibious tank, it could drive directly off the ship, to the beach, firing all the way, and up and off the beach, with another one right behind it. Throughput wouldn't be limited by the number of LCMs you could carry or how long each took to load and unload.

      An RoRo-based APA with a stern ramp could deliver an entire ship's worth of amphibious tanks and AAVs directly from their parking spots on the ship into the water and onto the beach.

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    26. Smitty,

      You keep overstating the problems:

      1. LCTs could be preloaded with tanks and launched via ramps directly into the water from a moving ship without the need for all of the on/offloading you describe.

      2. M60s and Leopard tanks have been successfully outfited with snorkles and have a deep wading capacity of 4 meters (~12 feet!) for decades - there is no engineering issue preventing tanks from driving off of landing craft into water.

      3. There is no reason for armor to have to fire from the LCTs, it would be nice but not critical. What is critical is that the beach be subjected to intensive suppression fires during the landings to kill or disrupt enemy infantry and artillery (enemy armor is not likely to be committed or dug in to a beach). Mortars and MLRS type systems being the most useful weapons.

      3. The most likely threat to LST are ATGMs and these are not likely to disrupt the landing due to the mechanics of the warheads.

      The real key to a successful amphibious landing is the follow push to seize objectives *after* the beach is taken. This very strongly calls for a landing ship like an LCM or LST that can beach and offload an entire tank or mech infantry company (could be wheeled APCs).

      GAB

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    27. LCT/LSTs can be preloaded, yes. Are you envisioning these craft to be self deployable like an LSV or LST? Or carried on board other ships ala LCT or LCM?

      If you go with larger, self-deployed landing ships, you don't have to worry about carrying enough of them, but you will have problems fitting many on a beach at the same time. They also have greater beach gradient restrictions, limiting you to fewer beaches.

      Snorkel kits might help in some situations, for sure. But those kits are meant to allow for relatively shallow river crossings. We would have to experiment to see if they can be used on sandy beaches. Tanks might just get stuck in the sand.

      You are right that the push after seizing the beach is important, which means throughput is the key metric. An LST can offload its entire payload quickly, once ashore, but it has a relatively small payload to begin with (compared to other amphibs or transport ships), and cycling LSTs through a beach takes time (unless the beach happens to be wide enough to fit all of your LSTs at once).

      There's a reason why they called LSTs "Large, Slow Targets".

      IMHO, the most likely threat to large LSTs is artillery and hidden anti-ship missiles. A hidden enemy MLRS battery tens of miles away could blanket the beach with HE or submunitions in a few seconds. ATGMs definitely could cause problems. If an LST is hit or sunk, it could jam up a significant portion of the landing area.

      We've tried all of these approaches. We went away from the LST due to its relatively small payload and beach restrictions. We've settled on the initial waves consisting of swimming armored vehicles that do not have to be unloaded at the beach, and can begin combat before they hit the shore, followed by landing craft carrying non-swimming equipment, as the best way to get initial combat power ashore.

      Certainly developing an amphibious MBT would be expensive and would have trade-offs vs using in-service tanks. Since the Marine Corps can't seem to get a workable AAV replacement, maybe an amphib MBT is too much to expect.

      But I still feel that swimming armored vehicles are the best way to surge combat power ashore in the initial waves.

      James Hasik threw out this sequence of events that needs to happen to perform an amphibious assault:

      1. cross the ocean,
      2. cross the littoral,
      3. cross the surf,
      4. possibly climb the reef (see above),
      5. cross the beach, and
      6. drive overland.

      http://www.jameshasik.com/weblog/2013/04/rethinking-the-problem-of-the-next-amphibious-assault-vehicle.html#sthash.qFQvuf7I.dpuf

      Each step has its challenges. We need to maximize the entire sequence.




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    28. Smitty,

      We can either go back to historical sources and analysis as a means to understanding the amphibious assault problem and suggesting effective solutions for the future, or we can muddle about.

      You can argue against LCTs, LSTs, and armor all you want, but they remain the surest way to rapidly move a large mobile force from sea to shore in the fastest amount of time.

      Large amphibious infantry APCs (e.g. the EFV or AAV) will always have severe deficiencies in water and land performance – physics guarantees this. More importantly, these vehicles are critically dependent on armored engineer and combat engineer support to cross a beach with the marginal defenses like artillery laid minefields.

      I am not saying that these vehicles are not useful, but they will have the same sorts of operational limitations as the original LVTs, which generally became liabilities once they crossed the high water line and moved into the hinterland. This leaves infantry to muck on in much the same way they did in WWI and with much the same prospect for success.

      U.S. armored vehicle development has a long and tortured history, but the fact remains that designing building and operating armored vehicles to support amphibious landings remains a solvable engineering problem for which there are effective historical examples.

      There are also solutions to fast landing craft and fast beachable ships (LSTs).

      GAB

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  6. What about the operating costs? Presumably, the three ships would cost more to operate than one ship. What is the present value of the difference in operating costs over the life cycle of the vessels?

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    1. Anon, you've lost me. What three ships and what one ship are you referring to? You're making a point but I'm missing it. Try again?

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  7. We've traded technology for numbers....it's a simple as that. Pick any platform or weapons system and you get the same situation.

    The problem with this is that any loss means we cannot replace the capability...at least not in any reasonable amount of time to be effective or affordable. We truly have a gold plated force and it is not sustainable in any true war.

    The police actions and counter insurgency campaigns we've engaged in since WWII have allowed this situation to take hold. Only the first gulf war had anything close to what a real war would comprise of since it was direct action against a nation state that invaded another nation state (and then we effed up the end game by not demanding unconditional surrender followed by occupation to avoid having to do it again).

    If all we're truly going to engage in going forward is police actions and counter insurgency campaigns, our defense force needs to be completely redesigned.

    If we are planning for a real war, then the current technology focus trends need to be shifted since the numbers needed just won't be affordable.

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  8. For landing craft in the near future, perhaps we can take advantage of a ground vehicle trend: diesel-electric engines. And I don't mean by putting one on an LCM but make a sort of "flat-bed" LCM that has a hull and propulsion but no engine for the propulsion. Instead the vehicle being carried supplies both the power for the propulsion and (thru a simple interface) piloting as well. This would mean and LCM with no pilot house, crew, or big expensive engine just a simple hull and some propellers and steering. It could have ramps at both ends for drive-thru loading and needn't bee much wider than the intended vehicle. It would be cheap and basically turn any land vehicle into an AAV for the time it takes to get that vehicle to shore. Being lighter would naturally mean slightly faster as well.
    This would of course be after the Marines/Army transition to diesel/electric but that is already proposed for the AMPV the army just greenlighted. These could be launched a dozen at time by the MLP (which would only have to semi-submerge to launch them) or even dropped off the side of a merchant ship/APA you suggest . They could be recovered after the beach is secured with a simple generator equipped HUMMV supplying power and someone to steer.

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    1. That's an absolutely fascinating idea. I have no idea whether it would work or be practical but it's some great out-of-the-box thinking.

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    2. At that point, you don't even need it to be a flat-bed. Can just be some floats and a powertrain attachment. Then the base vehicle can still drive itself into and out of the water and over obstacles.

      Of course there's still the problem of training drivers to be proficient operating in water, through the surf, and onto the beach.

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  9. Doesn't even need to be diesel electric. A mechanical Power Takeoff (common on agricultural tractors for running grinders, bailers & Etc) integrated into the transmission would allow you to divert power from the drive train. If you really want to get minimalistic take this concept in a foldable framework with a ramp at the front, and freeze a Pykrete hull around it.

    Randall Rapp

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  10. An American T-AKE Lewis and Clark costs about $400 million per. A Canadian Joint Support Ship costs US$700 million each. A Dutch JSS costs US$485.

    I don't see how the ship your suggesting is much cheaper or simpler than those ships, and I don't know of any Western navy that can buy a reasonably large ship for less than $400 million.

    When was the last time the US navy bought a ship of over 10,000 tons built in the US for less than $400 million?

    You could easily get a Chinese/Korean company to make you a container ship for US$50 million, but I've never seen a Western navy go that route.

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    1. Your last sentence is exactly what I'm talking about. A commercial tanker/container hull as the basis for a modern APA - just add bunks. Has a US Navy shipyard ever built such a ship for that kind of price? No, but they haven't been asked to.

      There's a huge difference between buying a militarized, navy ship and a commercial container ship. I'm suggesting that for this particular role, we don't need a navy ship - just a modified commercial one. If our own shipyards can't build it (and they can, I read about US shipyards delivering giant tankers for $100M each) then we can contract out to a foreign shipyard.

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    2. This may be in the weeds, but I don't think a tanker or container ship is the right starting point. Start with a RoRo, RoCon, or RoPax design. Much of Marine hardware is rolling stock, not containerized, so lane meters are more important than TEU capacity.

      Just MHO.

      BTW, HEC estimated an avg cost of around $83 million for the 142m, 826 TEU Container Feeder ship, built in the US, for the MARAD AMH project.

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  11. As an old gator navy sailor myself, I think the whole concept with the massive and massively expensive LHA/LHD and the massive and massively expensive (and massively underperforming to date) San Antonio class is putting way too many eggs in too few baskets. I would like to see an amphibious squadron configured like this (ship type - cost - troop capacity (overload)):

    LHA - SP Juan Carlos/AU Canberra class - $1.3 billion (Canberra) - 1000 (1600)
    LPD - UK Albion class - $600 million - 400 (700)
    LPH - FR Mistral/KO Dokdo - $530 million - 450 (900)
    LSD – NL deWitt - $370 million – 600 (say 900) – or Harpers Ferry (below) or LPA/LKA
    LST - A real LST - I'm thinking something along the lines of what the Aussies did with the Newport class to accommodate air, plus replacing the clipper bow below with a real LST front end so that you can get a dry ramp on more than 3% of the world's beaches - $400 million (estimated) – 450 (say 700)

    Total cost $3.2 billion. Total troop lift 2900 (4800).

    For comparison here are the costs and capacities of the current US Navy three-ship amphibious squadron:

    LHA/LHD Tarawa/Wasp/America - $3 billion – 1700 (say 2400)
    LPD San Antonio - $1.8 billion - 700 (say 1000)
    LSD Harpers Ferry/Whidbey Island - $325 million - 400 (500)

    Total cost $5.1 billion. Total troop lift 2800 (3900).

    Maybe five ships cost more to operate than three ships, but there’s quite a bit of ground to make up before breaking even on that front. And the variety of capabilities represented by the five ships gives more operational flexibility.

    And five ships have two significant advantages. One, if you lose one, you’ve lost less capability. Losing either an LHA/LHD or LPD could effectively stop any Marine action. Two, they have the ability to be in two more places at the same time. This comes to my mind in looking at the events in Benghazi. A nearby amphib that could have gotten a company-sized unit ashore would have been the level of response needed to make a difference. But with so many eggs in so few baskets, it was impossible to spread forces around to be able to respond in as many locations on what should have been regarded as a high-risk day. One disadvantage is that my amphib group would have an SOA of about 18 knots, while the US Navy one would be at 20, but in reality I question how many times 2 knots would really come into play. For most situations, you’re going to get forces in place in advance.

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