History is the greatest source of lessons for the student of modern combat. To that end, let’s see what history can tell us in today’s post.
WWII saw the evolution of amphibious assault culminate in the Pacific island invasions late in the war. By the end of the war, the equipment and tactics had been as nearly perfected as possible. Ironically, most of those hard won lessons have since been abandoned and forgotten.
One of the needs that was identified was for the ability to provide a massive pulse of explosives just ahead of the assault waves. One of the ways this was accomplished was by the LSM(R) which was a specialized version of the Landing Ship Medium which mounted rocket launchers as well as 5” guns and mortars.
A typical, early LSM(R) was the -188 class,
LSM(R)-188 class , 200 ft, 1100 tons
75 x 4-rail Mk36 rocket launchers
60 x 6-rail Mk30 rocket launchers
Further development of the LSM(R) culminated in the -501 class
LSM(R)-501 class , 203 ft, 1200 tons
20 x Mk102 twin tube continuous loading 5" spin stabilizer rocket launchers
4 x 4.2” mortars
The Mk102 rocket launcher was an amazing weapon. It was a twin tube, continuous fire launcher with train and elevation. It was capable of a sustained rate of fire of 32 rockets per minute. The latter LSM(R)s mounted 10 or 20 of these launchers – that’s 320 to 640 5” rockets per minute.
The rockets fell into three broad categories,
Mk7 5” Spin Stabilized Rocket, 10,000 yds, 2.8 lbs TNT
Mk10 5” Spin Stabilized Rocket, 5,000 yds, 9.6 lbs TNT
Mk12 5” Spin Stabilized Rocket, 2,500 yds, 12.0 lbs TNT
|Mk 102 Rocket Launcher|
A single LSM(R) could deliver amazing amounts of firepower and several ships operating together provided absolutely incredible amounts. Of course, the LSM(R)s were only a part of the naval fire support. Dozens of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and other specialized fire support ships also contributed to the massive delivery of explosives to the assault site. Contrast that to today’s few ships armed with only 5” guns and relegated to operating beyond the gun’s range. Tomahawk missiles are available but those are not really intended for area bombardment due to their expense and very limited quantity. We have abandoned fire support for amphibious assaults which calls into question the viability of assault doctrine in general.
The LSM(R) provided a small, cheap vessel that could get in close to an assault site and deliver massive amounts of cheap firepower. The proximity to the beach assumed a high degree of risk but the small size and cheapness of the vessels made the risk acceptable. Today, we have $2B Burkes with a single 5” gun that are constrained by doctrine to remain so far from the assault site that their gun can’t even reach the beach! Even if we wanted to place a Burke in close, who would seriously consider risking a $2B ship playing tag with shore based artillery and missiles. Our ships have become too expensive to risk doing the very jobs they were built for!
So, is there a need for a modern LSM(R)? If we’re seriously contemplating amphibious assaults, there is. Current doctrine does not call for tanks and artillery in the initial landings (another lesson forgotten). With no naval gun support and few aircraft (probably exclusively tied up defending the fleet), the Marines will have no heavy explosive firepower until they can get their own artillery and tanks ashore. Of course, remember that the Marines are cutting tanks and artillery in their quest to get “light” so there’s not much coming ashore even if they could get it ashore.
Against a peer defender, trying to come ashore with only infantry and AAVs with 0.50 cal machine guns is a recipe for disaster. A modern LSM(R) could help address the initial firepower gap. Sadly, we have become so enamored with precision application of firepower that we have allowed our total firepower delivery capability to nearly vanish. There is still a significant place for suppressive fires during the initial landing.
History is talking to us but we’re not listening.