Thursday, January 7, 2016

MEU/ARG Final Analysis

We’ve been discussing the MEU/ARG for a few posts and we’ve looked at the number of MEU/ARGs deployed at any given moment, the fact that ARGs are being split up and the ships are operating independently, the LSD is being replaced by a highly questionable LX(R) based on the LPD-17, and so on.  The central issue, however, is whether the MEU/ARG concept represents a useful military force in today’s world.  In order to answer that, we need to look at a few specific questions.

  • Is the MEU sized and equipped to perform useful missions?
  • Is an amphibious assault (whether airborne or waterborne) a viable operation?
  • Can low end, peacetime operations be better and more cheaply performed by Army units?
  • Can the MEU/MEB/MEF contribute to high end combat operations to a degree sufficient to justify their cost?

Let’s answer these one at a time.

Is the MEU sized and equipped to perform useful missions?
The Marines state that the MEU is the smallest unit capable of the full range of combat operations. 

A MEU is certainly adequately sized for many peacetime missions such as hostage rescue, embassy protection or evacuation, or very small scale raids.  That said, the MEU operates under one severe limitation.  Marine tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment can’t get ashore other than by waterborne delivery over a beach or through a port.  This limits the range of operations requiring that kind of combat power to those within a relatively very short distance from the beach or port.  This also eliminates the possibility of quick reinforcement of an operation.  Loading, transporting, unloading at the beach, assembling, and moving to the site of an operation takes far too much time to be a practical option in most scenarios.  Inland aviation assaults, the current Marine trend, all but eliminates the use of armor/artillery or the possibility of heavy reinforcements.  That raises the question, then, of whether the MEU is properly equipped for these missions as just a light infantry force.  The specter of Mogadishu looms over any light infantry operation  - what seemed like overwhelming force to arrest two men turned out to be woefully inadequate.   

This suggests the following question.  Given the types of missions commonly undertaken or anticipated, should the MEU be equipped not with tanks and artillery but rather with lighter gunned vehicles and more heavy mortars that can be air-transported?  The answer would seem to be a resounding yes.  Whether such a vehicle is practical is a question. 

Alternatively, should the MEU retain its armor and heavy artillery but add the aforementioned lighter equipment?  Of course, that leads to budgetary and ship storage issues (which might be solved by adding a fourth ship to the notional ARG?) that are not easily overcome.

Thus, the MEU seems to be inappropriately equipped for the common peacetime missions it might be called on to perform.  However, a MEU is also tasked with high end combat as part of a larger MEB/MEF.  Is the MEU adequately equipped for high end combat?

Every potential enemy is gearing up for high end, high explosive combat with new tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled guns, artillery, etc.  This is the world the MEU will enter if it comes to high end combat against a peer or near-peer.  The MEU is lightly armed and armored for such encounters.  The magnitude and intensity of high end armored combat is beyond the scope of this post but it seems fairly evident that the MEU is under equipped for high end combat.

Thus, the overall conclusion is that the MEU is inappropriately equipped for both the low end peacetime missions and high end combat.


Is an amphibious assault (whether airborne or waterborne) a viable operation?
In past posts we’ve discussed and analyzed the ability of the MEU to conduct waterborne assaults and found that a lack of connectors leaves the MEU unable to get armor ashore in the initial waves and sustain combat operations.  We’ve also noted that aviation assaults are extremely vulnerable to shoulder launched SAMs and guns, lack the ability to transport any heavy weapons, and do not have the transport capacity to sustain an operation.  Thus, an aviation assault is viable only for the very low end of the combat spectrum and even that is risky (Mogadishu, for example, though that was not a Marine operation).  Combine this with the Navy’s complete absence of gun support and an assault doctrine that is total fantasy and it’s clear that assaults are not viable under any but the most benign conditions.


Can low end, peacetime operations be better and more cheaply performed by Army units?
I don’t know enough about Army units to evaluate this.  I simply pose the question in light of the immense cost of maintaining a 30+ ship amphibious fleet for relatively little return.  There have been very, very few actual amphibious operations over the last several decades.  Yes, Marines have been involved in a great deal of combat but as regular ground troops rather than amphibious assault forces.  Given today’s global reach by the Air Force, Army units could probably handle any peacetime operation that a MEU might be tasked with.  What are the economics of the two approaches?  I don’t know.  I suspect that the Army approach is much cheaper.  Let’s face it, 30+ amphibious ships don’t come cheap!


Can the MEU/MEB/MEF contribute to high end combat operations to a degree sufficient to justify their cost?
The Corps, in general, is shedding tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment in favor of “lightness” and crisis response, which means low end operations.  Again, this means that the MEU (for the rest of this discussion, MEU is understood to include MEB/MEF) is ill-suited for high end combat.  That’s basically the Corps’ stated position.

The purpose of the Marine Corps, at the high end of the spectrum, is to seize landing spots, whether beach or port, for follow on forces.  In addition, they may perform flanking or diversionary assaults.  The key part of this, the part that sets the Marines apart from the other branches and represents their unique contribution to the US military is their ability to conduct amphibious assaults.  As WWII taught us, assaults are violent affairs and require as much “explosive” power as possible.  Unfortunately, this is almost opposite of the direction the Marines are now headed. 

So, how does a lightly equipped MEU contribute to the violent and explosive world of high end combat?  Well, since armor and heavy equipment can’t be transported inland that means that inland combat contributions can only be light infantry affairs.  In high end, peer combat that’s a scenario for disaster.  For the beach/port seizure scenario the MEU lacks connectors to get armor ashore in the initial waves, lacks naval gun support, can’t get AAVs ashore without violating the 50+ mile standoff that the Navy insists on, and has inadequate numbers of tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment even if they could get them ashore.  The MEU lacks AAW and Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (C-RAM) protection.  Further, port seizure is a specialized operation that will, undoubtedly, require specialized equipment, doctrine, and tactics which we don’t currently have. 

Considering all this, it seems clear that the MEU is not well suited to high end combat and, worse, is steadily moving further away from that capability as it sheds tanks and artillery in addition to personnel. 

To return to the main question of whether the MEU/ARG concept represents a useful military force in today’s world, the answer seems to be either no or a very limited, qualified maybe.

Now, some of you have already decided that ComNavOps is anti-Marine Corps.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  What I am, is dead set against the path the Marines are currently on which is converting a potent fighting force to a light infantry, crisis response and humanitarian assistance organization. 


I believe we do need the capability to seize beach/port landing spots and engage in high end, violent combat to do so.  The lesser, peacetime missions are simply subsets of that.  We need to analyze the requirements of beach/port seizure and begin rebuilding to that capability.  We need to figure out how to get armor ashore in the initial waves, how to get AAVs ashore, how to provide AAW and C-RAM protection, completely revamp our assault doctrine to something we can actually do, and figure out how to provide large explosive naval gun support, among many other needs.  Do that and the MEU will again be a useful military force.  Right now, it is not.

70 comments:

  1. CNO,

    Just to throw gasoline on the fire, I note that the Ukrainian conflict has shown that conventional force engagements are significantly more intense (when they occur). The Russians have fired upwards of 400 rounds per howitzer per day: similar to the artillery expenditure rates of WWI, but with an order of magnitude increase in effect due to the effects of modern munitions, particularly cluster type munitions, which the west has abandoned. Russian armored formations, have proven largely invulnerable to ATGMs due to modern armor schemes and active protection.

    Just saying … there are a lot of countries that never bought into the *Revolution in Military Affairs* as preached in the Pentagon.

    GAB

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    3. MLRS is not part of the Marine inventory, is it? If not, that makes it an Army issue and I'm not current on Army stuff. What is the advantage of a smaller MLRS? Disadvantage?

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    4. Protection for the mighty Stryker??! I thought the Stryker, like the omnipotent LCS, was the ultimate expression of ground combat effectiveness?

      Heh, heh. Couldn't resist a shot, there. Not proud of it.

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    5. www.army-technology.com/projects/himars

      Looks like the Marines are interested in this smaller MLRS vehicle

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    6. Anon, thanks for that link about HIMARS. So, it appears that the Marines are operating the unit, at least in limited quantities, but I can find no information indicating that it is deployed as part of MEU/ARGs. I guess it's an asset that would be flown into an area of need rather than landed as part of an assault.

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    7. http://www.marines.com/operating-forces/equipment/vehicles/himars

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    8. Smitty - wrt the Ukraine conflict:

      1. Russian use of sub munitions and specialized projectiles (e.g. EW) is of much greater importance than the role of multiple launch rocket systems – the West is destroying its stocks of sub munitions to comply with the international convention, but the Russians have surpassed the west technically, and are absolutely committed to using cargo munitions.

      2. Russian use of rocket launcher systems has increased, but it has *not* surpassed tube artillery - the use of tube artillery has nearly doubled in terms of rounds per gun and is responsible for ~85% of battlefield casualties.

      3. The latest Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), Active Defense Systems, and Electronic Warfare have made for a very effective armor counter revolution in defensive technology vs ATGMs.

      4. The Russians have deployed modern MBTS to include the T‐72B3s; T-90s have been deployed in company strength (with zero losses).

      5. In light of the issues with ATGMs, the 122mm howitzer mains a potent close in killer of tanks on both sides – even hits that do not penetrate have sometimes knocked off turrets!

      GAB

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    9. CNO,

      A battalion (particularly an infantry battalion) is too far down in the food chain to effectively control the fires of MLRS and HIMARS.

      The Russians have attached self propelled 122mm howitzers (2S1) to maneuver battalions (tank and mech infantry), but that makes sense given their operations and inventory of systems.

      The towed 155mm of a MEU (assuming they actually get them) are dead meat in a serious fight.

      GAB

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    10. GAB, thanks for the explanation. I always appreciate education and assistance about ground combat, given my lack of expertise!

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    11. "The towed 155mm of a MEU (assuming they actually get them) are dead meat in a serious fight."

      Do you mean because of counter fire and their lack of mobiity? Again, exposing my ignorance, here!

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    13. Smitty, in light of GAB's comment, why do you suggest pushing MLRS-ish fires down the chain? Not arguing - just trying to learn!

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    16. "It's important to understand what Stryker ..."

      Very nice discussion. I appreciate that. Sincerely.

      My concern with any light unit (LCS, in the Navy, for example) is what can it contribute to high end combat? Sometimes, the answer is little or nothing. It may serve a purpose during peacetime and have to stand on the sidelines during combat. That's fine and I've advocated for exactly that in a peace/war two-tier force structure. The problem arises when we begin to inappropriately and unwisely count of the lighter forces to function in heavy combat. When a third of our combat fleet is LCS (notwithstanding the very recent changes), we've got a problem. Similarly, will the Stryker be pushed into situations that are over its head? The Army seems to be focusing too much on Strykers and JLTVs at the expense of heavy armor. I don't follow Army matters closely enough so I could be wrong but that's my impression of the trend in the Army. In fact, the trend throughout the military seems to be lightness while our potential enemies are emphasizing heaviness. When the two meet, all else being equal, heavy will win.

      I have nothing against Strykers as long as we aren't counting on them to do something they can't. I know you'll say we won't but that's exactly what the Navy is doing with the LCS.

      Again, thanks!

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    17. "When the MEU is operating alone, there is no "up the chain"."

      I haven't been able to find any evidence that HIMARS/MLRS is part of the MEU/ARG loadout. Have you seen anything indicating whether those are embarked?

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    19. Reasonable and fair. The problem comes when WE put units in over their heads out of a misguided belief in non-existent capabilities. The Navy believes that the LCS will somehow contribute to high end combat through the magic of networking or some such garbage. I don't know how the Army views the Stryker units.

      To repeat, I'm troubled by the apparent emphasis on JLTV, Strykers, and "lightness" at the expense of heavy armor. I don't see an Army that's setting up a balanced force - I see an Army focused on lightness. Same with the Marines.

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    20. CNO,
      Towed guns are supremely vulnerable to counter battery fire - the proliferation of fire finding radars makes it possible for the enemy to target a firing unit and return fire in <30 seconds; in some cases the enemy can deliver return fire before the rounds from the original firing unit impact.

      It is very difficult for any firing unit to survive if it cannot immediately displace after the 20-30 seconds after the first round is fired.

      GAB

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    21. So, is traditional towed artillery a relic of the battlefield now?

      You mentioned the Russian use in Ukraine. Of course, they aren't facing a sophisticated counter battery fire. Is the low level of Ukraine forces the only thing allowing Russian artillery to succeed?

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    22. CNO, Smitty,

      Not all multiple launch rocket systems are the same.

      The M270 MLRS, HIMARS and similar systems are weapons in a completely different category; their dependence upon high level ISR assets, range, cost, limited availability, and the logistics support implications have traditionally made these division or corps level assets.

      MLRS was designed for counter-battery work, to hit division or corps HQs, FARPs, fuel or ammunition dumps, and to be used en mass against a decisive point (schwerpunkt).

      Assigning even a 122mm system like a BM-21 to an infantry battalion is an absolute waste. Sure you can do this fighting against inbreds and illiterates, but the PLA or Russians will demonstrate the lunacy of such an approach in short order.

      I could see the argument for equipping a MEU with a platoon of 4.5” (110mm) launcher fitted to a JLTV or MTVR.

      GAB

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    24. Smitty,

      I am concerned with the training and equipping of forces to deal with serious potential enemies; using a weapon like MLRS as a "sniper rifle" is a massive misuse of assets and runs counter to the proven concept of massing fires, which is vital against a peer competitor.

      I place little value in the idea of distributing platoon sized conventional units over wide areas to "do COIN."

      A conventional force should prevail against any attack from a bunch of goat herders riding around in Toyota Hilux pickups in with its organic weapons and not need TACAIR, or artillery (rocket or tube). If we cannot do this than we have fundamental problems in our training, leadership and TOE.

      GAB

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    26. Do we know yet whether the MEU embarks HIMARS/MLRS? I still can't find any evidence of it.

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    27. MEBs and MEUs are even less suited to high intensity warfare than MEUs - the Krulak board recommended some very sweeping changes in the wake of the First Gulf War, but the collapse of the Soviet Union effectively derailed reforms like the Combined Arms Regiment (CAR).

      GAB

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  2. When was the last time in last 30 years more than a battalion sized infantry force ( excluding the very large scale efforts) was landed?
    The Lebanon disaster under Reagan, was only a MEU sized unit, and they turned and ran after the bombing while the French, Irish, Italian units stayed on for a while.
    There seems to be little evidence of actual need for a 'regiment sized' expeditionary unit deployed other than wishful thinking.
    The same goes with Ukraine, its a low intensity conflict, with a few flareups where the Kremlin has decided the national government from Kiev was about to make major gains.

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    1. Reagan didn't cut and run after the Lebanon bombing. Within a couple of days of the bombing, elements of Battalion Landing Team 2/6 were flown in as reinforcements. And, it wasn't until the following February that Reagan pulled the Marines out. And, our withdrawing prompted the French and other countries to withdraw.

      The meme that Reagan cut and ran out of Lebanon is a lie and an insult the Marines.

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    2. Walter, thanks for jumping in and clarifying. It saved me the trouble of doing so. This blog is based on facts and logic.

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    3. CNO, You're most welcome. The Reagan "cut-and-run" meme has always rankled me.

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    4. "On February 7, 1984, President Reagan ordered the Marines to begin withdrawing from Lebanon largely because of waning congressional support for the mission after the attacks on the barracks"
      My error in assuming it was immediately after the bombing, and of course its no reflection on the marines themselves, but the political rifts in the White House and congress.

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    5. Ztev, this comment earns my respect! Well said.

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    1. Peacetime missions are absolutely a subset. If you can carry out port seizure you can certainly carry out peacetime missions. Now, that may result in overkill for the peacetime missions and we may opt to acquire additional, lesser equipment sets (lighter vehicles - that sort of thing). I have no problem with that. It's simply a budget issue.

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    2. This is very complex issue. Three points. 1. No force is great for amphib assaults because the defender has every advantage. But they MUST be done somehow when needed. 2. Tanks are great for MEUs, tube arty is almost worthless and takes up great space with its 14 big trucks. Move those assets in the reserves. 3. Stop this insane talk about Ukraine. No American gives a damn and its not worth a single American life, and it's idiotic to talk about risking nuclear war about such BS. The Russians don't even want it, they just don't want NATO forces there.

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    4. I'm not sure that surprise is a big a factor as it might seem. D-Day, for example, was not much of a surprise. Germany knew it was coming, knew the timing reasonably close, and had the location down to a couple likely spots. Yes, there was some surprise and an attacker will take any advantage they can get.

      Similarly, the Pacific island assaults were not much of a surprise to the Japanese. They just couldn't do much to prevent it.

      Inchon? I don't know to what degree that was a surprise. That may be one of the better examples.

      Today, with satellites, radar, passive signals analysis, subs, aircraft, etc. I'm not sure that much surprise can be achieved though, again, any little bit helps.

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    5. Anon, artillery is worthless? You're going to have expand on that because I don't think any soldier would agree with you. I suspect you meant something else other than your simple statement. Tell me more.

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    6. Anon, I think you may have misunderstood any discussion about Ukraine. Ukraine has been cited as both an example of high end combat involving heavy armor and an example of politics and deterrence policies. Nothing that I've written or seen in the comments suggests any desire by the US to get involved.

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    7. "The MEU is suited to handle little, bad things."

      Hence the point of the post and the question posed: is the MEU a useful force given it's cost and the existence of Army alternatives?

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    10. The US started the whole thing in Ukraine, they were the ones who financed and organized the coup.
      The government then started killing civilians, starting the whole rebellion thing in the first place.

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    11. Blarg, this is not a political blog. There will be no further discussion along these lines, whether right or wrong. You may, if you wish, discuss politics as they relate to Navy matters but not politics in general. There are political blogs, elsewhere, that cater to politics and you may wish to frequent those. Further political comments will be deleted.

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  4. It seems to me the army needs to refocus on high end ground combat while the Marines should embrace the move to light forces. They could take much of the "special operations" from the army. The Marines have no business being in fixed wing aviation, that's the Navy's job. The Marines should be shrunk to about 50,000. Mission set should be port seizure; embassy security; raids/special ops; and perhaps riverine warfare.

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    1. Do you see port seizure as something within the capability of a light force? That seems like a pretty tough assignment!

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    2. I agree with you that the Army should be focused on high end combat. Unfortunately, the Army's big acquisition is jeeps (JLTV). Hardly a focus on high end combat. I would much rather have seen that procurement money go towards tanks, IFVs, APCs, and/or upgrades.

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    3. I don't want to pretend I am anything more than a lay person here. How would you define port seizure, when as you have pointed out, a counter can come from 1000 miles away. How much ground do you have to occupy to make use of the port? Light forces with NGS might well be capable of the mission especially in situations below the level of a peer state. As an aside, I'm starting to think we need something along the line of a more maneuverable version of the LCU support used in WW2 to provide NGS if we really aren't going to commit larger ships to the role.

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    4. There are many challenges associated with port seizure starting with simply getting ashore. Ports do not have many inclined entry points into the water which makes getting AAVs, for example, from the water onto land a problem. The few entry points would make for excellent chokepoints with a known, fixed location. Imagine trying to defend the port you're attempting to seize. Every building becomes an enemy fortification and haven for snipers and rocket launchers. Mortars can rain down on the small, fixed area of the port with no way to stop it. This would be urban warfare at its most violent. I could go on and on with the problems but this should get you started thinking about the problem from a tactical perspective.

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  5. In all MEU ops, the six 155mm guns are the last to come ashore, if they come ashore. The arty battery Marines are often used as a provisional infantry company. It takes a long time to move the awkward big guns ashore and all that ammo, that has to be unpacked while the guns are leveled and readied. They get stuck in the sand easy too.

    Then it can't fire well in cities due to the ballistic arc, mortars are much better and more mobile. And for the small unit clashes with civilians around you don't want arty blasting away.

    Moreover, with a couple of destroyers nearby you have naval gunfire in range! Plus you have the firepower from the ACE. Look at every MEU intervention the past 20 years and its hard to find one where arty was used, and it was never really needed much. Finally, counter battery radar has made tube artillery obsolete in modern warfare. Shoot and scoot is a joke. The enemy can launch a rocket volley at a firing battery within a minute their first tube round goes down range.

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    1. "Moreover, with a couple of destroyers nearby you have naval gunfire in range!"

      Are you aware that Navy doctrine is to keep the ships at 50+ miles stand off?

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    3. ANON, your comments on artillery are off-base; do not confuse the use/misuse of artillery in chasing ignorant goat herders around in third world countries with the effectiveness of artillery in high intensity warfare.

      GAB

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    4. "But, doctrine wise, everything I've read points to a much smaller stand off."

      What are you reading that tells you that? Every comment I see related to amphibious assault is consistent in discussing 25-50+ mile standoffs.

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    6. Yes, I'm familiar with that document. It is one of the most egregious examples of buzzword bingo I've read. It contains little or nothing useful and reads like a sales brochure for the new, light military.

      Have you seen any actual doctrine that calls for near shore assaults or read any statements from active Generals/Admirals to that effect. Because I've read LOTS that reaffirm the 50+ mile standoff. The Marines have stated repeatedly that AAVs will be transported from 50+ miles to a couple miles and then released into the sea for the last couple miles. Sounds a lot like a bass fishing catch and release program, but I digress ...

      You're showing a proclivity for extracting hidden doctrinal meanings from doctrine and documents that don't actually address or support your meanings!

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    8. Smitty, I know you enjoy a good argument but, c'mon, you read the same statements and articles I do. Our entire connector issue revolves around the need to stand 50+ miles off. The Corps is trying to come up with a way to transport AAVs from 50 miles to close enough to be dropped off. We're looking at new LCUs specifically to solve the 50 mile problem. This is like asking me to document that Navy ships float. I can do it but some things are so commonly know that it's not worth the effort. This is one of those.

      Nonetheless, I'll one example. EF21 actually talks about a 65 mile stand off in the face of common threats such as cruise missiles. The document notes that if the threat can be reduced, the stand off can be shortened to 30-50 miles (I can't recall the exact numbers so I could be slightly off on this range). It talks about dropping AAVs off 12 miles from the beach which, of course, means that they came from farther away (65 miles). Check out pages 22, 32, and points in between, if I recall. It kind of doesn't get any more official than EF21, right?

      I know you know this stand off requirement. You may disagree with the doctrine (I disagree with it!) but it is what it is.

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  6. Let me add that whenever leaving the arty battery at home is raised, everyone says "but we need their trucks!" That is true so drop the battery but add a few more trucks that are always needed for things. I pondered what else would be great. Put six of those basic green school busses aboard a ship. Those are great for everything since they are enclosed. Moving troops, civilians or as a mobile admin or HQ or med site. A big mobile bus that is enclosed from the weather is a needed asset, just not too sexy, or expensive.

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    1. A bus? You know that the military is spending enormous sums of money to uparmor vehicles so that they can have a chance of surviving mines and IEDs? I'm not sure how many troops are going to be willing to ride a bus!

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    2. If the threat is so great our Navy wants to stay 50 miles offshore, this is not a MEU event, but a MEF level party. The destroyers will be right offshore for MEU events, as they always have been.

      Second, the world is not filled with IED threats, which evolve from long-term insurgencies. Most MEU events are more like police SWAT on a big scale combined with disaster relief. MEU ops are semi-combat events, yet they are very important and needed almost every year. To conclude, if the Corps has fewer ships and needs to save space, trim out the arty battery to start.

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    3. I believe you're correct about IEDs and that's an astute observation. On the other hand, combat will see extensive use of mines which are just more formalized IEDs so, in the end, IED/mine protection is still needed.

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    4. Marines test 3 artillery systems.......

      http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2016/01/16/marines-test-3-big-guns-week-long-artillery-experiment/78513802/

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  7. Air transport whilst useful for time critical deliveries which are not predictable, is very, very expensive! Take for instance a round trip to Kuwait/Iraq, you can maybe make one a day with an airplane.

    A fast transport traveling at just over 30 knots can make that trip in 10 days, whilst it is a 10fold increase in time, it not only offloads more vehicles relative to the cost, but also offloads all its vehicles and equipment in one go, instead of a trickle.

    A good example of this is the:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algol-class_vehicle_cargo_ship

    Class of ship, how many large cargo planes would you need to be able to match the continuous delivery rate of one such vessal, how many would be needed to match the impulse delivery rate. Its not just the high cost of these planes which is a concern, they also cost a large amount of money to operate, hundreds of thousands to fly a mission from US to Iraq for instance, to move a a single tank, without any support equipment...

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  8. A Summary of options and likely capabilities on the table of discussion (part 1 of 3):

    21st-century Connectors:
    - PROCEEDINGS of July’13 featured LCU-F (200 tons of cargo at 19+ knots on 2400HP diesel-power and 1500+nm of range) She offers over 100-feet of vehicle lane internally under cover, invisible, thus challenging the targeting-priorities of the defenders.

    - LCU-F was designed explicitly with LSD-41’s 440’ well-deck geometry in mind.

    - Each LSD-41 could carry 6x LCU-F.

    - With each LCU-F able to carry 3x M1A MBT (plus several dozens of walking infantry) in an extreme scenario e.g. 18 MBTs could be delivered at once, concurrently in 6 different locations if need be. Not a routine load but on certain occasions at solid capability to have on hand.

    - LCU-F was designed in 2005 with an ARG stand-off distance of 200nm or OTH-200 in mind, to ‘future-proof’ the ARG/MEU against evolving shore-defenses. 19kts from OTH-200 = approx.. 12hrs dusk-to-dawn travel incl. well-deck departure, unfolding, accepting 1x AH/UH each, reversing-maneuver and beach-approach. Several options immediately emerge out of this boat’s capabilities, whether suddenly initiating an amphibious assault from OTH-200 with LCU-F of 1500nm of range for a straight-shot strike or approaching a adversary’s shore under the cover of islands etc. via all sorts of deceptive dog-legged maneuvering.

    - With 1500nm range @ 19+knots on standard fuel she can offer inter-theater transportation.

    - And e.g. instead of 200-tons of (Ground Combat Element) GCE-load she can carry 55,000 gals of fuel for instance, or 300 infantry or inshore MASH-capability whatever - all under hard hatch-cover, protected from recon, weather, saltwater, with plausible motion-vs. inner-ear ergonomics for retention of combat-effectiveness across OTH-200 or even 1500nm of transit..


    IFS
    - As barely touched on in that article, and discussed at some depth elsewhere subsequently, instead of tracked and wheel GCE-assets, with roll-in weapons-suites each standard LCU-F could also serve as Inshore Fire Support (IFS) for the landing and advancing GCE. LCU-F IFS would stay inshore just out of tank-gun and RPG-range while constantly maneuvering under her thrusters to frustrate reverse-battery.

    LCU-F could carry a twin M-110 203mm mount (approx.. 8” rounds) of ex-US Army artillery system. Limited with original 39-cal barrel and ammo to around 16-17nm of range on a fine day, modern 52-cal arti does over 30nm w/ 155mm. Therefore we should expect farther distances with a 52-cal barrel and guided ammo. As a tracked but otherwise open vehicle M-110 was kept around in NATO well into the ‘90s due to its nuclear capabilities…

    - With upgraded M-110 in her rear cargo-bay, the middle cargo-bay of LCU-F can carry M-270 12-tube MLRS, the ‘big brother’ of HIMARS. 12x9” tube-protectiles or 2x 24” N-ATACMS offers IFS up to well over 150nm (w/ option to 250nm) based on an expendable close-inshore 220 (light) -420-tons(loaded) platform highly maneuverable counter-battery resistant platform.

    - Both systems aboard offer about 400 203mm rounds and approximately 6x 12 9”missile reloads, or 14+ N-ATACMS.

    There is no such capability in the fleet and none is planned, since without a 21st-century heavy-lift Connector, none of this is possible. You sure will not see any DDG with IFS in mind anywhere close enough to shore where its guns could plausibly support the GCE. And missiles are finite in numbers.
    The ‘Land-Attack Destroyer’ narrative was more of a hopeful vision than likely reality, since unless permanently attached to every ARG/MEU, they would never be where they’d do the most sudden good.

    And where would US Army big and small LCUs be ?
    Smoking around the globe to get there from some base just in time at 12 knots ?

    Part 1 of 3


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    1. Part 2 of 3
      Adequate Numbers of Amphibs
      - As the PROCEEDINGS of Dec’15 features in the Comment-&-Discussion section, for the cost of one shorty well-deck (190’ vs. 440’ on LSD-41) LPD-17 derivative LX(R), you could get TWO updated LSD-41/21 !

      - This immediately allows a 4-ship ARG squadron w/ 1x LHD, 1x LPD-17, 2x LSD-41.

      - With therefore a 4-ship ARG, there would be 14x 200-tons cargo @19+kts LCU-F and 3x LCAC/SSC.

      - With the MEU distributed across 17 Connectors a FIRST WAVE throwing nearly-all of the GCE at the shore becomes a doable option for maximum surprise and impact.

      Once the GCE is on land and (Combat Support Element) CSE is following, LCU-Fs would connect ARG to transports arriving further offshore to boost the MEU with hardware and supplies, while extra troops come in by fast-sealift and airlift.


      Why the current still prevalent and likely Tragic Confusion amongst highest-levels of Analysis ?
      This is mostly related to inadequate attention to plausible Connector-design and thus adequate 21st-century high-speed heavy-lift capability organic to each ARG.

      - At NAVSEA/ONR mere LCUs/Connectors are not ‘serious’ ships to build a career around.
      Professional aspirations appear to not be seen as starting until the FFG level.
      That is why since WW-2 no advanced ‘Connectors’ came out of these circles, with the smarter folks tending to ‘serious’ ships.

      - Even LCAC was based on well-established British technology, with e.g. the commercial SR.N4 fully operational 10 years before LCAC was discussed. Without well-deck size-limitations SR.N4 hauled more, faster and did so in daily commercial traffic, and thus with good reliability across a wide range of weather and sea-states at times exceeding those of plausible well-deck operations. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SR.N4)

      - LCUs as defined in WW-2 saw thus no serious conceptual creative attention by the very-smart-&-disciplined naval-design establishment.

      - LCU-F therefore came from well outside of these circles, now no doubt aggravated by this high-performance result of a serious and well-balanced set of design-priorities – only possible if dozens and hundreds of designs have been developed before in order to establish the temperament central to any plausible set of design-priorities.

      - Central to LCU-F is the respect for both
      a.) the needs of the Marines as the world’s foremost amphibious force, such as the capability to execute a FIRST WAVE with as much GCE as possible for sudden and effective impact,
      and
      b.) the needs of the Navy by leveraging the extant Amphib-fleet for maximum tactical results while protecting these ships if need be at OTH-200.

      Today in early 2016 (!) you still see no competitive Connector-concepts coming out of NAVSEA or ONR !
      LCU-F has been with NAVSEA since 2005.
      USMC did not see LCU-F until mid-2013.
      ONR’s RFI to the industry dead-lined late 2014 has 14 months later yet to yield any Connectors superior to LCU-F.
      And N-95 is thus stuck with conceptual ‘Retro’-Retread LCU-X ideas on offer akin to the equivalent of sporting new grills, advanced tailfins, and your choice of faux-carbon-look interior colors.

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    2. Part 3 of 3.

      The Leaders’ Dilemma
      This conceptual failure by too many USN-internal should-have-been-but-never-bothered-to-be ‘Connector’ -designers to seriously engage this plain old hardware-challenge - with many burning the midnight-oil on LCS likely… - then inevitably leads to top-level uniformed decision-makers, tacticians, and strategists to have to figure a way to
      - a.) make any ‘Littoral’ presence in an A2/AD environment plausible, and
      - b.) attempt to reestablish/retain (?) the institutional capability to plausibly conduct a sudden Amphibious Landing from well-offshore.

      Without adequate Connector concepts – except for LCU-F type capabilities – none of this is integratable into a coherent tactical and thus strategic whole, such as under the guidance of EF-21.

      It does not help to have here and there mid-level ‘Typhoid Maries’ living up gate-keeping impulses to structure the agenda to their personal liking which so far has proven too myopic to even bolster their own professional position. It is one thing to be cautious. It is quite another thing to structure the agenda in ways both expensive to tax-payers and ineffective and thus life-&-limb hazardous for actual in-the-line-of-fire uniformed professionals young and older. A rather ugly spectacle actually! And with reasonably clear-cut foot-prints of individual staffers’ roles for any board of inquiry, or at least historical analysis.

      What is now known as LCU-1610 was 50+ years ago a reasonably rigorous exercise along conservative lines to produce an 11kts 180-tons ‘Assault-Lighter’/’Beaching Combat-Ferry’/’Connector’. The effort to give her a decent shape and the steel-work required to sculpt that underbody is unarguable.
      However to use a 30’-wide hull in a 50-foot wide well-deck was a conceptual stretch even then, since e.g. the LPD-4 class was on the drawing-boards then as well, already offering 50-foot wide well-deck…
      When you look at the short LPD-17 Amphib type today and you happen to find an LCU-1610 in her shorty well-deck, sitting there braced with long 12x12” wooden timbers (!) you see the two key-elements of the ARG/MEU’s dark future – short well-decks for mega-bucks and 50s-era ‘best’ thinking…

      Between the absence of USN’s best-&-brightest designers from the challenge of designing 21st-century fast heavy-lift Connectors, and this void filled with the self-important shenanigans by mid-level ‘T-Maries’ (with usually zero-design momentum) and other Obstructionists ‘doing their thing’, are we then expecting Admirals and Generals to come up with advanced doctrinal concepts to assure USMC’s historical role as amphibious warriors, delivered and supported by a motivated Amphib-force – all to a plausible budget affordable by the American Tax-Payer ??

      Some serious institutional house-cleaning is in order to purge the ‘T-Maries’ and other Drones, to thus force a reset of analytic priorities, such as already reflected in the ambitious but realistic EF-21.
      Building on what that Dec’15 PROCEEDINGS piece stated, whether we call them reactionaries, or ‘T-Maries’ and Drones, innovation-ambitions require getting the obstructionist deadwood out of the way.

      Advanced hardware allows advanced doctrine.
      Innovation starts by design to sober plausible fleet- and budget-reality-based forward-looking priorities, to then open the door towards paradigmatic shifts in analytics, which should result in plausible guiding principles expressed in advanced 21.-century context-correct USMC and USN Joint Amphibious Doctrine.

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