Monday, March 27, 2017

Counter Assault

We talk at great length about amphibious assaults.  We discuss doctrine, our inability to execute our own doctrine, the lack of naval gunfire support, the very limited range of our ship-to-shore connectors, the complete absence of heavy weapons in the initial waves, and many other issues.  We occasionally discuss new and “new” (old but relearned) Marine Corps assault concepts.   We never discuss amphibious assault defense concepts – counter assault (CA).

The Marines are getting ready to conduct some exercises intended to test out several dozen new assault technologies.  As a side note, you see the traditional US emphasis on technology over tactics and training?  Why aren’t we testing out over a hundred new tactics?  But, I digress …    These technologies will include drones, mini-drones, unmanned amtracs and unmanned vehicles of all types, communications gear, networking, cyber, electronic warfare, etc. (1)(2)

Setting aside the myopic focus on technology over tactics, all of this is good.  Explore technology.  Find out what works and what doesn’t.  But – and this is the big but – do it under realistic conditions.  There’s no point “testing” technologies that have a pre-determined successful outcome because the exercise is designed to ensure success.  That’s just going to generate a false confidence that China, Russia, Iran, and NKorea will quickly shatter when war comes.

There’s another, even bigger “but” here.  Why not try out counter assault (CA) technologies and tactics, as well?  Let’s try to imagine what the enemy will do and see if they can stop us.  Maybe that technology that succeeds against a non-existent enemy in set piece testing will fail utterly due to the enemy’s CA?  Let’s find out.

Why don’t we turn this around and try to think like a peer enemy faced with the prospect of future US amphibious assaults.  How would we stop them?  What can we do to counter their assault?

For example, similar to the maxim that it’s easier to kill archers than arrows, it’s also easier to kill troops when they’re in the water, bunched up in slow moving, easily detected, almost defenseless Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV).  Why not employ a swarm of small, cheap, suicide UAVs that would spread out over the incoming assault wave and throw themselves at the lumbering AAVs in the water.  If simple explosives are insufficient to achieve kills, then shaped charge warheads similar to RPG’s can be employed.  Would any AAVs even make it ashore?

Do you think this concept is unrealistic?  Well, the Marines are banking on exactly this technology in reverse.  Doug King, director of the Ellis Group, a Marine Corps think tank, describes friendly UAV swarms opening gaps in the enemy defenses.

““Think about it this way: I’m maneuvering ashore, potentially in a boat,” he said. “What’s flying overhead is an unmanned swarm, that as soon as somebody radiates, gives off a signature, that swarm is just going right after them.” (1)

If we can imagine using UAV swarms, so can the enemy.  Let’s test the UAV CA concept and see if we can defend against it.

Let’s think up other CA measures and test them, too.  The US military has a decided tendency to only examine our own technology (under unrealistically contrived conditions) and fail to credit the enemy with any technology or tactics.  This is a perfect example – we’re going to possibly test UAV swarms and congratulate ourselves on developing yet another way to beat our enemies without ever considering that they may use the same technology to beat us.

Here’s a few other thoughts about new technology, counter assault measures that we might want to investigate.


  • Mine laying artillery – long range and no need for precision targeting makes this an appealing technology.  An entire assault fleet can be paralyzed by the mere threat of mines and the US has no viable volume MCM capability.

  • SSK’s - directed against the very few Mobile Landing Platforms (MLP) that the Navy/Marines possess would bring an assault to a rapid halt.  Amphibious assault ships would be another attractive target.  The US lacks any effective littoral ASW capability and has little experience against SSKs since it does not operate any and only rarely exercises against allied SSKs.

  • Lingering FOD bursts – similar to chaff and delivered by artillery, cluster bombs, sub-munitions, or any other convenient means, these long lasting, drifting foreign objects (FOD) would foul LCAC turbine engines and fans.

  • Bunkered, unmanned gun mounts – would provide a hard-to-kill, devastating, anti-personnel fire that would be particularly effective against the unarmored, light infantry that the initial assault wave comprises.

  • Surf zone unmanned mobile mines – would utterly negate the standard tactic of attempting to clear a path immediately in front of the landing craft.  The mobility of a swarm of smart, subsurface (undetectable), unmanned, mobile mines that intelligently move to intersect the path of an approaching landing craft would thwart any existing tactics or equipment for clearing a path to the beach.  Slow moving AAVs would be wiped out.


I could probably think of ideas all night but you get the idea.  It’s not enough just to think up our own ideas and then pat ourselves on the back.  We need to think up the enemy’s ideas and figure out how to counter his counters.  We’re just barely and simplistically testing our own stuff.  To the best of my knowledge, we aren’t even pretending to imagine and test out possible enemy technologies.



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(1)Marine Times, “New Amphibious Landing Tactics And Technology”, Jeff Schogol, 23-Mar-2017,

(2)Breaking Defense website, “Marines Rush 50 Technologies To Field Test In 9 Months”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 23-Mar-2017,



52 comments:

  1. The Chinese have industrial capacity to turn out thousands of cheap but lethal UAVs quickly and the other nasties you mention so expect any assault would be doomed to costly failure on any of their defended territory. Though would add the equivalent of the old coastal artillery, the new mobile land based anti-ship missiles to your list, e.g. the Russian Bal E/Kh-35E missile, the recent Yemen's Houthis attack on Saudi ship claimed Iran as guided by guided missile, whatever very effective.
    Not just China and Russia, Japan, Pakistan, Qatar, South Korea, Sweden and Vietnam are currently developing & installing land based anti- ship missiles.

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    1. I was tyring to think of new technologies but, yes, land based anti-ship missiles would also pose a potent threat.

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  2. "Why not employ a swarm of small, cheap, suicide UAVs that would spread out over the incoming assault wave and throw themselves at the lumbering AAVs in the water. "

    I think that any amphibious assault against a peer nation is going to be very, very difficult; largely because in my opinion we are on the wrong side of the technology and cost curve.

    We have alot of troops and alot of resources tied up in the 'phibs. We have very little ability to deal with mines. And our weapons are not only expensive, but quite often they are expensive to shoot.

    On the assaultee side, they have the advantages of knowing the terrain/water, time to prepare, and almost limitless ammunition. Further, they have one main target: the phibs. Get those and the assault ends.

    If I'm sitting on shore I'm going to be using conventional mines, CAPTOR type mines set for the phibs, artillery launched mines if that's possible, SSK's, drone suicide boats... all of which are cheaper than what we have. I can throw 30 dumb drone suicide boats at a burke and if 29 get sunk but 1 gets through, I win that exchange. And those 30 are cheaper than the 'burke. Heck, the ESSM's on the 'burke are likely more expensive than my drone suicide boats.

    The Millenium Challenge was great because it showed what someone can do to our expensive and often fragile plan.

    I suspect that if we did this regularly you'd see our plans and weapons shift. We'd rely less on silver bullets and more on cheaper attrition units or just plain brute force.

    But that would also take a shift in mentality. We'd have to go from thinking that we'd Star Wars our way in to realizing that hitting the beach is going to be expensive as heck in terms of men and materiel.

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    1. If we actually practiced realistic assault scenarios we'd quickly realize what our fathers learned in WWII - that we need massive explosives applied to the assault area (heavy caliber naval guns), extensive mine clearing capability (200 minesweepers for Normandy alone), heavy guns/tanks in the initial wave, distributed risk among the assault force, etc.

      We can do a modern assault but not with the doctrine and equipment we currently have.

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    2. We need Navy Special Warfare groups dedicated to near shore mine clearing, obstacle clearing, and beach recon. We lost that when the Army stole our SEALS who now perform foot infantry commando missions far inland like Afghanistan. Bring them back to the Navy!

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    3. Anon,

      SEALs are doing just what they should - it is the USMC that got too big for its britches and advocated for independent service status, while continuing to siphon Navy support.

      GAB

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    4. I kind of agree that SEALs have drifted away from their original purpose. We had plenty of land combat special forces: Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force, Force Recon, etc. We didn't need the SEALs to expand into land combat that wasn't in support of naval ops. It's was a duplication of effort.

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    5. It was as much about the reality of the conflicts that the US was involved in.
      The US hasn't had to storm the beaches in a heavily contested environment in many, many years.
      The SEALs do still train for that, and they do amphibious insertions all the time. They could still preform that role if required, though no doubt they'd be rusty.

      But if you've got this group of incredibly well trained, well resourced special forces operators in the SEALs and you're fighting decades long counter-insurgency campaigns across Asia and Africa that requires lots of special forces, you're not going to just not use them.

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    6. "you're not going to just not use them."

      I think you're missing the historical point. If we needed more special ops forces we could have expanded the ones we already had (Rangers and all the others I listed) that were already dedicated to land combat. We could have left the SEALs as the numerically small group that they were and they could have concentrated on water ops.

      For example, the SEALs could have covertly destroyed and otherwise hindered China's artificial island building or done some clandestine sabotage of Iran's swarm boat facilities in response to their harassment activities - you know, things that the land forces aren't trained to do. We didn't need to increase SEAL numbers when we could have increased already existing specialized land combat forces.

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    7. "we are on the wrong side of the technology and cost curve."

      Only because we choose to be! We could be using cheap transport vessels built to largely commercial standards instead of multi-billion dollar amphibious ships. We could be using a modern version of Higgins boats instead of LCACs and AAVs, if we wanted to. We could be using $10M-$20M dedicated Avenger type MCM craft instead of $700M LCS for mine clearance. We could be using $20M Cyclone type anti-swarm ships instead of Burkes, if we wanted to. We could be using updated Super Tomcats instead of F-35's, if we wanted to. We could be building Midway size carriers that can carry the same air wing as a Ford but for a fraction of the cost, if we wanted to. Do I need to continue or have I made my point?

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    8. No Service sits out a conflict because they are worried about losing money or appearing irrelevant in the short term.

      NOT a good way to manage your resources. But rather than let a conflict pull what is needed, it gets pushed to protect the service budgets.

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    9. Gents,

      The SEALs are doing *exactly what they are supposed to do - shortfalls in USN/USMC amphibious capability are not the result of a lack of SEALs.

      The solution to sea mines, both shallow water and offshore, is not SEALs.

      The solution to land mines on the beach and beach exits is not SEALs.

      The solution to obstacles in the surf zone, beach, and beach exits is not SEALs.

      UDT/UCT teams *did* address some of these problems in WWII and Korea, but the challenge of rapidly breaching these defenses by hand emplacement of explosives is just as invalid as using combat engineers to breach large minefields using hand probes and tape.

      Technically, mine clearance can be done by hand, but the time to breach a 100 meter wide mine belt is far to slow to be practical.

      GAB

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    10. "The SEALs are doing *exactly what they are supposed to do - shortfalls in USN/USMC amphibious capability are not the result of a lack of SEALs."

      You'll get no argument from me. SEALs are not the reason for amphib assault shortcomings other than indirectly as they siphon Navy funding that might otherwise go to Marine needs. And that is my concern with SEALs. The explosion in SEAL numbers and funding, while still very small in relation to the overall Navy budget, could be better spent on other Navy needs. The Navy gets nothing from the SEALs except a bit of publicity since they do not directly support Navy operations. The SEALs have become a land combat unit. The last publicly acknowledged water-connected SEAL mission, that I can recall, was the rescue of Captain Phillips of the Maersk Alabama in 2009. To be fair, I suspect that most of the SEAL missions are unknown to the public and a portion of them may be water-connected so I could be completely wrong in my conjecture.

      In any event, I'd much rather see the money spent on SEALs go to Aegis spare parts, aircraft maintenance and parts, and hundreds of other items and functions. I'd rather have hundreds of new Aegis techs and sailors in general than hundreds of new SEALs as have been raised in the last few years.

      I have nothing against SEALs and recognize that, properly used, they can be a vital aspect of naval warfare, especially during these pseudo-peace times. Unfortunately, SEALs have become a fad in the military that is expanding regardless of any real justification.

      I've got a post on this subject in the pipeline.

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    11. Allocation of resources is one thing; ill-conceived doctrine, supported by poor acquisition decisions, and ineffective training is another.

      You can throttle the funding for SEALs/NSW up or down, but we didn't screw up the "Navy- Marine Corps Team" - that broke itself.

      GAB

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    12. One other point: Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and MARSOC are funded almost entirely by SOCOM, even paychecks.

      GAB

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    13. "One other point: Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and MARSOC are funded almost entirely by SOCOM, even paychecks."

      Of course, every budget dollar that goes to SOCOM is one less for the Navy or Air Force or whoever, just as every dollar that goes to a social program is one less for defense or any other program. Within a given budget year, it's a zero-sum game. If SOCOM gets a dollar, someone else loses a dollar.

      My point remains that building up SEAL numbers to conduct land warfare is inappropriate when we have dedicated land combat special forces. We should leave the SEALs to water related combat.

      I'm also unconvinced that the increases in special forces is warranted. To be fair, without having inside knowledge of the number, types, and impact of the missions they execute, I can't fairly evaluate their worth. I'd like to be able to relax and simply trust senior military leadership to make the call about appropriate sizing but given the litany of military leadership mismanagement and incompetence, I'm dubious.

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    14. Budgets are a zero sum games, but keep in mind that just the U.S. Army budget is bigger than the budget for the entire Russian military!

      SOCOM *is* too large, and too focused on kinetic operations; yet the forces are truly overstretched.

      There also exists a long-standing issue of "conventionalization of SOF" - using SOCOM to do jobs that the services should be doing. This has no easy answer: some missions are simple "call-outs" that your local sheriff could do, but the sensitive nature of supporting intelligence rules out conventional forces.

      SOCOM also has *loaned* a lot of forces to the intelligence community to do missions that, in an ideal world, are not SOCOM's responsibility either.

      The ugly fact is that even with tight budgets, the services, have plenty of fat remaining and will never get cut .

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  3. The first problem is we no longer have amphibious ships that can deliver troops to shore, like the LSTs. We have billion dollar cruise ships with deep drafts that require billions of dollars of connectors (V-22s, CH-53s, LCACs). Yet these are defenseless and easy to shoot down so our doctrine only works against fourth world militias, unless the enemy agrees to a ROE and not shoot them up.

    Add up the tonnage of an LHD, the ship plus crew plus connectors and compare that with combat power it can deliver ashore. You'll find combat power is less than 5% of the gross tonnage.

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  4. Allow me to put a 'scenario and name' to this mental exercise; perhaps not direct US related, but every bit as relevant. Below are my observations (not in any sequence of relevance); just my thoughts, not making any points.

    1. Amphibious assault vs. counter-assault: PLA's Taiwan grab vs. Taiwan's defense.

    2. Battle of 100's: Taiwan strait invasion scenario: 100 miles front x 100 miles strait width x 100 meter strait depth, in 100 hours. If one stares long enough at Taiwan scenario's geography, it kind of jumps out (to me, at least) how PLA will want to 'fait accompli' Taiwan grab to end the war(i.e. US involvement) before it starts- hence the '100-hr'. The 100mi X 100mi X 100meter is my guess of invasion water route.

    3. PLA is planning to up(or re-configure existing ground force) its Marines to 100k. So if we divide it into 2 parts assault and 1 part reserve, the defender might face 60k at first wave, not counting airborne assault.

    4. Look at layout of Taiwan's dense road network and major cities, I would think PLA will want to bring heavy armors upfront- to get into the civilian population, to shock/awe/stop the formal fighting asap. And PLA will probably rely on heavy-lifting hovercrafts (not there yet in number) for the strait transit.

    5. The defender needs to stretch the formal resistance out to '2 weeks', in order for US to get going and get involved materially/militarily/politically/diplomatically/in all spectrum to stop the invasion.

    CNO, the more I look at it, the 'counter assault' looks more relevant, that is- the US-Marines (or foot dry US troops in Taiwan) might have to fight a CA-war before an Assault one.

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    1. If we are serious about defending our Asian allies against Chinese aggression, then we would have to place more thought and resources into CA than we do now.

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  5. IMO, an amphibious assault/forcible entry to be strategized for against a peer adversaries home country is no longer obtainable, or should be planned for. The same goes for any division level airborne assault. Their time in history has come and gone for all the reasons mentioned above and more. That said a MEU level assault from the sea, or in the case of airborne, battalion level assault for limited objectives (NEO, counter terrorism, airfield seizure, etc.) in proxy wars or 3/4th world conflicts, etc., for those type "conflicts" these two capabilities are relevant and useful. Both the Marines and 18th ABC should focus on those roles within the scope of what is doable, non-strategically.

    Amphibious ships and their equipment needs for LCAC/AAV, supporting helos, naval gunfire, CAS, etc are very expensive for the lodgement they create. Only so much is needed.

    Rather the US should keep its eye on the ball focused on rebuilding Big Navy- Blue water CSGs, centered on big deck aircraft carriers and w/deep strike capability, more CGs, SSNs, DDGs and frigates; for our sea power core. Concurrently, the rebuilding of Big Army and reinvent maneuver warfare with air/armor/Artil/INF capabilities for regional conflicts at the division level needs to be built up for our strategic core. Build those core capabilites up to fight two regional wars again and we can reassess at that time.

    Doing just the above will take a decade or more if we start now...

    b2

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    1. I don't know how far back your readership goes but I have repeatedly stated that there is no viable or desirable scenario in which troops would enter mainland China. The same applies to Russia. Iran and NKorea would see troops enter their mainland but not via amphibious assault.

      I have further stated that I see no significant likelihood of a major amphibious assault in the foreseeable future.

      All that said, the Marines seem determined to maintain a major amphibious assault capability. So, when I address assaults, I'm really addressing the Marines stated capability rather than a capability I see as likely. Within the Marines stated capability there are major shortcomings and it's those I address.

      Do you see and appreciate the distinction?

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    2. The 'fight tonight' scenario.

      Pyongyang is 100 miles from 38//, and 20 miles from sea. Who knows, USMC might even land north of PY to limit PLA's NK involvment (i.e. PLA might carve out a portion of NK to stay put NK refugees).

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    3. re "Do you see and appreciate the distinction?"

      Yes I do, and I appreciate you pointing that out to me. I had noticed your taking on the Major Amphibious Assault syndrome the USMC traditionally desires, but I couldn't help but soapbox about my similar leanings and to remind folks that we can't have it all and we must start with the core Army-Navy needs after over 25 years of neglect..

      We need several ARG-MEU groups for forward presence but not as many as what the USMC wants the Navy/DoD to procure. Did you read the USMC air requirements doc that came out today? Their aircraft requirements, to meet an expeditionary force role only, require aviation platform resources equal to what the USAF and US Navy need to just tread water to replace legacy platforms like the F-5/16 and F-18C, P-3, etc. Add 'em up...After a 40 year investment and tremendous costs for the V-22 they now require even more F-35Bs (replaces the role of the harrier..) and now the H-53K. Their demand in resources for their role is out of whack with their size or real function. They figure the other services just waste what they get...

      So they strike while the iron is hot now that they have Mattis/Kelly in position, plus, who can easily say no to the USMC in the first place, G love 'em? As Gomer Pyle says: "Surprise, Surprise, Sargent Carter!" Us squids need to resist, big time.

      b2

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  6. CNO,

    We do not practice realistic scenarios because our thinking is focused on micromanaging interventions against semi-literate 3rd world insurgents, rather than high end warfare against a peer competitor that is equipped and trained to deal with our forces.

    What ground force would a Russian, or Chinese commander have immediately available to counter attack a helicopter LZ, a parachute LZ, or an amphibious landing?
    Answer: one, or more *Motor Rifle Brigade(s)* consisting of:

    1-2 x Tank Battalion(s) (40-80 x T72/T-80/T-90 tanks)
    3 x Motor Rifle Battalions (BMP or BTR)
    1 x Anti-tank Battalion
    1 x Air Defence Missile Battalion
    1 x Air Defence Missile and Self-propelled Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion
    1 x Engineer Battalion
    1 Reinforced Artillery Battalion with:
    - 36 x Self-propelled howitzers (2S3M or 2S19 or 2A19)
    - 18 x Self-propelled BM21 Rocket launchers
    - 18 x Self-propelled mortars
    Plus, EW and other formations that the U.S. puts at Corps level or higher.

    MEUs do not scale up against this, MEBs do not scale against this, a Stryker Brigade would get hammered, and even a Marine Division would have plenty of trouble dealing with a modern Russian Motor Rifle Brigade.

    GAB

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  7. If I remember my assault lessons from WW2 Correctly Tarawa showed us that short bombardments don't work. They therefore added massive firepower in the preparation phase prior to landing due to the losses incurred from the action

    Another forgotten lesson is that if we island hop the carnage is going to be great and we have no where near the size or force structure present in the Navy necessary for the losses that we will eventually sustain from combat

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    1. There are a few salient points you're glossing over, here. First, there is no conceivable scenario in which we're going to island hop anywhere unless China opts to declare all out war on the US and embark on a campaign to seize the entire Pacific Ocean (to be fair, that is their goal but their preferred methodology is to do so non-violently as they've masterfully done in seizing the entire South China Sea). So, with no island hopping scenario, your point about losses is moot.

      Regarding losses, the pre-WWII military couldn't afford the island hopping losses, either. The military took in enormous numbers of soldiers, built thousands more aircraft, built entire fleets, converted entire industries to military production, etc. in order to absorb the losses you describe. In an all out war today, we would do the same. So, yes, given time to build up forces, as in WWII, we would be able to absorb the losses. Now, the speed with which we can build up is a debatable issue, admittedly, but you should not be comparing our current force size with a peak-WWII size. That's not apples to apples.

      Tarawa showed us many lessons, as did Guadalcanal. The entire Pacific campaign was on on-going evolution of the military art until we had mastered the amphibious assault by the end of the war.

      The assault lessons were paid for in blood but we did master them. That's why it hurts so much to have willfully lost the institutional knowledge that we used to have. It's incompetent leadership that is 100% to blame for that. When the Marines state that they are "re-learning" amphibious assaults, someone has screwed up badly.

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  8. I think it's good USMC is trying out some new tech, maybe even some new tactics but the part that I question is: suddenly we see a resurgent Russia and China, peers or near peers, do we really think we would hit the beach against them? Where and how do we get to that point? What's behind the scenario?

    I just don't see the scenario and in both cases, both nations would massive amounts of weapons down range plus in the case of China, probably massive amounts of ground troops, are we really prepared/preparing for that?!?

    I'm all for new technology BUT how much of this stuff really will SCALE UP to fight a near peer and not some third world goat herder with an AK?

    In a way, I'm afraid we are fooling ourselves with this new tech: drones, networks, data,etc..yes it's really nice BUT are we sure this stuff will compensate for the growing lack of firepower of US military?!?

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    1. Russia's Ukraine invasion is teaching us some outstanding lessons about firepower, armor, electronic warfare, robotics, etc. but we're only barely paying any attention.

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  9. Nope. I very much agree.

    But I don't think we will change unless we are slapped in the face with that reality. I think the Navy specificLly and the military in general is too enamoured with wonder weapons.

    And if we are slapped with it, I don't believe we have the industrial base to make good the loss this time.

    WWII hit us at a time when we had a ridiculous amount of excess industrial capacity and idle skilled trades. That isn't the case any more

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  10. To enter this area is to invite inventive use of weapons. I was reviewing a few articles present on the strategypage.com website and noted that Iran had modified a UAV in the Yemen fight to locate and attack air defense radars. Likewise it was noted that when Israel was fired upon a few weeks ago by the SA-200 SA/5 missiles an Israeli Arrow 3 anti missile was used to intercept and destroy an anti air missile because it was on a ballistic course for Israel. This meant that the anti air missile was modified to attack a ground target.

    This shows that there are still ingenious uses for existing weapons that aren't expensive and that the US Armed Forces had better get their act together and realize that it isn't the wonder weapons that will do them in. But the proliferation of cheap and affordable weapons that will eventually wear us down.

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    1. I should have added that it seems that warfare is going the route of $100,000 iron dome rocket vs drone route vs $3.5-4 million a short SM-6 versus a anti ship ballistic fast missile. Again we need a balanced force structure.

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  11. It's generally believed that one of the most vulnerable times of an amphibious assault is when a small beachhead is established.

    There are lots of troops, but the supply lines remain vulnerable. That could be a good time for a massive counterattack.


    Big question, what is the game plan?

    - Attacking Iran?
    - Russia
    - China over Taiwan?

    The opponent will very heavily dictate the strategy.



    One other thing. We don't really have much like Hobart's Funnies. Those specially modified engineering tanks played a very key role in D-Day.


    The other is, we need naval bombardment.

    Options are a battleship, maybe a monitor-type of vessel (heavy guns, decent armor, shallow draft, but slow and not designed to fight enemy ships, just land bombardment).


    In its current form, I don't see the US attempting a D-Day like operation any time soon against anything but a 3rd world enemy.

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    1. "In its current form, I don't see the US attempting a D-Day like operation any time soon against anything but a 3rd world enemy."

      I agree. That leads, inexorably, to the question, why do we maintain a 30+ big deck, fleet of multi-billion dollar amphibious ships and an entire Marine Corps if we're only going to conduct unopposed landings against 3rd world opponents? The Marines seem not to have a response to this other than, "because we've always done so". We either need to gear up big time in order to be capable of opposed assaults or we need to drastically downsize if can't/won't do opposed landings.

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    2. coincidentally, I was just reading about the navy's carrier gap and came over here to wonder that same thing.

      the 'phibs we have are a significant chunk of money, and I'd have to think a significant chunk of maintenance cost. Given what we get out of them, I think the opportunity cost of making them is too high.

      They won't go away, the Corps seems to have a very strong hold on Congress. But I think a number of them probably should if we are just going to do smaller type non peer landings.

      If we are going to gear up, then we need to find a way to gear up affordably. These 'phibs don't need to be gold plated.

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    3. The reasons are Money and Mission.

      No Service wants to give up a mission, even if they know it is not doable or one they want to do because they will lose money.

      NO Service will EVER give up Money, whether they can spend it effectively or not.

      Once again the self licking ice cream cone effect is alive and well.

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    4. Yeah I'd agree if this is about keeping the money flowing so to speak. See my comment below.

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    5. "It's generally believed that one of the most vulnerable times of an amphibious assault is when a small beachhead is established."

      As an abstract statement, this is reasonable. However, for the current Navy/Marine operating concept, there is a much more vulnerable point. The entire sustainment load is envisioned to flow from cargo ships through the MLPs and then to the beach. We only have, or plan to have three or four MLPs. If you want to stop an assault cold, sink the MLPs - no MLP, no sustainment; no sustainment, no assault. The MLPs are utterly defenseless, large, and slow moving, though they will have escorts while in theater. However, the MLPs can be sunk/mission killed while docked, long before any assault. They can be sunk on their way to an assault assembly area. They can be sunk on their way to the actual assault. They can be sunk at the assault location when their location is well known and they are essentially a fixed target. If an enemy had to sacrifice an SSK to take out an MLP, it would be an excellent trade from their perspective - no MLP, no assault.

      Our current inability to land supplies directly via an LST or similar, has led to the creation of almost a single point of failure in amphibious assaults with the three or four MLPs.

      The loss of even a single MLP might well be fatal for the sustainment of an assault.

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  12. If that is the case then we have to take a hard look at the Marines altogether. What are they?

    - If they are not fighting the Japanese Imperial Army for anything like Iwo Jima any soon
    - If there are no plans for another amphibious landing because either we don't need so much for fighting a third world nation or because there is no way to conduct a D-Day like assault against the likes of China or Russia or a nation with the serious ability to fight back

    Then is it better to assume that the USMC is a second land army? I mean scenarios I could see:

    - Assault from sea from shore of a third world nation
    - Maybe trying to assault Taiwan after China has landed in a hypothetical China-USA war
    - If tensions with Russia decline to war, rescuing the Baltic States (Kaliningrad can attacked from Poland, a NATO nation)

    What is the probability of this happening? What is the ability to do the mission? If they cannot do the mission, should the second land army strategy be implemented? Should they be training and procuring things with that in mind?

    The other problem is that the Marine Corps is allocating some very specific things that they asked for. The F-35 is one of them:

    https://warisboring.com/fd-how-the-u-s-and-its-allies-got-stuck-with-the-worlds-worst-new-warplane-5c95d45f86a5

    A joint fighter between the USN and USAF would be quite different without the VTOL ability. The VTOL ability caused the F-35 to have such a fat and draggy fuselage. Without it, you could easily get something closer to the F-22 for what the F-16 was to the F-15.

    The reason of course is the lift fan needed for VTOL. The problem is that there are huge penalties in weight and drag. Even though the F-35 variants are not the same, the airframe is common enough that it's a problem.

    The other big USMC procurement aircraft, the V-22 Osprey is very problem plagued.

    https://warisboring.com/your-periodic-reminder-that-the-v-22-is-a-piece-of-junk-db72a8a23ccf

    The problem is the tilt rotor concept is itself flawed.

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    1. More out today:

      https://news.usni.org/2017/03/28/marines-upgrading-todays-planes-to-prepare-for-tomorrows-distributed-high-end-fight

      Look at the USMC centric slides within their brief based on their HQ knowledge. Childish depiction of what possibly took them there....the US Navy Carrier Strike Group depicted on the lower RH corner.....

      Notice this is just USMC air they are talking about in their HQ brief....A fleet of overly expensive, developmental technology (always expensive), that bring inherently LESS capablity than other service equivalent platforms. They do this with a straight face. They have Generals Mattis and Kelly, right? In their minds they cannot win any battle for the USA unless they win the battle of the budget and fund all their fancies...Let the Navy, Army and AF fend for themselves...

      You asked the central question "What are they?" The USMC is depicted in those slides....As you can see they aren't very joint so therefore their mission must be smaller....right? ;-)

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    2. Caveat: I like the corps. I've had family members in the Corps. But I think what they are doing now is wrong.

      But, how in hell did the Corps get the legislative muscle to outmaneuver the Navy *and* the Air Force?

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    3. Yes, I am being being tough with the USMC here but they are playing hardball affecting the other services always making their play.... it is so overt now with this LTGEN in charge of their aviation forces that I cannot believe they are not any Navy leaders pushing back against them using the facts.

      BTW I was trained by Marines at AOCS in the olden days. Dudes like this "who learned me who Chesty Puller was". Men I will forever respect:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mikS7qQSN0

      The dude with the birth control glasses is SSGT Penn, my DI. Look, I love the Marines like everybody else but I just think they are really overreaching today....

      b2

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    4. That video was awesome.

      "Hey! Maybe I'll get my Ohantom today!"

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  13. Another question, what about stopping mines?

    It's likely that there will be mines, both inland and naval mines against landing craft, then any craft that make it ashore.

    The goal is not so much to stop the enemy as to slow them down for a large counterattack. That means clearing enemy mines quickly is extremely important.

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    1. You're quite correct. Mines are cheap and devastatingly effective. We have no high volume mine clearance capability. Heck, we almost have no mine clearance capability at all! We also have no combat clearance capability - meaning, we have no capability to clear mines while under fire as we would be when trying to clear the approaches to a beach and the actual assault lanes. The LCS cannot stand and fight (and if it did, it could not survive a hit) and clear mines at the same time. The LCS mine clearance rate is 1 to 2 mines per hour. That is utterly useless in an assault scenario.

      This is why building a $750M LCS-MCM vessel never made sense even if the MCM module worked.

      We have really allowed our MCM in general to atrophy and our combat MCM to vanish.

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    2. This is an interesting point - I agree that the LCS would last five minutes under sustained fire close to shore in a MCM capacity.
      Having said that, what mine clearance vessel would survive in a modern combat environment?

      Is mine clearance under fire from anti-ship missiles (among other things) even a viable proposition?

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    3. The real issue isn't the mines in emplaced before the amphibious assault, it is the scatterable mines the enemy emplaces *after* the landing when the objectives of the landing are clear!

      GAB

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    4. "Having said that, what mine clearance vessel would survive in a modern combat environment?

      Is mine clearance under fire from anti-ship missiles (among other things) even a viable proposition?"

      Possibly, no ship is survivable under those circumstances. Although, the conceptual ship that could conduct mine clearance under fire would be small (to minimize its radar and optical signature), fast, heavily armed with point defense weapons, and armored to mitigate damage from hits. That's certainly not the LCS which is the vessel the Navy built to do the job!

      The other approach is to use unmanned vehicles and weapon systems. Influence sweeping conducted by unmanned surface vessels would be useful. Explosives placed to clear lanes would be useful and already exist to some extent. Unmanned subsurface vehicles with active sonar can help define the size and location of minefields.

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  14. I think one thing worth considering here is that most large amphibious landings in US military history have occurred in scenarios where the US already had complete air and naval superiority over the area being assaulted.
    D-Day occurred at a time when the Allies had long since established air superiority and naval superiority over Norther France and the English Channel respectively (and almost certainly would have been a bloody failure if that hadn't been the case).

    The same is largely true of most of the assaults conducted in the Pacific (with the notable exception of kamikaze attacks in later campaigns, and the obvious exception of Guadalcanal where they did so in a contested air and naval environment).

    So in that sense the Marines have rarely been expected to assault a fully functioning enemy defensive network.

    It's usually the case that only after the US has wrested naval control of the approaches and air control of the beachhead and surrounding areas that the Marines go in.

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    1. "So in that sense the Marines have rarely been expected to assault a fully functioning enemy defensive network."

      Quite right. It is operational folly to conduct frontal attacks against a fully prepared and non-degraded defense. If you can't degrade the defenses and can't gain at least localized air and sea superiority, one has to ask whether one should even be contemplating an assault.

      In other words, air and sea superiority and degraded defenses (via massive pre-assault bombardment, among other means) are are prerequisite for an assault. Our doctrine, training, tactics, and equipment include none of those things. In short, it's obvious that we are not serious about being able to conduct major assaults.

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  15. We know of those diesel electric AIP subs that could be lurking in the littorals but I'd like to throw out this concept..... I think there are mines that launch torpedoes based on "noise" from ships. I wonder if these mine / torpedoes could be launched by a signal from land.

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    1. I don't know. Communication with underwater objects is always difficult. Interesting idea, though.

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