Showing posts with label Amphibious Connectors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amphibious Connectors. Show all posts

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Future Connectors - The Marine Corps View

As mentioned in the previous posts (see, "Out Of The Business"), CSIS hosted a Q&A session with BGen. William Mullen (1).  He covered several topics that are noteworthy and deserve some additional attention.

Mullen addressed the major limitation of the current connectors,

“Because the connectors we have, the LCACs, the LCUs, the Joint High Speed Vessel, none of those things will go into an unprotected beach.”

The consequence of that, according to Mullen, is,

“We have to have the ability to have that thing [connectors] bring us in to just outside small arms range and then get off it and swim ashore.”

That’s a major doctrinal statement there.  He’s saying that the Marines do not view the current connectors as survivable in an opposed landing, hence, the Marine’s focus on an armored amphibious vehicle (AAV/ACV/EFV/whatever).  You’ll note that this is somewhat at odds with the emphasis on aviation assault but that’s just one of many contradictory views the Marines currently hold.  If this is true, then the armored amphibious vehicle is the key to the Marine’s future (again, at odds with the aviation emphasis) and makes the decades long dithering over such a vehicle almost incomprehensible.

This statement from Mullen gives us the Marine’s view of an amphibious assault.  Connectors will transport armored amphibious vehicles to a point short of the beach and the vehicles will swim the rest of the way.  What this vision doesn’t allow for is the transport and landing of heavier assets like tanks and artillery, at least in the initial wave.  That makes the initial combat somewhat problematic and, at the very least, requires close co-ordination with Navy and aviation assets for the missing heavier punch.  Unfortunately, given the probable lack of air superiority in a contested landing against a peer, aviation support will probably be sporadic, at best, and naval support is doctrinally non-existent, at the moment.

Referring to connector alternatives, Mullen made sure to emphasize the importance of the traditional amphibious ship,

“Anything we do alternatively can’t replace any of those gray hulled ships.”

That sounds like a scripted Navy-Marine talking point!

Mullen noted that one of the significant differences between the Army and Marines is that the Marines have never used an armored fighting vehicle (AFV) whereas the Army has, in the form of the Bradley.  He gave no impression that a Marine AFV is under consideration and stated that Marines use armored vehicles as transport.  Again, a significant doctrinal point whose wisdom is highly debatable.

The Marines have requested that the LCAC replacement, the Ship to Shore Connector (SSC), be given the ability to launch AAVs or a similar vehicle while at sea rather than having to wait to get to the beach since the SSC is not going to land on a hostile beach.  That makes sense given the previous statements.

Mullen addressed a question about interim AAV upgrades and responded by stating that an upgrade program is in progress but won’t start “turning wrenches” until 2019.  I’m not an expert on combat vehicles but a relatively simple upgrade program requiring 5 years to even begin seems absurd.

The Marine’s plans for the near future seem to be centered on the ACV 1.1/1.2.  He stated that the ACV 1.1 would be purchased in small quantities to experiment with and then the 1.2 version would incorporate the lessons learned and constitute the bulk of the procurement. 

Mullen had this to say about the focus on the ACV over the AAV,

“Frankly, we had such problems with our AAVs in Iraq that we stopped using them outside the gate and we never even took them to Afghanistan.”

Well that’s interesting!

EFV/ACV - Key To The Future?

Mullen noted the relationship between aviation based assault and ground/amphibious assault.  He acknowledged that the aviation assets had only a limited ability to transport vehicles and then only in a permissive environment.  The difficulty in achieving a suitable permissive environment provides the rationale for the continued need for a ground/amphibious capability, according to him.

Addressing the general need for an AAV type vehicle, Mullen stated,

“To us, we see the ability to have an independent deployer that swims ashore without any connector as a service defining capability.”

Mullen addressed the connector issue shortcomings,

“With the route we’re taking, LCUs and LCACs probably aren’t going to be enough.  What else is there out there?  What else can be done?”

So, the Marines apparently recognize a serious shortcoming but are doing little about it beyond a few paper studies and investigations.  With such a significant problem, one can’t help but wonder why the Marines budget and focus is so skewed to the aviation side especially given the previous statement recognizing the vulnerability of aviation transport.

He went on to cite the JHSV with an at-sea ramp capability as an option that the Marines are requesting.  The JHSV would transport vehicles to just outside small arms range and discharge the vehicles into the sea.  Of course, the JHSV is built to purely commercial standards and operating it to just outside small arms range still leaves it squarely in rocket and missile range.  That’s a questionable use of the JHSV.

Of course, one could ask why, if the Marines see the combination of LCAC and LCU as insufficient, are we pursuing a simple replacement of the LCAC and a perhaps somewhat more capable LCU rather than far more capable and robust replacements that would be sufficient?

Responding to a question about the vulnerability of connectors to shore based missiles, Mullen noted that the Marines would operate with the Navy and Air Force who would suppress shore based anti-access (A2) fire.  However, he then went on to say that the Marines see their role as getting a “bubble” of capability ashore to aid in the counter A2 operation.  That’s fine, but there’s a Catch-22 at work:  how do the Marines get ashore to aid in the counter A2 operations if the counter A2 operations haven’t yet succeeded?  - and, if the counter A2 operations have succeeded enough to get the Marines ashore then their assistance in the counter A2 operations isn’t really needed.  He did not acknowledge that logical inconsistency.  He also cited the V-22 as aiding in getting the Marines ashore to help with the counter A2.  Again, he did not address the vulnerability of the V-22 to air defenses in a counter A2 environment.  I’m sorry but the Marines doctrine and concept of operations seems heavily dependent on wishful thinking!

Finally, although this was not his closing statement, it should have been.

“As the fiscal environment gets more constrained, we have to think harder.”

Please, Marines, think a LOT harder than you currently are!!

(1), Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Future Amphibious Connectors:  Getting From Ship To Shore”, Brig. Gen. William Mullen, Director, Capabilities Development Directorate, 15-Jul-2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gen. Amos at West 2014

General Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, spoke as part of a panel discussion at West 2014 (1).  One of the topics he touched on was connectors and sea basing which is highly relevant given some of our recent post discussions.

Referring to our relationships with foreign countries over the next couple of decades, he stated,

“… they’re not going to want us to build bases.  Those days, for the near term, are gone.”

Amos went on to explain that this means that sea basing will be the focal point of operations. 
That’s a fascinating statement of belief.  I tend to believe he’s right.  If so, consider what that means in relation to future operations in the South/East China Seas and how it will impact our dealings with China.  We aren’t going to have any more bases than we have now and what we have now are few and far removed from the area of interest.  The challenge of operating forward from vastly removed bases will be enormous.  Imagine if we had had to conduct the Pacific war in WWII strictly from Pearl Harbor, without the benefit of intermediate island bases.

This means that all of our equipment had better be long range and long endurance.  Platforms like JSF and LCS are going to prove only marginally useful.  Short range weapons like Harpoon are going to be nearly useless.

Amos suggested that the most useful ship in the next couple decades is the amphibious ship, in whatever form.  He notes that the missions will be partner training, humanitarian assistance, presence, etc.;  he specifically does not mention high end combat.  He’s clearly viewing the fleet through the lens of peacetime activities.  He says,

“The truth of the matter is we don’t have enough amphibious ships right now.  We’re meeting less than half the needs of the Combatant Commanders.”

He then goes on to discuss connectors.

“We need connectors that can not only haul a lot of stuff but we need connectors that can actually go to high speed.”

“… the sea base that’s 75-80 miles off the coast …”

“… we need to change the paradigm.  We tend to think of a connector as something that we carry in the bowels of a ship.”

Referring to a large amphibious force and sea base,

“You’re not going to have enough connectors that you’re just going to be carrying organically with your shipping that you have.  But if you had some connectors that would go high speed when required but would perhaps fold up and perhaps be able to stack these connectors on some type of gray bottom ship, excuse me, black bottom ship and then just at the signs … something bad is going to happen… then you sail that ship.”

Clearly, this is a reference to the LCU-F or a remarkably similar vessel.  He goes on to describe a vision of 20-30 of these connectors folded and stacked on the deck of a cargo ship and transported to the area of operation just as the Marines and their equipment would be.  The connectors would have a speed of 25-30 kts, according to Amos.  He further states that the Corps is going to allocate money to R&D of such a connector and concludes by saying that this is an area that we’ve missed the mark on.

His statements support the conclusion that we drew from the previous post on transport attrition (see, Amphibious Assault Attrition).  The amphibious ships just don’t have enough organic connectors to support a sustained, opposed assault and would be hard pressed to support even an unopposed, sustained assault.

These comments, interesting enough on their own, again highlight the meandering direction of the Corps, right now.  There was no mention of the F-35, MV-22, or aviation assault.  To be fair, that was not the topic, however, this demonstrated that the Marines are trying to be all things (expeditionary air force, light infantry aviation assault, conventional amphibious assault) in a time of severely constrained budgets.  While they may want to be all things, the budget won’t allow it and the budget choices that the Marines are making show the path they’re committed to.  The acquisition of the MV-22 and F-35, the cancellation of the EFV with no replacement on the horizon, the drawdown of personnel, the reduction of tanks and artillery from the heavy end of things, and the multi-billion dollar price tag for new amphibious ships all show that the Marines are going to be a light infantry, expeditionary air force for the foreseeable future.  The Marines can talk all they want about traditional amphibious assault but the money simply isn’t there.  By committing everything to the F-35 they’ve cemented their path, for better or worse.

(1) U.S. Naval Institute West 2014 Conference, 11-13 Feb 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Amphibious Assault Attrition

We’ve been discussing the various aspects of Marine/Navy amphibious assaults with various opinions expressed about types of landing craft and the ability to sustain an assault via air, sea, or a combination.  However, the one aspect that we haven’t touched on is the most important one for an opposed assault and that is attrition.  While we may not anticipate a full blown D-Day type invasion, the fact is that even a mildly opposed assault will result in significant attrition of the transport assets.

One of our readers, GAB, pointed out that a MEU needs several hundred tons of supplies per day to sustain an assault.  I have not independently verified that figure but it sounds plausible and I have no reason to doubt it so, for the sake of discussion, let’s accept it as, say, 600 tons and that’s undoubtedly optimistically low.

Now, I don’t think anyone believes that an assault by a MEU can be sustained purely through the air.  If you do think so, run the numbers and you’ll see that it’s not possible.  So, for this discussion, let’s look at a beach landing since the water borne transports at least have the possibility of transporting enough supplies to sustain an assault.

The amphibious group that supports the MEU would typically consist of an LHD (Wasp class, 3 LCAC), LPD (San Antonio class, 2 LCAC or 1 LCU), and an LSD (Whidbey Island class, 4 LCAC) which provides a total of 9 LCACs.  The group also has 10 MV-22s and 4 CH-53Es available for transport.  Here’s the transport capacities.

10 MV-22 at 10 tons = 100 tons
4 CH-53E at 15 tons = 60 tons

9 LCAC at 60 tons = 540 tons

Total lift = 700 tons

We instantly note that the airborne contribution is quite limited compared to the waterborne contribution.  Nonetheless, the total lift is, indeed, capable of meeting our lift requirement of 600 tons per day.  But for how long?

Let’s assume our resupply “lifts” occur in perfect waves and we can manage three lifts per day.  Let’s further assume that attrition costs us one transport per lift.  What?!  No way!  Actually, yes way!  Hey, it’s an opposed landing.  The enemy knows that resupply is the Achilles Heel of the assault.  They’ll make every effort to cut the resupply.  One lost transport per lift may, in fact, be optimistic.  Remember, it doesn’t require a catastrophic kill to attrite the transport.  Simple damage that is eventually repairable down the road but renders the transport unusable in the short term is the same as a kill.  Further, the LCAC is, by all accounts, a finicky maintenance nightmare.  We’ll lose transports to simple mechanical failures in addition to combat losses.  Anyway, here’s what the numbers show using an LCAC cargo capacity of 60 tons.

Day 1, Lift 1, 9 LCAC = 540 tons
Day 1, Lift 2, 8 LCAC = 480 tons
Day 1, Lift 3, 7 LCAC = 420 tons
Total = 1440 tons = 2.4 days worth of supplies

Day 2, Lift 1, 6 LCAC = 360 tons
Day 2, Lift 2, 5 LCAC = 300 tons
Day 2, Lift 3, 4 LCAC = 240 tons
Total = 900 tons = 1.5 days worth of supplies

Day 3, Lift 1, 3 LCAC = 180 tons
Day 3, Lift 2, 2 LCAC = 120 tons
Day 3, Lift 3, 1 LCAC = 60 tons
Total = 360 tons = 0.5 days worth of supplies

So, in 3 days we’ve managed to get a little over 4 days worth of supplies ashore and now we have no more functioning waterborne transports.

The same type of effect applies to the airborne lift component except that it starts with a much smaller lift capacity.  I leave it to you to work through the math for the airborne component.  Also, we should expect a much heavier loss for the air transports given the lethality of Stinger/ZSU type defenses against slow, low helos. 

While the airborne transports will help stretch out the supply situation, the reality is that the bulk of the air assets will probably be employed moving troops around and ferrying supplies from the beach to the forward troops and will, thus, have a fairly minimal contribution to the resupply effort.

Now, this was absolutely not a combat simulation.  It was, much like the RAND air combat scenario, a simple exercise in numbers to demonstrate the potential impact of attrition on the sustainability of an assault.  You may argue about particular aspects but, unless you make ridiculous assumptions, it won’t change the results by very much.  Further, many of the assumptions were overly optimistic.  For instance, loss of the transport’s loads when they are “hit” was not factored in nor was any loss of supplies on the beach due to enemy artillery, mortars, missiles, or air attacks.  If you factor in a 10%-30% loss of supplies, the results just get that much worse, that much sooner.  Also, follow on transport of heavy equipment, as opposed to supplies, further eats into the resupply numbers.  Loss of an amphibious ship was not considered.

How many lifts per day can we get?  That depends on distance.  The farther off shore the amphibious force sits, the fewer daily lifts.  I estimated three per day.  Maybe it will only be two.  Maybe it will be four.  It won’t greatly affect the outcome.  The assault will stall out in a matter of a few to several days.

Every pre-conflict estimate of supply usage in history has been woefully underestimated.  I used GAB’s ballpark supply requirements but the reality is that much more would be needed.

The takeaway from this little exercise is that our concept of how an assault will go is ludicrously optimistic and basically assumes that the enemy will have no adverse affect on our assault.  For an unopposed landing that’s fine but even then we seem to have barely enough assets and cannot afford any mechanical losses.  For an opposed landing, our assumptions are badly flawed.  I don’t see how we can carry out even a moderately opposed landing with the resources and assets we currently have and the doctrine we currently use.

My contention, regardless of what the Marines might say or want to believe, is that the Marines are limited by lift and resupply constraints to being a low intensity, short duration, light infantry assault force.  While there’s certainly a use for that type of force, that’s a far cry from the traditional amphibious assault force and begs the question, what role will, or can, the Marines play in an all out, high end war?  The answer would seem to be, not much of a role.  The follow up question is, given the limited role the Marines seem able to play, can we continue to justify multi-billion dollar amphibious ships?

If you want to comment on this, do it with facts not general platitudes about how important Marines are.  Also, please note that this post is an observation about the current state of affairs rather than a statement of position on my part.  I’m neither supporting nor criticizing any particular amphibious philosophy.  I’m just trying to objectively assess the current capabilities.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Submersible LST

In the recent post, Future Navy - Part 2, the reader "ats" offered a comment about a submersible LST for amphibious assaults.  The idea just caught my fancy and I sketched out a quick concept drawing.  It's nothing special because I'm not an artist but I thought I'd share it with you just for fun.  Thanks "ats"!

Submersible LST Inspired by "ats"

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Better Amphibious Assault

ComNavOps just read a fascinating article on amphibious assault written by a recently retired Marine infantry officer with 29 years service and currently working as a professor at the College of Operational and Strategic Leadership of the U.S. Naval War College.  I don’t know enough to comment on the effectiveness or desirability of the specific suggestions but that’s not the point, here.  The point is that this is one of the rare articles I’ve come across that provides alternative thinking to the more-of-the-same approach that the Navy and Marines seem to have fallen into.  Regular followers of this blog know that ComNavOps is highly critical of the Navy/Marines lack of a coherent conceptual approach to amphibious assaults.  I encourage you to follow the link at the bottom of the post and read the entire article (it’s short!) and draw your own conclusions.  At the very least, the author’s credentials and experience confer an element of authority to his ideas that warrants serious consideration.

As a very brief summary, the author describes the shortcomings of today’s amphibious assault operations and offers three suggestions for quickly and economically improving our capabilities.

“First, procure Air-Supported Vessel (ASV) landing craft to conduct STSM for ground forces. Effects Ships International, a Norwegian builder, has plans for an LCU replacement that will “scream” to the beach at 50 knots, fully loaded, from hundreds of miles offshore.”

“Second, take advantage of the capabilities of the LCAC by having the Marine Corps build combat formations around the LAV-25 or similar mobile, armored combat vehicle instead of AAVs.”

“Finally, the naval services must reestablish the “vertical envelopment” capability that disappeared decades ago. The remaining two-thirds of the Corps should be equipped with vehicles that can be transported internally by the MV-22. American businesses already offer these highly capable vehicles off-the-shelf.”

This one is well worth the few minutes it takes to read. 

(1) War On The Rocks, , David Fuquea, 17-Sep-2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


The Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) is beginning to join the fleet and ComNavOps is beginning to wonder what these vessels will be used for.  The stated purpose is intratheater high speed transport of troops and vehicles.  Does this make sense? 

First, let’s take a quick look at the few specs that are available.

Class Size = 10 ships
Speed = 35 kts – 45 kts
Range = 1200 nm
Troop Capacity = 300 seated airline style or 100 in berths
Weight Capacity = 600 tons
Crew = 22 civilian mariners
Cost = $250M each, $2.5B program
Aviation = flight deck for a single medium helo, no hangar

So, back to our question.  How will this vessel be used and does it make sense?  Clearly, this is a non-combat vessel, built to commercial standards, and crewed by civilians.  Thus, the JHSV is not an amphibious assault vessel of any kind.  That leaves peacetime transport.  Do we have a pressing need for high speed transport of a relatively small number of troops during peacetime operations?  I’d be hard pressed to come up with a scenario where that was required. 

JHSV - What Purpose?

I suppose we could also consider its use in a wartime scenario where it operated far in the rear of the naval front lines and acted as a shuttle.  Again, though, is there a pressing need to quickly move 100 – 300 troops far in the rear of a battle zone?

I can see a use for the JHSV as a humanitarian aid vessel but that’s not really a Navy mission.  OK, actually it is an official mission but it shouldn’t be.  I’ll make that a topic for another day.

In short, I don’t see the pressing need for this ship.  Help me out, readers.  What demonstrated need does this vessel fill?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Amphibious Connector Update

Here's a quick supplemental update to our previous post on amphibious ship to shore connectors.

Defense Industry Daily (1) maintains an ongoing article about the Navy’s future Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) hovercraft landing vehicle.  The SSC appears to be a beefed up version of the venerable LCAC.  Interesting tidbits from the article include:

  • Initial plans call for a build of 72 production craft
  • Specifications cite a 25 mile delivery range
  • Same length and beam as the LCAC
  • Textron (New Orleans) has a $213M contract to produce the first craft.  The contract includes design and training among other things so this is not a representative production price.  The contract includes options for up to 8 hovercraft at a total contract price of $570M ($71M each) which gives a better idea of the production cost.

SSC - LCAC's Successor

Note that the original LCAC production run was 91 compared to the planned run of 72 for the SSC.  Does this reflect a decreased emphasis on waterborne delivery, a recognition of fewer well deck capable ships (LHA-6, for instance) in the future, or something else?  On the face of it, the smaller production run suggests less waterborne assault capacity but I’m unsure what the Navy/Marines reasoning is.  Yet another program we'll be keeping an eye on.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Amphibious Connectors

An amphibious assault?  We all have the mental image of hulking amphibious ships lurking on the horizon and Marines storming the beach.  But how did the Marines get from the ship to the beach?  Well, a variety of ways, I guess, from the futuristic (though they’re actually getting quite dated!) looking Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft to the ubiquitous Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) to helos and now MV-22 Ospreys among other means.  All of these vehicles can be collectively referred to as connectors.  Simply put, the connector is the transport between the ship and shore.

The connector has the potential to be both a potent enabler of the amphibious assault force as well as a  bottleneck and vulnerability.

As an enabler, the connector should be able to transport Marines and their gear quickly, safely, and, ideally, with a little bit of inherent firepower to provide some support at the point of landing.  The Marines should land in good physical shape and intimately integrated with their gear.  In other words, they should be landed in peak physical readiness for battle.

As a weakness, the connector represents a potential bottleneck if there are too few connectors to transport sufficient numbers of Marines and weight of gear in a given time frame.  Marines and gear sitting piled up on ship waiting around for connector transport are a recipe for disaster. 


Similarly, the connector represents a possible vulnerability.  Just as naval tacticians recognize that it’s far better to shoot archers than arrows, so too would any enemy recognize that it’s far more efficient to kill loaded connectors rather than deal with landed Marines.  Unfortunately, current connectors are slow and unarmored for practical purposes relative to the modern missile age.

The current connectors are aging rapidly and most are only marginally suited for the modern battlefield.  The AAV has been serving since the early 1970’s.  The AAV’s long anticipated replacement, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) is now a dead program with no other replacement in sight.  The LCAC entered service in the mid 1980’s and only 91 were built.  In addition, they’re large, slow (relative to missiles), attractive targets.    MV-22s are great for rapid transport of troops but can’t carry heavy gear.  The CH-53E heavy lift helo entered service in 1981 and airframes are being used up rapidly.  And so on …

All right, so the existing connectors are aging and ill-suited.  Can’t we just design new ones?  Well, therein lies the initial problem and the crux of this discussion.  What basic conceptual design is needed?  Do we need a traditional short range amphibious vehicle or do we need a very long range, way-over-the-horizon vehicle?  Are we doing traditional beachfront assaults or airborne, inland, maneuver warfare assaults? 

Cancelled EFV

The Marines tried to develop the EFV which is a short range beachfront assault vehicle despite the fact that both the Navy and Marines have stated that amphibious ships can’t survive within 50 miles of a defended beach due to the proliferation of shore launched anti-ship missiles.  In fact, for a decade or more, the Marines have embraced behind-the-lines, bypass-the-beach, maneuver warfare doctrine.  That being the case, why have they been fixated on the EFV?  Even now, with the cancellation of the EFV, they seem to be looking for yet another short range, slow, AAV-like replacement, suggesting a continued emphasis on short range beachfront assaults which is at odds with public statements regarding assault distances. 

On the other hand, the Navy is currently building a new class of amphibious ship (LHA-6) that doesn’t even have a well deck!  OK, so that means we’re going to be doing long range airborne assaults, right?  That’s fine except how do you transport M-1 Abrams tanks and all the other Marine combat vehicles and tons of gear and supplies by air?  The MV-22 can carry troops but not much more.  But wait a minute, didn’t the Navy just build an entire class of new LPD-17 class amphibious ships with well decks?  So, I guess we are doing beachfront assaults.

You see the problem?  I don’t think the Navy and Marines currently have a clear consensus on what type of assault operations they want to conduct in the future.  Of course, they could just opt to try and cover all possible scenarios but the cost of that would be staggering.

The Navy and Marines need to agree on how amphibious assaults will be conducted in the future and then start designing new connectors that complement that vision.

On a related note, here are some capacity/range figures for aerial connectors as cited in an NPS thesis (1).

5 ton external, 50 nm range
10 ton internal, 100 nm range

18 ton external, 215 nm range
15 ton internal, 230 nm range

(1) Naval Postgraduate School, Thesis:  Cost Benefit and Capability Analysis of Sea-Base Connectors, Justin Dowd, Sep 2009, p. 17-18