Wednesday, January 8, 2014

From Here To Eternity – Or At Least Several Miles Inland

The Marines purpose is to conduct amphibious assaults.

The Marines have publicly stated that frontal beach assaults are a thing of the past (so why are they pursuing AAV upgrades/replacements?  But, I digress …).

Accepting the previous statement at face value (the wisdom of that statement is a topic for another post), one is logically forced to conclude that the Marine’s purpose, now, is to conduct aviation assaults behind an enemy’s beachfront.  Indeed, the Marine’s obsession with the MV-22 and the Navy’s build of two America class LHAs without well decks would seem to support that direction.  Of course, if that’s the Marine’s new purpose, one can also legitimately wonder if the Marines have a unique role, now, given that the Army has airborne assault units but, I digress …

So the Marines want to be an airborne assault force?  Let’s look at that a bit closer.  Now, I’m not a ground expert so I may well be off on some details.  Feel free to correct me. 

The first thing to recognize is that, having ruled out beachfront assaults, the assault will be airborne and will be inland.  That’s the whole point of ruling out beachfront assaults – they’re considered too dangerous and too difficult.  The Marines believe that they can achieve better results by attacking inland – behind the enemy’s front line, so to speak.  This is maneuver warfare utilizing the skies.  Inland will mean several miles to hundreds of miles.  The key point is that there will be miles of transport over enemy territory to reach the assault location.

Good enough.  Now, let’s look at a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and what it takes to get the unit ashore in an assault.  A Marine Expeditionary Unit consists of around 2,200 Marines and their equipment.  Wiki provides the following equipment list for a MEU. 

4                      M1A1 Main Battle Tank
7 to 16            Light Armored Vehicle LAV-25
15                    Assault Amphibious Vehicle
6                      155mm Howitzer: M777
8                      M252 81mm Mortar  
8                      BGM-71 TOW Anti-Tank Missile 
8                      FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile 
4 to 6              AH-1W SuperCobra Attack Helo
3                      UH-1N Twin Huey Utility Helo
12                    CH-46E Sea Knight Medium Lift Helo
4                      CH-53E Super Stallion Heavy Lift Helo
6                      AV-8B Harrier
2                      RO Water Purification Unit
1                      LMT 3000 Water Purification Unit
4                      Tractor
2                      TX51-19M Rough Terrain Forklift
3                      D7 bulldozer 
1                      Med Tactical Vehicle Dump Truck
4                      Mk48 Logistics Vehicle System
7                      500 gallon Water Containers
63                    Humvee
30                    Med Tactical Vehicle Trucks

Note:  The CH-46 is being replaced on a 10 for 12 basis by the MV-22.

Troops aside, here are the heavier items from the preceeding list that need to be transported to the battle.  I’ve added equipment weights for some of the heavier items as cited in common sources.

4                      M1A1 main battle tank                                 60 tons 
7 to 16            Light Armored Vehicle LAV-25                   13 tons 
15                    Assault Amphibious Vehicle                        29 tons
6                      155mm Howitzer: M777                               9000 lbs 
8                      M252 81mm mortar                          90 lbs 
8                      BGM-71 TOW Anti-Tank Missile 
8                      FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile 
2                      RO Water Purification Unit
1                      LMT 3000 Water Purification Unit
4                      Tractor
2                      TX51-19M Rough Terrain Forklift
3                      D7 Bulldozer                                                  32000 lbs
1                      Med Tactical Vehicle Dump Truck
4                      Mk48 Logistics Vehicle System
7                      500 gallon Water Containers                       4000 lbs
63                    Humvee                                                          6000 lbs
30                    Medium Tactical Vehicle Trucks

Here’s the assets available to provide the transport.  I’ve added troop and cargo capacities as cited in common sources.

4                      CH-53E Super Stallion Heavy Lift Helo      55 troops or
                                                                                                30000 lb internal cargo or                                                                                                    36000 lb external carry
10                    MV-22 Osprey                                               24 troops or
                                                                                                20000 lb internal cargo or                                                                                                    15000 lb external carry

Do you see the problem, here?  Some of the MEU’s equipment is too heavy to be transported by air.  Specifically, the tanks and AAVs (assuming AAVs would be wanted as a mobile infantry vehicle – I’m told that the Marines don’t train as mobile infantry) can’t be transported.  LAVs can be transported by CH-53s in terms of weight limits but I don’t know if they actually are or not in practice.  Similarly, the Humvees, trucks, and whatnot can be transported but I don’t know whether they would be in practice.

There are three types of “goods” that need to be transported to the assault site.

  • troops
  • heavy equipment
  • supplies (ammo, food, etc.)

Troops will be transported via MV-22 (24 troops per) and CH-53 (55 troops per).  If you do the math, 4 CH-53s and 10 MV-22s can transport 460 troops at one time.  Thus, it would take 5 waves to get the MEU ashore.

Heavy equipment can only be transported one at a time, per helo, again requiring multiple round trips.

Supply transportation would be an ongoing exercise for the duration of the operation.

Now, what do we think the life expectancy of slow, unarmed helos and MV-22s will be in a high threat environment?  As a point of historical reference, the Soviet’s experience in Afghanistan demonstrated that the life expectancy of helos on the modern battlefield when pitted against Stinger anti-aircraft missiles was not long.  The simple and ubiquitous ZSU-23-4 multi-barreled anti-aircraft gun (or similar) has proven deadly to aircraft and helicopters throughout the world.  For an inland assault, we’re expecting slow, unarmed helos and MV-22s to make dozens of transits over miles of Stinger and ZSU-ish infested ground?  I leave it to you to contemplate the effects of even a seemingly low attrition rate of 10%-20% per transit.  The assault will rapidly stall out.

Factor in the fact that we can’t transport tanks, the most powerful item in the MEU, and AAVs and the MEU is leaning towards becoming strictly a light infantry unit.  Perhaps in recognition of the inability to transport tanks, Gen. Amos has stated that the Marines will be decreasing the number of tanks as the Corps is reorganized and downsized in the very near future.

Kane (1) discusses the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 and, in particular, the Israeli and Egyptian clashes between Israeli helicopters and Egyptian ZSUs and SA-7 shoulder fired SAMs.  Israeli aviation suffered significant losses.  Kane states (1),

“Tragically, nothing has changed over the past 24 years which would prevent similar catastrophic losses to U.S. Marine transport helicopters attempting to execute maneuver warfare against a similar air defense network.”

From what I know (here’s where my knowledge is lacking and I may be wrong to a degree), the CH-53 simply does not have the threat detectors, protection systems, weapons, speed, and maneuverability to operate over enemy controlled, high threat areas and survive.  The MV-22 is more survivable in a troop transport scenario due to its speed but forfeits its survivability when carrying external loads since it can’t operate at speed.  Further, the MV-22 suffers from an inability to conduct compact, formation combat landings.  Basically, it must land one at a time or land over a widely dispersed area and is very vulnerable in the landing phase.  Both platforms are simply slow moving, unmaneuverable targets when carrying external loads.

We see, then, that the MEU lacks the transport capability and transport survivability to effectively conduct inland assaults.  Of course, additional amphibious ships could be called on to supplement the MEU’s transport assets but that would require several amphibious ships just to get a single MEU ashore and it would still result in severe transport losses.  Remember, every transport that is shot down while transporting costs not only the transport itself but whatever load it was carrying – a double hit, so to speak.

This discussion was focused on a MEU but, of course, the Marines can also operate on larger scales.  However, the problems simply scale up accordingly.

We seem to have a disconnect between the Marines stated preferred mode of amphibious assault and the means to conduct such an assault.  Inexplicably, I don’t see a major push to correct this shortcoming and, in fact, the Marines stated number two acquisition priority is a new AAV (JSF being the number one priority) which does not support the preferred assault method.  I have never seen the Marine Corps more confused about its identity than they are now. 

(1) Transport Helicopters:  The Achilles Heel of Maneuver Warfare, Maj. Joel Kane, USMC, 1997


  1. I am going to take this in small bites so first some weights and capacities.

    LAV-25 is closer to 16 tons if not higher. They keep adding armor.

    M1A1 is around 65-70 tons depending on what extras it has. (Armored MG positions, plow, ect.) 60 tons was the original M1. Again more armor.

    MAX weight external for a CH-53E was 32,000 lbs (16 tons). There is not a aircraft in the fleet that can lift that anymore. As Helos age their lift capacity drops, so in 1986 a LAV-25 could be carried by a 53 in 2013 between the LAV adding weight and the 53 losing capacity it is no longer a match.

    CH-53Es only carry 24 troops. There is not enough room internally. If you beg you can up it to 26-27 but more than that is impossible. Planning factor for CH-53E is 24 pax and reality is maybe 27 but those guys will literally be sitting on their packs in the middle not on a crash seat. Where the idea that you can fit 55 passengers into a CH-53E comes from i have no idea but it is completely wrong.

    MV-22 can carry 10,000lbs externally under ideal circumstances. (Cool air at sea level.) This is rarely achievable. Additionally a MV-22 that is carrying an external load is not capable of high speed because the load will become unstable. Without it's high speed is to force air over the wings the MV-22 cannot make lift so it is forced to use the PropRotors as lift. The rotors are not very effecient in this configuration so range and speed are dramatically reduced. Thus MV-22s need to carry everything internally. That is why the USMC EFSS was designed aroudn that the entire system that can fit inside a MV-22.

    The MTVR (7-ton) is around 20,000-26,000lbs. Depends on many configurations but the armored troops carry is even more at 30,000 to 34,000 lbs.

    HMMWVs start at 6,000 lbs but rapidly increase. A uparmor with a TOW, and 5 paxs is closer to 14,000lbs.

    1. USMC, what's a realistic pax planning factor for the MV-22? The brochure says 24, but it's actually smaller inside than a CH-46. I've read reports that 16-18 are more realistic, especially with the belly gun installed.

    2. Smitty,

      The U.S. Army is reluctant to use $26 million dollar H-47s for air assaults, prefering H-60s for the role instead - I find it extraordinary that the USMC plans to use $70 million dollar V-22s, or even $115 million dollar H-53Ks for the role.

      Aside from costs, the V-22/H-47/H-53 concentrate almost twice as many troops in a single aircraft, which ares just as vulnerable to ground defenses.

      Worse, the V-22/H-47/H-53s are big and less agile than the H-60. Physically they have fewer choices of landing zones, and it takes longer for them to insert/extract forces.

      Realistically, just supporting an ashore infantry battalion logistically through aerial supply is going to be a challenge. V-22/H-47/H-53s will be in high demand.


    3. Smitty,

      I should have said "tactical troop insertion" versus "air assault" - of course the V-22/H-47/H-53 have an valuable role in a vertical envelopment...


    4. I'm all for the Marines getting some H-60s. I agree that the V-22 is and expensive and limited tactical airlifter.

      Frankly I would've loved to have seen an H-47/H-60 mix for the Marines, to match Army air assault units. Or at least an H-53/H-60 mix. And consolidate all of the V-22s as theater lift assets.

    5. USMC, thanks for the updated data. If your numbers are correct it only makes the situation worse - meaning even less of the Marine's equipment can be transported.

    6. They are correct and all I can offer is my assurance on that. And yes it is worse than published. That is why you read many articles talking about how we are "massing" out the amphibs before we are "cubing" out like in olden times.

      The reason the USMC has bigger helos is because of deck space on the amphibs. For the same footage comparing MV-22, CH-53E and MH-60 the bigger helos can carry more tonnage faster than many small ones. This in turn leads to the difference in air assault doctrine between the USMC and the Army. The USMC will take our bigger helos and drop us outside of max weapons range and then you have to walk to the objective. Army will use their smaller helos and drop right on top of the objective. I think a better option would be a navalized version of the S-92 from Sikorsky. Like a bigger Blackhawk or more in line with the old CH-53D. But i do not buy USMC helos...

    7. USMC, I have no reason to doubt your numbers. They agree with other bits and pieces I've read and I thank you for the corrections. : )

    8. Back when Dick Cheney was SECDEF in the early 1990's, he tried to kill the V-22 project on the grounds that it was overly expensive and that it would make more sense to buy two or three times as many conventional helicopters for the same amount of money. Not surprising the MICC fought Cheney tooth and nail and Congress kept the V-22 project alive even though the Pentagon wanted to kill it. Say what you want about Cheney's conduct as VP, but I think he was right on this issue.

      Cheney proposed replacing the V-22's that the Marines wanted to buy with a mixture of upgraded CH-53's and a larger, medium lift version of the UH-60 known as the CH-60. The CH-60 would have had comparable troop and cargo lift capabilities to the V-22, but been much less expensive. It's a pity that Cheney lost that fight, because his proposed solution would have made far more sense while costing quite a bit less.

    9. USMC 0802: "The USMC will take our bigger helos and drop us outside of max weapons range and then you have to walk to the objective. Army will use their smaller helos and drop right on top of the objective."


      The Army has the option of doing both, with the added benefit that the H-47 can also assault directly on target.

      The problem with larger helos is that they become incredibly lucrative targets for the enemy :(

      This really becomes an issue when terrain becomes more difficult, or when the ground to air threat ratchets up. Sure you can fast rope or rappel, but frankly the best option is always to land units *intact* and directly on the LZ.


    10. Enrique,
      It is a pity the SECDEF Mcnamara did not win out when the H-53/H-47 debate came up. The Marines should have been forced to buy a navalized variant of the H-47.

      The British have flown H-47s off their amphibious ships for decades and love them.

      There is no reason that the USMC could not have purchased a H-47 version modified for shipboard use.

      The H-47 is still in production, and even if a navalized version costs twice as much, you will still be able to buy 2-3 H-47s for every CH-53K.



    11. GAB,

      I agree 100 percent. The JMSDF operates both H-47’s and H-60’s from their Osumi class LPD’s and claims that a Hyuga class DDH can operate up to 11 H-47’s (the normal peacetime complement is 3 SH-60 ASW helos and 1 MH-101 minesweeping chopper).

      The H-47 makes even more sense when you consider it’s essentially a scaled up derivative of the H-46, which would simplify logistics and shipboard ops. So perhaps a combination of navalized H-47’s and updated H-46’s might have made more sense. Or perhaps we could split the difference, and have a mixture of H-47’s for heavy lift like the British and the Japanese already have and a medium lift version of the H-60 as an H-46 replacement, like Cheney proposed. This would also have the advantage of much greater commonality with the Army’s helicopter fleet, which would save money and simplify the logistics chain. But of course, this would all make far too much sense, and cut into some of the obscene war profiteering being perpetuated by the MICC, so it will never happen.

  2. USMC 0802 made some great additions, but no one has addressed the real issue:

    The USMC needs a medium lift helicpter than can transport a complete rifle squad into a *potentially hot* LZ and it needs enough of them to in a MEU to move a reinforced company in one lift.

    V-22s and H-53s are not optimized for this job: they are too valuable to the logistics of the MEU, they cost too much for the mission, and they are too large/carry too many troops making any single aircraft a very lucrative target.

    The H-46 was built around the antiquated idea that helicopter capacity should be equated to LVT and landing craft size. This is wrong; insertion craft (helo or landing craft) should be tied to the size of tactical units, which is the rifle squad.

    If the USMC is truely commited to vertical envelopment it needs a naval variant of the H-60. The UH-1 is too small, and the other helicopters are needed for other things (logistics!)

    The next issue is weight, The USMC is even heavier than stated because MRAPs are much bigger and heavier than the HMMWVs they replaced. JLTV is going to be a large vehicle too.

    Finally, much is made about light infantry, but in the 21st century pretty much all infantry is motorized. Modern enemy forces are fielding a plethora of vehicles from "technicals" with cannons mounted in portee on Toyota pickups, to T-55s and 62s.Coupled with the IED and indirect fire threats, it is silly to not provide at leased armored transport of some sort to the infantry. ComNavops and I disagree about the importance of urban combat, but I think it is unavoidable: US forces will see more fighting in urban areas, not less. The upshot is that we will need more armor and engineers, not less. RMA has not worked well in Falluja, Mosul, southern Lebanon, Syria, or Grozny; but good troops backed with the ability to expend lots of explosives have prevalled...


    1. GAB
      That has baffled me since i was a 2ndLt and figured out that a TO rifle squad is 13 Marines not 12. Do you just hope that someone is sick that day? Plus you need your platoon commander, platoon sgt, docs, and any other stray cats like a FiST, assault team, MG team.

  3. ThThe problem with the Marines is that they built up a whole policy based on assault landings which came from WW2 in the Pacific which was a very special case

    You had lots of islands, with poor resources and facilities but were being defended by a first rate military. You could not bypass every island and if you landed on the island they were packed with a very strong military force that took a direct assault to take out.

    However the world both before and after WW2 is different, where is the strongly held but isolated places where you are going to do a major beach assault. The Pacific islands today are almost undefended, as is most of the world coastlines. And it would be suicidal to try a landing at places with a significant military forces, such as China, Russia, North Korea. Even against Iraq the US was not willing to risk an assault from the sea. Even Inchon was done while the North Korean forces were mostly in the south so the assault was against a greatly weakened defense.

    What the Marines need to do is look to their past to see jobs that need to be done

    1. Base defense both for present US bases and for any that might be siezed. The US Marines had Marine Defense Battalions which had both AA and Coast Defense guns to defend any place the Fleet needed defending

    2. Ship defense and supplying boarding party’s plus a harbor defense force. Right now we use sailors for this but wouldn’t it work better if we had professional soldiers involved. In the old days that what was done, the Marines would provide the tip of the spear and the sailors would back them up with their own weapons and provide technical support such as operating the boats and communications. Sailors are not trained soldiers, they can do the job but why not use Marines who are full time at this

    3 Raiding and punitive forces against terrorists and pirates. Think of the Barbary Pirates

    4. Occupy unstable areas. Think Haiti and Central America in the past

    5 Embassy defense and rescue force

    6 Evacuation of US and possibly other citizens for dangerous areas

    7 Initial disaster relief

  4. “Now, what do we think the life expectancy of slow, unarmed helos and MV-22s will be in a high threat environment?”

    One threat that the Russians emphasize, but which gets little attention in the west, is the effect of artillery on helicopter operations. Consider that even infantry mortar fire will reach altitudes that are far above the altitude that helicopters fly. The threat that dozens of radar, laser or optically fused shells present to aircraft, particularly helicopters is quite serious. Obviously, HLZs will be hammered by artillery, mortar, and rocket fire; but also reverse slopes of hills to deny attack helicopters attack corridors, mountain valleys (think Korea), and of course FARPs will be targeted.


  5. I don't think the Marines have ruled out amphibious assaults. They would prefer to stay away from opposed amphibious assaults. But there is a range of activities between opposed assaults and administrative landings that are still on the table. And they still may be required to do opposed assaults, it's just not preferable for obvious reasons.

    The degree of opposition is also important. Is the OPFOR an organized and well-run mechanized armored division? Or a handful of guys in pickup trucks?

    1. Agree, I think we are assuming suppression of air defence is complete along with air superiority and some ground suppression.

      I would assume escorted aerial assault with Harrier and Cobra.

      Then we are talking about aerial assault TO ALLOW unopposed \ less opposed anphib assault \ landing.

      I think the main point really is about more tools in the box, much more difficult to defend a perimeter when you are having to defend against so many options and permutations of combined options off one boat. Especially given the speed and unpredictability of aerial assault vs anphibious.


  6. Hand-picked and stood up first as the Amphibious Capabilities Working Group and more recently formalized as the 'Ellis Group' under a 1 & 3-star, the Ellis Group published in the November '13 issue of the PROCEEDINGS (pp.24-29) what seems a preview of a new USMC Expeditionary Assault Doctrine. And around the concepts of 'Amphibious Forward Presence' and of 'Littoral Maneuver' based on indeed Amphibious Assault Ships, it has clear references to stealthy heavy-lift Connectors to haul across growing distances the weights of up-armored tracked and wheeled combat-vehicles.

    Earlier on April 21 2012, the Amphibious Capabilities Working Group spend 15 pages out of 75 on just the issue of Connectors i.e. LCUs and LCACs. They concluded then with a stated minimum of at least 60 modern LCU types.

    Overall, the emerging picture would appear to reflect the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and up-armored vehicles.

    By Spring 2014 we may see the final document for the new amphibious doctrine.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.