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
. 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 China 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.
Naval Institute West 2014 Conference, 11-13 Feb 2014 U.S.