Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Job Is Done

This is a companion piece to the previous post (see, “The Amphibious Inflection Point”).

When it comes to amphibious assault, the Navy seems to think that their job is done once the helos, LCAC’s, or whatever have left the amphibious ship.  Unfortunately for the Marines, that’s only the beginning of the job against a determined and capable enemy.

We’ve already discussed the difficulties in sustaining an assault due the lack of ship to shore transport.  A competent enemy knows this and will make every effort to interdict and disrupt the flow of supplies to the landing site (see, "Amphibious Assault Attrition").  Cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, mortars, and artillery will create a continuous rain of explosives.  How will the Marines defend against this onslaught while they attempt to get heavier weapons ashore?  Well, this is where the Navy comes in.  Historically, meaning during the assaults of WWII, the Navy moved up close to the shore and provided the initial umbrella of protection until tanks, artillery, and heavy weapons could be brought ashore.  Similarly, today, it will be up to the Navy to provide the counterbattery protection the Marines need until they can get their own artillery ashore and set up their own counterbattery capability.  It will be up to the Navy to provide a cruise/ballistic missile shield.  It will be up to the Navy to provide C-RAM anti-rocket, anti-mortar protection during the initial assault.  The Navy has to provide the umbrella that will protect the Marines until they can get established.

Naval aviation can’t do the job.  Aircraft are far too slow responding to provide counterbattery fire.  Aircraft have only a very limited ability to engage cruise missiles and no ability to engage ballistic missiles.  Aircraft have no ability to provide anti-rocket and anti-mortar protection.  Even setting all those problems aside, an assault against a determined and competent enemy will see the skies over an assault being a contested aerial no-man’s land.  Our limited naval aviation assets will be fully tied up trying to establish even a limited area of aerial superiority.  There won’t be any assets available for ground support even if the aircraft were capable of providing it.

Here’s the catch, though – the Navy can’t provide this kind of protection from 50 or 100 or 200 nm out at sea.  There’s no way to shoot down a mortar shell from those distances.  Counterbattery fire can’t even reach the shore from those distances.

The Navy has doctrinally moved out to those distances out of fear of land launched anti-ship missiles (see, "In Harm's Way").  However, the Navy has forgotten that they are in the business of combat and with combat comes risk.  Whatever happened to the tradition of standing in harm’s way?  It’s not just a saying.  In order to exert a dominant influence on events, it’s necessary to go where the most good can be done and that generally means standing in harm’s way. 

An assault force just can’t protect itself during the initial stages.  The Navy has to step in and act as the Marine’s shield until they can get their own artillery and AAW assets ashore and operating.  If the Navy refuses to do that, an assault will have no hope of success against a determined, competent enemy.

The baffling and disappointing aspect to this is that the issue of protective fires hasn’t even been raised, as far as I know.  The required equipment and capabilities largely do not exist and no one is looking at developing them.  In fact, doctrinally, we’re moving in the exact opposite direction.  We’re moving farther out to sea and further away from being able to provide the protective shield the Marines will need.  It’s odd that the Marines haven’t raised this issue, either, although the emphasis on aviation based assaults may explain the lack of concern from the Corps.

We need to beef up the Navy’s self-defense capabilities, as previously described, and regain the warrior’s mentality.  That will give us the ability to stand close to shore.  Then, we need to develop the specific counterbattery, cruise/ballistic missile defense, and C-RAM capabilities that will protect the Marines while they get established.

Currently, the Navy has no counterbattery capability although the technology base is certainly there.  A dedicated counterbattery radar and an effective gun are required.  Whether an existing Navy radar can be adapted for this role is an open question.  Aegis could probably provide the counterbattery radar capability but shouldn’t be diverted from its main function.  Gunfire could be supplemented by a navalized version of the Army’s M270 MLRS/ATACMS which would provide ranges of 40-150+ miles. 

The Phalanx CIWS has been adapted to the land based C-RAM but it is limited in range and does not exist as a sea-based weapon.  A longer range C-RAM type weapon probably needs to be developed.

Perhaps what’s needed is a small, specialized “umbrella” vessel that can move very close in-shore and provide the C-RAM and counterbattery support that is needed.


  1. LM, its shills and fanboys would differ with you about the F-35s capabilities with regard to BMD. OMG, its DAS can detect a launch from over 750 miles (although what it can do about it is the key...)

  2. COMNAVOPS, as always, brings up some great and important issues that the naval establishment would prefer to ignore. How about COMNAVOPS for the next SECNAV?

    On a more serious note, I think one solution would be a class of shallow draft corvettes with good close-in air defense and counter battery capabilities. These ships would be designed for mass production and relatively low costs and ASW and MCM versions might also be developed as well. A minesweeper that can keep up with a naval battlegroup and defend itself in the near shore environment is a virtual necessity if you want to deal with the mine warfare threat close to a hostile shoreline. COMNAVOPS has also discussed the need for a small, cheap ASW escort and an ASW version with torpedoes, ASROC, RBU’s and the ability to operate a light ASW helicopter would be ideally suited for this mission. The ASW version would also have a medium frequency hull mounted sonar, a 76mm gun, point defense capabilities (RAM and/or CIWS) and the ability to mount a towed array or VDS.

    For the inshore counter battery/C-RAM corvette, I envision a weapons fit with 1 or 2 CIWS, a couple of launchers with lots of RIM-116 cells (perhaps some repurposed MK-29 NATO Sea Sparrow launchers. Each of the 8 cells can hold 5 RAM apiece. The RIM-116 missiles would be modified so they could be employed like the Israeli Iron Dome system) and a couple of OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid guns with the Strale upgrade. It would also have a navalized MLRS launcher as well and a counter battery radar capability. Such a ship would able to provide not only counter battery and C-RAM but could also help defend the task force against the ASCM threat and provide close-in anti-aircraft defense as well as dealing with swarm attacks by Boghammers, PT boats and the like.

    This is only one possibility. No doubt other approaches are possible, such as an updated version of the Fletcher or Gearing class DD with modern weapons and electronics.

    If we are serious about operating near a hostile shoreline and being able to execute opposed-landing amphibious assaults, we need something like the World War II destroyers that provided close-in shore bombardment and anti-air defense during amphibious operations. One of the factors that saved the day at Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings was a USN destroyer squadron that was able to get in close and lay down heavy suppression fires against the German beach defenses with their 5 inch and 40mm guns.

    1. Enrique, thanks for the kind thought but I'd rather not undergo the lobotomy required of anyone filling the SecNav position. I prefer to remain smarter than a sea urchin - however narrow the margin!

      Excellent thoughts. My one concern is the C-RAM requirement. The Phalanx based C-RAM is apparently effective but it is short ranged. Any ideas for a longer ranged solution? I've toyed with the idea of a helo based C-RAM built off an Apache or Sea Cobra.

      It also occurs to me that a gunship would be very useful during the initial stages of an assault. An S-3 Viking gunship conversion was examined and found feasible, once upon a time.

      As you remind us, destroyers and cruisers standing well into shore were a common occurrence in WWII assaults and we would do well to remind ourselves what factors make for a successful assault. I fear we're lacking many of them today.

      Good comment!

    2. CNO,

      You are over thinking the C-RAM mission.

      Gun: 35mm Millenium Gun
      Missile: Iron Dome

      Put the things on the back of LAV/strykers or HEMTTs, bolt them down on platforms to loaded into LCUs or LCM-1Es and be done with it.

      As an interim solution:
      MK-15 CIWS


    3. GAB, perhaps so. On the other hand, I see mortars, in particular, as possibly the most serious threat to a landing. They're common, hard to find, deadly, cheap, and mobile. Iron Dome would handle the anti-rocket (missile?) role but not anti-mortar, to the best of my knowledge. Phalanx/C-RAM can handle the anti-mortar but only if we can get it very, very close to shore since it only has a 2 mile range. I've not seen any claim that the Millenium gun can perform C-RAM role. It seems to have been designed for anti-aircraft/helo and anti-small boats. Do you have reason to believe it can fill the C-RAM role?

  3. I'm just not convinced that there is an operational need for a large scale, opposed amphibious assault anywhere we are currently or project to be in the future. If there is a requirement to put combat power ashore, it would be best to heed the lessons of thousands of years of amphibious history, and land where the enemy isn't.

    WWII Pacific Theater assaults were a very specific adaptation that was studied, and practiced for decades prior. These operations were conducted to secure advanced air bases, sustainment hubs, and naval repair facilities to enable the fleet to move forward across the Pacific. Amphibious assault against very well defended beaches was the only option, and we knew it would be very costly. Will America ever be willing to risk 30,000 Marines, 10,000 Sailors, dozens of ships, and absorb 2-5k fatalities for a sandbar like Tarawa?

    WWII faced America with a perceived existential threat; merchant ships and fishing trawlers were burning in sight of Boston and NYC. We were scared, and willing to absorb losses. Post 911 had a similar feeling, but the follow-on attacks never came, and America lost interest.

    So if we ever are that scared again, where is the operational requirement to put large numbers of Marines ashore against a well defended near peer adversary? If there is a credible requirement, then let's analyze it, war game it, procure, and train to it. The above surface force requirements seem credible, but I'm not a Shoe. To your point that Naval Aviation won't be interested, I can guarantee that with that much at risk this type of operation will be THE main effort, and will get all the support it needs.

    1. Trons, like you, I am unconvinced that there is a reaonsably foreseeable need for large scale amphibious assaults (see, "Marine Amphibious Lift"). Read the link and let me know what you think. My recent postings on the subject are from the perspective of the Marine Corps' stated mission and doctrine. If we are going to claim to have a significant assault capability and need then can we actually do it and what are the problems and challenges we face?

      What could change my mind, at least somewhat, is Iran. I had assumed we could attack overland and would have support from Iraq bases. That may no longer be the case. If Iraq is eliminated, we may have to look at amphibious assaults into Iran. What do you think about that scenario? Does it change your thinking?

      I don't think I said naval aviation wouldn't be interested in supporting Marine assaults, I said that aviation is not well suited to the task as I described it in the post and that they would be tied up in maintaining aerial superiority and would have little left over for ground support even if they were capable.

  4. "To your point that Naval Aviation won't be interested, I can guarantee that with that much at risk this type of operation will be THE main effort, and will get all the support it needs."


    While true, it is generally a waste of air assets to tie them to ground support, rather than other missions like interdiction. There is also the reality that mortars and artillery are generally faster than air, and are true 24-7 capability. The words peer/major regional competitor are a signal that TACAIR is going to have its hands full too.

    That said, there is a need for ground support aircraft and it is criminal that we are trying to make $150M+ aircraft perform the mission, when there are better, more survivable, and cheaper aircraft for the mission.


  5. CNO, Good analysis. I noted that your perspective had changed from previous writings, but I appreciate the mental exercise. I believe that if the Navy has a service Mission Essential Task to provide naval fires in support of amphibious assault, then we should be trained and prepared to execute effectively.

    I think we are in the midst of a Marine Corps in reset after 13 years of conventional land combat/COIN/FID, and vastly divergent views within the Corps as to what niche it will fill in the future. One group seems to favor an updated Air Mobile concept with Ospreys (which is so 1964), with the other side favoring traditional "hey diddle-diddle right up the middle" amphibious assaults. What will be the actual future doctrine that becomes the glue of good tactics, and identify gaps that the Navy can use to recruit, train, and equip the right support forces? EF21 pushed the fleet well over the horizon, and some in the Navy seem OK with ceding that distance to the adversary. I just don't think it can work.

    Naval Air could provide fires, and there are some types of targets that can only be serviced by ordnance from aircraft, but I will concede a dedicated surface support will provide a more effective volume of fire. My point is more that this will be an all hands Joint evolution, rather than an ESG go it alone effort. The Marines have effectively leveraged the Guadalcanal model for their procurement where they must have everything from fast jets to infantry - because "the Navy will be off doing other things." There are many capabilities that are not organic to the ESG that would be required to execute successfully.

    I still don't see it though.


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