In mathematics, the point at which everything changes is called the inflection point (that’s a very loose definition that I’m taking great liberties with). Amphibious assault doctrine is struggling to find its inflection point – the point or distance from shore at which an assault has a reasonable chance of success but beyond which, or nearer than, the assault will fail. Where is that optimum inflection point?
The Navy would place it 50+ miles from shore – perhaps hundreds of miles.
The Marines would place it 25 miles or closer – the closer, the better; much, much closer being preferred.
Why would an assault fail if it is beyond the optimum inflection point? It would fail because the amphibious fleet lacks a ship-to-shore connector that can transport sufficient quantities of personnel and equipment in fighting condition to sustain an assault. The distance reduces the number of trips per day that the connector can make and, worse, renders the delivered Marines unfit for combat. The distance also invalidates Navy gun support. The standard 5” gun can’t even reach the shore from the distances the Navy wants to operate at.
Why would an assault fail if it is closer than the optimum inflection point? It would fail because the Navy’s ships can’t survive against land launched anti-ship cruise missiles at that range (that’s the Navy’s stated position not ComNavOps’ opinion).
The difference between the Navy and Marine inflection points is pretty substantial and appears to be irreconcilable. The Marines are struggling to design an AAV replacement that can transport troops and equipment from beyond 25 miles in fighting shape. The Navy, for their part, doesn’t really care. The Navy is all about carriers (and, grudgingly, submarines). Amphibious warfare is a largely unwanted sidelight that they’re forced to accept but they do so only to the bare minimum extent possible.
As I’ve made clear in previous posts, we don’t currently have a credible heavy amphibious assault capability against a competent foe and it’s because of the inability to establish a workable inflection point.
So, what do we do? How do we find a single point when the two versions differ so substantially and seem mutually exclusive? Well, the rationale for one (or both) of the versions must change.
Let’s look at the Marine’s side. The only possible change is to come up with a ship-to-shore connector that can transport large loads of equipment and personnel at speeds sufficiently high that the Marines are delivered in fighting shape (see, "Amphibious Connectors"). Unfortunately, many years of study have demonstrated that such a connector is technically and economically impossible. It would require a radical rethink of connector and Marine combat capability to meet the long distance assault point and the neither the Marines nor the Navy has shown any sign of being willing or open to radically new concepts.
From the Navy’s perspective, moving the assault point shoreward is simply too dangerous. In fact, the Navy conceived and sold an entire class of littoral combat ship based on that belief.
|Too Close, Too Far, Or Just Right?|
There you have it – two irreconcilable perspectives leading to an unsustainable amphibious assault model. Is there truly no solution? There is, actually, a solution and it’s simple and straightforward. The Navy must move shoreward and by a significant amount.
The Navy has moved seaward out of fear of land based anti-ship missiles. If only we had a ship-based AAW system that could defend against anti-ship missiles. Well, you know what? As luck would have it, ComNavOps was doing some reading the other day and came across a fascinating article describing a ship-based AAW system with near magical properties. It can shoot down planes and missiles with near infallible reliability, it utilizes long range radars of various types, can assemble perfect situational awareness displays from networked air, space, and ship sensors, and can employ co-operative engagement tactics which treat a group of ships and planes as a single fighting entity. The system even has a cool name: Aegis.
OK, I’m obviously being sarcastic and mocking the Navy but the point is that not only do we have a fielded and mature AAW system but it’s a system that was specifically designed to counter the swarms of anti-ship missiles that the Navy is now frightened of. The combination of Aegis, networked sensors, Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC), electronic countermeasures, layers of close-in weapons (RAM, CIWS, ESSM, etc.), and passive decoys makes for a formidable defensive system. If all that capability, designed specifically for defending against swarms of missiles, is insufficient to allow the Navy to stand close offshore than why are we buying more Aegis warships? The Navy can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim that we desperately need more Aegis warships while simultaneously claiming that they can’t defend against anti-ship missiles near land.
But, but, but the reaction time! It’s too short when we’re that close to shore! Well, do the math. Even at 10 miles distance, a high subsonic missile traveling at, say, 600 mph would require a minute to cover the distance and that’s neglecting the initial acceleration period which adds more time. A minute is an eternity to an Aegis system operating in full auto. The response would be nearly instantaneous.
The real reason the Navy won’t approach the shore is their fear of losses. We’ve repeatedly discussed how the Navy has been so many years removed from actual combat that they’ve lost their warfighting mentality and have adopted a zero-loss, accounting mentality. If an objective is worth fighting for then it’s worth some losses. In fact, losses in combat are inevitable. The problem is that the cost of the losses has become unacceptable. Our ships have become so expensive that we are no longer willing to risk them and can no longer accept their loss. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner and created a Catch-22 situation. We can’t achieve our objectives without accepting losses but we can’t afford to accept losses.
The Navy has to go back to their roots and remember that their job is to stand in harm’s way (see, "In Harm's Way"). By definition, the greatest danger and the greatest reward go hand-in-hand. If we want to achieve worthwhile objectives then we have to be willing to accept losses. Of course, this raises the issue of what constitutes worthwhile objectives. Perhaps the days of jumping into every minor conflict that comes along are gone. Perhaps we should be applying much more serious criteria, like compelling national strategic interests, to our often questionable involvements. But, I digress …
Of course, I’m not saying that we should blindly and willingly accept losses. There are measures that the Navy should be looking at to minimize the risk. We should be placing a far greater emphasis on electronic countermeasures since combat data has demonstrated that ECM has a far greater success rate than hard kill systems. We should be placing far more emphasis on short range and close-in weapons as opposed the Navy’s fixation on ever greater ranged AAW. We should be incorporating more armor to mitigate the damage from the missiles that do get through our defenses. We should be designing ships with greater redundancy and separation to further mitigate damage effects. We should develop tactics to integrate aircraft and helos into short range AAW defense.
The point is that the Navy needs to remember what their job is and move the amphibious inflection point back to a useful distance (near horizon).