Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Out Of The Business

ComNavOps has, for some time now, offered the observation that the Marines were out of the opposed landing business and that they had devolved to a light infantry force capable only of short duration operations at the low end of the combat spectrum.  Predictably, many readers have taken issue with that observation.  The thing is, it’s an observation not an opinion.  There’s nothing to agree or disagree with.  It is what it is.  The lack of survivable connectors combined with the lack of heavy transport capability dictates the overall capability, or lack thereof.  You can argue about what the Marines should or should not be but there’s not really any way to dispute what they actually are.

In any event, we now have the final, official word for those of you who refuse to accept what you see.

CSIS hosted a question and answer session with Marine Brig. Gen. William Mullen on the topic of amphibious connectors (1).  During the discussion, Gen. Mullen made this statement regarding Marine Corps priorities,

“Our emphasis right now, in particular, especially with the, in the current fiscal environment, our Commandant’s priorities right now are crisis response at the expense of major combat operations.  If we absolutely had to do it we certainly would but it would be a stretch.  Right now, we’re focusing on crisis response.”

There you have it.  The Marines are out of the opposed landing business.  They are a very light combat, raiding, embassy protection/evacuation, and humanitarian assistance organization.  You can debate what they should be but it’s clear what they are and are not, by their own admission.

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


  1. In all my years as a Marine, enlisted and officer, I have never hears such depressing words come out of one of our leaders mouths. It is a sad sad day for my beloved Corps.

    Now, I hope someone, Congress or Senator or ANYONE, reaches out, extends his or her hand, and slaps the living snot out of that BGen. HOW DARE HE SAY THAT ABOUT THE CORPS? What happened to the days of "We have to be most ready when the Nations is least ready"?

    1. CM, the Corps has never been as directionless as they are now. They are conflicted about what they want to be. Light infantry? Expeditionary air force? Amphibious assault? Crisis response?

      The problem is that the Navy's insistence on staying 50+ miles from shore combined with a lack of survivable, heavy duty connectors has almost eliminated the opposed landing option.

      The emphasis (some would say overemphasis) on the aviation side of things (V-22 and JSF) have crippled the ability of the Corps and Navy to obtain amphibious vehicles, connectors, and LCU/LSTs. The current Commandant has opted for aviation over the ground.

      Finally, the inability to get heavy material (tanks, artillery, vehicles) ashore has eliminated the possibility of major combat operations.

      When you add those together, the Corps is left with a pretty limited mission set. On top of that, and faced with budget cuts, the Commandant has opted to cut the heavy end of operations by cutting tanks and artillery.

      We're left with Marine leaders who would probably like to get back into the combat and assault business but who realize we don't have the capability. Those leaders are "opposed" by a group that wants to emphasize aviation and light operations (so why do they hold on to large amphibioius ships???). The two groups are jockeying for control and the Corps is left foundering without a clearcut direction or identity.

      In my opinion, the crux of the matter is the inability to get heavy equipment ashore in a timely and effective manner. That really limits the options. Any thoughts from your perspective as one who has been there?

    2. It's not their emphasis, but doesn't mean they are "out of the business".

      Running marathons is not my emphasis right now, but I'm not out of the marathon business (don't tell my wife).

    3. B.Smitty, to use your analogy, if a marathon started right this moment and you're not in sufficient shape, then you can't do it. You're out of the business. That doesn't mean you can't get back in marathon shape but you're currently unable to perform one.

      The Marines are currently unable to do an opposed assault landing for the various reasons that we've listed in previous posts. They're out of the business. They can get back in if they choose to procure the needed equipment, develop appropriate doctrine, and train diligently for it but they are, indeed, out of the business, for the time being.

    4. Well.. I'd like to think I could run one now, but it'd certainly hurt and take a loooong time. ;)

      "Opposed assault landings" encompass a wide range of possible situations. Given sufficient support and national will, IMHO, the Marines can succeed in certain scenarios. However, the cost to succeed will rise dramatically as the threat level increases.

  2. I was the Combat Cargo Officer on board the USS Juneau (LPD 10) when the MTVR was first coming online. I looked at the size of that thing and wondered then where the Marine Corps had lost itself. We were, by our training, an expeditionary force that came from the sea. I have seen a drift in that since Iraq and Afghanistan where heavier is the key to prolonged land combat. Big fan of the MRAP's and the lives they saved over there, but they are too darn big for ships.

    I participated in the operational test conference for the LHA 6 class of amphibs. No well do you load it? Only two ways, helo lift it (Marine Corps has gotten heavier) or pull in pierside and take it through the side port doors. That simple fact limits what you can put on the ship. During the conference it was found that the LSD's were going to carry the brunt of the vehicles for the MEU due to design issues with the LPD 17 class ships and how vehicles transit up and down the ramp to the well deck.
    In addition, the Medical spaces on an LHA 6 are smaller than those of an LPD 17. There is not enough Medical capability on an LHA to take care of casualties from a single V-22 incident (although, Dental got an extra OR..go figure).

    The Corps needs someone that will yank them back on track. An F-35B is a great and wonderful thing (sarcasm) but not what an expeditionary force needs. We need an A-10 type aircraft that can support troops on the ground with close air support. Anyone who thinks we are "going it alone" with a forcible landing in this day and age is smoking something.
    We need a armored vehicle that can swim to shore. This issue has been studied to DEATH by the powers that be. If we do not know what we need, we are truly lost. Forget the bells and whistles, get the Marines ashore quickly and provide initial support. The world is FULL of options.

    I believe that the fighting ethos of my Corps is still vibrant and alive, we just need leadership to equip us correctly to set us up for success as an expeditionary force vice a 2nd land army.

    1. Coffee Man,

      Historically the bulk of amphibious forces were delivered by modified civilian cargo and passenger ships in conjunction with general Navy combatants and a few specialized hulls (LSTs, LSDs, LCMs, etc.); the modern military penchant to over specialize platforms, while simultaneously trying to make the hulls do *everything* is what has decimated the amphibious lift capability of the USN.

      Consider your point about the “missing” well deck of LHA-6 and its ramifications on force structure and capability.

      Someone needs to kick the people who are developing USMC force structure in the head as there absolutely no reason why an LHA needs to have a well deck, or massive cargo capacity.

      In fact, the LHA/LHD concept is hugely flawed as there is no question that that a small conventional *aircraft carrier* in between the size of a Midway or JFK, combined with one or two militarized fast container ships would be infinitely more capable (better air wing), faster (30+ knots), and provide more logistics support than an LHA/LHD and an LPD-17.

      CV-67 carried over 80-aircraft (to include the Navy version of AWACs), at over 30 knots, with an order of magnitude more ordinance, at a cost of about $5 Billion in today’s dollars. A 30 knot+ containership like the MAERSK B-class cost about $350 Million, add in flight deck and cranes, and a mating system for LCU/LCACs for a cost of $500 Million; to get a ship that carries more cargo (4196 TEU), vehicles, and fuel (even if combat loaded) , and is faster than an entire ARG.

      Add two HSVs, an LSD and perhaps a militarized yacht transporter or two, and you get a significantly faster, force, with a lot better capability than the current ARG.


  3. I think it is quite simple... the Marines have resigned to the fact that under the current fiscal environment, they cannot afford to maintain a credible opposed landing capability. No politician -- even our pretty stupid ones -- are under any illusion that we are going to be doing a Normandy style landing anytime soon so the the marines are rather low of the priority list when it comes to money. However, the USMC dream of someday reconstituting that ability. To that end they will fight to keep every last scrap of the big capital assets which -- if scrapped -- will be very hard to rebuild.

    1. dwight, that's a very reasonable assessment of the current situation. Now, take it a step further regarding the potential reconstitution of the assault landing. Where, and under what circumstances, do you see a major assault landing ever being a viable and desirable option? The thrust, here, is that if we can foresee an actual need (as opposed to the mythical "you never know" scenario) then we need to actively work towards retaining/reconstituting that capability. On the other hand, if we can't foresee an actual need then perhaps we don't need the capability and can let it go.


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