We’ve had several recent posts on Marines and amphibious assaults. We’ve looked at various specific issues. What we need to look at now is the broad picture view of amphibious assaults. We need to look at the doctrine of amphibious assaults. This will be a longer than normal post but it’s necessary and worth the time to read.
The Marines and the Navy pretty well mastered the art of amphibious assaults by the end of WWII. They had the equipment, the training, the experience, and, most importantly, the doctrine. With the benefit of hindsight, can we look back and come up with some improvements that could have been implemented? Probably, but the point is that they had developed a system that worked and worked well.
Let’s consider the doctrine of amphibious assaults. What has changed since the end of WWII? The answer is, remarkably little. The doctrine is largely unchanged despite the evolution of guided missiles, better sensors, more advanced weaponry, attack helos, advanced aircraft, and so forth – and I’m talking about the enemy’s side more so than ours though all the same advances impact our side, offensively, as well. Despite all these changes our amphibious assault doctrine remains substantially the same as it was.
Three factors stand out as significantly different from the WWII scenarios and yet are not specifically accounted for in current doctrine beyond vague, generic statements.
Weapon Lethality – The development of guided munitions of various types has greatly increased the lethality and destructive efficiency of weapons. In addition, shaped charges have conferred great lethality on small warheads; the ubiquitous RPG being a good example. Finally, the widespread availability of mines greatly enhances anti-access efforts.
Sensors – Sensors, including radar, IR, satellite, etc. have greatly increased detection ranges and target classification capabilities. Surprise is much harder to achieve.
One might also be tempted to add the development of helos, especially attack helos, to the preceding list of factors. These highly lethal platforms offer a formidable defensive capability. Their effectiveness is, however, countered by their vulnerability to shoulder launched SAMs.
The preceding factors have not been directly and systematically accounted for in our current doctrine. For example, increased defensive weapon ranges have been dealt with only to the extent that the Navy has shifted the amphibious force location from the horizon to 50+ nm. No allowance has been made for dealing with defensive weapons fired from distances well beyond the landing area. Thus, even with outstanding suppression or destruction of landing area defenses, the landing force may still be subject to significant fires.
The existence of guided weapons grants the defender greatly enhanced combat efficiency. A handful of troops with a supply of RPGs could wreak havoc on the armored amphibious vehicles and connectors. Small guided anti-ship missiles (Hellfire-ish, Maverick-ish) would be a significant danger to connector craft. Despite this, no change in doctrine has been made to provide protection for the connectors beyond the general hope that such weapons will be suppressed or destroyed in the general support fires.
Mines are a significant impediment to an amphibious assault and yet the Navy has no effective means of mine clearance and mine countermeasure forces are dwindling almost daily. The LCS may or may not pan out as an effective MCM platform and will, in any case be far too few in number, given the curtailed buy, to be tactically effective.
Increased sensor effectiveness will greatly impact the degree of surprise that can be achieved at both the strategic and tactical levels. The concept of exploiting gaps, in particular, as an alternative to a direct frontal assault is rendered suspect.
The combination of the above factors suggests that the doctrinal concept of the establishment of a “supply dump” on the beach may be highly suspect. Such a lucrative target will be easily detected and long range, guided, lethal weapons may render such a setup nothing more than a spectacular pyrotechnic display. The total lack of a doctrinal means of protecting the immediate landing area from incoming fires is a major weakness.
The guiding document for amphibious assaults is Joint Publication 3-02, “Amphibious Operations”. Here are some interesting observations from the document.
- No mention is made of port assaults; only beach, despite the fact that we probably no longer have the capability and capacity to move sufficient amounts of supplies and equipment over an unimproved beach as was done at
, for example. Normandy
- Over-the-horizon (OTH) is mentioned as a less desirable option to a close assault despite the fact that it now appears to be the norm.
- There is an emphasis on establishing aviation assets ashore despite the fact that the maintenance and operating demands of modern aircraft almost preclude this option, short of the seizure of an existing airbase.
- Rehearsal is considered a vital aspect of an assault plan. I’m doubtful that we have the afloat resources and supplies to conduct the actual assault let alone a full dress rehearsal. Look at the training exercises (very few!) we currently conduct and the amount of shortcuts and simulations we take during them due to lack of money and resources.
Now, here are some interesting quotes from the document.
“With no current capability to conduct OTH surface gun fire support, missions normally conducted by NSFS will initially rest with aviation assets.”
Wow! We are formally recognizing that we have no fire support capability. What we are failing to recognize is that against a peer defender the aviation assets will be tied up protecting the fleet and protecting themselves. They will be only sporadically available for air support. So, we have no naval fire support and only sporadic air support and yet this issue is not addressed in our doctrine.
“Although ships can use land attack missiles for OTH fire support, their quantities are limited.”
So much for the magic of Tomahawks. Effective but limited. How many thousands of rounds of naval gunfire were used in pre-invasion bombardments during WWII? Our entire national Tomahawk inventory would be totally depleted in the first hour of the first assault.
“Fire support has a major effect on the development of the LF [Landing Force] plan for operations. Until the LF’s organic artillery is ashore, NSFS and aviation assets (fixed- and rotary-wing) are normally the only means of fire support for the LF. A portion of these assets may also be tasked to defend the AF [assault task group] as a whole, limiting their availability to the LF.”
See the logical inconsistency? The previous statements noted that there is no naval fire support from OTH and yet this vaguely hopeful statement ignores the reality and counts on gun support. The statement also notes that initial support will have to come from aviation assets, as well, while simultaneously noting that aviation assets will be limited. Remember, the number one priority of aviation is to protect the carrier. The issue is not addressed doctrinally.
“Initially, the LF is able to employ only a small fraction of its total potential power. Tactical operations are initiated by small units that are normally only supported by NSFS and attack aircraft. Before long, the preponderance of the LF is ashore and functioning as a cohesive organization exerting its maximum combat power.”
Well, there’s a bland statement that relies mainly on hope! A previous statement from the document acknowledged that there is no gun support and yet doctrinally we’ll depend on gun support to assist the initial small unit actions! Further, despite all the enemy’s increased weapon ranges, lethality, and sensing, we will casually move most of our combat power ashore “before long”. We should doctrinally include sending a polite thank you note to the enemy for their cooperation in allowing us to move our combat power ashore unhindered and in a timely manner.
“As a general rule there will be one NSFS ship in direct support for each battalion and one NSFS ship in general support for each regiment.”
And that one ship has only a single 5” gun. Yikes! And that assumes the Navy is willing to move within range which they have stated they will not do. So, that statement should actually read that there will be NO ships in direct support of each battalion!
Finally, here is a historical quote found within the document that recognizes the logistical aspect of an assault.
“The logistical effort required to sustain the seizure of Iwo Jima was enormous, complex, largely improvised on lessons learned in earlier . . . operations in the Pacific. . . . Clearly, no other element of the emerging art of amphibious warfare had improved so greatly by the winter of 1945. Marines may have had the heart and firepower to tackle a fortress-like
Iwo Jima earlier in the war, but they would
have been crippled in the doing of it by limitations in amphibious logistical support capabilities. These concepts, procedures, organizations, and special materials took years to develop. . . .”
“From Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of
Iwo Jima, Joseph Alexander”
This is exactly the issue that we’ve discussed in some of our posts – the Navy no longer has the numbers of ships or connectors or the transport capacities to sustain the flow of material needed for a successful combat assault. Further, as every example of combat throughout history has demonstrated, our estimates of the amount of supplies needed will be woefully insufficient, further compounding our already suspect logistics capability.
So, does the preceding sound like we have a solid doctrinal grasp of modern amphibious assauts? No, it sounds like a re-hash of WWII doctrine updated with a few references to helos.
Here are some of the doctrinal gaps that need to be addressed.
- How will preparation of the landing site occur given our near total lack of naval fire support (Zumwalt notwithstanding)?
- How will we provide counter-rocket, counter-artillery, and counter-missile protection for the initial landing wave given the Navy’s refusal to operate inshore?
- How will we move sufficient quantities of supplies over the beach without the plethora of WWII craft and devices dedicated to just that task?
- How will we provide sufficient air support given the decreasing number of carriers, shrinking size of airwings, likely reduced buys of F-35s, and the recognition that protection of the carrier is the top priority for aviation assets?
- How will we utilize helo support in the face of determined shoulder launched SAMs?
- How will we protect the connectors from small guided weapons?
- How will we counteract the threat of mines in the landing area and how will we do so while under fire?
- Where will we get sufficient numbers of connectors from given the limited carrying capacity aboard current amphibious ships (smaller or no well decks in newer ships)?
- How will we stage and/or protect suppy dumps on the beach in the face of modern sensing and weapons?
- How will we address the suppression and destruction of long range missiles, rockets, and artillery launched from well outside the landing area?
If the Marines wish to remain in the opposed landing, amphibious assault business they will need to address these doctrinal gaps. Failure to do so will render the Corps irrelevant in the minds of our military planners.