Friday, December 11, 2015

Fight Like You Train - Part 2

Regarding the previous post, reader GAB made a comment that is too astute to let go without amplification.  The point of the post was that we are not following our own doctrine as we train for amphibious assaults.  In addition, it has long been ComNavOps’ contention that the Navy/Marines (and military, in general) are not conducting realistic, and therefore useful, training.  GAB took the opportunity to expand on the post’s theme and pointed out, item by item, the utter lack of any semblance of realistic training.  His points just scratched the surface of the issue.  There are many other items that should have been included in any worthwhile training but were clearly absent.

Here is the text of his comment.

I can forgive the stand-off distance, but the things that are really missing and telling in the photos:

1) Man-made obstacles (AT ditches, hedge hogs, razor wire, PMN mines, AT mines...).
2) Engineering vehicles to counter any residual mines (the enemy is also sure to have air and artillery delivered scatterable mine systems).
3) Mine sweepers.
4) Smoke - seriously, I would hope that we plan to lay down massive amounts of multi-spectral smoke to blind everything from the naked eye to image intensifiers and infrared optical systems. This is particularly true if you land in daylight…
5) Chaff - the enemy will employ radar to include synthetic and active aperture radars –we need deal with them.
6) Surface screen – seriously, we have no FAC or patrol craft to protect the landing force on the way into the beach, or to suppress immediate threats on the beach with mortars and rockets – really…?
7) And what about that fire support – I favor short neutralization fires, not the 7-day pre-landing bombardments of the Pacific - even so, you need the ability to really hammer at least two linear nautical miles of beach with DPICM (the sub 1% dud rate), HE-frag, and fuel-air/thermobaric munitions.

So, given that all that was lacking, what is this level of training accomplishing?  These Marines are being led to believe that a major assault will be nothing more than a couple of minute transport ride to a clean, harmless, obstacle free beach with guides directing them where to go.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Setting aside the distance issue, the Marines who actually make it ashore alive will encounter smoke, mines, obstacles, craters, confusion, gunfire, aerial attacks, explosions, and death – and that’s if things go well. 

How are we helping these Marines to prepare for combat?  We’re not.

Well, maybe these photos are just from a few exercises that were not intended to be high end, major assault training.  The problem with that thought is that the exercises span several years and represent the highest, most intense training we’ve conducted.  The Bold Alligator series, for example, is the premier amphibious assault exercise that the Marines conduct.

As an aside, has anyone ever thought to intentionally conduct an assault exercise in bad weather?  High sea states?  In the real world, we don’t always get to pick ideal landing locations during periods of calm weather – ask Eisenhower.  We'd learn a lot by being forced to cope.  But, I digress …

It’s not cheap to conduct a major training exercise but it would cost little to seed some dummy mines in the surf and on the beach, use some smoke, fly small UAVs overhead (has anyone figured out how we’ll defend against small spotter or strike UAVs during an assault?), place some obstacles, induce a little forced confusion (intentionally reroute some landing craft to the wrong locations and see if the troops can sort it out), maybe use some pyrotechnics to add a bit of an explosive feel (yes, there’s a tiny element of risk but that’s better than having troops that are totally unprepared – the air forces all accept a degree of risk when they train), and have an enemy force with tanks and artillery greet the landing force.  How about having half the supplies and equipment that land be placed off limits to represent combat losses?

The point is that our training time is precious and there is so much more value we could get out of it for a relatively very small cost.  Why aren’t we?

Let me close with yet another comment from GAB.  Paraphrasing, he noted that we have two options:  we can play at preparing for war or we can prepare for war.  Right now, we’re playing.

Note:  My apologies to GAB if I've embarassed him by spotlighting his comments but this is the kind of intelligence that must be recognized.  Salute!


  1. Not sure where to post this; perhaps you could have a contact form in lieu of a public email address?

    Regarding playing at war rather than preparing for war, take a look at this amazing Rules of Engagement story:

  2. For years I argued the Marines must cut back on playing Army armored warfare at 29 Palms and set up an Amphib CAX at San Clemente Island, just 50 miles from Camp Pendelton!

    If Amphibs are lacking they could simulate them using airfields ashore while LCUs and LCACs carry stuff from Camp Pendleton.

    1. Are you saying the Marines don't need heavy armor or are you just suggesting a better training arrangement? I'm sorry, I didn't completely grasp what I think is your point. Care to elaborate?

  3. When's the last time USMC perform contested amphibious assault after Korean war's inchon landing ? and btw the marines in inchon said that if it was the japs who hold the coast that day , the inchon landing would be a failure..

    let's face it , amphibious landing in contested territory is now a thing of the past , it is better to airland your troops somewhere that's not contested , bypassing the enemy ..

    the USMC tried to holding on the past , living on the past glories .. amphibious landing against a professional military defender would incurr so much casualties on the attacker's side , worse if the enemy have supersonic ASM blasting the marine's LHD..

    *note : Air assault by choppers is great , but Lam Son 719 should be studied , especially with the almost 900 helicopters destroyed / damaged just from one campaign.. against enemy who have no MANPADS

    1. "...let's face it , amphibious landing in contested territory is now a thing of the past , it is better to airland your troops somewhere that's not contested , bypassing the enemy ..."


      The vertical envelopment argument is even less tenable in the face of a competent enemy than amphibious operations: not only are the logistics unsustainable; the viability of helicopter borne troops has been in doubt against a well-trained, well equipped force since the disastrous campaigns in Vietnam and Laos. All of which explains why no significant coalition air assaults were launched during the 2003 invasion of Iraq (yes, there was the parachute landing in the North, which achieved little militarily or politically).

      Apart from Inchon, every major amphibious landing has been launched to *bypass the enemy* - I hate to disabuse people of this notion, but a capable peer competitor can project A2/AD capabilities into adjacent neighboring countries as well.

      How would we introduce troops to respond to an invasion of Taiwan, which is well within the A2/AD zone of China?

      I find the “contested = impossible argument” to be a comfortable way to assume away preparations for capabilities that are difficult to train for or expensive to build up. Heaped high upon that list of capabilities are things like opposed river crossings, which are ignored as we pursue fantasy technologies doctrine separated from reality.


  4. US Military will always need a none-force able capability for disaster relief and humanitarian mission so USMC and other services need to be ready to provide this service. I don't expect USMC to abandon the assault capability anytime soon, it's USMC raison d'etre but time might be approaching fast where questions will be asked since it's very expensive and needs to be justified.

    Where USMC doctrine and many others diverge (as it appears to me reading everyone's comments) is two fold: as GAB noted, are we training for real missions? No, it doesn't appear we are training to face a determined enemy and take the beach away from him. This leads to wondering what we can do to improve training and improve kinetic capabilities.

    The other thought, that some others and I have brought up, if we retain this mission and assaulting a beach a la D-Day fashion is out dated and just too costly in terms on material and human loss then where can USMC go from here and evolve the mission to suit today's reality?

    If hitting the beach is so costly,where else can you establish a beach head? That's why in the previous post I was bringing up taking a port or airport near a coastline or hitting deeper inside the mainland. Grabbing one or the other are not easy feats either but we have to start looking at other targets than a beach.

    Maybe we need to start looking at landing zones or areas that aren't specifically military but could be good staging grounds without the complications of a port or airport which could be easily defended or reinforced. With most of the world's population living on or near the shore, there should be numerous areas along the enemies coastline that aren't defended but could be good staging grounds. I was thinking big parking lots, school grounds, arenas, malls and big lot stores,etc that would be unlikely to be protected.

    Obviously you have the problem of having civilians near by BUT with almost 50% of the world's population living around 100 miles from the coast and 3/4 of major big cities in the world being near the ocean, you're NOT going to find that many empty beaches anymore anyways so USMC might as well start realizing it's going to have to figure out how to get where it wants to go with a bunch of civilians near by....

    1. NICO, good thoughts. The problem with the concept of "land where they ain't" is that undefended landing areas (whether by air or sea) are probably undefended because they aren't near anything important. That means that we can land but we'll then be faced with a long trek through enemy territory, probably fighting all the way, to get where we wanted to be in the first place. That's difficult enough but the long distance trek hugely amplifies the logistics problem. We'll now have to create an immense logistics tail to keep the moving front force supplied. Aside from the obvious logistic difficulty, that also creates a rear area supply line vulnerability. All in all, the "land where they ain't" concept sounds good on paper but is suspect in reality. We're no longer capable of a Normandy size logistics effort to move men and materiel deeper into enemy territory.

      What do you think? Does this make you re-evaluate the "land where they ain't" concept? If not, how do you address the problems I mentioned?


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