ComNavOps has opined that high level amphibious assaults are very unlikely and, therefore, the amphibious fleet could be drastically reduced in size. However, “very unlikely” does not mean impossible. ComNavOps is nothing if not open minded (Hey! I hear those snide chuckles in the back. You people behave yourself.) and is always eager to consider alternate ideas. With that in mind, a highly respected source has suggested to ComNavOps that the
military no longer has the capability to sustain a
major assault and subsequent invasion force via movement of supplies over an
unimproved beach. The suggested premise
is that such a large scale effort would require seizure and utilization of an
existing port. Let’s look at that
premise a bit closer. US
As we begin, let me state clearly that I don’t have anywhere near a sufficient understanding of the detailed capabilities the Navy could bring to bear on this. I may be wrong about portions (or all !) of this. That said …
I don’t think there is much question that we don’t have the resources to move sufficient amounts of fuel from ship to shore over a beach. We’re talking about a major assault followed by major combat operations – division level efforts or more. The amount of fuel division level ops consume is staggering. Moving drums/bladders of fuel at a time just won’t suffice!
Similarly, history assures us that the amount of munitions a combat unit will go through will far exceed any pre-war planning allocations.
Likewise, the amount food, spare parts, water, and all the other things that a combat unit needs to sustain itself will dwarf our nice, neat pre-war planning. Factor in inevitable combat losses of supplies as they cross the beach and move inland and it becomes obvious that we just don’t have the number of transport vessels to move the supplies across the beach or the number of transport vehicles to move the supplies from the beach to the inland combat element. Helos will help to a minor extent but are severely limited in individual capacity and will certainly be employed moving troops and providing direct fire support.
The Navy’s solution to amphibious sustainment support is the seabasing concept. Unfortunately, this concept is based largely on wishful thinking.
- Wishfully thinking that the weather will cooperate since the seabase components are mostly limited to lesser sea states.
- Wishfully thinking that the enemy will not attack the seabase since we only have or are planning to have two MLPs (and three AFSBs that may or may not be able to function as MLPs), the major component of the seabase concept and a limiting factor in supply throughput.
- Wishfully thinking that an enemy SSK won’t make the seabase a top priority target.
- Wishfully thinking that we can move the requisite tonnage of supplies across the seabase.
- Wishfully thinking that the fixed nature of the seabase won’t make it a very attractive target for ballistic and cruise missiles.
Of course, we have yet to address the delivery of the supplies to the operating units once the supplies make it to the beach. Again, we do not have the trucks or helos necessary to move the requisite tonnage of supplies after they make it ashore.
That said, a pretty good argument can be made that the only viable option to conduct and sustain a major amphibious assault is to seize an existing port.
Unfortunately, port seizure brings its own set of problems.
- How do we repair damaged ports while under fire? We lack the heavy equipment to do the job while under fire.
- How do we protect ports from cruise and ballistic missiles? The Navy wants to stand its Aegis ships 25-50 miles offshore so they won’t be able to do it effectively.
- How do we provide rocket, mortar, and artillery defense? Note: operating C-RAMs (land based Phalanx) in a built up, urban port city will cause massive collateral damage or have so many holes in its coverage as to prove useless, assuming we could even get C-RAMs ashore and set up under fire.
- How do we move supplies from the port, out of the city given that the few major roads will undoubtedly be mined, mortared, and “snipered”?
- How do we provide ongoing minesweeping in the harbor given the ease with which mines can be laid?
- How do we unload cargo ships in the port assuming that the enemy destroys the port’s cranes and other cargo handling equipment? To the best of my knowledge we lack mobile, heavy duty cranes and heavy lift equipment.
Seizing a port can probably be done but repairing the port and cargo handling equipment while under fire will be a challenge. Equally challenging will be defending the port from the multitude of missiles, rockets, mortars and artillery that a known, fixed location will invite. We have neither the equipment nor doctrine to defend a port.
Given our fixation with minimizing collateral damage, port defense will be very difficult. Consider the simple case of snipers in adjoining multi-story buildings. If we’re not willing to inflict significant collateral damage (destroy an entire floor or building to kill one sniper, for example) how will we neutralize snipers? Room by room through a skyscraper? We don’t have remotely enough troops to do that.
Consider the related challenge of mortars firing through holes in rooftops or, simply, from narrow, crowded streets. They would be essentially invisible and invulnerable unless we were willing to apply counterfire and accept destruction of entire buildings and the countless civilian deaths that would result to get a single mortar.
Beach or port? This is one of those questions that has no easy answer. Nonetheless, the military needs to pick an option and begin equipping and training for the desired option. For instance, can anyone even remember the military ever conducting a full scale port seizure exercise?