We’ve devoted much discussion to amphibious assaults in this blog and we should given that it’s both a traditional
military capability and the foundation of an entire
branch of the military – namely the Marine Corps. We’ve talked about specifics like connectors,
naval gun support, LST’s, logistics, etc.
Let’s back off a bit and look at the larger picture – the strategic
level, as opposed to the operational level. US
The first, and only, question is whether amphibious assaults are even needed from a strategic level. I’ve repeatedly addressed this in comments and, obliquely, in posts and it’s time to formally address this.
From a geopolitical strategy perspective we have five foreseeable “enemies” that we can identify that will be concerns for the next twenty years. The enemies are,
China Russia Iran North Korea Third World/ Non-State
Let’s take a hard look at each enemy and consider the likelihood of needing to conduct an amphibious assault against each.
From a geopolitical perspective, the only one of those that would realistically justify an assault is
. We simply
don’t care enough about Taiwan to fight for it.
Vietnam has already begun the annexation of the China but will conclude that “peacefully” as they’ve done
with the Philippines South China Sea. will conduct political maneuvers aimed at ousting China influence and enhancing Chinese influence, as
they’ve already started to do. They’ll
flood the country with state sponsored immigration (already underway) until the
balance of population shifts to Chinese and then simply and slowly absorb the
economy and government and the “Philippines” will align with China and become a
Chinese state in all but name. At that
point, the US will have no internationally recognizable rationale
for an invasion. US
Within the context of a Chinese Philippines (Chilippines?), seizing the
as part of a larger war effort might be a possibility. However, we are likely looking at a Chinese
fortified Philippines scenario as being 20+ years down the road and,
therefore, beyond the time frame of this post subject. Philippines
Thus, there is very little need for amphibious assaults in a
war scenario. China
Further, there is no foreseeable scenario in which
troops would attempt to enter mainland US . Combat would
occur around the periphery of the Russian borders and would be aimed at
restoring the pre-war boundaries. Russia
Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a Russian war scenario.
Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a Iranian war scenario.
NKorea possesses a vast inventory of mines which will be used to protect the northern shoreline. Coupled with our almost complete lack of mine countermeasures, there is probably little likelihood of attempting even a small scale diversionary assault.
Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a NKorean war scenario.
Thus, there is a conceivable need for amphibious assault of a limited and, likely, unopposed nature.
As a general observation, unless someone miraculously takes over the entire Pacific, as
did, we’re never going to need to island hop our way
across an ocean again. That recognition,
alone, eliminates a huge chunk of the need for amphibious assaults. Similarly, unless someone miraculously seizes
all of Japan Europe, we’re never going to need to conduct another invasion.
That recognition eliminates most of the remaining chunk of need for
amphibious assaults. Normandy
We see, then, that there is no compelling geopolitical need for major amphibious assaults and no resulting military strategy requiring major amphibious assaults to support the geopolitical needs. There remains a possibility of small assaults that would be more akin to unopposed unloadings than opposed assaults.
So, what does this tell us about our amphibious fleet force structure?
The obvious conclusion is that we don’t need 33 large deck amphibious ships! A single MEU/ARG consisting of three ships is sufficient. If we want to play it safe and call it six ships to allow for reinforcement and overhaul unavailabilities, that’s fine. So, six amphibious ships should be sufficient.
In fact, since we just concluded that amphibious assaults are so unlikely, we now have to ask, why do we have forward deployed MEU/ARG’s? And, if we don’t need forward deployed MEU/ARG’s, we don’t need the traditional 3-ships-to-support-one-forward-deployed. Instead, we can take our six amphibious ships and keep them home ported until needed and provide proper maintenance along with occasional training stints.
The one valid argument for forward deployed, amphibious Marines is crisis response: embassy protection, evacuation, terrorist response, short term stability operations, etc. There is a valid and ongoing need for this capability but this leads to the next question which is, is an Amphibious Ready Group the best way to provide this kind of response? Is keeping several major warships and an entire Marine Epeditionary Unit afloat for months at a time the best way to meet the need? Alternatively, could the Army’s rapid response, aviation transported units better meet the needs? There is a valid argument to be made that keeping crisis response troops home-based with aviation transport available on short notice is a more economical and more effective method of providing crisis response. A MEU can only be in one area at a time and can only respond within that specific area. An aviation transportable Army unit, however, can respond anywhere.
The problem that any crisis response force faces is escalation – the threat rapidly escalates beyond the original level and reinforcements are needed very quickly –
, for example.
That specific issue – excalation/reinforcement – is, however, a topic
for another time. Mogadishu
We should also note that crisis response forces have historically been small and very light compared to a full MEU. Again, this argues against the need for a forward deployed MEU/ARG.
All of this suggests that we should reevaluate our amphibious doctrine. Rather than prepare for major amphibious operations that are extremely unlikely, perhaps we should be preparing for small, uncontested landings/unloadings and, perhaps, the Marine’s aviation-centric shift is not without merit.
To sum up,
- We only need around 6 major amphibious ships.
- We should keep our amphibious ships home ported.
- We should investigate whether a MEU/ARG is the most economical and effective crisis response force.
- We should reevaluate the MEU force structure in light of the historical “light” nature of crisis responses.
- We should reevaluate Marine manning levels.
I love the Marines and desperately want to see them remain part and parcel of the US Armed Forces. However, I just don’t see the need for major amphibious assaults in the next 20+ years. That doesn’t mean that the Marines should be eliminated but it does mean that we should reexamine their missions and force structure.
Now, there is one other potentially useful function that the Marines can perform and which I see as far more likely than the classic amphibious assault and that is port/airfield seizure. In any war, we are going to need access to ports for unloading the massive amounts of supplies required to keep any invasion going. To a much lesser extent, the same applies to seizing airfields although it is simply not possible to keep an invasion going via airlifted supplies. The tonnage and volume movement is just not there.
Port seizure is a completely different game than an amphibious assault. The operations, tactics, and equipment are radically different. Also, since most (all?) major ports are intimately and physically intertwined with cities, a port seizure becomes a specific case of urban warfare which brings its own set of challenges which are entirely different from the classic amphibious assault.
The likelihood of port seizures within the context of geopolitical and military strategies should be carefully evaluated. Unfortunately, I’m simply not in a position to make that evaluation.
All that said, my conclusions can and would change if we felt port seizure was a likely strategic need and made it a Marine mission. Right now, however, port seizure is not a specific Marine mission in the sense that they have the equipment, doctrine, tactics, and training to accomplish it. To the best of my knowledge, the Marines/Navy have never practiced a port seizure. If you ask a Marine general whether port seizure is a mission, I’m sure they would say yes but it’s not really a mission if you aren’t equipped for it and have never trained for it.
I understand that most of you are going to disagree with the conclusion of this post. That’s fine. Feel free to tell me why. However, do not engage in “what if”. What if
takes over Russia Europe and we need to conduct another invasion?
What if Normandy suddenly launches an instantaneous seizure of the entire China Pacific Ocean? “What if” is
not a viable or logical argument. If you
think we need to retain significant amphibious assault capability, tell me,
specifically, where and under what circumstances it would be needed. Nothing else is reasonable or logical.
Also, do not engage in “you never know” – we need to keep our current Marine force structure because you never know what will happen. “You never know” is an argument that has no logical basis and can’t be countered. It’s also an argument for unlimited capabilities because … well … you never know. Using that argument, we should have 98 super carriers, a ten million man Marine Corps, and a thousand B-2 nuclear armed bombers in the air continuously because … you never know.
The practicalities of budget, industry, and manpower preclude “you never know” force structures. Therefore, “you never know” is not a valid argument.
Give me something specific or accept the conclusions of the post.