Monday, September 18, 2017

Amphibious Assault - Strategic Level

We’ve devoted much discussion to amphibious assaults in this blog and we should given that it’s both a traditional US 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.

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.

China.  Unless we are insane, we are never going to want to land troops on mainland China.  There is no geopolitical need to do that.  The land, itself, has nothing we need and comes with many problems (extensive land borders, cultural and ethnic issues, population problems, etc.) that make forcible entry into, and occupation of, China undesirable.  That only leaves the artificial islands that China has constructed and militarized or similar small, natural, militarized islands.  However, those islands will never be subject to amphibious assault if for no other reason than they are too small to hold any troops!  They’ll be destroyed with cruise missiles and forgotten – somewhat akin to the island hopping strategy of WWII.  The only conceivable use for an amphibious assault would be to reclaim a foreign country that China has seized, such as Taiwan, Philippines, or Vietnam

From a geopolitical perspective, the only one of those that would realistically justify an assault is Taiwan.  We simply don’t care enough about Vietnam to fight for it.  China has already begun the annexation of the Philippines but will conclude that “peacefully” as they’ve done with the South China SeaChina will conduct political maneuvers aimed at ousting US 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. 

Within the context of a Chinese Philippines (Chilippines?), seizing the Philippines 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.

Taiwan remains the one possible amphibious assault scenario.  In any war scenario, Taiwan will be seized by China as the first order of business for two reasons:  one, China has always stated that Taiwan belongs to them and the opportunity of a war simply makes the seizure inevitable and, two, China cannot afford to leave Taiwan as a possible base of operations for the US so deep in its territory and so close to its mainland.  The seizure will occur quickly – far quicker than the US could possibly respond.  The US will be faced with a fait accompli.  If the US wants to retake Taiwan, it will have to be after a massive amphibious force buildup.  Given the proximity of Taiwan to mainland China, an amphibious assault to reclaim the island would be conducted under the very near umbrella of mainland China’s air power, missile power, naval power, and with a close and ready resupply of an almost unlimited amount of manpower.  This is the farthest possible scenario from a “quick” Marine Corps assault using existing forces.  Such an assault would require years of build up.  Is the US likely to do that?  I think not.  A Taiwan seizure will, unfortunately, be a one-way affair.  China will seize it and it will not come back.

Thus, there is very little need for amphibious assaults in a China war scenario.

Russia.  There is very little usable or useful Russian shoreline to assault!  That’s one of the geopolitical problems that Russia faces and is probably one of the reasons they seized Crimea.  A war with Russia will be a land war conducted through Europe.  The Cold War plans still largely apply.  There is a very remote possibility that an assault against the far eastern regions could occur which would be intended to seize military bases along the Sea of Ohkotsk.  Far more likely, though, is that those bases would be neutralized with cruise missiles and relegated to unimportance.  There is just no reason to attempt to seize the bases or the region.  There is nothing there that the US would want.

Further, there is no foreseeable scenario in which US troops would attempt to enter mainland Russia.  Combat would occur around the periphery of the Russian borders and would be aimed at restoring the pre-war boundaries.

Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a Russian war scenario.

Iran.  Most combat forces would enter Iran through Iraq.  While there is a possibility of wanting to land troops somewhere along Iran’s coastline, this would not be an amphibious assault but just an unopposed unloading of troops and supplies through an already seized port or across an uncontested beach.  Iran simply does not have the capability to oppose a landing. 

Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a Iranian war scenario.

North Korea.  There is some small possibility of the need for an amphibious assault along the northern shoreline.  This would be a diversionary assault or raid rather than a major, sustained assault.  The bulk of combat will be land based and troops and supplies will enter through South Korea via secured ports and airbases. 

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.

Third World / Non-State.  This is the case that is most likely to require amphibious assaults.  Assaults into Middle East locations or Africa to deal with terrorist threats or, less likely, South America to stabilize collapsing countries are conceivable.  However, given the nature of the threats, any amphibious assault would be limited in size and scope and the assault itself would likely be unopposed and revert to a simple unloading.  A single MEU/ARG would be the likely force size required, at the high end.

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 Japan 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 Europe, we’re never going to need to conduct another Normandy invasion.  That recognition eliminates most of the remaining chunk of need for amphibious assaults.

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 – Mogadishu, for example.  That specific issue – excalation/reinforcement – is, however, a topic for another time.

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 Russia takes over Europe and we need to conduct another Normandy invasion?  What if China suddenly launches an instantaneous seizure of the entire 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.


  1. absolute bullshit. i'll respond to this in detail later.

    1. I was pretty sure you wouldn't like it. I'm looking forward to discussing it with you. You always have good reasoning and I'm open to learning something!

  2. OK 
    I’ll throw something out there. The “Just because the USMC exists” explanation.

    As you are often heard to quote, the seat of political change is on the land.

    Currently all “enemies” of the US, and potential enemies, have to consider the defence of their coast lines carefully.

    They either have to adjust their entire military defence CONOPS, and budget to account for the possibility of USMC action ( which is significant for any country with coast line, giving the variety that action could take )

    Or they have to adjust their political posture to account for it.

    i.e. don’t be the enemy of the US.

    This coercive effect is just lovely in terms of signing treaties and making friends.


    1. There is some validity to that view. However, no competent enemy would attempt to defend an entire coastline - there's no need. Along with "seat of purpose" is "center of gravity". Invading some isolated section of coast accomplishes nothing. It's the centers of gravity (capitols, factorys, bases, etc.) that will win or lose the war and those are concentrated in a relatively few locations. Thus, the points of entry can be reasonably predicted. This is where a map study of potential enemies comes into play. When you look at Russia, China, Iran, and NK, the number of worthwhile entry points is very limited and almost entirely negated by the logistics and conduct of an overall campaign.

      A Marine MEU/MEB/MEF assault isn't going to accomplish anything by itself. We simply can't sustain a small force like that with the logistics capability we have. The force would be surrounded, isolated, and disposed of.

      So, while the idea of defending the coast is appealing in the abstract, the reality is that it is not a practical concern. Thrown in the massive mining along the coast compared to our mine clearing capability and assaults become impossibilities.

      There is also no evidence that Russia, China, Iran, and NK are behaving better, now, because we have an amphibious assault capability (we don't, but let's say we do) than if we didn't.

    2. I think this is why there is such a push for air bourn amphibious capability.

      Although as we all know there are some considerable draw backs to that idea.

      As I say I think the MEU's are about threat and the strategic implications of that fast moving and adaptable threat.

      You can argue that on a global level, taking "potential future adversaries" + coercive benefits, they pay for themselves several times over.

      But it would be hard maths to prove.


    3. "MEU's are about threat and the strategic implications"

      Again, it's only a potential threat if the possibility is real. A MEU is not a viable combat force against a peer other than for a very minor, short lived raid. It would require a MEF to be able to stand and fight a peer and then the logistics quickly make such a fight unsustainable.

      Logistics rule all.

      On a related note, everyone cites the diversionary role of a possible amphibious assault in Desert Storm. The reality is that there was never a real possibility of such an assault due to the mine threat and our inability to deal with it. The threat was never real. Fortunately, our enemy was an absolute dictatorial idiot with no operational or military expertise.

      Russia, China, NK, and Iran have hundreds of thousands of mines. They simply have to seed the coastlines where there is any strategic value and the amphibious threat is eliminated. Sure, we could land in some out of the way, undefended location hundreds of miles from any worthwhile target but then logistics rears its ugly head and the assault is unsustainable.

  3. Worthy of debate. How many of our potential adversaries have over the horizon ship missiles? Could the Navy positively defend a MEU assault force... and could then not be overwhelmed by a land-based combatant with a larger pile of missiles to draw from? IDK. All I know is, it is worthy of discussion. I like the port/airfield points.. But really, the Marine Corps is all about aviation it seems.. expensive aviation.

    1. Everyone, including terrorists, have land launched anti-ship missiles now. If the Navy can't defend against them then we've wasted enormous sums of money on Aegis/Standard. The Aegis system was designed to handle saturation missile attacks from regiments of Soviet bombers. If the system can't deal with a handful of missiles then we have real problems.

  4. In 1938, one would argue that Germany is a threat, but it has little coastline so amphibious operations will not be needed in the coming war.

    I'd think Saudi Arabia will soon be on our intervention list as its leadership becomes more unstable. And I would not assume the Shia dominated Iraqi government will allow large US forces arriving to attack Iran.

    But I agree we spend far too much on the Marine Corps, it's twice the size of the British Army! Eliminate some new non-Marine stuff like Cyber, civil action groups, ect. Give up the resorts on Okinawa which is 75% HQ and support units, and eliminate half the HQ units that are redundant. Move some units into the Reserves, like half the artillery. The MEUs are valuable but too big for peacetime missions and too small for wartime. So just deploy a single LHA or LHD with a thousand Marines, and call upon pre-po ships to bring whatever else is needed and fly in extra troops.

    Keep the other amphibs in a reduced operating status, and gradually replace them with far more useful LSTs. Cancel the LX(R) program, aka replacing the LSDs with worthless LPDs, and use those funds to build LSTs and far cheaper and far more efficient sealift ships, as many are getting old.

    1. "In 1938, one would argue that Germany is a threat, but it has little coastline so amphibious operations will not be needed in the coming war."

      By 1938, it was painfully obvious that Germany was about to attempt to conquer Europe and would expand its coastline many times over via conquest.

      The Maginot Line, built beginning in 1929 and contemplated earlier than that, was an acknowledgement that Germany was preparing to attempt to conquer Europe. Against that backdrop, anyone who wouldn't have predicted some need for amphibious assaults would have been seriously shortsighted. Admittedly, I state this from the perspective of hindsight.

      Further, by the mid-1930's Japan had begun its conquests by attacking China and, eventually, the various Pacific islands. The need for amphibious assaults was well understood by US military planners.

      In short, in 1938, US military planners were all too aware of the coming need for amphibious assault capability.

    2. One thing that could be cut from the Marines is their fixed wing air. Considering they have to operate from land bases or carriers it can be given to the USN and USAF. The Marines still haven't forgiven Admiral Jack Fletcher for pulling the carriers away from Guadalcanal so early. Institutional history is great but there is a time to let it go.

      Concentrate on gunships and transport helicopters. Hopefully the same types that the reset of the military uses. Why build new Cobras when Apaches are available?

  5. I will throw this one out, but for complete different scenario.

    Your piece about the Marines, is basically about incompatibility of a by-gone force structure juxtapose with your future projected 'reality' (i.e. eventual throwdown with one of your described baddies).

    What if there is no big US/China war (i.e. China managed to achieve big-2-accommodation), with the following question: how would each branch adapt (i.e. foresee, prepare, jump in at the moment) to such possibility of US/China-co-existing security requirement and shrinking defense budget?

    As I see now, there is better chance of China reaching that goal than the US fighting China into the future.

    1. Also, you forgot one of the baddie: mother nature in form of warmer-ocean-Hurricane-train.

      Future requirement: merge of Army Corp of engineer (to shore up) with the Marines Corp (disaster relief).

    2. Sure, I guess there's the theoretical possibility of a future where the US, China, and the Easter Bunny all sit around a campfire singing songs of friendship and I'll be blogging about my favorite recipes. For the time being, however, I'll continue to assume that war with China is inevitable as every piece of evidence indicates.

      Disaster relief is not a valid military mission. The military exists to ensure our national security through combat. Disaster relief is a misbegotten, misguided impulse by politicians that actually hurts our national security by lowering readiness. If we want to be the world's relief, there are other organizations that should be doing that.

    3. A theoretical possibility?? You, and everyone here (not me), prepared your whole professional lives to fight the bear. Didn't happen. The war was won without a fight; the precedent was there, and the shoe can fit to other's foot just as well. From another angle, the future challenge of the US security remain: threat of big-2-throwdown (us/china or us/russia), 3rd-world bush fire, or big-2/3-peace. If the traditional Marine Corp is getting push out of 1st (AF/Navy/Army show), not satisfied with the 2nd, then it must find role in the last (and get there before the other 3 branches do).

    4. The Soviet Union did not reach an "accommodation", as you put it, with the US. They were beaten in a war, albeit one with relatively little direct violence. I would have no problem with a similar "accommodation" with China after they're beaten. They are not, however, going to suddenly come to some sort of peaceful, neighborly relation. That's fantasy level wishful thinking!

    5. " They are not, however, going to suddenly come to some sort of peaceful, neighborly relation. That's fantasy level wishful thinking! "

      Not suddenly. However, unlike the bear & WW2 Germany/IJ, China is organically maneuvering its way to its goal by every means, other than outright violence, incrementally/successfully/nonviolently. It won't change its tact (or as you put it: suddenly and violently) if these means had been successful, which up to now they have. There will come a point in next 10-15 years, when China is on the cusp passing the US, without violence, that the US has to decide whether it shall act un-American (i.e. against values distilled from the Constitution and the Bible) to uphold American hegemony.

    6. "US has to decide whether it shall act un-American"

      You do have access to a history book, don't you? America has entered wars, willingly and unwillingly, repeatedly and often for far less reason than to stop an evil empire (China in this case, not the Soviet Union!)!

    7. The low bar history set for Americans is still far higher than that of the Russians, WW2 germans/IJ, or even the ChiCom set for themselves.

      Anyway, if your context of your piece is restricted to future-American-War only, then I agree totally your points.

  6. In "Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force" makes a similar case for going back to the Army Air Corps. His model is the Marines, they have their own airpower.

    1. Ummm ..... How does this apply to the premise of the post?

  7. "Currently all “enemies” of the US, and potential enemies, have to consider the defence of their coast lines carefully."

    Exactly, even if you do not do a amphibious assault you enemy has to devote resources in defending the coastline

    Just as the Iraqis did in desert storm :

    Iraq reacted by building large-scale coastal defence fortifications manned by as many as six infantry divisions - 2nd, 11th, 18th and 19th with two unidentified formations and either the 5th or 51st Mechanised Divisions acting as a reserve, depending on where the assault took place. The hardening of the coastal defences caused a shift in Coalition planning to emphasise the use of the afloat force (2nd MEF) as a deception measure to mislead the Iraqis into concentrating on the Kuwaiti coast and Kuwaiti-Saudi border

    1. A theoretical invasion is a threat only if the threat is plausible. I've explained why it's not in each of the cases. You'll have to explain to me why it is.

    2. Lets broaden the view here in the "Third World / Non-State", hypothetically - if the US has to intervene in Cuba or Venezuela in the near future( for whatever reason - it's just a scenario), the armed forces of those countries have to muster a considerable force to counter a possible beach landing.
      That alone gives a commander a lot more options, do the assault if possible, if not hold back and use the marines to complement ground operations after the enemy has been defeated .

      Just the fact that a opponent has to worry about a possible beach assault is a plus, he disperses precious resources for a possible counter.

    3. No third world/non-state country/organization has the military force to seriously threaten a landing. As I said in the post (you read it, right?), a third world/non-state is the most likely scenario for an amphibious landing but the total lack of viable military force renders the assault just an unopposed unloading and does not require amphibious forces as we have today.

  8. I agree with your basic premise that the Marines more likely to respond to crises as you described. Though, I would add the tactical recovery of people, aircraft, and equipment and hostage rescue to the list.

    But, I don't think the the Army is better equipped for contingency operations. We can drop a company of Rangers or airborne anywhere in the world within 18 hours. But, then what? They're good on their own for a few days. But, they need to be supported, which means access to an airfield or seaport to bring in reinforcements and supplies.

    A Marine MEU, though large, provides the assets to move troops to an objective by sea or air. The MEU also has the necessary command and control, communication, logistical, and medical capabilities to support such operations.

    1. "I would add the tactical recovery of people, aircraft, and equipment and hostage rescue to the list."

      Those tasks do not require amphibious assault and certainly not a force of 30+ big deck amphibs and 180,000 men!

      "But, then what? ... access to an airfield or seaport"

      Airfield seizure is exactly the mission of Army airborne and port seizure is the one mission I explicitly identified in the post as one that ought to be a core Marine mission.

    2. "Those tasks do not require amphibious assault and certainly not a force of 30+ big deck amphibs and 180,000 men!"

      There are situations that would require a limited amphibious assault, such as rescuing a large group of Americans from a foreign country in an emergency.

      The Marines have stood up special purpose crisis teams, I think that fits more in line with the premise of your post.

      "Airfield seizure is exactly the mission of Army airborne and port seizure is the one mission I explicitly identified in the post as one that ought to be a core Marine mission."

      I said the Army needs access to an airfield or seaport for supplies and reinforcements. That doesn't mean they have to be taken by force.

    3. Paratroopers are good on their own for a few hours, not days, assuming the enemy was sporting enough not to shoot down the huge slow transports flying straight and level at 1000 feet. All they have is what was dropped, and that ammo will go quick, and water too. Casualties will slowly die as there is no way to evacuate them.

      And don't spin the "we'll seize an airfield" BS. Large airfields will have at least a thousand enemy soldiers working there who can hunker down urban warfare style, and probably anti-air systems that would knock down transports. And even if taken, expect constant incoming artillery and rocket fire.

      The Army tried a couple airborne stunts in Vietnam and they failed. The VC and NVA saw the chutes and rushed to try and capture all the downed airmen. They couldn't understand that some fools intentionally parachuted into a combat area.

  9. just a side note , dont attack China or Russia directly. One should use 3rd party / deniable proxy to drain their strength militarity , or put china vs russia on warpath against each other.

    this is why current US strategy of antagonizing Russia AND china together shows some degree of arrogance and hubris in the US strategic planners.. or maybe there's no more adults in US govt ?

  10. I think the USMC has a very important role to play in a war with Russia on the European front. If Russia invades a Baltic republic or Poland or another European country (excluding Ukraine), the US / NATO have to react. The aims of this reaction should be: 1) expelling the Russian forces from the invaded countries; and 2) destroying the Russian armed forces and military infrastructure for preventing a similar attempt in the next several years.

    A key decision should be taking the fight to the Russian ground. Why should be fight on one of the US allies ground and not on the Russian ground?

    In my view, after expelling the Russian forces from the invaded country/countries, those forces must be destroyed and that should be done over Russian soil.

    For that task you need quite a big force, but you should also note that Russian armed forces are much smaller than in the mid 80s. And you also note that the geography is the same.

    So, Russian armed forces will face a great problem facing an US/NATO army maneuvering over the Russian steppe. And here is where the USMC has a role to play: opening a second front by landing a MEF on the north (through the White Sea), on the center (through the Baltic Sea) or on the south (through the Black Sea). Todays tiny Russian can’t be strong everywhere: they can’t fight a US/NATO army and – at the same time – be strong a three different points (White Sea, Baltic Sea and Black Sea). And without air superiority – which I take as a given, because you need it first for expelling the invading forces – they won’t be able to move forces between those three points.

    In other words, a MEF should cooperate with a US / NATO army in destroying the Russian armed forces after those forces are expelled from an invaded European country. With such a maneuver, the Russian forces would face a dilemma confronting an US/NATO army and a MEF, because they are to small, their country is too big and there are too many options for opening a second front by landing a MEF in one of those three seas.

    Would the Russian use nuclear weapons in such a scenario? I don’t know. Neither do I know when the US will use nuclear weapons in a European war. Maybe if Germany is under a Russian threat?

    1. "opening a second front by landing a MEF on the north"

      Have you thought through the logistics of such an undertaking? There would be absolutely no possibility of resupplying an isolated MEF. The fuel usage alone of a unit in the attack is staggering. Throw in water, food, munitions, etc. and you have an unsustainable situation. Russia would not have to react to it at all. It could just wait for a relatively short period and the force would grind to a halt!

    2. Under a 1999 MOD (UK) definition, “expeditionary operations” are “military operations which can be initiated at short notice, consisting of forward deployed or rapidly deployable self-sustaining forces tailored to achieve a clearly stated objective in a foreign country”.

      If a force is called “Marine Expeditionary Force” I just can believe that such a force is capable of rapidly deploying a self-sustaining forcs tailored to achieve a clearly stated objective in a foreign country.

      You can say that that is a British definition, but according to “MCWP 4-12 Operational-Level Logistics”, “The MEF deploys with up to 60 days of accompanying supplies.” “A MEB normally deploys with up to 30 days of accompanying supplies.”And“The standard accompanying sustainment for a MEU is up to 15 days of accompanying supplies.”(page 2-6).

      I would believe that such number are true, so I just can believe that a MEF deploys with between 30 and 60 days of accompanying supplies. So you would have about 30 days to resupply the landed MEF.

      This is a huge logistics effort, but if the USMC is not able to do that, I don’t know which force in the planet could do so.

    3. "MEF deploys with between 30 and 60 days of accompanying supplies.


      This is a huge logistics effort, but if the USMC is not able to do that, I don’t know which force in the planet could do so."

      In actual combat, supplies will be used at 2x-3x the planned rate. Combat damage/loss will further deplete supplies. In short, the MEF will be lucky to be able to operate for 15-20 days.

      No "force in the planet" can resupply sufficiently over an unimproved beach against a peer enemy who will interdict the movement of supplies.

  11. Us Brits thought along these lines in 1982 and were actually in the process of binning our amphibious capability because we would never need it. If Galtieri had only waited six months there wouldn't have been a damn thing we could have done about it. But of course, such things would never happen again

    1. You did read the part in the post that says we need to maintain around six amphibious ships, enough for two MEUs? That takes care of all those little, third world incidents.

  12. You make a strong case but it also assumes the world will continue as it stands today. A lot can change and we should keep the Amphibious option strong for it. For example:

    The Philippines: Duarte may be pro-china but there are already many balking at the influx of Chinese in the islands. If they react violently (a good possibility) the Chinese may use "protect ethnic Chinese" as a an excuse to invade, thus securing control of the South China Sea. But we are bound by treaty to respond.

    The reason there is still a South Korea was MacArthur's Inchon invasion of NK. The inland border region is their strongest point. A ground war in Korea would require an invasion around the center to have any chance of success.

    A Western European war with Russia would have no real need for Marines in Europe.
    But Russia extends far into the east as well. An attack on the Eastern side--say the Kamchatka peninsula--would open up a potential second front and stretch their logistics. It might even lure China to join in as temporary allies so they can grab Russian territory.
    Russia also claims Japanese islands as theirs. Putin' successor decides to flex their muscles we would have to counter invade them against a peer enemy.

    And never forget something totally unforeseen.
    For example, what if Turkey decides under its latest dictator to use the war against ISIS as an excuse to grab land in Syria & Iraq and keep it. A new Ottoman Empire in the making. It would bethat the Caliphate that radicals want just under Turkish rather than ISiS rule. A new enemy with NATO level training and technology.
    Far fetched? Maybe. But if it happens we would want the ability to strike it on the Black Sea, the Med, or the beaches of Syria if it happened.
    And we all remember that loyal ally Iran we gave F-14 Tomcats to didn't stay that way. This would be Iran x 3.

    1. I addressed the Philippine situation in the post.

      Korea will be a purely ground war, up the middle from SKorea. The practicalities of mine warfare and our almost non-existent MCM rule out any possibility of an amphibious assault. NKorea has hundreds of thousands of mines to protect any potential landing site and we have a couple dozen MCM helos. No hope.

      There is nothing in Eastern Russia we care about. We'll neutralize their bases and that will be the end of the eastern operations. For what possible reason would want to land in Eastern Russia? It has nothing we want and few or no centers of gravity. Landings have to be done for a reason, not just because they're theoretically possible.

      Anything totally unforeseen will also be small - like Turkey.

      This is not a forever force structure, prohibited from changing. In fact, I set the time frame in the post at 20 years. If, during that time, we see some need for amphibious ops, we can begin building up the needed capabilities. However, for the next 20 years there are no reasonable scenarios that will require amphibious assaults and you have not presented any.

    2. Remember that the USA required over two years to mobilize and deploy forces to invade Normandy in 1944. We don't need all these Marines on active duty.

      This link has some good stats to argue the Marines need to devote more funds to equipment and ships, rather than manpower. Marine Generals recently halted the modest drawdown plan to 175,000 Marines at 184,000:

      "The U.S. Marine Corps is too big. It is several times larger than any other Marine force. It is bigger than the Israeli Defense Force and nearly twice the size of the entire British Army! Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the Marine Corps to downsize to 175,000 active duty Marines by 2018. He warned of cutting down to 150,000 unless Congress restrained soaring personnel costs and repealed the 2011 "sequestration", which rolls back DoD spending to 2007 levels. Both efforts are likely to fail resulting in a decade of turmoil in the Marine Corps unless a realistic future force plan is adopted soon. General James Amos recently warned that military pay and benefits have grown to consume 63% of the Marine Corps budget, while just 8% is devoted to modernization and investment, which will shrink further unless manpower is cut.

      Retaining a force of 150,000 active Marines would still be a comparative victory for the Marine Corps. After the planned drawdown ends, the Army, Navy, and Air Force will have around 40% fewer active personnel than in 1990. A 40% cut to the Marine Corps would leave an active force of 114,000! Unfortunately, senior Marine Corps officers are refusing to reorganize to cut fat and shed non-critical missions."

    3. "Remember that the USA required over two years to mobilize and deploy forces to invade Normandy in 1944."

      Quite right and a point that many tend to overlook. In the post, I call for a reduction, NOT ELIMINATION, as some have interpreted it, in amphibious forces to six big deck amphibs - that's enough for two MEUs and enough to retain the core of amphibious competency which could be built upon in the event of war and an unforeseen need for an assault.


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