Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Amphibious Assault - Strategic Level Follow Up

As I anticipated, no one offered a concrete, specific, foreseeable need for an amphibious assault.  All the comments were, again as anticipated, a call for continued Marine Corps amphibious capability based on vague, theoretical features of amphibious assaults such as threatening an enemy’s coastline.

I’d like to address some themes from the post and comments.

First, the common comment response was that the mere threat of amphibious assaults will tie up huge amounts of enemy troops and attention.  This is a theoretical feature only.  As I described in the post, it presents no real threat because there is no real possibility of an assault.  Sure, we could somehow circle to the far northern coastline of the Russian tundra and conduct an amphibious assault but it would accomplish nothing.  We’d have no means of resupply.  There are no worthwhile targets in the area (center of gravity).  Winter weather (always just a few weeks away there!) would destroy any forces left after their initial supplies ran out.  It’s a theoretical threat but not a credible one.  And so on for the other cases.

Second, the enemies we’re facing each have hundreds of thousands of mines.  We have two dozen mine clearing helos and a handful of barely functional Avenger MCM ships to counter the threat.  We simply do not have the capability to conduct opposed amphibious assaults when mines are involved.  This is why the Desert Storm amphibious “feint” was never a real threat.  The presence of mines precluded the possibility of an actual assault (recall the mining of USS Princeton and USS Tripoli?) – Iraq’s Hussein was just too militarily incompetent to realize this.

Third, most readers incorrectly took the post to mean that I was calling for elimination of the Marine Corps.  In actuality, I called for a reduction, not elimination, down to 6 big deck amphibious ships with the ability to embark two MEUs.  I also called for port seizure as a core Marine capability.  I haven’t gamed that one out so I don’t know what force size/structure would be needed.

As an astute Anonymous commenter pointed out,

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

Retention of 6 big deck amphibious ships and two MEUs (plus whatever additional port seizure force is needed) retains a core of amphibious capability that can be reconstituted in war if we suddenly find an unanticipated need for an amphibious landing.

My post proposal was not a call for elimination of the Marine Corps and amphibious capability but a reduction based on the foreseeable operational needs.  It makes no sense to maintain a fleet of 30+ big deck amphibious ships and a 180,000 man Marine Corps when there are no foreseeable needs for significant amphibious assaults.

If no other country in the world possessed airplanes, we wouldn’t maintain a fleet of fighters, would we?  We’d maintain a fleet of bombers but there would be no need for fighters.

Similarly, if no other country in the world possessed anti-ship missiles, we wouldn’t continue to build AAW focused, multi-billion dollar ships with Aegis/Standard, would we?  We would be smart to continue to develop AAW capability in R&D programs, against future need, but we wouldn’t continue to buy unneeded capabilities.

This is no different.  There is no reasonable, foreseeable need for major amphibious assaults so why buy the ships and maintain the force?  Besides, it’s not like we haven’t abandoned the amphibious mission before, and recently, at that.  For the last couple of decades the Marines have been exclusively focused on land based operations, albeit unwisely.  We lost our amphibious capability.  We’ve been slowly attempting to “rediscover” our amphibious capabilities. 

The final piece of the puzzle is the fact that we can’t actually conduct an amphibious assault from 25-50 nm standoff distance as our doctrine calls for!  So, we have no reasonable, foreseeable need combined with an inability to execute an amphibious assault even if there were a need.  Does that sound like justification to maintain a fleet of 30+ big deck ships and a 180,000 man Corps?

In short, there is no compelling reason to maintain the Marine Corps and amphibious navy at their current sizes.  This could change over time as needs and/or capabilities evolve but, for the present and foreseeable future, we need to drastically downsize.  We also need to carefully examine the need for port seizure and how to accomplish it.


  1. Your ideas are good yet ambitious. I'd argue for a first step, to get rid of the ARG expensively kept at Sasebo, Japan, and move some amphibs into the ready reserve fleet, This article makes a good point.

    "The post-Vietnam War effort to maintain an Amphibious Ready Group with four Navy ships and 2000 Marines of the 31st MEU ready to intervene from Japan is long outdated, even before this author spent time aboard the similar 35th MAU in WestPac over two decades ago. Intervene where? There is no Grenada scenario in this region. There are several small, unstable nations in the South Pacific where this small force might be useful, but they are not vital to the USA, and are the same distance as ships and Marines from Hawaii. If a war breaks out in the Western Pacific, no one expects the four Navy amphibs at Sasebo to sail down to Okinawa to load up 2000 Marines. The Navy would debate if it is safer to keep those vulnerable ships at port and hope to survive air and missile attacks, or try to sneak past submarines and enemy aircraft and make for the safety of Hawaii. Any amphibious landing in the Western Pacific would require a year destroy enemy submarines, missile sites, and aircraft, and to assemble all our Navy's amphibs to embark 50,000 Marines off California."

  2. Agree that the corps should be down sized along with the amphib fleet.lighten up the force and use them as a special raider force in conjunction with seal teams. Port seizure,rescue ops, battalion size raids ect. Also could and should be utilized to secure own naval ports and bases.would be nice to see fleet marines back on larger warships.Burke should be able to find room for a 36 man you a lot of options from conducting small raids to boarding vessels.

  3. What about using the LPDs as the transport ships (that we so desperately need) in times of war? They are somewhat stealthy and have large areas for storing equipment/ supplies, and have aviation facilities should the need to transport supplies by air be needed.

    1. LPDs are transport ships. They transport troops, supplies, equipment, etc. for combat. I'm missing your point. Try again?

  4. CNO, bet your opinion of the Marines would change if the Corps returned to its Raider roots and got rid of expensive assets such as much of the air wing (keeping basic helicopter lift and some amphib launch capable CAS planes like OV-10s) or other expensive duplication of effort such as cyber or Civil Affairs.
    With a much smaller budget slice and more grunt battalions, would you still think we have too many Marines?
    There is a Gazette article in July that makes this case:
    Maybe the focus should not be on shrinking the Corps but focus should be on returning the Corps to its pure roots with a keen eye on the budget

    1. That civil affairs comment got me googling. Did you know the Marines deactivated three reserve infantry battalions in 2013? Then it established a civil affairs MOS and school at Quantico.

      This freed up manpower for more Civil affairs Marines, as this 2016 article explains:

      "Fortunately, the Marine Corps Reserve is well positioned to improve this institutional capability. Over the last three years, the Civil Affairs community has grown over 200 percent, to four CAGs, each with a table of organization of 179 Marines, led by a command-screened colonel. Because of the challenges of integrating the Reserves into active duty planning, training, and operations, the CAGs are aligning with the MEFs by providing liaison officer teams to provide that coordination.

      I think Civil affairs is vital, but it should have remained a US Army Reserve thing.

    2. I noticed a great comment at the end of that article, about the 8000 Army Reservists available to perform this non-Marine mission.

      BG(Ret) Bruce Bingham • a year ago
      The author could have better presented his case for Marine Corps CA by including the synergistic benefits in training and doctrine of Army Civil Affairs and its USACAPOC command and schoolhouse resources. As the former CG of USACAPOC from 1997 to 2001, I coordinated effective joint training with the 4th CAG, helped them into their earliest deployments overseas, and welcomed Marine Corps CA into the CA Association where it continues to be a major contributor today. It was frankly surprising to read an article of this length and depth and not see a single reference to the 8,000 Army reserve CA force or a single recommendation for mission coordination, joint or counterpart training, and sharing of lessons learned and AO knowledge. Stove-piping CA into individual services is a non-starter and misses the chance to advance CA across the entire force.

    3. "CNO, bet your opinion of the Marines would change if the Corps returned to its Raider roots"

      My "opinion" of the Marines is irrelevant to this discussion. The issue is the need for amphibious assault and I've made the case that there is no need for major assault capability.

      I'm not quite sure what you mean by a return to raider roots. Feel free to expand on that.

    4. The article in the link explains the raider roots concept well. Basically, it is a return to amphibious infantry with some armor, artillery and air as enablers. The author uses the example of Royal Marines with artillery support but says it must go beyond that. The concept of being amphibious allows us to bring bigger guns to the fight than air delivery such as tanks. A return to such roots would be much more infantry focused with less fast mover aircraft and no carrier aviation commitments or any other duplicated capability. The author even mentions sending administrative tasks back into Navy support functions like Corpsmen and medical currently is. Such a focus would be very expeditionary and every Marine would be on a training timeline to eventually be part of a Raider company. There would be a progression in a career: start in a track company, then small boat, then para/helicopter, then Raider.

    5. The article you linked is behind a login wall and I'm unable to view it so I can't comment on it.

      A return to infantry focus is exactly what the Marines are doing, along with aviation. They're dropping tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment in favor of light infantry.

      My question, which no one has yet answered, is what can light infantry accomplish in a peer war? Light infantry, with no heavy weapons support or armor, is another name for suicide on the modern battlefield. When the enemy begins raining down heavy mortar and artillery fire, light infantry in unprotected vehicles will be decimated.

      What do you see light infantry doing in a peer war?

    6. Sorry about the paywall because I don't see it when I visit the site.
      Your comment about light infantry is spot on. If light infantry is all we needed, everyone would be SEALS and Rangers. Additionally, making ships for light infantry is expensive and pointless when light infantry can be deployed quickly and cheaply via parachute.
      Marines have to up the infantry game WITH heavier support such as tanks/artillery/CAS that makes up the successful combined arms package that can only be delivered by amphib. Tanks and artillery can be air dropped but in way too small numbers and with virtually no ammo or fuel and only an amphibious ship allows grunts/helicopters/cannons/armor to all be in the same place for planning and rehearsals while ready offthe coast of a hot spot.
      Marines of the past were successful because of infantry skills with a combined arms focus. Everything that does not support the infantry in a combined arms environment needs to be considered for elimination or farming outside the USMC. For example, Marine success is not because of its great aviation but because its aviation supports infantry; this would call for Harriers and Propeller CAS from an amphib that is co-located with the Marines making the assault instead of F-18s and others that need to be on a CVN or runway. Likewise, cyber is a vital mission but it is much better done by the USAF who is tasked with the mission.
      Marines should focus on Infantry, amtracks, artillery, rockets, helo lift, rotary CAS, fixed wind CAS, etc and divert admin, CA, Cyber, fast fixed wings, etc understanding that if capabilities are selected wisely the bang for the buck increases and calls for cuts go away.

  5. I agree with your logic, but I think that the Marines, as much as it pains me to say, have become a very political force. Their plans (F-35B's forward deployed, amphibious assault with fewer tanks, or any at all) don't make sense.

    Yet they still capture the imagination of Congress to the point where they can not be forced to accept Hornets, have to have the Osprey and the F-35, and have a crap ton of people.

    They punch way above their weight in terms of resource acquisition, it seems.

    I'm not sure how they have so much political clout. But I think any idea to cut them back would be a non starter.

    I've had Family in the Corps. I love the Corps traditions. But I think in many ways time has caught up to them and instead of transforming operationally they are transforming politically.

  6. Concerning the comment, "Remember that the USA required over two years to mobilize and deploy forces to invade Normandy in 1944.” But, let's also remember we conducted Operation Torch, landing 2 armored and 2 infantry divisions, within a year of the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entry into WWII.

    1. Let's also remember that the Torch landings were conducted without any Marines - the U.S. forces were all Army. If you want to draw an inference from that, it would be that we don't need Marines in order to conduct amphibious assaults. Likewise, Normandy involved no Marines.

      What these facts suggest is that all we need is enough amphibious capability to maintain and exercise our amphibious doctrine and tactics. If needed, we can quickly reconstitute the necessary forces and they don't have to be Marines.

      Do not interpret this as my being anti-Marine. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm anti-useless capabilities. I'm strongly pro-port seizure Marines and pro-core amphibious capability.

    2. My comment was meant to offer an example of a large-scale amphibious operation performed relatively soon after entering WWII. Normandy was a once-in-a-millenia operation, requiring never before seen preparation, in a world war that we're not likely ever to see again. I wasn't trying to make a case against the Marines and I certainly didn't think you were either.

      Based on your recent posts, it comes down to how much amphibious capability do we need and what force structure best provides that capability.

      Six ships for 2 MEU's doesn't seem to be enough.
      Though, I'm not sure was is. But, if port seizures is a core capability, then we're certainly need more than 6 ships.

      The Marines have historically been our "911" force and I think its important to keep them forward deployed. Maybe what is needed is a unit smaller than an MEU and more aviation centric, a unit that could be deployed on a single LHA or LHD.

    3. "Six ships for 2 MEU's doesn't seem to be enough.
      Though, I'm not sure was is."

      I hate comments like this. You say 6 ships is not enough but you don't know why. So, for all you know, 6 ships may be too many! Why don't you think about it, research it, and come up with an actual need-based assessment, rather than a feeling, and let me know.

    4. "if port seizures is a core capability, then we're certainly need more than 6 ships."

      You base this assessment on what? Perhaps 6 ships is too many? Again, develop an operational concept and then see what is required and let me know.

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    1. You are not grasping the geopolitical and military threats to the U.S. The major threats are Russian conquest of Europe, Chinese conquest of the Pacific rim and stranglehold over half the world, Iranian terrorism, and NKorean nuclear menace. Three of those four require a land based response to neutralize the threats. Only the Chinese threat can be countered via naval and air power and that only if we act sooner rather than later. If we wait too long, we'll need troops to go take back land.

      Three of our four main threats ARE LAND BASED!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Wow! That's some ... unusual ... threat assessment. You're welcome to your opinion.

  8. Russia has no desire or resources to invade Europe, which is why Europeans refuse to increase military spending as they ignore the Russian threat propaganda common in the USA.

    The biggest threat to Europe is the real invasion by Africans and Muslims, now flowing at the rate of over one million a year. Swedes now joke that they welcome a Russian invasion to rid them of their corrupt government and Muslim hordes terrorizing citizens.

    1. I think Russia has a very real desire to seize Europe, starting with the former Soviet states but I'm just speculating. I hope you will consider working for the President as a geopolitical adviser given your absolute certainty about Russian intentions. I know the rest of us are utterly unsure what Russia intends! I guess you knew Russia would seize Crimea and conduct a proxy invasion of Ukraine? What will they do next? I ask because they've thus far fooled the rest of the world except for you!

      That said, you make an excellent point about the Muslim invasion.

  9. I am "averting my eyes" from the last two posts because I cannot argue at all with your logic or your recommendations re the USMC and the fantasy of amphibious assault above the SOCEX level missions (battalion size) they supposedly can do today....

    I am embarrassed for the Corps on the one hand because they cling to themselves and their dogmatic views re the reality of amphibious assault at the expense of the rest of the services, especially today when warships and fighter, attack and ISR aircraft for the US Navy and the US Air Force that really can perform are needed more than ever..Read the stories out the last two days re the "Modern Day Marine military expo in Quantico Thursday". They besmirch themselves. they seem to view warfare through their own lens depending on only one other service the US Navy to transport them point to point at sea and provide medical/dental services for them...only.

    On the other hand, you know something, they might just continue this "charade" with Mattis and Kelly in the administration...Gen Neller simply mixes the "bug juice" they all drink...




    1. "they might just continue this "charade" with Mattis and Kelly"

      This goes back to my favorite overarching theme - the lack of a geopolitical and associated military strategy. Without those, we're just all guessing at what capabilities we need. Do we even need amphibious assault capability? Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on what our geopolitical and military strategies are. Since we don't have any coherent guidance from a strategy, anyone can make any argument for any force structure they want. So, why wouldn't Mattis and Kelly continue the status quo? There's nothing to argue against it except some isolated observers/strategists such as myself.

      When I do the research for these posts (yes, I actually research them!) I try not to have too many preconceived ideas (very difficult) and try very hard not to let the preconceived notions that I do have sway my conclusions. In other words, to paraphrase someone I admire greatly, I try to let the data guide the research and draw the conclusions.

      I love the Marine Corps (or what the Corps used to be). I don't want to see them wither away but the data, trends, decisions, and conclusions are inescapable, if disappointing.

  10. Again some peace of fine unconventional thinking.

    But what about IF (and I know that you sadi no IF's) some power emerged as a rival? Japan could decide to stand with China or Turkey could leave NATO and practice foreign policy which would be against US interests. Both countries could do this in 20 years timeframe.

    1. Canada and Mexico could simultaneously launch land invasions into the U.S.

      What if aliens from space land on the moon and use it as a base to attack the U.S.? We need to start building moon assault spaceships right now!

      The world of "if" is fun!

      Okay, that's enough mocking "if". You see why I said no "if" - it's unlimited because in the world of "if", literally anything is possible so you'd have to defend against anything imaginable, no matter how unlikely.

      "If" some major, unforeseeable shift in world geopolitical alignment occurs then we'll adjust our force structure. That kind of major shift doesn't happen overnight. It takes years.


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