I’ve been waiting for this one for a while, now, and it’s finally happened. The Marines are deploying a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) without any tanks. Perhaps it’s happened before and I just didn’t notice. As noted in the May 2017 issue of Proceedings,
“Despite the maneuverability, lethality, and survivability that tanks provide, the 15th MEU will deploy without its battalion landing team’s (BLT’s) M1A1s. The unit will embark on the USS America (LHA-6), the USS San Diego (LPD-22), and the USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52); these ships lack adequate space for the unit’s equipment, driving the decision to deploy without the tanks.”
The article’s author goes on to note that, in addition to the obvious benefits of armor, firepower, infantry support, and survivability, tanks also offer a great deal of flexibility due to their dozer blades and mine plows which allow the tanks to create and remove obstacles, clear safe paths through mine fields, provide breeching capability under fire, etc.
The point of this post is not to analyze or extol the value of tanks but, rather, to note the insanely stupid decisions that have led to not having enough room for the MEU’s equipment and the highly questionable choice to leave the tanks behind.
Let’s start with the decision to remove the well deck from the LHA America. Without a well deck and LCAC, there’s no point loading a tank since you can’t unload it.
“To that end, its commanders [Col. Joseph Clearfield, commander of the 15th MEU] say, the 15th MEU/ARG remains a highly-capability and perhaps more flexible force. The lack of a well deck, often cited by critics in recent years, won’t diminish its combat and operational might, they said.” (1)
Losing the MEU’s entire tank platoon doesn’t diminish the MEU’s combat capability? Spin is one thing, lies are another.
|Nope - Didn't Bring 'Em|
There’s another aspect to all this and that is the Navy/Marine’s obsession with disaggregated Amphibious Ready Groups wherein the individual ships go their separate ways on deployment. What happens when the USS America, with no well deck and no connector craft, has to conduct a solo operation? If it requires nothing more than light infantry, they’ll be fine. If it requires a bit of heavy support, they won’t have any. In any single ship, contested operation, the aircraft will be largely tied up defending the ship and will be unavailable for ground support.
The Marines are supposed to be a medium weight force. Leaving the tanks behind and using an LHA without a well deck is just another step on the path to a pure light infantry force. Light infantry are not survivable on the modern battlefield.
If this MEU has to conduct a contested amphibious operation and the troops are being pounded and screaming for armored firepower, someone is going to have to tell the troops, “We didn’t bring the tanks.”
(1)USNI News website, “Navy, Marines to Test, Stretch Aviation-heavy USS America Before Deployment”, Gidget Fuentes,