Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Separate Aviation From Amphibious

During WWII, amphibious troop delivery to the beach was provided by small, specialized transport ships, the attack transports (AP/APA).  The APA carried two dozen reusable landing craft that were stored above deck and launched over the side.  Thus, the full internal volume of the ship was available for troop and supply storage instead of needing a voluminous well deck.

The other distinguishing feature of the APA compared to today’s amphibious ship was the absence of any aviation capability.  True, the helo had not yet been developed but it would have been possible to build a combination carrier-troop transport, just as we have today, and yet the ship designers opted not to do that for a variety of reasons.

I don’t claim to know the thinking of ship designers of that time but here are a few considerations that I would assume impacted their thought process and which should impact ours, today:

Volume of Firepower Delivery – Aviation simply can’t provide the volume of explosives delivery required to support an assault.  An aircraft, then or now, is limited to a small handful of bombs/missiles and can generate, at most, a few sorties per day before maintenance needs ground the aircraft.  Pilot rest is also a factor.  So, three sorties per day per aircraft is simply, woefully inadequate when the requirement is for continuous bombardment for days on end.

That being the case, that aviation can’t even begin to provide the requisite firepower delivery, why design a ship dedicated to that purpose?  Firepower delivery was left to the heavy gunned naval ships and aircraft chipped in when and where they could.

Yes, aircraft can supply small scale, close air support to ground forces (weather and aircraft availability permitting, of course, and assuming no enemy air forces in the vicinity) for use against a few, specific targets but that hardly justifies the expense of a dedicated aviation-centric amphibious-troop ship.

Fleet Defense – No fleet, no assault.  The fleet’s existence comes first.  Thus, ALL available aircraft will be used for establishing air superiority, first and foremost.  The aircraft of WWII and those of today had, and will have, as their primary responsibility, fleet defense.  Today’s LHA/LHDs, with their F-35Bs, will be tied up fighting for air space and defending the fleet in any peer defended assault scenario.  Those F-35Bs will not be available for ground support – not that a handful of F-35Bs constitute an significant firepower delivery, anyway.  Later, days or weeks into the assault, when air superiority has been established, the F-35s will become available for ground support but, of course, by that time it won’t matter.  The assault will have already succeeded or failed.

Risk Dispersal – Today’s LHA/LHD encompasses 1500 troops, their supplies, ship to shore connectors, F-35Bs, combat helos, transport helos, medical facilities, etc.  That’s a LOT to risk in a single ship.  WWII ship designers were all about dispersal of risk.  This alone dictates to any reasonable force designer that the aviation and troop transport functions should not co-exist in a single ship.  The risk is too geat.  Lose an LHA/LHD and you lose a third+ of a MEU plus most of the MEU’s aviation assets.  That’s a foolish risk to take.

Cost – A WWII APA was just a short term (term of the war) troop transport.  Indeed, many were converted from commercial liners.  The purpose built APAs were bare bones, no frills, troop transports.  Troop comfort was not a consideration, nor was ship longevity.  These APAs were not the glorified luxury cruise ships of today.  APAs were quick, easy, and cheap to build.  Adding an aviation capability would only drive up cost and reduce the number of vessels that could be built.  Then, as now, the addition of aviation would either cut the troop and cargo capacity in half or double the size of the ship. 

Troop Delivery Efficiency – As noted, APAs stored their landing craft (ship to shore connectors, as we now refer to them;  aside: when you start giving basic functions fancy names, you know you’ve lost sight of what’s important) above deck, launched them over the sides, and disembarked the troops over the side.  This method allowed for the carry of large numbers of landing craft without impacting troop capacity by taking up precious internal volume with well decks.  The addition of a flight deck to an APA would have forced the landing craft to be stored internally or, in reduced numbers, in boat pockets on the ship’s sides.  The LHA/LHD of today demonstrate this with their landing craft (those that even have them!) carried in large well decks.  Proponents might argue that the well deck allows easier, more efficient loading of the landing craft.  This may or may not be true.  An APA could load two dozen landing craft with troops in a remarkably short time and all of them nearly simultaneously.  Today’s amphibious ships can certainly load their landing craft easier but is degree of ease really the issue in combat?  The real question, though, becomes whether the benefits of a well deck (if there are any) outweight the immense loss of internal volume, larger resulting ship size, increased cost of ship construction, and lengthened construction times?

Flexibility – Troop and cargo transport requires that the ship be in a specific location for the duration of the assault unloading.  In contrast, aviation works best when the carrier is free to roam and able to take the best position for whatever task is at hand.  Thus, the two functions are almost diametrically opposed as far as what each needs the host ship to do.  A carrier/transport that is tied to a specific location can’t reposition to meet an enemy assault without abandoning its troop and cargo landing responsibility.  Shades of Guadalcanal ! 

With the above considerations in mind and the lessons of WWII firmly in hand, we have to ask, does it make sense to combine aviation and troop transport in one ship?  The answer seems clear – aviation and troop/cargo transport should be separated.  

Return To Troop Transports

We need to return to smaller, cheaper, easier to build APA type troop transports.  I would go so far as to say we should abandon the LCAC and return to a modern version of the venerable Higgins boat landing craft – but that’s a topic for another post.  These modern APAs should not be cruise ships.  They should not be sent on peacetime deployments.  They should be war vessels - manned and operated when needed but otherwise left pierside in idle status.  If we design such a ship and keep it cheap and quick/easy to build, we don’t even need to keep many in service.  We can simply build them when war comes and just keep enough in service to maintain an institutional knowledge of how to operate them.

The separated aviation component should be simply our standard carriers.  As we noted, the first responsibility of any aviation component is fleet defense so it makes the most sense to leave the aircraft with the aircraft carrier.  When air superiority has been established, the carrier air wing can turn its attention to ground support.  That would provide far more ground support aircraft than the half dozen F-35Bs that a LHA/LHD carries and, after all, isn’t that why the Marines have been so insistent on having their own aviation assets – to ensure and maximize the number of aircraft supporting the ground force?

Optionally, given the shrunken size of our air wings, a additional one or two squadrons of strike aircraft could be added to the regular carrier air wing, specifically to conduct ground support (you know, when not needed for fleet defense!).

USS Nimitz - 1997
Put Amphibious Aviation Back Onto Carriers In The Form Of Extra Squadrons
Get Back To 90+ Aircraft

The only sticking point is the Marine’s desire for attack and transport helos.  For this, it might make sense to have a very small, dedicated helo carrier.  Such a ‘carrier’ would not be a conventional carrier in any sense of the word.  Instead, it would be, essentially, a converted commercial cargo ship with a flat deck  As with the troop transports, it would be a no-frills, non-deployed vessel that is kept pierside other than for training.  Again, just a few are needed to maintain institutional knowledge.

An alternative might be to design a smaller, full-fledged carrier intended to carry a ground support air wing which would include attack aircraft and helos.  The problem with this approach is it provides a much less capable and flexible air wing at nearly the same cost as a regular carrier.

The current path of $4B combined aviation and troop ships is unaffordable and inefficient.  We also need to abandon the peacetime cruise ship mentality, cease deployments, and return to building utilitarian WARships.


  1. The Bayfield and Haskell-class APAs were the most numerous classes by far with 34 and 117 completed respectively. Their full-load displacements were 16,100 and 14,837 tons and they nominally carried 19 and 17 landing craft respectively (i.e., craft in the LCVP and LCM size range). Both were designed to accommodate about 1,500 landing troops.

    The Whidbey Island/Harper's Ferry-class dock landing ships displace about 16,740 tons at full load and can carry up to 21 LCM-6 landing craft (roughly the same size as WWII-era LCMS) in the well deck and can offload 4 craft over-the-side via the crane amidships. The Whidbey's however, can nominally accommodate only 500 marines, which may not necessarily be a bad thing if you're looking to disperse risk to a greater degree than provided by the APAs. The Whidbey's, however, also have a roughly 250-foot helicopter deck that could, in theory, accommodate additional containerized living quarters or supplies.

    While the San Antonios are significantly larger than the WWII APAs, the Whidbey's and the derivative Harper's Ferry-class are similarly sized to the APAs and can carry 21 LCMs as opposed to a mixture of 17-19 LCMs and smaller LCVPs. The well-deck is also advantageous in that the troops don't have to risk injury in climbing over the side with their overloaded rucks and vehicles can be more easily pre-loaded onto LCMs or staged in the empty, dry well deck and roll directly onto LCMs via the stern ramp of the well deck after the LCMs return from the beach. The Whidbey Island and Harper's Ferry classes appear to be the spiritual successors to the APAs with the advantages of a well deck and modest aviation facilities. If the San Antonios are too big, a modest update to the Harper's Ferry-class would fit well with historical precedent.

    - Wavewalker

  2. "I would go so far as to say we should abandon the LCAC and return to a modern version of the venerable Higgins boat landing craft."

    Troops don't land ashore by themselves, they land with tanks and other armored vehicles to enable the infantry to move inland and off the beach. Without the LCAC, how do you land heavy equipment like tanks, trucks, and artillery? The LCU-1600/1700 series of landing craft are capable of transporting an Abrams tank, but are much longer and far slower han an LCAC.

    I agree we need a modern Higgins boat, one built with greater speed and maneuverability, compared to its WWII ancestor. Putting aside the survivability of the LCAC for the moment, the LCAC or something like it, is needed to move heavy equipment ashore during the first waves of an amphibious landing.

    1. "Troops don't land ashore by themselves, they land with tanks and other armored vehicles"

      No, during the time when armor would really help, meaning the initial waves, troops do, indeed, land by themselves. As you note, the LCAC is used to transport tanks but the LCAC is doctrinally eliminated from the initial assault due to survivability concerns and the very limited number of LCACs available. Thus, tanks and other armor cannot come ashore until the landing area has been secured at which point they're no longer needed. It's a Catch-22.

      We need a single tank transport craft that is cheap and survivable to get tanks ashore in the initial assault waves. If we have such a thing, the LCAC isn't really needed. At that point, after the landing site is secured, an LST makes far more sense as it can transport many times more vehicles, troops, and cargo than LCACs.

    2. At Omaha Beach, amphibious tanks were launched at sea and were scheduled to arrive just ahead of the landing craft. Many were lost at sea which contributed to the high losses there.

      In the Pacific, the Marines used LVTs, many armed with machine guns, to land the first troops ashore. Later model LVTs were armed with a 75mm howitzer. Today, we use the AAV-7s to land troops and provide fire support, though limited it might be.

      We have a limited ability to land armor in the initial waves of an amphibious assault which needs to be improved. As you noted below, China has amphibious armor, including a light tank, a capability the Marines ought to develop.

    3. We've posted on this. For example, see, "LVT(A)-4

    4. One odd possibility for a starting point for an LVT might be the offshore support ships used by the offshore. Flat decks capable of 400 tons, there are some new fast vessels that even go up to 30 knots. Azipods fore could enable it to back up to the shore for roll off unloading instead of complicated now doors. A SeaRam or CIWS fore and aft of wheel guns, or mounted on removable containers would provide defense. We might lengthen the wheelhouse to add more space for bunks, but as you said, they aren’t going to be there for long tours. In fact, we could just transfer crews from another vessel A few days before their arrival.
      The crews could be MSC, with USN crews boarded for the weapons.
      I know “ commercial standards” was a flop with the LSC, but OSV’s built pretty sturdy for dependable service in hard weather especially ones built for the North Atlantic. Canadian ones are even ice-hardened.

    5. My fingers typed LVT but I meant LST.

    6. Does anyone remember the M50 Ontos?

      It was rather ungainly looking and one loader for 6 recoiless rifles seems like a stretch. But, it seemed to work for its time.

      Amphibious armor is generally slow in the water, the AAAV-7 can make 7 knots at sea. Some Chinese amphibious armor use water jets and can make 25 knots. Considering the ranges that we plan to launch an amphibious assault, speed on the water is the problem that needs to be fixed.

    7. "Considering the ranges that we plan to launch an amphibious assault, speed on the water is the problem that needs to be fixed."

      Or … the other option is we need to fix the range and return to near shore assault points.

      Regarding speed on the water, you'll recall that the EFV was an attempt at exactly that and it failed.

      Further regarding speed, even 25 kts is unacceptable if you're launching from 25+ miles out. Even 25 kts has the troops inside a small, closed in compartment, pitching and rolling for over an hour. That's a 100% guarantee that the troops will be in no condition to fight when they get to the beach. They'll be physically incapacitated from seasickness. This has been demonstrated repeatedly. This is why, in our so-called amphibious exercises, we always launch the AAVs from inside the horizon - generally about a mile or so offshore. We know that our doctrine of launching from 25-50 miles is pure fantasy.

      So, I see speed as less the issue than distance unless you can come up with 50+ kt speed.

    8. The EFV failed for a variety of technical and programmatic reasons and, last I knew, the unit cost were exceeding $15 million dollars making it totally unaffordable. But, she flew on the water.

      But, to your point, getting closer to shore also means you're closer to getting shot at. So, you certainly don't want to risk putting a $3 billion LHA close to shore.

    9. "So, you certainly don't want to risk putting a $3 billion LHA close to shore."

      This addresses two potential issues.

      1. If we're building ships that are too expensive to risk doing the very task they were built for then we're designing inappropriately.

      2. Who says we can't put ships close to shore? We did it throughout WWII and succeeded. If Aegis/ESSM is as capable as we claim, missiles should not be a problem. If we would build counterbattery-capable ships then shore artillery wouldn't be a problem either.

    10. 1. I mostly agree with that. Compared to the past, we build fewer ships today, and because of that we build multifunctional ships compared to single purpose ships of the past which drives up their cost.

      2. A decent peer enemy could put a lot of antiship missiles along their coastline. And, depending on the terrain, they could be very difficult to identify and defeat. Plus, there are threats from the air, including ballistic missiles, and, potentially, mines and submarines to deal with.

      I don't know how good AEGIS is, but given the threats of today, many of which didn't exist 75 years ago, operating close to shore, like we did in WWII is a risky proposition. It makes control of the air even more important.

    11. "I don't know how good AEGIS is, but given the threats of today, many of which didn't exist 75 years ago, operating close to shore, like we did in WWII is a risky proposition."

      OF COURSE IT'S RISKY!!!!!!! Risk is kind of what war is. If you risk nothing, you win nothing. This is one of the problems that our society, our military observers/commentators, and our professional military have developed over the decades of peace and very low end conflicts. We've developed a risk-averse mentality. We've come to think we can win a war with zero casualties and no risk.

      During WWII, amphibious assault planners might, for example, look at a proposed assault plan and say, okay, that will work. It will cost us 10,000 casualties but we'll seize the objective. They understood that gain required risk which meant casualties.

      Can you even contemplate that kind of thought process today? Contemplating AND ACCEPTING 10,000 casualties as an acceptable price for the objective? You're reluctant to place a ship too close to shore, even if it means we can't execute an assault the right way, because the ship MIGHT get hit. With due respect, that's no way to approach a war.

      Now, our WWII fathers did not propose human wave tactics, and neither am I, but they understood that there was a price to be paid to beat a peer enemy.

      What you should have said, regarding ships in close, is that there is risk so we should put more ships in close to deal with the threat, WE SHOULD BE DESIGNING THE SHIPS TO DEAL WITH THE THREAT (armor, close in weapon systems, more crew for the expected attrition, better damage control, etc.), we should have replacements ready to take their place, and, most importantly, we should be applying MASSIVE firepower to eliminate or suppress the threat that you're so afraid of before it can even fire/launch at us (yeah, that's what battleships and heavy cruisers did - they suppressed enemy fire so that transports could stand in near shore; where's our heavy naval guns?). THAT'S HOW YOU DEAL WITH RISK.

      Don't react with anger to my comment. Instead, seriously think for a few moments about the extreme risk averse mentality we've adopted and how it's almost eliminated our ability to wage EFFECTIVE war.

      Even if we had the equipment, would we even attempt a D-Day landing today given the risk averse attitudes we have? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't.

  3. Does going to troops transport mean no more AAVs ?
    Can the Marine buy a MICV that isn't compromised
    by having to swim ?

    1. I would eliminate AAVs in favor of landing craft, amphibious tanks, and amphibious infantry fighting vehicles. The AAV, you'll note, has no significant combat capability.

      The Chinese have some very nice amphibious armor vehicles so there's no reason why the Marines could not or should not have the same.

  4. On point. For a modern lesson on risk dispersal, Google "Falklands war, Atlantic Conveyor."

  5. One of the big problems with APA's as well as our aviation assault model is that they are both light infantry centric. Against a balanced armor/ infantry force they get murdered. They are only useful when the enemy has no armor or in areas that massively constrain armor, such as swamps, mountains and mangrove forests.

    1. The best solution I can think of for our connector problem is to ditch the connectors altogether and use LST's as the mainstay of our amphibious assault capacity. Beef up the point defenses (Phalanx, etc.) and make absolutely certain you have all the requisite support vessels (fire support, MCM, AAW, so on).

    2. The problem with an LST in the initial assault is that it represents a LOT of risk (lots of troops, vehicles, cargo) in a very large, slow target. This is why they were not used in the initial landings during WWII.

    3. " light infantry centric."

      I find it fascinating that the entire history of WWII amphibious operations was the drive to get more firepower and armor ashore in the initial waves. Despite these lessons, learned and paid for in blood, we are moving in the exact opposite direction, as you point out. Truly baffling.

      China, on the other hand, has some very nice amphibious tanks and armor. They seem to be heeding our WWII lessons better than we are.

    4. "They seem to be heeding our WW2 lessons better than we are."

      Its cause they have no experience in that area, so it would appear they are taking a look at the problem academically and drawing their own conclusions without bias.

      If what I heard is true, apparently their domestic car hauling ships are designed with larger the required space that could accommodate armoured vehicles. CNO, you hear anything about that?

    5. Yes, it's no secret. There have been many articles about it. China builds military usefulness into every merchant ship. This includes sizing, fittings, electrical/computer interfaces, etc. Every merchant ship is designed to be converted to military use, if needed. It's a very good system and one we should emulate.

    6. Perhaps we could pay a subsidy to have them built that way. If we paid enough of a subsidy to offset the foreign cost advantage, it might also be a way to keep American shipyards in business.

    7. You hit at the heart of the matter. We need to consider whether we consider shipbuilding to be a national strategic interest. If so, we need to either

      1. Provide subsidies and support of some type or,
      2. Drastically alter the regulatory environment so as to strengthen the shipbuilding industry by allowing it to flourish on its own or,
      3. Both

      If we consider the shipbuilding industry to be of strategic importance then we also need to invest, or encourage private investment via regulator reform, in infrastructure such as new yards, cranes, drydocks, et.

      Very good comment and point.

  6. With commemoration of D-day, been wondering how much Ike would have used helicopters on D-day? Sure he would have used them if available back then but something tells me they would have been used on the sidelines, small feints, sure for medevac....but anything more than that? I doubt it. Maybe we are putting too much focus on helicopters and air power, its necessary but not too the detriment of everything else.

    1. The Soviet experience in Afghanistan, our experience in Vietnam, and our experience in Afghanistan has proven conclusively that helos are valuable combat assets but with a very high attrition rate. Very high. And those experiences were against low end, third world enemies rather a peer. I don't think that suggests routine use. Instead, it suggests a very selective use under very particular conditions. Whether its worth maintaining large helo units for that limited use is debatable.

      I shudder to imagine the slaughter among helos in a peer war.

    2. I think 1 in 6 soldiers involved in Overlord were airborne.
      But, that was a pretty special case.

    3. "I think 1 in 6 soldiers involved in Overlord were airborne."

      The airborne effort is in line with my comment about the very high attrition rate among helos and airborne ops throughout history. Wiki reports 42 C-47 lost in two days of drops. I don't know how many aircraft were actually used.

  7. Agree totally with the idea to separate aviation from the amphibious force. Believe it or not, that is exactly the line of thinking that led me eventually to the idea of converting our LHA/LHDs to CVLs. Based on my own experience in the gator navy, I don’t like LHA/LHD concept, nor the idea of conducting an assault by standing 25-50 miles offshore and flying everything in. As you noted, putting 1500 men plus all that equipment plus everything else into one hull is poor risk management, since you can destroy the entire assault with one torpedo or one rocket.

    As far as the ComNavOps LPA proposal, I certainly think there’s a place for them. But I think if you put all your eggs in that basket, then I don’t think you have any way to carry or land the tanks and heavy artillery and other big stuff that are essential. You talk about cheap and our ability to build them if we need them in a peer war. But I don’t really see a peer war lasting long enough to build very many. In my future phib group, I would envision some sort of LPA/LKA combination, with some of troops traded for equipment in the holds.

    Do I expect a future Normandy/Guadalcanal type opposed landing? Not against Russia or China, maybe against Iran, but that’s not the only kind of operation where amphibs and landing forces are useful. It is extremely valuable, both strategically and tactically, to be able to get both troops and equipment ashore however the situation may demand—fly them in by helo, land them by boat, or in the right situation, drive a T up to the beach and let them drive off the bow ramp.

    Here is what I think we need for an amphib squadron:

    Type Cost ($ millions) Troops Delivery Method
    San Carlos LHA/LHD $1300 913 Air, boat
    Mistral LPH 800 900 Helo, boat
    Albion LPD/LSD 400 710 Boat, helo
    LPA/LKA 350 1000 Boat
    LST 350 400 Boat, beaching
    $3200 3923

    Compare that with an America class LHA ($3.4 billion, 1700 troops), plus a San Antonio class LPD ($2 billion, 700 troops), plus a Harpers Ferry-class LSD ($300 million, 500 troops). For about 60% of the cost, the proposed phibron would lift 25% more troops, and have multiple platforms to spread the risk and to be in more places at once.

    So how many should we have? We sort of need to have enough of them to put one or more them wherever they might be needed, and to lift the number of troops required. The problem is that we never know exactly what we need. The Marines want a lift capacity of 50,000 troops and their equipment. Ten phibrons composed above would give you almost 40,000, which falls short of the target (which may itself be too high), but is still about 10,000 more than the capacity of the current LHA/LHD/LPD/LSDs, for significantly less cost. We could have one deployed to WestPac, one to the Indian Ocean, one to Europe/Med, and one in transit, with two on each coast in reserve and two in maintenance status.

    What would I do with the current LHAs, LHDs, LPDs, and LSDs? As noted above, I’d convert the LHA/LHDs to CVLs. I’d convert the LPDs to the ABM ships that have ben proposed for that hull. And I’d let the LSDs continue as amphibs until the ends of their useful lives.

    And totally unrelated, but just FYI, I’d give the LCSs to the Coast Guard. They might be glad to have them and might actually be able to find a use for them.

  8. That table didn't post correctly. I hope you can figure it out.

    Note: For the LPA/LKA, I am assuming some troop space on the LPA would be given up for equipment storage in the hold, so I have reduced the number of troops by 1/3 from a Paul Revere LPA.

  9. What do you want to do?

    It sounds like an obvious question, but its kinda ground breaking

    If, you want to land 1500 light infantrymen, the APA is a pretty great way to do it.
    But do you want to?

    Its an unpopular view, but I think the Army Armoured Brigade Combat Team is a more realistic landing force.
    25 tanks and 50 IFVs to crack the beach, possibly then LAVS and HMMVs to exploit any break through.

    1. "I think the Army Armoured Brigade Combat Team is a more realistic landing force."

      I agree, in concept. The problem is how to get them ashore? We have no survivable delivery system. LCACs and LCUs are doctrinally relegated to follow on supply rather than initial attack wave use. That's not my opinion, that's the Navy/Marine doctrine. So, how do you get those 25 tanks and 50 IFVs ashore?

    2. It is mind boggling that the USMC as structured, continues to be funded.

      A USA Heavy brigade combat team (post 2010) would have two combined arms battalions (CAB) each with about 28 x M1 tanks, 16 x M109 howitzers and 31 M2/M3 IFV/scout AFVs.

      I disagree with the organization, but note that this formation, and more particularly its Sino/Russian equivalents, would absolutely mop the floor with a USMC "middle-weight" infantry formation.

      Infantry has its uses, but outside of limited situations, throwing infantry in the way of enemy armor equals more casualties, not more effectiveness.

      The trick is how to get them into a fight. This explains why the U.S. Army is a huge proponent for overseas basing - lack of confidence in the Navy!


    3. "That's not my opinion, that's the Navy/Marine doctrine. So, how do you get those 25 tanks and 50 IFVs ashore?"

      Change the doctrine and have them as first wave landers.


      Your 1,500 men land via higgins boats, backed up by, 30 plus gunships, whos job is to take and hold enough beach long enough to land the heavies.

    4. "Change the doctrine and have them as first wave landers."

      The doctrine of excluding LCAC/LCU from the initial assault waves is for a reason. They are not survivable. As we've demonstrated in past posts, if even just a few such craft are lost, the entire assault fails for lack of transportation of the follow on supplies.

      "Your 1,500 men land via higgins boats, backed up by, 30 plus gunships"

      When you say gunships, I assume you mean helo gunships (Cobras). Actual AC-130 gunships would have nowhere to base and operate from and gunships are utterly non-survivable over a contested battlefield.

      Regarding helos, in every combat scenario in modern (helo) times, helos have suffered enormous losses. They are simply not survivable over modern battlefields and would be even less so over a peer defended, modern battlefield.

    5. "if even just a few such craft are lost, the entire assault fails for lack of transportation of the follow on supplies."

      Build more of them,
      If you have 10, the loss of 1 is a catastrophe, if you land three Brigades, 75 per Brigade, enough should survive to keep the supplies flowing over the beach.

      "They are simply not survivable over modern battlefields and would be even less so over a peer defended, modern battlefield."
      I wouldn't expect their losses to be any higher than those of dismounted infantry lugging anti tank missiles over a beach under fire.

    6. "Build more of them, "

      The problem is they aren't trans-oceanic capable so they must be housed in an amphibious ship with a well dock. Our amphibs are max'ed out in LCAC load at just a two or three depending on the ship class. So, building more won't help unless we also build/buy a LCAC transport ship.

      "I wouldn't expect their losses to be any higher"

      Don't just ignore historical data. In Vietnam, our helo loss rate was 50% or so! The Soviets lost huge numbers of helos in Afghanistan. The US had an entire Apache unit ambushed and destroyed. And those were all against low level threats. Imagine the loss rates against a peer defender like China!

    7. "So, building more won't help unless we also build/buy a LCAC transport ship."
      Some sort of bulk LCAC carrier.

      "Don't just ignore historical data. In Vietnam, our helo loss rate was 50% or so! "
      Yeah, thats about what the first wave on the beaches at Normandy lost as well


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