Monday, June 29, 2020

The Final Nail

Here’s the final nail in the Marine Corps coffin, straight from the Commandant’s mouth.

First, a focus on a pacing threat that is both a maritime power and a nuclear power eliminates entirely the salience of large-scale forcible entry operations followed by sustained operations ashore. (1) [emphasis added]

There is no longer the slightest doubt.  This Commandant believes that amphibious assault is a dead concept.  Why?  Why would he think that?  Why would he believe that the [arguably] major reason for the Marine Corps is no longer applicable?

Well, we begin to get an understanding of the Commandant’s rationale for his radical changes in the following statement. 

… even if there were a strong and credible requirement for large-scale forcible entry operations, such operations could not be carried out in the face of an adversary that has integrated the technologies and disciplines of the mature precision strike regime. (1) [emphasis added]

There it is, in black and white, plain English.  The Commandant is prepared to give up without a fight!  He’s just plain scared.  He believes the enemy is invincible and there’s not a thing we can do to counter the enemy’s capabilities.  Apparently, he believes that we have no capabilities of our own that can even remotely approach those of the enemy.

This scared belief utterly flies in the face of history.  We faced daunting enemy defenses and capabilities at Normandy and a host of other places and managed to overcome them. 

Of course we can counter and defeat the enemy!  It just requires fortitude, determination, and strategic/operational competence.  This Commandant appears to lack all three qualities.

Even more disturbingly disappointing is the Commandant’s assessment of our ultimate chance of victory:

… given the geopolitical realities of today and the nature of China’s society and strategic culture, it is highly likely that even if we did have an answer for the challenges of amphibious power projection in a mature precision strike regime, this capability would not be sufficient to deter or prevent our pacing threat from accomplishing its objectives in regions we judge important to our national security. (1) [emphasis added]

In other words, the Commandant believes that our enemy’s technology is sufficient to eliminate any hope, whatsoever, of a successful offense AND that, despite having the same technology as our enemy, we have no hope of stopping his offense even though he can totally stop ours.

It’s one thing to have a realistic assessment of an enemy’s capabilities – I try to define that all the time in this blog – but it’s another to have a doomsday, defeatist view based on nothing but fear.

Shockingly, after the litany of doomsday statements, the Commandant has the gall to pretend that his vision of the Marines can accomplish something:

“… most ready when the Nation is least ready,” remains a central requirement in the design of our future force, and one which I will keep unflinchingly in mind as I oversee the next stage of wargaming, experimentation, and analysis that will work out many of the specific details. (1)

Despite believing, in his core, that there is absolutely nothing we can do to defeat the enemy, he believes that a stripped down Marine force of platoons is the Marines at the ‘most ready’????

Now, here’s a closing thought to ponder … If the Commandant truly believes that our entire military might has zero chance of victory, how does he think a handful of platoon size units will win the war?

Thank goodness this Commandant was not in charge of the Marines in WWII.  He’d have taken one look at the Japanese defenses on any of their islands, announced our inevitable defeat, and surrendered.  Of course, if he was in charge, he’d have been immediately fired for cowardice.

I thought I could not be more disappointed in this Commandant but I was wrong – badly wrong.



  1. "one which I will keep unflinchingly in mind as I oversee the next stage of wargaming,"

    So what happens when that next stage of wargaming occurs and this concept falls flat on its face (which it will, if the wargaming is realistic)?

    I still say this is all driven by the LHA/LHD. I will admit that I may be showing a bit of prejudice, because I was in the phib force when we first started building these, and we all thought it was a terrible idea to put almost all of your assault force on one ship. But it turns out to be even worse than that, because that one ship cannot get that assault force ashore as anything more than very light infantry.

    So the Commandant has two options 1) figure out some mission that such a force can do, or 2) preside over the dissolution of the Marine Corps. In Washington terms, that means come up with something, no matter how stupid it is, to keep the Corps going.

    I will grant him one positive with this latest idea. Putting one platoon-sized unit ashore, as opposed to a whole battalion with no artillery or armor, has the advantage of only getting one platoon killed rather than a whole battalion.

    1. "So what happens when that next stage of wargaming occurs and this concept falls flat on its face"

      You missed the key part of the quoted statement - the only part that's significant and relevant!!!!!!! Here it is:

      "as I oversee the next stage of wargaming"

      Here's the even shorter, absolute, key to the statement:

      "I oversee"

      Do you think there's any chance, whatsoever, that the wargames, which the Commandant will personally oversee, will demonstrate anything other than the complete and total proof of the brilliance of his own vision? Do you think the wargame that he oversees, personally, is going to demonstrate that he is wrong? Not a chance!!!!!

      Given the 100% foregone conclusion of the upcoming wargames, he should just skip them and save the money since he's already pre-ordained the results. But, I guess he has to go through the charade so that he can dutifully tell Congress that he has studied the issue and proved his genius with unbiased wargames. I'm laughing as I type this!!!!!!!!!

    2. Yes, true, a big part of the whole Washington game is to cook the results so you win. I did couch my observation with the caveat "if the wargaming is realistic."

      Do I think there is any chance that the wargame he oversees personally is going to demonstrate that he is wrong? Probably not. But some rogue actor might sneak in there on the enemy side and insert some realism. If the game gets shut down (and if we ever find that out) we will know what happened.

      I still feel sorry for the guy. He is in command of a long respected and honored force, which cannot do its historic mission from the Navy platforms on which it must depend. So he has two choices, come up with some mission that can be done from those platforms or watch his respected and honored force disappear in irrelevance.

      Now posit that in the context of the typical Beltway priority list, #1 my career, #2 my agency, and #3 doing the job we are supposed to do. With luck, he'll be retired before the lunacy of this proposal becomes exposed, so that takes care of #1. Given that he doesn't really have anywhere else to hang his hat, he's done about as well as can be expected with #2. As far as #3, well, it's #3 for a reason, and as long as he has taken care of #1 and #2, he'll come out relatively unscathed.

      I think he has come up with about the only mission that can be performed from an LHA/LHD-centric phib force. Unfortunately, about the only part that has a chance to succeed is getting them ashore from the LHA/LHD. And it's hard to imagine a platoon-sized unit having an impact that is meaningful, even if it does succeed. The force that gets ashore is somewhere between useless and meaningless.

      I go back to the Royal Marines, who faced similar issues in the 1970s. They reinvented themselves as a commando/special forces unit. I do think we need a larger commando/speical forces element to the US military than we have right now, particularly as long as we have to deal with rogue states and actors (which looks like a long time), but that might be on the order of 50,000, max, and you can't justify a 180,000-strong Marine Corps on a need for 50,000 Marines.

    3. "LHA/LHD-centric phib force"

      Well, you are single-mindedly focused on the LHA issue! However, you seem to have concluded that just because we have LHAs, WE CAN'T DO ANY MISSION. That's not quite right. It may mean that we can't do the amphib assault mission (or, at least not well) but it doesn't mean we can't simply set the LHAs aside (park 'em and forget 'em) and move on.

      I've suggested that the core mission of the Corps should be port seizure. If we think that doesn't require LHAs then let's get what it does require and get going.

      Similarly, if we want to conduct amphib assault and think the LHAs are preventing that, then park 'em and buy some cheap, commercial transport (WWII APA concept), fit them out for troop transport and get on with it.

      So, you seem to think that the Commandant has been forced into some corner from which he can't get out but the reality is that it's a simple move to just change equipment and keep going. Done intelligently, you'll save a boatload of money while doing it!

      Regarding the Royal Marine example, I'd be very cautious about emulating them. They are in a very different position than the US. The Royal Marines will never have to fight a major war so, sure, they can focus on small brush fires. The US, however, has to be ready to fight major, peer, global wars. Converting the Marines to a very light infantry (not much more than Boy Scouts with guns) for commando raids is completely abdicating the major war responsibility. We already have far more than enough special forces for the brush fires, especially if we'd stop jumping into every one we see.

      The Royal Marines number around 8,000. The existing US special forces number, what, around 80,000? And you want to convert the entire Marine Corps to special force status? Don't we already have enough?

    4. I would say that you just agreed with everything I've had to say on the subject.

      You can't do credible amphib assaults from LHAs/LHDs because all you can get ashore is, as you describe, effectively Boy Scouts with guns. So change equipment and keep going. But he doesn't have control of the equipment, the Navy does. I think you need more than just some cheap commercial APA-type ships. But if you give up the fixation on 20+ knots, you can build a pretty capable force pretty cheaply. You can build a whole PhibRon for less than the cost of one LHA/LHD. I've shown that. So you're right, you can save a boatload of money while building a more effective force.

      As far as the LHAs/LHDs themselves, this is the one place where we have some disagreement. That's a huge investment to just park and forget about. I would want to explore the CSBA proposal to add sponsons, an angled deck, and cats and traps, to turn them into modern small carriers. They are roughly comparable in size to the RN Audacious class, and could possibly be turned into something like Ark Royal, which operated 12 Phantoms, 14 Buccaneers, 4 AEW Gannets, and 8 helos. Even with minor work to convert the troop spaces and well deck to extra hangar space, they could operate as a, "Lightining Carrier," or RAND CV-LX, and provide more value than they can as an amphib.

      I agree, change equipment and keep going. That's what I've been saying, over and over. But that equipment belongs to the Navy, and as long as that's the case, yes, the Commandant is backed into a corner. I think that's one reason why he has been trying to horn in ons some things that should be Navy responsibilities, trying to force the issue.

      As far as the commando/special forces concept, I'm not suggesting that, but I think that may be where the Commandant is getting some of his ideas. The idea that we need more special forces was actually proposed by Senator Schumer, who is not considered by many to be a great military mind. While it may be sufficient to justify 8,000 Royal Marines, I don't see any way that it can justify a 150,000 USMC.

    5. And no, I'm not "single-mindedly focused" on the LHA/LHD issue. But I do see it as a problem for which we don't currently have a viable solution. Haven't you pretty much said as much yourself?

    6. I have said the LHAs offer no real benefit but my solution is to simply park 'em and forget 'em. Let 'em join the Spruances! I have no interest in trying to create a 'make work' LHA that is going to cost even more money and offer no credible major war capability.

    7. I just think it is prudent to explore options before you park a bunch of $3-4 billion investments.

    8. Of course it is. However, the only thing worse than parking a multi-billion dollar ship is continuing to operate it and paying never ending operational costs for an asset that offers no significant combat benefit. The operating costs could be put to far better use on something else. The Navy constantly (and wrongly!) claims that they don't have enough sailors to fill the fleet billets so why waste sailors manning a ship that offers no significant combat capability?

      The question you need to ask yourself is, is your LHA baby-carrier the best way to spend the money it would take to make the conversion and the best way to spend the operating costs and crew commitment? Or, are there other ships/assets that would offer more combat capability for the same money?

    9. "The question you need to ask yourself is, is your LHA baby-carrier the best way to spend the money it would take to make the conversion and the best way to spend the operating costs and crew commitment? Or, are there other ships/assets that would offer more combat capability for the same money?"

      I don't know the answers to those questions neither do you. That's why I say to explore the option. If it proves up then do it, if not don't.

      One thing to consider is that if you start parking $3B ships, then congress is going to ask questions and you may start not getting any money for anything. I'm already parking the Zumwalts and the LCSs because I can't even come up with a concept to use them. At least the LHAs/LHDs have a theoretical use. So study it to see if it is realistic.

    10. One point about the Royal Marines, as far as I can see, they did do more specialised combat, but only to the extent that they specialised Arctic warfare since they were pencilled in to reinforce the northern NATO flank. When they did the Falklands they did it off the back of a couple of LPDs and then pushed across the islands in a very traditional light infantry fashion (hand in hand with the UK paratroopers).

      They did a small scale amphibious landing in 03, but have spent most of the rest of time until now basically rotating through the UK ISAF contribution as 'just another infantry brigade'... I guess that is the similar complaint to the much larger USMC's 'second land army' moniker.

      So actually, now the RM are undergoing similar naval gazing exercises as the USMC, although along different priorities.

      It's called Future Commando Force, and involves the re-roling of the RM force along truly Commando Raiding lines. New uniforms (with, for the first time a white ensign patch to emphasis their Naval allegiance) and equipment including different rifles from that of the British Army, the idea is for the RM now to operate as basically Special Forces- I.e. a rung below true special forces and providing more mass. Its envisaged to have two forward deployed Littoral Raiding Groups, operating from either some of the RFA helo ships and then into some new platforms under the Littoral Strike Support program that feels eerily familiar to those smaller amphib ships that the USMC is talking about. It seems likely that both existing LPDs are down for under the next UK defence review due next year.

      It appears that while not looking at China as a pacing threat, the UK seems to be looking at the same trends regarding forced amphibious entry, for better or more likely for worse. And the RM are,like their US colleagues actively looking for a different role to fill.

    11. The US has tunnel vision on China - sure it's the most likely threat but the Falklands showed what happens when you forget to plan for the other possible threats too. There's no real role for NATO, except as a token political support, in a war with China and very little useful capability either so why would the UK be planning for the same war as the US?

      The US needs a Pacific NATO with Japan, South Korea, Australia etc and India if it can get it and while it's looking at China, NATO covers it's rear end and vice versa. Get as many of the smaller nations as possible tied in too if only to stop the Chinese getting additional bases and buying more UN votes. It's only a matter of time before the US dumps the UN as corrupt and useless and the more countries it takes with it, the better.

    12. Anon, I've been pushing for something like that on here (and other places) for a while.

      One thing I've thought about is some kind of associate relationship with the British Commonwealth. UK needs some kind of a trade deal after Brexit, and we could bring them into NAFTA/USMCA and do some sort of military deal. Then expand that to, say, Australia, and ultimately the entire Commonwealth.

      There has been talk of a unified Commonwealth military, although so far it is only talk. But such a force would be probably the 4th strongest military in the world, and very likely the number 2 navy. It could take some of our global policeman duties and reduce the number of ships we have to keep deployed (ConNavOps should like that). Even if they didn't consolidate, UK could help us in Europe, India could help with the Indian Ocean workload, and Canada and Australia could provide some assets in the Pacific.

      The other thing about a Commonwealth trade and military alliance is that it would include several nations (India, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia) that could, between them, pose a strong threat to China's oil supply. Add Indonesia to the mix, along with Philippines and Vietnam, and you could seriously threaten China's economy.

      On the trade side, after CV-19 there is tremendous sentiment here int the US for bringing manufacturing out of China. Bring the essential stuff (medical, etc.) home. But we could use the other stuff to bribe up an alliance around the first island chain, just like we bribed up an alliance in Europe to beat the Soviets in Cold War II.

      This is definitely Cold War II, and this time China is the primary enemy. Their publicly stated goal is to take over the first island chain, and then the second. Seems to me that our goal should be to stop that.

    13. "Falklands showed what happens when you forget to plan for the other possible threats too."

      No, the Falklands showed what happens when you forget to plan for high end combat. With all the retirements of ships, aircraft, and personnel prior to the Falklands, in order to become a frugal, low end force, the UK was barely able to defeat a decidedly third rate military. The UK lost sight of the major combat responsibility that all militaries should have as their number one mission.

    14. The Commonwealth is little more than a club of countries that get together for some sporting contests. It has no real political utility anymore and the individual countries that make up it's membership have varying and sometimes contradictory agendas and interests.

      Australia, for example, gave up on the UK as a serious military partner in 1942 after the fall of Singapore and the realisation that a medium sized power halfway across the world without any major strategic interests in the Pacific and limited resources was not incentivised at all to defend Australia and couldn't do so even if she wanted to. Australia's entire foreign policy as it appertains to security is based on an unwavering allegiance to the alliance with the United States, who has both the strategic incentive and capability to defend her allies and interests in the Pacific.
      The UK destroyed the trading relationship in the 1950s when they joined the precursor of the EU and essentially told the Commonwealth countries to sort themselves out. Aus and the UK have very little trade now. The vast majority of trade now occurs in the Pacific - which is the new centre of global trade and finance anyway, far more than Europe.

      In terms of joint military force - not a chance I'm afraid. Australia/NZ/Canada etc would never surrender their sovereignty to each other or the UK. It's not 1900, the Empire is long dead. It's not ever coming back.

      Australia is focussed on the US. Aus and Us have far more in common now strategically and politically than the UK and Aus.

  2. US Army Version… even if there were a strong and credible requirement for large scale offensive operations, such operations could not be carried out in the face of an adversary that has integrated the technologies and disciplines of the mature precision strike regime.

    WWI, version, Large scale infantry and cavalry assaults cannot be carried out in the face
    of and an adversary with a defence integrating Maxim guns and rapid fire 75mm artillery
    WWII, version Large scale infantry and armour assaults cannot be carried out in the face
    of an adversary ensconced in an integrated defensive work such as the Maginot Line.

    1. We've made this imaginary Michael Bay style unbeatable techno-cyber military, and now we're terrified some other force is going to duplicate it, and use it to defeat us as at a quarter of the price? Seriously?

      We've hit a "Fleet in Being" issue like the British Grand Fleet in WW2. We've spent trillions for "the best military in the world", but We won't fight because God forbid we pickup a dent on an arleigh Burke, or scratch the paint on an F-35.

      If only we had some weapons we could afford to use.

    2. Have to disagree. Any defense can be beaten. Static defense will almost always succumb to a mobile offensive. Sure, putting lightly armed Marines on a beach, without air superiority, preassault bombardment, etc, will fail. I even feel that the LHA is viable, but only when all the conditions are met to bring it inshore. A beach or port that we expect to put Marines on will first have the undivided attention of a multi-CV group, a saturation of its defenses by emptying a couple SSGNs onto it, etc... Its somthing that might take weeks to do before a port or beach is softened enough to attempt a landing. Its a massive undertaking, and with the exception of credible NGFS, we have the capability we need, but we need the planning and gaming (and some brass with somthing resembling manhood) to rebuild a doctrine that will make it viable again.

    3. The USMC does not have a credible "mobile offensive" force.

      The USMC is air mobile light infantry a la 101st Airborne division Force.

      Helicopter/VSTOL force have never been successfully employed against a competent peer enemy.


    4. One thing worth pointing out is that the Pacific is not North West Europe - i.e. in large parts of the Pacific, large scale armoured or mechanised formations do not have a lot of utility.
      Light infantry is the only realistic land force that can be used on many of the islands and atolls within the Pacific theatre.

      We're not talking about a land war across sweeping plains. This is difficult, jungle and mountain terrain with little to no infrastructure. That requires light infantry. Jungle warfare is unique and is based on small scale unit formations, and heavily emphasises leadership and initiative at the junior officer/NCO level. There's always going to be very few vehicles and little in the way of large scale logistical support.
      In that sense, there's little wrong with a focus on light infantry when it comes to the Pacific theatre if you envision land combat.

      The exception might be in parts of Taiwan - while large parts of Taiwan are also heavily forested or mountainous and will favour light infantry, there are significant areas of Western Taiwan that have a lot of infrastructure and some land conducive to large unit tactics and mechanised warfare.

    5. The USMC does not have a credible "mobile offensive" force.

      Maybe im confused, but I thought that was what the Marines were!! Soldiers, tanks, artillery etc,(theyre not gone, yet) deployed on ships(mobile) with an offensive mission...
      If used properly, with the airmobile part not being the focus, but the support, theyre exactly that...

    6. @Jjabatie

      It is an undeniable fact that the USMC does not have a credible "mobile offensive" force.

      Compare any USMC combat formation above battalion level with a brigade sized force from Russia, China, Germany, Japan, SK, etc. – almost every *competent* army would wipe the floor with our marines.

      Why? The USMC is airmobile light infantry – an unproven concept against a peer army, and a concept that did not fare particularly well in Vietnam (~10,000 US helicopters shot down), and deemed too risky for the 2003 Iraq invasion.

      How well did infantry standup against tanks and mech infantry in WWII? Korea? The result of such engagements was a generally a blood bath for unsupported infantry, except in optimal defensive terrain. The ability of armored formations to largely ignore infantry formations (push past them) is also well documented.

      This is the reason that the Germans, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Taiwanese, and South Korean armies are built around tank and mech infantry, with a comparatively small amount (maybe a division or so) of infantry, and that typically also includes paratroops, marines, mountain troops, and SOF.


    7. Got to make a few points of difference GAB.
      In most of the Pacific, mechanised and armoured formations are next to useless. I'm talking about the islands of the Pacific here, not the Asian mainland.
      You cannot operate mechanised formations in jungle and mountain terrain, which represents the vast majority of the places land warfare could occur in the Pacific.

      The idea that anything other than light infantry is appropriate in island warfare in the Pacific is simply untrue.
      That doesn't mean the Marines shouldn't have some armour and artillery support, but in most of the terrain they could conceivably fight over in the Pacific, vehicles will struggle to navigate beyond a few small areas and logistics will be incredibly difficult.

      Short of an invasion of the Chinese mainland (a concept that no one could possibly think was a good idea), large scale armoured and mechanised formations will have very limited utility in the Pacific.

      And as a wider point, armoured and mechanised formations form an incredibly important function in land warfare with suitable terrain, primarily as manoeuvre and exploitation forces. But it does not and has never invalidated the role of infantry.
      Well dug in infantry with appropriate anti-tank weaponry usually make mince meat of armoured forces that engage in frontal assaults.

      There's no room for Pattonesque, sweeping, armoured, flanking manoeuvres in Pacific island warfare. There's no infrastructure to support those forces. Much of the fighting will be grinding, small unit actions across incredibly difficult and forbidding terrain.

      None of this speaks to the utility or otherwise of an actual amphibious assault of course, but it is fundamentally true of actual land warfare post invasion, assuming amphibious operations were achievable at all.

    8. @Jon,
      Well the Republic of China Army (Taiwan) disagrees with you and is organized principally around armored and mechanized infantry.

      The USA and USMC of WWII also disagree with you: about 1/3rd of US tank production in WWII went to Pacific Theater of Operations.

      The Tarawa invasion demonstrated conclusively that USMC infantry could not move against defenses without armor - see 'Tanks in Hell: A Marine Corps Tank Company on Tarawa' by Romain Cansière and Oscar Gilbert.

      You can argue about infantry for assaults on minor islands, but these campaigns (e.g. Guadalcanal) were decided by sea power and land-based air power, not by the presence of marines and soldiers. Everywhere the enemy lost air and sea control he was rendered impotent and the decision to bypass or invade was based upon the utility of extending allied airstrips. People (marines) forget that the USN suffered almost three times the casualties at Guadalcanal compared to the marine corps.


    9. As I said above, Western Taiwan is one other exception, because it has an extensive highway system and some flat ground (though it also has many rivers, mountains and forests which will inhibit and slow down any large scale manoeuvres - it's actually ideal defensive terrain).

      Again, as I said, armour is still important as infantry support. It served in the WW2 pacific campaign as primarily mobile fire support units and would serve that function again in a future conflict. For the record I don't think the Marines are wise to divest themselves of their armoured companies.
      The fact remains that armour served a support function in the Pacific. There were never large armoured formations conducting manoeuvre warfare. The infantry did the assaulting and the armour and artillery provided fire support.

      The bulk of the force was infantry and in the South Pacific, armour had almost no role at all, due to the density of the jungle terrain.

      But in the interests of being reasonable, it's of course dependent on the situation, geography and campaign goals. The Pacific is a huge place with many different examples of terrain. But if you end up fighting a land conflict in the mountains and forests of Eastern Taiwan (for example), your armoured and mechanised units are not going to be effective at all. They're not going to be able to move except along a few mountain roads and they're going to be logistically unsustainable. The same applies to most of the South Pacific and any of the large, Volcanic islands of the Pacific. Point being - there's 100% a role for light infantry in the Pacific.

      In terms of your last point, it was obviously a combined effort. Without the marines, no sea campaign would have occurred.
      Of course the primary role in the Pacific theatre will always be conducted by the Navy and Air Force. But without land units, no seizure of real estate is possible. Without real estate it's difficult to logistically support fleet and air units (or base them), and it's also very difficult to create a political resolution to a conflict - and that is the inevitable outcome of all wars.

    10. "there's little wrong with a focus on light infantry when it comes to the Pacific theatre"

      The problem that's developing for the USMC is that instead of devoting, say, a regiment or two to light infantry and keeping the rest of the Corps heavier, the Marines have committed to downsizing the entire force into very light infantry. The two specific problems that arise from this are:

      1. You only need a very small force of light infantry to meet the Pacific needs so our current Marine force manning level is no longer justified.

      2. If the Marines are called upon to fight elsewhere (Europe or Korea, for example) they have little high end combat capability to offer which, again, leads one to question the justification for their existence.

    11. @Kirby

      We've hit a "Fleet in Being" issue like the British Grand Fleet in WW2. We've spent trillions for "the best military in the world", but We won't fight because God forbid we pickup a dent on an arleigh Burke, or scratch the paint on an F-35.

      What are you referring to here?

      The British Grand Fleet only existed in WW1 and was kept together to counter the German High sees fleet, it wasn't sent to Germany directly because mines and torpedo boats where just too much of a threat in the literal waters off of Germany. Especially since radar, sonar where non-existant and effective ship to ship communication was just as often still flags as it was newer radio.

      As to WW2 the fleet in being was German warships based in Norway that required the RN to send battleships with each Artic convoy just in case Tirpitz or Scharnhorst sortied (which Scharnhorst did and it died)

    12. "I'm talking about the islands of the Pacific here, not the Asian mainland."

      Bear in mind that the 'islands of the Pacific' are not relevant, here. We're not looking at a situation like WWII where the Japanese seized every island in the Pacific and we had to take them back. China does not possess any islands out in the Pacific nor do they have plans to although I have no doubt they're on China's 100-year 'to do' list.

      China might, in some war scenario, seize an island in the Malaysia or Indochina region and then your observations might well apply but, currently, islands are not a major consideration.

      The small, artificial islands/bases have no military use. They're a peacetime tool for expansion through intimidation and fait accompli. In war, those islands will cease to exist from a handful of Tomahawks.

    13. @CNO “You only need a very small force of light infantry to meet the Pacific needs so our current Marine force manning level is no longer justified.”


      It is amazing that the Taiwanese Republic of China Army (ROC) active duty strength is ~130,000 personnel, yet they manage to field:

      (3) Armored Corps (6th, 8th, and 10th)
      (1) Penghu Defense Command consisting of ‘rump’ armored brigade (1x Armored Battalion, 1x Armored Infantry Battalion, 1x Armored Cav Battalion, and 1x Artillery Battalion) along with 9x Infantry brigades
      (2) Aviation Brigades
      (1) SOF Brigade

      In contrast, the active USMC fields 3x MEFs each based around a light infantry division and an air wing on ~180,000 personnel, and that does not include massive USN augmentation (medical, chaplain, procurement, etc.).


    14. @Jon “The idea that anything other than light infantry is appropriate in island warfare in the Pacific is simply untrue.”

      This was thoroughly disproved in WWII, and is even less true today.

      The truth is USA tanks conducted “thunder runs” in Iraq at will, often into cities which is supposed to be ‘ideal’ infantry terrain, whereas USMC infantry often could not advance into cities like Falluja without tanks. This was true in Vietnam too.

      There is little that an infantry battalion or regiment can do to stop even a tank company, let alone an armored brigade, at least with organic weapons. I have been to USMC anti-tank school and seen marines freak out when an old M60 charged onto the range. Tanks are formidable.

      As to terrain, our principal ‘island’ allies/concerns in the region are: Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

      These nations are not small (at ~300,000 square kilometers, the Philippines are twice the size of the state of Georgia), the terrain is as lot more varied than just ‘jungle,’ the climate is also diverse (snow in Japan!) and most is quite suited for armor operations.

      BTW, how do you expect to clear minefields for your marines without armor? If you say MCLICs or APOBS good luck with that!

      Modern MBTs with 1,200-1,500 horsepower have little trouble with vegetation:


    15. Hi GAB.
      Not sure how deeply we want to get into armoured tactics on a navy blog.
      As a former infantryman myself, I also did a lot of training on anti-tank warfare. What you're refering to sounds a bit like what the German's called Panzer panic. Tanks are intimidating.
      But I'm also a history major, and based on my reading of the history of armoured warfare, I'd strongly argue that using armour in the frontal assault role is usually a recipe for disaster. Combined arms assaults utilising infiltration tactics are the way forward.
      Infantry make gaps, armour and mechanised formations provide fire support and exploitation once the gap is there, is I guess the quickest summary of my views that i can fit in a sentence.

      In terms of combat, if you decide before hand that you're only going to fight in Western Taiwan, then sure I guess you can plan for a large scale armoured campaign. Just know that those same tactics will have little utility in the sub-tropical forest and mountains of Eastern Taiwan or the jungles of the South Pacfic.
      I mean come on mate, you're not really going to drive an Abrams through a mountain range with a dense tropical jungle are you?

      Anyway, perhaps I could temper my language a little here to try to make my point more clear.
      Horses for courses is what I'm saying. Light infantry are the only realistic option in much of the terrain of the Pacific. Large armoured and mechanised formations are not feasible in heavily mountainous or jungle terrain. On the other hand, of course (as I've repeatedly said), I'm not arguing that the Marine Corps shouldn't have armoured or mechanised formations. What I'm saying is that if you want to fight in a jungle, you need light infantry. To forget that would be to forget the lessons of the WW2 Pacific campaign, the Malayan Conflict and Vietnam, to name a few.

    16. "The problem that's developing for the USMC is that instead of devoting, say, a regiment or two to light infantry and keeping the rest of the Corps heavier, the Marines have committed to downsizing the entire force into very light infantry."

      I agree that that is completely unwise. Even when I talk about light infantry, I'm not suggesting that the Marines should abandon the concept of combined arms warfare or the need for armoured forces in the mobile fire support role.

      I don't think the marines should be moving to a 100% light infantry role. They need to maintain a combined arms force, which would involve mechanised and armoured formations as well as light infantry units.

    17. Bottom line: infantry has the least battlefield impact, suffers the highest casualties, and is the easiest force to create – it makes no sense whatsoever for the U.S. to provide infantry centric forces to an *allied force* - our allies can, and should, provide any infantry force.

      There is little to no requirement for “island invasions;” even during WWII islands were only significant if they could support air or naval power. Now, we have weapon systems with proven excellent capability of destroying runways, bunkers, radars etc., which further greatly reduces the need for ‘boots on the ground.’

      What is supremely important is providing combined arms forces that can deal with a peer competitor; and peer competitors are bringing armored maneuver forces. Nor should the USMC focus on ‘what it can do’ with current forces. The Corps needs to focus on ‘what it forces it needs to fight’.


      @Jon: “I'd strongly argue that using armour in the frontal assault role is usually a recipe for disaster. “Combined arms assaults utilising infiltration tactics are the way forward.”

      I am not sure what to do with this as I have not advocated ‘frontal assaults’ and I have never heard ‘infiltration’ mentioned in the same breath with ‘combined arms’.


    18. Really?
      I mean I just randomly picked up a copy of Armor I have here on my bookshelf and one of the first paragraphs from an article in there starts with:
      "Infiltration is an art that is only learned through repetitive action, but more importantly, requires coordination of combined arms assets to ensure success".
      I mean this is pretty straight forward stuff doctrinally no?
      I think I could probably fifty more references just in this one issue about the need for combined arms as a requisite for successful implementation of infiltration tactics.

      I mean this is the professional handbook of the armoured units of the US Army.

      But look, I think this has gotten a little off track. We seem to be talking past each other.
      The only point I was really attempting to make is that armoured and mechanised formations have limited utility in much of the terrain within the Pacific theatre, including large parts of Taiwan and that light infantry are not irrelevant in a Pacific conflict that involves land warfare in that terrain.

    19. @Jon

      Armor magazine is *not* doctrine; quoting from an article titled ‘Brigade Reconnaissance Casualty Evacuation’ by Major Kent Strader (Armor Magazine July-August 2004) is hardly an adequate treatise on combined arms warfare.

      I know what infiltration is: I am a retired SEAL officer with ~19-years in the teams. Infiltration is the preferred method of *infantry* assault and the movement of small units (e.g. reconnaissance) into enemy held terrain.

      Infiltration by armor and mech infantry (combined arms) really is not a significant factor, mostly because it is impractical tanks are too noisy, and too slow for company and battalion+ sized operations. No armored doctrine has never emphasized tying armor to infantry. To this day the Germans insist that tanks must never wait on infantry, meaning that the mech infantry better move fast when dismounted.

      BTW, there is nothing stealthy about large infantry units either as even infantry in the 21st century has more vehicles than a WWII panzer division.

      @Jon “The only point I was really attempting to make is that armoured and mechanised formations have limited utility in much of the terrain within the Pacific theatre…”

      Reflexively proclaiming terrain as unsuited for tanks is generally nonsense. There is also a *lot* of terrain that will stop infantry cold (e.g. 2 meters of snow for infantry w/o skis) and that is before defenses like barbed wire, and minefields are added!

      The Germans managed to drive an entire Army Group spearheaded by two (2) Panzer Corps through the *impassible* Ardennes forest (XLI and XIX under Heinz Guderian)!

      Let our allies handle the infantry requirement! PLA objectives are in *tank* friendly or tank neutral terrain, not on Mars!

      Armor functions well in open and closed terrain including cities, forests, and jungles from WWII through Vietnam and on to Fallujah.

      Here is the 11th ACR in Vietnam:

      The Aussies also saw fit to deploy tanks and APCs to Vietnam with the 1st Australian Task Force where it was put to good use. Australian armor rescued an infantry company from being overrun during the Battle of Long Tan, an excellent documentary narrated by Sam Worthington (2006) is here:, or the official website here:


    20. Task Force Smith – infantry versus tanks in Korea: it did not end well for the infantry

      “Facing a Senate committee MacArthur later said of the Battle of Osan: “I threw in troops from the 24th Division [*infantry*]…in the hope of establishing a loci of resistance around which I could rally the fast-retreating South Korean forces. I also hoped by that arrogant display of strength to fool the enemy into a belief that I had a much greater resource at my disposal than I did.” It was a naive and ultimately disastrous gambit, reflective of the hubris that convinced experienced general officers that a small force of American warriors could deter entire NKPA tank and infantry regiments. In all likelihood the North Koreans initially had no idea they were facing an American defensive force. And once they did, it clearly made no difference; their tanks simply rode over and through the Americans.”

      BTW, Korea was also considered unsuitable for tank warfare…


    21. Twice now I've tried to reply and the comment has gone missing, so forgive me for the briefness of the below, because I just can't be bothered typing it all again.

      I served in the Australian Army for a decade, and my father was also a digger. He served in Vietnam, at Nui Dat. I'm familiar with Long Tan (that is a great documentary, you should watch the movie they recently released on it too).
      That was fought in a cultivated rubber plantation mate, not the jungle. Ba Ria–Vung Tau province is not heavily forested. Not all of Vietnam is a jungle. Ba Ria–Vung Tau is mostly scattered scrub and hills amongst river deltas leading down to the coast.
      We did use APCs to relieve D company that day, but it was 90% an infantry battle, with artillery support.
      Australia never brought armour to Vietnam. That would have gone against our entire doctrine for fighting that war, which was based on the lessons we took from the Malaya conflict in the 50s.

      Look, Australian and US doctrine is different. We still don't heavily emphasise armour. What armour we have is used primarily in a the fire support role, or as an anti-tank screening force.
      We do still talk about infiltration to identify surfaces and gaps in enemy formations to enable manoeuvre. It's not that infiltration is the method of assault, but it's the method of establishing the intelligence required to identify gaps for exploitation in our doctrine.

      In regards to the 24th in Korea - that division was ill-trained, completely ill-equipped and serving garrison duty in Japan.
      It suffered, as did the whole US army, from the Truman budget cuts, post WW2. They had virtually no anti-tank weaponry. They were using WW2 era bazookas with a shaped charge that couldn't penetrate a T-34s armour.

      Anyway, hopefully this comment gets through to you.

    22. Hey, I dug up an older document but it's pretty illustrative:
      No. 3-06.11 DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
      WASHINGTON, DC, 28 February 2002

      You can download it here

      4-29. INFILTRATION
      The following example describes the actions of an Infantry battalion conducting an
      infiltration. With some modification, it could also apply to a dismounted mechanized
      Infantry battalion.
      a. The outskirts of an urban area may not be strongly defended. Its defenders may
      have only a series of antiarmor positions, security elements on the principal approach, or
      positions blocking the approaches to key features in the town. The strongpoints and
      reserves are deeper in the urban area.
      b. A battalion may be able to seize a part of the urban area by infiltrating platoons
      and companies between those enemy positions on the outskirts. Moving by stealth on
      secondary streets by using the cover and concealment of back alleys and buildings, the
      battalion may be able to seize key street junctions or terrain features, to isolate enemy
      positions, and to help following units pass into the urban area. Such an infiltration should
      be performed when visibility is poor and no civilians are in the area. Bypassing enemy
      strongpoints may result in flank and rear security problems for the infiltrating battalion.
      Bypassed units may become a counterattack force or cut lines of communications, if not
      isolated. Planning should include securing all mounted and dismounted avenues of
      approach from the bypassed enemy strongpoints to ensure their isolation.
      c. The Infantry battalion is organized into infiltration companies with appropriate
      attachments and a reserve consistent with METT-TC. Each company should have an
      infiltration lane that allows stealthy infiltration by company or smaller size units.
      Depending on the construction of the urban area and streets, the infiltration lane may be
      500 to 1,500 meters wide.
      FM 3-06.11
      d. The infiltrating companies advance stealthily on foot using available cover and
      concealment. Mortar and artillery fire can be used to divert the enemy’s attention and
      cover the sound of infiltrating troops.

    23. e. Armored vehicles and antiarmor weapons are positioned to cover likely avenues
      of approach for enemy armored vehicles. The battalion commander may position
      antiarmor weapons to cover the likely avenues of approach, if no BFVs or tanks are
      available. The reconnaissance platoon and antiarmor company screen the battalion’s
      more vulnerable flanks. Also, the antiarmor company can support by fire if the situation
      provides adequate support by fire positions.
      f. As the companies move into the urban area, they secure their own flanks. Security
      elements may be dropped off along the route to warn of a flank attack. Engineers assist in
      breaching or bypassing minefields or obstacles encountered. Enemy positions are avoided
      but reported.
      g. The infiltrating companies proceed until they reach their objective. At that time,
      they consolidate and reorganize and arrange for mutual support. They patrol to their front
      and flanks, and establish contact with each other. The company commander may
      establish a limit of advance to reduce chances of enemy contact or to ensure safety from
      friendly forces.
      h. If the infiltration places the enemy in an untenable position and he must withdraw,
      the rest of the battalion is brought forward for the next phase of the operation. If the
      enemy does not withdraw, the battalion must clear the urban area before the next phase of
      the operation (Figure 4-22).

      That describes dismounted infantry exploiting an infiltration seem to isolate a static enemy defensive position.
      It advocates the use of indirect fire from artillery and mortars to create a diversion as the infiltration takes place with support from anti-armour platoons and armoured vehicles to "likely avenues of approach of enemy armoured vehicles".
      It talks about utilising combat engineers to create breeches and clear minefields.

      That's using combined arms in an infiltration situation.

      I'm just trying to find examples in official US forces doctrine to demonstrate that it's not just the Australian army that regards successful infiltration tactics as requiring combined arms approach.

      Do you not see what I'm saying here?

    24. You are getting pretty wrong there Jon. The Australian Army did take tanks to Vietnam - 1 Armoured Regt has battle honours from there. Furthermore, your view on armour and its role doesn't appear to be based on Australian doctrine. In fact, the lessons of Vietnam showed that tanks with infantry reduced casualties by many factors. Our tanks have focused on support roles for decades. Consequentially, those lessons combined with USMC lessons in the Pacific highlight that tanks are an essential part of any landing in any area. Without armour, infantry dies. Unfortunately, the light infantry Gestapo that has ruled the Australian Army since Vietnam has undermined such elements that we are only now starting to claw back. Pity to see the USMC go down that route.....

    25. "You are getting pretty wrong there Jon."

      Let's keep it impersonal. Discuss the idea, not the person. Thanks!

      "the lessons of Vietnam showed that tanks with infantry reduced casualties by many factors."

      Do you have any data or documents to support that? I don't doubt you but it would be fascinating to see data or reports, if there are any.

      "only now starting to claw back."

      I'm not a land combat guy nor an Australian military guy. Do you happen to know what the current tank numbers are Australia?

    26. You're right I misspoke. I blame it on rewriting the comment three times and getting frustrated.
      What I should have written was we didn't bring armour to Vietnam for the first four years, because it went against our doctrine. Our initial focus was much lighter, primarily infantry patrolling. The only mechanised support was M1113s.
      Eventually, I believe in or around 1968, we started deploying centurion tanks. They were used primarily for attacking defensive positions, bunkers and things.
      Australian army doctrine does emphasise armour in the fire support role.
      I got out some years ago now, and I appreciate that there is a growing emphasis on mechanised operations in the RAR.

      I'm not opposed to armour or mechanised operations by the way. Maybe I'm not doing a good job of making that clear.
      I appreciate your point about an overemphasis on light infantry tactics within the army.

      It was never my intention to argue that armour or mechanised forces are somehow pointless or irrelevant (and I don't think I have).

      The Australian Army has only about 60 tanks. There's a single squadron in each mechanised brigade.
      It's not a big part of our doctrine,whether you agree with that or not. It can't be - we don't have large numbers of tanks.

    27. LWD 3-3-4 is I believe the most recent doctrinal document on the use of armour in the Australian Army, mouse.
      Not sure if you were in RAAC (I wasn't), so maybe you're better placed to speak to it.

      My understanding (and again I wasn't in the Armoured Corps), is that there's a focus on screening, reconnaissance, and attack by fire and support by fire tasks in support of infantry and cavalry forces.
      That's certainly the way we trained (albeit I got out before LWD 3).

    28. "The Australian Army has only about 60 tanks. … It's not a big part of our doctrine"

      That being the case, where do you/Australia see them being used? Presumably, you don't think Australia, itself, is in much danger of direct assault so where do you/Aus anticipate using them?

    29. "focus on screening, reconnaissance, and attack by fire and support by fire tasks in support of infantry and cavalry forces."

      The sense I get from your comments is that armor is not viewed as an offensive force, in and of itself. It seems to be more a defensive and supporting force. In your opinion, is this the best use for armor, as opposed to a more offensive orientation?

      Hmm … I may have to start a ground force blog! Or, some enterprising, insightful Australian should ...

    30. The Army is currently going through a fairly dramatic transformation actually. It started right around when I got out, but it's accelerated since. It's called Plan Beersheba.
      Basically they have created three reinforced, combined arms brigades as the primary force within the army.
      The plan more or less calls for these three formations to be capable of any role the government gives them (they call them multi-role brigades). Everything from humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, counterinsurgency, light infantry (with the ability for air mobility and/or airborne insertion), right through to fully mechanized, combined arms operations.

      It's possible they'll end up as jacks of all trades, masters of none. Having said that, because our army is small but well funded and equipped, and we're pretty picky in terms of recruitment, it looks like it's something we can make work.

      Specific to armour, the three brigades have a single armour squadron embedded (M1A1s). We are moving to a fully mechanised force though, deploying the boxer wheeled AFV and Lynx tracked AFV, with the Bushmaster PMV for mobility.
      The tanks support the AFVs and dismounted infantry screening, reconnaissance, and attack by fire and support by fire tasks.
      We are also just now starting the shift to self-propelled artillery, in addition to our traditional focus on light guns.
      In terms of where we would actually use them - as you point out, the likelihood of a ground invasion of Australia is pretty unlikely. Official strategic philosophy of the ADF is that we attempt to control the nautical approaches north of Australia using the RAN and RAAF to deter any future potential invasion threat.

      The army's role is basically perceived as expeditionary. In the last 80 years or so, that has meant fighting wherever the US is fighting. This may sound trite,but we don't really start wars, we join whatever war the US is currently engaged in. Lately that has meant Afghan and Iraq. In the past it meant everything from Korea and Vietnam. In the future, who knows - we try and be prepared for everything. I suppose potentially it means Taiwan or some other Pacific battlefield.

      We also do peacekeeping stuff in our region (East Timor, Solomon Islands etc). But that doesn't require armour.

    31. To your second comment, armour is viewed as valuable contributor to a combined arms force, but not as an offensive weapon on it's own.
      There's an acknowledgement that armour is extremely vulnerable to both airpower and to opposing anti-tank weaponry if it is not screened properly by infantry forces.

      In terms of offensive doctrine, we emphasise infiltration tactics to identify gaps and surfaces and open those potential gaps in enemy formations. This would then potentially be exploited by follow on maneuver forces.
      The term infiltration is quite broad though, and potentially that's been a point of confusion this whole discussion. It's actually such a broad term that sometimes it kind of loses meaning.

      Essentially though we're looking for seams in an enemy defensive position to exploit. We would advance utilising combined arms tactics
      As a rule, we avoid frontal attacks if at all possible.

      But that's all very general and pretty rudimentary. There's a lot of devil in the detail. Who are we attacking in this hypothetical? Where? On what terrain? With what formation?
      You know it depends on the situation.

    32. Oh and sorry, I enjoy coming on here to your blog and having a discussion sometimes. It's good fun.
      But I'm too busy (maybe lazy?) to start my own.

    33. @Jon

      The entire discussion of infantry assault via infiltration is getting macabre: the task of any U.S ground forces sent to stop an invasion of Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia, etc. would be to repel multiple, corps-sized enemy formations, including enemy armored formations – that is *not* a scenario that would favor infiltration, at least not during the decisive phase of operations.

      Can mech infantry be employed as conventional infantry? Yes. Infiltration of dismounted troops is therefore an option, but let us be clear, most commanders would insist that specialist troops like mech infantry be reserved for mobile offensive operations or at least for mobile defense, and reserves.

      Again, I am focused on deterrence, and high-intensity warfighting against peer enemy forces.


    34. Yeah, I don't know how we even got into that conversation mate.
      I agree that in a land invasion scenario involving Taiwan/Japan/Australia/Korea you'd be looking at a primarily defensive force posture attempting to absorb the weight of massive combined arms assault.
      Let's leave it at that.

    35. @Jon "Let's leave it at that."

      I would prefer to end with a glass of bourbon or Scotch...


    36. "But I'm too busy (maybe lazy?) to start my own."

      Hey, no problem! Happy to have you here. :)

    37. Haha me too GAB. Actually had a few too many last night myself, feeling a bit regretful this morning.

  3. A quote from you from the recent post on the littoral regiment combat team:

    "A Chinese agent couldn’t inflict the damage to the Corps that this Commandant is doing."

    Some serious food for thought there ...

    Might be time to add a new chapter to the playbook of asymmetrical and hybrid warfare.


  4. He is correct and there is no dispute:

    "such operations could not be carried out in the face of an adversary that has integrated the technologies and disciplines of the mature precision strike regime"

    It has always been the case that local air and naval superiority must be established first. This may take months if not years against a capable peer. This is why most of the Marine's heavy amphib forces can be kept in the Marine Corps reserve, because it would also require months or years to procure, transport, and stage the needed supplies to support a major amphib landing.

    Part of this confusion are exercises and talk of using a tiny MEU or even a MEB against a peer. The plan would be landing a Marine division or two to gain a foothold, quickly followed by an US Army Corps. Inchon is a good example.

    1. " it would also require months or years to procure, transport, and stage the needed supplies to support a major amphib landing."

      Absolutely correct! We often discuss as if we should be capable of conducting a Normandy landing on day one of a war while forgetting that it took years to build up for that, as you note.

      Where the Commandant is wrong is in believing that it is not even possible to overcome a capable enemy.

    2. This is an important point. In the event of a war, large numbers of low cost landing transports would be built. That would be what you conducted large scale amphibious assaults with, not LHD/LHAs.

      The real challenge, that planners in WW2 didn't face, is the threat of large numbers of ballistic and cruise missiles fired from many hundreds of kilometres (even thousands of kilometres) away. These batteries could be mobile and widely dispersed. Many could be based across the eastern seaboard of mainland China and still be a threat to an amphibious assault conducted anywhere inside the first island chain.

      I believe this is the threat that has so terrified the commandant. The conundrum should be how to either suppress or defend against these threats, rather than abandoning the concept of amphibious operations entirely.

      In order to conduct an amphibious assault, it might be that complete air superiority has to be established across thousands of square miles to enable rapid identification and suppression of missile batteries - which is daunting but not impossible.

    3. " how to either suppress or defend against these threats, rather than abandoning the concept of amphibious operations entirely."

      We've already solved the problem. Far ranging carrier groups have, historically, been tasked with suppressing/interdicting the enemy's response to an assault. Carrier air wings and Burke Tomahawk shooters would suppress the cruise/ballistic sites. Obviously they cannot achieve 100% destruction but that suppression is good enough - simply reduce the number and effectiveness.

      Aegis provides the cruise/ballistic defense for the assault group. Aegis was designed and built to deal with saturation attacks so it should be ideal for this purpose. It won't stop 100% but, hey, that's war. The other side will get a few hits in, too.

      As a third, indirect, support method, a major assault would, presumably, be supported by diversionary assaults, actions, feints to draw off some of the focus and weapons from the main assault.

      All of this provides reason to be serious about an assault but not fearful to the point of paralysis or capitulation as seems to have afflicted the Commandant.

    4. What casualties? no, no, no can't have that not in todays world the people would go ballistic and that would be the end of all those in charge careers both in the military and politically.

    5. I agree CNO.
      It's daunting because of the scale of the problem but since when do Marine Corps Commondants retreat from difficult problems? It's not insurmountable.

  5. Maybe he's a fellow traveller with the guy who wrote this article:

  6. This is effectively inviting the Chinese to invade Taiwan.

  7. While it happens all too often, I think that this is one case where "relieved of command due to lack of confidence" makes sense!!!

  8. Although i disagree entirely with the commandant, i think this is a very good political move that might help the other commandants to rethink the current military posture. The other branches has always offer such optimistic view in a war with China that this pessimistic view of the Marines might prompt consideration from our professional fighting force or at least Congress will do something about this.

  9. Maybe I'm missing something, but port seizure and just as importantly port defence is an obvious ability the marines should have. Let us say for example China threatens part of Malaysia, the marines grab a port, hopefully invited, and ensure Malaysia can still function. Just the ability to "rock up" out of nowhere and defend a key position is a great ability that may make you friends, would be unique, and most importantly may deter China, if not make their planning alot more complicated. All our top marine chap has to do is sell it to the politicians as a new great way of winning friends and stopping China and he will get oodles of dollars.

  10. Hey CNO,

    Can the USN finally ditch all 30+ amphibious ships and buy real warships now?


    1. "Can the USN finally ditch all 30+ amphibious ships and buy real warships now?"

      I'd scrap 'em all in a heartbeat!

    2. "'Can the USN finally ditch all 30+ amphibious ships and buy real warships now?'
      I'd scrap 'em all in a heartbeat!"

      This is where we are going to disagree. Maybe I'm prejudiced because I spent time in the gator navy. And I would certainly get rid of the current crop of amphib ships, but by repurposing them rather than scrapping them.

      I agree with you that we are extremely unlikely (like never) to make an opposed amphib assault on either Russia or China. But that doesn't mean we get rid of the capability altogether. For one thing, they may have uses even in a peer war. I can certainly see a use for phib and littoral forces along the first island chain, which is where I think we need to contest China.

      I do think we need to be ready to win a peer war. In fact I think we should prepare to win two simultaneous peer wars, and also to deal with rogue or irregular threats at the same time. That's really a bigger requirement than what is being levied now, but I think it's the minimum. I see three major threat areas--eastern Europe, the Mideast, and the South China Sea. I think we need to be able to win in two of them simultaneously, and to put down rogue/irregular opposition in a third.

      I see lots of uses for a competent phib force in a geopolitical game, and I hope to beat China there, not mano a mano combat, just like we beat Russia in Cold War I.

    3. "I see lots of uses for a competent phib force in a geopolitical game"

      Sure, but everything depends on national priorities, and amphibious lift is significantly lower in priority than aerospace power, and sea control forces.

      I would argue that amphibious lift is a drain on very scarce sea control resources.

      Why double down on amphibious lift at the expense of desperately needed submarines, and to a lessor extent, surface combatants?

      Our landing forces are extremely weak in terms of projected power - all of our allies and potential enemies are built around powerful armored striking forces with limited infantry - the polar opposite of the Corps.

      Thirty good submarines would be more valuable as a deterrent, and also as combat assets, than the entire USMC if we consider a Chinese scenario.


    4. Why scrap them?
      Sell them to Japan, UK, Taiwan, etc.
      For ten dollars if needed.

    5. "Why double down on amphibious lift at the expense of desperately needed submarines, and to a lessor extent, surface combatants? "

      Spot on!

    6. Our MCM assets are meager, so any amphibious assault could invite disaster. But the navy should expand our detection and MCM capabilities due to the need to protect our ports and navy bases. After all a mine laying sub would create havoc.

  11. It is remarkable that a Marine Corps commandant believes any form of amphibious assault is inevitably doomed to fail.
    What's obvious is that he is terrified of the threat of ballistic, cruise. and. anti-ship missiles.

    The question should then be how to suppress or defend against attack from such missiles. Not how to avoid any concept of amphibious assault.

    Realistically, without at least the threat of an amphibious intervention from land forces, China has free reign in the Pacific to seize and hold real estate. Wars are political and fundamentally hinge on control of real estate. If you can't threaten to displace China from whatever land it seizes, how could you ever prosecute a war against her?

    Another question is why China hasn't abandoned the concept of amphibious assault. They are also aware of the threat to amphibious forces. Their response is multi-varied but one of the tenants is total saturation bombardment of the potential amphibious assault site and surrounding areas with their own extensive inventory of cruise and ballistic missiles, air assets and naval forces.

    1. "Another question is why China hasn't abandoned the concept of amphibious assault. They are also aware of the threat to amphibious forces."

      China isn't using their amphibious forces to do an invasion of SEA, this is for projecting power in Africa, where there are no threats to amphibious forces. ComNavOps has talked about how China could easily invade any of the ASEAN nations, but the fact of the matter is that even if China could land its forces unopposed, it doesn't have enough amphibious lift to bring sufficient manpower to seriously fight TH, SG or even MY. But a Chinese ARG can do a helluva lot of flexing on African nations.

    2. Actually it's primarily to enable a prospective invasion of Taiwan.
      You can read up on it in the leaked PLA "Course Book on the Taiwan Strait's Military Geography", "Science of Military Strategy", "Science of Campaigns" and "Informatized Army Operations".

      It's very clear that China's amphibious capability is aimed at Taiwan.

      Frankly, the idea that China would conduct some sort of invasion of an African state anytime in our lifetimes seems pretty fanciful for a number of reasons. Militarily it's extremely dubious that they could or would want to sustain that kind of commitment - logistically it's extremely burdensome, and relies on the US sitting back and letting it happen. All the US would have to do to collapse such an enterprise is shut down a handful of straits around Malaysia and Indonesia. Politically it's also basically completely unnecessary, since anything China wants from Arica is more or less available to them already for a reasonable price.

    3. The Chinese are an ancient and proud people, they look at Taiwan in a completely different way than we understand.

      I believe the PLA would accept 50% KIA in a Taiwan campaign *if* the result was victory.


    4. I agree with your first paragraph in a lot of ways, less with your second, GAB.

      The Chinese have an extremely emotional and nationalistic view of the Taiwan situation. They see it is an ancient part of China that is in an open state of rebellion. They also see it as the last remnants of the Nationalists who have become pantomime villains in Chinese Communist propaganda - the evil, corrupt landholding class that tortured and suppressed the people before they were saved by the CCP in the great revolution. Additionally the One China policy has been one of the central tenants of the CCP and Chinese nationalist outlook since 1949. They got back all the other main places on the list (Tibet, Tsingtao, Macau, Hong Kong etc) - Taiwan was always the main thing they wanted though.
      Without getting too deeply into it, it also has to do with the general behaviour of authoritarian states everywhere, where there is always the need to create external threat and enemies and Taiwan is one of those too. In fact, some cannier members of the CCP have wryly made the point that Taiwan may serve a more important function as it exists today for the unity of the PRC - as a motivating element of communist propaganda.
      To make the final point, it's literally written into their constitution - Articles 2 and 5 explicitly talk about reunification of Taiwan with the mainland.

      In terms of casualty rates - I have little doubt that many members of the ruling class would accept the deaths of millions to achieve reunification. However, there are question marks over the consequences of that within China and there are voices of reason in the ruling establishment and military.
      China is an oligarchy with multiple factions. There is a reformer faction that see reunification as lower priority and that favours peaceful expansion - that faction is currently out of power though, and Xi is a representative of a more traditional, conservative, hardline faction. Wolf-warrior diplomacy is what he calls what he's doing (they love the hyperbole in China).
      But even he does have to give some consideration to public opinion, authoritarian or not. Millions of dead Chinese young will cause a lot of problems for him domestically, particularly if the invasion is unsuccessful. He has lots of factional enemies lurking within the CCP happy to cut his throat if he miscalculates.

    5. "they look at Taiwan in a completely different way than we understand.

      I believe the PLA would accept 50% KIA in a Taiwan campaign *if* the result was victory."

      They also look at casualties differently than we do. We look at the human price more so than the result (especially since WWII). They look at the result. We see individual human lives as irreplaceable. In contrast, humans are a replaceable resource, in their view.

    6. "Taiwan may serve a more important function as it exists today for the unity of the PRC - as a motivating element of communist propaganda."

      Astute observation!

    7. I think the primary object of China's amphibious capability is Taiwan. The secondary object is other islands around the first island chain, which is their stated objective. They may want to do some saber-ratting around Africa, and one need that they have in South Asia and/or East Africa is naval bases from which to operate if they have to secure their oil supply chain. But I would think that the logistics pipeline to support an invasion anywhere in Africa would be monumental to insurmountable.

  12. Seems to me someone needs to look at the General's financials and those of his family.

    I mean we have been buying off potential adversaries for years.

  13. "There it is, in black and white, plain English. The Commandant is prepared to give up without a fight! He’s just plain scared. "

    I thought you agreed with the Commandant that there is no need for amphibious assaults anymore. If so, why all the grief? Isn't he just taking things to their logical conclusion?

    You said in the LRCT thread, "Where, in any realistic China war scenario/strategy, do you see any use for an amphibious assault? There simply isn't one. "

    1. Correct, I see no strategic or operational need for an amphibious assault, however, I see no reason why we couldn't accomplish one if there was a need. The Commandant, on the other hand, simply appears overwhelmed and frightened at the mere thought. The problem with this is that it's going to impact all his other decisions. If he can't even envision a successful assault what other possible operations is he ruling out due to fear? I think that's likely motivating his small platoon units concept - he's unwilling to risk anything out of paralyzing fear. He's basically taking the USMC out of play in a war!

      If he won't even contemplate an amphibious assault, it's a pretty safe bet that he won't even contemplate a port seizure which I see as both likely and necessary in future scenarios.

    2. There is no need to contemplate amphibious assault if it's both exceedingly dangerous and not needed.

      Isn't port seizure just a class of amphibious assault?

    3. "There is no need to contemplate amphibious assault if it's both exceedingly dangerous and not needed."

      There is a world of difference between 'no need' to contemplate and being too frightened to contemplate it. The Commandant has clearly thought about amphibious assault and rejected even the possibility due to his fear.

      Are you really not getting this distinction or are you just looking to argue?

      "Isn't port seizure just a class of amphibious assault?"

      In the broadest sense, yes, in that the assault originates from the sea. In almost every other respect it's a completely different beast and requires completely different tactics, equipment, philosophy, objectives, and methods.

    4. Ok, I think I get your point. It's not so much that he ruled out amphibious assaults, since there is no foreseeable need. It's that, in your view, he's too timid to consider them. I'm not really sure that's the case, but I see what you're saying.

      I don't think of port seizure as a completely different beast. If anything, it's super-sized amphibious assault. We assaulted Normandy with an objective of capturing the Port of Calais to enable follow on forces and supplies. The Inchon assault was also to capture the port.

      I'm trying to think of a case where we only assaulted a port directly, without it being in the context of a broader assault.

    5. Port seizure could, certainly, involve attacking elsewhere and then moving overland to the port, as in Normandy, but I see it as more likely to be fairly direct. In that case, the requirements, methods, equipment, etc. are radically different. For example, in a beach attack, you can spread out over a large front whereas a port is a fairly pinpoint location made all the 'smaller' by the fact that there are very limited suitable locations for actually landing troops and equipment (until the docks and handling equipment have been seized and put back into operation). Also, the goal of a beach seizure is to immediately spread out and move inland whereas the point of a port seizure, at least initially, is to sit on the port, repair it, and defend it. Defending would require extensive C-RAM type defenses of which we have almost nothing suitable (consider the likely presence of large buildings nearby!). The repair aspect, alone is a mammoth undertaking requiring specialized equipment which we don't have. And so on.

      Port and beach seizure, while there are points of overlap, are two radically different beasts.

      We ALWAYS NEED PORTS for supplying and sustaining a military force. It is simply not possible to sustain a major action via air or over the beach (again, the entire point of Normandy). I see port seizure as vital and should be a core Marine mission - the core mission, in my mind.

    6. Dieppe was a fairly direct attack on the port. It didn't work out so well. Obviously a lot went wrong there, but not directly attacking a port was one of the lessons learned.

      The problem is ports are obvious targets, so they historically have gotten a disproportionate defensive attention. Ports are often more urbanized as well, which has its own challenges.

      OTOH, it is harder to fortify every section of beach on an extended coastline.

      Do we really anticipate any sort of land war in Asia that might require us to take a port? Are there any realistic scenarios you envision?

      We have more often used friendly ports to move forces.

    7. "We have more often used friendly ports to move forces."

      Friendly ports are always the preferred method! However, barring friendly ports far away from the combat (SKorea, for example) we may well have to fight for port usage. Had Hussein been smarter in Desert Storm and attacked our port, we would have had a much harder time in the build up.

      I could foresee needing to seize a port in a war with Iran, seizing a port in NKorea, seizing ports in a war with Russia, and seizing ports around the perimeter of the E/S China Seas depending on what countries China attacks as a diversion to an invasion of Taiwan.

      I'm not a big fan of preparing for unlikely 'what if' scenarios but port seizure seems far too likely, to me, not to have it as a core mission for someone and the Marines seem the obvious choice.


      Come on, now. Let's be honest and objective. Dieppe was the first attempt at a modern, large scale amphibious assault and was intended as a training/learning exercise. That was it's main purpose. In terms of lessons learned (training/learning) it succeeded brilliantly as we then applied those lessons to all the subsequent assaults.

      To try to draw overarching conclusions about amphibious assaults from the first training assault attempt is disingenuous, at best.

      And no, not directly attacking a port was NOT a lesson learned. In fact, we seriously considered direct port attacks at Normandy before opting for the beach assaults. Whether that was the right choice is debatable given the cost we paid for beach approach.

      Ports are defended targets, as you note, however, they are also hard to defend. Unlike a wide open beach where fortifications can, literally, be built side by side for miles, the port 'real estate frontage' is almost completely occupied by existing port machinery and buildings which leaves little room for defensive emplacements. On the other hand, a port represents a pretty small location so the enemy knows exactly where you'll show up and can concentrate fire. So, there's good and bad about it.

      Personally, having thought about it a fair amount, I lean towards the direct attack but it has to be sudden and overwhelming, with HEAVY firepower support from minute-one. Clearly, that's not a capability we currently have and that's why I see port seizure as a radically different beast than beach seizure.

    8. Ports often have existing buildings the enemy can use as fortifications. There's less need to build them. Urban combat is, in general, harder than non-urban combat. An amphibious assault (also a difficult endeavor) directly into an urban area doesn't seem that wise to me.

      If you look at Dieppe, the commando raids away from the port did well. The beach assault away from the port also did reasonably well, but didn't have tanks so they couldn't continue. It was the beach assault in front of the port that got shot to pieces.

      I agree that it was a learning experience at Dieppe, but I'm struggling to find another example of a direct assault against a defended port that succeeded. The German experiences in Norway and Denmark are not very useful examples.

    9. "Urban combat is, in general, harder than non-urban combat."

      Only if we allow it to be. We had urban combat figured out in WWII. Enemy in a building? Drop it with artillery and move on. It's only when we insist on something idiotic like room by room and building by building sweeps does it become hard.

      Remember, in a port seizure we're not trying to take the city, we just need the port and some safe transport routes out. Drop the buildings that are a problem and move on.

      "An amphibious assault (also a difficult endeavor) directly into an urban area doesn't seem that wise to me. "

      It's absolutely idiotic!

      "I'm struggling to find another example of a direct assault against a defended port that succeeded."

      I don't know of one either, off the top of my head, although one might consider some of the Pacific island port seizures as qualifying and they were uniformly successful. I'm sure the generals commanding the Maginot Line couldn't think of a successful assault against the defense they had constructed and yet …

      Just because we don't have examples doesn't mean it can't be done. Also, I have nothing against indirect port seizure, if that seems the better route. I just believe that direct seizure is easier, in the final analysis. That it hasn't been done just tells me that the enemy will be just as surprised as we will!

      One of the lessons I take from history is that a port assault should 'land' on top of the port, not approach it from somewhere. Drop (paratroops, helo, whatever) troops on top of the port, literally, while simultaneously hitting from the sea. Force the enemy to fight 360 deg around them and divert their attention from the port itself. I also see a need to sail heavily armored ships directly into the port to provide point blank, heavy firepower support that no defender can match.

      "Ports often have existing buildings the enemy can use as fortifications. "

      You're making this up. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever fortified a port building. Could it be done? Sure, on a limited basis, I guess. Of course, the solution is simple and obvious: drop the building! No defensive emplacement built into or on a commercial building can stand up to simple bombardment and collapse of the structure. We saw this demonstrated on 9/11.

    10. "One of the lessons I take from history is that a port assault should 'land' on top of the port, not approach it from somewhere."

      Without being able to cite a single concrete example where this was successful, or even attempted, how can you call this a "lesson I take from history"? What history is informing you?

      ""Ports often have existing buildings the enemy can use as fortifications. "

      You're making this up. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever fortified a port building. "

      Note I said, "can use as fortifications". I didn't say "fortified a port building".

    11. "What history is informing you?"

      Normandy, for example. By landing away from the port and having to fight our way toward it, we created a much larger operation than would otherwise have been necessary. It also took longer to actually achieve the objective. I also note that the delay in securing the port allowed time for the Germans to sabotage many of the port facilities. In an interesting historical side note, when the port was finally secured, the engineers found huge amounts of explosives wired to all the remaining major port facilities. For some unknown reason, the Germans failed to actually destroy the remaining facilities. We were quite lucky, in that regard. All of this suggests to me that a direct attack would be better.

      You know, despite your snarky remark about how I can call this a lesson from history, there is a lesson about lessons for you to learn here. The lesson is that some lessons can be learned from what WASN'T done, Normandy being a perfect example. Of course, it requires a particularly astute student of history to glean lessons from what wasn't done, as opposed to the more obvious lessons from what was done, but, hey, that's why I'm here: to help readers discern the more subtle lessons of history that they may not be able to see for themselves. Happy to help!

      "Note I said, "can use as fortifications". I didn't say "fortified a port building"."

      Assuming you aren't just a lawyer practicing semantics, would you care to enlighten me about how a building can be a fortification but not be fortified? I confess, that's a distinction that eludes me. An example, perhaps?

    12. @CNO "Normandy, for example..."

      The Anglo-American invasion of Europe ultimately depended on the capture of the Antwerp: Cherbourg was an intermediate goal of the landings and served only to sustaining a foothold in France.

      “The importance of having free access to the docks of Antwerp was understood at the very highest level. In Churchill’s memoirs covering this period the Prime Minister says: ‘Without the vast harbours of this city no advance across the lower Rhine and into the plains of northern Germany was possible.’” ‘Great Mistake: The Battle for Antwerp and the Beveland Peninsula, September 1944 by Peter Beale

      “In retrospect it can be seen that the failure to clear the Scheldt estuary, and thus to open the way for the Allies’ fleet of cross-Channel supply vessels to deliver directly to Antwerp in the immediate rear of 1 Canadian, 2 British, and 1 American Armies was the most calamitous flaw in the post-Normandy campaign.“ ‘The Second World War’ by John Keegan

      In fact, the western allies were never able to fully supply all of their their armies until the Schedlt estuary and Beveland Peninsula were cleared and the port of Antwerp was restored to operation.

      Antwerp had a capacity of 80-100,000 tons per day and was only 75 miles from Germany with immediate access to good rail lines. Cherbourg had a capacity of only 10,000 tons per day, was 350 miles from Germany, and the rail lines were destroyed as a prelude to the Overlord landings.

      Antwerp allowed 2.5 million tons of supplies to arrive at that port between November 1944 and April 1945 – I cannot put my hands on the reference, but recall reading that more allied supplies passed through Antwerp than all of the other European ports combined. The last major German offensive (Die Wacht am Rhein) was targeted at Antwerp.

      If you are wondering what it takes to supply a high intensity peer war consider that the assault into Germany required something on the order of 8 million artillery shells alone. And that was for the Anglo-American armies.


  14. "Do we really anticipate any sort of land war in Asia that might require us to take a port? Are there any realistic scenarios you envision?"

    A land war on the Asian continent (IE, China), probably not.

    But a war in the first island chain could easily require any number of amphibious techniques, including port seizure/defense/recapture and amphibious landings.

    A force of 3000 Marines, even with the upgraded artillery, tanks, armor, and air that I have proposed, isn't going to get very far against millions of Chinese. But China (or anyone else) is limited by geography to how many troops it can put on a captured island in the chain. And 3000 Marines, with artillery and armor and tanks, and supported by air and NGFS resources, could prevail against island garrisons.

    Any kind of combat in the island chain is inherently going to involve littoral and amphibious elements. It may not--or may--be tantamount to WWII island hopping, but there would be some elements.

    First we have to bribe up an alliance around the first island chain. Right now, with public pressure to move manufacturing out of China in the wake of CV-19, we have a pretty big economic plum to dangle in front of them. In order to make it work, we have to make a real commitment to aid in their defense against China. Right now, most of them are cowering and giving in to Chinese pressure, at least in part because they don't think they can count on us. So it's pretty much going to take a CVBG and an ARG/MEU in the area on a consistent basis for them to believe us. Not a few isolated FONOPS, but a legitimate presence that says, "We're here, deal with it." And that force has to conduct things like ongoing training with local military forces, and regular port visits to places like Subic, Sepanggar, Singapore, Cam Ranh Bay, and Kaohsiung. And we have to mean our commitment, including backing it up with shooting if and when the occasion demands (and it very well may).

    I'm not sure we can actually do this until we get out of the Mideast. Might as well, we've been there nearly 20 years and don't have much to show for the lives and limbs of young American men and women that have been sacrificed. I would say we give the Kurds whatever they need to protect themselves, and otherwise withdraw. And getting out of the Mideast has one other advantage. It complicates matters tremendously for the Chinese. If they can't count on us to protect their oil supply chain through the Straits of Hormuz, their naval and military posture has to change a bunch, and assets deployed for that purpose are obviously not available in the South China Sea.

    Like it or not, we are in Cold War II, and the enemy is China. Unless and until we adopt that posture, we are going to lose that war, slowly but surely, bit by bit.

    1. Is there really anything meaningful happening around reducing our reliance on Chinese manufactured goods beyond empty rhetoric? Seems to me people really like buying their cheap Chinese products.

    2. Not so far, but then again, we really don't have a grand strategy for dealing with China. Or for that matter, with anyone else.

    3. "Is there really anything meaningful happening around reducing our reliance on Chinese manufactured goods beyond empty rhetoric?"

      Yes, actually. Trump has instituted various measures to reduce our dependence on China for rare earths. Congress is moving (slowly!) to reduce our dependence on China for pharmaceuticals. Trump has imposed tariffs on China (and other countries) to reduce our dependence on foreign steel and many other products.

      China has taken a financial hit although we still have significant dependencies. Goods such as cheap toys and the like are less important, of course, than reducing our dependence on strategic resources. You can like or dislike Trump but he is the first President to confront China to any degree and work to reduce our strategic resource dependencies. Gotta give him credit for that.

    4. The largest bucket, by dollar amount, of manufactured goods we import from China are electronics. So to make a dent in reducing our reliance on Chinese manufactured goods, we need to push for alternate sources for this stuff.

      18.2% of total imports were wireless devices (e.g. cell phones and related) and computers. Six, out of the top 10 are electronic-related.

      Tricycles and scooters are next? Really? That's a heckuva lotta scooters.

      Items Value (US$B) % of Total Imports
      Telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks $43.7 9.8%
      Automatic data processing machines $37.2 8.4%
      Trycicles, scooters and similar wheeled toys & other toys $12.3 2.8%
      Communication apparatus $11.3 2.5%
      Games; articles for funfair $5.4 1.2%
      Other Monitors $4.7 1.1%
      Units of automatic data processing machines $4.4 1.0%
      Electrical static converters $4.6 1.0%
      Seats $4.3 1.0%
      Reception apparatus for television $4.2 0.9%

  15. Maybe it's an act to make the Chinese think the Marine Corps is being run by a nut. If so, I'm sure it's working. It's working on me.

  16. Inchon was a port seizure. The beach was small and blocked by a high sea wall with buildings atop. Marine Generals disliked the idea, but MacArthur thought the North Koreans also dismissed the idea so had very few troops guarding the area. He was right, the Marines encountered little resistance and the Inchon port was seized on day one and used to quickly offloaded the Army's X Corps.

    1. True. This is probably the best example of a direct port assault, but as you said, it worked because it caught the North Koreans completely by surprise. The port wasn't heavily defended.

      So perhaps this is the lesson from history. If you manage to pull of a complete strategic surprise, a direct port seizure can work.

    2. "If you manage to pull of a complete strategic surprise, a direct port seizure can work."

      If you manage to achieve complete surprise, ANYTHING will work!

      The larger point is that there is no historical pattern telling us that port seizures can't work. In fact, it's a foregone conclusion that it will work, IF YOU BRING ENOUGH FIREPOWER AND OPERATIONAL/TACTICAL COMPETENCE. The real question is whether you can achieve the same end result another way, at a lower cost in casualties and effort.

      I'd like to see the Marines game out port seizure and then conduct actual exercises to see what works and what doesn't.

    3. Note that LSTs led the way and hit the beach under fire an Inchon. They sailed straight from Japan to the beach, no connectors needed.

      Late on the afternoon of September 15, the LSTs approached Red Beach and as the lead ships they came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire from KPA defenders on Cemetery Hill. Despite the concentrated fire, they disembarked assault troops and unloaded vital support equipment. In addition their guns wiped out KPA batteries on the right flank of Red Beach. Three (USS King County, USS Lafayette County, and LST 973) of the eight LSTs took some hits from mortar and machine gun fire, which killed a sailor and injured a few others.[74] The LSTs completed unloading and cleared the beach at high tide early on 16 September.

  17. IMHO Berger is right about ditching this "small-scale full-featured army/airforce combo". This should not be focus of 21th century naval expeditionary force, because it can't be realistically achieved. Leave heavy tanks to the army and logistics nightmare aircraft to air force. Instead, he should take note from russian/chinese expeditionary forces that use lightweight, easily supportable vehicles.

    His central point is synergy and support of navy mission, while maintaining scalability in case of all-out war.

  18. Seems to me that the first thing we need to do is figure out how we win a war with China (and/or Russia, for that matter) and then figure out what we need to execute those strategies.

    I don't see any amphibious assault on Russia or China in any scenario. I do see an island-hopping campaign through the first island chain as a possibility and I see littoral operations in the Baltic or eastern Mediterranean as other possibilities. I can also see many opportunities for amphib assaults versus rogue nations or irregular aggressors. But I am not privy to all the intel, but I have seen those scenarios proposed by others who have more of that info than I do. What I think needs to happen is that those who do have the intel need to evaluate all those scenarios realistically, with best available intel, figure out what could work and what couldn't, and design the force to accomplish what would work.

    I am not totally onboard with ditching tanks and heavy artillery and close air support. One of the huge advantages that I see is that Marines can bring a huge amount of firepower to bear on an objective from a relatively small combined arms force. They can still do the light infantry or raider thing if that's what the situation demands, but they can also be more. They just need the Navy to provide a phib force to support their mission.

    I have come up with my own idea for a force that could accomplish all the missions that I foresee, and would include 500-600 ships, and priced it out for less money than what the Navy is proposing to spend for 355. A big part of the savings come from building nuclear Nimitzes and conventional Kitty Hawks (or Queen Elizabeths with cats and traps) instead of Fords, a modern version of an old amphibious squadron instead of LHAs/LHDs, and building a lot of cheaper ASW frigates and GP escorts instead of more and more Burkes. I’d also build a true littoral combat fleet incorporating some ideas from the New Navy Fighting Machine, some real mine warfare ships, and some AIP subs. And on the high end of my high/low mix, I would include updated versions of the Iowa class battleships and the Des Moines class cruisers. Yes, ComNavOps, I'm paying attention to costs, but that's what the Navy is going to have to figure out how to do.

    1. Maybe the Army should handle anything above battalion/regiment sized. Let them take the big amphibious assaults.

    2. We need to start with a geopolitical strategy and objectives. I think we need to be able to prosecute two major wars in two theaters (say, China and Russia), plus an operation against a rogue government or irregular actor somewhere else in the world (say, somewhere in the Mideast). Basically, we need to have a stronger military than everybody else in the world combined, and never use it, because nobody dares pick on us, and we don’t go around picking on them. That’s enough for geopolitical strategy, now how do the Marines fit into that?

      My thought is that Marines make the initial assault and gain control of a beach, or better a port, and then you bring in the big numbers of Army and other branches. Or if you want to bring the Army in initially too, then expand your phib force to include several PhibRons as well as merchant ships that can put troops ashore by boat, like the Brits did in the Falklands. So you’d end up with responsibilities like:

      - Navy: Sea control in the open ocean, littoral and amphibious operations with Marines
      - Marines: Littoral and amphibious operations with Navy, up to say 50 miles inshore
      - Army: Surface operations in continental areas inland from littoral/coastal areas
      - Air Force: Strategic air and tactical support of Army forces

      There would be obvious coordination/interface issues, like where do Marines hand off to the Army and how to handle large amphibious operations including both Marines and Army, but if each branch perfects its areas of responsibility, those can be resolved. Do realistic joint training around specific war objectives, and figure out the best way to get the job done.

      Marines and green/brown water Navy would focus on littoral waters and ashore to about 50 miles inland, with Army and Air Force focusing on continental actions further inland. Form a combined arms Marine expeditionary group (call it MEU, MER, whatever you will) of about 3,000 personnel--infantry, artillery, tanks, amphibious armor, air. That’s about the smallest combined arms force that can be assembled, and it has the ability to bring an immense amount of firepower to bear on an objective, particularly if it is supported by a Navy air wing, a battleship, and one or more cruisers. Transport that outfit on my proposed Navy amphibious squadron--smaller LHA/LHD for air component, LPH, LPD/LSD, LST, LPA/LKA, NGFS frigate. That PhibRon is about the cost of one LHA/LHD (particularly if you quit insisting on a 20+kt SOA and live with 18). The Navy also needs to build some viable true littoral combatants (corvettes, patrol ships, mine warfare ships, AIP submarines) which are cheaper still.

      Give the Marines a real PhibRon that could be risked 3-5 miles offshore, from which it is possible to do actual assaults. Then work on rapidly improving the capabilities of ship-to-shore connectors. If China can have an amphibious tank with a big gun, there is no reason why we can't too. The connector problem is a lot easier to solve, with a lot more options, from 3-5 miles offshore than it is from 25-50 miles offshore.

      ComNavOps is big on identifying places where this kind of force could be useful. No, I don’t see an opposed amphibious assault on mainland China or Russia. But I could see one somewhere in the Arabian/Persian Gulf or anywhere else that we seek to dislodge a rogue government or irregular actor. I could see an island-hopping campaign to hold/retake the first island chain versus China. I could see littoral operations in the Med or the Baltic to stop Russian expansion. I think the likelihood of any of these is great enough that we need to prepare for it.

      I think we are in Cold War II, and the enemy is China. So I think we should focus primarily on beating China, second on beating Russia, and third on fighting actually to win in the Mideast. If we and our allies can hold the first island chain, then China has a very tough time.

    3. How big of a force do we need to seize a port? Inchon required two divisions (40,000 troops). That’s six BCT/MER-sized elements plus supporting units.

    4. "How big of a force do we need to seize a port?"

      I have no idea but this is what gaming and exercises would show us and this is why we should be doing these kinds of large scale exercises instead of chasing pirates and drug smugglers.

      There are two considerations to force size:

      1. The force needed to initially seize the port.

      2. The force required to hold the port.

      I would assume that a relatively small force (one division?) could seize the port but it would require 2-3x that to hold the port. We have to bear in mind that a port is a relatively small physical location. There's a limit to how many troops we pack into the space. Now, if we want to expand the seized area well beyond the port then we need more forces.

      I think the issue is less about the number of troops, in this case, and more about the right equipment: lots of C-RAM, lots of firepower (naval or self-propelled artillery), lots of repair equipment, lots of anti-air defenses, etc.

    5. Isn’t it also dependent on the number and quality of enemy troops defending the port?

    6. "Isn’t it also dependent on the number and quality of enemy troops defending the port?"

      Of course.

    7. "Inchon required two divisions"

      Yes and no. Yes, that was the total force employed in the overall operation. No, that was not the force required to seize the port. The two divisions were the force required and used to retake Seoul. Only a much smaller portion of that force was required to seize the port, itself. Green Beach required 1 battalion, Red Beach used 2-3 battalions, and Blue Beach used the 1st Marine Regiment although this portion of the action was not directly part of the port seizure but was aimed at Seoul.

      In fact, the 7th Infantry Division did not land until the second day of the operation, after the port and surrounding area had been secured. They played no part in the port seizure.

  19. From my time in the gator navy, I have tremendous respect for the Marines, and really want them to find viable missions and succeed. What should be their roles? I decided to turn to the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, to see what they had to say about it:
    “The principal role of marine troops is military operations in the littoral zone; operating from ships they are trained to land on and secure key points to around 50 miles inland, or as far as ship borne logistics can provide. Marine units primarily deploy from warships using boats, landing craft, hovercraft, amphibious vehicles or helicopters. Specialist units are also trained in combat diving/combat swimming and parachuting. … Marine troops are used in a variety of other … roles. Stationed at naval bases or forming Marine detachments on board naval ships, they also conduct small scale raiding, maritime boarding operations, security of naval vessels and bases, riverine and coastal missions, mess duty, and field day operations. In addition to their primary roles, they perform other tasks, including special operations and land warfare, separate from naval operations; ceremonial duties and miscellaneous other tasks as directed by governments.”
    Obviously generic language, but four things stand out:
    1. Military operations in the littoral zone…land and secure key points to about 50 miles inland. I have suggested an expeditionary combined arms unit of 3,200 Marines, with infantry, artillery, tanks, amphibious armor, and air, to conduct amphibious assault, port seizure, and raiding operations. Other than small raids, these missions cannot be executed from LHA/LHD platforms, because there is no effective way to get components other than light infantry and air ashore. That’s why I have suggested a more conventional amphibious squadron—smaller LHA/LHD, LPH, LPD/LSD, LST, LPA/LKA, NGFS frigate—that could operate 3-5 miles offshore. Based on my 2 major wars and a smaller conflict goal, I’d have 10 such squadrons, each with an assigned expeditionary unit, where I would want 3 such units in each major war area and 2 in a smaller conflict zone, plus 2 in maintenance/training/surge. The Marines like to rotate 3 units through every deployed FMF slot, so 3 x 3200 x 10 = 96,000 Marines.
    2. Marine detachments on naval ships. I could see something on the order of 10 Marines per ship, on average – more for larger, fewer for smaller ships. They would be responsible for shipboard security, boarding parties, and landing parties. My proposed fleet structure includes 600 total ships (which can be built for what the Navy is looking to spend for 355, so yes, ComNavOps, the CPA is looking at numbers). That would mean about 6,000 Marines.
    3. Riverine and coastal missions. This is an area where Marines and Navy can and should work very closely together to expand this mission in the littoral concept. One of the dumbest (of many dumb) things that Westmoreland did in Vietnam was assigning the Marines to the mountainous north the Army to the riverine south. Not that it would by itself have been sufficient to have won the war, but a combined Navy/Marine team in the watery south would have made a lot more sense. I see maybe 10,000 Marines and 10,000 Navy.
    4. Commando/special operations. We have around 70,000 special forces in all branches. I would see about 10-15,000 Marines in this area. This really should be right up the Marines’ alley, but their reluctance to work with other branches in this area has held them back.
    That’s about 120-125,000 Marines for these functions. Add 15-20,000 for admin, training, and ceremonial duties to make a total USMC around 135-145,000.
    All mission areas must be coordinated with the Navy. The Navy can’t say, “Here’s a bunch of LHAs/LHDs, figure out how to get a viable combat force ashore from them.” Marines and Navy need to be on the same page in planning missions and resources. I think that’s one thing the Commandant is getting at, and I agree with him there.

  20. One thing that struck me writing that post, and not sure if this is the right place or not, but if the goal is going to be 2 major wars plus 1 smaller conflict, it seems to me that we should train for that. Let's have an exercise going in the South China Sea at the same time we have exercises going in the Med, the Baltic, and the GIUK gap, and something in the IO/Mideast. That would really tell us if we have the capability to do it.

    Of course, right now we don't. But this could at least identify where we need to get better to do it.


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