Monday, December 14, 2020

Japanese Resupply of Guadalcanal

The Marines have a vision of establishing small, hidden, forward bases inside enemy territory.  From these bases, the Marines will rain death and destruction down upon the hapless Chinese ships (and now subs!).  The bases will be established, resupplied, and, when necessary, relocated by small Light Amphibious Warships (LAW) and all of this activity will remain blissfully undetected by the enemy.


Let’s focus on the resupply aspect.  Even if the entire concept were to work perfectly – meaning, that the Marine units could be inserted, establish a base, and launch missiles without being detected – each unit would only be able to launch a few missiles and operate for a few weeks before they ran out of weapons and food.  In other words, in order to be an ongoing threat they must have a means of resupply.  That’s elementary and yet it is an aspect of the concept that has received zero public discussion or explanation.


Presumably, the same LAW vessels that would be used to transport and establish the hidden units would also be tasked with the resupply since the presumption is that these miraculous vessels, although slow, defenseless, and non-stealthy, are somehow immune to detection and destruction.  So, we see that a need exists for resupply on a regular basis - every few weeks, presumably.


Can this resupply work?  Well, the Marines have hand-waved aside any possible difficulties so that leaves it to us to examine the issue.


We’ve already noted the slow, defenseless, and non-stealthy nature of the LAW itself which, for any other platform, would instantly and automatically preclude its survivability and effectiveness in a combat situation.  Had we known that slow, defenseless, and non-stealthy had no negative impact on survivability, we could have saved a lot of money and built the F-22/35 to be slow, defenseless, and non-stealthy and just assumed they’d be undetectable like the LAW … but we didn’t.  Instead, in the world of reality, we know that survivability on the modern battlefield requires speed, stealth, and firepower (which we only sporadically include in designs!).  So for this reason(s) alone, the resupply concept is not viable. 


However, let’s dig deeper.  Let’s look where all thorough examinations should look:  history.


One of the best examples of contested resupply was the Japanese attempts to resupply their force on Guadalcanal.


Initially, the Japanese attempted major resupply convoys escorted by powerful surface groups which led to some of the largest naval battles of the war and resulted in heavy losses on both sides.


After those failed, they resorted to smaller efforts by individual ships such as destroyers crammed with troops and supplies.  That, too, failed.


The Japanese then attempted resupply using floating supply drums dropped from destroyers.


During the Battle of Tassafaronga on the night of 30 November–1 December 1942, the U.S. Navy, at great cost, had thwarted the Japanese navy’s first attempt to resupply Japanese troops on Guadalcanal using the new floating supply-drum method. The Japanese tried again on 3 December, fighting off a 15-plane long-range U.S. air attack from Guadalcanal at dusk and proving that radically maneuvering high-speed destroyers were very difficult targets to hit. The ten destroyers dumped 1,500 drums of supplies just off Guadalcanal, but at dawn, strafing from U.S. aircraft sank most of the drums before Japanese troops could retrieve them. (2)


Resupply by submarine was also attempted.


The Japanese continued resupply efforts by submarine that had begun the previous month, making three deliveries in the first week of December, before U.S. Navy radio intelligence pinpointed the schedule for the next delivery. In the pre-dawn hours of 9 December, the Japanese submarine I-3 surfaced right between PT-44 and PT-59 waiting in ambush, and was hit and sunk by a torpedo from PT-59 (Lieutenant Jack M. Searles, commanding) which actually worked. Searles was awarded the Navy Cross. The Japanese suspended further submarine supply runs. (2)


In addition, resupply was attempted with small landing craft and barges, moving at night.  This gave rise to night battles with US PT boats modified as barge-busting gunboats.

Kinugawa Maru - Beached and Sunk on Guadalcanal Nov 1942


Guadalcanal demonstrated that contested resupply is very difficult, bordering on impossible.  The key takeaway from the Guadalcanal example is that almost all of the Japanese resupply efforts were spotted and contested with most efforts failing and this was during a time when sensors were limited to visual range, Mk1 eyeballs in the form of coastwatchers or search/patrol aircraft.  There were no effective radar, IR, satellite, UAV, EO, or other sensors as the Chinese have today.  How we think we’ll be able to resupply the Marine’s bases in the face of modern sensors inside the enemy’s A2/AD zone where the sensor density will be extremely high is a mystery to me and I have yet to hear any Marine address and explain this aspect of the overall concept.






As a brief reminder, here are some of the characteristics of the Light Amphibious Warship from the CRS report (1, p.6-7) :



Light Amphibious Warship Characteristics


200 ft – 400 ft


4000 tons



Troop Capacity

75 Marines

Cargo Capacity

4,000 – 8,000 sq.ft.


stern or bow ramp


14-15 kts


3,500 nm

Defensive System

25-30 mm gun



A seemingly minor but incredibly important feature is the use of open deck storage as the main means of cargo storage.


The LAW’s maximum draft of 12 feet is intended to permit the ship to transit shallow waters on its way to and from landing beaches. The Navy prefers that the ship’s cargo space be in the form of open deck storage. (1, p.8)


This enlarges the vessel’s radar signature, making it even less stealthy and, therefore, less survivable.



What about cost?


The Navy states that it wants the LAW’s unit procurement cost to be $100 million to $130 million. (1, p.8)


Given the Navy’s demonstrated inability to even remotely estimate costs correctly, it is a virtual certainty that the cost will be double or triple what the Navy wants.  That puts the cost in the $200M - $390M range.  At that point, these are no longer cheap, throwaway vessels.  Add in the value of the cargo/troops that might be lost with each vessel and the notion of expendable vessels becomes even less viable.




(1)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, 23-Nov-2020




  1. What's even crazier is that the Navy plans to buy 28 to 30 LAWs which would be enough to move 2,100 to 2,250 troops at a time. Which is about the size of a single Marine Littoral Combat Regiment. Even with the ability to move 3 or 4 times that number, that is still not enough troops to make a difference.

    On the brightside, the Chinese have the same problem as we do, though their logistical trains are shorter. But, as with our experience in WW2, that requires a strong and well sustained forward deployed force.

  2. Your timing is impeccable, CNO. The Navy release a bunch information about the LAW recently and fits very well into this post. One of the things that I don't hear much about is where will these vessels be operating from. The Navy [1] described it as the "missing piece" between the Amphibious Assault Ship and ship-to-shore connector in a statement. It seems like they are envisioning this ship to both become a "ruggedized" (their words not mine) connector and a poor man's amphibious ship. Assuming that we are operating in the SCS, are we reinforcing from AAS/Supply/Transport vessel or from friendly ports? (or maybe even Guam?). If the prior is the case, wouldn't it make more sense to design an optimized ship-to-shore connector? I suspect that the later case is what they have in mind.

    Setting this aside, Navy Recognition [2] recently did a post on the ASW that reveals some interesting information about the Navy's plans:

    - They are planning to acquire 28-30 vessels. The LAW is designed to carry about 75 Marines. 75*30=2250. That's 3 billions dollars for the entire program assuming that they meet cost estimates. By comparison, the Marine Expeditionary Units that deploy on amphibious assault ships comprise roughly 2,200 personnel. The Wasp class costs around 1.9 billion in FY2019 dollars. The Wasp class has a well deck and flight deck. Just some thoughts to ponder about...

    - The LAW service life is now 20 years. That's a change from the original 10 years requirement.



    1. Other than naval ships, roll-on/roll-off ships(RO/RO) which are used to transfer vehicles are considered most useful civilian ships to be drafted in time of war. As cars and trucks can drive in/out them, they can transfer marines, equipment, and supplies.

      Of course, naval ships would be used first before draft civilian ones.

  3. The USN requirements call for the LAW to be able to transit open ocean in up to Sea State 5 fully loaded.

    I'm no mariner, but that seems low to me for a ship intended for oceanic voyages (3,500 nm). Or have I just "Victory at Sea" too many time? ;-)

  4. Good, post good call Guadalcanal is the first thing that sprung to mind when I read the USMC plans. Its seems a grand case of institutional amnesia.

    Particularity when you consider how often the IJN was trying not just barges/transports but its best potential stealth assets in subs and fast DDs at night in many cases and still not succeeding.

    1. "Particularity when you consider how often the IJN was trying not just barges/transports but its best potential stealth assets in subs and fast DDs at night in many cases and still not succeeding."

      Very good point.

      Also, Guadalcanal was literally the opposite of "hidden", with USA/JAP fighting furiously.

      Berger's concept makes no sense from any viewpoint

    2. The Commandant's reply, I'm sure, would be that the Marine bases will be hidden, unlike Guadalcanal, and therefore the Chinese won't know where to even look for resupply vessels. Of course, how the Chinese will miss seeing slow, non-stealthy ships sailing around the various islands is a mystery that he hasn't yet explained.

      Even if, by some unexplainable miracle, the initial Marine bases get established without being detected, the slow, non-stealthy resupply ships will lead the Chinese straight to them.

      There is absolutely nothing about this concept that passes even the most basic reality check.

    3. I'm not a fan of our current options for logistics resupply, but I think you're seriously exxagerating the adversary sensor density in the First Island Chain. If it's close enough to sense a potential connector it's close enough to be destroyed.

    4. " If it's close enough to sense a potential connector it's close enough to be destroyed."

      To an extent, it is. Of course, there's also land based OTH radar, satellites, high altitude aerial radar, submarines, etc., none of which are what I would call 'close enough to be destroyed' with ease.

      There's also the issue of density. China can assemble far more sensors than we can ships or aircraft to destroy them. Also, does it make sense to risk multi-billion dollar Burkes, carriers, and expensive aircraft to pursue sensors just so a platoon size Marine unit can operate undetected and exert almost no significant influence on a war?

    5. OTH radars can cue a different asset but cannot be used for targetting quality data. Satelittes have similar issues. High altitude aerial radars have limitations as well, and submarines are fairly dependent on being lucky and in the right spot when you're talking small, fast connectors.

      At the ranges we're talking, the density isn't that high. And no, I think you're under-selling the size of the ground force and over-selling the asset required to enable it.

    6. "when you're talking small, fast connectors."

      Who's talking that???? The Marines have specified a 200-400 ft long, 14 kt, non-stealthy ship. Just how hard do you think that will be to spot???????

      "the density isn't that high."

      The Chinese have sonar arrays all over the E/S China Seas, they'll have constant aerial radar coverage, extensive naval coverage, and all the other sensors I mentioned. If anything, I understated the degree of sensor coverage.

      "I think you're under-selling the size of the ground force"

      Oh for goodness sake, I'M QUOTING THE COMMANDANT ABOUT PLATOON SIZE UNITS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There's nothing to believe or disbelieve. It's his statements.

      You need to do some Internet research and come up to speed on what the Commandant and his minions have actually said and are actually planning.

  5. The conops for the EABO may be less than perfect but the resupply problem is actually easy to solve. Take the missiles/ rockets, sensors, and lighter ISR and attach them to ship. Operate them form the ship. Don't embark Marines. Don't go ashore. To resupply either bring in a resupply ship or more likely return to base.

    Resupply problem fixed. The rest of the concept may take a bit more work.

    1. A man from Austal will be giving you call about your concept. They are interested in getting a start in this armed self propelled concept you have. They've never built anything like it.

    2. The good news is I live just across the bay from Austal so they won't have far to go.

      But on a serious note the extreme end of the dispersion of forces is a bad idea. Keeping in easy comms range and be close enough to be mutually supporting is a good thing when you're being shot at. ALWAYS bring friends to a gun fight.

    3. That's the dumbest idea I have ever heard. How would it be stealthy? Hide it under the water?


    From this news story:

    “He said during a Dec. 7 interview on the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Podcast that the EABO concept dates back several years but that discussions about the concept have been mostly limited to classified forums. As a result, public conversations about what EABO could bring to the Navy-Marine team are less imaginative than the ones actually happening behind closed doors.”

    (Was he referring to you and a few others who poured scorn on his pet idea? LOL)

    More from the article:

    "People thought of, well where the commandant’s going is a bunch of little tiny Marine units that are running around with some kind of lethal batteries and kind of modern-day defense battalions sort of thing, and they were somehow going to support the fleet. And it created this mental model that became kind of an anchor for us,” Berger said.

    “I’d ask folks to stretch out their brains for us and think of EABO much wider than that. I think a huge aspect of how we’re going to use EABO going forward is how we’re going to, what the naval force might call scouting and counter-scouting, or the Army calls reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance."

    1. "public conversations about what EABO could bring to the Navy-Marine team are less imaginative than the ones actually happening behind closed doors.”

      Well, this is the problem. If you're going to be ultra-secretive then you're not going to be able to drum up support for whatever your concept is. Of course, you don't want to provide the enemy with detailed operational plans either but there's a happy medium where you offer enough information so that people can get behind you but not so much information that you're giving the enemy an advantage. So far, Berger has opted for total secrecy and, not surprising, he's been unable to generate any support. The ball's in his court. If he wants support, he's got top open up a bit.

      I seriously doubt there's anything he can think of - THAT MAKES SENSE - behind closed doors that I can't think of. I'm sure there's lots of things he can think of that are every bit as idiotic as his hidden bases idea and that would never occur to me … BECAUSE THEY'RE STUPID.

      "And it created this mental model that became kind of an anchor for us,” Berger said."

      He's got only himself to blame.

    2. "[...] discussions about the concept have been mostly limited to classified forums"

      Unless his secret club has developed an invisibility potion, I doubt there's a way to make this concept work, regardless of where the discussion happens.

      It doesn't even work as a budget grab!

  7. 14-15 kts? Why so slow?

    1. Trying to keep costs low and internal volume small.

      This may be the knee jerk reaction to the debacle of the LCS which sacrificed much on the alter of speed. If so, it's an overreaction the opposite way.

    2. It's an LST speed for an LST-type ship, so it makes sense.

      The problem is that the mission for those ships is completely different (and wrong).

  8. Another real lesson of Guadalcanal was the huge losses on both sides. Can't recall the Japanese book but was mentioned how IJN kept losses secret not only from general public but also from the Imperial Army! When eventually IJN had to acknowledge the losses sustained at Guadalcanal and battles to resupply, Army leaders were stunned!!!

    30 LAWs might sound enough but we could lose those very rapidly if we doing a replay of Guadalcanal.


    By the way CNO, have you read this?

    Points therein about the LAW are similar to yours.

  10. Looks to me like the LCS sacrificed everything for speed, and I'm afraid the FFG(X) sacrificed everything for AEGIS. I guess the LAW is sacrificing e.veryting for cheap. I just think it's a stupid concept.

  11. A CL-130 seaplane would seem the best way to resupply island outposts, using what would be unique Marine Corps aircraft, although the Coast Guard would buy some an maybe the Navy. One could link up with a deployed submarine on a calm day or in a calm bay for an hour. A C-130 has four times the range and and four times the payload of a V-22.

    1. So, you're thinking that a giant, slow, non-stealthy, non-maneuverable, defenseless aircraft will be able to fly through Chinese controlled waters, coming and going, and remain undetected?

    2. Planes cannot carry the needed volume of supplies, especially fresh water and POL.

  12. Don't forget that the US had it's own resupply problems in the early going. The initial landing task force was unable to offload all of the supplies in the time they had, and the Marines were almost immediately reduced to two meals a day.

  13. I just keep thinking about all the talk the US Navy has been doing about the idea of smaller UUVs, sea bed munition deployment modules, and UAVs carrying torpedoes. In the end, any trick we can do the Chinese will do as well. I can just see some 'island base' getting interdicted by the very same 'robotic forces' the USA is yammering about developing. Such technology doesn't have to be remote controlled, just deployed to wait the right stimulus. If the USA can develop that technology to hold the Chinese in the first island chain, the same technology could create a nice little localized blockade of an island.

    1. Quite right. It works both ways! - one of my overarching themes!

    2. I strongly agree. US strategic thinking has abandoned the maxim "the enemy gets a vote" for many decades now.

      Military power comes from having the most troops, with the best training and the best weapons. In US strategic planning, this has combined with the doctrinal preference for firepower to result in always looking for new technology to increase firepower without attending to the other two legs of the stool.

      The problem is that the other guy will always catch up with your current tech. So unless you are planning to launch a war based on your current technological superiority, you are always having to push for technology.

      And, IMO, this undermines the training leg in that you can't develop a high level of force proficiency if you are constantly rolling out new tech, or can't maintain the tech sufficiently to allow for continual force training.

  14. Are we ruling out an amphibious assault submarine then?

  15. Wouldn't the firing of these missiles give away their positions, if somehow the chinese fail to the landing, setting of said missile bases, and their continuing resupply?

    What then? That bases surprise value is spent, it faces either retaliation or avoidance, and if they get relocated to a new area, they'll have to rely on other assets or be defenseless as they re-embark their aforementioned slow, non-stealthy transport ships.

  16. It is 2020, not 1942. Technologies have advanced a lot. If you look map, you can find it is impossible to have a war between US and China like the Guadalcanal campaign.

    To many generals' surprise, Chinese navy is no longer the old primitive force in their mind but a high tech one.

    It is very unlike that US and China will go to a large scale war thanks to nuke as both have reliable delivery systems to nuke the other, like US - Soviet Union. Of course, to prevent war, US needs keep her nuke modern, so does China.

    For small conflict in today's war, first is to fight to control EW spectrum than air. Once that is achieved, than, helicopters will carry marine to land first followed by marine or naval engineers to build a simple port to support large re-supply ships.

    Without air supremacy (first need supremacy on EW spectrum), then, marines cannot even land.

  17. In some ways I think the Solomons campaign is actually the best model for any ground fighting in a future war with China. So what do we need to seize and defend bases at key choke points, resupply points, and launch points.

  18. In some ways I think the Solomons campaign is actually the best model for any ground fighting in a future war with China. So what do we need to seize and defend bases at key choke points, resupply points, and launch points.

  19. CNO why didn't you mention that marines will fight their war alongside Navy? It will be joint effort - marines will land on low-secured islands and position ASM units and EABOs there, naval ships will move to hostile waters to keep enemy out from supply lines, naval jets and drones will fight in skies, subs will hunt enemy subs, ships and so on. Marines and their missiles will be just one of assets.

    1. "CNO why didn't you mention that marines will fight their war alongside Navy?"

      Oh, good grief! I talk about all those things in post after post.

      I would also point out that the Marine concept is NOT for a fully joint effort. As they, themselves, describe it, the Marines are talking about an isolated, forward, 'hidden' (meaning low signature, low activity), small unit presence. By definition, that means not much supporting activity. The Navy is certainly not going to risk major units supporting platoon size Marine units.

      The Marine concept is to operate inside enemy waters, in advance of other friendly forces. If we have sufficient control of the air and water to freely operate ships, subs, drones, aircraft, and logistic ships then we don't need the Marine presence as it will no longer serve a purpose.

      So, do you have anything to comment about the post, itself?

    2. Nobody's talking about isolated operations...As a doctrinal term Isolation is exactly the opposite of what anyone wants.

    3. "Nobody's talking about isolated operations."

      The Marines are talking about exactly that. In fact, what I've not heard discussed is a known, forward base of the Guadalcanal type. The Marines are discussing EXACTLY small, hidden bases in the first island chain. Aside from resupply and communications, they would operate completely on their own.

      I've been following this quite closely and isolated bases (that's the wrong word - they wouldn't be bases, just a temporary camp location) is exactly what the Marines are describing.

      Once you opt for the other route of large, known Guadalcanal-type bases, then you need to include anti-air, extensive radar, a full air base, total Navy support etc. NO Marine discussion of this has occurred.

    4. By doctrine, if you have communications and logistics you're not isolated.

      "Isolate- To seal off an enemy from his sources of support, to deny freedom of movement, and prevent contact with other forces." Source FM 3-90 Appendix B.

    5. Fundamentally this is where we differ though, you immediately go from platoon sized outposts to Wing-sized fixed bases without acknowledging there are gradients in between.....There's companies, battalions, brigades that all sit in between the two extremes you paint this as.

    6. "By doctrine, if you have communications and logistics you're not isolated."

      Go be a sea lawyer somewhere else.

    7. " the two extremes"

      This isn't me. This is the Commandant's vision. He sees either platoon size units or large air bases for F-35s. He has not publicly discussed anything in between to any significant extent. If you don't like it, go argue with him.


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