We’ve previously noted that the Navy is a mostly defensive force. Now, we have to add the Marines to that assessment as they are transforming from a ground seizing force to a missile-based defense force.
For the sake of discussion, let’s pretend that the idiotic Marine concept of small, hidden, missile launching forces is completely valid, effective, and survivable. How does that concept impact an overall war? Well, let’s consider what influence a small missile launching unit can have in combat.
Being able to launch a handful of anti-ship missiles into an area of one or two hundred miles radius around the launch point prevents enemy ships from entering that area – again, we’ll assume that enemy Aegis-type ships would be deterred by a handful of missiles. That’s a denial capability which is, inherently, defensive. In the Chinese theatre, this translates to setting up a blockade of sorts – we’ll assume we’ll somehow get permission to set up such bases on the myriad islands that we have no ownership of, or basing rights to, – that, at its most effective, prevents the Chinese surface navy from exiting the first island chain. We’ll ignore the fact that for the foreseeable future, the Chinese have no interest in exiting the first island chain during a war.
Now, let’s consider the geography and distances. The distance from the first island chain islands to the Chinese mainland is 500-1000 miles depending on where you choose to measure. The shortest distances are from the Philippines and we can safely assume that the Chinese-leaning Philippines are not going to grant us basing rights in a war with China. We’ll be lucky if they don’t actively enter the war on the Chinese side! So, that leaves us with the longer distances, again, assuming we can get basing rights anywhere. That means that the bulk of the thousand mile deep South China Sea is unthreatened by the Marine’s one or two hundred mile missiles – we’ll ignore the targeting challenges involved in getting sensor platforms one to two hundred miles deep into the South China Sea and surviving long enough to find a target and transmit data.
The usual purpose of a war is to seize territory: either territory you want to take from someone else or territory you want to reclaim because it was taken from you. As they are constituted today and as they are envisioned in the moderately near future, how are the Navy and Marines set up to seize territory? The short, brutal answer is that they are not.
The Marines have flat out stated that they are out of the amphibious frontal assault business. Further, they have transformed themselves from a middle weight force with tanks and artillery to a very light infantry force with no tanks, not much artillery, no armored fighting vehicles, and few heavy weapons. They won’t be seizing anything.
In short, the Marines have very little to contribute to an offensive strategy.
The navy can’t, themselves, seize ground, of course. However, the traditional role of the Navy is to support ground forces that can seize territory. That role involves transporting soldiers and supplies, providing amphibious assault ships and ground support firepower, and conducting offensive strikes in support of an overall offensive, ground seizing strategy.
Unfortunately, the Navy has completely abandoned naval gun support firepower, has only an obsolete, non-survivable land attack cruise missile that is too expensive to use in general area bombardment, and has ships that are too expensive to risk in open battle. The Navy’s main weapon system is Aegis and that is a purely defensive system.
The Navy has only the big deck amphibious ships for transport and those are likely to be phased out in favor of the small Light Amphibious Warships (capacity 75 troops) that the Marine Commandant has demanded the Navy give him. Given the cost of building, manning, and maintaining large amphibious ships that the Marines don’t want, the Navy is likely to quickly begin retiring the large ships.
In short, the Navy has very little to contribute to an offensive strategy.
The Navy and Marines have ensured that the next offensive waged by this country will be a purely Army affair with no Marine contribution and, at best, some logistics contribution from the Navy.
Of course, if we toss in even a bit of realism (you noted all the assumptions we had to make in the preceding discussion in order to keep the conversation moving?), the Marines missile-shooting concept is dead on arrival and they won’t be able to contribute even a defensive effort.
Seize the high ground? Sorry, no ……..