Thursday, March 30, 2023

Amphibious Assault Size

Our peacetime paradigm has led us to believe that war is a small affair:  a few ships, a company of soldiers, a platoon with a few missiles (according to the Marines!), a carrier and a couple of escorts, etc.  We’ve forgotten the immense scale of effort that a true war requires.  Let’s take a look at historical amphibious assaults from WWII and remind ourselves of the size of the effort required for success.
Guadalcanal - 11,000 troops initial assault, 1st Marine Div, plus 6,000 additional men from various battalions over the next few weeks;  initial force proved too small and required additional Marine and Army reinforcements
Tarawa/Makin - 35,000 troops, 36 transports, 2nd Marine Div.; 8th, 2nd, 6th, 10th, 18th Regiments plus other battalions; 27th Army Div., 165th Regiment, 3rd Battalion/105th Infantry Regiment
Kwajalein – 85,000 troops,4th Marine Div, 7th Army Div, 300 ships
Eniwetok – 3500 troops, 22nd Marine Reg., 106th Infantry Regiment
Saipan - 60,000 – 70,000 troops, 2nd Marine Div, 4th Marine Div, 27th Infantry Div
Guam - 36,000 troops, 3rd Marine Div, 77th Infantry Div
Tinian – 15,000 troops, 2nd Marine Div, 4th Marine Div
Peleliu – 28,000 troops, 1st Marine Div, 81st Infantry Div
Luzon - 175,000 troops;  6th Army, 800 ships
Iwo Jima – 110,000 troops, 3rd, 4th, 5th Marine Div;  500+ ships
Okinawa - 200,000 troops, 1st, 2nd, 6th Marine Div, 7th, 27th, 77th, 96th Infantry Div
Normandy – 173,000 troops, 4th, 82nd, 90st, 101st, 1st, 29th Infantry Divisions plus several British and Canadian divisions
Desert Storm – While not an amphibious assault and not even remotely approximating a high end, global, peer war, it still involved some 600,000+ troops of all types.

We’ve come to believe that an amphibious assault can be conducted by a platoon, company, or, at the high end, a 2000 man Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).  This is simply not true.  The best any of those can do is a minor raid and, in the context of a peer war, those would be very minor annoyance raids, at best.
In addition to noting the size of the ground forces, check the size of some of the naval components:  up to several hundred ships!  Our entire current Navy would be insufficient to conduct a single assault.
We’ve completely forgotten the magnitude of the forces necessary to wage a high end war.  The only point to this post is that we have got to start remembering what real war entails and start training for and factoring in the sheer magnitude of: 

  • Ground force size (tens to hundreds of thousands of troops)
  • Logistics required to support massive ground forces
  • Horrifying attrition
  • Naval force size assets (hundreds of ships)
  • Industrial manufacturing capacity (see attrition)
  • Munitions consumption on a staggering scale
Our pathetic exercises involving platoons and companies or a few ships is so insufficient and inadequate as to border on criminal (in the figurative sense).  We have to scale our exercises up to semi-realistic sizes.  We need to exercise actual divisions, not virtual simulations.  We need to assemble and exercise several dozen ships at a time and learn how to command and control them as well as keep them supplied with munitions and fuel (guaranteed we can’t).
Almost none of this involves the pursuit of new technology which seems to be the military’s main focus and default solution to any problem or question.  We are so far off the correct path we can’t even see it from where we are!  The Navy is, by their own public statements, facing an imminent Chinese war …    and they’re downsizing the fleet!  In what alternate reality does that make sense?
As I keep saying, we’ve forgotten what real war is.  Perhaps this post will help us remember.

Monday, March 27, 2023

USS Colorado Battle Damage – Why We Had Battleships

Battleship critics and proponents have argued back and forth for decades, however, there is one overwhelming and undeniable reason why we had battleships and why we need them today:  they’re able to fight, absorb damage, and continue to fight.  The WWII history of the USS Colorado, BB-45, amply illustrates this capability.  Following are three instances where the Colorado sustained potentially serious damage that would have incapacitated or sunk any other type of ship.
USS Colorado - Note the cluster of three 5" shielded
mounts on the forward superstructure. The
open backs of the mounts can be clearly seen.

While providing gun support during the amphibious assault on Tinian on 24-July-1944 she sustained 22 shell hits from 150 mm Japanese shore batteries which caused 43 deaths and 198 wounded.  Colorado reported one 5”/51 gun and one 5”/25 gun knocked out. Note that both guns were unarmored, open mounts.  Despite the damage, Colorado continued shelling the island and providing fire support for the ground forces until 3-Aug-1944
Does anyone think a Burke could absorb 22x 150mm shell hits and continue its mission (or even stay afloat)?
Colorado returned to the US for repairs but arrived in Leyte to provide fire support for the assault.  On 27-Nov-1944, the battleship sustained two kamikaze hits, Colorado reported that one did no damage but the other knocked out two 5’/51 gun mounts and one 40 mm mount.  Casualties were 19 killed and 72 wounded.  Again, all three mounts were unarmored, open mounts.  Shrugging off the damage, Colorado bombarded Mindoro from 12=17 December 1944 before withdrawing to Manus Island for repairs.
USS Colorado Moments After Kamikaze Hit

Does anyone think a Burke could absorb two Kamikaze (each roughly equivalent to a cruise missile) hits and continue its mission (or even stay afloat)?
Lingayen Gulf
Colorado then took part in pre-assault shelling of Lingayen Gulf.  On 9-Jan-1945, she was hit by friendly 5” shells which hit the Sky Control (air defense station) superstructure, resulting in 18 dead and 51 wounded.  After repairs at Ulithi, Colorado joined Task Force 54 for the pre-invasion shelling Okinawa.
Does anyone think a Burke could absorb 5” shells and continue its mission?
In each case, Colorado was hit hard and yet was able to stay in the fight and continue its missions.
It is also noteworthy that Colorado was able to absorb significant damage and remain combat effective despite being an older armor design as opposed to the newer North Carolina, South Dakota, and Iowa class battleships.  The later classes would have been even less affected by the Colorado’s damage.
Note that in the first two incidents, all the reported damage was inflicted on unarmored, open mount guns (depending on the time period, the mounts may have had open-ended, lightweight, weather shields).  Being an ‘old’ battleship, relegated to secondary duty, Colorado was armed with the older style open mount guns instead of the armored, closed 5” mounts that were standard on the newer battleships.  Had Colorado had the newer, armored, closed 5” mounts the damage would have been minimal to non-existent.  The casualties were largely due to the multitude of open mounts resulting in sailors being exposed on deck.
Now consider what will happen when our top end surface combatant, the Burke, gets hit in a future battle/operation.
For starters, the ship will likely sink from anything remotely approaching the kind of damage that Colorado absorbed without missing a beat.
Beyond that, almost any hit will result in a mission kill, at the very least.  This means thet ship’s tasking in the operation will be missing and either that task will go wanting – likely leading to further difficulties/losses for the overall force/operation – or it will necessitate pulling another ship from some other tasking to take over the mission killed task.  Of course, that leaves a gap somewhere else.  And so on and so on with ripple effects extending throughout the fleet and the theater.
If 22x 150 mm shells had mission killed the Colorado, either vital gun support would have been reduced, leading to increased difficulty and risk for the ground troops, or some other battleship or heavy cruiser would have had to have been pulled off its tasking to take over for Colorado which would leave a gap in whatever the new ship was previously doing. 
Do you see the value (the force multiplication, in a very real sense) that battleships, or any armored ship that can take a hit and keep fighting, bring to the fleet commander?
Consider, also, the element of risk.  The WWII naval commander could, for example, task Colorado with close range bombardment without unduly worrying about some enemy artillery hits (or 22 of them!) sinking or badly damaging the ship.  In contrast, today’s commander can’t even entertain the thought of placing a Burke within range of enemy artillery no matter how vital the gun support might be for success of the ground operation.  The battleship offers a greater range of options because of its toughness.  That is not the case with Burkes.
What we have to recognize is that it’s not just a question of absorbing damage and not sinking, it’s a question of continuing the mission (staying in the fight), fully effective, not having to leave the combat theater, and not needing another ship to be pulled off other duty to take the original ship’s place.  It’s that secondary, ripple effect that the battleship’s armor, size, and toughness eliminates and, in so doing, makes the battleship even more effective and valuable.  Being able to continue fighting and continue the mission is a force multiplier for the fleet. 
We have no ship, today, that can sustain even a fraction of the damage that Colorado did, let alone shrug it off and continue to fight.  This is what a ship – battleship, in this specific example – that can absorb battle damage and keep fighting/operating brings to the table.
We’ve lost this capability and we need to regain it.

Friday, March 24, 2023

More Incorrect Ukraine Lessons

I’m baffled as to why observers seem to have such a hard time drawing valid conclusions from the Ukraine-Russia conflict.  More precisely, I’m baffled as to why observers seem so hell bent on drawing invalid conclusions.  This conflict could not be more atypical of what a China-US peer level war will be like and, therefore, as I’ve repeatedly stated, we have to be very, very cautious and skeptical about drawing conclusions.  Here’s the latest invalid conclusion by the US Air Force. 
Robust Ukrainian and Russian air defenses have rendered both sides’ aircraft, particularly those used for close air support missions, largely “worthless” in the war between the two countries, according to a top American Air Force general.[1]
About 60 Ukrainian aircraft and 70 Russian aircraft have been downed in the year since Russia launched its invasion, according to commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa Gen. James Hecker … [1] 
This is nonsense.  Aircraft have not been rendered ‘worthless’ by air defenses;  they’ve been rendered ‘worthless’ by the complete absence of any operational and tactical expertise in their employment.  Sure, a single soldier with a .22 cal handgun can render your entire platoon ‘worthless’ if you continually walk up to him and allow him to shoot you.  The soldier’s effectiveness is not due to the .22 cal gun;  it is due to your own tactical incompetence.  With the slightest bit of tactical expertise you can easily eliminate him.
Similarly, the effectiveness of the air defense systems is not due to the air defense systems, it’s due to the operational and tactical incompetence of the attackers.  Both sides seem to be flying up to the other’s air defenses and seeing how long they can survive.  Well, yeah, that’s a sure way to render your aircraft ‘worthless’. 
Where’s the electronic warfare support aircraft?  Where’s the anti-radiation missiles to suppress and destroy the defenses?  Where’s the coordinated artillery suppression of the air defenses?  Where’s the cruise missile attacks against air defense systems?  Where’s the infantry/armor attacks to destroy and degrade the air defenses?  Where’s the coordination with the attacking aircraft?  Where’s the signals analysis to locate the air defenses?  Where’s the operational planning to coordinate efforts?  I have seen zero evidence of any of that, by either side.  It’s no wonder both side’s aircraft are ‘worthless’.
Now, if we’re planning to fight China in a similarly inept, incompetent fashion (and I’m not ruling that out!) then the lessons in this conflict are applicable.  On the other hand, if we fight with operational and tactical competence then the only lessons we can draw from this conflict fall into the category or ‘what not to do’.
What’s disturbing about all this is the failure of our professional warriors to grasp the underlying reasons for the apparent failure of aircraft.  We seem to be accepting what we see at face value.  Whether it’s the Marine Commandant thinking that he’s seeing validation of his decision to eliminate tanks or the Navy thinking they see validation of their decision to run away from defended coasts or the Pentagon thinking that they’re seeing validation of unmanned assets, it’s all the same failure to understand the utter lack of operational and tactical competency in this conflict and, therefore, the invalid nature of any conclusion drawn therefrom.
The only thing ‘worthless’ in this conflict is our professional warriors who can’t seem to grasp the realities of this.  I assume this is because they, themselves, have no operational or tactical competence with which to assess what they’re seeing.  All I can hope is that China’s military leaders are just as incompetent as ours.
[1]Breaking Defense, “In Ukraine fight, integrated air defense has made many aircraft ‘worthless’: US Air Force general”, Michael Marrow, 7-Mar-2023,

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Buzzword Bingo Winner!

Sometimes you can tell how worthless a document is just by the first sentence.  Here’s an example from something called ‘Joint Concept for Competing”, 10-Feb-2023.  The first sentence of the Executive Summary is, 
Based on combatant commander (CCDR) assessments of their limited ability to compete successfully in strategic competition, at a Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Tank on 19 June 2020, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) directed the development of a joint concept for competition to drive joint strategic planning and joint force development and design.[1]
You’ll note that the word ‘joint’ appears five times!   In one sentence!  If you’ve got ‘joint’ on your buzzword bingo score sheet, you’re a winner! 

[1]USNI News website, “Pentagon’s Joint Concept for Competing”, 9-Mar-2023,

Monday, March 20, 2023

Island Naval Warfare

Pre-WWII, naval analysts envisioned open ocean clashes between mammoth battle lines of opposing battleships.  Cruisers with float planes were designed to operate as far ranging scouts for the battle line, seeking out the enemy’s battle fleet.  Destroyers would support the battle line by launching torpedo attacks and defending against the enemy’s torpedo attacks.  The vision was well understood, doctrine was well established, and the concept was extensively practiced.
Of course, reality came and none of that materialized.  Instead, the Navy found themselves fighting as small, disjointed units amongst the Solomon Islands, lost in the darkness, blinded by the mass of the islands, utterly confused, and unable to form a battle line that lasted more than a minute when combat began.
What were a few of the relevant factors that rendered the pre-war vision and scenarios irrelevant?
Detection – Detection of the enemy, whether visual or radar, was reduced to very short ranges by darkness and by the blocking mass of the islands.  Visual detection of enemy ships was severely hindered by the blocking mass of nearby islands with ships either hidden behind the islands or obscured on the near side by the background of the dark mass of the islands.  Similarly, the islands cast concealing radar shadows and returned clutter which hid or obscured targets and rendered radar far less effective than was hoped.
In one notable example, US ships were fired on by Japanese destroyers and the US returned fire against a nearby island, believing that the flashes from the Japanese ship’s guns were actually land artillery batteries!
Range – The impaired detection meant that engagement ranges were incredibly short compared to the extended ranges envisioned pre-war.  The short range had major implications for torpedo and gunnery tactics, none of which had been envisioned or practiced pre-war.
Uncertainty – The difficulty in detection led to a great deal of uncertainty in target identification – what we now refer to as Identification Friend or Foe (IFF).  Many firing opportunities were passed by due to uncertainty about target identification.  The well known axiom, ‘attack effectively, first’, was extremely difficult to implement.  The lack of close combat doctrine contributed to the uncertainty.  Having no viable doctrine, uncertainty abounded;  no commander had any solid expectation of what other friendly ships would do and where they would go and so they were often forced to hold fire due to uncertain identification.  This cost us badly on numerous occasions.
Given that our pre-war exercises and planning (War Plan Orange, for example) correctly anticipated an island hopping strategy, it is baffling that we didn’t make the logical conclusion that we needed to practice naval combat in close proximity to islands … but we didn’t and so we had to learn on the fly.  Learning on the fly in combat is the most expensive and deadly way to learn and, unsurprisingly, we paid a heavy price for the knowledge.

Bolstered, now, by a thorough understanding of history and its lessons, we can turn our attention to current events and a war with China.  It is quite likely that we will be fighting amongst the islands surrounding the East and South China Seas and yet we’re practicing for long range missile engagements in open ocean.  Does this sound eerily familiar?  We’re repeating the mistake of WWII by failing to train for naval combat amongst islands.
To offer some context, Wikipedia notes that Indonesia consists of 17,000 islands and the Philippines have 7,641 islands.  Given that those are likely combat areas, wouldn’t it make sense to anticipate island naval combat and begin training for it?
Of course, it’s possible that a war with China will avoid any proximity to islands (although that seems like wishful thinking more than reality) but we should, nevertheless, train for it.  If it doesn’t happen it’s no big deal and if it does, we’ll be prepared.
How will the various island factors impact naval combat today?
Radar – The physics of radar haven’t changed.  Islands will still cast radar shadows and generate cluttered returns that will hide or obscure targets.  Recall the supposed land-based, anti-ship missile attacks directed against the Burke class destroyer, USS Mason?  As it turned out, we couldn’t even determine whether attacks had even occurred (they didn’t!), likely due to the interference/obscuration of the land mass. 
Detection ranges will still be far shorter than expected.  Incoming missiles, especially sea-skimmers, will be hidden in radar shadows.  The same islands that hide us, hide the enemy.
Of course, no sane commander will be using radar, anyway, so radar detection will be an infrequent occurrence.
Optical – The wise naval commander will be using passive sensors, for the most part, and islands still obscure targets on both the near and far side of the land mass.
Missiles – Islands will degrade missile effectiveness.  Ships sailing close inshore will be obscured by the surrounding land mass and modern missiles will likely lack the ability to discriminate a ship from a rocky outcropping, atoll, or other mass.  To the best of my knowledge, no navy or manufacturer has considered missile performance near islands.  We need to conduct realistic testing of missiles in proximity to islands and find out how well they can identify and acquire targets obscured by land masses.
Islands will block missile approaches.  A sea skimming missile (which most modern anti-ship missiles are) will be unable to attack a target on the far side of an island or will have to take an altered path to navigate around the island to approach the target.  We need to factor this into our combat tactics.
UAVs – UAVs will be affected by islands.  They’ll have to fly higher, linger longer to search and clear/identify targets near land, compensate for island-blocked communications, etc.  UAVs may also take advantage of islands by hiding in their shadows and background.  A UAV operating against the background of an island mass may well be able to ‘approach’ a target quite closely without being detected.  Again, we haven’t made any attempt to study UAV operations near islands and develop appropriate offensive and defensive doctrine and tactics.
There is every reason to expect that we’ll find ourselves operating in, around, and near islands and there is no reason to believe that the various WWII factors that made such operations dangerous, difficult, and chaotic won’t still apply.  Detections and engagements will still be sudden, unexpected, and short ranged.  We desperately need to begin training for such operations. 
We have no idea how missiles will behave near islands.  We have no idea what doctrine and tactics will prove successful.  We can prepare for island naval combat or we can be surprised and pay the horrific price to learn on the fly.
Assuming the anticipated scenarios occur, one blindingly obvious conclusion is that large caliber guns will be of immense value.  With short detection ranges, large caliber guns can establish and sustain fire that missiles can’t match and can do so far more cost effectively.  As our Ukraine donations have amply demonstrated, we’ll run out of high end missiles very quickly.  Large caliber guns and cheap (free on a relative basis!) shells will seem a godsend, at that point.
Hand in hand with large caliber guns is armor.  Ships that can absorb damage and stay in the fight (a Burke cannot) will be the difference between victory and defeat.
Bear in mind that we aren’t just talking about opposing ships being nose to nose like they were at Guadalcanal.  The scenario could be an anti-ship attack from a hundred miles away, directed towards a ship in or near the first island chain islands.  All the factors we discussed apply.  How will the missiles identify valid targets?  Will the missiles need to be ‘waypointed’ around various islands?  Will the target ships be effectively hidden by the surrounding islands?  Will terminal guidance be required?  We need to understand naval combat in and amongst islands.
We’re repeating the mistakes of WWII by failing to prepare for combat scenarios that are likely to materialize and focusing exclusively on open ocean scenarios that are less likely.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

2024 Weapons Procurement Increase

As we’re all well aware, the US military has been hemorrhaging weapons in the form of transfers to Ukraine.  Inventories for many weapons are critically low.  It should, therefore, be safe to conclude that next year’s (2024) weapons procurement quantities should be massively increased over 2023, right? 
On top of that, the Navy has publicly stated that China will invade Taiwan within the next couple of years so that is, obviously, going to trigger a massive increase in weapons procurement for 2024 as we gear up for a peer war, right.
I’m guessing we’re going to be seeing many thousands of additional missiles budgeted for 2024, right?
Let’s see just how big the procurement increases are for some common weapons.  The table below shows the 2023 and 2024 procurement quantities.[1]

So, with a peer war looming and depleted inventories due to Ukraine, the Navy is ordering 218 fewer weapons than last year.  Do I really need to add any more commentary to this post?
[1]“Highlights of the Department of the Navy, FY 2024 Budget”, p.2-9

Monday, March 13, 2023

Iwo Jima Class LPH and Vertical Assault

The Iwo Jima class carrier was the first purpose built vertical assault (helicopter) amphibious ship.  In this post, we’re going to take a look at its original design rationale, abilities, and limitations and examine whether those have remained relevant today.
Here are some basic specifications for the seven ship class, built in the 1960’s: 

Iwo Jima Class LPH

The amphibious assault helicopter carrier (Landing Platform, Helicopter - LPH) traces its origin back to a 1946 Marine Corps study on the effects of atomic weapons on amphibious assaults.[1]  Marine leadership, 
… concluded that a few atomic bombs could easily destroy the concentrated shipping and also the beachhead of any classical amphibious assault.[1]
As described by Friedman[1], the Marines settled on the helicopter as the means to achieve physical dispersion of both ships at sea and troops on land.  The greater range of the helicopter would allow the host ships to more widely disperse and would allow the troops to land at more widely dispersed locations thus avoiding the concentrations that an atomic bomb would easily destroy.
Their decision was strongly influenced by the belief that helicopters would quickly and markedly advance in capabilities (range, speed, lift capacity) – a belief that turned out, disappointingly, to be only partially met.  Friedman goes on to describe some of the helicopter development issues which is, itself, a fascinating topic but outside the scope of this post.  I encourage you to read it yourself, if you’re so inclined.  It’s well worth the time.
The Marines, while eagerly adopting the helicopter as the assault transport vehicle also recognized the vulnerability of the helicopter on the battlefield.  Regarding helicopter transport capacity, 
Even larger helicopters were proposed, but the Marines were reluctant to adopt one that could lift many more than twenty men in view of the high vulnerability of individual craft.[1][emphasis added]
The Marines recognized that concentrating greater numbers of troops in a vehicle that was inherently non-survivable would be a mistake.  In comparison, today’s MV-22 transport is rated for 24-32 troops which raises the concentration of risk issue that the Marines were afraid of.  To be fair, most sources state that the MV-22 troop capacity is not actually achievable in real world applications.
What did helicopter assault mean for overall requirements?  The Marines were focused on division-strength assaults, 
The Marines concentrated on the requirements of a divisional assault, which were considerable. For example, a January 1951 study envisaged lifting 10,000 men and 3,000 to 4,000 short tons of material.  Total lift, then, would be 520 HRSs [ed. Sikorsky H-19] or 208 HR2Ss, which in turn would require, in the former case, 20 escort carriers with 20 helicopters each, accommodating 150 to 200 tons of cargo, 500 to 600 assault marines, and a 200-man helicopter squadron.[1]
This focus on division level assaults was a far cry from our current MEU/ARG (3-ship Amphibious Ready Group) and disaggregated ARG which employs the three ships of the ARG separately.  Of course, in the event of a genuine assault operation, multiple MEU/ARGs would aggregate to form MEBs (Marine Expeditionary Brigade) and MEFs (Marine Expeditionary Force) although these aggregations are never exercised and constitute a theoretical capability, only.  Further, with the elimination of tanks, reduction in artillery, elimination of heavy mortars, and lack of anti-air vehicles it is highly debatable that MEBs/MEFs are even combat effective anymore.
The Marines also considered the tactical usage of the helicopter, 
Tactically, the Marines considered a flight of ten helicopters best for effective control, so that helicopter carriers were generally designed to accommodate multiples of that unit.[1]
We see then, that the Marines of the time were focused on getting large numbers of helos/troops on the ground quickly as opposed to our current concept of slow, drawn out, one-at-a-time MV-22 landings due to the 250 ft aircraft-to-aircraft separations and immense cleared areas required for landing.
To their immense credit, the Marines didn’t just come up with wild ideas and implement them without any proof of concept - as we do today - they conducted actual exercises.  For example, 
… May 1948, 8 helicopters from the Palau simulated a full helicopter attack of 184 aircraft flying from six CVEs, to lift a complete regimental combat team which would seize a strategic crossroads inland of the beach.  … each HRP [Piasecki HRP tandem rotor helicopter] carried six passengers about ten miles from the carrier under heavy fighter cover.[1]
Note the use of fighter cover.  The exercises were tactically realistic as opposed to the unrealistic, set piece theater performances we call exercises today.
Following tests, the WWII escort carrier USS Thetis Bay was converted for helicopter operations to further test out the concept.
At that point, the Marines seemed fully committed to helicopter assault.  A Sep-1954 report stated, 
… over the next ten to fifteen years most existing attack cargo and transport (AKA and APA) ships would be replaced by helicopter carriers.  “This will be occasioned by the VTOL aircraft becoming the principal means of placing personnel ashore under assault conditions.  Supporting personnel and heavy equipment will still be landed by water-borne means but the majority of assault troops will be air-landed.”[1]
Ultimately, a new design LPH, the Iwo Jima class, was built along with several Essex class conversions.  The purpose-designed Iwo Jima class, not surprisingly, offered several significant advantages over the Essex conversions.  Even so, the design was not without its flaws, 
The amphibious force commanders criticized the Iwo Jima design for its “complete lack of landing craft, so that it is of doubtful utility under non-flying conditions and must depend on other types with landing craft to give it an over-the-beach capacity.[1]
This flaw eventually led to the development of the LHA design which incorporated both aviation and  a well deck to support waterborne landing craft.  Interestingly, we have returned to exactly the original flawed design with the new America class variants which have no well decks.
Let’s examine several aspects of the original vertical assault concept that birthed the LPH.
As noted, the original rationale was dispersal of ships and troops in response to the threat of atomic bombs.  The original Marine thinking was dominated by the fear of atomic warfare.  With the advent of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), that is no longer a concern.  Any use of atomic weapons would immediately escalate the war to a global nuclear war and eliminate the need for a localized amphibious assault.  In other words, no one is going to bother with an amphibious assault while waging a global nuclear war.  Thus, the original rationale is no longer valid and yet we have not modified our current thinking to account for it.
  • Helos allow the rapid transport of troops from a greater distance than waterborne landing craft.
  • Troops can be delivered to safer or more strategically beneficial locations rather than to a central troop/beach concentration although safer locations also imply less operationally relevant and useful.
  • The greater range of the helos allows greater separation of the helicopter carriers.

  • Bad weather may ground aviation.
  • Lack of waterborne landing craft prevents any other means of assault.
  • Helo assault is limited to troops and light cargo.  Heavy equipment, tanks, armored vehicles, etc. cannot be transported by air.
  • Helos are extremely vulnerable to even modest anti-air defenses.
  • Helo carriers have very limited wave transport capacity.  For example, 20 helos per wave x 15-20 troops per helo = 300-400 troops per wave and that’s just troops, no equipment.  It would require 5-7 waves, over many hours or multiple days, to get the full troop complement ashore and that assumes no helo attrition.  The reality is that any reasonable helo attrition would likely result in a portion of the troops never getting ashore and certainly not in a timely manner.
  • Limited by the need/availability of suitable cleared landing sites; such sites can be reasonably anticipated by the enemy and become fire traps as demonstrated in Vietnam.

The original Marine leadership was focused on division level assaults.  What they failed to address was sustainment.  While simply moving troops ashore is easy (ignoring the extreme vulnerability of the helicopter and the potential lack of suitable landing sites), sustainment via helicopter is not.  In fact, it is impossible.  The logistic supply demands of a division in combat are staggeringly huge and the cargo carrying capacity of a helicopter is vanishingly small.  This remains an unexplained – and hand waved away – weakness in today’s various vertical assault concepts (helos, MV-22, well deck-less LHAs, etc.) as well as the Commandant’s dispersed, hidden, platoon size missile shooters concept.  It is not possible to sustain an assault using helicopters.
The original rationale for the LPH and vertical assault was dispersal due to the threat of atomic weapons.  As, discussed, this is no longer a valid concern.
It is noteworthy that the original Marines identified significant weaknesses in the concept including the extreme vulnerability of helos to anti-air defenses and the absence of waterborne landing craft as an alternative.  Other weaknesses included the inability to transport heavy equipment, the limited number of troops that can be transported per wave, and the impossibility of sustaining an assault using vertical transport.
We see, then, that vertical assault is an inherently flawed concept that was justified only by the extreme atomic threat.  With no realistic atomic threat today, one has to ask why we’re still pursuing the flawed vertical assault concept?
Where does this leave us today?  For starters, we’ve begun repeating the original mistakes such as the absence of waterborne landing craft in the early variants of the America class LHA.  Additional problems include the extreme vulnerability of vertical landing aircraft to anti-air defenses, first noted by the Marines back in the original concept development.  In fact, the threat to helos has increased markedly over the years with the advent of small, portable, shoulder launched, heat seeking, anti-air missiles of the Stinger type.  Vertical landing aircraft are simply not survivable over a defended battlefield as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the real world (Vietnam, Soviet Afghanistan, US Afghanistan, etc.).
The inability to transport heavy equipment by air continues, today, and is a serious weakness in the concept.  This limitation relegates any assault to a light infantry effort only and makes the enormous cost and resources dedicated to such a limited capability highly questionable.
The need for secure, cleared landing sites has only gotten substantially worse with the advent of the MV-22 which requires enormous cleared areas and huge separations between aircraft to the point that a massed assault is simply not possible.  Landings will have to be a very slow, one-at-a-time affair that is ideal for enemy defensive fire sequentially focused on each landing aircraft in turn.
Despite clearly and correctly identifying the inherent flaws in the vertical assault concept, Marine leadership pushed ahead with vertical assault in the belief that the atomic threat was more significant than the known weaknesses.  One can only speculate whether the Marines would have adopted vertical assault if there had been no perceived atomic threat.
With no realistic atomic threat today, one has to ask why we’re pursuing an inherently flawed concept?
Worse, we have taken the concept and reduced it from a full, divisional level effort and capability to a light infantry effort with no supporting tanks, armor, artillery, heavy mortars, or mobile anti-air vehicles.  Is the staggering cost to build and operate 30+ amphibious ships worthwhile to deliver light infantry ashore?
It would seem that vertical amphibious assault is an example of inertia.  The helo assault was established and continues just because it exists.  It exists because it exists.  We need to re-examine this 1940’s era concept in light of the known flaws and, especially, modern defenses which have rendered helos even more vulnerable than they were originally.  The cost/risk to benefit ratio does not support continued vertical assault.
[1]Norman Friedman, “U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History”, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1983, p.359-370.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Loyal Wingman No Longer Expendable

After years of Loyal Wingman proponents trumpeting the ability of the unmanned drone to be expendable, thus saving manned aircraft, the Air Force now says that the drone is not expendable. 
The push for affordability “doesn’t mean… that this is an attritable type of platform,” Jobe [Maj. Gen. R. Scott Jobe], Director of Plans, Programs, and Requirements at Air Combat Command, said during a panel at the Air and Space Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium. “That’s a common misconception.”[1]
Simple logic dictates that if the drone is not going to be expendable then it will have to be extremely capable, meaning on par with modern 5th generation fighters, in order to survive.  If they aren’t equally capable, they won’t survive.  Of course, simple logic also dictates that if they’re on par with 5th generation fighters, they’ll cost what 5th generation fighters cost and that violates another commonly touted characteristic:  affordability.
As the Air Force notes, 
Officials said a careful balance must be struck between their affordability and capability.[1]
Of course, when was the last time the military was able to strike an appropriate balance between affordability and capability?  Let me repeat … if you want survivability, you need 5th generation capability and that means 5th generation cost.  This is pretty elementary logic.
On a closely related note, why have we already committed to a production run of at least a thousand drones before we’ve demonstrated the first proof of combat effectiveness?

[1]Breaking Defense, “CCA fighter wingmen drones won’t be ‘attritable,’ despite ‘common misconception’: General”, Michael Marrow, 8-Mar-2023,

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Unmanned Manning

People have a tendency to believe what they want to believe even in the face of proof to the contrary.  One such example is manning for unmanned systems.  So many people take it as an article of faith that unmanned systems decrease the overall manning requirement and that’s patently false.  I documented this back in a 2018 post which quoted Air Force generals stating publicly that unmanned systems required more manpower than manned systems.[1]  Here’s a quote that was presented in that post: 
The [remotely piloted aircraft] ... requires much more architecture than, say, an F-16 squadron, Kwast said.  While the ratio of people to aircraft in manned aviation is roughly 1.5 to 1, he said, it takes about 10 people to operate one UAV at any given time.[1]
Now we have the Army saying the same thing. 
“It’s kind of a paradox that our ‘unmanned’ formations are larger than our manned formations,’” said Maj. Gen. Michael McCurry, a veteran helicopter pilot who now heads the Army aviation “schoolhouse” at Fort Rucker, Ala. “We have Apache [attack helicopter] companies that are just over 30 people and we have Grey Eagle [drone] companies that are 135 people [or more].[2]
Tell me again, now, what’s the advantage of unmanned systems and why have jumped straight into the deep end of the unmanned pool with no evidence of its combat usefulness?

How many men does it take to change an unmanned light bulb?

There have been no combat exercises that have demonstrated any unmanned combat effectiveness, that I’m aware of.  To the contrary, there have been numerous real world examples of unmanned assets being shot down, captured, or driven off.
The only exception to this would be suicide-type drones in permissive environments – but that’s not really combat is it?  To repeat, there have been no peer level combat exercises or real world experiences that demonstrate the combat effectiveness of unmanned systems.
There is no cost savings for unmanned systems.  If you want an unmanned asset with, say, F-22 type performance, you’ll pay F-22 type costs.  The manning is greater.  There is no demonstrable combat effectiveness against a peer.  Why are we doing this?
But, to return to the matter at hand, we keep seeing proof that unmanned systems require more manning than manned systems.  Similarly, the LCS, which was designed as a barely manned asset ultimately was found to require more manning than the Perry class frigate it replaced!
There’s just no getting around it.  Unmanned systems are manning hogs at a time when the Holy Grail of the Navy is reduced manning … … and yet the Navy continues to pursue unmanned assets as if they were the key to life itself.
The Navy keeps assuring us that manning is the major portion of operating costs so why are we doing this?
We have got to start feeding real world experiences back into our development and force structure efforts even if that feedback contradicts our beliefs.
[1]Navy Matters, “Unmanned Thoughts”, 27-Aug-2018,
[2]Breaking Defense, “‘Unmanned’ drones take too many humans to operate, says top Army aviator”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 27-Feb-2023,

Monday, March 6, 2023

Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 Eliminated

The Navy is deactivating Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 (ACB).[1]  The ACB was tasked with supporting amphibious landings by providing engineering support for causeways, cranes, and ferries among other duties.  ACB 1 is still being maintained although, apparently, at greatly reduced manning levels.[1]
The Navy decided in July to deactivate the battalion after the elevated causeway system — a modular pier stretching up to 3,000 feet to provide logistic support to Marine Corps and Joint Expeditionary Forces — was removed from the command’s Table of Allowance.[1]

Elevated Causeway System

I don’t necessarily have a problem with deactivating the unit as I see very little realistic need for amphibious landings in the foreseeable future.  However, the move does raise a few questions. 
  1. If the elevated causeway system has been eliminated, how will supplies get from ship to shore?  We seem to be early retiring the MLP/AFSB so one has to wonder how sustainment materiel will get to shore.  Have we pigeon-holed ourselves into only fighting/sustaining from secure ports?  In today’s world of multi-thousand mile missiles, there are no secure ports!

  2. This is yet another indication that the Marines, the Navy, and the military are out of the amphibious assault business.  If that’s the case, why are we still building multi-billion dollar amphibious ships?

  3. If ACB 2 serves no purpose, why maintain ACB 1?
More generally, the Marines – and the military, in general - are eliminating lots of units and capabilities and I don’t see any corresponding establishment of new combat capabilities to replace them other than the completely unproven and, thus far, demonstrably combat-incapable unmanned fad.
I’ve long stated that the Marine’s core mission should be port seizure and this is yet more proof of that need.
[1]Stars and Stripes website, “Navy Seabee battalion honored in decommissioning ceremony after 80 years of building and fighting”, Caitlyn Burchett, 3-Mar-2023,

Friday, March 3, 2023

Marines Eliminate Scout-Snipers

From the beginning of the history of warfare, few types of soldiers have exhibited the disproportionate impact on the battlefield that snipers have.  Normally, I’d launch into a recitation of historical examples of the outsized impact of the sniper but, in this case, I think the point is too obvious and too indisputable to justify the effort so I’ll just say, snipers are gods on the battlefield.
With that in mind, we see that the Marines are eliminating snipers. 
As part of the Marine Corps' ongoing and controversial attempt to reinvent the service for future warfare, it had decided to get rid of the scout ... 
As part of the plan, all three training locations for the grueling three-month Scout Sniper course will stop accepting new students starting in fiscal 2024 … [1]
Gone or significantly reduced:  tanks, artillery, mortars, snipers.  The Marines are being systematically eliminated as a fighting force.  It would be impossible for a Chinese agent to do more harm to the Marine Corps than the Commandant is doing.

[1]Newsmax, “Marine Corps Eliminates Elite Scout Sniper Platoons”, 28-Feb-2023,

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Fuel Logistics for a Pacific War

One of the ‘givens’ that I assumed about any China war was that the US would be hard-pressed to supply enough fuel (or any other materiel, for that matter!) for sustained combat operations.  In other words, I assumed that the US would face extremely problematic logistics.  However, reader ‘Austin Vernon’ has written an article on his website that suggests that fuel logistics are not only possible but actually not very problematic.  Do I need to re-think my assumption?  I urge you to follow the link (see, “Fuel Logistics for a Pacific War”) and read the article.  Here’s a few quotes from the article to whet your appetite:
The vast majority of fuel usage is for aviation. The Air Force requires nearly 750,000 barrels per day, and Naval Aviation another 100,000 barrels per day. Warships and amphibious units only use ~160,000 barrels per day at full steam. I'm not including Army figures, but ten armored divisions would use about the same as the Navy's ships.[1]
Not only are China's ~9 million barrels per day of seaborne imports vulnerable, but ~30% of China's four million barrels per day of crude oil production comes from offshore platforms. Those facilities should be easy targets that are difficult to repair. The country will suffer a 75% reduction in oil supply, leaving onshore production and Russian pipeline imports.[1]
There are 800+ Very Large Crude Carriers that hold 2 million barrels, 570+ Suezmax tankers that hold 1 million barrels, 650+ Aframax tankers, and ~1000 misfits that hold a few hundred thousand barrels.[1]
There are ~650 tankers worldwide in just the Aframax classification, and ~10 could keep the Navy supplied from the US West Coast since each ship holds 500,000+ barrels.[1]
The author discusses US military fuel usage rates and presents tables itemizing the consumption according to branch/type.  In addition, he addresses capacity and delivery methods.  Not to be one-dimensional, he also discusses China’s needs and capacity.
All of this is accomplished in a relatively short, very easy to read, well written piece.  If amateurs discuss tactics and professionals discuss logistics, this is your chance to enhance your professionalism.  Read the piece and come back here to discuss it!
Here’s a few of my own questions/thoughts for potential discussion:
Desert Storm demonstrated that bulk delivery of supplies to a theater is only part of the issue.  The other part is distribution to the individual units.  In other words, we saw that individual units had to stop due to lack of fuel even though bulk fuel at ‘depots’ was readily available.  Do we have the unit level distribution capability to support sustained operations?
What happens to our capacities if a reasonable amount of combat losses (destroyed fuel farms, sunk tankers, etc.) occurs?
Can China significantly interdict our fuel shipments/convoys?
While there may be many tankers in the world, how many can the US actually obtain given that few are US flagged (according to my understanding)?
By the way, if any of you have a topic you’re knowledgeable on and passionate about to the point of writing about it, let me know.  I’m quite open to hosting/referencing reader writings.
[1]austinvernon website, “Fuel Logistics for a Pacific War”, Austin Vernon, 1-Mar-2023,