Monday, March 27, 2017

Will Concentrating the Mind Disperse the Marines?

After a long stretch of mobile land warfare in Iraq and counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marines are returning to practice amphibious warfare under the umbrella of enemy missiles and surveillance far more powerful than they were in 2001:

After focusing on killing terrorists for 15 years, the Marine Corps is making up for lost time by exploring new technologies to penetrate enemy air and coastal defenses.

“Obviously, having a revanchist Russia and a surging China concentrates the mind,” said Col. Dan Sullivan, chief of staff for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.

This April, the Navy and Marine Corps will hold an exercise at Camp Pendleton, California, that will test more than 100 proposed technologies to help Marines find and exploit gaps in enemy defenses as part of amphibious operations, which will include drones, communications equipment and remote-control amphibious vehicles, officials said at a media roundtable on Thursday.

I tend to think that large-scale amphibious warfare against opposition is dead because of the proliferation of cheaper and better precision weapons and a wider net of surveillance that is possible now.

And even if it isn't dead, the Navy doesn't have the amphibious lift to carry out large-scale amphibious operations.

But smaller Marine units are still useful for smaller scale amphibious operations that have strategic implications.

And I still think (see page 38) that Marines can focus on being a rapid response force from the sea that can grab a port of entry if needed. Add in that still I think the Marines are the logical service to take the lead in urban warfare, given that fighting a dug-in enemy force in a city does mesh with their traditional role of assaulting an enemy-held shore, really.

For amphibious warfare, I guess we will see if the Marines can figure out how to carry out large-scale amphibious operations under the new threats by using new tactics and equipment.

Or maybe the Marines will conclude that amphibious operations have to evolve to support naval operations with air, fires, and cyber capabilities (and to deny those capabilities to the enemy) and that they need to spread out and avoid massing--and perhaps be transient in nature to avoid presenting an inviting target--to cope with an enemy that can mass firepower against the Marines more easily than the Marines can swat it away.

The willingness to test ideas and technologies is the first step to figuring out what the Marines need to do.

UPDATE: Operating with distributed assets (disaggregated--dispersed physically while focused on a single objective) will require robust aviation assets.

I'm not sure if fighting disaggregated is enough to cope with cheap, precision firepower in the hands of an enemy. After all, the enemy can still focus on defending one objective.

It may be that the Marines need to focus on dispersed smaller-scale operations that achieve numerous smaller objectives across a wider area that deny a focal point for the enemy to react.

Once an enemy's fires and surveillance assets are ground down, it will be safer to focus on a single objective with disaggregated operations or even a traditional massed amphibious assault mission.