Monday, March 16, 2015

Marine Dragon Swarms

If anti-ship weapons are too dangerous to allow our Marines to conduct contested operations in battalion strength or larger, should we be retooling our Marines for more but smaller amphibious operations that can slip in undetected rather than fighting through opposition?

The Marines have been struggling with the need to start assaults from over the horizon to minimize ship losses. This has been a problem with no easy solution, as the failure to replace the old amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) shows.

I've wondered whether a focus on smaller amphibious operations, whether in the Persian Gulf or South China Sea, is the most likely mission for our Marines rather than another Inchon or Iwo Jima.

And then I read this:

As the Corps prepares to draft a plan to put small teams of Marines on more Navy vessels, a three-star general explained what sort of missions these units might have from their new homes at sea.

Lt. Gen. David Berger, commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, said alternative ships would be good for low-threat Marine operations like humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions. Corps officials have suggested Marines could soon end up on cargo ships, joint high speed vessels and even submarines, and Berger said they would fit in nicely in situations where a well-protected amphibious ship is too much muscle for the job.

He doesn't mention small-scale combat missions.

With small (but important) islands in the Persian Gulf and many in the South China Sea (some of which are being built by China), operations in high-threat areas might only be possible with smaller vessels below the notice of threat reconnaissance.

We have Marine units deployed abroad on land, too, remember (Spain and Australia), as that article states.

Dispersing our Marines around the Pacific from the past practice of stationing a large force on Okinawa would support this concept.

Perhaps we need to move away from battalion-sized Marine Expeditionary Units (and building on them for larger operations) and move to platoon and company-sized operations on ships dedicated to moving Marines and providing fire support for small landings.

Maybe we need to resurrect the APD (assault transport)--the "Green Dragons"--from World War II:

The island-to-island nature of the Pacific war was a “three-legged stool,” requiring control of land, sea and air. But where control of the air and sea were contested, as in the Solomon Islands, ponderous transports and cargo ships carrying conventional Navy boats for landing were not a complete solution. Something more nimble was needed—fast, shallow draft, yet capable of embarking troops in adequate numbers and delivering them with equipment to landing beaches. ...

To support these special operations, the Marines needed a fast seaborne transport from the Navy. On 28 November 1938, the Navy’s oldest flush-deck destroyer, USS Manley, underwent the first of several exercises and modifications in quick succession until, by 7 February 1939, her forward two boilers and two stacks were replaced by a berthing compartment for 120 Marines and her four triple torpedo tubes mounts were replaced by davits to handle the new Higgins boats. One waist gun was deleted, the other moved to her centerline.

Could we use larger Coast Guard cutter designs for these? Or decommissioned Perry class frigates? Or even LCS with appropriate modules to support Marines?

Heck, maybe a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser would work.

Such ships could even be used to move in coastal defense detachments (although I'm not eager for the Army to take on this old mission if it detracts from its core mission) to hold the small islands (and give an enemy the pleasure of operating in an anti-access/area denial environment.

Why not small amphibious warfare ships for smaller missions? The big amphibious ships might be needed for their backup role, anyway.

NOTE: I took this post down when I used it as the inspiration to write an article on this subject. That article was published so I guess I can restore this post as part of the history of generating that idea.