6 years, 7 months ago
The U.S. Marine Corps is retooling itself after years of land battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to go back to their sea-based roots with the Navy. Undersecretary Bob Work has made a case for more capability in distributed operations, a lighter expeditionary unit, strong coupling with the Navy, and the continuing viability of forcible entry based on amphibious capabilities.
I have been a staunch defender of the military in light of demand for budgetary cuts. In light of the difficulties associated with startup of the shipbuilding industry in America again, I have advocated staying the course. There are many admirable aspects of Bob Work’s vision such as distributed operations (a strength long ago recognized and given legitimacy in the Small Wars Manual), and there is truth to the notion that forcible entry is not a dead concept. It will be employed in the future in the interest of national security. This is as safe a bet as any that can be made.
But what isn’t as clear is that the Marine Corps needs the equipment is says in order to pull off this mission. As I have said previously:
I do not now and have never advocated that the Marine Corps jettison completely their notion of littoral readiness and expeditionary warfare capabilities, but I have strongly advocated more support for the missions we have at hand.
Finally, it occurs to me that the debate is unnecessary. While Conway has famously said that the Corps is getting too heavy, his program relies on the extremely heavy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, that behemoth that is being designed and tested because we want forcible entry capabilities – against who, I frankly don’t know.
If it is a failing state or near failing state, no one needs the capabilities of the EFV. If it is a legitimate near peer enemy or second world state, then the casualties sustained from an actual land invasion would be enormous. Giving the enemy a chance to mine a beach, build bunkers, arm its army with missiles, and deploy air power, an infantry battalion would be dead within minutes. 1000 Marines – dead, along with the sinking of an Amphibious Assault Dock and its associated EFVs.
No one has yet given me a legitimate enemy who needs to be attacked by an EFV. On the other hand, I have strongly recommended the retooling of the expeditionary concept to rely much more heavily on air power and the air-ground task force concept. It would save money, create a lighter and more mobile Marine Corps (with Amphibious Assault Docks ferrying around more helicopters rather than LCACs), and better enable the Marines to perform multiple missions. I have also recommended an entirely new generation of Marine Corps helicopters.
The EFV is designed for a near peer state (or close to it), and its presupposition is active enemy fire while ferrying troops ashore while providing covering fire. It is a reversion to 65-year old amphibious warfare doctrine with updated equipment. But if the state upon which we intend to conduct forcible entry is capable of rocket fire against navy vessels (positioned 25 miles offshore over the horizon in order to increase the likelihood of survival), the EFVs will become deadly transport vehicles for Marines. If the nation-state is in fact not capable of such opposing fire, then the EFV is not needed.
The Marine Corps is digging in though, and Secretary Gates may be equivocating on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Bob Work aptly defends the vision in a response to a Small Wars Journal commentary by Robert Haddick. Robert argues that the Marine Corps failed to give adequate weight to the musings of Gates when he “wondered how opposed amphibious assaults will be viable when adversaries possess precision munitions, known as “G-RAMM” – guided rockets, artillery, mortars, and missiles.” Work responds in part:
In an anti-access environment where the enemy has a capable battle network capable of firing salvos of guided weapons, the initial phase of any theater entry operation will require achieving air, sea, undersea, and overall battle network superiority. This will mean this type of operation will be deliberate and take some time to develop. This does not mean “damn the G-RAMM, full speed ahead.” It means, “take your time, roll the G-RAMM threat back, and then land at a time and place of your own choosing.” No 10-day landings in this environment.
Once ashore, the primary threat to the lodgment will come from G-RAMM “counter-attacks” and hybrid warriors who most likely will hide amongst the people. This will require the Marines to concentrate on establishing an inner G-RAMM perimeter designed to keep guided rockets, mortars, and artillery suppressed/out of range. The joint force, especially the defending Navy battle network, will concentrate on defeating the longer range-G-RAMM threat.
This response, interesting and important though it is, lays the paradox out for us in all of its color. “Roll the G-RAMM threat back … land at a time and place of your own choosing … establishing an inner G-RAMM perimeter designed to keep guided rockets, mortars, and artillery suppressed/out of range.” Forcible entry under heavy fires from combined arms is either in the plans or it is not. If it is in the plans, then the EFV is designed to be used against a near peer or sizable nation-state with a uniformed army and capable of such a defense. This is unfathomable. Use of a couple of BLTs and supporting equipment is not nearly enough to effect success under these circumstances. The mission would be suicidal. It’s unfathomable precisely because we’re smarter than that.
If on the other hand the location upon which we intend to do forcible entry is not a developed nation-state capable of employing such combined arms, then the EFV is not necessary, and may even be an impediment to efficient operations give its amphibious-based design. Large scale amphibious assaults against near peer states or secondary powers are not likely, and history may have recorded the last such assaults more than 50 years ago. The EFV, designed for an assault that isn’t likely to happen, is a vehicle in search of a mission.
On the other hand, there is virtue in becoming lighter. While also defending the Osprey V-22, I have argued strongly against retiring the helicopter fleet, and also for development of a new, more capable Marine Corps helicopter fleet (a wiser expenditure of money than the EFV). While some have speculated that the Phrog is finished, I have argued that it is capable of delivery of Marines by fast-roping, something the V-22 can’t handle, and thus it should be maintained and even upgraded if necessary.
A lighter Marine Corps should be coupled with a faster moving Marine Corps, one that won’t have to lumber on shore in heavy vehicles. Helicopter delivery of Marines inland to secure the perimeter in situations of hybrid warfare, while relying on the Navy to deliver the heavier equipment later if it is deemed that it is needed, would support both a retooled Marine Corps and the needs of the 21st century.
The current Marine Corps vision tries to do it all. Consequently, the President and Congress are having to rely more heavily than ever on Special Operations Forces to do the role of rapid response and deployment, forcible entry of small teams conducting distributed operations, interdiction, and mission support where the most valuable commodity is ease of ingress and egress, lightness, and mission-specific tooling and weapons employment.
This is a role that the Marine Corps should be filling. The vision obviously has had a great deal of work put into it, but it suffers from being all things to all people under all circumstances. The Marine Corps cannot accomplish miracles. But it can be the best at the mission given to it. The need of the hour is for clarity and focus of the mission statement.