Archive for the 'Expeditionary Warfare' Category



Marine Corps Prepares for Budget Cuts

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

When it comes to defense spending generally, I have pointed out before that the percentage of defense budget versus GDP has shrunk over time for the U.S.  The notion of defense spending that is out of control is a perception created by a liberal administration bent of printing and spending trillions of dollars on entitlements and redistribution of wealth rather than defense .  Little more needs to be said about that because of the obvious disparity in interests of this administration.

However, that doesn’t mean that any particular branch of the service has spent money wisely.  Regarding the concept of expeditionary warfare floated by Commandant Conway, I have pointed out how inherently contradictory it is.  Conway believes that the Corps is getting too heavy, yet he invests an incredible amount of money in the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  He believes that the Corps needs to be capable of many kinds of warfare with its equipment, but invests in implements of warfare intended to perform only one task: forcible entry under conditions of heavy fire from numerous opposing forces.

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 U.S. will never again conduct a major, large scale, amphibious-based forcible entry that relies upon sea-based approach for the initial assault.  I have recommended an alternative, namely amphibious-based forcible entry via air based on a new Marine Corps helicopter fleet.  After securing the beach head, Naval assets can ferry heavier equipment to shore if necessary.  Air-based entry, including transport (helicopter and V-22 Osprey) and attack helicopter is the way to go, and would address even the example of the synthesized nation-state / terrorist entity, namely Hezbollah in Lebanon who is presumed to have such rockets due to Iranian assistance.

But the Marines are preparing for major cuts, and if it comes down to it, it appears that the wasteful billions spent on large scale amphibious assaults will be addressed by cutting the very things needed in the twenty first century.  Troops are needed, and a replacement for the M16 is needed, and we need an end to the so-called Terminal Lance problem.  Many of the well trained infantry who took Iraq in 2004 – 2007 have left the Corps, and the most of the Marines who are in Afghanistan have not seen combat.

But in the end, ambitious programs get the dollars and the grunts pay for the wishful 65-year old thinking of outdated officers who cannot abandon their doctrinaire ideas.

For a sneak peek into the Marine Corps’ future needs, one can look at the recent past. As 4,000 marines in January were amassing for a large-scale attack on Marja, Afghanistan, another 4,000 marines were sailing to Haiti to assist in relief operations in the earthquake-devastated nation. Thousands more were carrying out other missions around the globe.

Marine officials say that the force in the coming decades will be just as busy, but it will have to do the job with fewer resources.

“We have an expression in the Corps: ‘We sometimes have to do more with less,’ and I honestly think that’s what we face in the not-so-distant future,” said Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps.

Flexibility in equipment, organization and training will be critical, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told industry representatives at a National Defense Industrial Association conference. Marines can expect to prepare for irregular warfare, conventional warfare and terrorism. “We will never know which one we’re facing until the game is called,” he said.

The Defense Department has adjusted doctrine and strategies to reflect this new “hybrid” reality. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped to expedite changes in force structure and equipment, but they also have drained the treasury.

“As monies get tight, we’re going to have to look at equipment sets that are entirely interoperable, lighter, cheaper ideally, but that will nevertheless get the job done to defend this great country,” said Conway in remarks at the NDIA annual dinner in McLean, Va.

Though its budget request for fiscal 2011 totals $26.6 billion with an additional $7 billion in supplemental war funding, the Marine Corps is fast approaching a crossroads that will force its leaders to make some difficult decisions. Anticipating smaller budgets in the coming decade, officials will have to determine how to modernize war-torn gear while pursuing advanced technologies.

“We will have to balance investment between current and future challenges,” Flynn said.

Marine leaders said they remain focused on supporting operations in Afghanistan, and they are planning to stay the course through 2015. But doing so may be compromising the Corps’ preparedness for future contingencies.

“It may well be that we don’t have everything we want but only what we have to have. And we will have to cut away some capability and do without some things that we think are absolutely essential to the various missions that are out there,” Conway said.

To reduce that risk, the Corps is seeking gear that will have applicability across the full spectrum of warfare. All new equipment will have to have utility in high- and low-intensity conflict, counterterrorism and disaster relief operations.

“If you have something that operates across all four of those mission tasks, we’re really going to be interested,” Flynn said.

Officials insist that vehicles need to be lighter to allow the force to get to the fight and also enhance the Marine Corps’ amphibious capability to maneuver from the sea to the shore. In addition, weapon systems must be affordable and help the service decrease its dependence on fossil fuels.

That wish list is a tall order, officials acknowledged, especially given the exponential growth in the cost of military hardware.

“They have to come in at the amount that we have budgeted, on the schedule we have allotted, with the performance that we have been promised, because there isn’t going to be a second bite of the apple,” warned Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command.

Marine officials are still uncertain whether recent acquisition reforms will help reduce costs.

President Obama last year signed the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 into law. The legislation is meant to fix the Pentagon’s troubled procurement system by giving officials increased oversight of major defense programs.

“It demands more reports going to the Hill,” said Brogan. “A lot of burden flows down to program managers.”

The new law puts more pressure on procurement officials to keep programs on budget, agreed Bill Taylor, program executive officer for land systems, which is the Marine Corps’ largest acquisition portfolio.

“Historically, it’s a fact that our programs come in over budget and years late. Report after report has indicated that the key to successful acquisition programs is getting things right at program inception with sound systems engineering, cost estimation and legitimate developmental testing,” said Taylor.

Burden.  That’s the way reportability to Congress is being described.  Burden.  As for the Obama administration, they need to stop printing money and giving it away on entitlement programs.  As for the DoD, they need to create a viable procurement program.  As for the Marine Corps, they need to develop doctrine that represents and reflects twenty first century concerns – and be able to explain it to the taxpayers.  That is not a burden.

SECDEF Gates on the Navy and Marines

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

Before we address the issue of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ position on the sea services, let’s debunk the mythical notion that either the military or the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan is bankrupting the country (or even demanding the lion’s share of money).  From CATO (h/t Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit).

That’s quite enough said about that.  On to the sea services.

“Our current plan is to have eleven carrier strike groups through 2040,” Gates said. But a look at the facts is warranted, he added. The United States now has 11 large, nuclear-powered carriers, and there is nothing comparable anywhere else in the world.

“The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets,” he said. “No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies belong to allies or friends.”

The U.S. Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as the rest of the world combined, Gates said. Under the sea, he told the group, the United States has 57 nuclear-powered attack and cruise-missile submarines – more than the rest of the world combined, and 79 Aegis-equipped surface ships that carry about 8,000 vertical-launch missile cells.

“In terms of total-missile firepower, the U.S. arguably outmatches the next 20 largest navies,” Gates said. “All told, the displacement of the U.S. battle fleet – a proxy for overall fleet capabilities – exceeds, by one recent estimate, at least the next 13 navies combined, of which 11 are our allies or partners.”

The United States must be able to project power overseas, Gates said. “But, consider the massive overmatch the U.S. already enjoys,” he added. “Consider, too, the growing anti-ship capabilities of adversaries. Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?”

The Marine Corps is now 202,000 strong. It is the largest force of its type in the world, and exceeds in size most nations’ armies. Between the world wars, the Marine Corps developed amphibious warfare doctrine and used it to great effect against the Japanese during World War II. Whether that capability still is needed, however, is worthy of thought, the secretary said.

“We have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious landing again – especially as advances in anti-ship systems keep pushing the potential launch point further from shore,” Gates said. “On a more basic level, in the 21st century, what kind of amphibious capability do we really need to deal with the most likely scenarios, and then how much?”

The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) will take a particularly tough beating over the course of the next several months and years, but the Marines have rolled out their case.

The Marine Corps unveiled its new $13 billion landing-craft program on Tuesday, a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioned the Pentagon’s need for it …

“Secretary Gates has placed his marker, and he’s not in favor of continuing the program,” said Dakota Wood, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a retired Marine officer. “The Marine Corps is going to have to come up with a whale of a rationale to convince him otherwise.”

The need, the Marines say, stems from their need to replace its Nixon-era Amphibious Assault Vehicles. The new vehicle will allow Marines to land on a hostile shore, a capability needed, for example, in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia in the 1990s and civilians from Lebanon in 2006, said Lt. Gen. George Flynn, who leads the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. The amphibious capability also forces adversaries to undertake “costly defensive measures,” Flynn said.

Analysis & Commentary

The issue of expense of military hardware, systems and size has nothing to do with overspending.  It pertains to the relative commitment of this particular administration to national defense as opposed to government-run, government-administered programs and subsidies.  We have the economy to support an even larger military than we currently have.  What we don’t have is the national will.

Aircraft carriers, as much or more than any other military hardware, is a way of projecting power across the globe.  My support of them is well known, and my support for the F-22 program has been made clear.  In fact, I have proposed an increase rather than a decrease in Carrier battle groups.  The size of the Marine Corps is not a problem for the national economy, and it’s easy to question expenditures for a strong national defense while comfortably enjoying the peace and security that it has brought.

But this isn’t the same thing as questioning the need for the EFV and the forcible entry doctrine of the Marine Corps.  I have taken the doctrine to task.

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.

This is not suggesting that the Marine Corps in any way needs to have its funding cut or decrease its size.  It is to suggest that the money might be more wisely spent in other areas.  The mission still isn’t clear.  Above it has been suggested that the Corps needs the EFV for withdrawal of forces (such as from Somalia) or evacuation of civilians (such as from Lebanon).  But this explanation doesn’t comport with the facts of the program.  “The Corps aims to buy a total of 573 EFVS. This would give it the capacity to amphibiously transport eight infantry battalions of about 970 Marines and sailors per battalion, the Congressional Research Service said in a report dated August 3, 2009.”

We don’t need 573 EFVs and eight infantry Battalions to evacuate civilians from Lebanon.  The Corps obviously plans to replace its amphibious transport of Marines (currently with the LCAC) with the EFV.  The Corps also plans to continue its doctrine of amphibious-based forcible entry.  But as I have pointed out, there is no reason that this cannot be done via air and a new helicopter fleet.  If the plan is to be prepared to invade a near-peer via an amphibious landing, this is lunacy and madness.  If the plan is to save ships by allowing them to be 25 miles offshore, this is naive and sophomoric.  The Navy had better be designing better counter-measures.

While there is every good reason to be more efficient in both military spending and non-defense spending, there is no good reason to cut funding to the Corps.  But the Corps needs to rethink its basic doctrine and reassess the real need for the EFV.  Going in the direction of a lighter, air-sea-based, rapid reaction force has its merits, and should warrant some attention.  Gates should hear fresh thinking from the U.S. Marine Corps, not warmed over 60 year old doctrine.  It’s too bad that the QDR, that brainchild of Michelle Flourney,  is such an incredible waste of ink and paper.  It would have been a good repository for fresh thinking.

Air Superiority and Expeditionary Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

The U.S. Marines brass is happy about the recent performance of the F-35.

Well, no one can say the Lockheed JSF team hasn’t had a good week. First came the hover and short takeoff and short landing. Today, they capped it with the plane’s first true vertical landing.

The Marines were officially happy. “Having the F-35B perform its first vertical landing underscores the reality of the Marine Corps achieving its goal of an all STOVL force,” said Lt. Gen. George Trautman, deputy commandant for aviation. “Being able to operate and land virtually anywhere, the STOVL JSF is a unique fixed wing aircraft that can deploy, co-locate, train and fight with Marine ground forces while operating from a wider range of bases ashore and afloat than any other TacAir platform.”

In the end, the Marines’ relentless pursuit of forcible entry and expeditionary warfare capabilities, along with their penchant for operating alone, is driving them to be disconnected from the U.S. Navy.

The future of Marines on aircraft carriers may hinge on the F-35 program.

The Marine Corps, which is the only U.S. service that has not announced a significant delay for the Joint Strike Fighter, remains fully committed to the F-35B Lightning II short take-off, vertical landing variant. Marine officials already have purchased 29 planes in the fiscal 2008-2010 budgets and officials insist they are on track to see a squadron operational by December 2012.

The test plane, BF-1, conducted its first vertical landing March 18, checking off a major milestone in the F-35B program. But that event was delayed by almost a year. Still, officials with Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s lead manufacturer, and the Corps said they are confident the timeline will be met, adding that the first two training aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2010.

“We are going to be able to operate our planes from the sea, on our amphibious force fleets initially, and we’ll move ashore to the same kinds of forward operating bases that we operate the AV-8B,” Lt. Gen. George Trautman, the deputy commandant for aviation, said in a conference call with reporters.

Trautman said nothing about the Corps’ jets operating from carriers — as the Marines F/A-18 Hornets do today — but he did say the first F-35 squadron is expected to deploy with a Marine expeditionary unit in 2014.

Some observers say the Corps’ commitment to the F-35B is driven by a long-term desire to break away from Navy carriers. A powerful and versatile fighter jet that could operate from smaller-deck amphibs would grant the Marines more autonomy than ever before.

Commandant Conway is also still bullish on the redesigned EFV (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle), but take particular note of this comment concerning the order of battle concerning the most expensive forcible entry vehicle ever conceived.

Interesting that our Marines would be expected to fight their way ashore, and then dismount to add armor so they can actually drive around? Would one vehicle protect the others while some put on additional armor? Would the armor be pre-positioned where the Marines were gonna storm ashore???

All programs can have high hopes – until tin is bent and problems show up.

Since the EFV has a flat hull in order to speed along the top of the water, it must be armored-up to survive IEDs on land.  So how does it get that way?  Why, the U.S. Marines put the armor on it.  They shoot their way on to shore and then stop, get out, wait on Navy supplies, and then fix up the EFVs.

Doesn’t sound like a good plan to you?  Well, this confused thinking permeates the expeditionary concept at the moment.  Consider also this comment.

So we’ve got 60% of the world living in cities near the ocean. We think those cities will be the areas where Marines are called upon to restore stability, work with local security forces, etc.

How do you protect the ships from missiles with stand-off distance, yet get the Marines some sort of armor protected vehicle? EFV was the answer.

Or, we just wait until all the bad guys go to bed, then we row ashore with M1′s on LCACs!

So this commenter poses the following scenario: we are conducting forcible entry to a shoreline where the Navy must be protected from missiles by being over the horizon (i.e., 25 miles out to sea), but these missiles are coming from a nation-state that is in such bad need of stabilization that the Marines must conduct forcible entry to work with security forces.

So you say that it sounds like someone is working with an infeasible or implausible scenario?  The QDR doesn’t help, giving no hint that the DoD even pretended to study the future situation and appropriately plan budgetary expenditures to match the needs.  One searches in vain for any forward thinking or strategic vision beyond adequate funding for fourth generation warfare and transnational insurgencies.

Crush at Blackfive links two studies performed out of Australia:

Why the F-22 and the PAK-FA have the “Right Stuff” and why the F/A-18 and the F-35 do not

Assessing the Sukhoi PAK-FA

Crush questions whether we may be surrendering our air superiority if we relinquish the F-22 in favor of the troubled F-35 program.  I have also clearly sided with the F-22 as being a far superior fighter.  W. Thomas Smith also smartly points out that the aircraft do completely different things.

Russia and China will continue to be almost bankrupt into the near future (just like we are).  But it’s also important not to allow our current air superiority to lull us into a false sense of security.

In conclusion, I would offer up the following points from these links and previous ones at The Captain’s Journal:

  1. Existing air frames will need continued and even increased refurbishment in order to keep them functional.
  2. The U.S. is in need of an air superiority fighter.  The F-35 is not it.  The F-22 is it.
  3. The QDR doesn’t even begin to give us a starting point to determine how to properly utilize the F-35 or why it is needed.
  4. The Marines are off on their own with their expeditionary warfare doctrines, and want to be even more off on their own than they are.  Who they intend to attack with the EFV is anyone’s guess.
  5. I have previously recommended that the Marines invest in an entirely new generation of helicopters in addition to continued investment in the V-22 Osprey.
  6. It isn’t obvious why the Marines need aircraft beyond rotary wing.  The Navy should be able to handle support, and if they aren’t. they should become capable.
  7. Whatever the disposition of the F-35, there is no obvious reason for it to replace the awesome A-10.

One final thought is in order.  I am convinced that fighter drones (ones to which we can truly entrust the security of America) are many years off, if they are even feasible.  Beyond this, true leadership is needed for such expensive weapons systems – the kind of leadership that has vision rather than the kind that conducted the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Prior:

Marine Corps Commandant on DADT and Expeditionary Warfare

Strategic Decisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

Arguments Over EFV and V-22

F-35 Over Budget and Behind Schedule

Scraping the F-22?

Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts

Just Build the F-22, Okay?

Marine Corps Commandant on DADT and Expeditionary Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 6 months ago

Marine Corps Commandant Conway opposes the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT).  Spencer Ackerman weighs in with the point that “Conway is implicitly assuming that the interests of the Corps and the interests of gays and lesbians are two different things. But there are, in fact, gay Marines.”

Later, he makes the following observations:

It’s his right. But if he opposes repeal, it’s curious that he doesn’t evidently explain why open gay service is bad for military readiness. (I am having a hard time finding the hearing transcript, but none of the reports I’ve seen indicate that Conway offered an argument for repeal’s negative impact on core military capabilities.) The U.S. military would be unique amongst the 20-odd militaries that have embraced open gay service over the past 25 years if somehow combat readiness declined as a result. I have every confidence, thanks to the gay servicemembers I know and have been lucky enough to befriend, that what gay Marines want is to do their jobs without fear of persecution or discharge on the basis of their identity. They’ll want to send the same ribald messages to their intended hook-ups and jump-offs through social-networking sites that straight soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines get to send during downtime. And when it’s time for them to do their jobs, they’ll do their jobs. Period. Because they want to be Marines, and if they’ve made it into combat situations, they’ve earned it.

Well, the U.S. Marine Corps isn’t like 20 other militaries on earth.  They are the best.  But aside from false comparisons, I don’t believe that Spencer fundamentally understands where Conway is coming from.  The Corps operates as a very base and basic level.  It has no interest whatsoever in fomenting societal change of any sort.  Its interests intersect nowhere and with no one, save that of the security of the U.S.  The Marine Corps cares about no one and nothing except the Marine Corps.

The Marine Corps needs no one.  They have met their recruiting goal every year, and when the mandate to increase the size of the services came down, the Corps met their goals before the Army.  Large reenlistment bonuses shrank to nothing after having been implemented a few short months because the Corps became bloated with NCOs.  Everyone wanted to reenlist.

For Commandant Conway to favor repeal of DADT, someone would have to explain to him why this policy change would be in the interests of the Corps, not gays or lesbians, or societal harmony, or societal change, or anything else of the sort.

In order properly to understand DADT and any change to it, we must first of all jettison personal feelings concerning the subject, but (and this is important) we must also throw the Red Herring back into the sea, or burn the straw man, or betray the canard, depending upon your choice.

Recalling what I previously said concerning DADT:

It doesn’t prevent gays from serving in the military.  That’s just a mythical talking point of those who advocate its revocation.  DADT only prevents open discussion or practice of such things.  It is, by the way, similar to the way heterosexual relations are treated as well.  Men stay away from women altogether in uniform.  It isn’t practiced, it isn’t discussed, it is frowned upon – in theory.  This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, any more than DADT would imply that gay sexual relations don’t happen.  It does mean that there are certain requirements in the military that comport with good discipline, and they are enforced to the extent possible.  For a branch like the Marines which has as their cornerstone removing differences and enforcing sameness (or at least relegating them to unimportant status – e.g., no one can remove language barriers), it probably will have a significant affect.

Now for my own views.  I thought about this position within the context of the only exception that I can think of, namely, marriage.  Men and women are allowed to be married in the military.  But marriage is not performed by the Marine Corps or Army.  It is performed and recognized within and by states which have laws that govern such things.  Imposing homosexual marriage on a branch of the service just to say that there is no exception to the way gays and heterosexuals are treated under DADT is a false dilemma.  It is imposing a foreign problem on the military – a consideration that should be irrelevant to the conversation.

In a republic such as ours, laws are changed by legislative process which usually begins with advocacy.  One group or another wants a law changed or enacted, and that group presses the issue.  If gays want to marry, changing DADT isn’t the way to go.  Changing laws is the way to go.  No gay marriage (insofar as DADT applies) in the military (similar to no gay marriage in most states)  is an output (or outcome) of the debate, not an input to it.

No one has to hide or lie.  Gays can still serve, but they must follow the same rules as everyone else.  Don’t fraternize.  Period.  End of discussion.

Spencer goes on with Conway’s testimony to outline troubling statements concerning his focus on expeditionary warfare.

Other elements of Conway’s testimony have fulsome praise for the Marine Corps’ history of involvement in counterinsurgency, so I don’t wish to caricature what he’s saying. And I make no argument against the need for amphibious assault capabilities. As Conway says very well, the “littoral domain … where the land and sea meet [is]… where most of the world lives.” But if Afghanistan (a mission that will continue for years) and Iraq (a mission that the Marines have pretty much entirely concluded) are most likely models of future combat, then it raises the question whether the Corps’ “designed missions” ought to look more like the “assigned missions.” It’s a balance, and I get that, and perhaps Conway doesn’t share the view that hybrid and land-intensive close fights are the near-term future of combat. But he suggests in his testimony that he does (“The current transnational struggle against violent extremism will not end anytime soon…”) and if so, then the question about designed-mission priorities returns.

Spencer’s comments are well taken, and Conway’s focus on expeditionary warfare are well rehearsed over this site.  My objections to Conway’s views have always come at a very fundamental level.  When Marines were losing their legs in Now Zad and we had Battalions of Marine Infantry on board Amphibious Assault Docks, I complained loudly.

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.  There is more than one way to skin a cat, and forcible entry can be effected in many ways.

Prior:

U.S. Marine Return to Amphibious Operations

Strategic Decisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

Arguments Over EFV and V-22

U.S. Marines to Return to Amphibious Operations

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 10 months ago

The title of the Navy Times article is Amphibious ops to become default mode for MEUs, but the import is much larger than that.  It’s more than just about MEUs.  The Commandant wants to return to amphibious roots – generally.

Determined to get Marines directly involved with the fight against pirates and other threats at sea, the Corps is reinventing its seven expeditionary units.

Major changes, some already underway, will make the MEUs even more potent and versatile than they are now, equipping them with the latest weapons, gear and capabilities while ensuring they’re thoroughly trained to be the premier on-call first responders for any number of worldwide contingencies.

Officials want to shift their focus away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — many MEUs have cycled through multiple combat tours during the past several years — and back to being “Soldiers of the Sea.”

A new policy issued in August updates the baseline MEU structure with new and future weapons systems and redefines its core capabilities to include 16 essential missions, along with special operations tasks already in high demand today. It’s the first big overhaul since Sept. 25, 2001, and touches on everything from pre-deployment training to the specialized skills Marines will need to get these jobs done.

“Amphibious forces are increasingly likely to be tasked with counterterrorism, counter-proliferation and counter-piracy missions,” Marine officials wrote in “Amphibious Operations in the 21st Century,” a doctrinal paper released earlier this year. “These will likely involve amphibious raids conducted for the purposes of destroying terrorists and their sanctuaries, capturing pirates or other criminals and seizing contraband, rescuing hostages or securing, safeguarding and removing materials to include weapons of mass destruction.”

Deployed MEUs serve as key “theater reserves” overseas, ready to respond to regional contingencies or crises. Each is designed as an air-ground task force with the capability to operate and launch missions at sea within six hours or operate ashore for a month before needing any resupply.

“A lot has changed in the last eight or nine years,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Impellitteri, MEU policy officer in the Expeditionary Policies Branch at Plans, Policies and Operations at Marine Corps headquarters. “We wanted to streamline the [mission essential task list] to make it basically say … this is what the MEU needs to do.”

MEUs will continue to be centered on battalion landing teams, and while the new policy outlines basic structure — still about 2,200 Marines composing air combat, ground combat and logistical combat elements, plus a special operations element — the MEU commander can tailor the force to fit his expected needs. Increasingly, there is a host of new assets from which to choose.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, for example, left its home at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in May with the MV-22 Osprey, the first MEU ever to take the tilt-rotor aircraft on an overseas pump. Navy SEALs, once a routine component of amphibious ready groups, have largely disappeared, but the creation of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and the re-emergence of Force reconnaissance offer comparable capabilities.

The U.S. may not need to conduct a hostile amphibious assault on a foreign shore anytime soon, but an MEU’s ability to decimate enemy forces or, with help from the Navy, quickly dole out humanitarian aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster, preserves the Corps’ role among the services as the expeditionary force in readiness.

Moving forward, amphibious ops will be the MEUs’ default mode.

“As the generals are fond of saying,” said Col. David Coffman, who commands the 13th MEU out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., “if there’s a sword to be drawn at sea, shouldn’t a Marine be wielding it?” …

The MEUs’ aviation and ground mix also is in transition.

As the Corps modernizes its inventory with new equipment, such as the UH-1Y Super Huey, AH-1Z Super Cobra and eventually the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, MEUs will begin to look and operate differently.

“You basically have an entirely new [air combat element], platform by platform,” Coffman said. “We have to decide what that mix is like again.”

His 13th MEU was the first to deploy with the UH-1Y, providing an operational test as the fleet grows, but none of the current units training or deployed have a Super Huey aboard. The 22nd MEU has a squadron of Ospreys, but with several years to go before that aircraft arrives at West Coast bases, Olson’s 11th MEU left San Diego with CH-46E medium-lift helicopters as its aviation core.

Coffman wants to see the MEUs expand their ISR — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — assets, to include unmanned aerial systems. His battalion landing team had smaller drones, but adding systems such as the Scan Eagle would only strengthen intelligence gathering.

My commentary has been opposed to MEUs as they currently exist, as well as wasteful spending on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  The Commandant wants to return to their expeditionary and amphibious roots, but against what enemy?  If the enemy is a stable nation-state with the power and industry to deploy mines, and employ air ordnance and air power against the landing team, sending EFVs and LCACs would be disastrous.  The U.S. is not prepared for the thousands of Marine deaths that would result from a conventional, full bore amphibious assault on a state even smaller than a near peer, much less a large and powerful near peer.

If the nation-state is unstable (or even essentially non-existent), then it’s unlikely that air artillery and air ordnance would be employed against an amphibious assault, and so the EFV is unnecessary.  It’s not that the EFV design is not state of the art, but rather, that the art doesn’t match the need.  But if I’ve been opposed to the EFV and the notion of full bore amphibious assaults, I have also advocated that the Marines be prepared to retool the Amphibious Assault Dock and air power and support to air-based landings farther inland.

That’s why, after seeing the maintenance problems with the V-22 Osprey in Iraq along with its inability to navigate the high elevations of Afghanistan, I have recommended that the U.S. Marine Corps not be so quick to retire its currently fleet of helicopters (Marines can fast rope from the CH-46 but cannot from the Osprey), and plan for a new fleet of helicopters.  The Osprey can serve some functions (it’s faster and can fly higher and further), but cannot replace the helicopter (certainly not as a weapons platform).

But I have also recommended that the U.S. Marine Corps rethink how it does MEUs.  The current practice of deploying entire Battalions of Marine infantry on board amphibious assault docks to float around the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf for nine months so that pilots can get flight time, the Navy can get ship time and the Marines can waste time in every bar between here and there is worse that wasteful.  It’s an immoral expenditure of U.S. tax dollars.

If there is actually a need for a Battalion of Marine infantry in some certain circumstance, e.g., fighting pirates, then a MEU should be deployed with very specific mission orders for landing, sea-based fighting, etc.  But writing white papers about fighting pirates is one thing.  Actually fighting them is another.  I have previously mentioned that I interviewed one Marine Scout Sniper who had a pirate in his sights but refused even to ask for permission to fire because of ROE, and because “no one wants to deal with the lawyers.”  Reality is not the same thing as white papers written by Lieutenant Colonels sitting in the Pentagon.  We will finally have to deal with the issue of ROE or deploying MEUs to fight piracy is yet another waste of time and resources.

Next, I’m not convinced that training to utilize amphibious landing equipment (such as the LCAC) requires nine month deployments of entire Battalions of Marine infantry.  There are better uses of Marine infantry than sitting them on board Amphibious Assault Docks awaiting deployment orders for forces in readiness that never come, and hasn’t come in decades.

It’s one thing to be amphibious capable, and entirely another to be amphibious obsessed.  The future of the U.S. Marine Corps is to be a ready strike force, capable of deployment any time, anywhere, via any platform, with skills that cannot be duplicated otherwise.  This might include an amphibious component, but the focus shouldn’t be only on amphibious operations.

So at least in part I disagree with the vision of the Commandant, and I certainly don’t support the use of infantry trained Marines to perform humanitarian missions.  But I also strongly believe in resourcing the campaigns before us.  The Marines have left Anbar, having done an extraordinary job in what I believe to be one of the most remarkable counterinsurgency campaigns in history.  More than 1000 Marines were lost in Anbar.  They will never be forgotten.  For this fight to have been for the Army alone is inconceivable.  It is equally inconceivable that Afghanistan would belong exclusively within the Army’s domain when so many Soldiers are so exhausted, and so many Marines are currently aboard Camps Lejeune and Pendleton planning for their next amphibious operation that in all likelihood will contribute essentially nothing to the security of the United States.  I know that it shouldn’t be this way – and so does the Commandant.

Prior:

Strategic Decisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

Arguments Over the EFV and V-22

Navy and Marines to Part Ways Over Expeditionary Strike Groups?

Kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

Strategic Desisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

From Government Executive:

The Marine Corps is pursuing a number of initiatives to give its units more fire support and more mobility to meet operational demands, with one near-term project being a less-sophisticated version of the Air Force’s powerful AC-130 gunship, Gen. James Conway said on Friday.

The Marine Corps commandant said the service is working on a longer-term proposal to use the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships to provide high-volume fire support for Marine forces ashore. In addition, Marines are looking to modify their Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles to enable them to operate in Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, Conway told a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum.

Conway said the Marines “have lusted for years” over the AC-130′s capability but could not afford the sophisticated Air Force gunships. Instead, they are taking advantage of their KC-130J transport-tankers in a program called “Harvest Hawk,” he said. It consists of a “roll-on, roll-off package” that can be installed in hours and gives the KC-130s the ability to fire a 30mm rapid-fire gun and Hellfire missiles in support of ground forces, Conway said. “I think you’re going to see one in [Afghanistan] before the end of the calendar year.”

A Marine spokesman said later that “this is not intended to be a gunship” but a response to an urgent need of Marines in Afghanistan who want persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. “The ISR is the priority, but we also want the capability to use some weapons against targets we can see,” the spokesman said.

The commandant said he has an agreement with Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, to examine use of a “box of rockets” that could be installed on an LCS to provide fire support for Marines ashore. It could replace the capabilities the Marines expected from the Advanced Gun System developed for the DDG-1000 destroyer, whose production is being stopped at three ships.

LCS is designed to accept a variety of “mission packages,” which include weapons, sensors, controls and operators that enable a ship to perform a variety of combat assignments. A Marine fire-support package was not one of the three original missions developed for LCS but has been discussed recently.

One proposal has been to use the non-line-of-sight launch system being developed as part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems. But that system does not have the range the Marines would need, Conway said. Systems that would have the range could not provide the volume of fire needed, he added. He did not provide any indication of when a satisfactory system could be available.

Commentary & Analysis

The Commandant has been in a fight with the Navy for a while now over the issue of its refusal to go closer to shore than 25 miles – the horizon – and thus his call for support of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  In order to do forcible entry, Marines need to project firepower on shore, and this vehicle must be able to function on both the land and sea.

But The Captain’s Journal has opposed the EFV for reasons going beyond its design and maintenance problems and cost overruns.  Basically, this vehicle will never be used as a staple of land operations.  Its primary use will be from sea to shore and then slightly beyond.

The Littoral Combat Ship is anything but a combat ship.  It has a small crew and essentially no forward force projection capability.  It is a horrible platform for support of the Marines or a Marine Expeditionary Unit, and backfitting it with a “box of rockets” will likely prove to be problematic and not what the Marines were after.

Let’s assume that as a policy position we need forcible entry from the sea.  Delivery of Marines without heavy firepower is probably not a good idea, and we have recommended a delay in the retirement of the CH-46 (from which Marines can fastrope) and investment in a new generation of Marine attack helicopters.  The Navy must be pressed to be more involved in the delivery of heavy equipment (such as MRAPs, tanks, armored personnel carriers, etc.) after the Marines have accomplished forcible entry and if the strategy involves a protracted engagement.

We have also recommended a new generation of Marine vehicles similar to the Army Stryker.  Heavy investment in a generation of vehicles, fighting or otherwise, that has as its sole use operation in littoral waters is probably not a wise investment of limited resources.  No one intends for protracted land use of the EFV, and that itself is a telling observation.  It is basically a useless platform without the necessity for forcible entry or the threat of it.

As for the air transport turned gunship, the Marine spokesman’s words are confusing and probably unnecessary.  A gunship is exactly what is desired and needed.  This kind of adaptive innovation is to be commended, and the Marines in Afghanistan will benefit from this improvisation.

Concluding, TCJ doubts that the LCS can successfully deliver high volume fire in support of Marines on shore, doubts the necessity for a fighting vehicle that has as its sole use operation in littoral waters, and has recommended other means of forward force projection (such as use of the F-35 off the deck of the Amphibious Assault Docks, additional Navy involvement to land heavier vehicles, and a new generation of Marine attack helicopters).  All of the above would seem to be a better use of limited monies that either the EFV or the modified LCS.

As for the necessity for forcible entry from the sea, it was Colin Powell who observed that:

Lying offshore, ready to act, the presence of ships and Marines sometimes means much more than just having air power or ship’s fire, when it comes to deterring a crisis. And the ships and Marines may not have to do anything but lie offshore. It is hard to lie offshore with a C-141 or C-130 full of airborne troops.

Nice words, but a very expensive way to level threats at other nations.  A Battalion of Marine infantry sitting on board an Amphibious Assault Dock for seven to nine months doing nothing is an awful waste of resources (and also a sitting duck for land-based surface to surface missiles).  The expeditionary concept should be applied sparingly and with frugality.  The capabilities of the Marines are needed across the globe in real time active and ongoing operations, not “could be,” “would be,” “maybe” and “we want it not to be” operations.

Prior:

Arguments Over the EFV and V-22

Navy and Marines to Part Ways Over Expeditionary Strike Groups?

Kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

Arguments Over the EFV and V-22

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

In Gates Reshapes DoD Budget Plans we observed that the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) had gotten off unscathed.  It’s budget dollars remained intact, or so it seemed.  It’s a little more murky now with Marine Corps Commandant Conway publicly arguing for the EFV.

U.S. Marines must be able to storm enemy shores in amphibious vehicles such as those being built by General Dynamics Corp, the top Marine said, defending a $13.2 billion program called into question by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

General Dynamics’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, or EFV, “is inextricably linked to that capability and an absolutely critical requirement for us,” General James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday.

“And, by the way, China has already fielded a similar vehicle and is building more,” he said.

As conceived by the Marine Corps, the EFV is to be able to transport up to 18 combat-ready Marines at high speeds on both land and sea. It would have advanced communications capabilities, provide increased armored protection against rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices, and deliver lethal firepower up to 2,000 meters (2,200 yards).

Part of the argument is based on the intent of the Navy and its reluctance to engage and support near the coastline.

Conway said he believes strongly the military needs the forcible entry capability provided by the EFV, particularly as the Navy plans to operate at least 25 miles from the shoreline.

“That’s a 25-mile bridge that has to be managed somehow and you’re not going to do it with our current set of vehicles,” the four-star general said. “We think the best way to do that is with a vehicle that can do it in a couple of hours, not in a day. And that’s what it would virtually take with our existing fleet” of amphibious assault vehicles.

But Secretary Gates apparently is still considering what to do with the program.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has announced major changes to many of the military’s largest development and procurement projects, has put off making a decision on the EFV, a program with a troubled history, until the completion of the Quadrennial Defense Review next year. Costs on the General Dynamics program have soared 43 percent to an estimated $13 billion while the Marine Corps has been trying over the last two years to correct reliability problems.

“We have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious action again,” Gates said during an April 17 visit to the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. “In the 21st century, how much amphibious capability do we need?” But Conway said he believes the EFV is essential not just for a major amphibious assault, which the Marine Corps has not done since 1950, but also for humanitarian assistance and evacuation operations. “It really runs the whole gamut from peacetime sort of engagement all the way up to forcible entry,” he said. “And we think that that’s what the nation really needs.”

We also get some news on the V-22 Osprey.

Conway said he expects the Marine Corps to deploy a squadron of MV-22 Osprey helicopters to Afghanistan before the end of the year. The next deployment for the Osprey, which was first used operationally in Iraq in 2007, will be aboard a ship to test the aircraft’s “seaworthiness,” Conway said.

But then a squadron will head to Afghanistan. “We have had issues with our current medium-lift capability” in Afghanistan, Conway said. “The old CH-46 has run up against age and altitude and environment and is not doing the job that we need for our medium lift squadrons to do.”

The CH-46 will be in service for a long time to come, and is currently the only platform from which Marines can fastrope.  As Colonel Desens put it, “I think the last 46 pilot may have been born, but not yet commissioned.”  On the whole the Osprey has performed well in Iraq, but it will be the true test of its worthiness to test it both at sea in a maritime environment and in the high plains, deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.

Analysis & Commentary

Humanitarian assistance is an absolutely horrible misuse of U.S. Marines.  It’s like driving a corvette on a speedway to deliver pizza.  The Marine expeditionary concept is a good one, with all needed billets and specializations embedded with and assigned to the force.  The expeditionary, quick strike, rapid deployment concept is a good use of the Corps, as long as this use doesn’t detract from the essential deployments in support of the long war, and in the current case, Operation Enduring Freedom.

We have been moderately to strongly supportive of the Osprey V-22 program, but dismissing the helicopter fleet too soon is a monumental error.  In fact, the question necessarily arises “do we need two means of forcible entry – air and sea?”  If we continue support of the V-22 program as well as maintain the existing fleet of helicopters, along with commissioning a new fleet soon, is this a better expenditure of money than the EFV would be?  Note that we aren’t questioning the expeditionary concept or the need for forcible entry.  The question is by what means.

Finally, the Navy must be pressed to strategically engage in 21st century warfare.  The horizon – 25 miles – is a pointless distance given the increasingly available missile technology.  The Navy must find a way to counter this threat and shoulder some of the burden.

In summary, we recommend continued viability of the Amphibious Assault Docks, maintaining the existing helicopter fleet, commissioning a new helicopter fleet, continuation of testing of the Osprey V-22, and high intensity warfare and quick strike use of the Corps (as opposed to humanitarian assistance).  We remain skeptical of the EFV.


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