Archive for the 'Littoral Combat' Category



Strategic Desisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 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

Navy and Marines to Part Ways Over Expeditionary Strike Groups?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 6 months ago

I want to touch on several issues in this post.  First, Galrahn at Information Dissemination authors yet another interesting post on Navy strategy, or the lack of it.  It should be required reading for all of my readers.  His discussion of Navy strategy and issues surrounding the Navy is second to none.  He says that the Navy has proven that they are unable tactically to solve piracy.  But while I agree with his dismissal of the Littoral Combat Ship as being the answer, I don’t agree with this assessment.

I have said before that the things required of us to defeat the pirates are less attractive to 21st century America that the alternative of having pirates, and thus we have chosen for piracy to exist.  The tools exist: Amphibious Assault Docks, LCACs, Harriers, Helicopters associated with ESG, etc.  And just to make it clear, if we really wanted to be effective, we could deploy the newer generation of Riverine Command Boats along with the Amphibious Assault Docks, or some smaller water craft (with assault capability).  Hanging pirates on the high seas, videotaping the events and posting it to YouTube would end piracy, and it is given to the Congress of the U.S. in the Constitution to make such laws.  Finally, such laws would supersede all ambiguous treaties in this matter.  In followup to previous posts on piracy, Navy SEAL teams are not an answer.  There aren’t enough, it is too expensive, and it isn’t logistically sustainable.

Donald Sensing makes the point in the comments section that piracy isn’t a national security issue for the U.S.  Perhaps so, right now, but as the pirates continue to give honorariums to al Qaeda which is currently in control of most of Somalia, it might be in the near future.  As the problem continues it grows worse.

On to the part about Naval strategy.  I tend to believe that if the strategic thinking is there, the Navy is not doing a very good job of communicating it.  Now comes a strange twist from the Navy about the future of its participation in the ESG.

The Navy is breaking up the deployments of amphibious ships and surface combatants formerly known as expeditionary strike groups, part of a top-down review that could have far-reaching consequences for how sailors and Marines spend time at sea.

For the past six years, ESGs paired a big-deck amphib and two small-deck gators with two or three surface combatant escorts. Now, the gators and warships will go separately.

As of March 9, the gator groups were renamed “amphibious ready groups,” reviving a term that was shelved several years ago, and combined with the name of their accompanying Marine expeditionary unit, said Lt. Cmdr. Phil Rosi, a spokesman for Fleet Forces Command. Although these were the first changes to come from a joint Navy-Marine ESG working group, they won’t be the last, he said.

“The name change and the deployment construct is the first step in the process — we have, in conjunction with the Marine Corps and [the] ESG working group, been working through roles, missions, capability, training … there’s a lot more that still is being worked out.”

For example, the Navy would have called the amphibious assault ship Boxer’s group the “Boxer ESG,” but now it’s called the “Boxer ARG/13th MEU.”

But ESG isn’t going away entirely. An ARG/MEU still can be called an ESG, Rosi said, if it’s being commanded by an admiral or general officer.

Under normal circumstances, a Navy captain will command the ships and a Marine colonel will be in charge of the leathernecks.

Rosi said Fleet Forces Command and the ESG working group still are determining who will decide when an ARG/MEU’s mission requires a one-star officer and elevates the unit to ESG status.

The Navy decided to break up the previous ESGs because the amphibs and combatants usually didn’t work closely enough on their deployments to justify sailing together, Rosi said.

So surface combatants will begin sailing separately as “surface action groups” — another older term — although officials don’t yet know how that could affect their deployments. He also said it wasn’t clear yet whether the surface groups would include set numbers of ships — a certain number of cruisers, destroyers or frigates — or how their missions could change.

“There’s no definite cookie-cutter construct,” Rosi said.

Rosi said ARG/MEUs and surface groups will retain their ability to operate together when needed, but they won’t sail in groups as they have since 2003.

Retired Capt. Jan van Tol said it’s “unfortunate” that the Navy is returning to an older style of surface deployments, but he said he wasn’t surprised because top commanders never fully realized a strategy to deploy amphibs with warships.

“It’s completely back to the future. I guess ESGs weren’t as useful as we thought,” said van Tol, who commanded three ships, including the amphibious assault ship Essex, before becoming an analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

ESGs were ideal groups for handling low-intensity missions such as the international campaign against piracy off Somalia, he said, because they combine the speed and firepower of surface ships with many “lily pads” for helicopters on the gators. The amphibious assault ship Boxer, for example, is operating with the destroyer Bainbridge and frigate Halyburton off the Horn of Africa.

What’s more, ESGs were a way to overcome the “artificial divorce” in the surface force between amphib and “cru/des” sailors, van Tol said. He recalled a time when he was the captain of the Essex and his ship participated in a missile-launching exercise with the destroyer John S. McCain, giving the ships’ crews a chance to work together.

Then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark pushed for ARGs to become ESGs in the early 2000s, based on an earlier concept from the 1990s called an Expeditionary Task Force.

But with Clark retired, few top-level Navy and Marine Corps leaders stayed committed to pairing amphibs and combatants.

“It’s dying due to lack of interest, which is a pity,” van Tol said.

Several fairly brief observations.  I will reserve comment for now on the extreme expense of deploying an entire Battalion of Marine infantry on board an Amphibious Assault Dock and floating around the Persian Gulf for seven months as “ready reserve” for CENTCOM or “force in readiness.”  It deserves fuller analysis, much more than I can provide here.  The public has absolutely no idea how expensive this endeavor is.

But this account above is about as strange as it gets.  We’re bored, says the Navy, or something thereabouts.  We learn nothing useful about any paradigmatic change in strategy that caused this divorce, or some new boundary condition or external pressure that is causing the need to separate larger warships from ESGs.  It’s about personalities, or some such foolishness.  Maybe.  We don’t know.  We just learn that it’s going to happen.

Finally, as I stated in Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts, “The Captain’s Journal agrees with Galrahn and the importance of force projection – whether hard or soft power – with the Marines Expeditionary Units (including the “combined arms” concept of multiple naval vessels with various defensive and offensive capabilities … Concerning Galrahn’s warning on the need for fuel, this highlights all the more the need for ports and air superiority for refueling tankers.  Concerning overall air superiority, if the sole focus of our national defense dollars is in counterinsurgency, littoral combat and small wars, the MEUs will be left to the slaughter once the ordnance begins raining down from the sky.”

I am continually re-evaluating the need for MEUs, especially when there is such dire need for Marine infantry in Afghanistan.  I am only softly committed to MEUs.  Someone can try to convince me, but it may be a tall task.  But if we are going to do MEUs and ESGs, we had better consider the danger and risk of deploying Amphibious Assault Docks (AAD) without the accompanying Naval force protection.

I normally assume that the detection and defeater systems for surface-to-surface missiles on board the Navy vessels would add to the force protection for the AADs.  I also assume that an Aircraft Carrier fleet is not too distant from the AADs to provide air superiority in the case of air attack.  I am also assuming that the Navy wouldn’t hesitate to use its power to protect the Marines.

Your assignment: Think hard.  An entire Battalion of Marine infantry sitting on an Amphibious Assault Dock in the middle of the Persian Gulf like sitting ducks, with little Naval force protection, and the likely to come reduction in the Carrier battle groups by at least one.  The Navy won’t deploy with the Marines.  Can you justify this?  Seriously?  Wouldn’t it be better to deploy the Navy or find another way to use the Marines?  Why have the ESG to begin with?  What is the Navy thinking?  We don’t know – it seems as if they’re bored.  Oh wait!  As I re-read the above, there is an “ESG working group.”  Good.  I feel better already.

Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

Following are some related but disaggregated thoughts on the upcoming U.S. Department of Defense budgetary cuts, along with some very good required reading on this subject.

Gates Readies Big Cuts in Weapons

As the Bush administration was drawing to a close, Robert M. Gates, whose two years as defense secretary had been devoted to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, felt compelled to warn his successor of a crisis closer to home.

The United States “cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything,” Gates said. The next defense secretary, he warned, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents.

What Gates didn’t know was that he would be that successor.

Now, as the only Bush Cabinet member to remain under President Obama, Gates is preparing the most far-reaching changes in the Pentagon’s weapons portfolio since the end of the Cold War, according to aides.

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the offi cials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said …

Gates is not the first secretary to try to change military priorities. His predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, sought to retool the military but succeeded in cancelling only one major project, an Army artillery system.

Former vice president Dick Cheney’s efforts as defense chief under the first President Bush, meanwhile, are cited as a case study in the resistance of the military, defense industry, and Capitol Hill. Cheney canceled the Marine Corps’ troubled V-22 Osprey aircraft not once, but four times, only to see Congress reverse the decision.

And we’re glad that the V-22 Osprey program was completed.  It is already making an impact in the Marine Corps expeditionary concept.  The Captain’s Journal is still a supporter of Secretary Gates, but these defense cuts are both unnecessary and ill-advised (although not of Gates’ choosing in a perfect world).  Beginning in 2011, Russian armed forces will undergo a comprehensive rearmament to refurbish and replaces weapons systems.  While the U.S. is disarming, one of the only two near peers in the world is increasing and rearming its military.  No, wait.  Make that both near peer states.

Beijing Considers Upgrades to Navy

China’s top military spokesman said it is seriously considering adding a first aircraft carrier to its navy fleet, a fresh indication of the country’s growing military profile as it prepares for its first major naval deployment abroad.

At a rare news conference Tuesday, Chinese defense-ministry officials played down the importance of Beijing’s decision to send warships to the Gulf of Aden to curb piracy — China’s first such deployment in modern history — saying it doesn’t represent a shift in defense policy. The two destroyers and supply ship are to depart Friday for the Middle East.

But officials also made clear that China’s navy, which has been investing heavily in ships and aircraft, now has the capability to conduct complex operations far from its coastal waters — and that Beijing is continuing to expand its reach and capability, perhaps with a carrier.

It’s unclear what parts of an aircraft carrier China would build itself and what parts it might need to acquire from abroad. China has bought carriers before, but none ended up in the country’s fleet.

In some of the most direct public statements on current thinking behind Beijing’s naval policy, defense military spokesman Col. Huang Xueping said Tuesday that “China has vast oceans and it is the sovereign responsibility of China’s armed forces to ensure the country’s maritime security and uphold the sovereignty of its costal waters as well as its maritime rights and interests.”

At Information Dissemination, Galrahn makes a good observation on the importance of the expeditionary concept.

As we have noted many times on the blog, the amphibious ship is the hardest working type of ship in the US Navy in the 21st century. The data says all that needs to be said regarding the requirement.

They are flexible platforms that bring together a wide variety of capabilities that can effectively perform the range of mission profiles from soft power to forward afloat staging bases to even assault roles when necessary. They are the rapid responders when crisis breaks out on land, and best fit the most often called upon requirements of the US Navy when problems occur, whether it is Hezbollah/Israel or a natural disaster, the amphibious ship, not the aircraft carrier, is the type of platform sent into to help out people … The biggest problem with the sea basing concept isn’t the idea regarding how to get troops to land, but how to sustain troops from sea once we get them on land. The single largest factor that limits support is fuel.

The Captain’s Journal agrees with Galrahn and the importance of force projection – whether hard or soft power – with the Marines Expeditionary Units (including the “combined arms” concept of multiple naval vessels with various defensive and offensive capabilities.  But with us it isn’t a matter of either-or.  It’s both-and.  We need both the carrier battle groups and the MEUs.

We will learn the lesson, again, the easy way or the hard way.  But we must be prepared to fight both near peers and counterinsurgency campaigns.  As for China, when they want to expand their global influence, the first big ship they go after is the carrier.  Concerning Galrahn’s warning on the need for fuel, this highlights all the more the need for ports and air superiority for refueling tankers.  Concerning overall air superiority, if the sole focus of our national defense dollars is in counterinsurgency, littoral combat and small wars, the MEUs will be left to the slaughter once the ordnance begins raining down from the sky.

Concerning this issue of being able to fight two wars at one time, the current administration is toying with this age-old doctrine.

The protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the Obama administration to rethink what for more than two decades has been a central premise of American strategy: that the nation need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time.

For more than six years now, the United States has in fact been fighting two wars, with more than 170,000 troops now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The military has openly acknowledged that the wars have left troops and equipment severely strained, and has said that it would be difficult to carry out any kind of significant operation elsewhere.

To some extent, fears have faded that the United States may actually have to fight, say, Russia and North Korea, or China and Iran, at the same time. But if Iraq and Afghanistan were never formidable foes in conventional terms, they have already tied up the American military for a period longer than World War II.

A senior Defense Department official involved in a strategy review now under way said the Pentagon was absorbing the lesson that the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns likely to be part of some future wars would require more staying power than in past conflicts, like the first Iraq war in 1991 or the invasions of Grenada and Panama.

In an interview with National Public Radio last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made it clear that the Pentagon was beginning to reconsider whether the old two-wars assumption “makes any sense in the 21st century” as a guide to planning, budgeting and weapons-buying.

Be careful here.  This seems like a prelude to deep cuts in the men and materiel necessary for air superiority, Naval superiority and force projection.  Wait, we’ve already discussed this above, and it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Finally, you will note that the cuts also target both nuclear refurbishment and development and the F-22 program.  The Captain’s Journal has already weighed in on these issues.

Just Build the F-22, Okay?

Sounding the Nuclear Alarm

An Aging Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

The three links above are required reading, as are the two links below (for those readers who aren’t convinced of the need to refurbish our existing nuclear weapons stockpile or continue further development).

Report of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on DoD Nuclear Weapons Management

National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century

Finally, read this:

Remember Near Peer Threats?

Kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

The EFV (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle) has fallen on hard times.  More accurately, it fell on hard times long ago.

It’s back to the drawing board for the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

The multibillion dollar program, designed to deliver combat-ready Marines from Navy ships to enemy shores aboard amphibious, armored personnel carriers, is so over-budget and behind schedule that it has been blasted as an “embarrassment” on Capitol Hill and identified as a poster child for troubled military acquisitions projects.

Widespread technical failures caused the Corps to scrap its existing plans two years ago and restart the program’s entire development and demonstration phase, a move that cost nearly $1 billion. But Marine Corps Systems Command is pushing forward with the creation of seven new prototypes while testing continues on existing vehicles in an attempt to head off future problems.

Marine officials say the program has turned a corner, but critics insist the EFV’s time has passed. It’s a money pit, they say, an engineering stinker that will consume about a quarter of the Corps’ research and development budget through 2014.

Even if does better next time around in operational assessments, analysts question whether the development of an amphibious vehicle without a V-shaped hull — favored for deflecting roadside-bomb blasts — makes sense, when there is no apparent need for amphibious raids on the Pentagon’s horizon.

But it’s more than just budgetary problems that plague the program.

Things began unraveling early into the development and demonstration phase. According to reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Corps delayed the project’s completion date three times between November 2002 and March 2005 as numerous components failed in reliability tests.

Ultimately, General Dynamics was paid $1.2 billion under the contract, including $60 million in bonuses and fees for good performance, a 2008 congressional report said.

The GAO and Defense Department auditors blamed the EFV shortfalls on a variety of factors, including the adoption of an unrealistic schedule that rushed production, skipping a comprehensive design process in favor of having General Dynamics fix problems in a piecemeal fashion and not appointing an overall system engineer.

In a pivotal moment, the EFV failed a milestone operational assessment on numerous levels in 2006. According to Defense Department and congressional reports, the assessment was “dominated by very low reliability,” where the vehicle was able to operate only 4.5 hours between breakdowns, with 3.6 hours of corrective maintenance needed for every hour in use. Reviewers completed only two of the 11 amphibious tests and one of the 10 gunnery tests, and the gun turret support arm broke free during the assessment.

The Marines Corps is uncharacteristically willing to accept inferior equipment, even after all of the redesign has been finished.  “The Corps expects the new prototypes to last about 19 hours in between breakdown when they first receive them, which would put the requirement of 43.5 hours before breakdown within reach for the final product.”  Don’t let this fact escape notice.  Target = less than two full days of operation before major malfunction occurs requiring protracted maintenance.  This is the ultimate goal, not the interim stages while the Corps tests the vehicle.

Finally, there is the issue of the IED and roadside bomb vulnerability of the EFV, since it has a flat bottom hull due to its need to float.  The Corps has experience in the use of flat bottom craft when, in the summer of 2005, 14 Recon Marines perished in Anbar when running an Amphibious Assault Vehicle down a road in the desert.

Marine Corps Commandant Conway has a justification for the continued investment in the EFV.  “We’re optimistic that once people understand the facts and understand that the United States Navy is not going closer than 25 miles to a shore, they’ll appreciate the value of a vehicle that is really an armored personnel carrier that also planes at about 30 knots over open ocean,” Conway said. “We think that the program is absolutely necessary to what we do.”

This issue touches on a debate over the so-called littoral combat program on which the U.S. Navy has supposedly embarked.  Twenty five miles is beyond the horizon.  The Navy believes in littoral combat, or so it says, but not really.  Not if it’s a risky proposition.  So Commandant Conway’s solution is to field the EFV.  A video of the USS San Antonio, the LCAC and the EFV is below.

But the whole amphibious assault construct including the EFV rests on the propositions that it [amphibious assault] will be necessary, that the assault will be a surprise along with the corollary idea that there will be no IEDs to destroy the EFVs, and that there is no other solution to the dilemma.

Let’s challenge at least the last three of those propositions.  First, if an amphibious assault becomes necessary against a nation-state, it is not a legitimate claim that the state will not be aware of the Amphibious Assault Dock just off its coast.  The element of surprise is thus taken away, and therefore the EFV is vulnerable to IEDs due to its flat hull, just like the Amphibious Assault Vehicle shown above.

Second, if the target to be invaded is a failed state, it’s not plausible to claim that conventional equipment such as the EFV is necessary.  If there is a need for rapid deployment of Marines, along with heavier equipment and firepower, then the solution is to invest money in a new generation of assault helicopters.

The problem of a broken military procurement system and irresponsible defense contractors isn’t going to go away.  The Marine Corp Commandant doesn’t need to jettison the expeditionary philosophy of the Corps.  Helicopters can supply the needed firepower, carried on board Aircraft Carriers and Amphibious Assault Docks.  The Commandant needs to jettison the EFV.  And the Navy needs to stop bragging about littoral combat unless they prove themselves actually willing to do it.

Commandant James Conway’s Vision for the U.S. Marine Corps

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

Having been busy in the Anbar Province since 2004, the Marines had become a second land Army, or at least, so Commandant General James Conway had feared.  We’ve been listening hard, and in the midst of seemingly disorganized talk about littoral combat, the force being “too heavy,” the need to go back to the Corps’ expeditionary roots, and the desire to leave Anbar and take on the task of Afghanistan, frankly it has been difficult to weave together a narrative for the future of the Corps.

Commandant Conway has taken a huge step forward in systematizing that vision with his presentation at the national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, even if he didn’t intend to address this point.

Marines shipping out to Afghanistan this year eventually will spend twice as much time at home as deployed, Commandant Gen. James Conway said Thursday.

Conway said he doesn’t know yet exactly how many Marines will go to Afghanistan, but he said it would be fewer than 20,000. And as the Corps swells to 202,000 active-duty Marines, a goal the service expects to reach later this year, those deployed troops could spend about 14 months at home for every seven months they spent in theater, he said.

But that’s only partly meant to afford troops more time off with their families, Conway said. Just as important, he wants Marines to have more time to train for operations they’ve been too busy for since the force has been locked down in Iraq.

“You don’t have time to do mountain warfare training, or jungle training, or cold weather training, and most importantly to us, we’re not doing amphibious training with our brothers in the Navy, because we just don’t have time,” he said. “Now, we’ve got to fix that.”

Conway made his presentation at the national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, outside Washington, D.C., to an audience composed mostly of active and retired naval officers and defense contractors.

Marines and other U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan “for some time to come,” Conway said, acknowledging that the situation there “will get worse before it gets better.” He hasn’t ruled out negotiations at some point with the resurgent Taliban fighters there, but the problem now is that the Taliban thinks it’s winning, Conway said, and it wants to bargain as the victor.

“Of course, we can’t allow them to do that,” he said.

Conway sees a Corps that has as many as (but no more than) 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the balance of the force Stateside for 14 months at a time.  Not only is this time intended for family, but he sees retraining to conduct all manner of warfare, from conventional to COIN, from jungle to mountain and cold weather.

He wants a well-trained and rested force.  This is a good vision.  What isn’t apparent is whether his vision includes the Navy’s vision for littoral combat.  It’s one thing to support amphibious warfare with amphibious assault docks, amphibious assault vehicles, helicopters, and all of the other things necessary to support a Marine expeditionary unit.

It’s quite another to buddy up with the Navy as it pursues its vision of littoral combat in the vicinity of near-failed states.  At The Captain’s Journal we see jettisoning aircraft carriers, guided missile destroyers, and larger surface warfare as a very dubious proposition.  Hopefully, Conway can find a way to partner with the Navy in preparation for amphibious warfare without involving the Corps in questionable programs in which the Corps has no business.

Finally, the amount of time preparing for amphibious warfare should be limited to be commensurate with the actual probability of engaging in such warfare.  Jungle and cold weather mountain training makes sense.  The Corps might actually be engaged in such things at any point as the ready reserve for CENTCOM.  Unless we can find a nation-state against which we believe we might launch an amphibious assault, it’s prudent to spend less time and effort on it.

How to Pay for a 21st Century Military

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Defense Tech links an editorial by the New York Times on How to Pay for a 21st Century Military.  Ward at Defense Tech doesn’t like the editorial very much, and neither does The Captain’s Journal.  Ward summarizes the recommendations as follows:

End production of the Air Force’s F-22. (Recommends the use of “upgraded” F-16s until the F-35 comes into production.)

Cancel the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer. (Advises the production of the Littoral Combat Ship instead.)

Halt production of the Virginia class sub. (Recommends extending the life of existing Los Angeles class submarines instead.)

Pull the plug on the Marine Corps’s V-22 Osprey. (Recommends buying more H-92s and CH-53s instead.)

Halt premature deployment of missile defense.

Negotiate deep cuts in nuclear weapons.

Trim the active-duty Navy and Air Force.

Some, if not most, of these recommendations are stupid to the point of being dangerous.  We have already discussed the fact that existing nuclear weapons systems are in need of refurbishment in order to maintain viability, and also the fact that new nuclear weapons systems must be pursued in order to maintain deterrence and modernize the force.

While aircraft carriers can project U.S. power deep into foreign terrain, and guided missile cruisers even deeper, the Navy hasn’t given us a single viable littoral combat scenario or reason to believe that the littoral combat program is anything but daydreaming.  On the other hand, every single ship in the active U.S. Navy has produced and participated in the national defense, whether actively or passively through deterrence.

As for the F-22, we have already halted production after 183 have been purchased.  Good enough.  Continue with the 183 and halt any further production after that.  The proposal to cut the 183 that have been purchased comes from the same presupposition as the proposals to cut the nuclear weapons program deeply, pursue the littoral combat ships and halt missile defense.  This presupposition is that the only thing we will ever face in the 21st century will be asymmetric threats, guerrilla warfare and insurgencies.

The Captain’s Journal believes in fighting and winning the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s foolish and shortsighted to assume that the future will necessarily look like the present.  Finally, short cutting planning, training and equipping for a conventional struggle and proper deterrence might just ensure that that’s the threat that is faced in the future by creating the very weakness that larger near-peer nation states seek.

Robert M. Gates on a Balanced Strategy for the Pentagon

Sounding the Nuclear Alarm

An Aging Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

Littoral Combat and Other Navy Adventures

The 26th MEU Stuck at Bahrain

The 26th MEU, the USS San Antonio and Military Equipment

Littoral Combat and Other Navy Adventures

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Sometimes the web is a wonderful thing.  Other times not so much.  We love the ability to communicate electronically, but we hate know-it-alls.  We hate know-it-alls, but we love the ability to expose them for what they are.

Every now and again a good example surfaces and it’s good to send it to our readers.  The most recent example of stupidity arises from a comment at the Small Wars Journal blog.  The wise and highly knowledgeable Frank Hoffman has written an analysis on American Maritime Power in the 21st Century.  It was linked by our friends Dave and Bill at the Small Wars Journal blog.  Now comes the stupidity with comments that add nothing to our knowledge.

This is drivel.
There has to be a better justification for spending money on big ships and expensive weapons systems than ‘to preserve our navel power’ (Fighting WW2 again).

Reaching back to the “American Century” for justification is backward looking and not a way for forward planing.

Go show us you can take care of a few boat loads of prates firing RPG’s. If you can’t do that with what you have now, we are not going to spend billions more getting more of it for you.

Ships are extremely vulnerable to air power (WWII), even the simplest missiles (Falklands), and a man in a row boat with a bit of explosive (USS Cole).

In the high speed world of today ships are slow, incredibly un-stealthy, and make wonderfully good targets when ever they get anywhere near hostile land.

The disadvantage with ships is they are not very large and easy to hit, and when hit the damage is compounded by the tendency for water to flow in through the holes.

They are really nice platforms for launching long range stand off weapons, like cruise missiles or aircraft, so long as the craft is far enough off shore to keep out of harms way.

As an off shore support system for operations in and against small backward nations like Vietnam and Iraq they are very useful.

In the age of satlights and cloud penetrating radar I am not sure that ships will continue to be a available fighting platform for use against a large modern state, like Russia or china, who have such technology.

They have one fatal flaw. You only have to get one or two good hits and the whole thing sinks. Resiliency and defensive systems are big problems for a modern navy.

No other military encampment takes down so much gear and men when when taking incoming fire. Maybe the future is not a navy as we know it now, but a fleet of much smaller fast boats that work together as a swarm.

Maybe the future of aircraft carries is a very high speed 150 foot long craft that can launch and recover automated predictor or raptor type aircraft.

To which The Captain’s Journal responded:

JamesM,

Yesterday Mr. Hoffman forgot some infinitesimally small amount of the information he knew on the subject about which he writes. This forgotten information from yesterday is more than you will ever know about this subject in one hundred lifetimes.

Also, your bravado concerning fluid mechanics is unimpressive. Some ships with holes sink, like aircraft with missing wings crash and tanks hit by EFPs break. And it took you some 70 – 80 words to state this fact and then repeat it for us. Wow.

As for the balance of your comment, I see nothing thoughtful about it. I, too, have concerns. Mr. Hoffman knows, like we all do, that money will be tight and that programs will have to husband their resources. I am concerned about the whole littoral combat program, whether maybe the USMC should re-evaluate their EFV program, etc. But I’ll attempt to address these issues without calling studied men out to have uttered drivel. I’ll follow this up on my own web site.

As for Naval power, the reason that China is pursuing an aircraft carrier is for force projection. We have 11, 5 or 6 or more active at any one time, and this takes cash. Maybe you should call up the Premier of the PRC and tell him your conerns about China pursuing Naval power. I’m sure he’ll listen. Let me know how it goes. Send me a note.

The only real “drivel” here is your comment. Now. I’m angry because I feel like I have wasted my time in responding to this comment. Finally, Dave and Bill are more gracious than am I. Your stupid URL http://drivel to which I am sent upon clicking on your name is enough to ban you forever from my own web site. I don’t suffer fools very well.

And we don’t suffer fools.  Smaller, faster naval craft phooey!  Small ships can be shot out of the water just like larger craft can.  But just as we don’t suffer people like JamesM, we wonder very deeply about the USMC EFV program.  We like the Osprey V-22 (although it needs more proving time), but we wonder about the notion of a floating tank, ready to swim and fight at the same time (or right after swimming).  Where are we going to perform a major amphibious assault of another sovereign country?  For what reason would we do something like this?  Really.  We understand the notion of ready reserve, and the idea of countries that go bad and embassies that have to be evacuated, and so forth.  We get it.  But the EFV?  Really?

As for high power force projection, China is pursuing an aircraft carrier because it is the very definition of power.  Guided missile destroyers can send ordnance even further into countries than aircraft can from aircraft carriers.  Yet the notion of using the 26th MEU for CENTCOM ready reserve is pushing the envelope when colleagues are suffering and dying in Afghanistan.  Ready reserve for what?  What’s going to happen that a single Marine Landing Battalion can handle?  Pirates?  The lawyers have prevented that.

Now.  Maintenance of force projection across the globe is one thing, but extravagance is another.  Should we really pursue the idea of the EFV?  Really?

In summary, we have concerns, but jamesM is an idiot and we aren’t.  We understand fluid mechanics.  So there you have it.

More:

Danger Room on Littoral Combat Ships

Strategy Page on Shipbuilding

The Captain’s Journal, 26th MEU Stuck at Baharain

The Captain’s Journal, The USS San Antonio

The Captain’s Journal, Can the Afford the New Destroyers?


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