Monday, June 1, 2009

Amphibious Operations and Sea Basing

The Marine Corps has released this paper, Amphibious Operations in the 21st Century (PDF) dated March 18, 2009, to inspire an intellectual renaissance in amphibious thinking and innovation. It has a companion paper, Sea Basing for the Range of Military Operations (PDF) dated March 26, 2009, a working draft that describes the use of seabasing for the range of operations as the Marines continue to formalize the concept into doctrine.

There are a bunch of ways to look at these articles, so I encourage anyone interested in Naval Operations or Marine Corps operations to read both and leave your impressions in the comments or on your own blog. Clearly I'll have more than one post on these two papers over time.

The two papers are very different. The amphibious operations paper is a solicitation of ideas, where as the Sea Basing paper is a pitch for a concept of operations. I really like the way the amphibious operations paper is put together, and I only see one flaw. I absolutely agree that OMFTS offers a substantially different way of thinking about amphibious operations, but it must be noted that it is only made possible by U.S. naval superiority and the amphibious operations paper skips the most important part of that enormous caveat.

The Navy has outright rejected, as in a full retreat at flank speed, operational requirements to command the surface of the water within 25 nautical miles of the coast, and in my opinion, has rejected intellectual evaluation of the requirements of the littoral in general by completely ignoring the effects of the local population on the sea. To this day, there is still zero evidence the Navy sees value in any warship capable of actual combat below the 9000 ton Burke class, and there remains persistent insistence by otherwise intelligent people that the Littoral Combat Ship, a barely armed thin skinned mothership, is somehow a littoral solution when the actual combat capabilities of unmanned systems is a fleet solution in every operational environment, nothing specific to the littorals whatsoever. If anything, the LCS is horribly designed for the littoral being too big, too expensive, too few, and poorly designed for the threat level most likely encountered. The Sea Lion makes more sense in the Littorals than the LCS, and the L in the LCS stands for "littoral"!

As far as I am concerned, until someone high up in the policy office sticks their boot up the ass of an important SWO and says 'control the littorals including that 25nm distance your doctrine currently ignores,' amphibious operations do not exist in contested environments, no matter how much flanking capability and speed the Marines build into their systems. Any Admiral making the intellectual argument of OTH control within 25 nautical miles of shore in the populated, contested littorals should be looked at in the context of the Army General in his fat FOB outside Baghdad in 2004 telling the President "everything is OK sir!" His buddy, the Admiral who talks about the ScanEagle identifying which fishing boat is friend and foe from 12,000 ft is the Air Force General preaching about the qualities of the F-22 in the fight against Al Qaeda.

Until the Navy operates sailors in the littorals, a necessity the Navy doesn't have any comprehensive strategic public discussion for today, amphibious operations by the Marine Corps does not exist in any but the most permissive environments. If I was the Marines, I would trade the EFV for a ~600 ton near shore corvette that can deploy a squad by rubber boat, and tell the Navy you want to operate these corvettes in squadrons of 4 and 16 as platoons and Companies. I would inform them that instead of fire support, the Marine Corps module for the LCS will be the C2 node for maneuvering these Marine Corps littoral corvettes, which when partnered with the Coast Guard bring a security solution to any operational environment. Bring the Marine vehicles and equipment in on JHSVs instead of using EFVs and increase your near shore fire support with the corvettes, because until the US Navy is under better strategic management the Marines are going to need to build their own inshore Navy if they want to conduct amphibious operations in the contested littorals. May sound sad, but without the prior mentioned boot up SWO ass, it is absolutely true.

And for the record, a long range deployable stealth RHIB that can do 25 knots back and forth from over 25nm, or even operate for a few days inside someones 25nm threat zone, is something we could be doing with technology today. We simply choose not to focus our attention on these types of things. It is a lot easier to make a stealth RHIB that can avoid ASMs than it is to build $5 billion destroyers displacing 14,500 tons. How about some realism in littoral warfare for a change from the SWOs? The Marine Corps better demand exactly that if they are serious about amphibious operations in the 21st century.

I like this amphibious operations paper. It is a call for ideas, and only whiffs on that 25nm littoral issue. Otherwise, good stuff.

Now lets look at the Sea Basing paper. Anytime a paper has a section titled "10-30-30 and the MCO Myopia" let me just say, HELL YES. The Sea Basing paper addresses “10-30-30”.

In 2002, a Joint Staff planning effort titled “Operational Availability 2003” examined the ability of the United States to achieve rapid victory in two nearly simultaneous MCOs. The Joint Staff concluded that U.S. forces should strive to “seize the initiative” within 10 days, accomplish initial “swiftly defeat” objectives versus one enemy within 30 days, and then commence “swiftly defeat” operations versus a second enemy in another theater within another 30 days. This became known as the “10-30-30” metric and was subsequently formalized by OSD in Strategic Planning Guidance. This emphasis on strategic speed to conduct multiple MCOs diverted intellectual rigor away from the blend of capabilities required to conduct a range of operations, leading one informed observer to remark “a decade or more of thinking about the strategic and operational implications of uncertain access and the need to improve joint sea-based maneuver options had come down to this: a single-minded DoN pursuit for an ability to conduct a brigade sized forcible entry in approximately ten days.”
That last quote comes from Bob Work, in Chapter 5 regarding Sea Basing of Newport Paper #26 (PDF). It is a breath of fresh air to see the Marine Corps come out and say “10-30-30” needs to take a hike. I contend the “10-30-30” metric has resulted in a decade of poor strategic thinking, and without question the way it has driven the operational side of Sea Basing development has resulted in a limited approach towards a Sea Basing concept. A real concern for the Marines should be how many bad ideas were sold into good ideas while being derived from such a terrible benchmark metric? In the opinion of many experts who have worked with the MSC, the MLP as designed looks like a poster child for poorly designed logistics. Will the MLP be able to evacuate a seriously damaged major surface combatant like the Mighty Servant II did with the USS Cole (DDG 67)? Wouldn't salvage qualify as a function of a sea base?

The Sea Basing paper hangs its hat in the end on the Expeditionary Warrior 2009 annual exercise in regards to the use of seabasing for the range of operations, further formalizing the concept as doctrine. One problem, according to InsideTheNavy published February 23, 2009 titled Marine Corps’ annual war game finds . . . SEABASING CONCEPT LACKS COMMON UNDERSTANDING, NEEDS UPDATING, there is still confusion regarding what Sea Basing is.
The game, dubbed “Expeditionary Warrior 2009,” revealed a lack of a common shared understanding of what seabasing entails, with some thinking of it more as a physical base at sea rather than a collection of ships that enable forcible entry or operation ashore without the assistance of a host nation, Lt. Col. Reid Bessenger, the operations officer of the wargaming division at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, said.

“It’s awfully difficult to get beyond that point if you don’t have a common baseline,” Bessenger said.

Bessenger said the game also appeared to show that additional information sharing requirements are needed for a joint seabasing operation involving international partners. It revealed the need for updating the seabasing concept of operations and development of more specific plans for how to leverage the seabase for foreign internal defense and counterinsurgency (FID/COIN) operations, the focus on this year’s war game held Feb. 2 to Feb. 6 in Maryland.
Logistics. Logistics. Logistics. Or is it? What does a sea base fighting piracy off Somalia look like? What does a Sea Base fighting Al Qaeda off the Sudan look like? What does a Sea Base supporting the collapse of North Korea look like? What does a Sea Base supporting the nuclear detonation in a modern major port city look like? Logistics is only part of the story, and forward operating bases perform a function further than a port in the middle of the ocean. Where is the landing pad for the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division? What, the "Joint" Sea Base cannot support an Army unit? Until Sea Basing has easily understood answers for what I think are pretty basic questions, "Joint" Sea Basing is a concept far from doctrine. I kind of wish the Marine Corps would have written this Sea Basing document like they did the Amphibious Operations document, specifically in the context of asking questions instead of stating answers.

For those looking for more information, there are new Sea Basing materials at the Marines new Sea Basing website. By the way, in some of the new documents on that page, it looks like the composition of the Sea Base has evolved towards only 3-4 ships operating within a more traditional amphibious readiness group organization. Something to check out.

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