The US Navy and the US Air Force are developing a concept of operations called AirSea Battle. Its purpose is to overcome Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) tactics that are proliferating throughout the world. A2AD tactics represent a grave threat to amphibious capabilities due to the use of cheaper, more destructive missiles that would threaten the ability of ships to move in close to hostile shores.
In the July/August 2011 issue of Armed Forces Journal, Major General Tim Hanifen, Rear Admiral Sinclair Harris, and Robert Holzer wrote an article entitled, “Trouble Busters: Global Demand for amphibious forces outstrips resources.” Marines should be well aware that not only will the Marine Corps lose a great deal of resources in the coming years, but that the Navy has not been able to supply enough amphibious ships for some time. Despite this downward trend in resources, the trend in demands for amphibious forces is rising and will likely continue to rise. According to the article, “naval forces could fulfill only 34 percent of combatant command requests for amphibious forces in fiscal 2010, and only 35 percent of requests are being met in the current fiscal year.” The end of OIF and OEF will in no way mean a slowing down of requirements for the Marine Corps.
In the November 2011 issue of Proceedings, published by the United States Naval Institute [LINK], Lieutenant Colonel J. Noel Williams, USMC (Ret.), wrote an article entitled Next Wave: Assault Operations for a New Era. The article is only accessible to USNI members, but the basic idea is that the first wave in any beach assault should be conducted by “unmanned breacher vehicles (UBV)” that would soften and clear defense on the beach ahead of the Marine Corps assault forces. From the article:
In the 2020s and beyond there will simply be no reason to place 20 Marines in a steel box and drive them through mined waters to land on an area-denied beach. An unmanned breacher vehicle (UBV), or family of unmanned systems, could clear and mark the assault lanes ahead of any manned surface movement. These UBVs could be launched from surface, subsurface, or airborne delivery means—overtly or covertly. UBVs could be given large magnetic and acoustic signatures to trigger influence mines and could be equipped with cameras, remote gun systems, plows, cutters, and/or line charges to clear beach obstacles. Additionally, it would be possible to transition the UBV to convoy reconnaissance and clearing missions once manned vehicles are ashore.
Introducing an unmanned system breaks the tyranny of the hybrid vehicle that we have found to be so costly and that inevitably results in compromises in both operating domains—afloat and ashore.
LtCol Williams also wrote, along with US Navy Captain Henry J. Hendrix, an article in the May 2011 issue of Proceedings an article entitled “Twilight of the $UPERfluous Carrier.” In this article, the authors propose that the US Navy replace some of the existing big-deck aircraft carriers with smaller, America-class big-deck amphibious ships that can also carry aircraft, both manned and unmanned. A move in this direction would simultaneously address US Navy budget issues and the perennial shortfall in amphibious ships. For more on the supercarrier vs. light carrier debate check out this post on the naval blog Information Dissemination. Information Dissemination is essential reading on naval and maritime affairs.
Despite looming budget pressures, events and trends in amphibious warfare will be moving rapidly in the years ahead. If you have any thought on what you think amphibious operations will look like in the future, post them in the comments.