Monday, July 8, 2013

Back to the Future Part 3: Amphibious Raiding

This post is part of a series that will continue over the course of the next few months. The series will look at the future of the Marine Corps after the end of Operating Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It was inspired by Robert Kosloski’s article in the Naval War College Review, “Marching Towards the Sweet Spot: Options for the Marine Corps in a Time of Austerity,” (Available Here) Mr. Kosloski has also written for this blog. It will include guest posts and posts by Gazette blog authors. This series is being organized by Capt Jonathan Rue, USMCR, who writes at Gunpowder and Lead and the Guardian, and Capt Brett Friedman, USMC, who writes here and at Grand Blog Tarkin.

A few years ago, when I was working on a two-star staff, I was told by a high-level GS employee and retired USMC field grade officer that "the Marine Corps doesn’t do raiding anymore.”

For a while there he was probably right. After the Mayaguez incident, it seemed like raids were destined to pass to into the realm of special operations despite the Marines' long history of maritime raids. The Marine Corps’ first amphibious assault was conducted as part of a raid to secure military supplies from the British on New Providence in the Bahamas. This raid also included sailors armed and sent ashore with the Marine contingents. With support from sailors, the Marine corps regularly conducted raids until World War I. They were so ingrained in the Corps that the Commandant, in an attempt to emulate British commandos, established the Marine Raiders during World War II. The Raiders were the first unit to conduct a maritime raid via submarine and won further laurels behind Japanese lines on Guadalcanal.

Raiding, however, appears to be on the horizon yet again. The Navy-Marine Corps team is looking at putting Marine detachments on a variety of platforms besides amphibious ships, a call that has also appeared in the print edition of the Marine Corps Gazette. Adding to the desire for Marines aboard more ships are those that appeal for more options in how those Marines are employed. In February 2012, LCDR BJ Armstrong called for Marine raiding forces on aircraft carriers:

Today’s Nimitz -class aircraft carriers are not being used for maximum efficiency. While the “fighter gap” is not projected to hit the Navy for another couple of years, the reality is that today’s carrier air wing is smaller than the Nimitz class was designed to deploy. The Gerald R. Ford class will have even more room. The power of today’s super carriers comes from the precision fires that can be delivered more than the sheer number of airframes on the flight deck. This leaves room available for a few more airframes and a few more people, and the potential to increase the capability of the modern carrier strike group.

LCDR Armstrong makes a great case that a contingent of Marines (like Company Landing Force as he mentions in the article) would vastly increase the flexibility of the Carrier Strike Group. Even if the Marines were focused on the simpler NEO (Noncombatant Evacuation Operation) and TRAP (Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel) missions, their presence would give combatant commanders more options.

Another possibility is to return Marines to the undersea realm.

If an ARG is too far off the coast to launch landing craft and the AA threat makes air operations too dangerous for non-stealth aircraft, how will the Joint Force, specifically the Marine Corps component, seize lodgments in support of other operations? The answer: through America’s principal 21st-century naval advantage­—submarines....The (current) amphibious capability of both SSNs and SSGNs revolves around the dry deck shelter (DDS)—a 38-foot long, 30-ton, C-5–transportable sphere that attaches to a submarine. An SSN can accommodate one shelter; an SSGN can carry two. Marines enter the DDS while the submarine is submerged. The shelter is then flooded and the water pressure inside equalized to the outside environment. The DDS then opens and the Marines surface.

To be sure, the SEALs also utilize this capability. But for a time and place that requires more schlitz than stealth, it would be a good idea for Marines to have units ready to execute a raid via submarine. This capability may be especially important when facing an A2AD system.

Whether the raiders consist of Marines, special operations forces, or soldiers, the U.S. Navy is the single most capable raiding platform on the planet. A raid launched from US ships afloat requires less coordination with host nations, if it requires any at all, and is less of a burden on our partners. Without offshore Navy assets, raids must be facilitated by local airfields and other infrastructure. The Bin Laden raid, which may now be the most famous raid in history, was made possible by Coalition airfields and bases in neighboring Afghanistan, an aspect we may not always have in the future. Raids will also look more attractive to policymakers who want to avoid costly, long-term occupations like Iraq and Afghanistan. Far from being a lapsed capability from a distant past, the maritime raid may make a comeback.