New Threats Change Amphibious Assault Strategy

New Threats Change Amphibious Assault Strategy

The Navy is contemplating changes to its strategic and tactical use of connectors such as the Landing Craft Air Cushion and Landing Craft Utility vessel in response to the fast-growing number of countries and non-state actors that are developing high-tech, surface and land-launched missiles.

As a key part of the Navy and Marine Corps expeditionary warfare and amphibious assault strategy, connectors are engineered to move equipment, weapons and personnel from ship to shore over the ocean.

The rapid international development and proliferation of long– range missiles with increasingly sophisticated and accurate precision-guidance systems is leading the Navy and Marine Corps to closely examine its concept of operations, Maj. Gen. Robert Walsh, director of the Navy’s expeditionary warfare division, told Military​.com in an interview.


“We used to go right up on the beach and go from close in to the beach. Now we are starting to see things like surface to surface missiles that are not just in the hands of nation-states.  They could be in the hands of some non-state actors,” Walsh said.

The Navy and Marine Corps currently operate 32 Landing Craft Utility vessels, or LCUs, which are large over-sea troop and equipment amphibious transporters able to transit as much as 125 tons worth of gear from ship to shore.  The current fleet of LCUs, which have an average age of about 43-years, can travel as far at 1,200 nautical miles over periods up to 10 days, Navy officials said.

The Landing Craft Air Cushions, or LCACs, are smaller, newer, faster and higher tech than the LCUs. The Navy’s 72 LCACs can transport up to 60-tons, reach speed of 36-knots and travel ranges up to 200 nautical miles, Navy officials explained.  The LCACs were first produced in the 80s.

These discussions about connectors are taking place as part of a newly formed Navy-Marine Corps Connector Council, a body stood up to analyze LCAC and LCU development and strategy. The council includes Marine Corps and Navy elements with personnel and input from Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Air Systems Command, among others.

The new council was stood up about three months ago, Walsh said. Much of the work on strategy and conops is being done in conjunction with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, Fla.

“The council has directed the key stakeholders to go after these ideas and report back to the next council meeting in September,” he added.  “We’re bringing stakeholders in to talk about conops. We’re considering taking our current LCACs and LCUs and making some modifications to be able to allow Marines to operate differently in the future. As the threat changes, how do we operate differently?” Walsh explained.

The often discussed anti-access-area-denial, or A2/AD, threats such as ballistic missiles and long-range anti-ship guided missiles, are designed to prevent assets and platforms, such as carrier groups and amphibious ready groups, from operating closer to the coastline of a given strategic area.

There have been a large number of public reports citing the number of countries which have and are developing these weapons such as Iran, China and North Korea. There continues to be much discussion of how the A2/AD calculus impacts military strategic planning and weapons development because the existence of these weapons changes how the Navy and Marine Corps need to operate both large ships and connectors.

For instance, a new threat environment may mean connectors have to travel further distances carrying weapons and personnel from ship to shore – or simply lower their ramps further out at sea to allow amphibious vehicles to disperse before approaching shore, Walsh said.

Spreading out amphibious vessels further from shore, while-on-the-move, makes targeting and detection much more difficult for potential adversaries looking to fire surface and shore– based missiles.  A dispersed threat is much less vulnerable to large-caliber machine guns or surface-to-surface weapons, Walsh said.

“We want to maneuver from beyond the horizon and be able to go wherever we want. It is trying to stay away from the threat. If you take all of your capability into the threat on a single craft, you are putting yourself more at risk than what we have traditionally have done,” he added.

Walsh explained that the modern threat environment when it comes to expeditionary warfare, by contrast, is vastly different than recent decades or the famous World War II-era amphibious assaults such as Iwo Jima.

“It used to be that ships would stay at sea and the initial assault amphibious vehicles would go ashore with the armored protection and weapons. They would gain a foothold on the beach, move inland and defeat that threat– like Iwo Jima. The connectors would come in after,” he explained.

The current threat environment, among other things, means ships and large surface vessels need to stay much further away from shore, underscoring the need for connectors to travel longer distances, Walsh said.  Also, the continued existence of long-range missile threats to connectors during an operation could change the tactics and distances regarding how they are used.

“We need to look at cases where we would want to take our connectors – and instead of going up onto the beach you would let vehicles off at sea and let them swim in from there,” Walsh explained.

Also these days, unlike the frontal beach assault taken by U.S. Marines directly into fortified Japanese positions and bunkers on Iwo Jima –  coming on the heels of massive artillery and aerial bombardment – the Navy’s expeditionary strategy can rely much more heavily on newer methods of intelligence gathering, AAVs (amphibious assault vehicles) and high-tech, fast-moving LCACs, Walsh explained.

“We now can come from much higher speeds over the horizon to try to go where the enemy is not. Our intelligence today with satellite imagery and Humint (human intelligence) is so much better than we had in the past. In the future we want to go longer distances and keep increasing our range up and down the enemy’s coastline and pick and choose where we want to go,” Walsh added.

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Isn’t part of this whole argument superfluous? I mean, our sats will scan and target any opposition, our flyboys and deep strike penetration weapons will beat up the landing zone (just like WW2), sweeping inland long before the connectors start for shore.

If only we had vessels capable of carrying many defensive weapons and systems while providing a large about of affordable on time fire support from just of shore.

If only.…

I think the threat they’re concerned about is more the portable Anti-Ship Missiles that may not be out there long before the assault or are easier to conceal from ISR assets. Like the Exocet that struck the Israeli ship. Close Air Support is a critical part of a beach assault, but it’s more reactionary than preventative.

I think an undersea/semi submersible connector would render a lot of these threats useless. Have them crawl/swim out of the amphibs, run partially submerged (sacrificing speed obviously), and then have it reemerge/crawl up the beach for the last bit. Keep cost down by having them run on diesels, make them 50% larger than the existing LCUs, and add the 30mm from the EFV/LPD/LCS on each of them to give it suppression power when it lands.

well.….spreading out does make them harder to attack.….kinda, maybe, ok not really. But for sure it DOES make them harder to defend. Reminds me of why the convoy system was started in WW1 and 2.

This report has less to do with real ampib assaults and like Chris made this more about throwing money blindly for the DoD again. Which will do nothing but waste billions while fat cats at the Pentagon come up with more pet projects.

Like a supersized AAV?

Somewhat, but instead of first a land vehicle that can swim, make it an undersea vehicle that can crawl (or beach itself and still get back out). Like a submersible LCU.

The LCAC has been in service for many years and improved as well as expanded the reach strategy for amphibious assault. More specifically, it opened the ability for amphibious assault to over 75% of the worlds beaches, which was a significant disadvantage of surface displacement craft and primary factor in LCAC design. It is not new to the budget, just improving an asset already in the inventory.

If the LCAC’s are so new and high tech, why were they developed in the 80’s? This article has to be a joke. The Navy needs to upgrade these old lifters, replace the significant number of units that have been taken out of service, and develop a new and improved generation of them. The days of “hitting the beach” against a heavily armed and entrenched opponent like they did in WWII are over. That was risky enough in the 1940s, but it would be suicide today. It is essential to use LCACs and the wide range of Navy and Air Force air lifters to sweep wide around organized opposition and attempt to envelop them.

You should probably know something about the subject before commenting.
The Navy is upgrading the current fleet of LCACs.
The Navy is far along in the development of the Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) to replace the LCAC.
The Navy is looking at replacing the LCUs with a more capable craft.

I know enough to know that the Navy has taken the long very slow road to upgrading LCACs while the actual number of working units has been steadily reduced. While the a surface to shore connector has been developed and is being tested, it is not certain that it will be selected to replace the LCAC. My point in critiquing the article was simply that this conclusion that the need for long range high speed assault — away from teeth of a hostile enemy’s defenses was being treated as a revelation when, in fact, it has been obvious for decades. Moreover, the Navy has dragged its feet (flippers?) in strengthening and broadening this capability. And that was a major blunder.

This idea was played around with before; the Over The Horizon Assault. We called it OP-Plan Chicken Shit. It was rejected then for a variety of deadly problems it caused. Not least of which was that it increased the vulnerability time of landing craft en route to the beach. There always is, has and always will be a threat from the beach to the large assault ships. There is nothing new about that, with or without terrorism, nor will it suddenly go away if terrorism suddenly vanished. These Admirals need to grow a spine and deal with the fact their pretty ships might get their paint scratched by an RPG or two.

If the surface to surface missile threat is making amphibious warfare impossible how do the Chinese expect to take Taiwan and why is China investing in more amphibious ships and even less capable connectors?

There’s also the increased interest by countries like India and Russia in increasing a pretty conventional ship to shore power projection capability that would imply the threat isn’t 10′ tall and/or there are techniques to avoid and/or minimize it.

Something is missing in the conversation.

Specifically,

One avoids defended beaches
One suppresses enemy defenses
Our casualty aversion (which has become a strategic weakness) is driving a train that creates systems that are too expensive to lose, too expensive to build and too few to do the job (The MIC also promotes this approach)

easy target for mines

Seems to be just what the British did in the Falklands.

The connectors have to be able to unload the AAVs in the water. They could be used for the AAV launch instead of the amphibious ships, so the ships can stay much further away.

Also, there is no reason why sea refueling could not be done by the connectors. 10% of the connectors could be used to refuel the others mid way to the shore. That would double the distance between the shore to the ships.

Over-the-beach is an expensive and outdated tactic. That’s why the Marines now have Ospreys — for deep inland penetration. Amphibious capabilities usually target undefended areas these days. We use these capabilities for the low level stuff, not major force-on-force engagements. We’re not going to invade Normandy ever again. Yes, we need to modernize some of our amphibious capabilities, but the whole discussion about amphibious capabilities as a major force is almost irrelevant compared to a bunch of thugs in Toyota pickup trucks with bolted down medium caliber weapons quickly sweeping over major parts of a countryside. They’re not worried about getting shot at. Why are we? After all, it’s called war!

Don’t worry the F-35 will solve all these problems, but the army insists the next war will be in a city greater than 20 million. <Sigh>

Very easy target for mines. Mines are a very cheap defensive weapon. Just ask Iran.

Surprised they don’t propose turning the AAV’s into a vehicle transporter that can beach and disgorge a Humvee (or the Growler, or whatever Osprey-capable small vehicle is picked by the Marines). Not all of the landing craft need to be LCAC-sized; and this would free up more vehicles to be available to move troops, equipment and supplies ashore. And inevitably, someone will arm it so it can drive up to the beach and shoot things to protect the LCAC’s. And when at port, put them out as floating gun platforms to protect high value targets.

I tire of reading all this BS. Precision guided munitions can hit LCACs and LCUs just as easy, and they are much easier to sink than an LST.

I believe they’re referred to as “missile magnets”.

No easier than any other watercraft.

The over all strategy sounds fine, but it reads to me they have to work even harder to keep incoming amphibious assets from getting nailed as they arrived. That suggest they’ll need the aircraft carriers and Amphibious Assault Ship/Carriers to attack any enemies along the invasion zone. So their going rely on intelligence to keep the Marine safe? LCAC are to vulnerable to being hit. Things can be missed, i’d rather feel better if they could use some small craft that could arguably used just to shoot down small anti-ship missiles.

Bring back the battleship! Bring 2 of 4 back into service after refit and upgrades.

Also produced more SSGNs as arsenal ships (Navy has already done this to 4 SSBs).

SSGNs could make stealth first strike combined with air assets and then when troops come in back them up with a battleship.

Please tell me, all you amphib wonks, what beaches were are going to breach now, in the near future, in the far future? Given the geopolitical realities, advance in weapons systems, among them tactical nukes, and advanced sensor systems the old WWII concept of beach assault seems to be obsolete. Again, who are we going to invade and why, and under what circumstances? Other than humanitarian missions, which are questionable at best, these very expensive platforms are designed to do a mission that is no longer viable. Our money could be better spent on robust, survivable surface and submarine units. It is only the Marine Corps, with it’s strong lobby, misguided parochial Admirals, and politicians that have a vested interest in keeping the shipyards alive and well in their districts that are keeping this outmoded concept alive.

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