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Questioning the need for a “Gator Navy” Updated

May 12, 2008

Thanks so much for all the feedback I got on whether the US still needs a highly expensive and (in my view) an underutilized amphibious fleet. Mind you, I’m not suggesting an end to the US Marines Corps, just that we need to reevaluate what role the historic service must play in our country’s national security. Currently, the 189,000 strong force isn’t quite a land army, and far from naval infantry. I personally feel the nation would be better served with the Corps returning to its roots, that of a light infantry maritime intervention force.

An article I came across titled Future Corps discusses new Marine weaponry now entering service or undergoing evaluation. Here are a few snippets I thought interesting:

Developing technologies to execute the Marine Corps’s new tactics
has been a 25-year-long ordeal. The V-22 Osprey program began in 1982 and first
deployed to Iraq last fall. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, still at least
seven years from fielding, officially began in 1995 but is the successor of two
amphibious armored vehicle projects that were abandoned. “This is the solution
they came up with 20-plus years ago and have been trying to field ever since,”
said T.X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel who wrote an iconoclastic book, The
Sling and the Stone, on how low-tech foes can defeat expensive American

The “Over the Horizon Program” 25 years in the making and we’re not there yet. Amazing! This is where I differ with our military leadership in that we should build for the wars we are fighting, instead of some future war with an undisclosed foe. Here’s more on the Corps’ brand new amphibious vehicle:

…the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle’s mechanically complex
transformation allows it to skim the waves instead of wallow through them,
making it easily three times as fast as its predecessors. So rather than come
within sight of shore to launch the current amphibious armor–thus exposing
itself to attack–the fleet could deploy EFVs from over the horizon, 25 or 30
miles away.But is that enough? “Twenty years ago”–when the Corps’s new tactics
were conceived–“we were talking about 25 miles,” said one analyst who works for
the Marine Corps. “The EFV is based on the idea that the enemy can’t reach out
25 miles. Now they can.” The C-802 cruise missile used in Hezbollah’s successful
strike against the Israeli corvette in 2006, for example, has a maximum range of
about 75 miles.

Finally, there is this shocking statement concerning the amount of troops able to be ferried by our fleet of assault ships (helicopter carriers) and landing ships (LPDs, LSDs):

The Navy, meanwhile, has gone from having enough amphibious assault
ships to deploy three Marine brigades simultaneously–a fraction of the force at
Inchon or Iwo Jima–to not quite enough to carry two. Two brigades happened to
be the size of the Marine feint during the Gulf War.”You could not stage an
amphibious invasion of Iran. You couldn’t stage an amphibious invasion of North
Korea,” said Baker, the former naval intelligence analyst. “God knows, you can’t
invade China.”

Only 2 brigades, or about 5000 troops out of almost 200,000! I knew this all along but it is just now sinking in, that in no way could we stage a major amphibious assault on the scale of World War, which is what this magnificent fleet of warships was designed to perform. This current number is far smaller than the British landing forces (11,000) that retook the tiny Falkland Islands which we mentioned in the previous posting.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 14, 2008 4:38 pm

    A mighty expensive social worker there West!

  2. west_rhino permalink
    May 14, 2008 2:43 pm

    Other side of Gator assets, using the decks as surface control ships supporting Harriers and a few Helos… may be necessary after the CV’s have met wake following fish.

    Of course with a meals on wheels relief role, most of the gator assets tend to have sickbays intended to support combat casualties from a landing in the process of evac to superior theater facilities, expanding the “peacetime” functionality.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    May 13, 2008 1:29 pm

    Good to remember Chromite. Let’s see what there was in the initial assault: 4 APD, 1 LST = 12 LCVP, 9 LCM. All in all one Marine Regiment plus nine 9 M26. Once the landing zone was established, the larger ships started to flow in.

    So a USMC amphibic assault force of 5.000 men is small, but not too small. What is wrong is 200.000 men in the force.

    The ELV is a conceptional disaster, as is Osprey. Provided it could swim ashore from 30nm out, or one hour of high-speed ride, it can never hold itself in land combat. What is needed is a slimmer LCAC designed to bring armored cavalry ashore, not M1 tanks.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 12, 2008 6:37 pm

    I defer to your experience over my own Ken. As a citizen and taxpayer concerned where our fleet is headed, I’d love for the Navy to justify these warships as essential in the 21st century. So far, disaster relief and other soft power concerns isn’t enough when a warship is built to fight first, or should be.

  5. Ken Adams permalink
    May 12, 2008 5:56 pm

    Well, making a gigantic hole in determined defenses is out of the question. But seizing a small port (air or sea) that allows the flow of heavier follow-on forces is certainly feasible with today’s capability. You don’t have to make it invulnerable to use it, you just have to make it safe enough that you can move stuff through it without unreasonable losses.
    I have faith in the gators because I was one for most of my active duty time. I know the limitations of MEU-sized amphibious assaults first hand from two Mediterranean Amphib Ready Group deployments on an LST. I was also the plans officer responsible for building ship-to-shore movement support in MEB assault, assault follow-on echelon, and Maritime Prepositioning Force operations. I’ve walked the ground on more beaches than I can count, laying out traffic routes, unit staging areas, force protection plans, and camps for all the people needed to keep the flow rate up, and I did it with the greatest bunch of professional warriors the world has ever known — United States Marines. Give them a mission, and they will figure out a way to accomplish it. The results may not be pretty, but they will deliver.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 12, 2008 2:55 pm

    You hit the nail on the head Ken. I understand that the Navy’s Super Hornet managed to skip those Congressional tests because it was a revamped version of the older Hornet, just managing to be available for the opening stages of the Iraq War. The F-22 Raptor, which began testing long before the Super Hornet, has yet to make it there.

    Your faith in the Gators is greater than mine. I don’t think we can “punch a hole” onto an enemies beach defenses in the age of precision guided weapons, not with the fleet we currently have.

  7. Ken Adams permalink
    May 12, 2008 2:33 pm

    I sometimes wonder how quickly we could field a capability today if we didn’t have Congress demanding that everything be “proven” combat effective before it can proceed through multiple gateway decisions.
    I understand the need for some sort of procedural rigor to make sure that the people’s money isn’t wasted, but current practice seems to be overkill.
    Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of the need for a Gator Navy. I believe that the ability to “punch a hole” in an adversary’s defenses is crucial to the success of a campaign to seize said enemy’s land or to deny him the use of that land. Amphibious assaults, executed well, can complete that mission. So can other means; hopefully the current roles and missions study will address this issue.


  1. Amphibious Lift, Not Assault « New Wars
  2. Marines, Navy at Odds on Amphib Fleet « New Wars

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