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Sea Links

April 24, 2009

090421-N-9950J-022U.S. Navy and Armed Forces of the Philippines Navy ships are underway during exercise Balikatan 2009.

United States Navy

The future of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV).

Patrol craft’s sailors can do it all – and they must.

Amphibs, warships split up by new plan.

Fifth USS Missouri to Go to Sea Soon.

New Threats Affect the Future Navy.

Gates: We Ignore Threats to Our Navy at Our Peril.

Navy’s Truxtun a modern marvel.

Strategy behind U.S. Navy’s destroyers.

The (smaller, faster, cheaper) future of sea power.

USN Accepts Delivery of Future USS Makin Island.


090421-N-0120A-009Warships of the World

Someone in Beijing has been reading Mahan.

U.S. navy ship arrives in China for int’l fleet review.

China shows off its expanding, modernizing navy.

China’s Nuclear-Powered Submarines on Show.

12 nations open naval warfare exercises off Fla.

Royal Navy orders Spanish ship out of Gibraltar.

10 reasons why the state of the Royal Navy matters.


Tackling Pirates

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Somali Pirates.

Pirate defense will take small, nimble vessels.

Somalia Seeking Navy Force to Fight Pirates.

Dutch Commandoes Free Hostages, Release Pirates.


From the Navy Vaults

Are modern cruisers and destroyers modern-day battleships?

Argentine Options after the Galahad Sinking.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 30, 2010 5:26 am

    Kristian, thanks for your insightful comments! Well done.

  2. Kristian permalink
    April 30, 2010 3:29 am


    Your contention that IEDs are not here to stay is ignoring history and facts. First, Iraq was hardly the first place IEDs were used in large scale. The Israelis battled EFPs in Lebanon in the 90s. The Soviets saw IEDs in Afghanistan in the 80s and the Russians battled them in Chechnya in the 90s. There is a reason why the South African’s build the best MRAPs in the world and that is because they have been doing it since the 70s! IED warfare was common in lower Africa during the wars for independence and the Rhodesians and later South Africans introduced fore runner of todays MRAP during that period. Furthermore, the British Army used IEDs against the Japanese in Burma during WWII. I am sure I could research this more but it is not necessary because the simple fact is the US military was stupid not to prepare for IED warfare after our experience in Somalia in the 90s. The reason why IEDs will always be around is that they are cheap and effective and are an excellent economy of force weapon for an over matched foe.

    In a recent exercise in Australia, I watched an entire USMC battalion get stalled on a bottled necked MSR simply because they did not have enough engineers to overcome a few obstacles. Vertical lift is great but you ultimately need to move mass by road.

  3. DesScorp permalink
    April 27, 2009 10:18 am

    Heretic, a point of contention here: I do NOT think IED’s are going to be ubiquitous in future warfare, anymore than VietCong feces-encrusted punji stakes. They’re unique to their time and circumstances. You don’t see them in Afghanistan nearly as much as you see them in Iraq, and for a good reason: IED’s depend upon roads, the certainty that US forces will rely upon your roads gives you an easy target. IED’s aren’t like land mines. They’re much more powerful, but they’re also much more time and manpower intensive. With mines, you just dig some shallow holes everywhere, and drop mines in. With IED’s, it takes a team to build them from scratch, then you have to wait for cover of night to put them under a paved road. So relying on IED’s for beachhead defense is going to be very much hit or miss. I think history will show that IED’s were a uniquely Iraqi-resistance type of solution. I’m sure you’ll see them in the future, but not to this extent. Insurgent solutions tend to be fitted to their unique needs. So I think we’re putting too much emphasis on IED-protection for vehicles.

    Second, on the Navy/USMC’s “Over the Horizon” strategy; well, they’re just going to have to adjust. The EFV isn’t working out, and current amphibs don’t have the speed or range necessary for an OTH landing. And this is why you have combined defenses anyway… jamming, CIWS, fighter air cover, etc. There are ways to neutralize, or at least cripple the cruise missile threat to beach landings. Like everything else, cost is going to have to be a factor when planning for amphibious operations. That’s just the reality of things.

    Agree with Mike, BTW, on the notion of simply taking something like an LAV and making it beach-landing capable. Isn’t that what Marines are supposed to do anyway? Adapt, improvise, and overcome?

  4. Heretic permalink
    April 26, 2009 10:57 am

    Your LCS Alternatives post drew a comment from Mrs. Davis (/hat tip) which contained a link to the French Navy’s Mistral (wiki entry here).

    Note that the Mistral would actually be considered an “overcapacity” ship for what I’m contemplating here (see the wiki for accomodations of aircraft, vehicles, etc.) and has a pricetag of $600 million for the lead ship. Follow on copies are expected to cost around $500 million. There’s a lot of really good ideas present in the Mistral design, which you’d want to replicate in any sort of MEC-oriented ship like I’ve been advocating for above. So take a Mistral and “shrink it to fit” a little for a USMC-styled MAGTF of company size like I’ve been talking about, leave some “room for growth” in the design, make a few changes (*cough* ski-jump *cough*) … and you’ll probably wind up with a ship that costs somewhere around $400-500 million a copy (and perhaps less when put into mass production by multiple shipyards?). Then just start cranking out 5 MEC-amphibs a year until you have “enough” … understanding that there would probably be a foreign military sale potential for ships at that price after 10-15 years of service with the USN, meaning you can keep cranking out new ships from the shipyards (who would by then have the design/construction down “pat”) so as to keep the MEC-amphibs in USN service “young(er)” over the long haul … by selling the old ones and taking the new ones into the USN fleet.

    Think of how useful a (slightly) used MEC-amphib ship could be to a foreign navy that needs to be able to do coast guarding in their own native (offshore) waters. Make a great mothership for coast guard units.

  5. Heretic permalink
    April 26, 2009 8:25 am

    Ah, I see. No, the idea is to “split up” what you’d normally put into a LPD-17 San Antonio (or two) across multiple copies of smaller ships. Attempting to do so then (essentially) “requires” you to think about what the next “logical” MAGTF (marine air-ground task force) step down would be if going from the battalion level down to the company level … and how you distribute/organize the assets in order to do so. That way, each ship is carrying (and can support) a marine company … and all the assets needed to support that MAGTF company. That gives you a purpose build amphibious ship which on its own is nothing particularly special or overwhelming … but which can aggregate “upwards” when sufficiently “numerous” to produce a very powerful combat capability/force. Once you get the basics right on the lead ship(s), it’s just a matter of mass production to build a very impressive distributed fleet/marine capability.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 26, 2009 7:31 am

    Ok, when you put it that way, makes alot of sense. I thought you might be leaning towards a San Antonio or bigger, and I have a healthy respect for HSVs as regular readers may know.

  7. Heretic permalink
    April 25, 2009 11:42 pm

    could we adapt vehicles already in existence for this role, much like the Shermans at Normandy? Some type of add-on to a Stryker to allow it to swim to shore, as you noted the LAVs are amphibious capable, would it be a stretch to enhance their performance in the soft sand and surf?

    Best answer I can give to that is a shrug of the shoulders and a “maybe” to that question. Strykers are quite simply inadequate in their current (ie. wheeled) configuration for the job of swimming in ocean surf onto a shore. They already, without modification(s) have problems with boggy/soggy ground which make it very easy for them to get mired in wet (as opposed to waterlogged or more) conditions. The Stryker is an “okay” starting point, but it also doesn’t carry enough troops per vehicle (9 instead of 15 as I’m looking at here) and it would have to be re-engineered for tracks rather than wheels. Put those two factors together and you’re simply better off building a whole new vehicle, rather than trying to adapt an existing one.

    Now this is where I would stop and consider the cost, not only in price but risk in putting so many of our expensive eggs in a single vulnerable platform.

    It would only be “vulnerable” if it was lonely … and even then it would have (in a nominal deployment) helicopters and a couple F-35Bs aboard (or ashore). By itself, a single one of the MEC amphibs wouldn’t be able to (nor should it be expected to) win a war single-handedly. Also consider that the JHSV has a troop capacity of 970 … and I’m only talking about ~450 marines embarked per ship here, not including sailors for the ship itself. I honestly doubt you’d need something too much bigger (dimensions-wise) than a JHSV in order to transport all the “stuff” I mentioned above. You’d actually *want* something that’s approximately JHSV-sized with, as I mentioned above, a flattop flight deck with integral bow ski-jump, a hangar deck, and a vehicle/well deck as its major features. The idea here is that you’re “housing” a (mere) marine company per ship … not most of a battalion.

    Even at an “extravagant” price of $500-900 million a copy (2.5-4.5x the price of a JHSV), you can still “buy a brigade’s worth” of ships (ie. 5) for $2.5-4.5 billion … which is still way less than a single LPD-17 San Antonio class … let alone an LHA-6 America class ship. I may be way underestimating the necessary price per (theoretical) ship, but consider that $900 million is half the cost of a DDG-51.

    And I *really* don’t understand your “single vulnerable platform” comment … especially since I was at pains to point out (multiple times) that this idea is for the company level of marine organization. Traditionally, the MAGTF has only gone down to the battalion level of organization.

    5x Marine Company = 1 Marine Battalion (ie. MEU of olde)

    That’s why I kept saying you’d need 5 such ships in order to aggregate your marine companies up to the level of being a (distributed) marine battalion (ie. MEU). The ship itself would maintain the 50 nmi stand-off distance and function mainly as a sea base of operations and staging point (or mothership, if you prefer). The marines would then use either lighterage (LCAC-Xs) to land mounted as mechanized infantry … or … would use their helicopters/tiltrotors to land air cavalry style as light infantry for vertical envelopment of a poorly defended objective (surprise!). Since you could move the entire company aboard ship to shore by either sea or by air, that gives you a wide range of attack tactics and strategies that can be employed for insertions as a commander.

    It does get harder to “pool” the logistics tail for all of this, since everything can be (and would) get split up at the company, rather than battalion, level though.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 25, 2009 10:19 am

    Here is a question for you Heretic: if this specialized EFV is no longer adequate for getting some kind of armor to shore, could we adapt vehicles already in existence for this role, much like the Shermans at Normandy? Some type of add-on to a Stryker to allow it to swim to shore, as you noted the LAVs are amphibious capable, would it be a stretch to enhance their performance in the soft sand and surf?

    You also said “imagine putting all of that, plus the additional support personnel needed for logistics, maintenance and operations … on a single amphibious ship.”
    Now this is where I would stop and consider the cost, not only in price but risk in putting so many of our expensive eggs in a single vulnerable platform. Might be good in peacekeeping operations the USN mainly has conducted since the World Wars, but if you are talking forcible entry this doesn’t imply peacekeeping. I still consider the use of numerous amd smaller littoral craft and longer-range HSVs in this role the hope for the future: least vulnerable in a littoral environment and more cost-effective for the future.

  9. Heretic permalink
    April 24, 2009 11:23 pm

    In the Seapower 21 Seapower 1991 post over on Galrahn’s Information Dissemination, there was a very interesting link in one of the comments. It was The US Marine Corps Fleet Marine Forces for the 21st Century (pdf). This was interesting because of what it said on (pdf) document pages (17) xv and (74-83) 58-65, as well as an interesting discussion beginning on pages (28-29) 10-11 about empowering the Rifle Company, rather than the Battalion, as the primary building block for MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) structuring.

    The important thing to take away from this proposal is that the EFV is a solution that has outlived its window of opportunity. Right now, today, all it’s really good at is ship-to-shore movement. It’s got flat sides, a flat bottom and rides low to the ground … all things you do NOT WANT if there’s going to be anything like EFPs (Explosively Formed Penetrators) and/or IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) anywhere in theater. And guess what? EFPs and IEDs are pretty much going to be almost ubiquitous in every theater of operations from now on … because they’re CHEAP and effective and have the benefit of being plentiful. This means that the EFV is now the wrong kind of ride for today’s *and tomorrow’s* wars for pretty much the same reasons why the MGV (Manned Ground Vehicles) of the Army’s FCS (Future Combat Systems) got canned.

    What needs to “happen” then is for the EFV to be canceled so the USMC can invest in an ocean surf amphibious qualified IFV. That rules out a Stryker for the role, because the Stryker, while amphibious, can’t deal with surf conditions and its wheels get bogged down easily in soft soils and wet sands. Because of the “from the sea” requirement of the USMC, that pretty much mandates a tracked amphibious IFV, just to be able to deal with the soft/wet ground encountered on beaches (both sandy and rocky) and the “surfing” conditions of the ocean.

    What the pdf points out is that the EFV is “okay” so long as there aren’t any irregular forces/insurgency threat on land (ha, fat chance of that now!) and as long as the ships its swimming from stay within about 30 miles of the shoreline. Problem is, the threat of missiles and UAVs for spotting are essentially “pushing” the amphibious ships further and further out to sea … so that things like 50 miles offshore, rather than 30, start becoming more and more likely for where the ships are going to be. With that kind of distance, the compromises being built into the EFV are so great that it becomes a “worst of both worlds” sort of answer for lighterage and land combat. Instead, what’s really needed is a lighterage system (LCAC, LCU, etc.) that’s dedicated to the job, so as to do it really well, and an IFV that’s optimized for land combat with the ability to swim a short distance in the surf, if need be. That then gives you a dedicated transport vehicle and a dedicated IFV … rather than a flawed combination of both in a single overly expensive vehicle.

    So … given all that …

    … I was kind of curious to see what would happen if the USMC decided to make the Company level of organization the basic building block, rather than the Battalion, while retaining MAGTF structuring. So taking the Marine Expeditionary Unit structure and essentially dividing it up into (almost) quarters (ie. Company sized units), I arrived at the Marine Expeditionary Company (pronounced “mek”) …

    1 Fire Team = 4 soldiers
    1 Squad = 3 Fire Teams + 1 Leader = 13 soldiers
    1 Rifle Platoon = 3 Squads + 3 Leaders = 42 soldiers
    1 Rifle Company = 4 Platoons + 11 Leadership Staff = 179 soldiers
    1 Battalion = 4 Companies + 1 Command Company + 1 Leader = 896 soldiers

    The main point here is that you have ~180 combatants in a Rifle Company, and the smallest unit of that you want to keep “together” for unit cohesion is the Squad (of 13). Add up the extra leadership staffing at the company level of the squads and you wind up with a requirement to seat no less than 15 people (as passengers) in 12 AAV-Ts (amphibious assault vehicle-tracked) in order to give the entire company a “ride” from ship to shore. That requirement then drives the size of any AAV-7A1 replacement vehicle (if you want to transport complete Squad units together in a single vehicle).

    Next you have to build a lighterage craft, to go (quickly!) from ship to shore … especially if you’re going to be sitting 50 miles offshore so you’re less likely to have an anti-ship missile ruin your day. There are basically two (and a half) options for doing this … helicopter/tiltrotor and LCAC. Helicopters simply don’t have the carrying capacity to haul IFVs from ship to shore, so any amphibious mechanized assault (as opposed to air assault as dismounted infantry) is basically going to require LCACs. With a basic requirement to carry 12 AAV-X in order to move the entire company’s ground combat element all in one trip, you’re either going to need 3 LCACs with the AAVs in a 2×2 arrangement aboard … or go with 2 LCACs with the AAVs in a 3×2 arrangement aboard. The latter arrangement, 3×2 aboard LCACs, allows a single LCAC to carry two platoons each, and almost by definition mandates enough cargo space (square footage) and carrying capacity (payload tonnage) to carry an M1A2 main battle tank, which would be attached to the force at the battalion level rather than the company level.

    Divvying up the rest of the typical battalion MAGTF assets at the company level, and looking forward a few years, results in the following:

    12 AAV-X (carrying 15 infantry + 3 crew each)
    2 LCAC-X (carrying 6 AAV each in 3×2 arrangement)
    2 F-35B Thunderbolt II attack jets
    2 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters
    2 UH-1Y Venom light lift helicopters
    2 MV-22 Osprey medium lift tiltrotors
    2 CH-53K Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters
    2 BGM-71 TOW launchers
    2 FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles
    2 M777 155mm howitzers
    2 M252 81mm mortars
    2 500 gallon water containers
    1 reverse osmosis water purifier
    1 D7 bulldozer
    1 tractor, rubber tire, articulated steering
    1 TX51-19M rough terrain forklift
    1 Mk48 logistics vehicle system
    6 medium tactical vehicle replacement trucks
    16 Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

    Now … imagine putting all of that, plus the additional support personnel needed for logistics, maintenance and operations … on a single amphibious ship. You’d basically have a single MEC per ship, and you’d only have to bring five such ships together to aggregate up into a MEU battalion.

    The ship would need to have both a well deck (for the LCACs) and a flight deck, but the flight deck would only need to have enough room to launch six helicopters simultaneously (AH-1Z, UH-1Y and CH-53K) and have enough “tramway” room to allow the F-35B to do a rolling unassisted take off using a ski-jump at the bow. Requiring enough flight deck space to launch all six helicopters plus the two MV-22s simultaneously might be “a stretch too far” in terms of necessary square footage topside for what is intended to be a small(er) vessel. If a way is found to be able to allow all six helicopters and the MV-22s to take off at the same time … bonus … but not an absolute requirement.

    By the way, here’s how many people those helicopters can carry:

    CH-53K = 55 (with centerline seats) x 2 = 110
    MV-22 = 24 (seated) x 2 = 48
    UH-1Y = 10 (seated) x 2 = 20
    = 178 infantry airlift capacity
    (ie. the whole company, practically)

    So we’ve got a flattop with a ski-jump integral to the bow design, a hangar deck with 10 aircraft (both VTOL and STOVL) in it, a well deck with a pair of LCAC-Xs, a couple dozen vehicles, some artillery pieces … and ~450 marines aboard (assuming ~1.5 support personnel for every combatant) forming a Marine Expeditionary Company. Assemble five such ships together and you have a Marine Expeditionary Battalion which doesn’t suffer from the “all eggs in one basket” syndrome … and … which can launch EVERYTHING at an enemy beach all at once, either by sea, or by air (commander’s choice). No idea how many hands would be needed to crew the ship itself, or what tonnage it would need to be, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it took 200+ sailors. Ideally, the basic “company amphib” ship would be modular enough to support either a combat company or a command company, the latter of which would be somewhat different in composition from the basic rifle companies (since the command company would have the M1A2 tanks attached to it, but wouldn’t necessarily be needing AAV-Xs to storm the beaches with).

    It would require a major rethink of the MEU … not to mention the amphibious ship requirements to support an MEU (LHA, LPD, LHD, etc.) … but on the flipside, something like the MEC I’ve outlined here would offer a great deal of flexibility to the USMC and the USN when planning (and executing!) amphibious operations. It brings MAGTF down to the company level, and it makes it harder to destroy an entire marine battalion’s amphibious capability simply by sinking a single ship. Each MEC-ship is “self(ish)-sufficient” at the company level, allowing company sized units to operate very cohesively. Stack company sized units together as necessary to create MEU battalions (5 MECs), MEB brigades (20+ MECs) and MEF forces offshore from an objective.

    The beauty of it is, all you “really have to do” is get the basic MEC-sized ship design right (which unfortunately has NOT been a foregone conclusion with navy programs for a while now) and then just start cranking them out in true mass production style. Start making the economies of scale (and volume!) work to drive the price down. Build five MEC-ships a year for 10 years and you’ll have enough ships to recapitalize all of the current MEU amphibious ships in the USN inventory. Same with the AAV-X and LCAC-X to transport things from ship to shore.

    Making the company level the basic building block, rather than the battalion, will of course mean that there’s going to be some excess redundancy/overcapacity in terms of logistics that could be “solved” by staying at the battalion level … but I don’t see that as a flaw. Instead I see that as a strength, since it makes the company level more resilient and locally responsive … albeit at the “expense” of Grand Scheme Efficiency when scaling upwards towards the Battalion and Brigade levels.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 24, 2009 9:30 pm

    I would love to see at least part of the USMC return to its roots as a light infantry, intervention force on USN warships. If we ever get a littoral fleet deployed, or these “Influence Squadrons” we keep hearing about, there should be a place there for naval infantry.

    You make a good point about amphibious operations, but with even the Marine Corps saying they have to anchor at least 50 miles away from a beach to ensure survival, think its time we take a closer look at this need, and whether it is worth the risk.

  11. DesScorp permalink
    April 24, 2009 7:29 pm

    On the EFV:

    “[W]e have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious action again. In the 21st century, how much amphibious capability do we need?”

    I’m a critic of the EFV, but Gates is a man that knows military history, and so I’m deeply disappointed in his statement here. It shows a stunning lack of historical perspective, and a tremendous amount of naiveté. Omar Bradley made these same arguments in 1947. He said that we’d never need amphibious capability again. Good thing MacArthur ignored him. Marine landings saved our tail in Korea. I think history shows that just as soon as you ditch a capability, reasoning that “we don’t need it anymore”, reality has a way of showing up soon afterwards, and you regret tossing that away. See “dogfighting and cannons are obsolete” prior to Vietnam. How did that work out for us?

    Bottom line… without amphibious landing capability, why have a Marine Corps? You can’t land lots of armor via helicopter, so what do you do? Fly it in via C-5’s and such? Where? And why not just fly in the Army in that case? If you’re ditching amphib capability, then you’re either turning your force into British-style commandos that are limited to rubber raft or helicopter transport, or you’re just aping the Army. In the later case, if you can’t deliver massed forces by sea, then why not just use the Army?

    That said, I’m hoping Gates uses this as an opportunity to put the Marine Corps back in their proper focus. I deeply, deeply admire the Corps, but I also think that, like the Air Force, they’re becoming something of a monster, and getting out of control. We have 200,000 Marines… larger than the total militaries of many of our allies. The Marines have their own tanks, their own transports planes, and now their own special forces (and I thought the Marine Corps was an elite force in the first place… what do they need an “elite within an elite” for?). The Marines are too often duplicating what should be the job of other services. The Marines shouldn’t be in Afghanistan, a landlocked country thousands of miles inland, anymore than the NAVY should be in Afghanistan. They’re basically another Army competing with our main Army now, and sometimes even the Air Force (KC-130 Tankers? Can they land on a carrier? No? Then why do they have them?).

    The answer to my question about being elite is that they really aren’t. You can’t be with a 200,00o man force that includes cooks and mechanics. The Corps is too big, and does too many things it shouldn’t be doing. They should be able to take a beachhead, move a limited distance inward, then let the Air Force fly the Army in and take it from there. Or else they’re not a Marine Corps anymore. They’re truly just a competing Army and a competing Air Force/Naval Air Wing.

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