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The Marines and the QDR

June 23, 2009

We continue with our thoughts (some of which appeared in comments on another site) on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, with more on proposed cuts in our Gator Navy. Here is Marine Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, deputy commandant for programs and resources, via the Navy Times:

“Forcible entry, [to] naysayers, has taken on this image of Iwo Jima and those types of scenarios. Again, the likelihood of that is almost nil, but there are many other scenarios where you would want to be able to bring forces ashore by a number of different means, … and you would want to do so in a way that protected those people, and allowed them to operate in something other than in an exposed, administrative manor. So the idea of amphibious forces, I think, is defensible.”

The US Marines take it personally when any cuts in the amphibious fleet are called for, but sea soldiers have been a part of naval warfare since its inception in ancient times. Cutting the Marines Corps or at least reducing some of the myriad functions it now holds in our military strategy would never mean it will disappear as an organization. A giant naval power like the USN would naturally have an equally capable Marine force at its call, though it must certainly change from its current form, with little enough appearance as naval infantry.

US Marines at Belleau Wood

US Marines at Belleau Wood

Increasingly the Marines have become an extension of the Army rather than the Navy. Since the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918, we have used the force as a type of an emergency reserve, and in World War 2 they were often considered the “Navy’s Army”. Notice they have in fact gotten away from the amphibious mission which they are so associated with. Historically the Army has led the major amphibious invasions of this country, and even in WW 2, the greatest landings were conducted by the Army in the European Theater. The largest landings in the Pacific region were done with joint Army/Marine forces.

To discuss amphibious warfare and think exclusively of Marines is historically inaccurate, although they are certainly America’s spearhead at sea, the point of the Navy’s sword in seizing defended beachheads. Yet, their well-honed capabilities have been put to little use in recent decades as I pointed out previously in “Questioning the need for a “Gator Navy“:

With the exception of the Inchon Landings in 1950, occurring previous to the Missile Age, America has yet to launch a single major amphibious landing on a defended beach. Without exception the enemies she has faced during this time period have been Third World foes who had little in the way of sea forces and in which the USN had unchallenged air superiority.

It is difficult to understand why even in this very desirable environment the opportunity wasn’t taken to test our superior and extremely costly amphibious fleet on any occasion. We don’t think this is a matter of timidity on the part of our warriors (My Gosh! These are US Marines!). Perhaps, though, it is an acknowledgment by our naval leadership of the vulnerability of this strategy in modern high-tech warfare.

Armored Amphibious Vehicles from 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit move ashore off the coast of Qatar.

Armored Amphibious Vehicles from 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit move ashore off the coast of Qatar.

If the US Marine Corps wishes to establish itself in a new era of austere budgets, it may wish to end any resemblance it has with the US Army and the duplication of missions, perhaps even discarding its airpower. Where the focus should remain is on its true historical role, that of amphibious warfare, which in itself may be greatly different than our current top heavy structure consisting of giant landing ships. It will be essential in future littoral operations to have some force of sea soldiers on call, to contend with pirate/insurgents, destroy their bases, and perhaps even defend helpless merchant ships from these unwanted borders.

The Marine helicopter carriers probably should be kept, as these are so versatile and can even become light attack carriers when V/STOL aircraft are deployed. The less capable and very costly San Antonio’s and her sisters could be sold to our Allies like Canada who is seeking a new Joint Support Ship. Beefing up an allied fleet is almost as good building up our own. Continued deployment of such exquisite ships, never used for their original purpose of seizing a defended beach, siphons away precious shipbuilding funds, while giving us a false sense of security that our ships can do all and be all.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 5:11 am

    According to this study made by the Congressional Budget Office in 1994, these are what the LSD cost in FY1995 dollars :

    LSD-41 : $3,410 million for 8 ships, i.e. $426 million per ship

    LSD-49 : $1,125 million for 4 ships, i.e. $304 million per ship

    When you escalate those figures to FY2008 dollars using the GDP deflator, here is what you get :

    LSD-41 : $596 million per ship
    LSD-49 : $425 million per ship

    And I am supposed to believe that an LSD replacement cannot be had for $750 million per ship or less ?


  2. Scott B. permalink
    June 24, 2009 4:13 pm

    leesea said : “If comparisons are to be made, they need to between LPD17 and Tenix LHDs and some of the large landing ships (of which the Absalon is NOT) both in absolute capacity terms AND in capability terms.”

    For those who missed this thread, let’s clarify ONCE AGAIN :

    1) The Absalon-type Station Wagon replaces LCS, not LSDs or LPDs. Scrapping the LCS Tiffany speedboat makes you save $12.65 billion. It also gives you some limited amphibious capabilities.

    2) Design a proper 15,000-20,000-ton LSD(X) that won’t be based on LPD-17. Scrapping the San-Antonio-based Tiffany LSD(X) makes you save $9 billion.

    3) And here comes Step #3 : scrap the entire V-22 program, that’s not only a financial disaster, but also a complete technical failure, and replace it with an appropriate medium helicopters (of which there are plenty available off-the-shelf)or a mix of heavy / medium helos.

    Back in 2001, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that cancelling the V-22 (and replacing it with a mix of heavy / medium helos) would save $9.6 billion over 10 years :

    Total Savings (1) + (2) + (3) = $31.25 billion

  3. leesea permalink
    June 24, 2009 3:20 pm

    If comparisons are to be made, they need to between LPD17 and Tenix LHDs and some of the large landing ships (of which the Absalon is NOT) both in absolute capacity terms AND in capability terms. DWT and displacement are not good metrics and pls no $ per ton baloney.

    The other platforms of this type are smaller and less costly. The Marines must consider small platforms perhasp for the LSD(X) but definitely as alternatives to the LPD17s. See Korean, Singapore and other foreign navies for those because NIH rules at NAVSEA.

    I like Absalon but it is an armed naval auxiliary with muliptle smaller scale missions than LPD17s. It is therefore affordable and buildable in numbers, but as amphib (and other missions) support ship. That is what is desingated and that is what it does well I think?

    BTW the USN does NOT have enougth assault craft or platforms to lift them on IMHO. Enter the Flo/Flo.

  4. June 24, 2009 10:36 am

    As for the LCS vs Absalon Debate

    it think the Absalon specks are pretty good, but don’t take my word for it have a look yourself, I copied them out and put them in discernable language

    yours sincerly


  5. June 24, 2009 9:53 am


    no offence was meant trust me, its just only the last few sentenances of a very long post got posted;

    i think that is a bit cruel on the army; in Britain we have the Parachute regiment, the Guards and many other fine units; yes the Royal Marines are an elite but its certainly not a case that those joining the marines are not ready for the army yet; and I am not sure whether it could be said to be case in the US. afterall is not true there is the 101st and many other fine units within the US army who have achieved many honours…maybe when one was draft and one was volunteer that could be said, but as I understand both are volunteer now – surely this means that the difference in recruits at their basic level are not that much?

    yours sincerly


  6. Anonymous permalink
    June 24, 2009 3:13 am

    Perhaps this will make a better argument for the USMC…the Commandant is on record with the following quotes…

    It’s back to the blue-green team.
    “In the future, more Marines than ever will be deployed aboard Navy and potentially Coast Guard shipping,”

    “The Marines are thinking really hard about getting back into the naval expeditionary mind-set. Right now, they just don’t have a lot of slack to do it,” he said. “The amphibs are not going away.”

    “More than ever before, our linkage with the Navy must be firm and based on shared understanding and vision,” it states. “The Marine Corps must maintain its Naval roots to shape the environment and effectively deter adversaries.”

    You can read the entire article and get your own conclusions. But the war on terror has taken a toll on all the services but in entirely unique ways its stressed the Marine Corps. With combat in Iraq winding down and the deployment schedule getting squared away, the Marines should be back aboard ship in a big way. Many might find the follow worthy of a quick read…

    None of this fully addresses your arguments but it does at least give an idea that the issue of Marines perhaps losing some of its Naval Heritage is being addressed and has been seen as an issue as far back as 2005. Distinguished retired Marines like Col. Fox spoke about it and currently serving active duty Officers and Senior Enlisted are acting on the issue. As far as Amphibs are concerned, we can agree to disagree. That issue has been robustly debated and I don’t know if anything can be added to that discussion. The first part of your article though is… “stimulating” and I cannot avoid the issue.

  7. Dana permalink
    June 24, 2009 2:22 am

    Alex permalink

    Dana… the Royal Marines are part of the Navy…the army won’t take them as they are too specialised; they are not their own force as in the us, they are part of the rn.

    yours sincerly


    Thanks Alex, but I am aware of that fact. But, maybe I wasn’t as clear as I had intended. I intended to counter what I saw as a suggestion to turn the USMC into something more akin to to Royal Marines. This is not to disparage that excellent unit, but a comment that the philosophical difference between the Army, USMC and the Royal Marines lead to vary distinctly unique forces. And also to play on the rivalry between the Army and the USMC . . . for we all know that Army actually means — Ain’t Ready for the Marines Yet.


  8. solomon permalink
    June 23, 2009 8:17 pm

    let me quickly add that the above is to be taken in jest and not in seriousness. Mike does bring up some interesting issues. i don’t agree with him on this subject but…it does make for entertaining reading….THANKS GUY!

  9. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 23, 2009 8:10 pm

    Smitty said “The resultant vessel would have no room for the primary LCS payload – the modules!”

    To me that is a good thing! Then we would have a more traditional warship design which focuses on the weapons, less on expensive platforms. I don’t know much about the Freedom’s software, as Scott mentioned, but her weapon’s load is much too small for a ship her size and price.

    Dana-Your mentioning that the Marines can’t do full scale assaults as in Iwo brings me to my main criticism of our current amphibious strategy. We are building extremely costly high end warships, then using against benign threats, or in peacekeeping operations as you stated. Does no one else see the flaw in this picture? Should we build a tiny but very expensive Navy for shows of force and deterrence, or a larger reasonably priced fleet for the inevitable war at sea all great navies must eventually fight? There has to be a better way and the ideas aren’t coming from the Navy leadership.

  10. solomon permalink
    June 23, 2009 8:09 pm

    This guy loves to keep sticking his head into the hornets nest! My GOD MAN! In what way does the Marine Corps look anything like the Army? If you had been keeping track of events then you would have noticed that the Army has been moving toward trying to be the nations second MARINE CORPS! From uniforms to descriptions of its units to a focus on warrior training for its soldiers all these are examples of your notion being false. I also strongly disagree with your contention that NECC (I think that’s what its called) will ever match the ‘elan that the USMC has brought to the table. No knock against them but a detachment of Marines brings more than that notional force will. You’re getting close to territory you might not want to cross into:) Turn around your thinking before its too late! ;))

  11. June 23, 2009 5:48 pm

    for some reason half my earlier post has disapeared, and I can’t remember it now; so I will just say sorry if it sounds rude at all; when it was orriginally written, and the form I pressed enter on it was not…but my computer has been playing up a little today….and now I am just not going to try an remember…its my own fault trying to go for my lost reply post ever…

    yours sincerly


  12. June 23, 2009 5:39 pm

    Dana… the Royal Marines are part of the Navy…the army won’t take them as they are too specialised; they are not their own force as in the us, they are part of the rn.

    yours sincerly


  13. B.Smitty permalink
    June 23, 2009 5:23 pm


    Cramming the LCS armament into a 1000 ton hull won’t cram the LCS mission capabilities in there too.

    The resultant vessel would have no room for the primary LCS payload – the modules!

  14. Dana permalink
    June 23, 2009 5:09 pm

    While I have been finding your thoughts interesting, I’m afraid that you have been focusing on one solution to our Navy’s problems and not seeing where it’s strengths can be developed even further.

    Let’s be honest, the modern Navy/Marine team could not launch Iwo Jima assault (all Marine and extremely difficult). We simply do not have the surface combatants or the troop lift to carry out the operation. But, that is not the actual requirement. Despite the official line that you seem to have bought.

    The Gator fleet is organized for the expeditionary operations that were the standard of the Corps in the early 20th. Trying to deploy them the same way that is required for a similar Army unit is simply unwise. It would be too dependent upon foreign ports. And as such would be far to ineffective to do any good.

    The Austrailans discovered this after trying to assist in Timor and after the Tsunami a few years back. The result, they are building two LHD’s.

    Now, does the Gator fleet need fixing . . . of course. The LPD 17’s need to be straightened out. We can only hope that the LHA 6 is either a one off or is transformed into a proper LHD to follow the Makin.

    Now, comment on other thoughts that have shown up.

    The Absalon’s, nice but too dependent on foreign ports. They follow up, but not a unit to depend upon to open one up. The Gator fleet doesn’t need one.

    And sorry Distiller, it would be better to fold the Army into the Corp, the results would be much better. Leave the Commando Marines in in Britain.

  15. Scott B. permalink
    June 23, 2009 5:06 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “And that’s the point, Scott.”

    The point is that trying to cram the same stuff into even smaller hullis going to increase costs exponentially.

    The point is that trying to cram the same stuff into a smaller hull is going to produce much overweight, with all the attendant problems (e.g. for LCS-1 : excessive cavitation with the WJ, failure to meet the US Navy damaged stability requirements,etc…).

    Again, you’re trying to run the same FUBAR software that led to the LCS, except that you’re making the platform smaller, which is going to produce even more bugs and cost even more money.

    The only solution is to change the software.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 23, 2009 4:44 pm

    “they’ll still try to cram the same stuff into even smaller hull”

    And that’s the point, Scott. Then it will be less about the platform and more about the weapons she carries. The future of war is dumb platforms+smart weapons. I’d love to see a 1000 ton corvette with the exact same armament as an LCS, which is just about right. Some of the corvettes are even more heavily armed such as the Israeli Saar class, and the RSS Victory I posted on earlier.

  17. Scott B. permalink
    June 23, 2009 2:44 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “So we offer them small hulls praying they will get it right”

    What you have to understand is that your suggestion is actually going to make the problem worse, in that they’ll still try to cram the same stuff into even smaller hull.

    What you have to understand is that what you’re proposing is exactly how the US Navy ended up with a 3,000-ton speedboat, which is grossly overweight and grossly over budget.

    What you have to understand is that refusing to address the roots of the problem, i.e. the oversophistication of some designs, is not going to solve the problem. Burying one’s head in the sand has never been a winning strategy !!!

  18. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 23, 2009 1:31 pm

    ScottB said “You don’t have to make them smaller to make them less expensive : you simply have to make them less exquisite !”

    We are talking about the US Navy right, who can take a barely armed frigate-sized LCS and make it cost as much as a European Aegis warship? So we offer them small hulls praying they will get it right, which are more relevant for coastal operations any way.

    But here is thought, I never said we should do without amphibious ships, just that we can do better than the ones we are building today, which are increasing in size and cost while reducing in numbers. I am against a constabulary navy which is meant to overawe our enemies but fails to take in consideration that hulls are lost in wartime and battleships are not so easy to replace.

    I would also change the tactics we are using, perhaps rely more on heliborne troops which are adequate for the peacekeeping operations we mainly perform. Then if war does come, you can use these high speed vessels which can speed into coastal waters, offload their cargo, and speed away out of the range of missiles threats which are already forcing the large amphibs further out to sea than their own landing craft can safely operate (which explains the very large hovercraft and the EFV).

    Change the ships, change the tactics, bring the Marines back to what they do best, as sea soldiers.

  19. June 23, 2009 1:19 pm

    Distiller I think you are overstating it just a little when you say it will be difficult for britain to maintain an amphib force; but as I say in, it could well be cheaper to maintain the amphib force than to maintain all the bases around the world; especially in terms of political ties, but also in economic cost of hard currency going outside the economy. The other thing with the economy as it is, and ship building still employing so many; can the government, those builders biggest contractor, really afford to not build and therefore not employ those workers, and increase their unemployment numbers?

    therefore it is my belief, that it will be unlikely that britain will abandon its brigade level lift capability; although it may rest on the current 7 amphibious vessels for a long time.

    yours sincerly


  20. Distiller permalink
    June 23, 2009 10:32 am

    The assault force at Inchon was only a few hundred men, NKor forces were not much stronger. But it’s a perfect example how amphib forces can keep an enemy coast at risk.

    Back to contemporary art:
    – Cut Corps manpower by 50% by dropping all army-like missions.
    – Concentrate on amphib assault/raid.
    – Drop all fastmovers as they do not contribute to amphib assault and are done by NavAir and Air Force.
    – Get Army Aviation in shape to fly off amphibs (and carriers).
    – Compress the time needed for an assault by doing it from moving ships.
    – Get amphib cav tanks instead of EFV and air cav Seahawks/Speedhawks instead of Osprey.
    Preaching all that for a long time already. Do it now and have some maneuvering space or the budgets will force it later.

    I’m not so negative about the LPD-17 class. Lots of people talk bad of it. Only thing I say is, the amphib assault forces need some work to optimize the interplay of assault, reinforcement and sustainment. And LPD-17 seems to fit the role of a reinforcement platform, even though a third LCAC would have been desirable to compress that phase.

    For a power like Britain it will become very hard to maintain a meaningfull amphib force. The European way ahead can only be an Euro-Wehrmacht, otherwise the capability return on investment will always remain subobtimal.

  21. June 23, 2009 9:16 am

    thanks scott will read that

    mike here is something for you

    I think you might like it

    yours sincerly


  22. Scott B. permalink
    June 23, 2009 9:11 am


    Here is one of the reports you’d want to take a look at :

    Interestingly, when you look page 30 of the GAO report, what you see is that the worst offenders in terms of cost growth are :

    #1 : LCS-1 = +183%
    #2 : LCS-2 = +147%
    #3 : LPD-17 = +84%

    Putting these failed programs at the very heart of the shipbuilding strategy like Mr Raymond Pritchett and his mentor, Mr Robert Work recommend, will only accelerate the decline of the US Navy.

    What’s needed is changing the paradigm, not the narrative !

  23. June 23, 2009 7:55 am


    I can see that point, now you make it more visible, its hidden in your first post; what I would point is the Albion class LPD of the RN are about half the price (including 4 LCUs, 4LCVPs, 4 small hovercraft, 16 rigid raiders, and 16 assault boats and the telescopic hangar) of the San Antonio class; and this makes sense in weird way for britain, as these are the command ships as well, and we are only building two, so you are usually going to only have one with you, so it needs to be able to do everything. I can’t understand why the same applies to the San Antonio, 10 or more are being built for starters according to some reports, there are command ships available, they will have to act as control ships for the task group as well as the assault; how was the case made that they had to be all singing all dancing?

    yours sincerly


  24. Scott B. permalink
    June 23, 2009 7:00 am


    The point I’m trying to make is this :

    1) You can get enough 20,000-ton gators if you don’t try to make them all look like LPD-17 as Mr Raymond Pritchett and his mentor Mr Robert Work keep pushing for.

    2) In addition, you can get enough *mini-gators*, aka Station Wagons, aka Absalons, if you don’t try to make them look like LCS as Mr Raymond Pritchett and his mentor Mr Robert Work keep pushing for.

    3) And you can get both and still save $20+ billion, if you don’t try to build the kind of Überexquisite platforms that Mr Raymond Pritchett and his mentor Mr Robert Work keep pushing for.

    More details can be found in this thread.

  25. June 23, 2009 6:33 am


    the absolon is great, its brilliant, but it is not a catch all, it is very good and very limited all rounder, comparable with the LCS but more succesful; but unfortunately it does not, it could to fufill its requirments carry enough troops for doing something like an opposed humanitarian intervention; then you need the LHDs and LPDs; as I said above however a pair of each combined together could land a brigade; and yes I did say 8; using the system of having two in area, two on the way out, two on the way home and two in refit; but would america need to maintain them in area or as a reaction force? in which case it would only need 6; still 24 ships, but a decent sized land force to carry out 99% of task, and if needs something bigger you just in one or two more and have a divisional assault…you can not do that with Absalon’s, for starters they don’t carry even LCUs…so major assault even if you really needed it is out of the question.

    yours sincerly


  26. Scott B. permalink
    June 23, 2009 6:23 am

    Mike Burleson said : “It will be essential in future littoral operations to have some force of sea soldiers on call, to contend with pirate/insurgents, destroy their bases, and perhaps even defend helpless merchant ships from these unwanted borders.”

    What you looking for already exists, it’s a Station Wagon and it’s called ABSALON !

  27. June 23, 2009 6:21 am

    Mike for my view on this topic, I will start of by point to the address of my website….

    next I will point that LPD are actually some of the most useful amphibious ships, and the reasons start to look more like an army is because they are one. the truth is they are a highly specialised soldiers….not sailors. This does not however make them wrong, you can not take an average army infantry battalion and chuck it into an amphibious assault and certainly not a raiding operation; if you do intend to do the former than D-Day and the rest of world war II teach you that it takes years of training and preperation in order to be able to do so. to do the latter is impossible; hence you form ‘Commando’ units, troops chosen for being already well above average are given enhanced training and equipment…something which sounds awfully similar…to….the marines, when Royal or US.

    Mike I know you are now going to say D-Day will never come again, well after WW1 they said amphibious operations would never come about again, they said the same after WW2 and we have Inchon, Suez, Falklands and Al-Faw to name just the most obvious onese which had either or both UK and US involvment; there was also Afghanistan where the marines deployed from their ships by helicopters to the targets.. they are useful; they have been employed; and they will do again, whether there are missiles or not the time will come when they have to be sent and the chips will fall where they may.

    however, getting back to my orriginal point, yes the San Antonio’s are expensive, yes hovercraft from LHDs are lovely, although these can also be launch from San Antonio’s, but the LCU’s they are the more useful, for a simple reason they are far more weather capable (this is according to my RM friends who operate them) and far less suceptible to enemy fire…and have a lower profile; these are useful facilities which you don’t get if you don’t have a dock ship.

    what I would argue you should do, is build about 16 LPD, along with 16 LHD/attack carrier, and group them together in 8 sets of 4, you could then have a brigade of marines combined with enough aircraft to form a decent strike group; that would be real presence of someones coast; combine this with corvettes and few destroyers to protect the auxilairies and over vessels to big to hide; and you have almost perfect littoral power projection.

    yours sincerly


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