The Amphibious Swarm Pt 1
Why can this work? Because of the great and growing power of even very small units, especially when they are networked together and connected to attack aircraft and supporting missile and naval gunfire. This small-scale approach to amphibious warfare also cultivates a renewed capacity for surprise, given that the range of landing zones would be far greater than it ever was in traditional amphibious warfare. Thus defenders would have great difficulty trying to prevent an initial lodgment, and they would then be outmaneuvered again and again by the swift and inherently surprising movements of these small expeditionary forces. If greater numbers were deemed necessary, their landing would be eased by the disruptions caused by a first wave of these small, swarming units.
From “Worst Enemy” by John Arquilla
Almost everyone, especially the Marines themselves see the need for getting away from the land-centric role as a “Second Army”, back to its namesake the sea. It might be expected this will occur after a massive influx of funds for new large amphibious vessels and technically complicated Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles. The problem being, of course, static defense budgets and the continued vulnerability of traditional landings ships, cuts becoming more likely than increases.
Conflict between First World Powers have been non-existent since World War 2, though the threat was still there. The rise of so-called Hybrid War with divergent groups armed with First World Weapons is an alarming trend and naturally a deterrent to to future amphibious landings. Another problem is the use of satellite surveillance that can track a landing task force during its entire route. The possibly looms that such technology can be shared among unfriendly nations in a conflict, leaving the Marines little room for stealth.
The neglect of amphibious expertise in a new century is a serious one, especially since land-sea combined operations are not a recent phenomena of the last century Pacific Battles, but instead a crucial part of naval operations throughout history. So called “sea soldiers” go back to the dawn of history, and the fate of nations have often been decided by invasion from the sea, probably the most notable being Hastings in 1066.
Even the threats of modern mines, missiles, submarines, and precision bombers should be no complete hindrance. The use of specialized landing craft and the dispersal of forces proved the answer to the amphibious stalemates of the Great War, at Gallipoli. Looking at the declining force of very large Gators, which the Marines insist they require for modern landings, their vulnerability to smaller and lethal guided projectiles, their cost and complication, seems to highlight a creeping obsolescence to the entire concept.
Yet, I insist that this is a false assumption. If technology and a change in tactics saved us once before, it can do so again. My own proposals have been, with the giant ships being forced further out to sea because of new weapons, why not take them out of the equation altogether, but building ships which can go directly from port to beach, such as high speed catamarans or even improving the hovercraft we already use? The use of self-deployable landing craft is just one idea, and hardly unique.
If dispersal was the answer to the new automatic weapons that transformed the last century warfare, a further dispersal might prove the answer to the new guided weapons and advanced sensors. Modern RMA advocates seem to think that new weapons mean you can do more missions with less platforms and less manpower, which is a false assumption, since the need for adequate numbers of boots on the ground rarely fluctuates in the history of conflict. The same applies to hulls in the water, in other words, the new technology allows you to do more with the forces you have, because the enemy adapts to your new technology. This we see happening in the Third World today.
Instead of thinking in terms of powerful brigades, regiments, and battalions in a single wave, there might be a smaller widespread beach landings. These would involve numerous landings performed by company and platoon sized units, kept cohesive by networking, the new sensors we talked about. Instead of the few highly visible giant gators, these would be supplanted by many smaller craft, with the enhanced numbers increasing the survivability of your landing force greatly. Instead of limiting ourselves with even the type of transports I proposed, hovercraft and JHSV’s, you could also deploy APD’s, RFA vessels, landings by helicopter, tiltroters, submarines converted to carry troops (the SSGNs) or even by parachute.
Swarming large numbers of smaller landing craft should solve the problem of getting them to the beach in the age of the guided missile. The question might arise whether these numerous but smaller teams will be effective when they do land?
Tomorrow-Marines embrace the swarm!