Marines: From Procurement Tragedy to Triumph
The Marine Corps’ basic goal is to be able to conduct major invasions with two Marine expeditionary brigades, each of which includes more than 14,000 Marines, their armored vehicles, aircraft, weapons and supplies. Of those, a little more than 10,000 Marines make up the assault echelon — trigger pullers and door kickers — that would ride ashore from Navy ships.
To accommodate an assault force of that size, the Corps wants at least 15 amphibious ships, preferably 17, to account for times when some of the Navy’s gators would be in overhaul. So two MEBs would require at least 34 ships, and the Corps wants four more ships to account for the 10 percent to 15 percent of the gator fleet in the shipyard at any one time: hence the official Marine requirement for a fleet of 38 amphibious ships.
And their future warship plans reflect these less than grandiose designs:
The specs for LHA 8 reflect compromises: It could accommodate two LCACs instead of three, its hangar bay would handle only one MV-22 Osprey instead of two, and it would carry fewer Marines overall than either of its parents, America and Makin Island. Those ships are designed to fit nearly 1,700 troops. The Corps’ version of LHA 8 would handle 1,400.
Don’t you know, even though LHA-8 will be less capable than the previous generation like the Makin Island, it will be drastically more expensive, if Navy procurement history is any judge? If the Big Ship procurement wasn’t in such disarray, it gets worse with the service’s new “armored amphibian”, which sounded like a good idea when it was born in the 1990’s. Here’s Greg Grant at DoD Buzz with the sorrowful tale of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles:
There is little question that the EFV is a technological marvel. It is a massive armored vehicle weighing 40 tons that can reach water speeds in excess of 25 knots and 45 mph on land, all while carrying 17 Marines, oh and it has a 30mm auto-cannon as well…The EFV was designed to meet the requirements of a very different era, when an armored amphibian was needed to land the assault echelons of a Marine division and hold that beachhead and beat back the Soviet motorized counterattack. It’s difficult to envision the scenario where that same niche capability is needed.
If the Marine’s amphibious ships get pushed too far out to shore, then the EFV wouldn’t even launch, as it would run out of gas soon after landing on the beach.
Not an unlikely scenario, given the shrinking number of ships to carry the jet-ski tank, and the rising numbers of missiles at sea against it. But lets say the EFV does make it to shore. What then?
Yet, the EFV’s vulnerability once on land, not water, may prove its undoing. The vehicle’s flat bottom (necessary to reach high cross water speeds), low ground clearance (16 inches), and very flat sides, are precisely the design features armored vehicle builders have sought to avoid, says CSBA’s Wood. In recent years, the land forces, including the Marines, have spent billions of dollars buying up MRAP vehicles with hull’s designed specifically to withstand IED blasts.
In the depths of despair over the military procurement plans ever catching up with modern advances in warfare, we get news of a fascinating new experimental vessel from Textron that might just drag the Corps kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Here’s Bill Sweetman at Ares blog:
The problem is to get pre-positioned equipment off roll-on, roll-off ships at sea and on to the shore, because sea basing involved much larger forces than Marine “amphibs” and their Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles can support.
At the delivery end, a craft to solve this problem has to get up on the beach like an LCAC. But the ro-ro ships are not combatants and need to stand well offshore (about 250 nm) for safety, so what is needed is not just a very big LCAC but one with greater range, speed and seakeeping ability. Since the resulting craft is too big to be carried on another ship, too, it has to ferry itself from a main base to the seabase.
The answer is somewhat surprising and slightly familiar:
Enter the T-Craft. Textron’s version is 253 feet long and carries a 250-350-ton payload – an M1 tank company or an entire Patriot battery. In long-range mode, as a waterjet-powered catamaran, it can ferry itself empty over 2500 miles of open ocean. Backing up to the stern of the ro-ro, it activates its air-cushion fans and uses a sophisticated three-dimensional positioning system to maintain station on the ship, which deploys a stern ramp so that vehicles can load.
Please note the part, “a very big LCAC but one with greater range, speed and seakeeping ability”, which sounds much like New Wars proposal of such a craft similar to the JHSV to send the Marines from port directly to the beach. It is a vast improvement over the current planes to send giant ships into harm’s way and a handful of tiny EFVs against an enemy shoreline. The latter, under threat of the budget knife and rightly so is an incredibly expensive solution, which may be at risk from IED’s if it does reach the shore after traveling 25 miles or more.
On the run-in to the beach, T-Craft would extend its skirts, power up its four swiveling propulsion fans, turn the air-cushion on to full power and beach as a true hovercraft. Primary power would come from two GE LM2500 marine turbines, with GE38-class engines (from the CH-53K helicopter) running the lift and propulsor fans.
Directly from port to the beach, so I’m thinking it doesn’t have to be transoceanic. Just a range of a thousand miles or two from a staging area, the sea base. This is exactly the right way to go, and proves our contention that the HSV catamarans could be an amphibious alternative, affordable, survivable, and more relevant for the times. Since these are similar to vessels already in service, already being utilized by the Corps, it isn’t so much new as off-the-shelf. This could work.