LCS=Leathernecks Cruise to Shore
Undersecretary of the Navy Robert (Bob) Work has a few ideas on how sustain the US Marine Corps in a era of new threats. What the other Bob is doing to the Defense Department as a whole, Work hopes to do for the Leathernecks, instilling in them a back to basics mentality unseen in decades. If carried through we may see the most complete transformation of the Corps in a century, and the change will be welcome. Here is Chris Cavas at Defense News with more:
“We’re turning our thinking to resetting the Corps – that’s the code word – and it has to do with what do we want the Marine Corps to look like once we’re out of Afghanistan and assuming there are no infantry battalions in sustained combat operations anywhere in the world,” Navy Undersecretary Bob Work told a lunchtime audience in Washington.
“The basis for this thinking is going to be a Force Structure Review Group (FSRG),” Work said…The study, Work added, will consider the requirements of major defense planning documents including the Quadrennial Defense Review, completed earlier this year, as well as incorporating “lessons the Marine Corps has learned over the last seven years of war.”
It is hopeful that the service is not just thinking beyond Afghanistan for its future, as sadly some have turned a blind eye to its lessons, but are incorporating the lessons learned there to project it into a new environment of diverse and hybrid threats, as I noted yesterday. Specifically, here are several points touched on in the study:
- The Marine Corps will “more reflect its naval character.”
- Marines will begin operating from a variety of new platforms like the Littoral Combat Ship and Joint High Speed Vessel.
- “The Equipment Density List will be higher than the pre-war EDL.”
- Increased reliance on unmanned systems.
- The future force will be more energy-efficient than today… including more reliance on solar power.
- Marine gear and vehicles will need to be lighter.
- The Corps… “will be capable of conducting amphibious assaults and joint forcible entry operations.”
- The Corps and the Navy have settled on a fleet of 33 amphibious ships, having deemed the “high-end requirement” of 38 ships unaffordable.
The LCS statement was a very intriguing one, mentioned in this blog before. The idea of a fast attack transport like the old APD’s from the war years might not just give the Marines a fresh start, but breathe life into a very troubled and uncertain warship program. Being a large, shallow water vessel, the USS Freedom and her kin fit the requirements for “port to the beach“, which I think will the future of amphibious warfare in this age of the missile/suicide boat threat. Both of the latter are increasingly forcing the USMC to deploy their shrinking fleet of Big Ships further from shore, so I say we should take the “middleman” out of the equation altogether, scrapping the vulnerable offshore staging areas.
The only reason such a large and expensive vessel of any type need be in the littorals, especially in a missile-rich environment, is to offload cargo and troops. Because of the LCS’ high speed it should be able to perform this task, in the shallow seas, avoiding trouble being desirable in a transport, not so in a warship. A 2008 Navy Times article discussed the possibility:
The Navy’s littoral combat ships could moonlight as members of the gator Navy under a proposal now in the works — the Marines want their own menu of mission modules for the LCS, in addition to the three sets of interchangeable gear now planned by the Navy. The Marines could get a surface fire support module, some kind of a special operations module and a humanitarian assistance mission package…An LCS draws only about 12 feet of water, a design feature specifically included by Navy planners so the ships could visit austere ports in South America or Africa.
Mercy missions, all well and good, but what about the primary Marine role of assault landings against a hostile shore? This is where they have really shined in times past, and I think most in and out of the service would like to see a return to this crucial mission. The LCS, fitted with the correct module, or heck just strap some landing craft on the sides and go from there. The vessel’s helicopters could also be loaded with troops or equipment as needed. A 2009 National Defense Magazine post also revealed thinking toward this goal:
Marines could deploy small units such as platoons or companies aboard an LCS, (chief of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Lt. Gen. George) Flynn said. “I have seen where you can drive on some amphibious craft on the back of at least one LCS,” he said.
The poorly armed transport would need some type of escort, which the Marines acknowledge. Are they talking corvette here?
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Thomas Benes, director of the Navy’s expeditionary warfare division, said there is a need for boats that are larger than the riverine units’ 40-foot boats but smaller than the 400-foot littoral combat ship. The Navy does not have such a vessel in its inventory. In the Persian Gulf, U.S. warships have been targeted by suicide bombers in fishing boats and threatened by Iranian speedboats. “It’s obvious you need some smaller boat to be able to patrol that area,” Benes said. “We’re taking that on.”
Glad to see its not just me saying this! Back to the LCS, what type troops would it exactly carry? For this we go back even further, to a 2007 quote from Information Dissemination:
Robert Work of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Studies discussed this option for the LCS a few years go. In his discussions with both General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, at the time he made the argument that if you had one of each ship you could fully support the deployment and sustainment of a single reinforced mechanized rifle company.
Obviously, Bob just didn’t speak off the cuff in the recent study, but has been thinking along these lines for some time!