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U.S. Marine Corps’ Aggressive Move Into An Amphibious Future

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U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey Tilt Rotor Aircraft, belonging to Marine Tilt Rotor Squadron 262, takes off from the flight deck of the USS Peleliu, at sea, Sept 5, 2014. US Marine Photo

U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey Tilt Rotor Aircraft, belonging to Marine Tilt Rotor Squadron 262, takes off from the flight deck of the USS Peleliu, at sea, Sept 5, 2014. US Marine Photo

In an aggressive move to reclaim its maritime expeditionary heritage after 13 years of grinding land-based combat and counterinsurgency/nation-building, the Marine Corps has published a new capstone conceptual document that charts a new course into the future.

Expeditionary Force 21 draws heavily on the Corps’ historic roles as a forward-deployed or fast-responding force willing and able to perform a wide range of duties, from humanitarian assistance/disaster relief to enhanced security for U.S. embassies and interests, to swift, small-scale raids or assaults to stifle emerging conflicts, up to forcible entry amphibious attacks to pave the way for, or as part of a major joint combat operation.

“Expeditionary Force 21 is our vision for designing and developing the force that will continue to fulfill these responsibilities,” Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant, said in the document’s forward. “Through Expeditionary Force 21 we will chart a course over the next 10 years to field a Marine Corps that will be the right force, at the right place, at the right time,” Amos said, using a phrase that is repeated in the 50-page document.

EF-21 also is fully cognizant of the current constrained budget situation. Amos said it was not just a vision, but “an actionable plan and a disciplined process to shape and guide our capability and capacity decisions while respecting our country’s very real need to regain budgetary discipline.”

EF-21 plans to live with limited funding and resources by focusing on smaller units and proposing use of an array of unusual naval platforms to make up for an expected shortage of normal amphibious warships.

Amphibious Shipping

Marines aboard an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) exit the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) on Aug. 24, 2014. US Navy Photo

Marines aboard an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) exit the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) on Aug. 24, 2014. US Navy Photo

Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck—the deputy commandant for combat development and integration and the driving force behind the new document—and his deputies cite the new Mobile Landing Platform, its Afloat Forward Staging Base variant and the Joint High Speed Vessel as possible transports for Marines, and the T-AKE supply ship, the large floating warehouse vessels of the Maritime Prepositioning Force, and even Military Sealift Command “black bottom” cargo ships to bring equipment and supplies to a “seabase” to stage expeditionary operations.

And in recognition of the anti-access, area-denial capabilities being developed by some potential adversaries, particularly China, EF-21 contains an audacious proposal to use small Marine forces to seize “a network of numerous austere advanced bases” inside the A2/AD envelope to open the door for the joint force.

The document likens those “advanced base” operations to the Marines’ World War II mission of seizing a progression of Japanese-held islands across the Pacific to serve as staging bases for future naval and air advances.

It does, however, dismiss the notion of an Iwo Jima-style bloody amphibious assault against heavily defended beaches, envisioning instead using the sea as maneuver space and employing longer-range systems, such as the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey, to project forces into the enemy’s weak spots.

Concept of Operations

Marines aboard Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1655 approach the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) on Aug. 22, 2014. US Navy Photo

Marines aboard Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1655 approach the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) on Aug. 22, 2014. US Navy Photo

Unveiled with a flourish at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space exposition in April, EF-21 gained considerable operational muscle with the publication in July of Marine Expeditionary Brigade Concept of Operations (ConOps).

“I’m highly confident this is the way of the future,” Glueck said about the new document, generally referred to as MEB ConOps. “The basic concept is coming out of Expeditionary Force 21, which is our capstone concept for the future. This is a big element of that, as far as execution.”
Both EF-21 and the ConOps emphasize the relevance of the MEB to the most likely kinds of contingencies or crises that will require use of Marine forces in the current chaotic world being called “the new normal.”

The MEB is the middleweight of the Corps’ three standard Marine air ground task forces (MAGTF), falling between the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which usually consists of 2,200 Marines and sailors, and the powerful Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), which can grow to more than 50,000 for major conflicts, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Although scalable to match the mission, a full-up MEB would comprise ground, air and logistical combat elements and a command element totaling about 14,000 Marines and sailors.

EF-21 noted that in the past, the Marines focused their development efforts on the MEF as the main warfighting instrument. “However, the current and projected security environment requires a reshaping of the force to meet the growing demand for security cooperation activities and a focus on crisis response without forfeiting our ability to fight” in a large conflict, it said.

“Accordingly, we will adjust our focus to achieve the required capabilities and capacities to become the right force in the right place at the right time,” EF-21 said.

“What we’re looking to do is to be more responsive to the combatant commanders,” Glueck said, referring to the six regional unified commands.

When a crisis occurs, the first thing a CoCom does is look for ready forces, Glueck said. “That’s where the Marine Corps comes in as a crisis response force for our nation.”

But, because the previous concept of rapidly deploying an entire expeditionary force from one of the Corps’ three main bases to the crisis area could be hampered by the lack of available amphibious shipping, the ConOps proposes using Marine units that are in, or near, the CoCom’s area of responsibility (AOR).

“We have forces forward stationed, forward deployed,” Glueck said.“What this MEB ConOps is doing is bringing those forces together, getting them at the site, being able to provide the right force at the right place at the right time for the combatant commander,” the general said.

In order to make those separate forward forces an integrated unit, the ConOps emphasizes forming at each of the three MEF headquarters a strong MEB command element that could easily deploy with its core command and communications equipment in a single C-130. That command element (CE) then would “composite” the available units into whatever size force the CoCom needed to address the crisis.

To prepare the MEB CE to quickly respond to a combat or humanitarian mission, the ConOps expects each of the MEBs to achieve a “regional orientation” of the part of the world to which it could deploy. That requires some understanding of the cultures, languages, political systems and military forces in its prospective AOR. But those regions can cover several continents and dozens of nations.

It turns out that the ConOps had a trial run even before it was published, when Brig Gen. John Love, 2d MEB commanding general, had to quickly deploy his CE from Camp Lejeune, N.C., in early summer in response to a potential crisis in Africa.

When given the order, Love deployed his communicators and core staff to Africa to begin assembling the forces, while he flew separately to meet with the CoCom to get his assignment and clarify command relations.

U.S. Marines with Company I, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conduct training with Navy Beach Unit 7 Vehicles as part of Amphibious Integration Training (AIT) at sea on Sept 4, 2014. US Marine Corps Photo

U.S. Marines with Company I, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conduct training with Navy Beach Unit 7 Vehicles as part of Amphibious Integration Training (AIT) at sea on Sept 4, 2014. US Marine Corps Photo

Love then joined the force, which apparently consisted of a deployed MEU and the Special Purpose MAGTF Crisis Response, which was stationed in Moron, Spain, to serve as a fast-reaction force for Africa Command.

“Within 96 hours of the authority to deploy, we were ready to receive tasks,” Love said.

But a short time later, “the situation abated . . . to the point that the forces assembled were not needed” and were released to their previous commands, and the 2d MEB CE returned to Lejeune, he said.

Although MEB ConOps is new and appears complex, “I just did it and it works,” Love said.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    Now, if the USMC can reduce their selves to a taxpayer acceptable fighting weight/numbers, Get rid of their heavy units to the Army, Get rid of their fighters to the Air Force or Navy, STOP trying to do the Army’s job & stick to deploying on MEUs only, then the American public might just look approvingly as to why we still have a second Ground Force anyway & start recommending to their elected officials that the USMC really does need more naval platforms to support at least 2-MEUs in the Pacific AOR, 1-MEU in the IO, & a TBD number of additional MEUs in the Red Sea, Black Sea & Med…by the way; Get rid of MARSOC & strengthen up your Amphibious Reconnaissance capabilities…have a funny feeling you are going to severely need them soon…

    • God Country Corps

      your post wreaks of jealousy

    • Tom Hewes

      Rather that repeat the same tired arguments for downsizinig the Corps, you may want to broaden your strategic horizons. To that end I recommend you read the September 2011 Marine Corps Gazette article titled “An Uncertain Future” by Col. William T. Hewes, USMC (Ret).

    • Matthew

      Reducing the size of a force is in itself not a bad argument to save costs except for the matter of fact that the USMC actually deploys more troops and asset’s per a dollar then the US Army or USAF. The USMC is financially a very good force, They are able to do multiple roles and for less cost.

      If you want to save money look at other area’s, Start with the USAF, A few thousand+ fighter’s mostly in the US when there is no nation within range to attack you that is large enough to pose a threat. For any enemy to field a force of fighters able to go 1 on 1 against the USAF in the US they would have to field a fleet of 50+ aircraft carriers. You could cut back the USAF fighter force by half and not actually leave your self any worse off while saving billions upon billions in the process.

  • CPTCHUCK

    We have not done a major opposed amphibious landing since Korea. The Marine Corps has been used to provide a beachhead or very quick response into an area and they do that well. They will have about 175,000 people when all is said and done. The army, who are frankly the heavy lifters in convention and special operations wars will number 420,000 people. The Army has permanent on the ground responsibilities in North and South Europe and in Korea. Secy Gates has said that he did not need two land armies. Their in lies the crux of the problem. What are the Strategic mission of each of the services of the land forces. The argument is not about who is better or who is more capable but about how the nation will assign missions and responsibilities. For me the problem is spending on defense, it should be about 4.5% of GDP for all the uniformed services (Army, Navy to include Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Public Health Services) and then define the missions of each. We have chosen over time to develop joint commands to cover areas where we over lap, we may need to do more of that and less of the traditional command structures.

  • OLD GUY

    Very interesting comments. However, the most effective thing that the Corps can do is to get rid of the 23 passenger money pit, the V-22, which is so bad that the Prez turned it down for his replacement helo and the Bin Laden team turned it down for lousy reliability. Then they can junk the R&D on the Quad-lifter (a DC-3, size 4-rotor convertaplane monster) and get some usable hardware types. I suggest, for a start:
    1. A 150 passenger size compound helo, with a cargo version.
    2. A Pomornik-sized LCAC supplement.(3X LCAC)
    3. An upgraded A-10 ground assault aircraft.
    4. A/C and vehicle adaptable Napalm disperser.
    I have solid, state of the art, technical back-up for all of these items.
    What a set of tools for the new threats!

    Support or counter arguments?

    • Matthew

      1. No, Not against a compound helo but one big enough for 150 passenger’s is just not possible. Would be too much weight for the rotors to be able to land not to mention would make it so large that it would require a far larger wing system then is on the other compound helo’s. The largest one to date is based off of the SH-60 Seahawk and I have not seen an SH-60 that could hold 150 people.

      2. Im assuming you are referring to the Zubr class from Russia? Not a bad idea but for those to be truly useful you would want them to be not to big so they could be loaded onto the Montford class mobile landing platforms or even build a larger version of the Montford class to carry your proposed Zubr type LCAC’s. Only reason I suggest as much is that they are very short ranged, 300nm at speed of 55 knots compared to say the Spearhead class JHSV that with 600+ ton of cargo can travel 1,200nm at 35 knots. A useful vessel for storming the beach’s (Something the Spearhead class can’t do) but to short ranged without another vessel to piggy back it closer.

      3. Agreed, Keep the basic A-10 inner working and build either a stealth body around it or implement modern electronic counter measures or both.

      4. Very little use for such a device, Weapons are more focused on precision these days and napalm while good in some situations is of little use in todays modern battlefield. So yea could do it but doesnt matter one way or the other really.

      As to the V-22, Name one other aircraft that can do what the V-22 can do? Specifically: Fly 400nm+, Land in a confined area (Jungle, Woods, City etc?), Drop off and pick up the men and then fly back the 400nm+.

      • OLD GUY

        At last, a combatant!

        1. Yes, the Pomornik is a ZUBR class. I have ridden one. it is a very capable and controllable craft. Does about 40 kts with 3 T-80s. Range is over 500 miles; more if you swap fuel for cargo. In the early 70s we had a choice of 3 AALC hovercraft sizes to pursue, Jim, Joe and Jeff. All named after the inventor, Jim Schuler’s, sons. The Joe boat was the size of Pomornik. The Jim was much smaller. The Jeff was developed into the now LCAC, but the designs are still available

        2. Insofar as the V-22 goes (and I wish it would) the only time it can do 400 its is in a terminal dive. With due respect, I do not think you understand compound design. The rotor(s) ONLY provide LIFT. Thrust is provided by the axial propulsors. In a conventional helo the aircraft is tilted to provide a thrust component. The Russkies have a lifter which approximates a 120 passenger helo. With a dual rotor (banana) design and the reduced rotor size due to lift-only rotors the size can be reached. As far as speed, Compounds can easily match, or exceed the V-22. Because of the lift-only its vertical performance is far superior, since the rotors don’t blow down on the winglets, reducing the lift. More, if you want it.

        3. Let the Napalm go. I was just P.O.d.

        • Matthew

          1. So we can agree the Pomornik (Zubr class) is a viable asset, Nothing else the US has can land troops and provide supporting fire to them at the same time.

          2. As to the range I disagree. On 21 December 2013 three CV-22’s came under fire while on a mission to evacuate Americans had to turn back, They flew through three countries covering 790nm. They routinely fly long distances so saying they can only travel 400nm in a terminal dive is just plain wrong sorry.

          3. The rotors do provide lift however the rotors also have to be constantly spinning. The Russians had one back in the early 60’s that could carry 100 people however you also need to account for the larger kit load out, In essence your not lifting 150 bodies but 300 full grown men. The Russians are working on the Ka-35 however nothing is known about it’s range, capacity etc. As for speeds they are actually all relatively the same though all of the compound helo’s that matched the V-22 speed are smaller and thus more aerodynamic. As for lift and blowing down on the winglets, the Russian Ka-22 and the mysterious Ka-35 both have winglets for which the rotors blow down on. You cant have a rotor that doesnt blow down on some surface area of the aircraft unless the rotor isn’t attached in which case your helo is falling to your death.

          • OLD GUY

            Let me explain. The rotors are FIXED to the wings at an optimum angle of attack to provide additional lift at all times. When you want to rise, you tilt the entire wing-rotor assy. Since the engines are mounted to the fuselage, this is a relatively easy design. You NEVER blow down on the wing. There once was an aircraft (I believe it was the C-22) that was a tilt wing, but not a fuselage engine mount. I don’t believe I disparaged the V-22s range, only its idiotic design.

          • Secundius

            @ Mathew..

            You can mount any Jet-Propulsion system you want, onto a “rotary-wing” aircraft to make if go faster. But, once the TIPS of the ROTORS exceeds THE SPEED OF SOUND, you going too have major. If not, fatal PROBLEMS.

          • OLD GUY

            Precisely. Since the compound ‘s rotors ONLY provide lift they can be smaller diameter (lower tip speed). Watch the trend. Check out the old C-22 for how a tilt wing operates withy the rotors never blowing down. The Russkies have experimented with rotatable wing stubs that provide thrust. Being basically a fixed wing guy I feel that if G-d had wanted me to rise vertically, He would have put a bigger rotor on my beanie.

          • Secundius

            @ Mathew.

            As far as the Pomornik (Zubr class) is concerned, you can do the same with an existing LCAC. Mount a Goalkeeper type Rotary Cannon system on the Engineer’s Cabin, or a Bushmaster II autocannon, or even a 105mm Autocannon from a Stryker on it. As for the Ka-35. All it is, is an uprated version of the Mol-24 Hind. Its like a flying “Crossover”, it does a little bit of everything. But, it doesn’t do any, one thing well. It a Stop-Gap, until something better come along.

          • OLD GUY

            Not 400 nm BUT 400 MPH in a terminal dive. Winglets are a poor fix in most cases. My old friend Frank Piasecki used to say,” Helicopters require more adverse compromises than any other A/C except LTA.”

      • OLD GUY

        Another point; if you MUST have a V-22-like design, why not mount the engines on the fuselage and run high speed shafts to the rotors fixed to tilting wings. That would give you a 6′ cross shaft (for 1 engine out operation) instead of the 39′ shaft we now have. Putting the engines out on the wing tips is like carrying your luggage with your arms extended.

        • Matthew

          In all honesty I can not say why, Perhap’s their was reasons for not doing so or they haven’t tried to do so but I wouldn’t be against them looking into it, If they can get improved efficiency in such a set up with out compromising the ability to go into combat then they should check it out.

          • OLD GUY

            It’s hard to describe it without a diagram, but it,s a real pleasure, for me, to discuss it.