Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, addresses sailors and Marines on Dec. 27 aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (MCS3 Robert R. Sanchez / US Navy)
The US Marine Corps cannot meet its amphibious assault needs with its current stable of ship-to-shore connectors, according to Commandant Gen. Jim Amos in a recent article he penned for the June edition of Proceedings Magazine.
Amos says the service must explore future options, despite austere budgets and cautions against letting the service’s amphibious capability atrophy further.
“Simply put, our current and proposed surface-connector inventory does not meet the current or future requirements and ability to maneuver from increased range beyond the threat,” Amos writes.
To fill the gap in ship-to-shore capabilities Amos proposes revising current programs like the Joint High Speed Vessel by modifying them to have ramps that can launch amphibious vehicles.
He proposes looking at existing technology like the US-produced Landing Catamaran, or L-CAT, which is now used by French forces. The L-CAT can move at 23 mph for up to 200 miles, meaning 100 nautical miles would still take it roughly 4.5 hours to traverse
Amos also mentions the experimental Ultra Heavy-Lift Amphibious Connector. The UHAC can also move at 20 knots, roll onto a beach and even scale 10-foot sea walls. The vehicle has caught some criticism for its outlandish design though, particularly the plainly visible pilot’s bay.
Finally, he mentions future connectors that only exist “on PowerPoint” like the T-CRAFT a gargantuan high-speed craft than can ride up onto beaches. Although it does not offer a short-term solution, Amos says all options should be explored and he welcomes the input of academia, industry and other services.
Part of the challenge is great standoff distance now needed to keep ships safe from the expanding threat of anti-ship missiles which are rapidly proliferating among poorer nations and could even be deployed by non-state actors.
“We know today that a combination of integrated acquisition systems, precision guidance, and coastal-defense cruise missiles can necessitate initial standoff distances as far out as 100 nautical miles,” Amos writes. “Ultimately, mission success foresees a requirement that enables the employment of contested, disaggregated, distributed, and dispersed forces maneuvering from the sea base to secure entry points.”
The service recently unveiled Expeditionary Force 21, a new doctrinal concept which emphasized sea basing and the use of prepositioned ships bearing gear so that Marines can quickly mass when crisis breaks out. But the concept requires ship-to-shore transport the service doesn’t currently have.
“These prepositioning ships hold our equipment and supplies at sea such that they can be moved rapidly ashore. However, without adequate means to get our people and equipment ashore, the ability to accomplish our mission quickly diminishes,” Amos writes. “Today, there is a significant gap in the planned surface-connector fleet inventory from FY17 to FY 26 that, in conjunction with our amphibious-ship shortfalls, will significantly limit the capacity for amphibious operations and must not be allowed to widen.”
The number of ship-to-shore connectors the service needs has increased even more since the number is no longer directly tied to the space available on Navy amphibs of which there will be just 30 by fiscal 2015.
Amos says the service’s MV-22s coupled with Landing Craft Air Cushions, commonly called LCACs, do offer some ability to move ashore, but do not fill all current or future capability gaps.