Marine expeditionary force is leading contact and blunt-force provider in the world, built with speed, agility and lethality in mind. Recently, amphibious assault ships were quick to respond to an urgent combatant commander requirement with an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit MEU F-35B detachment.
Naval expeditionary forces are the major power in littoral operations. No matter the mission or crisis operation—from support to full combat power projection—expeditionary forces provide the complete force package in any scalable operation.
Expeditionary operations need to remain prepared to transition into major combat operations. Across the full range of military operations, amphibious ships are a key contributor, ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations from the sea and essential to the Marine Corps' statutory mission to "seize and defend advanced naval bases.”
In any crisis expeditionary forces are prepared to fight in uncertain environments. If required during contingency response operations, amphibious ships and their associated Marine air ground task force MAGTFs will "fight fast" in hostile environments as part of the initial-contact and surge layers that bring capability and capacity into the battlespace.
On short notice, amphibious ships can reconfigure and be ready to provide the joint force commander with a lethal force capability. All amphibious warships, ranging from amphibious assault LHD/LHA, amphibious transport dock LPD and dock landing LSD ships, can provide a package of wide ranging options.
From a ready seaport for landing craft; flight deck for either fixed-wing or rotary aircraft or a highly capable command and control platform; expeditionary ships are ready, responsive, survivable, lethal and agile for any crisis.
Landing Platform/Dock LPDs have proven in the last decade it can meet a wide range of combatant commander mission requirements. From serving as a flagship for an expeditionary strike group commander to acting as a forward staging base for special operations forces, this platform has proven critical in every phase of the fleet commander’s mission planning.
With the LPD flight II, an amphibious ready group with an embarked MAGTF will be even more maneuverable, flexible, survivable, and lethal in a future battlespace.
In the past deployed expeditionary forces required a defensive shield from an Aegis cruiser or destroyer for force protection. Today’s MAGTF and all future amphibious forces will have “fifth generation” offensive and defensive capabilities to operate in any contested battlespace.
Amphibious ships will realize major upgrades in command and control with the installation of the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar EASR on LHA ships and both flight I and flight II LPDs. This radar takes advantage of the highly scalable design and mature technologies of the AN/SPY-6[V] air and missile defense radar AMDR to be installed on flight-III destroyers, giving amphibious ships a significant air-search upgrade while reducing overall cost.
In addition, LHDs and LHAs will be outfitted with the Evolved Seasparrow Missile ESSM block II, which incorporates a new dual-mode active and semiactive radar seeker. This will facilitate an expanded flight envelope for achieving advanced manoeuvre for force protection measures.
To confront the emerging threat in electromagnetic EM warfare the Navy has invested in the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program SEWIP. This upgrade provides rapid solutions and will enable amphibious warships to fight and win in the EM warfare domain. SEWIP block II provides electronic support and will be outfitted on all current amphibious ships. SEWIP block III adds an electronic attack capability and will be installed on the LHA/D mix and LPD flight II.
A major enhancement to fleet operations in standoff electronic warfare detection will be established with the Advanced Offboard Electronic Warfare AOEW program. This antiship missile-defense electronic warfare pod will be carried on both the MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters, which when flown from amphibious ships will significantly extend the expeditionary commander’s defensive—and possibly offensive—electronical warfare capability.
Several years ago, the Navy gave the Marine Corps an enlarged aviation platform to deploy significant numbers of F-35Bs. The first two new LHAs were built without well decks. Even though these warships provide geographic combatant commanders with a supplemental force multiplier in the air warfare domain, all future amphibious ships also will have a well deck able to deploy forces by landing craft.
Today’s expeditionary forces are some of the most capable warships in the world . What makes amphibious ships superior is not only the ability to combine sea-space maneuverability with the flexible strike capability of the embarked MAGTF, but also the ability to protect that embarked force with defensive capabilities and battle-damage resiliency. This is the true measure of being able to “fight to get to the fight.”
The MAGTF is specifically designed to meet mission-oriented requirements of amphibious missions and expeditionary operations. It addresses the needs for interoperability and mutual support with other elements of the fleet. The MAGTF is formed following building block concept, ie the joint force/fleet commanders operational requirement or mission is assessed and type units are drawn from a Marine division, or aircraft wing. It is placed under the command of one commander to form an air-ground team that will accomplish the mission.
Logistic self-sufficiency is a primary consideration when planning expeditionary operations because Marine air-ground task force MAGTFs are organised to conduct operations under tough conditions. Marine forces and MAGTF commanders provide operational logistics capabilities necessary for conducting expeditionary operations, while tactical logistics are provided by MAGTF commanders and their subordinates. This expeditionary or temporary operations support will be withdrawn after the mission is accomplished.
MAGTF logistics capabilities and accompanying supplies enable it, depending on size, to self-sustain its operations while external resupply channels are organised and established. Marine Corps manoevre practices demand that a MAGTF maintain battlefield flexibility, organisational adaptability, and the ability to react to the changing operational situation.
MAGTF inherent self-sustainment and rapid deployability capabilities allow it to reconstitute itself rapidly and permit rapid withdrawal from a completed operation and immediate re-embarkation for follow-on missions.
Successful deployment, sustainment, employment, and redeployment of a MAGTF are the result of well-coordinated logistics support activities conducted at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.
Organisation of forces, and materiel support responsibilities are the foundation of effective Marine Corps logistics. The organisation of forces, materiel support, and assigned logistics responsibilities are structured with one goal—to support MAGTF operations with sound logistics. They provide logistics troops with the capabilities to respond quickly to changing support requirements.
Deployment support is defined as the support provided to a MAGTF that allows the efficient and effective movement of forces from their origins to ports of embarkation and on to ports of debarkation and final destination. Deployment support assists the MAGTF commander in marshaling, staging, embarking, and deploying the command
Mairnes engaged in amphibious warfare face challenges, in the form of surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, and other coastal defense measures frequently lumped under the heading of anti-access and area denial A2/AD measures.
"Amphibious forces will have difficulty reducing their vulnerability by conducting landings from farther away, because almost all Marine equipment is too heavy to be lifted by shipboard aircraft, and current surface connectors cannot safely conduct a transit long enough to grant amphibious ships the standoff they need,"
"Although troops could be moved longer distances by air for small raids, the Marine Expeditionary Unit Air Combat Element is too small to provide enough long-range fires to degrade ground defenses and provide close air support troops conducting the raid,"
Despite a trio of new technologies developed by the Marine Corps specifically to help them conduct operational maneuver from the sea -- the MV-22 Osprey, the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, and the still-developing Amphibious Combat Vehicle -- the employment strategy has weaknesses.
The ACV, optimized for land travel, is slow and cannot conduct landings from over-the-horizon. And the MV-22, while it can fly fast and far, can only carry a single ATV-style vehicle and is not suited to hauling heavy Marine Corps ground equipment.
Marine Corps concept of expeditionary advance bases, or EABs -- small forward-based outposts inside contested areas that can be camouflaged from enemy detection while staging troops closer to their objective could be aboard amphibious ships, such as the new hybrid seabasing platforms entering the fleet, or situated within host nations.
From such posts, Ospreys could conduct amphibious raids, while F-35Bs could engage enemy surface combatants from the air and provide another layer of defense for Navy surface warfare assets, taking advantage of its high-tech detection and targeting technology to keep the fleet safe. The EABs could also host short-range air defense systems to take out enemy fighters.
But the Marines also need to change the way they deploy to face today's challenges.While the F-35B can provide air strikes and close air support, its capabilities are constrained by the small number expected to deploy with a conventional MEU's aviation combat element, or ACE.
"The ACE's six F-35Bs would yield four operational aircraft at any given time, which would only be able to support one or two fires missions. "A single Amphibious Ready Group /MEU, however, may need to support a half-dozen EABs across a region.
Traditionally, ARGs carrying Marines deploy with three amphibious ships: an amphibious transport dock or LPD, a dock landing ship, or LSD, and an amphibious assault ship, an LHA or LHD. If they move to a four-ship configuration, with two L(X)R dock landing ship replacements per ARG, Marines can deploy with 20 F-35B or AV-8B Harrier strike fighter aircraft instead of six aboard the amphibious assault ship, and a more modest complement of four Ospreys instead of 12.
A "fast-assault optimized" deployment package aboard four ships could include 14 Ospreys and 10 strike fighters. This would make amphibs even more like aircraft carriers, and some critics say Marines should eventually develop a class of LHA with catapult-assisted take-off and arrested landing, allowing aircraft without short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities to operate from their decks.
Marine Corps could ask for more America-class amphibious assault ships, optimized for aviation with a larger flight deck and no well deck. Currently, one of these ships, the America, is in service, while another is being built. Ultimately, these changes would necessitate a larger amphibious fleet, with 11 LHA/LHD amphibious assault ships and and up to 29 L(X)R and LPD amphibs.
Marine officials have long said they want at least 38 amphibious ships, with an ideal goal of 50; however, they are currently constrained to a target of 33 ships. Much about the future remains uncertain.
The challenges of not having a port in the area of operations come into picture when the operational theatre is landlocked, requiring forces to rely on complex overland and air networks from distant ports. These logistics operations are vulnerable to conventional military threats.
The spread of anti-access/area-denial A2/AD technologies, strategies, and tactics makes logistics operations riskier and more difficult. For instance, in hostile areas, the plan is for ships to lay at least 25 miles offshore and offload their contents to various connectors—smaller watercraft—that will then make the run in to shore.
Once at the shore, it is possible that there will be no port, or that a port will be inadequate to move the necessary materiel ashore, resulting in a reliance on lighterage and causeway systems or on connectors that can beach themselves or move over the beach.
Improvements in mobility could produce significant benefits for sustainment operations. Improved vessels could move more supplies more quickly to and within the theater. Improved connectors could do the same for the movement of materiel from ship to shore.
Current systems would take several hours to transit from ship to shore, offload, and then return to the ship. There are technologies that could be used for the final transportation legs, to a forward logistics base and then to the forward troops, that would lessen the impact of risks to troops.
The principal commander first determines the mission and the specific tasks required to accomplish the mission. An example of a typical set of mission tasks might be planning, establishing a command post, securing routes, providing perimeter defense, and establishing locations for providing assistance.