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British Amphibious Operations in Egypt, 1801: A JP 3-02 Perspective, Pt. 1

By Jason Lancaster

Introduction

“Amphibious Warfare requires the closest practicable cooperation by all the combatant services both in planning and execution, and a command organization which definitely assigns responsibility for major decisions throughout all stages of the operation.”– Admiral Henry K. Hewitt, USN1

By late 1800, the French Revolution was going poorly for the British. Britain’s economy was in distress, her allies had been driven from the war, Russia was shifting to support France, and neutral Baltic nations were arming to enforce their maritime rights and neutrality. Yet despite all this Britain fought on alone against France.

British armed forces were a tale of two branches. The Royal Navy had cleared the seas of French warships, blockaded the coasts of France, and was well respected. By way of contrast, the British Army had performed poorly ashore in northern Europe, had suffered catastrophic casualties while campaigning in the West Indies, and was universally derided by other European armies.2 Britain needed a military victory to solidify the government’s political position at home and abroad as well as to demonstrate the capability of the newly reformed British Army. The British amphibious operation in Egypt was what the nation needed.

Since July 1798, French forces had occupied Egypt. In August 1798, Nelson’s fleet obliterated the French fleet, cutting the French army off from France. After a year of campaigning in Egypt and Syria, Napoleon returned to France. Yet, the French army remained in Egypt, a permanent threat to British India. Britain needed a victory on land to secure room for negotiations at the expected peace conference.

The British joint campaign in Egypt has languished in relative obscurity, overshadowed by Admiral Nelson’s epic naval battle in 1798. When viewed through U.S. Joint Publication 3-02 Amphibious Operations, this campaign provides several lessons on the successful conduct of an amphibious operation.  

Despite the successful execution of the landing and British victory in the campaign, mistakes made by the national command authority, in intelligence, logistics, planning, and the relationship between the commanding general and admiral caused problems throughout the operation. Even though U.S. amphibious doctrine was developed and refined in the Second World War era and Joint Publication 3-02 is the evolution of those experiences, this essay argues that the principles of a successful amphibious campaign as defined by JP 3-02 are applicable regardless of time period and this historic case study can be analyzed through this doctrine.

Planning

“The planning phase normally denotes the period extending from the issuance of an initiating directive that triggers planning for a specific operation and ends with the embarkation of landing forces. However, planning is continuous throughout the operation.” – JP 3-02 3

British politicians agreed that they needed a victory, but where Britain should strike was a matter of debate. The Prime Minister and cabinet debated whether to support another royalist uprising in France, another landing in Holland, Egypt, or somewhere else.4 Surprisingly, despite Britain’s recent support of failed French royalist uprisings and landings in Holland both options were initially more popular than Egypt.

Secretary of State for War Sir Henry Dundas spent years improving Britain’s position in India, and did not want French interference to threaten his work. Secretary Dundas and Napoleon agreed Egypt was the key to India. The French Consul in Egypt stated 10,000 French troops could proceed down the Red Sea to India and take Bengal from the British in one campaign. In London, intelligence on French force levels in Egypt were scarce, but estimates were 13,000 French troops demoralized and crippled by the plague. Intelligence Reports stated the garrison of Alexandria numbered 3,000, and scattered through Upper Egypt and Syria were 10,000 more French troops. 5 In reality, the French army in Egypt was closer to 25,000 soldiers, and despite sacrifices and hardship, their morale was high.6 Britain planned to send an army of 15,000 to Egypt.7 Britain also planned to send an additional 3,000 troops from India, but there was little likelihood of coordination between the two forces, and a failed landing would have enabled the French to defeat both forces piecemeal. This faulty intelligence could have proved disastrous to the landing force. British diplomats in Constantinople also believed they had coordinated Ottoman logistical support for horses and gunboats.  

Secretary Dundas, turned to his fellow Scot, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, to lead the expedition and turn the tide of the war. General Abercromby was an experienced general who had successfully conducted several amphibious operations in the West Indies earlier in the war. At 65, he was an innovative soldier despite his age who mixed the best of the American light infantry and Prussian close order drill schools of British military thought. His protégé, another Scot, General Sir John Moore, pioneered British light infantry tactics, and had served with General Abercromby throughout the West Indian campaigns seizing sugar islands from the French. He served as a division commander throughout this campaign and represented the army’s interests in planning the ship-to-shore movements of the campaign.8

The naval leadership was no less capable and distinguished. Admiral George Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith, successfully negotiated with the mutineers at the Nore in 1798. He served as deputy Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean under Admiral Lord St Vincent before himself assuming the command in November 1799. Lord Keith experienced amphibious operations during the siege of Charleston in the American Revolution and in 1795, an expedition that captured the Dutch Cape Colony. Lord Keith’s deputy for planning the ship to shore movement was Captain Alexander Cochrane, uncle of Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane and a distinguished future admiral in his own right. He had served on the American station during the Revolutionary War and was commanding officer of HMS Ajax, a 74-gun ship of the line.

“The focus of the planning process is to link the employment of the amphibious force to the attainment of operational and strategic objectives.”9  Initially clear direction for operational and strategic objectives was not given. Campaigns in the Netherlands, France, and Egypt were proposed. Finally, Secretary Dundas tasked General Abercromby and Lord Keith to conduct a landing in Egypt. Secretary Dundas gave the commanders four objectives: eject French forces, restore Ottoman rule in Egypt, protect British interests in India, and secure a better negotiating position for a future peace conference. Secretary Dundas directed the joint force to attempt to seize the Spanish Fleet at anchor in Cadiz before proceeding to Marmorice Bay to receive promised logistical support from the Ottoman Empire and then to defeat the French forces in Egypt accomplish British objectives.

Operational planning for the expedition began when General Abercromby arrived in Gibraltar. According to JP 3-02, top down planning, unity of effort, and integrated planning are the key components of the planning phase. General Abercromby’s presence in the planning was keenly felt, however Lord Keith displayed little interest in the planning. General Abercromby spoke with naval officers who had served on the Egyptian coast. These conversations helped shape the campaign and narrow the landing sites to the Aboukir Peninsula or Rosetta. Aboukir would enable the British fleet to provide logistical support and the army’s flanks would be protected by water during the advance on Alexandria. A landing at Rosetta would enable the British army to link up with the Ottoman army and advance together toward the French.10  

Initial reports led General Abercromby to believe that his army would find potable water on the Aboukir Peninsula. Eventually, General Abercromby learned through captured letters that all water would have to come from the amphibious shipping. During a council of war aboard HMS Foudroyant naval officers familiar with the coast explained, “when anchored in Aboukir Bay, [the fleet] would be able to land a sufficient quantity of water and provisions for the army.” As the army advanced, “it would always be within a mile of [the coast], boats with water and provisions might attend.”11 If the fleet was destroyed in battle or forced off station by gales, “the army would die of thirst.” While the force was anchored in Marmorice Bay, General Moore was sent to Syria to speak with Captain Sir Sydney Smith RN, serving with the Ottoman forces fighting the French. General Moore assessed the Ottoman forces as disorganized, poorly trained, and disease-ridden. General Abercromby selected Aboukir for the landing site. The condition of the Ottoman army played a major role in that decision. Despite the water supply risk, Aboukir Peninsula was closer to Alexandria, and the waters of the bay and lake protected the army’s flanks from French cavalry.12

Embarkation

“The embarkation phase is the period during which the landing force with its equipment and supplies embark in assigned shipping.” – JP 3-02

Despite almost a decade of war, in 1801, the British army remained small. To create an expedition of 15,000 troops involved redeploying  from British deployments around Great Britain, Ireland, and Europe. Not all regiments in the British Army were designated for service outside Europe. Some regiments, particularly militia regiments, were able to volunteer for active service, but only in Europe. High casualty rates in the West Indies meant that few militia regiments volunteered to serve outside Europe. British troops embarked from Ireland and Britain, including units who would not participate in the campaign, but would relieve units in Gibraltar and Minorca that would participate in the campaign.13 The complex embarkation plan shuffled soldiers across Europe, resulted in some soldiers spending months cramped inside troopships waiting to get ashore.     

The expeditionary force also lacked cavalry mounts. British forces often deployed without horses and purchased them locally since horses take up a large amount of space aboard ships and there was a great difficulty keeping horses healthy for long voyages. The Ottoman Empire promised the British army an ample supply of horses. In reality, British diplomats and supply officers were unable to procure a sufficient number of quality mounts for the cavalry, artillery, and wagon train. The horses provided proved to be subpar, and the strongest horses were given to the artillery to pull cannons. The poor quality mounts meant that the French cavalry would outclass the British cavalry in Egypt.14

Rehearsal

“The rehearsal phase is the period during which the prospective operation is rehearsed to: test the adequacy of plans, timing of detailed operations, and combat readiness of participating forces; provide time for all echelons to become familiar with plans; and test all communications and information systems.” – JP 3-02

The British attempt to land a force to seize the Spanish Fleet at Cadiz was a fiasco. A large portion of that was because there had been no time for a rehearsal. Boats went to the wrong transport, it took hours for soldiers to embark the boats, and then they did not form up properly. The landing was called off and the following day a storm scattered the fleet, and the invasion of Cadiz was over. When the fleet arrived in Marmorice, they planned to spend just a few days to rendezvous with Ottoman naval forces and supplies before proceeding to Egypt. Instead, the expected logistical support from the Ottomans never materialized and the expedition spent almost two months waiting.15 General Abercromby used this time to good effect drilling his troops. This time enabled the force to learn and rehearse their ship-to-shore movement to great effect. For seven weeks, the troops practiced ship-to-shore movements, boats going to the right transport, soldiers embarking the boats, boats forming waves, and soldiers forming line of battle from the boats.

A detail of a plan of the Operations of the British Forces in Egypt from the landing in Aboukir Bay on th 8th of March to the Battle of Alexandria March 21st inclusive. (William Fadden, Geographer to His Majesty & to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales/Wikimedia Commons)

The boats were organized into three waves. The first wave comprised 58 flatboats. Each flatboat carried 50 soldiers. The second wave encompassed 81 cutters and the third wave comprised 37 launches. Artillery in boats followed in the fourth wave, the cannons would be disembarked and crewed by sailors.16  The troops practiced disembarking from ships into the landing craft and forming into line of battle on the beach. The soldiers were instructed to enter the flatboats as expeditiously as possible, sit down, and keep their muskets unloaded until formed into line on the beach. Officers’ servants were instructed to bear arms in the ranks and to carry no more than their own equipage.17 The boat crews practiced maintaining the assault boat spacing of 50 feet and the movement from ship-to-shore.18

Movement

“The movement phase is the period during which various elements of the amphibious force move from the points of embarkation or from a forward deployed position to the operational area.” – JP 3-02

The expedition’s movement phase consisted of three phases. Phase 1 consisted of the movement from Great Britain and Ireland to Gibraltar and Minorca where the forces were gathering. This phase included the failed attempt to seize the Spanish fleet at Cadiz.

Phase 2 consisted of the movement from Gibraltar and Minorca to Marmorice Bay. Following the Cadiz debacle, the expedition watered and victualed in Africa, and proceeded to Marmorice Bay, Turkey. During this phase a terrible storm scattered the fleet and several days were spent bringing the transports back to the fleet.19 After several weeks, the fleet arrived in Marmorice Bay, whose deep waters and high cliffs proved an excellent anchorage.

Phase 3 was the movement from Marmorice Bay to Egypt. The expedition encountered a storm that frightened the Turkish gunboats, which left the expedition. On 1 March, the expedition arrived off Alexandria – sailing in so close that the masts of the French ships in harbor were visible – and proceeded down the coast to Aboukir; however, weather conditions prevented the landings until the 8th of March.20 This alerted the French, gave General Menou eight days to concentrate troops and entrench them on Aboukir Peninsula. While French troops were rushed to the scene, including 2,000 soldiers to Aboukir Peninsula, there was confusion in the French army as Captain Moiret described, “various movements so numerous as to be impossible – as well as pointless.”21

Now that the expedition was off the coast, the Royal Engineers conducted a beach reconnaissance. Unfortunately, the good works of Majors Fletcher and Mackerras was to no avail. Major Fletcher was captured and Major Mackerras was killed by artillery during their reconnaissance. When the fleet arrived, General Abercromby undertook the reconnaissance himself.22 

LT Jason Lancaster is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He is currently the Weapons Officer aboard USS STOUT (DDG 55). He holds a Masters degree in History from the University of Tulsa. His views are his alone and do not represent the stance of any U.S. government department or agency.

References    

[1] Joint Publication 3-02: Amphibious Operations, 18 July 2014, pg II-1

[2] Michael Glover, Peninsular Preparations, (Cambridge, 1963),pg  3.

[3] Joint Publication 3-02 Amphibious Operations, (2014), I-7

[4] (Mackesy 2010, 5)

[5] John Fortescue, A History of the British Army Vol. IV, (MacMillan, 1915), pg 800.

[6] Joseph –Marie Moiret, Memoirs of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition, 1798-1801, (Green Hill, 2001), pg 160.

[7] Piers Mackesy British Victory in Egypt, (TPP 2010), pg 13.

[8] Piers Mackesy British Victory in Egypt, (TPP 2010), pg 14.

[9] JP 3-02, pg III-2.

[10] John Moore, The Diary of Sir John Moore, (Arnold, 1904), pp 397-398.

[11] Moore, 397.

[12] Fortescue, pg 809.

[13] Fortescue pg 804.

[14] Mackesy, pg 100.

[15] James Lowry, Fiddlers and Whores, (Chatham, 2006), pg 59.

[16] John Creswell, Generals and Admirals, (Longman’s, 1952), pg 101

[17] Aeneas Anderson, Journal Of the Forces, ( Debrett, 1802), pg 201.

[18] Moore, pg 399.

[19] Lowry, pg 59.

[20] Lowry, pp 70-71.

[21] Moiret, pg 161.

[22] Anderson, pp 213-215.

Featured Image: British Troops Landing at Aboukir by Philip James de Loutherbourg (Wikimedia Commons)

Contested Ship-to-Shore Movement, Pt. 2: Firepower Overmatch

Part One of this series focused on the role of quantity in contested ship-to-shore movement. Read it here.

By Josh Abbey

The age of battleships laying broadsides into beaches may have been over when the USS Iowa was decommissioned, but the increasing threat of anti-ship missiles and A2/AD may draw a curtain on the modern surface combatant doing likewise. For a contested ship-to-shore movement to be successful at the shore overmatch is required at the landing zone both in terms of quantity of troops and firepower. Unable to conjure enough firepower out on the beach due to obvious constraints, extensive supporting firepower must come from the air and the sea.

Contesting the Beach in the Modern Age

Anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles are a constant and pervasive complication to ship-to-shore movement against a well-equipped foe. Prior to the creation of precision weapons amphibious fleets could often stage just over the horizon or even closer. Now amphibious fleets can be challenged from land more than 100 miles out to sea.1 The increasing range and speed of anti-ship missiles necessitate over-the-horizon capabilities for amphibious fleets to operate safely.2 Increasingly capable integrated air defense systems also greatly threaten the viability of fire support from the air.3 A2/AD strategies can situate long-range artillery and rocket batteries within air defense bubbles, forming extensive threat zones while using unmanned vehicles for ISR. The proliferation of ASMs and SAMs means even some non-state actors can hold amphibious fleets at risk further out to sea. For example, Hezbollah posses Noor anti-ship missiles with a range of 75 miles,4 and for state actors the range is even greater.5

Modern missile systems present a major problem to ship-to-shore movement in that they can also force out of range what little exists of gun-based fire support from ships. Given how anti-ship missiles may be fielded in fewer numbers than anti-air missiles, ships may find themselves providing fire support when aircraft cannot. Even so, the land attack cruise missiles they may contribute could also be held at risk by anti-air systems, and where closing the range to use guns more effectively could put ships at risk from smaller, anti-armor guided weapons.6

In any case accurate fire support is vital and in high demand. Naval gunfire support played a considerable role in Vietnam and particularly in the Falklands, enabling small British units to combat larger Argentine forces.7 However, the transition from gunfire to missiles as the default weapon of modern ships decreases the availability of fire support. Navies are unlikely to fire expensive munitions such as a Tomahawk missile to destroy a machine gun emplacement or a vehicle, whereas gunfire can be brought to bear on numerous targets of opportunity. Ships also carry limited numbers of land attack missiles due to the need to maintain a diverse inventory of missiles for a variety of multi-domain threats. In a contested theater one would also be loath to expend many Tomahawks on minor land targets a short distance away. Land attack missiles may be able to carry some of the burden for amphibious troops, but if fired at a great distance out to sea the long flight time for subsonic missiles is hardly ideal for troops in contact.11 These cruise missiles would also likely need some form of in-flight retargeting support to ensure their precision.  

The sea denial aspect of certain precision weapons can be mitigated to an extent by extending the range of gun-based fire support. These capabilities can include the Advanced Gun System firing the Long-Range Land-Attack Projectile (LRLAP) which can reach out to over 70 nautical miles.8 However, the cost of the LRLAP makes this exception prohibitively expensive. One LRAP at approximately $800,000 is around half the cost of a Tomahawk missile.9 One could purchase 11 guided Excalibur shells for that price able to hit targets over 30 miles away or 266 precision guidance kits for M549 shells and reach out to over 15 miles away.10

Spent shell casings from a naval gunfire support mission by HMS Cardiff (D108) on the night of 5 June, 1982, as part of the Falklands War. Photograph was taken the morning after on 6 June, also the top of her charred Sea Dart launcher can be seen bottom right. She fired 277 rounds that night and also shot down AAC 656 Squadron Gazelle XX377 in ‘Blue on Blue’ friendly fire incident killing four British servicemen. (Wikimedia Commons)

Airpower to an extent has filled the vacuum gunfire or cruise missiles cannot. In the Falklands campaign for example, airstrikes from Harrier jets helped make up for the lack of gunfire support.11 However, air defense systems have become increasingly sophisticated and potent. As they will continue to grow in capability and proliferate amongst state and non-state actors, aircraft operating in A2/AD environments will be restricted to more advanced platforms.12 Rotary wing aircraft could be of little value if their ships have been forced out to sea by anti-ship missiles since the combat radius of many rotary wing attack aircraft is around 120 nautical miles.13 Instead, viable firepower support will be best provided via tube artillery, rockets, or cheaper missile systems that can operate closer to shore.

While surface combatants can undertake the task of providing fire support the range of most current gun systems places them well within the range of ASMs as well as tube and rocket artillery.14 It is unlikely one would take an Arleigh Burke or Type 45 destroyer into such an environment. Instead, cheaper and more expendable gun or missile boats carrying missiles like the Spike NLOS or ALAS, rocket artillery systems, or advanced naval guns will need to provide the firepower required. GMLRS equipped boats, capable of firing the ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, the Deep Strike Missile, the Alternative Warhead, and other munitions could provide a powerful mix of close-in fire support and deeper interdiction fires. However, the key vulnerability of missile or rocket artillery boats will be logistical sustainment. These indirect fire systems could be used from the flight decks of larger ships as an intermediate measure.15

Such craft will also require point defense systems for survivability. This is a necessity to provide survivability for ship-to-shore connector because one can expect increasingly precise artillery and rocket systems. Laser-guided munitions capable of striking moving targets and top attack munitions such as the BAE Bofors 155 BONUS or SMArt 155 will be capable of significant devastation. It is conceivable that counter-battery fire can be swapped between defending land-based artillery and ships providing fire support for an invading force as artillery grows more precise.

Once visible on the horizon direct fire systems like anti-tank guided missiles can target landing craft and their fire support assets. Thus, hard and soft counter rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) systems, air defense, and active protection systems like Trophy will need to be equipped by both connectors and the vessels providing their fire support. Transit times to the shore will place both under fire for considerable lengths of time and sustaining close fire support for an amphibious force will be highly risky.

Conclusion

In an A2/AD environment ship-based fire support may often be limited to the unattractive option of cruise missiles given current capabilities and threats. Cheaper long-range missile and artillery systems will need to become more available in order to provide the requisite fire support to develop overmatch. One potential solution is the utilization of cheaper gun and missile boats that can be risked close in to shore to provide fire support and to project an area of point-based air defense around the approaching landing craft to increase survivability. In any case amphibious flotillas will require plenty of firepower and protection so as not to be disabled before arriving on the beach, but providing fire support against modern threats involves complicated and frequently unfavorable tradeoffs.

Josh Abbey is a research intern at the Royal United Services Institute of Victoria. He is studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in history and philosophy. He is interested in military history and strategy, international security and analyzing future trends in strategy, capabilities and conflict.

References

[1] Andrew Feickert, Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) and Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC): Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2018), 6.

[2] Bryan Clark and Jesse Sloman, Advancing Beyond the Beach: Amphibious Operations in an Era of Precision Weapons (Washington, D.C: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2016), I.

[3] Carlo Kopp, “Proliferation of Advanced Air Defence Systems,” Defence Today (2010): 27. “Surviving the Modern Integrated Air Defence System”, Carlo Kopp, Air Power Australia, 2009, accessed, July 1, 2018,  http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-2009-02.html#mozTocId418713. Jeff Harrigan and Max Marosko, “Fifth Generation Air Combat Maintaining the Joint Force Advantage”, JAPCC Journal 24, spring/summer (2017): 54.

[4] “Hezbollah” Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance, accessed June 30, 2018, http://missiledefenseadvocacy.org/missile-threat-and-proliferation/todays-missile-threat/non-state-actors/hezbollah/.

[5] Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015 (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2015), 10.

[6] “For Want of a Broadside: Why The Marines Need More Naval Fire Support,” Vince DePinto, CIMSEC, accessed July 3, 2018, http://cimsec.org/want-broadside-marines-need-naval-fire-support/31347.

[7] Carter A. Malkasian, Charting the Pathway to OMFTS A Historical Assessment of Amphibious Operations From 1941 to the Present (Virginia: CNA, 2002), 41.

[8] “The 155mm Advanced Gun System-Lite (AGS-L) for DDG-51 Flight III,” Brent Weyer and Al Panek, BAE Systems, accessed July 10, 2018, https://ndiastorage.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/ndia/2012/armaments/Tuesday14034weyer.pdf

[9] “Navy Planning on Not Buying More LRLAP Rounds for Zumwalt Class,” Sam LaGrone, USNI News, accessed July 14, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2016/11/07/navy-planning-not-buying-lrlap-rounds. Chief Technical Officer, Program Acquisition Cost by Weapon System (Washington, D.C: Office of the Under-Secretary of Defense, 2017), 63.

[10] Michael Craig Harris, Is Tube Artillery a Viable Fire Support Platform for the United States Military on the Battlefields of the Future? (Alabama: Air War College, 2017), 22. “XM 982/Excalibur,” BAE Systems, accessed July 16, 2018, https://www.baesystems.com/en/download-en/20151124114142/1434555562238.pdf. Peter J., “XM1156 Precision Guidance Kit (PGK) Overview,” Burke and Anthony Pergolizzi, Fuze Conference, accessed July 19, 2018, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.386.3598&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

[11] Earl H. Tilford, “Air Power Lessons,” in Military Lessons of the Falkland Islands War: Views from the United States, eds. Bruce Watson and Peter Dunn (Colorado: Westview Press, 1984), 45.

[12] Carlo Kopp, “Proliferation of Advanced Air Defence Systems,” Defence Today (2010): 27. “Surviving the Modern Integrated Air Defence System”, Carlo Kopp, Air Power Australia, 2009, accessed, July 1, 2018,  http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-2009-02.html#mozTocId418713. Harrigan and Marosko, “Fifth Generation Air Combat Maintaining the Joint Force Advantage,” 54.

[13] “For Want of a Broadside: Why The Marines Need More Naval Fire Support,” Vince DePinto, CIMSEC, accessed July 3, 2018, http://cimsec.org/want-broadside-marines-need-naval-fire-support/31347.

[14] “Mk 45 Mod 4 Naval Gun System,” BAE Systems, accessed July 20, 2018, https://www.baesystems.com/en/product/mk-45-mod-4-naval-gun-system. John Matsumura, Randall Steeb, and John Gordon IV, Assessment of Crusader: The Army’s Next Self-Propelled Howitzer and Resupply Vehicle (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1998), 10.

[15] “For Want of a Broadside: Why The Marines Need More Naval Fire Support,” Vince DePinto, CIMSEC, accessed July 3, 2018, http://cimsec.org/want-broadside-marines-need-naval-fire-support/31347.

Featured Image: 180729-M-QH615-0222 MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII (July 29, 2018) AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicles assigned to Combat Assault Company, 3rd Marine Regiment, unload service members during an amphibious landing demonstration as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise at Pyramid Rock Beach on Marine Corps Base Hawaii July 29, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron S. Patterson/Released)

Contested Ship-to-Shore Movement, Pt. 1: The Role of Quantity

By Josh Abbey

Few navies are disposed to undertake ship-to-shore movement in a contested environment.1 With the exception of very powerful nations such as the U.S., few nations have the number of troops and equipment necessary for success against moderate opposition. Contested ship-to-shore movement presupposes that landing craft and aircraft will be engaged while moving to and at the landing location. Achieving air and naval superiority is a significant factor in this calculus, however, so does the size and firepower of the landing force and those who may oppose them.2 The role of quantity in contested ship-to-shore movement undertaken by surface craft is especially key.

No amphibious force is likely to survive a contested assault without significant losses.3 Yet few can deliver the volume of troops to generate force overmatch against a foe while accounting for potential casualties. The majority of amphibious fleets are too small to generate overmatch by quantity alone. Such a task requires vast amphibious fleets. In the Gulf War, it took 31 amphibious ships to muster an assault force of 17,800 marines, 39 tanks, 96 mobile TOW antitank missile systems, 112 amphibious assault vehicles, 52 light armored vehicles, 52 artillery pieces, 63 attack aircraft, and six infantry battalions.4 Excluding the U.S., for nations with amphibious capabilities, the average amphibious fleet size is just two ships (refer to table 1).5 An amphibious fleet such as Australia’s can only embark 2,600 troops in two Canberra-class landing helicopter docks and one dock landing ship, HMAS Choules.6 An unsupported landing force of this size would face a serious struggle if opposed by even a few battalions.

The number of troops and vehicles that can be delivered per wave severely worsens the problem of successful ship-to-shore movement. Again, Australia’s amphibious capacity shall serve as the example as its three-ship Amphibious Ready Group is representative of many first-rate nations’ amphibious fleets. A Canberra-class warship can embark four LCM-1Es, whilst HMAS Choules can carry one LCM-1E.7 With each LCM-1E able to carry 170 troops, the nine LCM-1Es can deploy approximately 1500 troops in one wave.8 However, it is unlikely they would be utilized in this way. Carrying vehicles and equipment in waves while deploying troops in tactical formations would likely decrease the rate of troops delivered. Defenders can likely bring a greater proportion of their force to bear compared to amphibious troops that are limited by their rate of delivery. And, while vehicles such as an Abrams tank or even a Stryker can deliver considerable firepower, they must be able to get off the beach to make way for follow-on assets. Beaches can condense landing troops into denser formations and where targeting buildup locations will be a priority for any defender. Unless the landing location is suitable to allow vehicles to quickly get off the beach, they present attractive stationary targets that are less able to influence affairs much beyond the shoreline.

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII (July 30, 2016) A Royal Australian Navy LHD Landing Craft, transports Australian, New Zealand, Tongan, and U.S. armed forces to Marine Corps Training Area Bellows during Rim of the Pacific 2016 in Hawaii. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. William L. Holdaway/Released)

Infantry will play a major role in the initial ship-to-shore movement because of greater freedom of movement and ability to disperse. However, embarked troops do not equate to immediate combat manpower on the beach.  It is problematic that troops must disembark and find a favorable tactical disposition before they can bring their full influence to bear, a process that is unlikely to be as rapid as desired. Further, utilizing landing craft with high capacities such as LCMs, with a capacity of 170, or an LCU 1700 which can carry 350 troops, presents a small number of highly dense targets.9 If it only deployed from embarked landing craft Australia’s entire amphibious landing force could present just nine targets. An opponent could counter this force before it lands with a handful of guided missiles or several accurate barrages of cluster or airburst artillery.

Key: Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) Landing Platform Dock (LPD) Landing Ship Dock (LSD) Landing Ship Logistics (LSL) Landing Ship Tank (LST) Landing Ship Medium (LSM) Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) (Source: The Military Balance, 118, 1 (2018): 49-396.)

While landing craft and amphibious fleets can deploy a reasonable number of troops from the surface they can be effectively opposed by far fewer troops using modern weapons. Utilizing smaller landing craft in greater numbers would increase the number of targets an enemy must account for, and dilute a defender’s efforts. Increasing the number of landing craft also decreases the time it takes for troops to influence combat by speeding up debarkation. In effect, increasing the number of exits can increase the space through which troops can disembark and achieve greater flow of deployment. These changes would increase the effectiveness of the force embarked by deploying them into combat faster and likely with less casualties.

Conclusion

Quite simply to generate overmatch via the quantity of troops amphibious fleets must go big or go home. They also, by way of contradiction in terms of landing craft, must go little if they wish to quickly generate a reasonable number of combat-ready troops at the landing location rapidly. Small numbers of slow-deploying troops can easily be victim to defeat in detail. Generating overmatch at the landing location will then be more a matter of greater firepower and less the the quantity of assets for navies with small amphibious fleets. However, credibly confronting reasonably-sized adversaries in a contested ship-to-shore context will be limited to coalition operations or large nations such as the U.S. for the foreseeable future.


Part 2 of this series will focus on firepower overmatch.


Josh Abbey is a research intern at the Royal United Services Institute of Victoria. He is studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in history and philosophy. He is interested in military history and strategy, international security and analyzing future trends in strategy, capabilities and conflict.

References

1. See Table 1.1

2. Michael Hanlon, “Why China Cannot Conquer Taiwan,” International Security 25, 2 (2000): 4.

3. B. Martin, Amphibious Operations in Contested Environments: Insights from Analytic Work (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2017), 9.

4. Michael F. Applegate, Naval Forces: Valuable Beyond the Sum of Their Parts (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 1993), 5.

5. See Table 1.1

6. Ken Gleiman and Peter Dean, Beyond 2017: the Australian Defence Force and amphibious warfare (Canberra: APSI, 2015), 24.

7. “Amphibious Assault Ship (LHD),” Navy, accessed July 25, 2018, http://www.navy.gov.au/fleet/ships-boats-craft/lhd. “HMAS Choules,Navy, accessed July 24, 2018, http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-choules.

8. “Lanchas de desembarco LCM-1E” Navantia, accessed July 24, 2018, https://www.navantia.es/ckfinder/userfiles/files/lineas_act/Fichas_antiguas%20espa%C3%B1ol/lanchas.pdf.

9. “Landing Craft, Mechanized and Utility – LCM / LCU,” America’s Navy, accessed July 25, 2018, http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=1600&ct=4.

Featured Image: 180729-M-FA245-1234 MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII (July 29, 2018) U.S. Marines push toward an objective on Pyramid Rock Beach during an amphibious landing demonstration as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise on Marine Corps Base Hawaii July 29, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Adam Montera)

Distributed Leathernecks

Distributed Lethality Topic Week

By LCDR Chris O’Connor 

This year, the Navy plans to send out a surface action group (SAG) comprised of three DDGs in order to test distributed lethality CONOPS. This is an important first step, but the next SAG deployed should include a completely different unit. A San Antonio-class LPD. One LPD-17 class ship in the mix will considerably change the capabilities of a SAG across the warfare spectrum, making it a true Adaptive Force Package (AFP) that is more lethal in a number of different ways.

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Why an LPD? It is a large littoral combat ship. The LCS classes were designed to have mission bay space so that capabilities could be swapped out as the mission required. LPD-17 class ships, if loaded with a specialized set of MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) equipment, have room for equipment that no DDG or CG could dream of carrying, at a greater volume than an LCS. While serving on the USS BUNKER HILL (CG-52), the author recognized that the guided missile cruisers in the US Navy have been built for specific weapon systems, sensors, and engineering equipment. A modification to add more systems that are significant departures from the original design will be at the expense of the baked-in warfare capabilities. More unmanned systems or connectors can be put on a surface combatant, but they will be limited to the constraints of the torpedo magazine, hangar, or boat deck space, and will take away from the important uses those shipboard locations currently have.

LPD 22 Sea Trials
LPD 22 Sea Trials, Huntington Ingalls photo. 

On top of the “open concept” interior (so in vogue these days), the LPD also has a flight deck that dwarfs that of any surface combatant; it can launch or recover two V-22s simultaneously. It has massive potential to carry more aviation systems due to the aircraft storage space in the large hangars and deck tie-downs. Not to mention that if a DDG wants to put something in the water, it has to lower it with the boat davits or other limited means. A LPD has a well deck that can splash LCACs, LCUs, and unmanned systems that use the sea interface.

During a recent distributed lethality wargame (of which the author was part of), game participants were given objectives and a choice of AFPs to use towards those aims. The choices included a mix of DDGs, LCSs, America-class LHAs, and “Hughesian” (the author is taking liberties with that word) small missile combatants a la “streetfighter.” We then employed these mixed forces against a red force that was trying to reach an objective, break a blockade, or put troops ashore on an island. The decision-making process was constrained to a surface picture, speed/capability/weapons employment solution set. This was the explicit purpose of this game, being early in the distributed lethality wargame process.

Early in the game a different way of meeting the same goals came to the author, and they involved using Marines with surface or aviation connectors. For example, we can deter an island invasion with the proper positioning of surface ships, but what if that island already had US forces on it? If a red force landing craft was able to get through, it would have to contend with defenders on the island. It is much less politically tenable for red forces to land on an occupied island than to occupy an island that is not populated (or at least has no security or military forces on it) with the guise that it is helping or providing unasked-for security assistance. Blue landing forces would enhance the maritime security exclusion zone around an island or completely obviate it. V-22s can get to the objective a lot faster than surface ships. In the recent DL wargame, if the blue forces chose to use America-class LHAs as part of their a la carte AFPs, V-22s were not an option, they and landing forces from the LCSs were adjudicated from the game for aforementioned reasons.

Flight deck loaded with V-22 Ospreys, defenselink.mil photo.
Active flight deck , defenselink.mil photo.

An LPD can be part of a disaggregated ARG and be used as part of a DL task force. An LPD loaded with MEU equipment that can be quickly employed and join up with an LHA and LSD would be especially useful if needed to create a larger landing force. A red force that wants to land troops to provide “security assistance” or “fight terrorists” would have to contend with LCAC delivered and V-22 delivered vehicles with TOWs, Marines with Javelins and Stingers, and in a longer time period, LAVs, AAVs, and MPCs that have swum ashore from the LPD’s well deck. At the least, the LPD will be a sea base lily pad for long-range V-22 missions, such as non-combatant evacuations or special operations strikes. All three ARG ships do not have to be present for this capability to be delivered.

The future brings even more options. A DL MAGTAF assigned to a LPD could be specifically modified to perform specialized deterrent landings at short notice, or bring ashore capabilities we do not currently use. TOW and Javelin missiles would make landing craft think twice, but there are truck mounted Naval Strike Missiles and other antiship and surface-to-surface missiles. A lot of those systems, including HIMARs, are too large to be delivered by an LCAC as they are currently fielded. These weapons, or other systems such as Hellfire or JAGM, could be modified and put on smaller vehicles that are purpose built to provide anti-access/area denial capabilities. On top of this, the flight deck of the LPD can launch and recover even larger UAVs than the surface combatants can employ. The hangars can support USMC aircraft such as the AH-1Z and UH-1Y that can carry out different mission sets than the H-60 variants that deploy on current surface combatants. New capabilities could use up some of this non-skid real estate, such as strike missile box launchers, additional communications and EW equipment. Not to be forgotten, the well deck could be used to put UUVs and USVs in the water, creating defensive swarms around contested geographic points or high-value units. Being a Supply Corps officer, the author is obliged to point out the additional logistics capability that an LPD brings to the fight; more storage for supplies, mothership capability for smaller units, and space for new capabilities that can be bolted on such as additive manufacturing.

Norweigan Strike Missile (NSM) launched from a truck, Kongsberg photo.
Norweigan Strike Missile (NSM) launched from a truck, Kongsberg photo.

The new E-series ships such as the EPF, ESB, and ESD can all do parts of these missions, but would not survive as well in a contested environment as an LPD-17. That class has EW, communications, self-defense, and logistics endurance capabilities that the newly minted expeditionary classes do not have. This is not discounting them, but they just cannot play in the same environment as the other members of the DL SAGs can; there is a place for them in other parts of the littoral arena.

This is not an original idea. If you have heard this all before, it is because many people saw the potential from the very beginning of the LPD-17 class. James H. Cobb wrote a series four novels from 1997-2002 that were the closest thing for the Navy to Dale Brown was for the Air Force. In his books, then-experimental technology was used to fight battles in new ways. The third novel Seafighter (2002) exhibited the gonzo awesome idea of armored LCACs armed with chain guns, hellfire missiles and even SLAM missiles (as a “streetfighter” concept). The linchpin of the Navy task force that employed these systems was an amphibious warship used to the fullest extent of its capabilities- supporting the battle hovercraft, launching helicopter strikes, and the like. When the author was a member of the CNO Strategic Studies Group, one of the areas of investigation was new uses for current classes of ships, and there were already think pieces out on the LPD-17. These ideas should be used in the distributed lethality concept to bring Marines to that fight.

The Navy-Marine Corps team is at its most lethal when each naval service uses its unique capabilities to the utmost. And the best way to cohesively bring them together for the good of distributed lethality is with an LPD in the fight, part of a Surface Action Group. This will certainly make our potential adversaries sit up and pay attention.

LCDR Chris O’Connor is a supply corps officer in the United States Navy and a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the United States Department of Defense.

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