Changing Amphibious Command Relationships

By Lieutenant Colonel Norman C. Davis, U.S. Marine Corps

OMFTS and ship-to-objective maneuver challenge the discrete nature of amphibious operations. These concepts envision naval forces "dispens[ing] with previous amphibious methods in which operational phases, pauses, and reorganizations imposed delays and inefficiencies upon the momentum of the operation." Instead, the "transition from maneuver on the sea to land maneuver [is] seamless, allowing the force to maintain momentum and tempo so as to conduct deep penetrations and reach inland objectives quickly." Major elements of the landing force's logistics and command and control remain sea based, while the landing force either transitions to sustained operations ashore or reembarks on board ships of the amphibious task force to prepare to execute further power projection operations.

Because there is no transition ashore of command of the landing force, the usual criteria for terminating an amphibious operation will, by design, not be achieved. The traditional CATF/CLF command relationships, therefore, will have to be reexamined. In addition, amphibious command relationships must adapt to reflect the realities of modern joint operations. Organization for combat is inherently situation dependent, so let's first consider a scenario that requires a joint task force to conduct a forcible entry to accomplish its mission. The joint force commander (JFC) determines that an amphibious assault is required to introduce his forces into his joint operating area. Joint doctrine provides three methods for organizing a joint force:

  • Service component commands, which are desirable "when stability, continuity, economy, ease of long-range planning, and scope of operations dictate organizational integrity of service forces for conducting operations"
  • Functional component commands, which "centralize selected functions and reduce span of control by placing forces with similar capabilities under a single commander"
  • A combination of the two, which "takes advantage of the benefits of service componency while allowing the [JFC] to centralize certain functions to achieve his . . . operational objective" Amphibious operations involve sea, land, and air forces, so functional componency is a logical means for organizing the joint task force to conduct this forcible entry.

Under OMFTS, the land component of this task force will operate "from the sea." Maneuver unit commanders will "direct ship-to-objective maneuver from attack positions located beyond the horizon all the way to objectives located deep inland, coordinating movement with higher and adjacent units, calling for fires, and making rapid decisions to achieve the commander's intent." Logistics and command and control will remain largely sea based. In addition, Maritime Prepositioning Force ships will integrate with the amphibious task force, "using selective off-load capabilities to reinforce the assault echelon of the [amphibious task force]." The ships of the amphibious task force and the Maritime Prepositioning Force become, in effect, mobile assembly areas and combat service support areas for the landing force. This implies that the two must be fully integrated to achieve unity of effort. It also implies a far greater integration of the landing force—usually a Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF)—and the amphibious task force than is envisioned in today's amphibious doctrine.

This integration can be achieved by combining the MAGTF and amphibious task force into a naval air-ground task force (NAGTF). The NAGTF would consist of the traditional MAGTF components—command element, ground combat element, aviation combat element, and combat service support element—plus an amphibious transport element. The amphibious transport element would consist of the amphibious task force and Maritime Prepositioning Force shipping assigned to the joint task force. This is arrangement is depicted in Figure 1.

Once a lodgment is secured and follow-on air and ground forces—principally Air Force and Army units—begin to flow into the theater, the JFC can either retain an organization based on functional componency or reorganize using one of the other two command relationships. If he chooses to retain functional componency, command of the air and ground components may shift to the Air Force and Army service component commanders as the preponderance of air and ground forces in the theater shifts. The NAGTF then may come under the operational control of the naval (service)/maritime (functional) component commander or the land component commander, depending on whether the joint task force is organized along service or functional component lines and whether the Marine forces reembark on amphibious shipping for follow-on missions or remain ashore to conduct sustained operations.

These command relationships were developed to support a joint task force operation in which an amphibious forcible entry is required to introduce forces into the joint operating area. Their utility, however, is not limited to that situation. Consider a joint task force operating in a region such as the Korean peninsula, where the adversary possesses an exposed littoral flank. The JFC can exploit this vulnerability in one of two ways. He can establish a subordinate joint task force to conduct the operation, or he can assign the mission to the naval/maritime component commander for execution. In the former, the subordinate joint task force would be organized along functional component lines as described above. In the latter, because the naval/maritime component includes sea, land, and air forces, it also could be organized along these lines. This arrangement is depicted in Figure 2.

This NAGTF concept presents a number of challenges for the Marine Corps. The first is to the current view that "Marine Corps operational forces will continue to be organized as MAGTFs, with the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) as the principal warfighting organization." If we intend to maximize the sea basing of our logistics, command and control, and fire support during both forcible entry operations and sustained operations ashore, then our forces should be no larger than the planned amphibious fleet can support. Because our amphibious lift will never be sufficient to support MEF-level operations, we should consider organizing our operating forces into brigade-sized NAGTFs.

Second, sea basing of fixed-wing aviation assets supporting the NAGTF implies that these assets will operate primarily from aircraft carriers and large-deck amphibious ships. Historically, Navy and Marine Corps squadrons have had very different roles; however, ". . . From the Sea" shifted the Navy from a blue-water, fleet-on-fleet orientation to a focus on operations in the littorals. Operating in this environment blurs the distinctions between roles and calls into question the requirement for separate Navy and Marine Corps fixed-wing aviation.

Third, the tempo and depth of landing force operations envisioned by OMFTS and ship-to-objective maneuver will challenge the ability of artillery—in terms of both range and mobility—to provide the needed fire support. Traditionally, we have relied on aviation and naval surface fire support as gap fillers until artillery could be brought ashore. OMFTS, however, may turn artillery into more of a drag on momentum and tempo as the landing force conducts rapid, deep penetrations ashore. Mortars, to include 120-mm mortars, may be a more appropriate means of meeting the CLF's immediate fire support needs.

Despite these challenges, realigning doctrinal command relationships for amphibious operations provides several advantages:

  • Ensures unity of purpose by vesting authority for all phases of an amphibious operation in a single commander
  • Simplifies command relationships; they remain unchanged from planning through movement to the joint operating area and execution of the amphibious operation
  • Maintains tempo by making the amphibious operation a seamless part of the overall campaign

Operational maneuver from the sea, ship-to-objective maneuver, and Maritime Prepositioning Force 2010 and Beyond promise a dramatic increase in the capability of naval forces to project power and influence events in the littoral regions of the world. To bring these concepts to fruition, however, we must reexamine the tried-and-true doctrine that has served us well for more than 50 years. The naval air-ground task force is a first step toward making these concepts a reality.

Colonel Davis , an intelligence officer, is assigned as a student at the Marine Corps University’s School of Advanced Warfighting.



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