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Forces that have a thin shell of apparent capability, but lack flexibility, fighting power, and staying power are “hollow” in the worst sense of the word. Then why are we stripping amphibious task forces of their tactical mobility and saddling them with vulnerable non-amphibs in areas of potential crisis?
By shifting their doctrinal focus from the Eurasian heartland to the world’s littoral regions—and setting out a rational strategy that moves emphasis from blue-water to brown-water operations in their White Paper . . From the Sea”—the Navy and the Marine Corps capture the spirit of a time in which U.S. national strategy is coping with the global political shift from a bipolar to a multipolar world.
Moreover, “ . . . From the Sea” provides the framework for connecting the high seas to the littoral, the initial power-projection force to its reinforcements, and brown- water operations and sea control. The concept that emerges in the White Paper offers ample opportunity for flexibility and innovation while maximizing firepower and force- projection potential from a relatively austere platform mix.'
There is, however, a major complication in implementing its tenets: the overall reduction in the U.S. defense establishment. Not only does this force the Navy and Marine Corps to realign their ambitions and means, but it magnifies the impact of making wrong decisions regarding force structure. The danger is that these defense cuts may subordinate requirements planning (threat-oriented) to capabilities planning (assets-oriented). Nowhere are the pains and potential pitfalls of change more apparent than in that graduate laboratory of naval force planning: the Persian Gulf.
The ATU: The Proper Response?
After the Persian Gulf War, the commander of Central Command, General Joseph P. Hoar, U.S. Marine Corps, requested that a substantial U.S. naval presence be maintained in the Persian Gulf. The Navy and Marines responded by proposing a two-ship naval expeditionary force designated Amphibious Task Unit (ATU)/Special-Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF), Central Command (CENT), Special-Operations Capable (SOC)/Maritime Prepositioning Ship—hereafter referred to as the ATU. Eventually, three amphibious ships—the USS Tripod (LPH-10), the USS Juneau (LPD-10), and the USS Rusk more (FSD-47)—were deployed to the region in July 199- and returned to the United States in April 1993.
The deployment of this unit—officially designated the 15th MEU (SOC)—resurrected an old debate over the util' ity ot maritime prepositioning forces the integrity MAGTF doctrine, and their relationships to the amphibi' ous mission in a rapidly changing operational milieu. I® a larger sense, the debate illustrates the formidable corn' plexity of “balancing imperatives—both those derived through rational calculation and those imposed by orga' nizational necessity—to produce meaningful designs f°r war.’” It reveals the effects that a failure to balance i®' peratives at the national and service levels has on force planning, and the impact of flawed force planning °n operations and tactics. Because the force option chosen is paradigmatic—portending two-ship and then one-ship ^ bUs—it is also polemical, and may determine whether the Navy-Marine Corps team maintains a forcible-entry capability or a reinforcement capability (or both) in the future.
Naval force planning properly begins by balancing ca' pabilities, threats, missions, and strategies. The three components of the U.S. national military strategy in the Pet' sian Gulf are: deterrence, forward presence, and crisis response. At first blush, when examined in relation to capabilities, threats, and probable mission, the choice ot the ATU over the traditional MEU may appear correct in the short term; however, closer examination—based °n hard-earned operational experience—makes it plain that it is all wrong over the long term.
Force Capabilities and Limitations
The MEU (SOC) is the workhorse of Marine Ah' Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs), and the backbone of the innovative Navy-Marine Corps building-block approach to deployment and employment. “The MEU is forward deployed as the immediately responsive, on-scene, sea- based Marine component of the fleet commander’s aiU' phibious and power projection forces.”3 Because of *ts self-sustainment, adaptability, and combat power—0^' tained through combined arms and an organic air element a MEU (SOC) provides any regional commander with razor-sharp expeditionary forces that are ready tcj fight. Inarguably, in the context of a general war, the MEE is a trip-wire; nevertheless, it can undertake forcible entry and a variety of lesser missions simultaneously.
Elements of the 15th MEU (SOC) were forward-deployed aboard amphibious ships, but much of its equipment and supplies were in a maritime prepositioned ship’ the USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus (T-AK-3011). Also, other elements ot the MEU—the fly-in echelon (FIE), made up primarily of combat-service-support Marines—remained
1 i 1 (
°n alert in the continental United States, ready to link up w'th the MAGTF and MPS. Therefore, the MEU could have been formed and ready only after this linkup. Furthermore, the force afloat lacked some of the equipment Necessary for forcible entry—e.g., the ATU had no land- lng craft; a MEU carries four—and thus depended on helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles to move troops 0ver the beach. This reduced the overall capabilities of lhe force and increased the requirement for strategic air- hft (See Tables 1 and 2).
°kcy and Strategy
In any region in the world, local perceptions are ex- lreme]y important and must be taken into account during naval force planning. In the Persian Gulf, they dictate a n°n-provocative U.S. presence that still signals both uni- 'ateral and international commitment to regional stability. °nly the proportionality of the U.S. response—not the response itself—should be left in doubt.
The choice of the ATU is inconsistent with this requirement. The best way to achieve U.S. objectives in the Persian Gulf is to remain over the horizon with a credible force that is fully capable of projecting power through forcible entry—i.e., the MEU (SOC). Force planning in the region is about choices to carry out the means of U.S. policy—deterrence, forward presence, and crisis response.
Deterrence: “Deterrence . . . does not exist in abstract isolation; it arises from a hypothesis, however conditional or remote, of actual use.”4 The capability of the force must equal its intended use or it will not deter. Bom of credible forward presence in peacetime, and a timely response in crisis and war, conventional deterrence also relies upon the ability of U.S. forces to enter forcibly and to defeat an adversary’s attacks if deterrence fails. If the force is split, the capability of using violence is diminished and with it a commensurate reduction of the deterrence provided by the force. By these standards, the ATU provides relatively less deterrence than a traditional MEU because it is not truly ready for operations until its earmarked MPS and its FIE arrive.
Table 1: The Continuum of Capabilities and Missions
Assigned MEU(SOC) Missions
A TU/SPMA GTF(SOC) Capabilities
Ship reinforcement/recovery/ interdiction
Gas/Oil Platform Seizure/Di sable
Tactical Recovery of A/C and Personnel (TRAP)
In-extremis Hostage Rescue
Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO)
Capable - situation dependent
Show of Force Operations
Significantly less capable
Significantly less capable
Civil Affairs Operations
Mobile Training Team
Sustained operations ashore
Not initially - situation dependent
Limited; sequential initially
Less capable; logistically shallow
Table 2: “Things” and “Numbers of Things”
Comparing elements of two amphibious forces
Ground Combat j Element
Battalion Landing Team
Battalion Landing Team (-)
Aviation Combat Element
Composite Helicopter Squadron-24 Helicopters, possibly 4-6 Harriers
Composite Helicopter Squadron-24 Helicopters, possibly 4-6 Harriers
Combat Service Support Element
MEU Service Support Group
MEU Service Support Group (-) Significant decrease in logistic depth and capabilities
Command Element (-)
Number of ships in ARG
3-5 amphibious ships, depending on mix
2-3 amphibious ships, I MPS ship
and immunity from political constraints typically enjoy6® by naval forces.
Furthermore, in a place as politically volatile as the Middle East, the risk of banking on access—as the A1® must—is manageable only as long as the United States maintains credible forcible-entry and power-projection pabilities. With the reduction of U.S. overseas bases, ®6' gional orientation, and less-developed infrastructure8' the need for credible on-the-spot power-projection cap3' bilities becomes even more critical.
Forward Presence and Power Projection: Besides deterring aggression, forward presence is meant to preserve regional power balances and prevent power vacuums. It also serves to cement alliances and signal that our commitments will be backed by action.5
There is a fine line between deterrence and provocation, however, and a visible U.S. presence on the ground in the Middle East could cross that line, and inhibit future U.S. regional access and lessen U.S. influence. It makes little sense, therefore, to send forces to the region that require some sort of ground presence to become viable. It nullifies the benefits of logistic self-sufficiency
Crisis response demands that the United States m®8* maintain a force that can respond quickly—and is p®6' pared to fight on arrival.6 Readiness is relative. A forward' deployed afloat force that is complete is more ready t0 fight than one that is incomplete—and, therefore, less ef' fective—until follow-on equipment and personnel arrive by air and sea.
The key to avoiding routine maldeployment—or male1®' ployment during a crisis—is to ensure that the capabif' ties of the force are equal to or greater than the require' ments of the missions projected for it. When the mission8 we plan demand a force more capable than the one actU' ally existing at the time and place it is required, then the military and political risks can only increase. Simultane' ous crises or lack of access could render the force imp0' tent, exposing its lack of operational depth.
The foremost advantage of employing naval forces i® regional conflict during crisis is time; the second is force’ It does not make sense to sacrifice time and split the force through a deployment option that minimizes employme®1 capabilities.7 In this regard, the ATU’s maritime preposi' tioning ship provides only a complementary capability he' cause its real value is the ability to introduce the ATlJ 8 follow-on equipment into the theater of operations aftel forcible entry (if it is required) (see Table 3).
There are three other aspects of regional strategy th®1 fall under the rubric of crisis response, worthy of reviev' vis a vis the ATU: escalation, maritime superiority, a®® strategic agility.
Escalation: The only degree of escalation control i®' herent to an ATU would come after we initiated the es' calation. The escalation threshold in the Persian Gu® promises to remain low and, thus, argues powerfully against a force that requires substantial and obvio®8 reinforcement to attain complete combat readiness. Ineluctably, escalation is part of the deployment °1 forces needed to round out an ATU. Take the MPS, f°f instance. Because of its relative vulnerability to attack, ^ would not be wise to bring the MPS into the regi°n until it is absolutely necessary. Therefore, just by ente®' ing the theater, the MPS clearly signals an impending U.S. escalation.
Maritime superiority: During peacetime, maritime s®' periority reinforces deterrence and responses to crises; 1® war, it is pivotal to operations and war termination.8 Fra®' cis Bacon observed: “He that commands the sea is at g®eat liberty, and may take as much or as little of the war aS
Table 3: First Principles
Amphibious and maritime prepositioned forces compared
Characteristics of amphibious forces
Characteristics of maritime prepositioned forces
Possess forcible entry capability
Do not possess forcible entry capability
Self-sustaining combat capability
Require addition of Fly-in Echelon to attain wholeness
J^uire no shore-based logistic support
Must have a secure port/airfield
htnvard based, mobile, and prompt
Not forward based, restricted mobility, require “window of time” to introduce
J^ssess inherent self-defense capability
Not capable of self defense
Assigned for immediate use as a bridge for other forces
Reinforce existing forces; bridge to follow-on forces
From the Gulf
"e Will.” The ATU would compel a commander to take either more of the war than he needs—because he will be ">rced to use ports and airfields in order to unify and concentrate his force—or less of the war than he wants bemuse he would be unable to enter forcibly the ports and airfields he requires.
Strategic Agility. Many of the risks associated with 'he ATU are attributable to the delay between the intro- ""ction of the force forward deployed afloat and the ar- "val of the MPS and the FIE. Clausewitz warned against p°stponing action to the point where further waiting ^pings disadvantage. If the force on hand is not equal
the action contemplated and must wait for reinforcement past the best time for action, the benefits of strategic agility are lost. Furthermore, the force in place— 'vhich has sacrificed unit integrity, speed, concentration, s,1rprise, unity of command, and combat power could reach its operational limits upon landing. In the face of ar> aggressive and knowledgeable foe, such a situation c°uld be disastrous.
Instead of allowing us to focus on an enemy’s critical Vulnerabilities, the ATU compels us to worry about our , °Wn. It embraces the defense rather than the offense, and, bV allowing the enemy the initiative, entices him to attack before the complete MEU is formed—and gives him the "me to do it. But what else can we expect from a strategic deployment concept that assumes access, a benign environment, and allied support?
Strategic agility allows for surprise when responding to crises, but the calculated ambiguity of intent is lost with the ATU because it requires reinforcement to become operationally whole. The uncertainty of the nature of the force—normally an advantage of amphibious forces—actually becomes a certainty, thus a disadvantage. With the MEU, U.S. will was expressed by its very presence; with the ATU, the will of the United States will be gauged largely by the introduction of the FIE— despite the fact that its introduction may in itself be an inflated indication of U.S. will. By seizing the military initiative, we may forfeit the political initiative—and, possibly, put the force at risk.
A U.S. naval force in the Persian Gulf must be capable of achieving air, space, sea, subsurface, and land superiority in the littoral battlespace control area (LBCA).9 Its amphibious forces must have “enough muscle to shape the battlefield and influence the action until a heavier force ar-
rives. The force must be able to conduct surveillance, reconnaissance, and special operations that enhance its en abling role, improve its potential for surprise, locate an enemy’s weaknesses, and conduct forcible entry if required. It must be self-sustaining (at least initially) and capable of acting as a Joint Task Force headquarters and Joint Forces Air Component Commander.
The United States presently has a carrier battle group, a conventional MEU (SOC), and other ships and aircraft in the Persian Gulf, conducting a variety of missions. These assets should be combined into a maritime action group (MAG). A MAG would put the right “things” in the right place, at the right time—with the capabilities required to accomplish almost any given mission. Forming a MAG would preserve the integrity of the MAGTF and the synergistic effects of its balanced air-ground force.
Along with creating the needed organizations, the Navy and the Marine Corps must build the platforms that contribute to the capabilities needed in the Persian Gulf and other important regions—e.g., air-cushion landing craft, amphibious assault vehicles, light armored vehicles, helicopters, and V/STOL aircraft. Mine countermeasures and shallow-water antisubmarine warfare operations should receive greater attention as should systems that allow for greater distributive firepower—e.g., unmanned air vehicles, Tomahawk land-attack missiles, and Aegis ships. The decisions made today on these and other programs will shape the face of tomorrow’s Navy and Marine Corps through the first half of the next century.
Complete naval expeditionary forces deter by presence and the potential for forcible entry, and enable by forcible entry itself. Amphibious forces can cover the span of time between forcible entry and the arrival of reinforcements; maritime prepositioned ships buttress the amphibious forces.
By limiting expeditionary flexibility, the ATU fails to create advantageous conditions and deprives commanders of their freedom of action.11 It forces the Navy and Marine Corps to change their aims to fit the force rather than tailoring the force to accomplish the aims. We have subjected ourselves unnecessarily to subordinating the even1 oriented phasing of operations to the time-oriented phas ing of resources.
Decisive force requires speed and power—especially i| a region with few opportunities for second chances. \W then, even in the short term, introduce a force combine tion that divides the force, decreases its capabilities, a® replaces its real readiness with the mere appearance readiness?
Seneca warned that “If a man does not know to wW port he is steering, no wind is favorable.” If the Navy an1 Marine Corps choose to deviate from their newly charts doctrinal course only because fiscal winds favor doing the gaps between the ideas and doctrine that represent tl* spirit of the age and the actions and forces that are h quired to implement them will continue to widen.
'The Honorable H. Lawrence Garrett III, et.al. “Department of the Navy 1992 P01 ture Statement." Marine Corps Gazette, April 1992, p. 27.
Roger Dingman, “Strategic Planning and the Policy Process:
American Plans for War in East Asia, 1945-1950.” Naval War College Revil» November-December 1979.
'Marine Air-Ground Task Force: A Global Capability EMFRP 2-12, U S Mari'1' Corps, April 1991, p. 31.
'Michael Quinlan, “Nuclear Weapons and the Abolition of War,” Journal of I*) ternational Affairs, April 1991, p. 299.
5National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington, D.C.- The Wh1'1 House, August 1991), p. 27.
“National Military Strategy of the United States, April 1992, p. 7 'Lieutenant Commander Edward M. Boorda, U.S. Navy, “Naval Forces Empl°> ment During Peacekeeping Operations,” Paper submitted to the Naval War Co1 lege, 13 February 1992.
"National Military Strategy, p. 9.
"Gary Anderson, “Beyond Mahan: Naval Forces in the Post Cold War World' Manuscript, Newport Papers 1992, p. 5.
General Carl E. Mundy Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, “Naval Expeditionary Forces 811 j Power Projection: Into the 21st Century.” Marine Corps Gazette January 19®'' p. 17.
"Sun Tzu, The Art of War (Trans, by Samuel B. Griffith) (New York: Oxford lH versity Press, 1971), p. 93.
An infantry officer, Major DeCamp is presently assigned to the Ovef' seas Exercise Branch of the U.S. Central Command’s Operations P’ rectorate. Major McKenzie is an infantry officer and an armor office< and is presently attending the School of Advanced Warfighting at Marine Corps University, Quantico, Virginia. Major McKenzie also ” the 1990 winner of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Vincent Astor Memori^ Leadership Essay Contest and the 1989 winner of the Marine Corps A5' sociation’s Chase Prize.
Mother, Please . . .
Recreation was scarce in 1969 at the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion’s Camp Reasoner in Da Nang. We had a makeshift officer-and-staff-NCO club with a bar and two pool tables. One night around sundown word was passed that some 8mm stag movies were on tap for a rare evening of revelry. I arrived at the club just as the battalion sergent major was leaving. He looked even sterner than usual.
“Good evening, Second Lieutenant Hoke,” he saluted. “If you go in there and watch those movies, I’ll write your mother and tell her.”
I went back to my hooch and turned in early.