Is the Army of the future consigned to be a garrison force, sent in to mop up after the dirty work already is done? Making the Army more expeditionary means getting troops in ships at sea-ready to respond to crises in days instead of weeks.
Wars of the foreseeable future likely will be low-intensity cinflicts short in duration, and located in regions where the United States does not enjoy great influence. Without access, how will the Army get to the fight? Every branch of the service, with the exception of the Army, enjoys some degree of autonomy: the Navy is the most autonomous, followed closely by the Marine Corps, and finally the Air Force. To operate effectively, the Army requires a host-be it Air Force lift, existing infrastructures, host nations, or all three. The absence of host-nation support, an established infrastructure, or strategic lift has the potential to prevent a force planner from bringing Army forces that otherwise could be used against threats to vital U.S. interests.
The days of parking immediately off an adversary's shore and conducting massive amphibious operations in the fashion of Normandy, Iwo Jima, and Inchon are over. The United States no longer possesses the industrial infrastructure necessary to support such operations. Americans, given their aversion to large numbers of casualties, would not accept them, either. The Marines thus are expanding their horizons, looking beyond the shoreline, and focusing on objective-based expeditionary warfare. Until these new capabilities come online, however, how does a force planner surmount the challenges? he must examine the forces that are readily available, select those that provide the most capabilities for the mission or contingency, and marry those talents with other organizations that complement those abilities.
An example would be the marriage of the land power of the Army with the mobility and sustainability of the Navy. A new force structure, the Army expeditionary brigade task force (AEBTF), an Army-Navy cooperative engagement, could eliminate the dependence of the Army on host-nation support and Air Force lift while capitalizing on the Army's unique capabilities. The AEBTF would allow Army units to be deployed from a seaborne environment, where they could use their lighter, rapidly deployable force capabilities. Simultaneously, force planners' employment options would be increased.
Why the imperative to engage a lighter, more mobile Army from a maritime battle space? Access. Without access to areas vital to U.S. national interests, the Army could be relegated to a minor role in future military operations. It currently relies heavily on Air Force (and even commercial) transport aircraft, which in turn requires host-nation basing or at least overflight permission. To move one light infantry division, the Air Force must provide 500-650 sorties of C-5s and C-17s.1 A streamlined, afloat Army unit would consist of approximately 3,000 personnel, roughly the equivalent of a Marine expeditionary unit. For the Air Force to transport those numbers, plus equipment, it would require more than 250 sorties, but without the benefit of mobility and sustained 5 support that Navy ships provide. In addition, the amount of equipment that can be lifted by Navy assets far outweighs that of transport aircraft. When the need arises for the United States to deploy the Army in a forced-entry role, relying on Air Force lift alone will result in only a piecemeal employment of those assets. Deploying selected Army units from Navy ships would reduce the Army's reliance on Air Force lift. "There is general recognition that our U.S. Army is too heavy," argued General Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff, "and will arrive to the fight too late to affect the difference."2
The Army has at its disposal forces tailor-made for expeditionary warfare from the sea: light infantry, special operations forces, long-range helicopters, and light armored vehicles. Creating an AEBTF would be the most cost-effective way to solve the Army's lift requirements and presence objectives. Taxpayers would not have to fund a new force built from the ground up. Conceptually, an AEBTF could be built around current platforms and doctrine. With the minor exception of specific hardware, such as amphibious assault vehicles, light armored vehicles, and different rotary-wing assets, Army and Marine Corps equipment is similar. This redundancy between the services would prevent shipboard compatibility problems.
Today, the number of amphibious ships is insufficient to support concurrent Marine Corps and Army deployments. Typically, amphibious strike groups operate with a three-ship amphibious ready group. There are 35 major amphibious ships in the active fleet: 7 Wasp (LHD-1) class, 5 Tarawa (LHA-I) class, 11 Austin (LPD-4) class, 8 Whidbey Island (LSD-41) class, and 4 Harpers Ferry (LSD-49) class. The full complement of 12 new San Antonio (LPD- 17)-class dock landing ships, a program plagued by cost overruns, will not be in service until 2009 at the earliest.3 As the San Antonio class eventually becomes available, the older LPDs will be retired.
An AEBTF, however, does not have to be built exclusively around amphibious ships. Aircraft carriers have proved their usefulness beyond their original intent of being Navy tactical air strike platforms. Army aviation units operated successfully from carriers off Haiti in 1994 during Operation Uphold Democracy, in the Adriatic Sea during the Kosovo conflict, and more recently in the Indian Ocean against Afghanistan. The Army demonstrated its shipboard compatibility and prowess during those operations.
Capitalizing on that experience is essential to establishing the AEBTF. A hypothetical ship mix for an AEBTF could be an LPD and LSD, a cruiser or destroyer for air defense and strike and surface fire support, and an aircraft carrier, leaving an LHD or LHA available for further tasking. The amphibious ships and carrier would provide ample berths to house light infantry, Ranger, and special operations troops, deck space for Army helicopters, and plentiful storage capacity.
The primary advantages an AEBTF would possess over traditional methods of Army mobilization are presence and the flexibility to respond rapidly to emergent crises. Teamed with the Navy, an AEBTF would greatly reduce the time the Army needs to get its forces on the ground. To mobilize and deploy one brigade currently takes 96 hours, but Air Force lift must be available to accomplish even this. Conversely, an AEBTF, already in theater, could be transported hundreds of miles from one trouble spot to another within 24 hours and be able to strike hundreds of miles beyond that point.
An AEBTF would provide clear advantages in terms of mobility and autonomy. The fundamental question, however, is what an AEBTF brings to the table that a Marine air-ground task force does not provide already. Consider the following:
* Army CH-47 Chinook and MH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are equipped for in-flight refueling. The Marine Corps has only one model capable of the same, the CH-53 Super Stallion. The Army's long-range rotary-wing capability is operationally and tactically significant. It places objectives within the range of more AEBTF assets that otherwise would remain beyond the reach of the limited number of Super Stallions and other shorter-range Marine Corps helicopters.
* The V-22, designed to replace the aging CH-46 fleet, will provide the Marines with a long-range medium-lift capability. The program, however, has been plagued with mechanical problems and is currently under review. Depending on the range of an objective from a ship, the V-22 will outfly its Cobra gunship escorts. When that occurs, the V-22 will require fixed-wing escorts.
* The Marine Corps' new advanced amphibious assault vehicle will have long range and high speed. Full-rate production and initial operational capability, however, will not begin until fiscal year 2006, and the systems will not become fully operational until fiscal year 2016.4 Advanced amphibious assault vehicles might be faster and possess greater range than their predecessors, but they still are extremely vulnerable vehicles.
* Combat-proved Army tactical missile systems and multiple rocket launcher systems could be transportable on high-speed air cushion landing craft for further transfer inland. A similar Marine Corps artillery rocket/missile system is under development, but it will not be operational until fiscal year 2008.5
* The Army has more depth in light infantry and special operations forces than the Marine Corps. The Army also is better suited for the quick-strike and forced-entry roles required in the war on terror and low-intensity conflicts.
Joint doctrine clearly states the Army has a role in operations originating from the sea.6 Army aviation assets routinely obtain their flight-deck qualifications from amphibious ships. Expanding on those qualifications by training in all facets of waterborne ship-to-shore movement will bring the Army in compliance with current joint publications. At the very least, the Army should acquire the requisite shipboard qualifications and certifications for when the need arise for its services.
Joint Publication 3-02 states that the "landing force" could be either Marine or Army.7 This does not mean that roles should switch from one service to another, but the Army should employ its units in a fashion that complements the Marines and becomes a force multiplier. This would make available the capabilities, equipment, and expertise of an entire branch of the armed services in a manner that it has not been used since the Korean War. Title 10 of the U.S. Code states that the Army shall be organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained operations on land.8 In addition, it requires the Marine Corps to develop, in coordination with the Army and Air Force, those phases of amphibious operations that pertain to the tactics, technique, and equipment used by landing forces.9 Title 10 carries the force of law and should be reviewed and updated as appropriate to reinforce the guidance provided by joint doctrine.
The armed forces must be able to intervene militarily and fight in areas where the United States and its allies have no presence but have either declared strategic interests that are threatened or a real political stake in the outcome.10 To do so, the military must become objective-based and task-organized. We must train for joint missions with the same fervor as we do for our core competencies. This is where the blending of the lines is essential. The biggest hindrance to the AEBTF concept is not equipment, technology, or support, but mind-sets. Each service, especially the Army, must help its members shift from a static, immobile force structure to one that possesses mobility.
Viewing current requirements for a capable expeditionary force through the myopic vintage glasses of amphibious warfare is foolhardy. Our ability to operate with complete autonomy, coupled with advancements in network-centric warfare and the capability to strike from over the horizon and conduct forced-entry operations with impunity, is unmatched and should be exploited to the fullest extent, with all available assets—Army or Marine Corps.
1 U.S. Army Service Capability and Employment Considerations PowerPoint presentation, Naval War College, 4, slide 11.
2 U.S. Army Service Capability and Employment Considerations, 16, slide 41.
3 Jane's Fighting Ships, 2001-2002 (London: Jane's Information Group, 2000), pp. 819-25.
4"Concepts and Issues 2001," Forging the Future Marine Corps (Washington, DC: U.S. Marine Corps, 2000), p. 129.
5 "Concepts and Issues 2001," p. 143.
6 Joint Publication 3-02, Join! Publication for Amphibious Operations, October 1992, II-13 and II-14.
7 Joint Publication 3-02, 11-13.
8 Title 10, U.S. Code, c. 307, s. 3062, "The Army: Policy; Composition; Organized Peace Establishment."
9 Title 10, U.S. Code, c. 507, s. 5063, "Composition of the Department of the Navy."
10 Defense Horizons, Center for Technology and National security Policy, p. 1.
Lieutenant Commander Sanford recently graduated from the Naval War College. He is the executive officer on board the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49).