Amphibious Assault Or Amphibious Raid: You Decide!
SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting
Title: Amphibious Assault or Amphibious Raid: You Decide!
Author: Major Willie C. Jones, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: Given the realities of America's deficit and its impact
on the military community, an amphibious raid rather than an
amphibious assault will likely be a Unified Commander in Chief's
Background: The U.S. Marine Corps has not conducted an amphibious
assault since the Korean War. The forward presence of the Marine
Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable (MEU (SOC)), as
part of an Amphibious Ready Group, has allowed the Navy-Marine
team to respond to numerous crises throughout the world in past
years. During the Gulf War, the Marine Corps most unique
capability, an amphibious assault, was not employed due to beach
obstacles, mines, and heavy enemy opposition. However, amphibious
raids were conducted on Um Al Maradim and Durrah Islands to lend
credit to the Gulf War deception plan. No service in the world
can match the Marine Air Ground Task Force combined arms
capability. America's deficit is severely handicapping the
Navy-Marine team's amphibious lift capability. The development of
"Littoral Warfare" or "Maneuevr From the Sea" validates the
Marine Corps vision of maneuver warfare as defined in FMFM-1,
Recommendation: The Marine Corps must retain its amphibious
assault doctrine but realize that an amphibious raid is most
probable in today's world because of budgetary constraints, force
lift shortfalls, and insufficient mine countermeasures. The
forward deployed MEU (SOC) is the nation's most available tool to
deter aggression in remote corners of the globe.
Thesis: Given the realities of America's deficit and its impact
on the military community, an amphibious raid rather an
amphibious assault will likely be a Unified Commander-in-Chief's
I. History of Amphibious Assault and Amphibious Raid
II. Amphibious Assault
B. Amphibious Lift
C. Small Craft
III. "From the Sea"
B. Expeditionary Force
C. Recent Operations
D. Joint Warfare
IV. Amphibious Raid
B. Marine Corps Raid Unit
C. Secretary of Defense Directive
D. Testing Unit
V. Marine Corps Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable
A. Missions Assigned
VI. Issues Concerning the Marine Corps
B. Reassess Amphibious Doctrine
C. Amphibious Assault Shortfalls
AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT OR AMPHIBIOUS RAID: YOU DECIDE!
By Major Willie C. Jones, U.S. Marine Corps
History is replete with naval expeditionary missions to wrest the
will to fight from opposing forces. One of the oldest recorded
is the Battle of Marathon, where Persian forces conducted an
amphibious raid to draw forces from the city of Athens in 490
B.C. The most studied amphibious operation, Gallipoli, was the
British debacle in the Dardenelles on 25 April 1915. The origin
of the Marine Corps interest in amphibious warfare was taken
directly from the lessons learned at Gallipoli. Major Earl H.
Ellis dedicated his life learning about amphibious operations.
He studied Pacific Islands occupied by Japanese forces in the
late 1920s and concluded that:
To effect such a landing under the sea and shore
conditions obtaining and in the face of enemy
resistance requires careful training, preparation
to say the least; and this along Marine Corps line.
It is not enough that the troops be skilled infantry-
men and jungle men but military men of high morale;
they must be skilled water men and jungle men who
know it can be done.(5:23)
Thus, the birth of amphibious warfare began in the Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps is the only modern day force in the world
capable of conducting an amphibious assault. However, America's
deficit is affecting the resources (personnel and material)
needed to sustain this type of operation.
Current economic indicators predict a down-spiraling economy.
America's trade imbalance with foreign nations, the deficit,
military personnel, drawdowns and defense cutbacks point to a
smaller military. Given these realities, coupled with amphibious
lift reductions, the Marne Corps should reassess its forcible
entry capability, an amphibious assault. An amphibious raid is a
reasonable option to support future operations.
Naval Warfare Publication 3 (NWP) characterizes an amphibious
assault as an attack launched from the sea by naval and landing
forces embarked in ships or craft involving a landing and
establishing of force on a hostile shore. Amphibious assaults
have been noticeably absent from conflicts since the end of WW II
and the Korean War. One primary reason for this is the lack of
naval vessels committed to support this type of operation.
Colonel James B. Soper shared this observation:
The Navy may well deny that it is their
intention to further degrade an already
inadequate amphibious assault force. However,
the gross disproportionate manner in which
reductions have been applied to amphibious
ships in the recent past appear foreboding.
In short force level, and alternate supporting
elements, is to state it charitably, grim.(7:23)
Several guest lecturers at the Marine Corps Command and Staff
College, during academic year 1992-1993, have remarked that the
naval service is improving its amphibious lift capability.
Colonel Soper's quote is evidence that this problem has been
ongoing in excess of two decades. Further, the recent Gulf War
demonstrated the Navy-Marine team's inability to force beaches
near Kuwait City. The problems of clearing beach mines and
obstacles against a formidable adversary are well documented.
Yet little has been done to correct the Navy's minesweeping
deficiencies. These obvious shortfalls would suggest that "today
amphibious doctrine is influenced by a realistic perception
of the inherent dangers of a frontal assault on a heavily
defended beach." (4:54) Assaulting opposed beaches in WW II
resulted in the untimely death of many Americans. The
vulnerability of the American public to accept untold loses in
the air, sea, and land is untested.
War is a dangerous business and lives will be lost in combat.
The American people, via their Congressional representatives,
will ultimately decide whether to commit forces to combat. The
Unified CINC, in consultation with the National Command Authority
(NCA), will approve the form of maneuver for the landing force.
Britain did not elect to conduct a direct assault on Port Stanley
in the 1982 Falkland War for fear of disastrous results in the
face of heavy Argentinean resistance. A similar situation faced
American forces off the coast of Kuwait.
The focus is "now on the littoral warfare to seize and defend
an adversary's port, naval base or coastal air bases to allow
entry of heavy Army and Air Force." (3:16) This realization is
not a departure from the Marine Corps long-standing tradition of
seizing and defending advanced naval bases. Furthermore, the
Marine Corps focus has always been on the littorals. This new
direction permits the amphibious task force to mass lethal fires
against an aggressor, since a threat to maritime transit has
Numerous reasons led to deferring surface and helicopterborne
assaults on Kuwait beaches. They were: strength of Iraqi forces,
lack of maneuver space, insufficient mine countermeasures, to
minimize collateral damage to Kuwait City, and maintaining a
reserve force. All of the above are sound reasons to defer an
amphibious assault. However, a defended beach, the presence of
obstacles and shallow water mines, were foremost in arriving at
the decision to take the direct approach into Kuwait.
"Maneuver from the Sea," the tactical equivalent of maneuver
warfare on land, " provides a potent warfare tool to the Joint
Task Force Commander, a tool that is literally the key to
success in many likely contingency scenarios."(3:19) This echoes
Sun Tzu's thoughts of hitting the enemy where he is weakest.
The implication is that the naval expeditionary force will strike
the enemy in the rear or on an assailable flank with swift,
violent actions. While operations involving an amphibious
assault against credible enemy opposition can not be ruled out in
the future, the likelihood of it occurring in the current
atmosphere is remote.
General Al Gray, former Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps,
remarked "that while we are fully prepared for the most
challenging conflict, your Marine Corps also stands ready for the
most likely conflict in the Third World." Recent events in the
underdeveloped countries amply illustrate the need for Marine
Corps expedition missions.
The expeditionary nature of the Marine Corps makes it well
suited for combat against forces of similar composition. With
the onset of joint warfare, the Corps can also compliment sister
services in defeating a robust force in any climate. The naval
expeditionary force in Southwest Asia not only tied 8,000 Iraqi
forces to the coast, but also supported the Joint Force Air
Component Commander(JFACC), conducted maritime interdiction,
aviation support, noncombatant evacuation (NEO), and ground
The preponderance of Marine Corps activities in the recent
past will likely be response to conflicts similar to the ones
below. The table below is not all inclusive but accurately
represents why the Marine Corps is a force-in-readiness.
Operation Code Name Location
Desert Shield/Storm Southwest Asia
Eastern Exit Somalia
Sharp Edge Liberia
Provide Comfort Northern Iraq
Sea Angel Bangladesh
Restore Hope Somalia
The annals of American history sufficiently document the
importance of amphibious assaults and other operations since the
founding of the Corps. However, the American public is now
looking inward and is bent on isolationism. The military
services' focus, as mandated by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of
1986, is on jointness to accomplish whatever strategic
objective(s) the NCA directs. Congress is actively seeking to
streamline and consolidate duplicate roles and missions within
the Armed Forces. The amphibious raid is evolving as the Marine
Corps most unique tool.
While an amphibious raid involves inherent risk, it does not
include the immediate risk of an amphibious assault. Amphibious
raids demonstrated their value during the island hopping
campaigns of World War II. Fleet Marine Force Manual (FMFM) 8-1
characterizes an amphibious raid as a landing on a hostile shore.
It involves a swift incursion into, or temporary occupancy of an
objective and a planned withdrawal. The Pacific raids were
pivotal in forcing a Japanese surrender. Vice Admiral Chormley,
Commander, South Pacific Force, vehemently recognized the
importance of having raid forces assigned to his command:
"The Marine Regiments will not be an entirely suitable
combat unit for operations in the South Pacific unless it has, as
an integral part of its organization, either a Raider or
Parachute Battalion."(8:15) The birth of these units
complemented amphibious assaults at Guadalcanal, Tugali, Makin,
and Guvatu, to name a few. They spearheaded operations on
inaccessible beaches and conducted raids that entailed elements
of surprise and high speed.
The formation of raider units during WW II amply demonstrate
the adaptive nature of the Marine Corps to confront future
challenges. Unfortunately, raider units were disbanded prior to
the assault on Iwo Jima, and "the demise of these forces closed
a colorful chapter in the history of the Marine Corps, but the
professionalism of their personnel was diffused throughout the
Corps and contributed greatly to the competence and esprit of the
First to Fight."(8:78)
During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the "Free World"
faced increasing threats from Third World countries. these
involved hijackings, abductions, and car and airplane bombings.
In response to the security interests and risks to the United
States and its allies, the Secretary of Defense issued a
directive in 1983 advising all services to increase their
emphasis on special operations. As previously stated, the Marine
Corps discontinued its special operation units during WW II.
However, The Corps did possess the capability to conduct limited
special operations: raids (helicopterborne), noncombatant
evacuations, and recovery operations, etc.
Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, was tasked with testing,
evaluating, and formulating the concept to meet the strategic
concerns of the NCA. The focus of this effort was to develop a
time-phased plan for achieving the level of special operations
capable of combatting both current and future low intensity
conflicts and terrorist threats. The plan was to retain the
amphibious nature of the Corps and complement existing missions
assigned to other services. As a result of this initiatives, the
MEU (SOC) concept became a permanent structure in the Corps.
A MEU (SOC) is certified to perform eighteen special missions
prior to a six-month deployment cycle. Although the combat power
of this force is light, it contains air assets as a formidable
combat multiplier. However, an amphibious assault is not
included as one of these missions. Colonel Batcheller views on
an amphibious raid are:
... at the same time that brute force amphibious
operations being relegated to the world of histo-
rians, the Marine Corps finding in the tenets of
maneuver and technology-dependent over-the-horizon
(0TH) operations a new relevance for amphibious
operations borrowing more form the raid than the
assault. For the past few years, we have been captivated
by the raid, even flirt with the "C" word-commando."
The captivation by an amphibious raid will likely continue
unless the threat dictates a new course or direction. The nation
has not outfitted the naval service with the required tools to
conduct forcible entry, namely amphibious ships, minesweepers,
and rotary wing aircraft (V-22 Osprey) and long range, larger
caliber naval guns. Since American policy today is reducing the
deficit and cutting the military (personnel, equipment and
bases), the possibility of receiving enough hardware and funding
to conduct an amphibious assault in the near-term is doubtful.
The Marine Corps is at the "Crossroads." Yogi Berra said it
best, "When you come to the fork in the road, be sure to take
one." When General Colin Powell, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff,
testified before Congress concerning future Armed Forces cutbacks
during the height of the Gulf War, one could grasp the immense
gravity of deciding which fork to take. Current political
fallouts in the Commonwealth of Independent States and Bosnia,
and the nuclear buildup in North Korea and South Africa do not
equate to a "World at Peace." The implications of these events,
coupled with uncertainties in the New World, demand a force with
global reach. Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense,
acknowledged that the military must change lanes at the end of
the Cold War era:
The fact is that defense is the minority
partner in the budget--less than one of
five federal dollars and, under the Presi-
dent's budget continuing to go down. We
are reducing force structure as well to get
us down to a smaller, more mobile, and flexi-
As such, the Marine Corps can ill-afford to totally abandon its
claim-to-fame, an amphibious assault. The Corps is cognizant of
the fact that with dwindling defense resources its
capabilities also diminish. The Marine Corps must continue to
stress its unique capabilities, not with parochialism but with an
adaptive voice to augment other services to meet the needs of the
nation. The nation will then rest assured that the Navy-Marine
team will be at the forefront of most conflicts. An amphibious
assault launched at the right time and place can paralyze an
opposing force. Recent precedent indicates that an assault from
the sea on an opposed beach is not likely to occur. The Marine
Corps future is inextricably tied to the sea as part of a Naval
Expeditionary Force. For how long and at what strength will the
subject be debated:
The Navy Amphibious Fleet will shrink to 52
ships a ten ship reduction from 1988 force
level.... By the year 2007 almost 80% of the
1992 amphibious force will have been decommis-
sioned. But the Navy expects no significant
shortage of amphibious lift during this period
While this is an overstatement of the problem, amphibious
concerns have remained unresolved for years. The naval services
have appointed a three-star steering committee to address
amphibious assault shortfalls. Antiquated ships will continue to
be removed from the active force the remainder of this century.
The LST, LPH and LPD classes are to be decommissioned.
Replacement ships have been identified, LX and LHD, to lift 2.5
MEBs or 12 MEUs. This should be accomplished by year 2007. The
dilemma is readily apparent since we cannot predict the place,
time, and opponent in the next conflict.
Now that we have come to the crossroads, it is up to the
Marine Corps to decide which fork in the road to follow: (1)the
road to conducting amphibious assaults, or (2) the road toward
supporting amphibious raids. To sit on the fence could prove
catastrophic. The Marine Corps indispensable leadership as
ambassadors in the free world and for the American public cannot
be overstated. President George Washington understood the
vastness of a maritime force and revealed that "under all
circumstances, a decisive naval superiority is to be considered a
fundamental principle, and the basis upon which all hope of
success must ultimately depend."
In short, the Marine Corps is one of America's foremost
institutions and will continue to perform such duties as the
President directs. In light of uncertainties facing the New
World, a raid could be employed as the cornerstone for the
continued preservation of liberty in support of joint operations.
Amphibious lift to move a credible force to threatened regions of
the world is in a state of disarray. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps
must continue to stress to Congress the potent strength of a
forward deployed force. Inaction has degraded the ability of
the naval service to provide its full range of capabilities.
Third World countries are acutely aware of our shortcomings to
storm a heavily defended beach. "Maneuver from the Sea" should
be retitled "Maneuver to the Shore." The problems associated
with conducing an amphibious assault are well known. It is now
time to decide which amphibious operation to pursue, an
amphibious assault, amphibious raid or both.
1. Batcheller, Col. Gordon D. USMCR. If Not Tarawa, What? Marine
Corps Gazette November 1992.
2. Cheney, Dick. Secretary of Defense of the United States. We
Need in the Future: America Leadership and Security Requirements.
Vital Speeches of the Day. Vol. LIX, No.1 October 1992.
3. "From the Sea," Marine ALMANAC, Special Issues, Vol. 21, No. 12
4. Hoffman, F.C. Major, USMCR. The Amphibious Dilemma. Marine
Corps Gazette February 1993.
5. Isely, Jetter A. and Philip A. Crowle. The U.S. Marine Corps
and Amphibious War: Its Theory, and Its Practices in the Pacific.
Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press 1951.
6. Truver, Scott C. Tomorrow's Fleet, U. S. Naval Institute's
Proceedings, July 1992.
7. Soper, James B. Colonel, USMCR. By Forcible Entry. Marine
Corps Gazette, August 1972.
8. Updegragh, Jr., Charles L. U.S. Marine Corps Special Units of
World War II. Marine Corps Historical Reference Pamphlet 1972.
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