The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


The Time For Sea-Basing
CSC 1984
SUBJECT AREA Strategic Issues
                            THE TIME FOR SEA-BASING
                                   Submitted to
                    The Marine Corps Command and Staff College
                               Quantico, Virginia
                     In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements
                           for Written Communications
                             Major J. M. Eicher
                         United States Marine Corps
                               April 6, 1984
                          THE TIME FOR SEA-BASING
Thesis statement:  To have sufficient "punch" during an
                   amphibious operation,  Marine air has
                   to be available in strength; but
                   still unanswered is the question of
                   how to get it where it is needed,
                   when it is needed, in all situations.
  I. Current employment concepts for MAGTF air element
     A. Sources of air support during amphibious assault
     B. Reliance on "host" nation support
     C. Marine air as part of Navy carrier air group
 II. Sea-basing, an alternative concept
     A. Shipping required to support an amphibious force
     B. Dedicated strike carriers/Marine carrier air wings
          1. Amphibious TF make-up
          2. Available carriers
          3. Marine carrier air wing aircraft mix
III. Advantages of sea-basing concept
     A. Eliminate need for "host" nation
     B. Reduce logistical burden
     C. Maintain integrity of MAGTF
     D. CATF maintains control of air element
 IV. Drawbacks to sea-basing concept
     A. High cost of SLEP
     B. Personnel requirements
     C. Revision of current policies
     D. Task force vulnerability
     The first assault waves have gone ashore.  The
     defenders are being attacked in front and in
     rear by troops landed simultaneously from high-
     speed air cushion landing craft and from heli-
     copters. U.S. forces established local air
     superiority by surprise air strikes on the enemy's
     airfields hours before. Simultaneous surprise
     air strikes crippled enemy missile boats and
     badly damaged heavier warships in their harbors,
     and we have mined the harbor entrances.  Since
     then, our aircraft have been heavily attacking
     defenses in the assault area, suffering sur-
     prisingly light losses from enemy surface-to-
     air missiles and antiaircraft artillery
     The forgoing could be a very real example of an
intial report from the first waves of a future amphibious
assault. The scenario quite graphically depicts the
gradual change in philosophy since the Korean War, in that
now the Navy, and ultimately the Marine Corps, relies on
aviation assets rather than naval guns for the majority 
of the fire support prior to and during an amphibious
assault. This air support is provided primarily by
carrier based naval assets, augmented with a small number
of Marine VSTOL attack aircraft on amphibious shipping,
and any forward deployed Marine air assets. The full
spectrum of Marine air cannot be deployed until secure
airfields are available in or near the amphibious
objective area. This places a heavy reliance on the
premise that a friendly "host" nation will be close by
to provide air facilities and support for operations.
If this support is not available, initial air power will
be provided solely by a fixed number of carrier based
assets, insufficient in number to provide the combat
firepower required by a Marine Amphibious Brigade (MAB)
or a Marine Amphibious Force (MAF) sized operation in a
high threat environment. To have sufficient "punch",
Marine air has to be available in strength; but still
unanswered is the question of how to get it where it is
needed, when it is needed, in all situations.
       The Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) is a force
of combined arms task organized for a specific mission,
tailored to exploit the combat power inherent in closely
integrated air and ground forces. This combined force
may be employed in an amphibious operation or a land
campaign.2 In either senario, the MAGTF commander
relies heavily on his air combat element, without it
mission accomplishment is in jeopardy. Marine Corps
doctrine says:
     Marine Corps aviation will support the landing
     force throughout an assault landing and subsequent
     operations.  Marine Corps aviation must be prepared
     to provide this support by operating tactical
     aircraft squadrons from carriers as part of
     carrier air groups or from airfields within
     striking distance of an amphibious objective
     area.  It must be prepared to operate, after
     rapid establishment ashore, from minimal airfields
     within the objective area during the assault
     phase of an amphibious operation.3
This doctrine becomes suspect in two areas:  first,
once assigned, aircraft belonging to a carrier strike
force will perform the mission assigned to the ship by
the fleet commander, which may be sea control vice amphibious
assault support;  and second, forward basing of aircraft
requires a friendly, secure airfield, or the building
of one in the assault objective area, assuming the terrain
allows for such construction.  This may lead a strategist
to the conclusion that Marine tactical air could lack
in some instances the unique quality of the forward
deployed Marine ground and helicopter forces during the
employment phase of an operation.  This fragmentation
of the Marine assault system during this crucial phase
brings into question the integrity of the Marine Air-
Ground Task Force.4
     The answer to this dilemma is twofold. Continued
diplomatic efforts to increase foreign commitment to
shore based alternatives must be pursued. But more import-
antly, a previously devised concept for the sea-basing
of Marine tactical aviation must be resurrected and
actively considered for implementation. This concept
was first proposed by Secretary of the Navy John Lehman
in March 1981.  His proposal was to reactivate the Essex-
class carrier Oriskany (CV-34) with an all Marine air wing
aboard, consisting primarily of A-4M attack aircraft.
This, it was thought, would contribute substantially to
a stronger Navy and its ability to support amphibious
operations.  The Senate Armed Services Committee later
rejected the idea because of poor cost estimates and
skepticism concerning the contribution of the Oriskany to
improve the Navy's offensive capability.5
     Admiral Stansfield Turner, USN (RET), points out:
     We need three capabilities to be ready to defend
     our interests in the world. First we must be
     confident of sufficient sea control capabilty to
     get there and be able to stay there. Second,
     we need the ability to put forces ashore--to
     control some of the territory if necessary.
     Third, we need the abilty to use air power to
     defend forces that have been inserted and to conduct
     air strikes. Only the Navy and Marine Corps can
     do these jobs.6 
     For the Navy--Marine Corps team to accomplish their
mission in the amphibious arena, an increase in the
current number of support ships as well as amphibious
lift is required.  Estimates of the required number of
support ships needed for a MAF ranges as high as: 2
cruisers, 15 destroyers/frigates, 24-30 gunfire support
ships, and 4-6 carriers (including 2 for mine warfare
helicopters).7 The Navy, with its current number of
ships would find it difficult to support such an operation.
Especially, in light of the fact that up to one-half of
its carrier force could be committed to an amphibious
scenario. This is unrealistic in view of naval aviation's
primary role, that of sea control. The ability to meet
any threat to our use of the sea is the core reason
for having a Navy, and if a large scale war actually
did break out the Navy would be given no other task
until this key issue is resolved.8
     The Reagan administration's concept of a "600-ship
deployable force", and the new ship building and con-
version program is a step in the right direction to
correct amphibious assault deficiencies. The goals of
this program are a fleet composed of 15 carrier battle
groups, 100 attack submarines, amphibious lift for the
assault echelon of a MAF plus a MAB--some 53,700 troops,
and the additional ships necessary to support these main
forces.9 This program, as ambitious as it is, still
does not provide the necessary platforms from which the
tactical air asssets of a MAF or a MAB can provide the 
required offensive air support to operations ashore.
     The key to solving this problem lies in Secretary
of the Navy Lehman's concept of using Marine assets to
form an additional carrier air wing. Taken one step
further,  the assignment of the majority of the Marine
Corps tactical aviation assets to carrier air wings
would provide the necessary aircraft complement to form
three or more such air wings. These assets could then be
assigned to carriers whose main role is to support
amphibious operations.  Other amphibious shipping would
be tasked with these strike carriers to form the amphibious
task force(s).  This concept expands the old sea-basing
concept to include a strike carrier arid will provide the
required firepower for the amphibious assault.
     Likely candidates for these proposed strike carriers
include the Essex-class carrier Oriskany(CV-34), which
would require reactivation through an extensive overhaul
program, the Midway(CV-41), and the Coral Sea(CV-43).10
The latter two carriers are both due for replacement/
deactivation in the late 1980's or early 1990's.  The
proposed Marine carrier air wings for these carriers
would consist primarily of F/A-18 and AV-8B aircraft.
For these ships to be able to handle this mix of aircraft
they would have to undergo an extensive Ship Life Extension
Programme (SLEP).11 But on the other hand,  by the
early 1990's the Navy would have an 18 ship carrier
force better able to accomplish its two military roles,
that of sea control and power projection.
     Sea-basing offers the operational planners a far
greater flexibility in their use and deployment of MAGTF
assets. It eliminates the reliance on a "host" nation
near the theatre of operations to provide a secure base
from which to operate.  The personnel, equipment, supplies,
and facilities needed at such a base may be so extensive,
depending on the size of the deploying force, that
requirements may have to be severly limited because of
constraints at the available advance base.  Additionally,
with the size of the carrier, space would be available
for the embarkation of aviation control units or other
major elements of the avaition component, which would
ease greatly the transportation burden of the amphibious
task force. The requirement to place millions of dollars
in parts, support, and test equipment in maritime
prepositioning ships would also be reduced or virtually
elimated, thus freeing up space there to be utilized
for other ground assets.12 Paramount, though, in the
strategic planners' flexibility is that they can now
position the required amphibious force in total where
they need it to accomphish the assigned mission.
     This new concept provided for the strike carrier,
with Marine assets on board, to be an integral element of
the amphibious task force, and as such would come under
the control of the Amphibious Task Force Commander (CATF).
This would solve the critical problem of ensuring that
Marine air, although on Navy shipping, would be embarked
for the main purpose of supporting the amphibious
operations of the task force. It would also rest the
control of all TACAIR assets with the CATF from the
outset of the assault, which would allow for its effective
employment in response to the MAGTF commander's require-
ments. This answers the main shortcoming of having
Marine air assets attached to Navy carrier air groups
where they are required to perform missions assigned by
the fleet commander in fulfilling his role of securing
the sea lanes.
     The main advantage of the sea-basing concept is
quite simply the ability to assemble and employ the
complete air element of an integrated air-ground team when-
ever and wherever it is required. The aviation combat
element of a MAGTF is normally organized to provide
offensive air support, antiair warfare, and assault
support. With the assets that would be aqvailable with
this concept the commander would be able to realize the
full potential and effectiveness of his air and permit
it to become fully integrated, responsive, and decisive
within the scheme of maneuver and accomplishment of the
asigned mission.
     This  sea-basing  concept is not without its draw-
backs.  The costs associated with extending the life of
two aircraft carriers and reactivating another, as  well
as providing the ships companies for these carriers,
would be extensive.  Each ship would require approximately
120 officers and 2,100 enlisted men.  This would definitely
put a strain on the limited number of personnel in our
volunteer forces.
     The sea-basing concept would require a turnaround
on a Marine Corps and State Department mind-set with
reguard to forward deployed shore-basing.  All contingency
plans and forward deployed assets, already prepositioned
throughout the world, would have to be revised and
repositioned to reflect the new needs integral to the
sea-basing concept.  It could be argued that the main
disadvantage of this concept of deploying  all Marine air
on strike carriers would be their vulnerability to hostile
forces and the costs in dollars and assets that it would
require to protect them, as depicted in figure 1.13
This problem could be countered with deliberate planning
and actions, such as including ASW assets in the aircraft
mix and other defensive systems to handle both surface and
Click here to view image
air threats to the task force.
     The sea-basing concept is an idea, although not
new, who's time has come. The U.S. military can no
longer evade the question of how it will ensure its
entire complement of assets integral to an amphibious
task force will arrive in the theatre of operations in
an expeditious and timely manner.  Sea-basing answers the
question of how we can comply with the recently published
NAVMC 2710, which in its sommary states:
     --MAGTFs are task organized for rapid deployment
       as a part of the Navy/Marine Corps team.
     --With timely intelligence and early deaployment a
       MAGTF can:
       1. Proceed to crises areas without revealing 
          exact destination.
       2. Provide continuous presence in international
       3. Remain independent of established ports
          and airfields.
       4. Project selected degrees of combat power
       5. Quickly build in size.
       6. Supports itself once ashore.
       7. Avoid necessity to negotiate staging or
	  base rights, rent, or positioning of supplies.
       8. Be rapidly wihdrawn after operations,
          while providing NCA with positive control
          over level and duration of commitment.14
At the national level, without a truly viable force
capable of assuming the power projection role, when
needed throughout every corner of the world, policy and
world influence become impotent. At the force level,
MAGTFs are formed as an integrated air-ground team,
without each team member present during the assault its
real combat power becomes suspect and accomplishment of
its mission may be in doubt. Sea-basing offers an
alternative to present day shore-basing concepts.  It
provides a viable means of ensuring that the needed air
assets are where they are needed in order to influence
the battle and continually operate without relying on
external support until an airfield can be established
within the amphibious objective area.
     This concept offers the opportunity to achieve
improved readiness and flexibility for both our carrier
and amphibious forces. It enables us to establish
criteria which will povide a force capable of supporting
our national strategy.  These are:
--To maintain our flexibility while confronting strategic
and economic uncertainty.
--To integrate and correlate our existing forces where
possible, to stretch their operating capability.
--To be prepared to continue with a fleet of fewer than
600 ships.
We need to maintain the offensive capability inherent
in our forces; we must be able to take the fight to the
enemy. A new method of deploying our forces, in
particular our air assets, must be considered: one which
permits us to concentrate superior power at the point
of confrontation so that the battle can be fought on
our terms. "The Time For Sea-Basing" is here!
     1CDR Todd Blades, USN(RET), "Needed--Heavy Firepower",
Proceedings, 105/7/917 (July 1979), p.51.
     2MCDEC, USMC, Tasking USMC Fixed Wing Tactical
Aviation, OH 5-3, (Quantico, 1982), p.1-1.
     3MCDEC, USMC, Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1, (Quantico,
     4CAPT William Sullivan, USN,  "Now is the Time to:
Rethink, Redesign, and Redeploy Naval Aviation" Naval
War College Review,  35 (March-April, 1982), p.12.
     5CAPT Jeremy Taylor, USN, "A Blue-Green Opportunity:
Carrier-Based Marine Air Wings". Proceedings, 107/7/941
(July 1981), p.40.
     6ADM Stansfield Turner, USN(RET,  "Thinking About the
Future of the Navy", Proceedings, 106/8/930 (August 1980),
     7LCDR Carl Douglas, USN, "Amphibious Deficiencies--
The Navy's 'Ostrich Acts'" Marine Corps Gazette,
64 (September 1980), p.43.
     8ADM Stansfield Turner, USN(RET), "Thinking About the
Future of the Navy", Proceedings, 106/8/930 (August 1980),
     9CDR John Alden, USN(RET), "Tomorrow's Fleet", Proceedings,
109/1/959 (January 1983), p.109.
     10CAPT William Sullivan, USN, "Now is the Time to:
Rethink, Redesign, and Redeploy Naval Aviation", Naval
War College Review, 35 (March-April 1982), p.12.
     11John Taylor, ed., Jane's--All the World's Aircraft,
1980-1981, (London: Publishing Co. Ltd., 1981),p610.
     12CAPT Jeremy Taylor, USN, "A Blue-Green Opportunity:
Carrier-Based Marine Air Wings", Proceedings, 107/7/941
(July 1981), p.43.
     13Walter Pincus, "Our Carrier Armadas Could Sink the
Budget" The Washington Post, March 25, 1984, Section C,
     14HQMC, USMC, Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTF),
NAVMC 2710, (Washington D.C., n.d.).
Alden, John D., CDR USN (RET). "Tomorrow's Fleet".
     Proceedings, 109/1/959 (January 1983), 109-121.
Blades, Todd, CDR USNRET). "Needed--Heavy Firepower".
     Proceedings, 105/7/917 (July 1979), 50-54.
Cordier, Sherwood. "Command of the Air at Sea: V/STOL
     and Small Carriers". Naval War College Review,
     XXXIV (July-August 1981), 93-104.
Douglas, Carl, LCDR USN. "Amphibious Deficiencies--The
     Navy's "Ostrich Acts'". Marine Corps Gazette, 64
     (September 1980), 39-48.
O'Rounke, Gerald, CAPT USN(RET). "CVNs Forever! Forever?"
     Proceedings, 108/7/953 (July 1982), 20-26.
Pincus, Walter. "Our Carrier Armadas Could Sink the
     Budget", The Wahington Post, March 25, 1984, Section
     C., p.1.
Sullivan, William, CAPT USN. "Now is the Time to: Rethink,
     Redesign, and Redeploy Naval Aviation". Naval War
     College Review, 35 (March-April 1982), 10-17.
Taylor, Jeremy D., CAPT USN. "A Blue-Green Opportunity:
     Carrier-Based Marine Air Wings". Proceedings, 107/7/941
     (July 1981), 40-43.
Taylor, John, ed. Janes--All the World's Aircraft, 1980-
     1981. London: Publishing Co. Ltd., 1981.
Turner, Stansfield, ADM USN(RET). "Thinking About the
     Future of the Navy". Proceedings, 106/8/930 (August
     1980), 66-69.
U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education
     Command. Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1. Quantico, 1979.
U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education
     Command. Tasking USMC Fixed Wing Tactical Aviation,
     OH 5-3. Quantico, 1982.
U.S. Marine Corps. Plans, Policies, and Operations, HQMC.
     Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTF), NAVMC 2710.
     Washington D.C., (n.d.)

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias