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Keeping The "Gunfire" In Naval Gunfire Support

AUTHOR LCdr. Mark C. Kelsey, USN

CSC 1991

SUBJECT AREA - Operations


Evolving concepts of the amphibious assault will exploit

capabilities to land forces in relatively unopposed areas from over-

the-horizon (0TH) wherever and whenever possible. However

circumstances may still require assaults against defended beaches and

landing zones. In a worst-case combat environment, the seaward

approaches to the objective will be defended by a combination of

surface-to-surface missiles, coastal defense guns, and mines.

With budget pressures expected to reduce the aircraft carrier

force level to 12 carriers -- and possibly as few as 10 -- in FY-95

and with dramatic reductions in forward-deployed forces, the Naval

Surface Fire Support (NSFS) platforms may be the only supporting arm

available to provide the responsive, close and continuous all-weather

fire support during the early phases of the amphibious assault.

Unfortunately, the current NSFS inventory cannot satisfy this

requirement. First, the range of the current 5-inch/54 and 5-inch/38

guns is too short to isolate the beachhead from coastal defense

weapons. Second, the accuracy of the 5-inch gun is insufficient

against mobile armored forces and hardened point targets. Finally,

the lethality of the 5-inch gun is inadequate against these same


Increases in the present level of NSFS, now at its lowest since

the late l94Os, are necessary. The technology is available for large

improvements in the very near future. Just as the "amtrac" provided a

technological answer to a crucial tactical requirement that led to a

strategic victory, so to can the adoption of the imaginative,

practical solutions provided herein, make up for the shortfall in


But if we are not prepared to pay for fire support on a scale

which is adequate to underwrite success in opposed landings, then we.

should accept squarely that, whatever capability we now possess, it

will no longer be one of power projection ashore.



Thesis Statement: The currect inventory of Naval Surface Fire Support

(NSFS) platforms is inadequate to support Marine Corps requirements

due to primary dependence on 5-inch guns.

I. U.S. Navy's Mission

A. Power Projection

1. Amphibious assault

2. Naval Bombardment

B. Fire Support

l. Naval Guns

2. Aircraft

II. Contribution of Naval Guns

A. World War II

1. European Theater

2. Island Campaign of the Pacific Theater

B. Korean War

C. Vietnam War

III. Threat

A. Growing Land-Sea Interface

B. Amphibious assaults

l. Unopposed Landings

2. Defended Beaches and Landing Zones

C. Soviet-style Coastal Defense Principles

D. Weapons of War

1. Common Weapons and Weapons Systems

2. Proliferation

IV. NSFS Capabilities

A. Nature of War

B. Power Projection

1. Aircraft

2. Naval Guns

V. Requirements

A. Enhance Amphibious Forcible Entry Capability

B. Develop Long-Range Surface Fire Support Capability

l. Near-Term (High Pay-off Improvements to Existing Systems)

2. Mid-Term

3. Long-Term (Evolutionary Replacement of Existing Systems)

VI. Conclusion


Title 10, U.S. Code, defines the U.S. Navy's mission as " . . . to

be organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained

combat operations in support of U.S. national interests." (24 :913)

The Navy's functions are to conduct sea control and power projection

operations. Power projection operations are those aspects of naval

operations which attack the enemy's homeland, bases, or defensive

positions. They include amphibious assault and naval bombardment of

enemy targets ashore in support of land campaigns. Although Mahan,

the preeminent naval historian, generally disregarded the utility of

naval artillery and of sea-borne infantry assaults against targets

ashore, power projection from the sea is a mission of growing

significance. (2: 83) Naval commanders need to pay more careful

attention to the interaction of sea forces with the events on the

ground. One good reason for this: there will be more interaction in

the future.

Complete understanding of the amphibious operation must include

recognition of its chief limitation -- the vulnerability of the

landing force during the early hours of the assault. Strength ashore

must be built-up from zero combat power ashore to a coordinated,

balanced force capable of accomplishing the assigned mission.. The

build-up must be quick and uninterrupted and must include forces

strong enough to overcome the enemy. In an amphibious operation, the

total combat power available to the commander is the sum of maneuver

and fire support. All amphibious operations rely upon fire support

from the sea. It is the only surface support available during the

initial stages of the landing. The effective use of fire support

available from the various supporting arms is often a deciding factor

in the success of the Amphibious Task Force (ATF) mission. The three

available supporting arms are aircraft, artillery, and naval gunfire.

The general mission of naval gunfire is to provide responsive

fire support for the assault of the objective by destroying or

neutralizing the following:

(1) Shore installations that oppose the approach of ships and


(2) Defenses that may oppose the landing force.

(3) Defenses that may oppose the post-landing advance of the

landing force. (7: 1-1)

Efforts to bolster the Navy's power projection capabilities have

focused on getting the TOMAHAWK Ship-/Submarine-Launched Cruise

Missile (SLCM) to sea and replacing the aging, carrier-based A-6E

INTRUDER all-weather, day-night attack aircraft. There have been

no corresponding improvements in naval gun systems since the Korean

War. (20: 9)

In 1983, responding to a question posed by Senator Sam Nunn

(D-GA), then-Marine Corps Commandant General Robert H. Barrow said:

The current Naval Surface Fire Support inventory is inadequate

to support Marine Corps requirements. First, the range of the

current 5-inch/54 and 5-inch/38 families is too short to isolate

the beachhead from Warsaw Pact artillery. Second, the accuracy

of the 6-inch gun family is insufficient against mobile armored

forces and hardened point targets. Finally, the lethality of the

5-inch gun family is inadequate against these same targets. (23)

Unfortunately, the 5-inch/54 MK 42/MK 45 rapid-firing gun will be the

largest caliber gun carried by U.S. warships when the two remaining

battleships, the USS WISCONSIN and the USS MISSOURI, with their

16-inch/50 guns, are retired in FY-92.

In the opinion of many people, opposed amphibious landings are a

type of naval warfare that is now only a part of history and that any

fire support requirements beyond the capability of the 5-inch gun

could be assigned to carrier aviation or deployed Marine air assets.

History books are replete with reminders that the key to successful

amphibious operations lies in close partnership between the landing

force and the forces afloat. The most important aspect of that

partnership was ample, responsive firepower; firepower which could

kill, suppress, disrupt, and cause dispersion. The British learned

that lesson at Gallipoli during World War I. When the Royal Navy was

unable to support key attacks with naval gunfire, the Anglo-French

landing forces were driven back to the crowded beaches, where they

suffered appalling casualties before the final evacuation.

These same people believe the size and configuration of the U.S.

Navy should be based on scenarios for the most likely intervention or

crisis management rather than the worst-case threat of general war.

However, a fleet which is designed to meet only the most probable

threat may be incapable of surviving the worst. Doctrine and tactics

can be adjusted, but attempting to scale up less capable or incapable

ships to fight against an overwhelming threat won't work.

It is through the use of violence -- or the credible threat of

violence, which requires the apparent willingness to use it -- that we

compel our enemy to do our will. (6: 11 ) The current Naval Surface

Fire Support (NSFS) capability doesn't present a "credible threat" of


"A good gun causes victory, armor only postpones defeat."

-- Vice Admiral S. O. Makaroff (1l: 270)


On March 9, 1847, General Winfield Scott made the first

amphibious landing in American history at Veracruz, Mexico. The

landing was unopposed and 10,000 troops came ashore without loss

of life. (16: 147)

In the early 19:30's at Quantico, Virginia, Fleet Marine Force

(FMF) leaders began to work on the problems of conducting amphibious

operations, which they found required new combat techniques and a

high-degree of combined-arms coordination, as well as special landing

craft and weapons. The fundamental problems of seizing a defended

beachhead were initially addressed by Major Earl H. Ellis, a protege

of Major General John A. Lejeune. Major Ellis foresaw that naval

gunfire and air strikes would provide the fire superiority that

conventional artillery could not provide while waves of landing craft

brought infantry, machine guns, light artillery, and tanks to the

beaches. It was expected, and history has shown, that the

concentrated violence of the beach assault could carry the Marines

through the beach defenses.

The contributions of naval guns in various World War II

amphibious operations, such as the landings on Sicily and at Salerno

in Italy, clearly demonstrated the decisive role of naval gunnery in

blunting major infantry and armored reserve counterattacks against

landing forces. In Sicily, naval gunfire supported our own advancing

troops, up to eight miles inland. "So devastating in its effective-

ness," wrote General Eisenhower, was this shooting, "as to dispose

of any doubts that naval guns are suitable for shore bombardment."

(17: 258) During the initial stages in the European Theater, the major

caliber gun (8-inch and larger) platforms defeated axis armored

counterattacks, primarily by stripping them of their infantry and

engineer support. On 14 September, 1943, after naval gunfire from (at

least 16 to 18) battleships, cruisers and destroyers had helped to

blunt the German counterattack at Salerno, Panzer commander General

Vietinghoff wrote, "with astonishing precision and freedom of

maneuver, these ships shot at every recognized target with over-

whelming effect." The next day, Marshal Kesselring ordered a general

retirement, "in order to evade effective shelling from warships."

(17: 356) Success of the Normandy operations hinged on the avail-