The Amphibious Fleet Of Tomorrow
AUTHOR LCDR Pat G. McCartney, USN
SUBJECT AREA - National Military Strategy
The Amphibious Fleet of Tomorrow
We need to revolutionize the way we design and build our ships
to produce the next generation of warships. With the amphibious
fleet next in line for modernization, we need to give this group of
ships improved warfighting capabilities.
Currently our amphibious ships rely on escorts from the Carrier
Battlegroups to protect them on the high seas in route to the
Amphibious Objective Area and during the amphibious assault.
Additionally, these ships have no land attack, anti-air warfare or
anti-surface warfare capabilities.
With the size of our fleet shrinking due to budget reductions
and the Soviet threat dwindling, we should build a new class of
amphibious ship which is equipped with guns, cruise missiles,
surface-to-air missiles, electronic suites, and organic assault
aircraft. This would allow Marine Amphibious Readiness Groups
(MARGs) to conduct independent operations without relying on a CVBG
for protection. Response time would be reduced and forcible entry
Standardization of hull design would reduce production and
maintenance costs. Additional cost savings would be realized by
reduced escort requirements, thereby reducing operating costs.
These ships will be able to defend themselves from all anticipated
threats except antisubmarine warfare.
The Amphibious Fleet of Tomorrow
We need a revolutionary new design concept in shipbuilding so
that the amphibious fleet of the future will be operationally
effective against a wide spectrum of new missions including
offensive operations and self defense.
I Changing Missions
II Amphibious Forces as Peace Guardians
III Amphibious Ships as Total Weapons Systems
IV Amphibious Ships in Joint Operations and Rapid Response
V Amphibious Ship Design and Acquisition Strategy
THE AMPHIBIOUS FLEET OF TOMORROW
LCDR P.G. MCCARTNEY CG-8
Events of the past year have proven the benefits and
necessity of a strong amphibious capability. Our amphibious
forces afloat in the Persian Gulf (4th and 5th MEB) were
expected by the Iraqis to be the main effort of a ground
offensive. Consequently, the presence of these amphibious
ships, protected by several CVBGs, tied down 50,000 Iraqi troops
defending the coast of Kuwait against the impending invasion.
These forces also caused the expenditure of considerable
resources in constructing a stronghold to defend against
invasion from the sea.
During the war with Iraq, amphibious ships were dispatched
to conduct non-combatant evacuation operations from the embassy
of Somalia and marines were employed from ships on station off
the coast of Liberia to evacuate Americans from Monrovia during
a civil war and coup. Humanitarian aid was also provided to
several thousand Liberians suffering from an outbreak of
cholera, food shortages and contaminated drinking water. These
and other anticipated events are indicative of the requirements
the Navy can expect to encounter in the future. Although our
Naval forces must still be prepared to fight the Soviet navy on
the high seas, there is less and less likelihood of that
happening. Arms reductions and the failing Soviet economy has
the potential to significantly reduce this threat.
What is emerging now is the need for more emphasis on
capable amphibious ships and less requirement for the Carrier
Battle Group. Our national defense strategy calls for
wide-ranging capabilities that often require amphibious ships
and Carrier Battle Groups simultaneously to accomplish the
mission. Will the Navy be capable of carrying out these types
of missions in the future in light of our planned force
reductions? Will our amphibious fleet be sufficient to maintain
forward deployed marines with the necessary ground and air
assets to seize objectives ashore?
The answers to these questions are "no!"--unless the Navy
abandons its capital ship concept built solely around the large
deck Aircraft Carrier Battle Group and the World War II
war-at-sea mentality. What is needed is a revolutionary new
design concept in shipbuilding so that the amphibious fleet of
the future will be operationally effective against a wide
spectrum of new missions including offensive operations and self
The Navy needs to give its amphibious fleet a boost up the
priority list. We currently build amphibious ships that are
practically defenseless and then spend billions of dollars
building other ships to protect them and the aircraft carriers.
It is time to build amphibious ships that have the ability to
fight and put marines ashore.
Following his retirement in 1987, Vice Admiral Joseph
Metcalf III wrote an article for Proceedings entitled
"Revolution At Sea." In this article, he discussed the effect
that new technology is having on the design of surface ships.
The proposed product of this Revolution At Sea was depicted in
an artist's rendition of a future "Strike Cruiser," designed to
maximize ordinance on target. The platform features smooth
topside surfaces with all available internal volume dedicated to
weapons in vertical launch cells.
In order to determine the future operational requirements
which dictate the design and construction of Navy ships, two
Revolution At Sea studies were conducted: the Surface Combatant
Force Requirements Study and Ships Operational Characteristics
Study (SOCS). A three-star led work/study group, called Group
Mike, was organized by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) with
a charter to improve the reliability, maintainability, and
survivability of surface combatants of the 21st century. (6:37)
The SOCS "Operational Report" spelled out 12 imperative
characteristics for future ships, within four priorities:
Priority A: Cooperative engagement in all mission areas;
integrated machinery systems; survivability and the ability to
Priority B: Embedded readiness assessment, mission
planning, and training; condition-based maintenance; torpedo
Priority C: co-location of ship control and combat information
center; access control and security; alternative (peacetime/
wartime) use of volume.
Priority D: Smooth topsides; new information management;
organic aviation and other off-board vehicles. (10:72)
Early efforts at designing the Revolution At Sea ships actually
started in January 1988, as engineers at the Navy's David Taylor
Naval Ship Research and Development Center in Annapolis and
Caderock, Maryland, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center at White
Oak, Maryland, started identifying technologies that showed promise
for achieving the goal of total weapon systems for the new family of
warships. Design work is expected to continue until the mid-1990s,
when the Navy will request funds to acquire the ships. (10:70)
According to Admiral Metcalf, if the Revolution At Sea is
successful, the warfighting design policy for the U.S. Navy will be
to maximize a warship's ability to deliver ordinance on target.
Ideally, in such a ship, the internal volume should be all weapons.
In a future strike cruiser, for example, this might mean cruise
missiles in Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells from stem to stern--a
modern-day HMS Dreadnought. (The Dreadnought was the first "big"
gun battleship in which the battle space was measured not in yards
but in miles. (6:38)
Why, though, does no one ever discuss giving such capabilities
to amphibious ships? Perhaps because the threat since the end of
World War II, has been the Soviet Navy, a threat that is now
These studies and Group Mike have started the ball rolling in
the direction of Revolution At Sea, but the events which have
occurred in the three years since its conception show cause for a
reevaluation of Group Mike's recommendations.
Admiral Metcalf, had no way of predicting the extent of change
that would take place during the three years following his
The Navy will replace the Soviet threat with an emerging Third
World threat as its primary force rationale. This is a natural
alternative for two reasons. First, there is no other in sight;
second, it encourages the Navy and the political establishment to
think in terms of familiar naval operations. In other words, lets
the Navy continue building the fleet it's used to; the fleet it
We must be wary of this thought process. The Third World
threat, as Iraq has shown, may not turn out to be the kind of
foreign engagement that simply showcases the primacy of naval
power. In fact, the challenge in the Third World may demand very
different platform concepts than those developed for the post World
War II paradigm: nuclear powered submarines and carrier battle
groups for assaulting the Soviet Union. (11:64)
Working on the amphibious Navy-Marine Corps team gives us a real
insight into, and understanding of, multi-service operations. It is
easy for blue suiters to believe that the open-ocean, blue-water
environment is the only game in town. If we fall into this trap, we
can lose sight of the fact that the blue-water side is but one part
of our national military strategy. It is still true that control of
land areas can only be achieved by putting forces ashore. (4:66)
Amphibious Forces as Peace Guardians.
Perhaps the real strength of amphibious forces lies in their
flexibility, their ability to provide:
- a forward-deployed presence to add stability and reassure an
- a cover force for the evacuation of U.S. or allied citizens
- an assault capability to restore or support a friendly
government requesting assistance
- a means of protecting important sea lines of communications
(SLOCs) by seizing and controlling land areas at key choke points
- a composite force flexible enough to carry out other tasks,
including forcible entry and special operations. (3:63)
During peacetime, the objectives of the U.S. Navy and Marine
Corps are to achieve deterrence, meet alliance and treaty
commitments, support national diplomatic objectives, and to be ready
for rapid crisis response. These global commitments and alliance
responsibilities require a substantial degree of forward naval
presence to protect our interests. Roughly one third of the fleet
with over 110,000 sailors and 30,000 marines is either at sea or
forward deployed on an average day. The degree to which our forces
can influence events throughout the world is directly proportional
to their readiness and combat capabilities. Recent naval operations
in Libya, Lebanon, Liberia, Somalia and the Persian Gulf have
Pressure to reduce defense spending has been a fixture in our
budget debates for some time; however, in the past it has been
counterbalanced by the Soviet threat. A decreasing Soviet Threat
has added impetus to the budget pressures to reduce the size of our
military forces. Smaller naval forces will of necessity affect our
deployment posture; however, it need not affect our overall combat
capabilities. If we must build and maintain fewer ships, then they
need to be more capable ships. (8:96)
One assumption that helps to determine the adequacy of
amphibious forces is that Amphibious Readiness Groups (ARGs) will
operate under the protective umbrella of a Carrier Battle Group
(CVBG). This is a congenial assumption because of the offensive and
defensive needs of an ARG. But does the assumption support the way
we deploy, train and will most likely fight? In late 1988 the
Pacific Fleet's deployed ARG Alpha graphically illustrated this when
it was dispatched to Burma for the potential evacuation of American
and allied nationals as violence engulfed the capitol city of
Rangoon. Fleet staff planners were chagrined to learn that the
closest CVBG could not get to Rangoon until days after the ARG's
arrival, a time when the operation, had it been carried out, would
have been completed. (1:72)
Similar operations carried out in Monrovia, Liberia and
Mogadishu, Somalia were conducted without the presence of a CVBG.
These countries did not present a major threat to our amphibious
ships off the coast, but many countries such as these do have the
capabilities to threaten ships at sea. Do we really need to always
plan on having a CVBG to protect the MARG? Not if our amphibious
ships are capable of independent offensive and defensive operations
Perhaps the most serious deficiency amphibious forces face
involve the weapons available to defend the ARG as it proceeds to
the AOA. To conduct over-the-horizon assaults against well-defended
beaches, ARGs need:
- OTH air assault vehicles
- OTH armored assault craft
- Early warning and battle management aircraft
- Electronic warfare aircraft with data link
- Stand-off anti-surface and anti-air weapons
- Rudimentary ASW weapons.
The ARG needs at least some AAW, ASUW, EW and ASW capabilities.
This cannot be done by adding more weapons to already overstuffed
amphibious ships. (1:76)
A new ship class is required. The Amphibious Missile Cruiser,
CAG ( )-class, and the Amphibious Assault Carrier, CAV ( )-class.
These ships would be designed to incorporate modern weapons systems
with state of the art propulsion systems using existing hull plans.
The result would be amphibious ships with enhanced warfighting
capabilities that could operate without escort protection.
Why shouldn't amphibious ships have multiple warfare task
capabilities. Figure 1 illustrates that all fundamental warfare
tasks affect the land battle except antisubmarine warfare. It makes
good sense to provide the amphibious fleet with multiple warfare
Click here to view image
Amphibious Ships as Total Weapons Systems.
In September 1988, Admiral Carlisle A. H. Trost the Chief of
Naval Operations made an unexpected landmark pronouncement at an R&D
symposium attended by the government and industry leaders of the
ship procurement community when he declared that integrated electric
drive, with its associated cluster, of technologies, will be the
method of propulsion for the next class of surface battle force
Historically, our amphibious ships have been slower and equipped
with outdated propulsion systems. There is no reason that the first
integrated electric drive ships should not be amphibious, total
weapons systems from the keel up in armament, electronics and
William S. Lind, writing about the late 1980s and likely future
dimensions of U.S. national security strategy called the Navy's
strategy, "an historical artifact, reflecting the world of 40-plus
years ago." He characterized the Navy as, "built around a small
number of aircraft carrier battle groups, which means that it is
admirably suited to defeating the navy of Imperial Japan." (9:85)
There is considerable truth to this statement.
The crew of a surface ship today must beware of attacks from
more sources and by more means than ever before. The rapid
development and global proliferation of sophisticated threats to the
Navy's surface ships present formidable problems for future programs
and operations. If the Navy is serious about building highly
capable and survivable ships for fleet introduction in the first
decades of the 21st century--surface combatants that are truly
integrated weapons systems--yesterday was not too early to
Amphibious Ships for Joint Operations and Rapid Response.
There are additional advantages to expanding cruise missile
capabilities to amphibious ships. The additional land attack
capabilities will not only serve as a deterrent but will support
joint operations on distant fronts. The Army for example, continues
to grope for a solution to the "deep fires" problem. One major
challenge is providing fires of sufficient range, volume, and
accuracy to disrupt the arrival of Soviet Second-echelon front
forces into the European Central Front theater of operations in
sufficient strength and in time to influence the outcome of the
war. This issue takes on a new perspective when we consider the use
of the conventional Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM-C), with its
600+ nautical-mile range, 1000-pound warhead, and devastating
The ground commander has to select his deep target for TLAM-C
strikes carefully. Given that a battleship carries only 32 missiles
and a Spruance (DD-963)-class destroyer only 37, and since there are
thousands of legitimate deep-fires targets, the target selector on
the land commander's staff must select the deep strike targets to be
assigned to naval systems with great care. (4:54)
If we arm our amphibious ships with TLAMs we will both increase
our cruise missile capabilities and decrease dependence on the
presence of CVBGs and escorts. Additionally, response time would be
reduced and amphibious forced entry capability enhanced.
When a crisis confronts the nation, the first question often
asked by policymakers is: "What Naval forces are available and how
fast can they be on station?" This requires that we maintain our
forces in a high state of readiness, positioned as close to the
scene of action as possible. Readiness is a key factor in the
equation. Sending units that are poorly trained, undermanned, or
inadequately equipped and maintained is an invitation to disaster.
Our forces must not only be there, they must also be capable of
conducting successful combat operations. (8:98)
Amphibious Ship Design and Acquisition Strategy.
The Navy is a highly integrated system of massive proportions,
so shortcomings of a global nature can only be addressed on a broad
system level. Today's Navy has significant shortcomings that can be
eliminated only by restructuring the battle force. The source of
global shortcomings can be traced to both the product and the
process by which it is created, developed, used, and maintained. As
we envision new products, we should formulate plans to create an
efficient process for the production operation and maintenance of
them. Global shortcomings will never be adequately addressed with
solutions generated from the bottom up and directed at specific
component problems. (2:133)
We need to revise the entire ship procurement process from
design to commissioning by abandoning the fragmented approach
currently in use and adopting a centralized long-range ship-building
plan. We should form an organization which incorporates all parties
from the builder to the user, with a charter to produce the
revolutionary new ship designs that can meet our future global
commitments. Combining warfighters and engineers on one team will
produce a better ship design.
Both the warfighter and naval engineer recognize that warship
design is a compromise between warfighting capability and the other
things necessary to make a ship a warship. However, they both
understand that the design of a warship starts with weapons and
everything else competes with that premise. (6:39)
The Surface Warfare Plan 1989 identifies a new class of
amphibious ship designated the (LVX), to replace the Tarawa
(LHA-1)-class, beginning in the 2010-15 period. The LVX will evolve
from the Wasp (LHD-1)-class. The LVX also will have a VLS
capability for better AAW Self-defense and ASW weapons.
Other elements of the planned future amphibious fleet, according
to surface warfare analysts, include an LX as a functional
replacement for the 38 ships of the Austin (LPD-4), Raleigh (LPD-1),
Anchorage (LSD-36), and Newport (LST-1179)-classes, which reach the
ends of their service lives beginning in the 1990s. Beyond the LX
and LVX concepts are the carrier of large objects carrier dock
amphibious ships (CLO) conceived by David Taylor. In general, these
will have a STOVL aircraft deck forward, a hangar superstructure
above a well deck aft, integrated electric drive, and anti-air
warfare capabilities. (9:90)
But the CLO still does not have real capabilities to protect
itself or to conduct offensive operations. The design allows
incorporation of the Vertical Launch System but does not include
Tomahawk missiles and long range sensors.
Technology and the best human engineering will enable future
ships and their crews to respond effectively in large battles
matching vast fleets in open-ocean combat, to carry out limited
tasks, to demonstrate a determined presence, or to conduct surgical
attacks within the confines of restricted rules of
More and more of the cost of our ships and aircraft is absorbed
in an endless stream of studies, reports, and briefings produced by
support contractors who promote as a virtue the fact that they
produce no product. These studies, designed to reduce risk, are in
fact simply another opinion, usually not a very informed one, and
biased by whoever is paying the bill. These nuisances might be
barely tolerable if their cost were not so outrageous, but they
invariably extend and delay the development program and can add as
much as one-third to the cost. It will take courage on the part of
Navy leaders to reverse this trend and find more technology
prototyping, but the long-term gains will likely be the basis for
Admiral Metcalf's revolution.
Industry participation in the early conceptual stages of the
Revolution At Sea can bring diversity, innovation, and valuable
feedback to the ship acquisition process before designs are frozen.
The shipbuilding industry's ideas, together with its estimates of
cost and experience in production, derived in an environment of
competition, are too important to be left as an afterthought of the
We have an opportunity to set a new course into the 21st
century. A course which will ensure the U.S. Navy maintains its
capability to influence world events and protect national interests
while demonstrating foresight and frugality.
We can revolutionize our seagoing arm of the defense force if we
start now. Failure to act decisively will result in a continued
free fall down the rapids of the acquisition river in a raft loaded
with policies that are unable to avoid obstacles until they are upon
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