U.S. Expeditionary Force Alternatives
SUBJECT AREA Strategic Issues
Title: U.S. Expeditionary Force Alternatives
Author: Major R. A. Christie, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: Given current world uncertainties, the United States'
future military strategy may place an even greater emphasis on
ground forces and the amphibious ships needed to transport
Background: Based on requirements of the regional stability
strategy endorsed by the National Command Authorities, the
United States needs a rapid force projection capability to
protect areas vital to U.S. interests. This strategy calls
for multiple operational capabilities including amphibious,
contingency, and follow-on forces. The dramatic downsizing of
the military is prompting a new look at existing forces
capable of contributing to such a strategy. This paper
compares three alternative force mixes to determine which is
best suited to provide the capability required to execute a
regional stability strategy. It examines the expeditionary
utility of the Marine Corps' current three amphibious Marine
Expeditionary Brigades (MEBs) and three Maritime
Prepositioning Forces (MPF) MEBs (3x3), a proposal to add a
fourth MPF MEB and maintain only two amphibious MEBs (4x2),
and the Army's proposal to use the 18th Airborne Corps in an
expeditionary role. The utility of each force mix has been
evaluated by comparing the capabilities required in a crisis
response regional security strategy: expeditionary capability,
forcible-entry capability, sustainability, balance,
responsiveness, readiness, and flexibility. The 3x3 mix
provides the greatest expeditionary capability of the three
alternatives. The 4x2 mix provides an additional MPS set, but
does so at the expense of amphibious ships and significantly
decreases forcible-entry capability. Using the 18th Airborne
Corps in an expeditionary role overlooks their lack of
tactical mobility and sustainability, and confuses contingency
capability with expeditionary capability. Furthermore, this
proposal would dramatically increase the requirement for fast
Conclusion: The current force mix of three amphibious MEBs and
three MPF MEBs comes closest to providing the capability
necessary to implement the future national military strategy.
U.S. EXPEDITIONARY FORCE ALTERNATIVES
Thesis Statement. Given current world uncertainties, the
United States' future military strategy may place an even
greater emphasis on ground forces and the amphibious ships
needed to transport them.
A. New world order
1. National strategy
2. Military strategy
B. Diminishing forward bases
C. Base Force Concept
D. Operational requirements of regional stability strategy
1. Amphibious forces
2. Contingency forces
3. Follow-on forces
E. Maritime prepositioning ships (MPS) - service perspectives
4. Air Force
5. Marine Corps
A. Force mission focus
B. Evaluation criteria
1. Expeditionary capability
2. Forcible-entry capability
A. Amphibious Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB)
B. Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) MEB
C. Army contingency forces
D. Fiscal considerations
E. Evaluation summary
U.S. EXPEDITIONARY FORCE ALTERNATIVES
The U.S. national containment strategy has driven the
current military force structure for the past forty years.
In light of the startling events of the past 18 months, a
review of the nation's economic, political, and security
objectives indicates the containment strategy is no longer
appropriate. The United States needs a new national
strategy to efficiently and effectively achieve national
The demise of the WARSAW Pact and collapse of the Soviet
Union give reason to hope for a new era of peace. However,
these historic events are set against a backdrop of unrest
in Eastern Europe and increased regional tension in the
developing world as more nations seek to exert greater
influence over their political and commercial futures.
Furthermore, the rise in nationalism and ethnic assertion
will continue to provide the seeds of conflict and unrest in
many areas of U.S. interest. A new regional stability
strategy may be more appropriate. Such a strategy would
promote economic growth, individual rights, and democratic
institutions in Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS), and the developing world.
As the only remaining superpower, the United States
must lead world efforts to help Eastern Europe, the CIS, and
Third World nations modernize their agricultural methods,
water purification systems, industrial base, and
telecommunications and transportation infrastructures.
Plagued by inadequate health care, burgeoning populations,
environmental destruction, governmental inefficiencies and a
disproportionate distribution of wealth, the Third World and
former communist states in Europe will remain unstable
throughout the next decade. These countries need more
managerial, technical, and financial assistance to create
viable market-based economies to foster economic and
political stability. Concurrently, the U.S. must develop a
complementary military strategy designed to protect national
interests and achieve national objectives while these
regions emerge from decades of neglect and waste.
The new military strategy should focus less on
countering the spread of Soviet-sponsored communism and more
on maintaining regional stability through assistance
programs, forward presence, nuclear deterrence, and
ultimately the timely intervention of military forces in
support of friendly governments.1 While the United States
will continue to focus strategic nuclear deterrent forces on
"the four states of the Commonwealth of Independent States
where nuclear forces remain -- Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and
Kazakhstan,"2 volatility in the Third World demands greater
attention on conventional expeditionary forces to counter
regional instability. For this reason, the U.S. must have
the capability to rapidly respond to simultaneous regional
crises to protect allied territorial integrity and further
DIMINISHING FORWARD BASES
The U.S. containment strategy has been based on nuclear
and conventional deterrence, collective security, and
forward basing and deployment. The last of these is of
particular concern. The continuing decline in the number of
foreign basing agreements and overflight rights will
complicate future military operations. Losing bases in
Spain, the Philippines and Panama will impact on the United
State's ability to rapidly and effectively respond to
regional crises. The loss of these forward bases will
inevitably result in a greater reliance on power
projection/rapid reinforcement from the continental United
States. Additionally, removing forces from these regions
may be misinterpreted as an absence of U.S. resolve and
commitment to allies and friends.
Adding to these concerns is the increased closure time
for contingency forces inherent in the military's withdraw
from the Pacific Rim, Europe and Central America. Operation
DESERT SHIELD is an excellent example of the tremendous
effort required to transport and supply an expeditionary
force half-way around the globe. The inability to rapidly
bring sufficient force to bear may ultimately require
deploying significantly greater forces to achieve the same
BASE FORCE CONCEPT
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Base
Force concept describes a force structure below which he
feels the U.S. cannot fall and still remain a superpower.
It envisions a military organized into four forces:
Strategic Force, Atlantic Force, Pacific Force, and a
Contingency Force. The Strategic Force will incorporate the
nuclear triad. The Atlantic Force will consist of heavy
ground forces and be oriented towards high intensity
conflict. The Pacific Force will be comprised primarily of
light ground forces and focus on regional stability. The
Contingency Force will be composed of a mix of heavy and
light forces capable of crisis response in any level of
conflict, and have a global focus.3 But critics fear the
Base Force Concept derives more from programmatic than
The Atlantic, Pacific or Contingency Forces are all
likely to provide expeditionary forces. As the world moves
into an era of instability and regional strife, highly
mobile, self-sustaining expeditionary forces will be at a
premium. The U.S. must therefore tailor its future
expeditionary forces to compensate for the changing threat
and likely loss of forward bases. In a climate of reduced
defense expenditures; and escalating weapons, training, and
manpower costs, it is imperative to efficiently use each
Service's strengths to achieve a synergistic force.
The Contingency Force developed under the CJCS must be
capable of rapid global response to a variety of crises
throughout the spectrum of conflict. Implicit in this
crisis response capability is the requirement to seize
sufficient terrain and facilities to allow the introduction
of follow-on forces.
Operational requirements are those military
capabilities necessary to accomplish the objectives defined
in the national security strategy. These operational
requirements link means and ends. A regional stability
strategy requires multiple operational capabilities
including amphibious forces, contingency forces, and follow-
on forces. These forces should be capable of conducting
crisis response to two regional crises simultaneously. The
ground component of the contingency forces -- five Army
divisions, a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and Special
Operations Forces -- are clearly identified within the base
force concept. However, contingency forces lacking the
ability to conduct forcible-entry may prove insufficient in
Given the current uncertainty in the world, the U.S.
future military strategy may place an even greater emphasis
on amphibious capability -- ground forces and the amphibious
ships needed to transport them. Amphibious capability
provides Marine expeditionary forces the means to seize
defended areas, enhancing rapid combat power buildup with
follow-on forces. The requirement to seize advanced base
facilities to allow contingency and follow-on forces to
respond to a crisis should be apparent. Therefore, the
existing strategic operational requirement for amphibious
assault capability is unlikely to diminish in any future
Unfortunately, amphibious capability has not been a
high priority within the Department of Navy for many years.
It lacks the proponency enjoyed by the aviation, submarine,
and surface line communities. Accordingly, the Department of
the Navy has established a programmatic goal of sufficient
amphibious ships to deliver the assault echelons (AE) of 2.5
Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEBs).4 However, even this
modest goal may be fiscally unobtainable in the current
military downsizing. Programmatic decisions determining
strategy should evoke cries of heresy; nevertheless, this
occurs all too frequently.
MARITIME PREPOSITIONING SHIPS (MPS)- SERVICE PERSPECTIVES
Naval forces comprised of Carrier Battle Groups (CVBGs)
and Marine Expeditionary Units, Special Operations Capable
(MEU[SOC]) maintain continuous deployments in both the
Atlantic and Pacific. These forces spearhead larger Marine
Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) and supporting carrier
battle forces (CBFs). Although CVBGs and MEUs often operate
independently, they unite when a crisis occurs. Together,
they provide a flexible and credible forcible-entry
capability for the National Command Authorities (NCA).
The amphibious ships necessary to conduct a regional
stability strategy are augmented by MPS, a capability
successfully demonstrated during the critical early days of
Operation DESERT SHIELD. Thirteen ships, organized into
three squadrons, (each providing the ground equipment for a
MEB of approximately 16,500 men), are continuously forward
deployed -- two in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic.
These MPS squadrons are combined with the fly-in echelon of
a brigade-sized Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) and a
Naval Support Element (NSE) to create a balanced,
sustainable, credible MAGTF. MPFs are designed to
complement the amphibious forcible-entry capability, not
replace it. The demonstrated utility of maritime
prepositioning during the war with Iraq, coupled with a
growing impetus for a smaller military has given rise to a
broadened interest in this deployment option. This should
come as no surprise as MPS appears to hold something for
just about everyone.
Congress, recognizing the shortfall in our nation's
strategic sealift, has recently increased appropriations for
fast sealift and maritime prepositioning ships. Strategic
sealift is not only a less expensive alternative than
strategic airlift, it assists the country's ailing ship
The Navy views an increase in prepositioning squadrons
as a less costly alternative to maintaining and operating
existing amphibious ships or buying fast sealift. But this
position may be shortsighted. As the 600-ship Navy sails
even further over the horizon, the Navy appears determined
to protect CVBGs, the core of their power projection
capability, at the expense of amphibious lift.
Unfortunately, this decision comes just as the majority of
the existing fleet of amphibious ships are projected to
reach the end of their useful life (between FY96 and FY08).
However, since MAGTFs typically rely on CVBGs to provide air
support, the Navy would better serve the nation by
supporting the need to maintain a robust and capable
amphibious fleet capable of executing a reinforcing/power
projection strategy. This operationally supports and
protects these very same carrier battle groups the Navy
wants to retain.
The Army must contend with a dramatic increase in lift
requirements as they increase the mobility and firepower of
their forces. The redistribution of corps truck assets and
assault helicopters to the division level will certainly
increase the shipping required to transport Army contingency
forces. The Army views maritime prepositioning as an
opportunity to forward deploy at least one Armored-
Mechanized Brigade outside of Europe. But they prefer fast
sealift for the remainder of their contingency forces.
The Air Force would probably support an increase in
maritime prepositioning over fast sealift for the Army, if
they perceive they would garner a larger share of the
strategic lift budget. The enormous cost of the C-17
transport program demands that the Air Force aggressively
pursue the maximum in strategic lift funding.
Simultaneously, they are likely to support alternative
programs (such as maritime prepositioning) that do not
directly compete with strategic airlift funding.
The Service one might expect to be the most ardent
backer of an increase in MPS -- the Marine Corps -- is
actually the least enthusiastic. The reason for this is
simple. As the nation's premier expeditionary force-in-
readiness, the Marine Corps has long championed a global
forcible-entry capability (i.e., amphibious ships) and views
any attempt to reduce this capability as contrary to U.S.
national interests. Amphibious ships and MPS ships both
provide sealift, but only amphibious ships and trained
amphibious forces can provide a forcible-entry option to the
Unlike fast sealift ships assigned to transport heavy
Army units, MPS squadrons require no port facility. And for
this reason the superb performance of the three MPS
squadrons during the Gulf War must be viewed in context.
Prior to the crisis, the U.S. spent ten years negotiating
host nation support agreements. Billions of dollars were
spent building airfield and port facilities in the Persian
Gulf. The foresight-and determination to improve the
infrastructure in the Gulf Region considerably enhanced the
Marines' ability to off-load equipment and organize for
combat. Similar supporting infrastructure may be
unavailable during the next conflict.
What, then, is the best expeditionary force mix to meet
the operational requirements of two simultaneous, regional
crises? First, let's examine the current Marine
expeditionary capability of three MPF MEBs and three
amphibious MEBs (3x3 mix). Next, we'll evaluate the
expeditionary utility of four MPF MEBs and two amphibious
MEBs (4x2 mix). Finally, we'll look at the Army's proposal
to use in an expeditionary role the 18th Airborne Corps
(comprised of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Air-
Assault Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, the 24th
Mechanized Division and either the 10th Mountain Division or
7th Infantry Division). The ability of these various
alternatives to successfully execute the crisis response
mission in the emerging strategic environment bears closer
FORCE MISSION FOCUS
Let's briefly review deployment and employment focus of
the three alternatives before evaluating their utility to
contribute to the national military capability. Before we
begin, one note of explanation. The use of MEBs as a basis
for comparison is primarily for understanding and clarity.
Although the Marine Corps has begun embedding its MEB
headquarters into the MEF headquarters at the recommendation
of a recent Force Structure Planning Group, the MEB is still
a logical and convenient unit of measure for comparison.
The amphibious MEB trains with, organizes for, and
deploys primarily via amphibious shipping. It is a fully
sustainable, forcible entry MAGTF with full aviation and
logistics packages capable of fighting across the spectrum
of conflict. When accompanied by a CVBG, it requires no
basing or overflight support/rights in the initial stages of
The MPF MEB combines forward deployed ships containing
equipment and supplies with the rapid airlift of associated
forces. These two elements need a tactically secure
location to marry up and organize for combat. Once
completely constituted, MPF MEBs are fully sustainable,
mechanized-oriented MAGTFs with full aviation and logistics
packages capable of fighting at all intensity levels.
Army contingency forces deploy initially by strategic
airlift with limited tactical mobility and minimal
mechanized capability. The focus is on light infantry and
limited rotary aviation capability. With only limited
logistical assets, they are designed to operate
independently for only a very short time. While their
initial focus is low level conflict, they are capable of
fighting in mid- and high intensity environments with
follow-on heavy combat, combat support, and combat service
support. Army contingency forces are designed to fight as
elements of an Army corps with fixed-wing Air Force tactical
fighter support. Individual divisions are not equipped to
operate independently from the corps headquarters and Corps
Support Command (COSCOM) for extended periods of time.
The utility of the each force mix can best be evaluated
by comparing the capabilities required in a crisis response
regional stability strategy. Those criteria not defined in
JCS PUB 1-02 are my own. In order of precedence the
capabilities and characteristics I deem most critical are:
* Expeditionary Capability --- Ability to rapidly
task organize and deploy the required force mix
necessary to accomplish the mission and provide the
base for follow-on forces.
* Forcible-entry Capability --- Ability to land in the
face of resistance.
* Sustainability --- The ability to maintain the
necessary level and duration of operational activity
to achieve military objectives. Sustainability is a
function of providing for and maintaining those
levels of ready forces, materiel, and consumables
necessary to support military effort.
* Balance --- Capability to fight across the full
spectrum of conflict.
* Responsiveness --- Ability to achieve rapid closure
to a crisis area.
* Readiness --- The ability of forces, units, weapon
systems, or equipment to deliver the outputs for
which they were designed (includes the ability to
deploy or employ without unacceptable delays).
* Flexibility --- Capability to respond to changing
missions or threats enroute to or at the final
Amphibious MEB. The amphibious MEB provides the
greatest level of expeditionary capability. Task organized
with elements forward-deployed, amphibious MEBs possess a
full range of combat capability and are doctrinally designed
to provide the base for larger follow-on forces. They have
the necessary command and control capability to interface
with the NCA, joint, or allied commands.
Amphibious MEBs are fully capable of forcible-entry.
The mobility inherent in an amphibious task force, combined
with over-the-horizon tactics and deception operations,
allows the operational commander to choose the most
advantageous place to attack. Organic fixed-wing attack
aircraft, along with accompanying carrier battle and surface
action groups, provide significant mobile, sea-based air
Amphibious MEBs deploy with a full 30 days of all
classes of supply. Organic combat service support can
provide all six functions of logistics. This built-in
sustainability can be further augmented by resupply from
fleet, host nation, or other sources within the Amphibious
Objective Area (AOA).
Amphibious MEBs are trained and equipped to fight at
all levels of conflict. They possess limited special
operations capability and are frequently the only forces
available in a rapidly developing crisis. Additionally,
they can provide disaster relief and nation-building
services such as Operation PROVIDE COMFORT in Iraq or
Operation SEA ANGEL in the Philippines. Amphibious MEBs are
tactically loaded and combat capable upon embarkation.
MAGTF elements are spread-loaded throughout the task force
to enhance survivability and promote cohesiveness.
Extensive integrated pre-deployment work-ups ensure
capabilities are practiced and certified.
The continuous forward deployment of amphibious MAGTFs
(normally MEUs) reduces transit time to a crisis area. The
quick arrival of U.S. forces was demonstrated during
Operation EASTERN EXIT (Somalia 1991) when noncombatant
evacuation was completed in only three days.6 Closure of
the entire MEB is dependent on the speed of the amphibious
ready group (ARG) and transit distance to the AOA.
Marine Expeditionary Brigades designated to deploy
aboard amphibious ships maintain a high level of readiness
and proficiency. Specialized training packages include
amphibious, jungle, mountain, desert, and military
operations in urban terrain (MOUT). Elements of the brigade
not already forward deployed are maintained on a 24-hour
alert with the remainder of the MEB available in 72 hours.
The inherent flexibility of amphibious MEBs is never
more apparent than in a rapidly developing crisis. As more
information becomes available, operational staffs modify and
discard various options under consideration, even while
forces are enroute to the crisis area. The requirement to
shift the objective or location of the attack or coordinate
with allied forces can be accommodated by an amphibious task
force. Also, the unique ability of amphibious ships to
loiter in the vicinity of a crisis and provide tangible
evidence of U.S. resolve can wholly avert the need for force
or allow additional time to achieve coalition or national
MPF MEB. The MPF MEB is also expeditionary,
incorporates the ability to receive follow-on forces, and
can be task-organized by using Deterrent Force Modules and
Crisis Action Modules. These modules are tailored for
different contingencies and force levels. Therefore, the
entire MEB's complement of equipment need not be off-loaded
-- only the portion required immediately.
MPF MEBs have no forcible-entry capability and must
rely upon other forces to secure or establish a protected
area in which to off-load and prepare for combat. Security
of the MPS, strategic airlift resources, tactical aircraft,
and areas within and surrounding the arrival and assembly
area are crucial for this strategic deployment option.7
The MPF MEB is identical to an amphibious MEB in its
sustainability -- it also carries 30 days of supply.
However, one additional consideration is the sustainability
of the MPS vessels themselves. The extended operating
schedule of the three MPS squadrons requires extensive in-
port maintenance for the ships. In fact, when the squadron
at Diego Garcia was activated for Operation DESERT SHIELD,
two of the ships were initially unavailable because they
were enroute to or in port for maintenance.
MPF MEBs are similar to their amphibious counterparts
in their ability to fight across the spectrum of conflict
after prepositioning ships and air lifted forces join.
However, they are slightly larger than amphibious MEBs and
normally possess more armor capability. Additionally, MPF
MEBs are ideally suited for disaster relief or nation
Currently, three MPS squadrons are forward deployed to
reduce closure time to likely employment areas. Assuming
adequate Military Airlift Command (MAC) support, MPF MEBs
can be operationally ready within ten days of MPS squadron
arrival. (During Operation DESERT SHIELD, the first MPF MEB
was combat capable in even less time.)
Like their amphibious counterparts, MEBs associated
with MPS squadrons maintain a high level of readiness and
proficiency. Specialized training packages include
amphibious, jungle, mountain, desert, and MOUT. In
addition, MPF MEBs train with their assigned MPS squadron to
practice off-loading equipment and supplies while
simultaneously maintaining and replacing selected equipment.
Like amphibious MEBs, MPF MEBs maintain air contingency
MAGTFs on a 24-hour alert.
MPS squadrons also have some inherent flexibility in
diverting to higher priority missions, moving closer to
intended operating areas while refining employment options,
or entering safer ports of debarkation as the situation
Army Contingency Forces. Army contingency forces are
able to rapidly deploy task-organized light forces using
strategic airlift and sealift. The lead elements of these
contingency forces -- airborne and air-assault divisions --
possess limited combined arms capability and are best suited
to low level conflicts. The 82nd Airborne Division and
101st Air-Assault Division normally deploy using strategic
airlift and may arrive much sooner than the heavy corps
elements. However, the lead elements of the Army's
contingency forces have been described as "light enough to
get there quickly and light enough to get in trouble".8
Airborne and air-assault units and other Army
contingency forces have virtually no forcible-entry
capability. Airborne forces must find secure drop zones or
lightly defended areas or risk heavy casualties. Many Army
casualties in Grenada resulted from airborne forces being
exposed to ground fire in and around the primary drop zones.
The 82nd and 101st Divisions normally deploy with
approximately three days of supply. However, consumption
rates will vary depending on geography, climate and combat
intensity. The initial deployment to Saudi Arabia of the
82nd and 101st Divisions during Operation DESERT SHIELD is a
recent example of the pitfalls of introducing light Army
contingency forces into a hostile environment far from their
supply source. These units were almost immediately
dependent upon host nation and U.S. Marine support for water
and other basics. Their resupply requirements were
approximately 44 metric tons per day, or 20 C-141 aircraft
sorties, at a time when strategic lift aircraft were needed
elsewhere to move reinforcing or follow-on forces.
Army contingency forces are capable of fighting
throughout the spectrum of conflict. Light elements are
well suited for low intensity conflict or crisis response.
However, they lack the ability to defeat the mechanized and
armored forces likely in mid- and high level combat
operations, without the corps' heavy divisions. The rapid
proliferation of armor, mechanized, and tactical air forces
in the Third World increases the danger to light crisis
Army contingency forces have varying degrees of
responsiveness. The light forces capable of deploying
primarily by strategic airlift can react to a crisis within
days. But heavy elements of the corps, deploying primarily
by fast sealift, normally take weeks. The gap in arrival
times between the light and heavy elements of the corps
poses a dilemma for U.S. planners and an opportunity for
Army contingency forces also have varying degrees of
readiness and proficiency. The 82nd and 101st Divisions
maintain a ready brigade on 18-hour alert. The 10th
Mountain Division or 7th Infantry Division are combat
capable within six days of initial tasking, given adequate
MAC availability. Heavy units such as the 24th Mechanized,
1st Cavalry, and 18th COSCOM presently do not maintain
elements in an alert status and would require more time to
begin deploying. Army contingency forces conduct training
in MOUT, jungle, mountain and desert warfare. Additionally,
the 82nd Airborne Division is parachute qualified. Although
the Army conducts amphibious training, they are not
organized or equipped for an amphibious mission. Nor is
there a maritime prepositioning ethos associated with the
Army contingency forces deploying by strategic airlift
lack the flexibility inherent in the amphibious deployment
option. They have little or no flexibility to divert,
loiter or provide presence in a crisis situation.
Additionally, they are ill-suited for demonstrating U.S.
resolve short of their actual introduction on foreign soil.
New programs are certain to be closely scrutinized in
this era of fiscal constraint. Any proposal to add an
additional MPS set, modernize or replace our amphibious
ships, or buy additional fast sealift must be evaluated
against future threats and required military capabilities.
While the cost of adding a fourth MPF squadron and
associated equipment brings fiscal perspective, a detailed
fiscal analysis of each alternative is beyond the scope of
Modifications to the current expeditionary force mix would
have substantial financial costs. For example, start-up
costs in FY84 for a four-ship MPS squadron were $1.2
billion. This includes an average of $175 million per ship
for construction and activation under long-term charter, and
approximately $465 million for equipment and supplies.
Annual operating costs in FY90 were approximately $175
million. Operation and maintenance (O&M,N) was $24 million
per ship, and (O&M,MC) for maintenance cycles, exercises,
etc., was $79 million per MPS squadron.
Many ground systems (tanks, assault amphibian vehicles,
light armored vehicles, etc.) have been enhanced or replaced
since they where purchased for the first three MPS
squadrons. Therefore, the cost to obtain equipment and
supplies to load a fourth MPS set would be significantly
higher without accounting for inflation. In addition, as
the nation's shipyards decline, construction costs for U.S.-
built ships continue to outpace inflation. Cost escalator
calculations suggest a four-ship MPS set loaded with the
most recent equipment and supplies would cost approximately
$1.9 billion dollars today.9
The cost to maintain and modernize our existing
amphibious capability will also be considerable. However,
forward deployments, presence, and when necessary, forcible-
entry expeditionary forces provide tangible evidence of U.S.
deterrence and resolve. Neither maritime prepositioning nor
fast sealift can fulfill this integral part of our national
The cost to restructure the Army's contingency forces
to make them tactically mobile, sustainable, combined arms
forces would be enormous and the requirement for fast
sealift would still remain.
The current Marine Corps configuration of three
amphibious MEBs and three MPF MEBs (3x3 mix) comes closest
to meeting the strategic requirement of a two-ocean regional
response capability. The three amphibious MEBs provide the
essential element of forcible-entry lacking in the other
alternatives. Though falling short of current operational
requirements, it provides the greatest offensive power
projection capability. The three MPS squadrons provide a
rapid, sustainable, and global response capability while
significantly reducing strategic lift requirements. The MPS
portion of the 3x3 configuration was validated during
Operation DESERT SHIELD by providing the first heavy,
sustainable, ground combat units in theater.
The 4x2 alternative provides an additional MPS set at
the expense of amphibious ships, but significantly decreases
forcible-entry crisis response capability. If the decline
in amphibious ship building continues at the current pace,
estimates suggest the Marine Corps will rely on MPS for 60%
of its lift capability by the end of the decade. This
estimate does not include a fourth MPS set! The loss of 1/3
of the nation's forcible-entry capability seems costly when
measured against the gain in prepositioning capability.
Any decrement in amphibious assault lift would be imprudent
in an era of rising regional instability and declining
The Army's contingency forces provide the lowest level
of expeditionary capability of the three alternatives.
Although capable of crisis response, Army contingency
forces lack a substantial forcible-entry capability.
Additionally, the light divisions lack the firepower,
mobility, and sustainability for many situations in which
the entire corps is not required. Finally, Army contingency
forces lack the close, intermediate, and deep air support
MAGTFs possess with their organic aviation assets. Army
contingency forces require Air Force tactical air support in
almost any crisis scenario.
The current force mix of three amphibious MEBs and three
MPF MEBs (3x3 mix) comes closest to providing the capability
necessary to implement the future national military
strategy. It provides a global, sustainable, sea-based,
forcible-entry capability. Adding an additional MPS set at
the expense of amphibious lift would reduce flexibility,
responsiveness, and ultimately deterrence. In fact, the
requirement for a modern and sufficient amphibious
capability is clearly increasing.
Restructuring Army contingency forces to increase their
tactical mobility, sustainability, and expeditionary
capability, would duplicate an existing capability (MAGTFs)
and overlook their contribution as part of the nation's
heavy land force. Additionally, the requirement to
dramatically increase fast sealift capability would remain.
Airlifted Army contingency forces are not capable of
forcible-entry and have little or no flexibility to divert,
loiter or provide presence in a crisis situation. They lack
sustainability and tactical mobility, and are vulnerable
without their heavy follow-on forces. The heavy Army
contingency forces take weeks to deploy and require a large
percentage of the nation's strategic sealift. Finally, they
are ill-suited for demonstrating U.S. resolve short of their
actual introduction on foreign soil.
To execute a stability strategy, the United States
needs forces capable of global crisis response. The
unpredictability of where, when, and against whom U.S.
forces may be used demands a balanced capability. The
operational requirements of this strategy dictate the
military possess a combination of amphibious forces,
contingency forces, and follow-on forces. As Maritime
Prepositioning Ship capability complements amphibious
capability -- amphibious forces complement contingency
forces. The U.S. must, therefore, continue to modernize and
replace amphibious ships to achieve the strategic
operational requirement of lifting the assault echelon of
three Marine Expeditionary Brigades. The United States must
preserve the ability to influence world events affecting its
vital interests. A credible amphibious capability is an
integral aspect of that ability.
1. Dick Cheney, Annual Report to the President and Congress, U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, 1992, p. vii.
2. Dick Cheney, Annual Report to the President and Congress, U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, 1992, p. 3.
3. Dick Cheney, Annual Report to the President and Congress, U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, 1992, pp. 70-71.
4. Dick Cheney, Annual Report to the President and Conqress, U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, 1992, p. 77.
5. Colin Powell, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and
Associated Terms, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1989, p. 228.
6. Dick Cheney, Annual Report to the President and Congress, U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, 1992, p. 120.
7. OH 1-5, Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) Operations, MCCDC
Quantico, 1990, p. 7
8. Major General John Sheehan, USMC, Washington Post Interview,
May 12, 1989.
9. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gerlaugh, USMC, Plans, Policy, and
Operations Department, HQMC. Interview with Major Richard Christie
April 10, 1990.
1. Cheney, Dick. Annual Report to the Congress February 1992.
2. Gerlaugh, Lt. Col. Robert. Interview With Maj. R. Christie
3. OH 1-5, Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) Operations, MCCDC
Quantico, VA 1990.
4. Powell, Gen. Colin. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military
and Associated Terms December 1989.
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