By Mark Ash
Some very exciting developments are happening in Amphibious Warfare, one is the concept of Sea Basing and the other is OMFTS (Operational Maneuver From The Sea). Sea Basing the combination of the U.S. Navy’s Amphibious Ready Groups and Mobile Positioning Force (MPF) Fleets. OMFTS is a deep penetration maneuver from the sea. While the deep penetration maneuver is the cornerstone of modern armored warfare, it is new for amphibious warfare. Though to perform it you need both Sea Basing as well as adequate air cover and close air support to be flown from U.S. Navy supercarriers.
Standard amphibious operations are preformed in three phases. First you have the initial landing. Second is the build of forces. Third, the breakout of those forces from the beachhead. OMFTS proposes to change all that. It proposes a landing with a fluid and seamless movement inland, totally bypassing the slow build up of forces. This has the potential of knocking an enemy off balance and keeping them that way. To do this the U.S. Marines will need a strong mechanized force that can make the transition from sea-to-shore without delay. A force that can push deep inland in a minimal amount of time. Not only will this gain the Marines the much-desired element of surprise, it will prevent the enemy from mustering his forces to counter attack either on the beach, or inland. Such a maneuver from the sea would need a whole family of new vehicles, not just the EFV/AAAV currently being sought by the U.S. Marines.
Along with an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV), the Marines would need an amphibious gun system to provide direct fire support, mortar and self-propelled howitzer systems to provide in indirect fire support, as well as an assault breacher/counter-mine vehicle to clear obstacles and mines both on the beach and inland. All these vehicles will have to make the sea-to-shore transition quickly. With the time it takes landing craft to unload equipment, the fact that amphibious ships can carrier vehicles or landing craft and with the future of the LCAC and LCU (R ) in question, such vehicles must have their own ‘over the horizon’ amphibious capabilities. This would give the U.S. Marines the flexibility to perform future missions in an uncertain world. It would also give the USMC the to cross rivers without the same delay that was experienced in RCT-5’s final push on Baghdad in early April of 2003. As there are some doubts about the effectiveness of the EFV/AAAV and also the need to replace both the M1A1 and LAV-25 as seen in the MEFFV (Marine Expeditionary Family of Fighting Vehicles) in the 2015 timeframe, it would seem appropriate to cancel the former, while adding the AAVP7A1 replacement to the latter program. There would need to be an acceleration of the MEFFV program as well. This could be provided by the funds of the EFV/AAAV.
If you look at the USMC’s current MEFFV you will see that is it is a replacement for both the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and the LAV-25. This program was initiated before the 2003 Iraq War. At its initiation the program assumed that a lighter weight vehicle, between 15 to 20 tons could perform both missions effectively and the vehicle would rely on landing craft for the trip over the horizon, from ship-to-shore. In current statement from Marine Corps leadership, the necessity of a well protected vehicle, in the range of 30 tons, will be need to suitably replace the M1A1. Such a vehicle wouldn’t make a suitable replacement for the LAV, which is used mostly for reconnaissance in force. The LAV-25 is a 13-ton vehicle that relies on its mobility and firepower rather then physical protection in combat. The obvious realignment of the MEFFV program would be to base an amphibious assault vehicle and amphibious gun system/tank on a 30 to 35 ton tracked vehicle chassis and the future LAV on a 15 to 18 ton wheeled chassis. The future LAV would also need the ability to accompany its tracked counterparts from ship-to-shore, also having as many interchangeable components as possible. If this sounds like an ambitions program, anything less would fail to meet the full potential of the OMFTS concept.
Along with new vehicles, OMFTS depends on the control of the airspace above it. OMFTS will need both close air support (CAS) and air superiority. While the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operate a fleet of aircraft well suited for the CAS role, as well as purchasing the F-35 JSF, the Navy only has an aging dedicated air superiority fighter, the F-14 Tomcat, which is in the process of being retired. While the Tomcat is one of the most famous fighters in the world, it has been in service since the early 1970s. It is still a capable fighter, however it is coming to the end of its operational lifetime and its best days are behind it, not in front of it. The current answer to this is developing UCAVs (unmanned combat air vehicles) that can be flown from carriers. While UCAVs are the future, they are proving painfully slow to mature. A decade ago many said they would be here already. Many more say it will only be a few more years, however it might take a while longer for the technology to be perfected. To simply place faith in the speed of UCAV development leaves any ground forces performing OMFTS open to attack, as it does the $5 million Supercarriers and multimillion dollar Sea Basing fleets open to attack. What is needed is a fighter that can secure the air space over the fleet now as well as dominate the air space above the ground forces.
Because UCAVs have been slow to develop this means any such aircraft will have to be manned. It will have to be a high-speed interceptor, with excellent range, excellent stealth characteristics and a high air-to-air ordnance capacity. Not only will it need to carrier many small and medium air-to-air missiles, it will need to carrier an air-to-air missile with the ability to engage aircraft, large cruise missiles and ballistic missiles at long range. What it will need to carry is a replacement for the AIM-54 Phoenix. As goes the Tomcat, so goes the Phoenix. The Phoenix’s replacement will need approximately the same range as the AIM-54, greater then 100 miles, however probably won’t need as large of a warhead. This will lighten the weapons system and make it more compact. Whatever aircraft is chosen, it will need to carry about four of these weapons without compromising its ability to engage targets at close and medium range. To design an aircraft from scratch for this would be too costly and time consuming. The only aircraft available that means the speed and stealth requirements is the F-22 Raptor. The problem with the Raptor is it would need extensive modifications to allow it to operate from a carrier. Even at that, it doesn’t have the internal capacity needed to carry the required payload. There is an alternative, the YF-23.
The YF-23 was combined effort of Northrop Grumman and McDonnell Douglas for the Advanced Tactical Fighter Program. The U.S. Navy was excluded by the Defense Department from this program and in 1991 the U.S. Air Force picked the YF-22 as the replacement for the F-15 Eagle. The YF-22 became the F-22 Raptor. Without being in the program, the Navy was left without the ability to choose which design suited its very specialized needs. Unlike the layout of the F-22 Raptor, with its two engines close together, the YF-23 has its engines spaced apart, leaving more room in the center of the airframe for an increased ordnance bay. A bay that could fit the missiles required without compromising stealth, by mounting missiles on external pylons, as the F-22 would need to do. Along with this the YF-23 prototype had thrust reversion, something that comes in handy when landing on an aircraft carrier. The YF-23 was also equipped with two General Electric F120 turbojets, easier to maintain and more fuel efficient at supercruise then the Raptor’s P&W F119 turbojets. An aircraft like the YF-23 would fulfill the Navy’s needs until UCAVs can mature to the point where they become practical. As with all new technology, only time will tell how long that is. Will the need to perform Operational Maneuvers From The Sea and protect the U.S.’ Sea Bases wait until then as well?
About the Author
Mark Ash is a former U.S. Marine, who served honorably from 1996 through 2002. He served with AAVs in Twenty-Nine Palms for three and a half of those years.