The Navy conducts a large number of Aircraft Carrier Strike Group war games, training operations and interoperability exercises in areas of great strategic significance such as the contentious South China Sea. Yet the service has now taken new steps to massively increase preparations for large scale maritime attack by operation aircraft carriers together with amphibious assault ships in a single, integrated operation.
The Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group are together conducting Expeditionary Strike Force operations in the South China Sea, a combined operation which raises interesting new questions about how they might operate together as part of a major maritime warfare operation.
“While operating together, the Expeditionary Strike Force participated in a variety of evolutions including tactical maneuvering, and establishing joint command and control communications,” a Navy report says.
The Navy has conducted dual carrier strike operations in the Pacific theater and also operated amphibious units in the Pacific to stage exercises, but what about both amphibious assault ships and carriers together? Certainly, one quick thought is simply that combined amphibious assault ships and carrier presence bring what could be considered a massive amount of firepower and mix of amphibious and air attack assets. An amphibious assault, for instance, would not only be able to draw upon Osprey helicopter troop transports and new dimensions of aerial support from F-35B stealth fighter jets, but also exponentially increase the kind of air power any sort of amphibious landing might have. In terms of just sheer numbers, dozens of fighter jets could hover over target areas to open up land corridors for advancing Marines.
The prospect of this kind of attack operation introduces new avenues for modern multi-domain warfare as well as new applications of Combined Arms Maneuver formations. Not only would the sheer volume of concentrated attack greatly increase with carrier-amphibious operations, but an attack envelope would widen substantially to potentially cover larger areas of coastline and ocean.
Newer, more advanced kinds of networking would disperse attacking forces across surface and air territories to, at least in part, identify optimal landing points and reinforce any kind of beachhead advance. F-35Cs, armed with a full heavy load of weapons, could support F-35Bs through a common F-35 data link to provide air support from greater standoff distances. In this respect, carrier support could enable ship-to-shore attacks at much closer ranges due to an ability to provide more air cover and close-air support to advancing amphibious vehicles, supply carriers and surface drones. The sortie rate for any kind of coordinated assault could reach unprecedented levels, and advanced networking will allow previously unattainable levels of amphibious assault ship-carrier interoperability.
Yet another key element of adding this kind of attack volume is possibly of particular relevance in the Pacific, given the sheer size of the Chinese land and naval forces. Should some kind of major maritime engagement against China unfold, there will be a huge need for large numbers of integrated air, surface and ground assets to outmatch any kind of defenses or thwart offensive attacks.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.