What if Iran launches some kind of retaliatory strike on the U.S. related to the anniversary of the targeted killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, prompting some kind of massive U.S. military response?
Sea-launched cruise missiles, stealth bomber strikes and perhaps long-range precision ground fires would almost be a certainty, yet how about an amphibious assault from the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf region? How feasible would that be? What might be Washington’s prospects for success in such a massive counterattack? Any even cursory thought given to the topic might quickly and reasonably conclude that such an overwhelming ship-to-shore attack would likely be met with success, but not without challenges.
The Pentagon has recently made it clear, through a formal statement from Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, that it will not back down from the possibility of launching some kind of major military response.
Surely sea mines and Iranian small boat attacks would need to be accounted for, perhaps by air strikes of coastal areas which launch or house these kinds of assets. Undersea and surface drones, many of which are armed with advanced mine-hunting technologies, would likely lead the way, perhaps in tandem with amphibious assault ship-launched F-35Bs to bring maneuverable precision attack from the air. Sea-launched fifth-generation air support would be crucial to any successful amphibious campaign, not just to ensure air superiority but also to provide vital close-air support to advancing attack forces. F-35Bs could, for instance, fly ahead of advancing amphibious vehicles and use its sensor technology to surveil forward areas. The stealth fighters could also launch necessary air strikes to help clear the coast for arriving armored vehicles.
A major, or even more narrowly targeted maritime attack operation would need to first account for large numbers of sea mines and dispatch armed drones, patrol boats or even some heavily armed shallow-draft, coastal platforms such as Littoral Combat Ships able to fire deck-mounted guns to eliminate small boats. Ship-launched surface and undersea drones could conduct forcible entry operations and forward-looking reconnaissance missions, in coordination with aerial surveillance, to identify suitable, less-defended points of entry for assault. Perhaps forward maneuvering armed drones could rely upon AI-enabled autonomous coordination to find and, upon human direction, attack Iranian small boats. This could be done all while larger platform mother ships, such as big deck amphibious assault ships, perform command and control.
Unmanned Surface Vehicles, dispatched and coordinated from large amphibious assault ships could help clear minefields to open up attack corridors in the ocean or even lead armed attacks on coastal defenses. Once a sea lane for approach were cleared, amphibious assault vehicles and Landing Craft Air Cushions filled with Marines, weapons and equipment could head out, firing their way onto the shore to establish a hold.
Any kind of large-scale mechanized land invasion, while possible, would seem less likely, especially at the outset of a military campaign, yet an amphibious assault from the high-threat Strait of Hormuz introduces an interesting proposition. Should a beachhead or landing strip upon which to deploy heavy armored vehicles be established, certainly the U.S. Army and Marine Corps might be well positioned to rapidly advance. This contingency would be based upon the assumption that large numbers of air defenses, coastal launch sites or shore-fired ballistic missiles were either eliminated or heavily depleted through air attacks.
Should a suitable landing point be established, then ship-transported heavy armor such as Abrams tanks, typically hard to deploy, could swarm up onto shore to secure a larger incursion.
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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University