The Marine Corps is preparing for a new kind of heavily-armed, island-hopping type of hybrid amphibious warfare using a now emerging class of Light Amphibious Warships (LAW) intended to transport weapons, forces and supplies to dispersed and potentially small land areas throughout the Indo-Pacific.
“The Marine Corps has a very good operational concept about how that would work, especially as they are going to look at putting their units into formations that are dispersed throughout the Indo Pacific armed with long range strike capability, and anti ship missiles,” Rep. Rob Whitman -(R) Va., ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, told The National Interest in an interview.
The tactical concept here seems specifically tailored for the kinds of amphibious warfare contingencies likely to unfold in the Pacific. The flashpoints for potential conflict are numerous, ranging from Chinese-Japanese disputes over the Senkaku Islands to Chinese pressure on Taiwan to a possible clash in the South China Sea. Should a Marines unit operate with an ability to set up fortified mini fire-bases of sorts from small island areas, they might be positioned to prevail against enemy surface ships and even larger scale amphibious attacks. Island based artillery, long-range rockets or anti-ship missiles could potentially derail a Chinese amphibious assault upon Taiwan, by virtue of denying an ability to advance through heavy precision fire.
Given these factors, the LAW would shift the amphibious warfare paradigm away from more linear or traditional kinds of ship to shore attacks. Instead, the LAW would support the Navy’s modern Distributed Maritime Operations strategy based upon the tactical premise that newer kinds of sensors, submarines, long-range weapons and multi-domain connectivity will continue to drive a need for more disaggregated, yet networked combat operations. This kind of approach, one that is envisioned for the mission scope of the Corp’s emerging LAW, would call upon and favor the multi-domain combat focus of the Corps, which in the case of the Pacific would likely want to operate with the agility to conduct land and sea operations in coordination with one another. Pockets of land weapons could be supplied with ammunition, Marines and even air, surface and sea-launched drones intended to support maritime warfare operations.
Wittman calls the Light Amphibious Warship a “great concept” and says he is working with fellow committee members and military weapons developers to pursue an intelligent testing and preparation strategy for the new ship. He argues for extensive testing early in the maturation of the new ship program, saying that prior to deciding upon a specific set of technical and structural requirements, the Marine Corps should assess, demonstrate and test various possible options and applications.
“So the question is, how do you build a limited number of platforms and test them intensely where the technology goes out there and you really learn all these things and then say…’okay, I think we’ve got it? Now we can launch it with serial production,’” Wittman said.
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.