As formations which can launch fifth-generation stealth attacks from the ocean, dispatch heavily armed ship-to-shore vehicles loaded with Marines and weapons, operate Osprey Tiltrotors for troop transport behind enemy lines and command fleets of surface, air, and undersea drones, U.S. Navy Amphibious Ready Groups (ARG) could almost operate as adapted, tailorable, multi-mission Carrier Strike Groups.
This would be particularly true in maritime environments such as those that exist in the Pacific region where there are many island chains, coastal areas, and sea-land domain operational requirements. Unlike Carrier Strike Groups which, having large, deep-draft blue-water ships such as carriers and destroyers, Amphibious Ready Groups can perform maritime combat operations in both open blue water and in littoral areas too. In terms of the types of immediate combat missions that could emerge and quickly become necessary in the Pacific region, many of the possibilities would likely require capabilities associated with an ARG.
Perhaps this is part of why the U.S. Navy is now operating its America Amphibious Ready Group in the Pacific region, conducting patrols and security operations in the Philippine Sea. An ARG in the Pacific region would not only have the ability to launch amphibious ship-to-shore attacks in island areas or along contested enemy coastline. The Navy could, however, launch the F-35B vertical take-off-and-landing fifth-generation stealth air asset which can perform strikes over land, attack enemy surface ships, support advancing amphibious forces, or even conduct forward reconnaissance and targeting missions. In this respect, an ARG introduces a measure of mission versatility that a heavier, longer-range Carrier Strike Group might not achieve while still ensuring the possibility of fifth-generation air support.
There are so many potential scenarios in the Pacific region that might require or benefit from the presence of amphibious forces. Should Taiwan or Japan fall victim to some kind of Chinese attack, then an ARG could immediately bring thousands of Marines to support defenses, launch F-35 jets to attack approaching forces, and quickly reinforce supplies, troop reinforcements, weapons, and equipment to the shorelines under attack. With watercraft such as ship-to-shore connectors able to transport large amounts of Marines, equipment, and weapons to the fight, an ARG could itself launch amphibious attacks upon the attacking amphibious forces to thwart their advance and prevent a successful shore landing.
Amphibious forces can also operate large numbers of deck-launched air drones and unmanned surface vessels able to perform forward reconnaissance missions, transport essential supplies ashore or even conduct offensive attack operations when directed by a human.
This kind of tactical mission scope would also prove critical should some kind of confrontation emerge in the South China Sea, where land and sea intersect repeatedly and in rapid succession. This need for multi-domain close-in maritime attack, oriented largely toward the Pacific, quite possibly explains why the Marines are working intensely to build and deploy its new light amphibious warship for “island-hopping” expeditionary warfare moving weapons and Marines quickly and interchangeably from ship to shore.
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.