In Press: Talking a balanced Fleet at The Atlantic

by Craig Hooper on March 15, 2011

In my second piece over at The Atlantic, I argue for the under-appreciated do-anything amphibs. You can read it here. But as the budget gets grimmer and grimmer, I fear that some in the Navy are looking to cut amphibious platforms or restrain/downsize the JHSV, LCS or other experimental platforms that may change the way we do amphibious operations.

(Note the JHSV prototype Westpac Express above, already working. If only I could say the same about the CH-53K heavy-lifters, which hopefully will replace the 40-year old CH-53s that we can’t do without in these disaster situations).

But I’m really worried about context–that the U.S. is projecting it’s own views upon other Navies. Our view, that amphibious warfare is kinda obsolete, has taken on a life of it’s own. Most Americans–and U.S. policymakers–are unaware that our lowly amphibs are getting called to do “stuff” at twice the rate they were back in the Cold War days.

“Obsolete” amphibious equipment–old “kit” that is is–seems to be getting used a heck of a lot. And as more countries deploy this stuff, our inside-the-beltway “conventional wisdom” about amphibious operations seems to have infected our assessments (Yeah, I’m talking to YOU, Michele Flournoy). And that’s perilous.

We’re not paying attention–the land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have gobbled up analytical resources, leaving less than the best talent to mull future amphibious contingencies. Corporate memory has forgotten past amphibious contributions, too. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the elder statesman of the U.S. national security community, is too young to recall how, early in the Korean War, America’s desperate scramble to reconstitute amphibious warfare capabilities led to successful landings behind North Korean lines.

Only a handful of participants in America’s last “contested” landing, the 1983 seizure of the island of Grenada, are still in service. Present-day Pentagon tastemakers tend to over-emphasize America’s impotent amphibious fleet sitting off Kuwait in 1991, serving as little more than a distraction during the first Gulf War. And they downsize the amphibious fleet’s modern-day contributions.

Our DC-based cost-cutters out there also fail to appreciate the surging geopolitical importance of islands and atolls. Countries like to squabble over islands—In the past four decades, strategic islands changed hands on a regular basis.

Iran seized the Persian Gulf islands Abu Musa, Greater Tumb and Lesser Tumb in the ‘70s. Britain fought to recover the Falkland Islands in 1982. Chinese encroachment of islands in the South China Sea started in 1973 and continues today. The Western Pacific is riddled with disputes over strategic islands.

Making matters worse, rising maritime powers are studying American island bases of Guam and Diego Garcia, key security assets in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and are eager to develop similar facilities. Desperate for cash, fragile, semi-corrupt island-owning governments in the Pacific and Indian Ocean may even resort to selling an cialis online islet or two, using a maritime equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase to spring an unwelcome South Pacific base upon America’s unwary maritime strategists.

And if blue water navies cannot purchase strategic island bases of their own, those navies are, right now, building the fleets needed to get them. As I wrote for The Atlantic:

“…more countries are investing in amphibious warfare platforms than ever before. Last December, Russia solidified plans to buy four $900 million-dollar Mistral-class assault ships from France; Canada is mulling a purchase of two. China, almost done with a second new amphibious warfare vessel, is in the early stages of a rumored 16 assault-ship building program. Australia is planning for a pair of massive helicopter carriers. South Korea, Japan, and even Indonesia are building amphibious craft, all capable of transporting and landing hundreds of fully equipped troops on hostile shores.”

Though it may be trendy today to consign “charging the beach” tactics to the dustbin of history, amphibious warfare seems set for a perilous global renaissance. Let’s make sure the Marine Corps will not only participate, but lead the way in developing flexible, scalable and cost-effective security in the fractious littorals of the future.

You’ll be hearing more about this over the coming month. But in the meantime, check out this older Atlantic piece that Chris Albon and I wrote for some additional context/background.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Harris March 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Hey, the article was good, but the comments were exceptional. Rarely have I seen such intelligent, well informed and respectful debate in the online comment format. Don’t most of these things go way off topic and devolve into insult, all covered by this no guts fake name thing? Well done all.


leesea March 20, 2011 at 12:34 am

The HSV WestPac Express has been serving as a transport for III MEF Marines since 2001. There is an RFP out to replace her but I suspect she will be picked up again by MSC? WPE homeport is usually Naha port (where she is shown departing) and she has ranged from Thailand to Korea.

To me the JHSVs are THE transformational HPMV, more so than LCS, because they have the capacity to be adapted which does not exist in LCS at least not within the current hullforms. (LCS2 has more potential) And because the starting price is much lower than the LCS ever could be. My guess is that the Navy has cut a “no change order” deal with the LCS builders in order to get a lower per hull cost. Ordinarily that would be a good thing. But the basic “box” needs improvement. So I cannot see much being down until after the first five of the second flights are built.

I am told that a JHSV will be part of each newly reconfigured MPSron.


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