Navy LCAC hovercraft like this one carry Marine vehicles, supplies, and heavy equipment ashore.

Aging Navy LCAC hovercraft like this one carry Marine vehicles, supplies, and heavy equipment ashore.

The Connector Challenge

So how do you get ashore swiftly from such distances? The new tactics will require new technology — specifically better and faster “connectors,” to use the Navy/Marine lingo for landing craft. But instead of landing on the beach, the Marines now want their connectors to drop amphibious vehicles off five miles from land. That keeps the connectors out of range of ground troops with anti-tank missiles, for one thing. In fact, the fastest current connector, the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft, is so lightly protected the Navy refuses to land it on any defended beach. But the LCAC and other current landing craft are designed to bring Marines all the way to the shore, not drop them off in the surf.

So what’s the solution? A short-term fix may simply be new ramps, said Mullen. The Marines want to modify current landing craft so an amphibious vehicle can drive straight into the water rather than waiting for the ramp to touch the beach. They’re even considering modifications to the ramp on the Joint High Speed Vessel, an ocean-going ship (albeit a small, short-ranged one), to let vehicles “launch in-stream” from a JHSV at sea.

Currently, the JHSV isn’t intended for amphibious assault at all: It’s based on a civilian high-speed ferry that unloads at piers and ports. Using such a large, fast vessel as a “mothership” for an amphibious assault would be a major step forward.

For now, the Navy is sticking to its current program to replace the current LCAC and Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and the Marines are looking at modifying those vessels, not some radical alternative. But, Mullen went on, “long-term, we need to identify some leap-ahead ‘connector after next’ ideas.”

One option being considered is called the Ultra-Heavy-Lift Amphibious Connector (UHAC), which would paddle through the water and then straight ashore on buoyant, air-filled tracks. Another is a semi-robotic high-speed sled that could carry a single Amphibious Combat Vehicle, drop it off in the water, and then find its own way back to the fleet.

But the Marines are eagerly seeking new ideas. They recently had a “connector summit” with Navy and private-sector representatives and will soon issue a formal Broad Area Announcement (BAA) of desired capabilities, Mullen said. Then, “[we'll] see what comes back from industry in terms of feasibility.”

Some 75 years ago, an eccentric Louisiana boat-builder came up with the design for what would become the ubiquitous landing craft of World War II. “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us,” said to D-Day commander Dwight Eisenhower. That’s the kind of innovation the Marine Corps needs from industry again.

Comments

  • Gary Church

    Two words: Credible Sport
    Could have a fleet of them for what the worthless Osprey costs.

    • Gary Church

      The credible sport concept is the ultimate hostage rescue machine. Nothing else comes close and with current technology it is completely doable. And yes, it can carry alot of guns.

      • Gary Church

        If the Marines want a Expeditionary Force 21, then a half dozen credible sports could HALO onto the objective supported by gunship versions, be air refueled and loiter if necessary at high altitude and then have one or two rocket land and take-off to pick them up.

        • Gary Church

          I meant to write HALO the Marines onto the objective.

  • Gary Church

    If the Marine Corps needs ships to send in close to an enemy shore and they are afraid of them getting sunk my missiles then they have two options really; first use ships that can take some damage and enough drones to smother where the damage is originating from with fire….or use submarines to launch the “raiding force.” While sub raids have been done evacuating many people with them is not going to happen. That leaves the battleworthy ship and that could be accomplished by loading up a container ship with containers modified as armor to soak up missile hits. A 1300 foot long Maersk triple E can fill its hull with 18,000 container units. You place your supply containers in the middle of the hull protected by layers of composite armor containers and you have a cheap battleship to send inshore. Cost? Less than one F-35.

    • Clarkward

      Much better idea than using the subs. You could take a page from one WW2 Q-ship story and fill some of the containers with flotation material. Put some damage control pumps on it and it’d be hard to sink. Not sure how it would do against an ASBM, but then we are developing BMD for that reason, are we not?

      • Gary Church

        We are “developing” BMD to put money in shareholder pockets. It is actually a lost cause due to the reality that you cannot hit a bullet with a bullet. In other words, no matter how accurate and fast your interceptor it will always be far easier to make the missile a little harder to kill. Which means you spend 100 billion dollars knocking down less than half of a billion dollars in missiles. Do the math. Missile defense is a scam. A hugely profitable scam.

      • Gary Church

        Thanks. Filling the containers with an assortment of materials and damage control equipment was exactly what I had in mind. I argue constantly with people on this forum about missiles being “unstoppable.” My point is that you can stop some of them and if you had a HUGE 1000 ft+ ship like this with layers of armored boxes then it could survive several hits from missiles and keep on going. But the people championing the surface combatant believe their missile destroyers and cruisers can survive. I completely reject that.

  • Gary Church

    The best connector is still the first one they tried to build; they just made it too heavy to work right. A high speed tracked vehicle could be modified to float up from the deck of a diesel sub- there would be room for a couple or maybe four. They pop up from underwater and roar in at 35 mph. You can see the concept with the dry deck shelters used on submarines past and present.

    • Gary Church

      So you license build kraut U-boats for 40 million a piece and each one can carry 4 of these submersible high speed tracked vehicles on their deck each with about 10 marines to transport. Since the Navy does not like diesel subs make it a Coast Guard mission- the only coastie that was ever award the medal of honor did so landing marines by the way. A force of a dozen or so of these 1500 ton submarines sneaks in close, the 40 or 50 tracked vehicles pop up and roar in to secure the objective- which could be several miles inland by the way. Overhead is thick cloud of drones for air support right down on the deck because those drones are cheap enough to lose by the dozen to MANPADS and heavy machine guns while destroying said weapons and this will allow follow on waves in helicopters to land. And you also have the cheap battlewagons and credible sport assault transports I already described.

      • Clarkward

        Using all those Coast Guardsmen with submarine experience, or send over a bunch of those Navy submariners that we have so many extra of? I am ignoring the fact that plopping 100 tons of weight topside on a small diesel boat is ridiculous on its face…

        • Gary Church

          While you also ignore that it is a submarine and top heavy does not matter when you are already in a sunken ship. And since that 100 tons floats it will actually keep the boat right side up. Ridiculous when people do not think through their comments.

          • Gary Church

            Sorry, that was harsh. I believe the surface warfare officers in the Navy could be “converted” to Coast Guard diesel sub officers by way of the navy sub program lending a hand with the training and I have even heard rumors that many SWO’s are not happy with their lot in life:)

          • Clarkward

            As a submariner, I can say that you’d probably get a lot of volunteers from the officers and enlisted USN submariners who are tired of dealing with nuclear life. The Navy wouldn’t give them up, but there’d be volunteers. The issue with the topheaviness is that whether the vehicles are a net positive buoyancy-wise, they add a lot of mass on top (far from the center of buoyancy), which affects the dive envelope significantly and restricts the maneuverability of the sub a lot. An example of this being an issue would be coming to periscope depth, where you start taking rolls (no keel on a sub to gentle them), having the extra mass up top could add to the inertia significantly (far from center mass) and get an unrecoverable roll going when you’re already in a delicate trim situation.
            Side note, the seals on all the tank systems (not just hatches) would have to be engineered for submergence pressure and exposure to salt water.

          • Gary Church

            A dry deck shelter would have to keep them dry till it was flooded at shallow depth. Making them submarines capable of deep diving and not just surface craft able to sustain a short and shallow ascent is of course asking way too much. So now there is the mass of the dry deck to deal with also. It could not be just added on- you are right. Either something would have be built into the keel to counter what is up top or the sub would have to be designed for it from the start. While stripping down an existing design to make it cheap is the most attractive option it might not work. So your criticism is valid C but not a showstopper.

          • Clarkward

            Really, the sub would have to be designed from the keel up for the purpose. Subs in general do not have a lot of positive bouyancy to spare, so to manage the weight, it’d have to be totally new. Not totally undoable, tech-wise, but financially, I don’t think we could swing it, as many budget problems as we have, with more adding every day. I don’t have to tell you what drives THAT, because I’ve read your posts talking about it. Too much corruption wasting money. Ugh.

          • Gary Church

            Are you sure? The dry decks seem to work on nuclear subs. The drydeck would be filled with air and the vehicles. Depending on how tight the fit it could actually be too much bouyancy. Flood the drydeck and vehicle would still be floating and might have a roller system on the roof for the vehicles to exit the flooded dry deck underwater. The vehicles would be loaded/recovered on the surface with the deck awash. Adding that much extra bouyancy to compensate for the flooded drydeck does not sound like a huge problem. In fact, because the vehicles will deploy at a shallow depth a simple airbag system that inflates as the vehicles leave the dry deck to compensate for the loss of bouyancy would work.

          • Clarkward

            The 688′s that have carried the drydock shelter weigh in at around 6900-7000 tons. The SDVs in the shelter don’t weigh a whole lot, relative to even a lightly-armored vehicle. Even the 688′s would have trouble carrying 3 or 4 15-ton LAVs on the back. Why this is an issue is that the sub is designed to be more or less neutrally buoyant with the main ballast tanks flooded, and there are several tanks of varying volume inside the hull that are used to establish trim. Those tanks don’t have anywhere near enough volume to cancel out the added mass of the combat vehicles and larger DDS topside. Full disclosure, I did 9 years in 688′s. I think your proposal for the giant containership has merit, but for subs, we’d have to design an all-new, really large boat to transport the LAVs.

          • Gary Church

            Well, full disclosure, the guy who designed the original space capsule thought the guy who came up with the method used to land on the Moon was wrong to. It worked. Von Braun was against using hydrogen in the Saturn V and finally gave in to arguments and later admitted it was the key to getting to the Moon. And this is not rocket science; you add weight on the bottom or add saddle tanks on the hull to modify the bouyancy on an existing design like the Swedish Gotland. Replace the sail on such a design with a dry deck shelter the full length of the top of the sub carrying 4 high speed landing craft capable of being launched submerged. I am going to talk to Hagel about it next week when we play golf.

          • Gary Church

            And that giant container ship could have a moon pool built into it where such submarines could dock and load their landing craft:)

          • ycplum

            I have to disagree. If your center of gravity is above your center of buoyancy, the sub will be sailing upside down. The weight of the armored vehicles must be factored in to the design of the sub and that will greatly complicate things. And s sub that shallow can very well be visible from the air.

  • Old Army 68

    Somewhere out there is a 21st Century Andrew Higgins. Once he is found, though, it may take awhile, as it did with the Higgins boats and the first amtracs, to design, build and field his new “high speed, survivable connector” in quantity. In the meantime, the Corps has a few options readily available that can get more than one infantry company team on the ground at a time to “pry open the door” when the opposition has 65 mile cruise missile and SAM / AAA capabilities. Option 1, for those truly “come NOW or don’t bother coming” situations, is to do advance planning and preparations with SOCOM for the appropriate AFSOW or SOG to be ready to use its MC-130Js to drop one of SOCOM’s Battalion size forces to join the MEU BLT in the assault. The airdrop unit might even be a Raider Bn from the Marine Spec Ops Regiment. Option 2 may be the most “acceptable,” in that it uses only regular MEF air and infantry assets. Each MAW has at least a squadron of KC-130Js that can
    each carry 60+ jumpers. It would be a short term challenge to train battalions in each MARDIV for airborne operations, but better than tieing up MSOR battalions. There would need to be a CVBG available for electronic and lethal suppression. And it would mean that the selected battalions would be tethered closely with the deployed ESGs. Sort of a economy size SPMAGTF. The last option is to plan for a joint operation with existing Army Ready Response airborne units, Air Mobility Command, and an available CVBG. The Army airborne battalion combat team would jump in from C-17s or C-130s. Besides the 82d Abn’s Ready Response Battalion coming out of Ft Bragg, there are typically ready battalions in the Airborne Brigades available in Italy (173d ABCT) and Alaska (4/25th ABCT). Bottom line: There is more than one way to get a good solution pronto when we consider all the readily assets of Team USA.

  • Smedly

    Why do these fools think that precision guided missiles can’t hit AAVs, LCACs, and V-22s? Nuff said.

    • steve

      You should have read the article more closely. Not only are they aware of the threat to current delivery systems, they are addressing those threats with tactical and technological changes.

    • ycplum

      They can, but not as easily as a huge ship. While all these assets are in one place (the landing ship), they are particularly vulnerable. Once deployed, the assets are dispersed and less vulnerable.

  • ELP

    United States Marketing Corps.

  • pzfus

    This isn’t a USMC problem it is a USN problem – CLOSE THE GAP. Surely the role of the Naval Component in Amphibious Operations is to create the conditions which allow the USMC to conduct amphibious assault? The USMC should not be trying to justify changing the amphibious assault paradigm, they should be ensuring that the USN does not shy away from it’s required tasks. From the very point where the Joint Task Force Selects it’s Landing Areas through to L hour the USMC should be worrying about one thing – seizing the beachead. It should not be worrying about the complexities of conducting air & sea maneuvre iot defeat the enemy shore defences.

    If the USMC continues to insist that it needs Far Over The Horizon capability for it’s assault echelons it will end up with a project which looks like …an EFV. A program to secure high speed or robotic ferry capability will be just as expensive if not more so than EFV and will either get cancelled again, or will allow for such limited procurement that the first amphibious wave will be so small that the beachhead will crumple under the pressure of the same cheap weapon systems that cause it to launch from 65kms.

    The threat does not disappear just because the Marines get on the shore, and when they get there what is going to provide their direct support? The same ships that launched them will still be at 65kms and if the missile threat still exists, then the air component will be probably still engaged in SEAD and suppression of shore batteries. This sad reality reflects the fact that the big grey boxes, as they become fewer in number become “sacred cows” that cannot be scratched or placed in the line of fire, even if the risk has been mitigated or can be countered (what are all those automated CWIS batteries for anyway?).

    The USMC excels at the planning and execution of large scale amphibious operations within a highly Joint complex environment. They should be forcing the issue of simplicity, and making sure that the $Bs that are spent on Naval/Air systems are being utilized to support them in their primary mission, not in making an already complex and fraught operational task even more complicated. The Ship to Shore phase of the assault is the most subject to interference from not only the enemy but also friction or “fog of war”, weather, light conditions, poor survey of the approach routes……., not to mention the condition that the troops will be in when they get to shore. (Next time you go out in a hydroplaning speed boat on calm water image what it will feel like inside a metal box in sea state 4 for at least 1 hour and then contemplate conducting an opposed beach landing while carrying up to 100lbs of kit on soft sand). Dramamine is not the solution and you can’t replicate nausea and fatigue on a Playstation.

    The answer does not just lie in having a brand new AAV replacement. The answer also lies in ensuring that the Joint team can get them to where they need to be (Just Over The Horizon), and that the Joint team is ready for the bloody fight when they get there. Marines on the beach will know that they will lose brothers and sisters in that place, wherever it may happen to be, mentally the other components of the Task Force need to be there too. Arguments about sea maneuver don’t wash – CLOSE THE GAP, protect the Amphibious Task Force iot support the Landing Force the best way possible, by getting them as close to the Landing Area Horizon (or shore?) as possible, having suppressed the enemy coastal defenses whilst securing the Sea LOC and preparing for the sustainment of the beachead.

    • Gary Church

      The more explanations I read about this the more impossible it sounds except with some crazy idea like diesel subs carrying high speed landing craft on their deck. CLOSE THE GAP? There is no way to do that unless you are invisible. And the only way to do that I can think of is to sneak in underwater to as close as you can get and release your vehicles to bob to the surface and roar into the landing area. Can we afford a 1500 ton diesel sub to carry 4 vehicles? And is 4 reasonable? If these subs were built just to do this you could cut the cost down from the approximately 40 million to…..let’s say 25 million. A Chinook carries 40 troops and costs about 40 million. But then a Chinook can fly back and forth all day. But those 4 vehicles stay with and fight with the Marines. Let’s say you could get the price of this carrier sub down to 20 million so for the price of one Marine F-35 fighter you could have 10 of these submarines able to put 40 vehicles and 400 Marines on the beach. The subs could also launch missiles from underwater for the Marines to laser designate targets for.

    • ycplum

      Long story short: The Marines have learned not to place all their eggs in a Naval Basket.
      With that said, their simply isn’t a big enough budget for the Marines to have their very own basket.

  • PolicyWonk

    Is the USMC planning on doing a contested assault without “softening up” the area they are planning to land in? Isn’t it assumed that the navy, USMC, and USAF are going to be providing air support, with lots of radar killing missiles, and/or Growlers to jam the environment before they land?

    How’re the Zumwalt’s supposed to fit into this picture (providing there’s one in the vicinity)?

    What about the “joint force” concepts that everyone likes to talk about? What are the roles of the other service branches? Isn’t there an integrated strategy of some kind?

    There seems to be a lot of missing information here…

    • ycplum

      The way I see it:
      1) The Marines do not want to to depend on the Navy if at all possible.
      2) Suppression only reduces your casualties, not eliminates them.
      3) A faster force delivery vehicle will reduce casualties in either a suppressed or unsuppressed scenario.
      4) There isn’t enough money for the Marines to get everything they want. The Marines and Navy are stuck with cooperating with each other.

  • Ben

    Amphibious fighting vehicles do not work, it’s time to move on. They have to be light to swim, but they have to be heavy for Armour to protect their occupants, these are directly competing with each other. The best and so far only modern option is the use of LCAC to carry properly armoured vehicles to shore, LCAC’s can land on 70% of all shore lines compared to 15% for conventional landing craft and reach up to 300NM. Up Gun the LCACs to dish out some decent offence/defence, put a Phalanx CIWS system on it and a Trophy system for defence(Note, the GAU-13 has successfully been tested on LCAC).

    • Gary Church

      LCAC does seem to be the only solution but it is a huge craft to carry one tank or Heavy Armored Personnel Carrier. Add anything more than very light armor to it and it can no longer carry that load. And helicopter gunships are a much better way to dish out firepower. They are not that much harder to hit than a LCAC though. A really large force of drones smothering the landing zone and entire area with fire is part of the solution IMO because you can afford to have drones shot down by the dozen, unlike manned platforms.

  • Supernova1987

    What about jetpacks? With them you don’t even need to land on the beach, you can try to land behind enemy lines.

    Maybe a jetpack that can return to the ship by itself to get another marine.

    Bring the LCACs 20miles from the beach with 100 troops and 25 jetpacks.

    http://en.ria.ru/infographics/20100316/158214229.html
    max speed 100km/h.

    • Gary Church

      Why not a jetpack that can carry a couple dozen people….oh, yeah, that’s called an Osprey. Unfortunately, like a jetpack, if the engine dies you fall out of the sky and die. There is a machine that gets shot full of holes and usually manages to make a survivable landing- it’s called a helicopter.

      • Supernova1987

        Well the idea of jet pack can make much more sense than an osprey or helicopter. First of all the radar and infrared signature are much smaller. An osprey or helicopter would make fat juicy targets.
        Second of all if you send 500 guys with 500 jetpacks at the same time you saturate the defensive force much more.
        I doubt the marines would send their helicopters and ospreys first because it’s too risky, they would surely try to land with their amphibious tanks first.
        After landing with their jetpacks, the marines would find the enemy positions, call for artillery support from the zumwalt and F-35s, etc to destroy them,… When the area is secure THEN you send the helos and ospreys in secure landing zones, and you prepare the beach for the LCACs, etc…
        If the engine dies? Well what kind of nonsensical argument is that ? what do you think would happen if an osprey loses one engine ? duh…

        • Gary Church

          Send 500 drones, not Marines. jeez.
          You think they would send marines but not risk their opsreys? Kind of backwards. As for what happens when an osprey loses one engine; if it is where it is most likely to happen- descending or climbing out of an LZ, it falls all out of the sky and everyone dies. It will not have time to rotate into airplane mode; that is just the implausible scenario they give to justify it not being able to auto-rotate.

          • Supernova1987

            If the osprey loses one engine it’s pretty much toast, and the 30 marines inside too. If you send your 30 marines with 30 jetpacks, the enemy has to dal with 30 targets.
            A marine with a jetpack coming at night at very low altitude at 100km/h would be very hard to catch. It might even be possible to make a militarized variant of the jetpack with reduced signature, the ability to go from point A to point B automatically, extra payload, that kind of stuff.
            Any attack would certainly be preceded with artillery fire probably using drones and F-35s to find targets. But you still need troops to hold the ground and sanitize the area enough for reinforcements to arrive by helicopter and by sea.
            And if possible you don’t want to bring the big ships too close. The LCACs are fast, numerous, and would be harder to detect than big ships. They could be escorted too by the zumwalts/air fighters.

          • Gary Church

            Actually the Osprey cannot even carry the 24 they advertise. Not quite enough room for fully equipped Marines. LCACs are not hard to detect. As for the jetpacks being separate targets, I cannot argue with that. And each one flying back by itself; that is also interesting. So I like the way you think, but the thing is a wave of 100km/h jetpack Marines would be easy targets even for assault rifles. A target is a target and not that much harder to hit with an automatic weapon even going a couple hundred miles an hour. Everyone seems to ignore the fact that the helicopter war in Vietnam was possible because the triple canopy of jungle often protected the helicopters from everyone with an AK-47 shooting them full of holes. The way you avoid ground fire in a Helo is to fly a mile up just like they do in Afghanistan. The U.S. has become very fixed on the idea that no one will dare shoot back. Everything changes when they start shooting back. A Huey was a fairly cheap machine and the thousands (yes, thousands) shot down in Vietnam were easy to replace. Not so with Ospreys. In your scheme the Marines in jetpacks would all be coming back on autopilot with gunshot wounds and there would be no second wave.

  • Gary Church

    You like Edmond Hamilton Cynthia? How about EE Doc Smith?

  • pzfus

    All great points – and focused on the fact that there is no easy solution to closing the gap/crossing the last bound… the reality is we can never defeat enemy shore defenses we can only suppress them. Just as with red air defense you can’t defeat, this is because you can’t get rid of every DsHK/12.7/GW system.

    A “non-permissive” rather than an opposed beach landing is the likeliest scenario for a future large scale operation of this nature. It is going to be hard, but the burden of suppressing the enemy should be shared by all elements of the Joint Task Force with their plethora of capabilities. This firepower and suppressive capacity of so much of the USN (and to a degree USAF) equipment inventory are in part justified by the requirement to support such an operation, and the problem won’t be solved by a high tech (high $) AAV/EFV.

    The problem will be partly solved by the CATF being enabled to orchestrate all elements with all their tech and $B systems to support the CLF establishing a beachhead. Unfortunately some systems (dare I say the self licking lollipops) come with such a high price tag that their number 1 goal is not supporting the mission commander, rather it is self preservation, which means that they stay in secure sea maneuver/fire support areas which are in themselves one of the main causes of the large gap from ship to shore.

  • Al LeBlanc

    pzfus: Generally agree “isn’t a USMC problem it is a USN problem”, depending on scenario. If the scenario is another Okinawa, I would use Powell’s Maxim of “overwhelming force” combined with “overwhelming US/Allies Assets” in the Region. Need to use collective C4ISR and especially ECM warfare to deceive/destroy enemies area denial assets. Seems to me 65 miles is too far out – need anti-air,anti-ship and anti-submarine defense systems to protect assets from much closer in. Need to minimize anti-service rivalry – Marine Corps Needs Full Support DOD/Allies Coalition Assets.