“Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era”

One of the top sources of insight about modern maritime strategy is Galrahn at Information Dissemination.  He has advice for those watching US forces in the Middle East:

Amateurs watch the carriers; professionals watch the Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs).  Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era.

How can this be true, when our carrier strike groups are the kings of the sea?  Why should we instead watch the movements of ships half the size of a super-carrier?


  1. The new world of maritime strategy
  2. Descriptions of Expeditionary Ships
  3. Navies are putting these insights into action
  4. For more information about the US Navy

1.  The new world of maritime strategy

What is an ESG?  (from Global Security.org, slightly edited)

An expeditionary strike group is made up of amphibious ships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines.  An expeditionary strike group could include amphibious ships, a destroyer, cruiser, frigate, attack submarine and a P-3C Orion land-based aircraft. This allows Navy and Marine Corps forces to launch Marines and landing craft as warships and submarines strike inland targets with missiles and shells. Currently, each amphibious ready group is built around an amphibious assault ship, a dock landing ship and an amphibious transport dock.

In several lengthy posts Galrahn  explains how the world has changed from the post-WWII era.  Here are two excerpts from “Sell The Strategy to Expand the Fleet“, 25 July 2008:

The Navy, indeed Congress and the American people in general, are under the misguided perception that the AEGIS battleship is the dreadnought of our era. This is absolutely false, and would only be true if the Navy was facing a peer competitor. The Dreadnought of the modern maritime era is the Amphibious Ship, and what we call the mothership; essentially the weapon system and logistical enabler capable of saturating the maritime domain with manned and unmanned systems to USE command of the sea, and influence that domain throughout the littorals and into land.

From “In No Case Can We Exercise Control by Battleships Alone…, 29 July 2008:

Since the end of the cold war, the United States Navy has achieved Command of the Sea in the spirit of Mahan, or controlled communications in the spirit of Corbett. This achievement was made possible by decisive victory, but not a decisive victory of war, rather the decisive victory of the cold war. The great question that has plagued the US Navy since the achievement of this decisive victory has not been how to achieve control of maritime communications against competitors, rather how to USE the control the US Navy has achieved.

… Today, the average age of the 86 battleships — 22 CGs {cruisers}, 62 DDG-51s {destroyers}, and 2 DDG-1000s {next-gen destroyers} — the US Navy has or is building is a combined average age younger than the aircraft in the US Navy aviation inventory, younger than the submarine force, younger than the amphibious fleet, younger than the logistics force, and younger the aircraft carrier fleet. It seems strange then that this week the big debate in Congress is not how the United States will leverage the US Navy to forward the foreign policy of the United States by managing peacetime, rather which new battleships the US Navy will build to further increase the command of the sea the Navy already enjoys today.

… Command of the Sea exists only where the US Navy is present, and let us not confuse scouting with unmanned technology as the same as presence. Presence requires manpower to exercise control in peacetime, which is why the ability to influence, and more specifically USE Command of the Sea requires forward deployed manpower in sufficient numbers to execute such influence. When Command of the Sea is not challenged, which in today’s maritime environment describes almost all points of the maritime domain, the entire maritime domain is available to be leveraged as a base of operations by which to execute strategy. To us this means there must be a commitment to building flexible forces for leveraging the sea as base to connect with the non-integrated gaps, and in this way US Navy can position itself to better manage the maritime challenges of peacetime.

In every maritime era there is always one type of ship that determines the capability of naval forces to execute maritime strategy. In the sixteenth century galeasses and heavy galleys represented the dominate ship of the era. As the age of sail emerged, the Royal Navy became the dominate force by putting sails on all of its battleships, which ultimately became the dominate vessel at sea until the mid nineteenth century, when the armored ship replaced the age of sail battleship as the dominate weapon. Eventually the combination of armor and larger guns evolved the battleship again, until all ships were completely rendered irrelevant all at once by HMS Dreadnought, a technological evolution that combined armor, firepower, mobility, speed, and the flexibility to maneuver heavy gunfire and fight on multiple axis. In the mid 20th century, the aircraft carrier became the dominate platform, and combined with the nuclear powered submarine held the position of the most influential vessel at sea until the end of the cold war.

However, with the end of the cold war, it is time to ask what is the dominate ship to execute maritime strategy in this era. Taking a broad view around the world, we note that almost every nation except the United States appears to have answered this question.

… The US Navy finds itself at a major crossroads of history. At this point in time, and for only the next 12-15 years, the US Navy has superior battle-fleet capabilities to maintain complete control of the sea, and none of the 86 battleships widely recognized as the most powerful warships in the world need replacement during the entirety of that time. At the same time, the amphibious force continues to shrink, and the small combatant force (what Corbett calls a cruiser, known as the modern frigate) is completely ignored. While Lockheed Martin and the US Navy, to the disgrace of maritime terminology, insist the Littoral Combat Ship is a surface combatant, it is not. By every strategic and maritime definition used for the last several centuries the LCS is an unrated ship of the flotilla, any insistence otherwise is a demonstration in ones own ignorance. Under such misrepresentation we should be counting MCMs as surface combatants.

2.  Descriptions of Expeditionary Ships

These are quotes from Global Security; click on the links for more information.

Amphibious Transport, Dock: LPD-17 San Antonio class (LPD: Landing Platform Dock):

Amphibious Transport Docks include several classes of ships: LDP’s (Landing Dock Platform), LSD’s (Landing Ship Dock), and the new LPD’s.  They transport and land Marines, their equipment and supplies by embarked landing craft or amphibious vehicles augmented by helicopters in amphibious assault. These versatile ships perform the mission of amphibious transports, amphibious cargo ships and the older LSDs by incorporating both a flight deck and a well deck that can be ballasted and deballasted to support landing craft.

Helicopter amphibious assault ship: LHA-1 Tarawa class (LHA: Landing Helicopter Assault)

The primary war-fighting mission of the LHA-1 Tarawa class is to land and sustain United States Marines on any shore during hostilities. The ships serve as the centerpiece of a multi-ship Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG). Some 3,000 Sailors and Marines contribute to a forward-deployed ARG composed of approximately 5,000 personnel. Nearly three football fields in length and 20 stories high, the ship’s two-acre flight deck, 18,519 square-foot hangar deck, and 250-foot well deck enable an embarked landing force to accomplish its mission around the globe.

The ships are designed to maintain what the Marine Corps calls “tactical integrity” – getting a balanced force to the same place at the same time. One LHA can carry a complete Marine battalion, along with the supplies and equipment needed in an assault, and land them ashore by either helicopter or amphibious craft. …They incorporate the best design features and capabilities of several amphibious assault ships currently in service: the Amphibious Assault Ship (LPH), Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD), Amphibious Cargo Ship (LKA), and Dock Landing Ship (LSD).

  • These ships have the general profile of an aircraft carrier. ..
  • They can support a 35-aircraft complement …
  • The LHA’s full length flight deck can handle 10 helicopters simultaneously, as well as HARRIER jump-jet aircraft …
  • There is a well deck in the stem of the ship for a number of amphibious assault craft, both displacement hull and air cushion.
  • Very complete hospital and mortuary facilities include 17 ICU beds, 4 operating rooms, 300 beds …

Helicopter amphibious assault ship:  LHD-1 Wasp class (LHD: Landing Helicopter Dock)

The Wasp-class are the largest amphibious ships in the world. WASP class ships are the first to be specifically designed to accommodate the AV-8B Harrier jump jet and the LCAC hovercraft, along with the full range of Navy and Marine helicopters, conventional landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles to support a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) of 2,000 Marines. The ships also carry some of the most sophisticated communications, command and control capabilities afloat, along with state of the art electronic systems and defensive weaponry.

The LHD is an improved follow-on to the five ship Tarawa-class LHAs, sharing the basic hull and engineering plant. The LHD l has an enhanced well deck, enabling it to carry three LCACs (vice one LCAC in the LHAs). The flight deck and elevator scheme is also improved, which allows the ship to carry two more helicopters than its predecessor, the LHA.

3.  Navies are putting these insights into action

Navys around the world are realizing this, and re-configuring their fleets for the new century.

Warfare ‘Renaissance’ – Expeditionary Capabilities Drive Procurement“, Christopher P. Cavas, Defense News, 3 April 2006 — Excerpt:

One word captures current events in navies around the world: expeditionary.

“There is unquestionably a renaissance in expeditionary naval warfare worldwide,” said Bob Work, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel who keeps tabs on naval developments for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.  “Most navies are giving up surface combatants and submarines to improve their capability in naval expeditionary warfare,” he said. “There is a resurgence, an unbelievable upkick in the number of amphibious warfare ships being pursued by nations.”

The trend is taking place in navies big and small, east and west. Various types of amphibious ships are being contemplated, on order or under construction for many navies, whether or not they have operated similar warships. Even more traditional warship types such as frigates are being designed with large command centers able to host joint coalition commanders, and one Danish design adds a large roll-on/roll-off deck to the standard frigate configuration.

“The good thing about expeditionary ships is they can be used for a lot of different kinds of missions,” said Eric Wertheim, editor of the bi-annual “Combat Fleets of the World” international compendium.  … “It’s also a lot less militaristic to call it a ‘multipurpose support ship,'” he added. “Warships in a lot of ways are becoming less warship and more an instrument of multinational use. They become an instrument of diplomacy in unified task forces and coalition operations.”

… LPDs, along with larger LHD amphibious assault ships, feature floodable well decks able to operate small boats or landing craft. Both types can embark fully equipped combat troops and their equipment. Big-deck LHDs can operate and support helicopters, tiltrotor aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and vertical-takeoff-or-landing jets. LPDs in general are only able to refuel aviation assets and carry fewer troops.

LPD: The New Dreadnought?“, Robert Farley (assistant professor, Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, U Kentucky), posted at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, 14 April 2006 — Excerpt:

Another interesting article in the April 3 Defense News concerns the increasing focus of the world’s navies on “expeditionary” ships, like LPDs, LHDs, LCCs, LHAS, command ships, and so forth. Broadly, this group includes just about any ship that is designed to manage, project, and protect ground expeditions as a primary mission. These ships are large, expensive, tend to carry helicopters, and usually have the capability to deliver and keep supplied a contingent of ground forces.

  • The USN … currently has 12 amphibious assault ships (Tarawa and Wasp classes- LHA), and a dozen amphibious transport docks (LPDs).
  • The Royal Navy has one LHA and two LPDs,
  • the French Navy has recently commissioned the first of the Mistral class, a large amphibious command ship. …
  • The Dutch commissioned Rotterdam, a 17000 ton LPD, in 1998.
  • Spain has built two large LPDs and is building a big LHA, and
  • Italians are building three LPDs, and
  • Portugal is building one.
  • Canada has expressed an interest in purchasing one of the US San Antonio class LPDs, roughly at 25000 ton ship. …
  • India in attempting to buy a US LPD, and
  • Japan operates three small LPDs.
  • South Korea, believe it or not, is building a 19000 ton LHA.
  • Malaysia is considering building two new 18000 ton LHAs.

As major warfare operations have increasingly become coalition expeditionary efforts, states with small militaries want a way to contribute. An amphibious assault ship gives a country like Spain, the Netherlands, or Canada a way to involve itself in an expeditionary operation without being excessively dependent on one of the major naval powers. Like their armies, the navies of these countries are becoming less focused on the traditional forms of territorial defense and more on the need for policing, peacekeeping, and other forms of expeditionary warfare.

4.  For more information about the US Navy

Articles from other sources:

  1. For in-depth coverage of these issues, see Galrahn’s work at Information Dissemination.  His blogroll has many other sites of interest discussing these matters.
  2. Providing for the Common Defense: Four Percent for Freedom,” Jim Talent and Mackenzie Eaglen, Heritage Foundation, 13 December 2007 – An example of those calling for Defense spending at 4% of GDP.
  3. Upcoming FY2009 Debate For the Navy, Informatino Dissemination, 8 July 2008

Articles on the FM website:

  1. DoD Death Spiral – the US Navy version, 31 January 2008
  2. Update to the “Navy Death Spiral”, 22 April 2008
  3. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief”, 8 July 2008
  4. A step towards building a Navy we can afford, 16 July 2008

To see all articles on the FM sites on this topic:  Naval warfare and strategy.

26 thoughts on ““Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era””

  1. Amphibious ships are about influencing events on land with ground forces mostly.
    * They have almost no role in command of the sea, bombing campaigns (gunship diplomacy).
    * They cannot be modern “dreadnoughts” because “dreadnoughts” were the display of maritime power, not of the ability to exploit maritime power for invasions (as are amphibious ships).

    Shrinking size is only a problem if it falls below a critical strength.
    * Wasps, Tarawas, Whidbeys, Harper’s Ferrys and Blue Ridges are enough amphibious capacity for all conflicts (that I can think of) against opponents whose power would not prohibit risky amphibious operations in the first place.
    * Several amphibious ships (several Wasps, for example) were bought because of Senate, not because of Navy requirements.
    Their age isn’t very high. Large ships like Wasps and Tarawas can serve for 40 to 50 years.

    What the USN really needs is imho
    * keep the own technology up to date, able to counter opposing technologies and affordable
    * keep several modern ship designs ready for affordable production
    * make the shipyards capable to fulfill the shipbuilding orders of a naval arms race; like replacing the whole fleet in about ten years.

    The present USN is likely just a fleet of pre-dreadnoughts, quickly getting outdated if a major naval arms race is launched in the future. The idea (I heard it elsewhere) that the PRC would need to increase its navy to match the USN is quite pointless; the USN would need to accept the naval arms race to counter newly-built PRC ships, because (imho) no opponent would launch a naval arms race without a de-valuation of existing fleets by technological revolutions.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Most of these points were discussed by Galrahn in his posts, from which this gives just two excerpts.

    “They have almost no role in command of the sea, bombing campaigns”

    Is this disproved by the value (perhaps a requirement) of occupying the Gulf Islands before a strike at Iran?

    1. We are historically (recent history) leary of sending in troops against hardened targets that may result in significant casualties. Little known amongst the public is that during the first Gulf War in 1991 many senior military officials advocated sending in the Marines to the beaches of Kuwait, with casualty estimates quite high but deemed “acceptable” by the 3 and 4 star planners. What other options were there? Air power and sea power – sea power being bombardment from the sea with battle ships to soften up the targets, and using the Amphibious forces as a feint in order to tie down Iraqi forces near the beaches of Kuwait. Of course the amphibious ship USS Tripoli was instrumental in support of MCM operations that allowed the battle ships to get close in to Kuwait in order for their big guns to make a difference in the ground war.

      I am a big advocate of Amphibious forces, but the Carrier forces have the reach that elements of the Amphibious forces do not have yet – using the two together is the best option in most military and geo-political situations. I can see a day coming though when UAS equipped amphibious forces will supplant much of what the carrier is capable of today.

  2. Observing the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group“, Galrahn, Information Dissemination, 28 August 2008 — Excerpt:

    “While amateurs, usually from a political perspective, tend to focus on carriers as a benchmark for Iran, professionals keep an eye on the number of ESGs forward deployed. For all the talk about small boats, mines, submarines, and ballistic missiles; from a tactical assessment perspective we see the three primary hurdles for military forces to reopen the Straits of Hormuz to be three islands, specifically Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb. These islands sit very close to the deep water channel, but more importantly, they have a bunch of troops on them. Those islands will have to be taken in order to open up the Strait of Hormuz.

    “A comment on this. Look, I know small boats are dangerous, and I understand the Iranians have some serious asymmetrical naval capabilities, but in a realistic assessment the shutdown of the Strait of Hormuz is a declaration of war against Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Unless you believe these countries are going to accept Iranian attack without a word, the conventional military power here is one sided, completely lop sided not in the favor of Iran. This isn’t the Persian Empire, and the number 300 may be a movie, but it also represents the number of aircraft one can expect the Gulf nations to be running sorties against every maritime and coastal target Iran has, blowing blue boats from the sea, all the while supported by US military power. It could get real ugly in Iraq, and Iran will do damage at sea, but a lot of the focus at sea is overblown and unrealistic. Ultimately, we don’t see Iran shutting down the Strait, cutting off Asia from Persian Gulf energy would be the largest political miscalculation in Persian history, and Iran has never shown a tendency for stupidity.

    “While it is unknown the exact number of forces, it is widely suggested that there may be as many as 8000 total troops among the three islands. That is simply too many for a single ESG to handle. However, there is one lesson we learned in Iraq. The US Marines don’t need a lot of troops to kill a lot of people, they just need a lot of support. I think if Israel attacked, and Iran shut down the Gulf, the world (led by Asia) would be leaning heavily on the US President to send in the Marines and open up the troops. With 1 ESG, the president says no. With two?

    “I think that if a President asks whether the Marines can crack open those islands, it isn’t in the nature of the Marine Corps to say “we can’t do it.” So from a theoretical position of a Strait of Hormuz contingency, we see the addition of the Iwo Jima ESG to the Peleliu ESG as a powerful 2 MEU capability that wouldn’t wait 3 weeks during maritime traffic disruption before making an assault. Oh you think there are other options? You would be mistaken. Few people realize that there are only six total forcible entry brigades in the entire US military today. 6 means 4 airborne and 2 Marines, and the Marines being the only heavy armored troops. The airborne units are either deployed, recently returned from a deployment, or preparing for a deployment.

    “That means in that contingency, the only option is the Marines.”

  3. To invade and occupy territory is a step further than ‘mere’ bombing. The world has been accustomed to U.S.presidents bombing around, but an accompanying invasion – even if partial – would have incredibly high political costs. That’s no enabler – that’s a disaster by default.
    Fabius Maximus replies: (1) If using carrier aircraft, we need to move our carriers in close in order to deeply penetrate Iran. (2) At all costs the Straits must be kept open. Either — or both — of those might require taking the Gulf Islands.

  4. You’ve got to hand it to the Navy. Here they’ve got all these expensive carrier groups, a dozen or so, worthless as can be, sailing hither and yon on the world’s oceans, and they realize (duh) that they’re an expensive, vulnerable anachronism. It’s time to come up with something new. Grow or die. Hey, let’s super-size our amphibian force! And we’ll call it a new strategy! Then the US will be able to land many Marines on US enemy soil. Iran and Pakistan? Naw, they have powerful armies. How about — Grenada and Panama? Ys, we could do them again.

    Who’s going to pay for these “expeditionary strike groups” in “the new world of maritime strategy?” The US is way in debt, $9t worth, $30K for every man, woman and child in the US. No problem, China will loan us more money for our new “expeditionary strike groups” so the US can “expand its fleet.”

    Meanwhile, China has recently inked new deals for (1) oil exploration in Iraq and (2) copper mines in Afghanistan, the current objects of navy interest. And they didn’t even say “shei-shei ni!” I guess they’re gloating over the money they’ve saved not building expensive aircraft carriers and expeditionary strike groups. But they did own that diesel submarine that surfaced near the US fleet recently without even a heads-up. That was a cheap trick, if you ask me.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That about sums it up, in my opinion.

  5. [Sarcasm Alert]

    And why did I in a previous post raise that exact issue about the ‘missing’ Amphibious Ships group? (Polishing finger nails now in smug ‘I knew it’ mode).

    Ref: ‘cheap trick’, the Aussie subs have been doing that to the US in exercises for years, but amazingly the US has not learned the lesson. Big carrier groups are dead weight, basically a target waiting to be sunk against anything but a third world opponent.

    Now a larger number of smaller carriers (you still need air power) with VTOL/STOL aircraft is the way to go, ah la Harriers. Plus you need a lot of range in those planes, so the carriers can stay well out of range of the missiles specifically designed to sink them

    But wait, the US Navy has committed itself into planes (F-18) with about the range of a WW2 Spitfire (great plane, but very limited range). So now it needs tanker support for any decent range missions.

    If Iran gets the S-400, then (plus its antiship missiles) means that the US Navy cannot attack. Maybe the F-18s can make it through (I doubt it) but the essential tankers are sitting ducks. Ergo, the US Navy has now turned its air wing (the core) into a fore that can bomb the c*ap out of Somalia, but would be stuffed against Iran (a 2nd world nation). Brilliant, spend squillions to achieve less than (at a fraction of the price) by simply building smaller carriers and putting Harriers onboard. Heck, since the only obvious target is places like Somlia, put a deck on a cheap merchant ship and put WW2 Seafires or Furies on it, 100,000th of the cost and just as useful and give a big tax cut to US citizens.

  6. Don and OldSkeptic raise the questions that came to my mind: do modern missiles essentially render our current carrier and expeditionary forces obsolete? If so, why do we have them? If not, why not, specifically, what about the range and accuracy of current missile technologies makes our forces useful?

  7. Fabius, The issue of sea power in a Fourth Generation Warfare world is a difficult one and extremely complex. I don’t necessarily agree with all the Navy is doing currently, but finding the answers is much harder than this overall post (meaning comments included) implies or addresses.

    Indeed, while there is some good info here and seeds for thought, the overall is flawed in the extreme. Using your oft used note to your writers “You know all this about sea power and design and development of capabilities how?”

    Some of the thinking is so deeply flawed I don’t even know where or how to start. Maybe your readers should subscribe to Naval Proceedings and read how the sea power proffessionals debate these issues – and they do not take a “party line.”

    Let me at least make a few short points:

    1)No matter how the world wrinkles, the United States IS a maritime nation BY geography. Some of the comments are about tactical level problems and “fixes” only and flawed at that. Sea Power is ALL about strategy.

    2)4GW or however you want to adresss today’s asymmetric issues (worth reading Frank Hoffman’s “Hybrid War” concept over on Small War Journal) demands adaptability. It’s most obvious from most of the comments, absolutely no understanding of what that means in terms of “haze gray and underway in harms way.”

    3)All operations can be characterized by addressing three trade-off issues: effectiveness, efficiency, and risk. The comments to this post in reality address only tactical efficiency -cost. #2 applies heavily here.

    4)The comment on tactical aircraft carrier operations and VSTOL a/c capability – how can I say this politely – well let’s put it this way, not an aeronautical engineer in general, doesn’t have a clue about the uniqueness of designing carrier based strike a/c, and must be using as a reference Tom Cruise aka Maverick, and certainly wouldn’t know a real naval aviator if he saw one.

    5) If you or writers are going to use the terms battleship or dreadnought, put it in quotes. As used without, it is extremely misleading.

    6)This list could go on all day, literally. But one final note. Sea Power in the 21st century is indeed a serious issue, but it is one with great depth and frankly, one requiring significant operational experience and technical understanding. “Armchair admirals” need to study deeply if they really want to contribute to the process.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This post just brings one viewpoint out, in a fashion accessable to the non-Navy expert. I do not endores or necessarily even fully understand every issue discussed on the FM site (note today’s post about solar physics). I am just an observer in this debate.

    However, I believe that Galrahn is a voice worth listening to. For example, I suspect that his use of the terms dreadnought is immediately understandable to others in his community, for whom his articles are written. Likewise, none of them will believe that by battleship Galrahn means a “first rate” ship of the line like HMS Victory. (The term “battleship” evolved from “line of battle ship”)

  8. Successful amphibious operations against even moderate opposition are thin on the ground, bodies of water prevent power from being brought to bear and explain why Germany’s army was correctly regarded as threatening rather than Britain’s Naval supremacy (or the US). The dreadnought comparison is a good one because battleship engagements settled nothing (ok 1 war Jap – Rus). In the Dardenelles they were pathetically vulnerable to mines. Showing the flag – thats it.

  9. Ed Beakley mentions Hoffman’s concept of “hybrid wars”, which has since become so popular. While outside the scope of this post, it is very relevant.

    References to works about Hybrid Wars:

    From the Introduction of Hoffman’s article (below):
    “… it is too simplistic to merely classify conflict “Big and Conventional” versus “Small or Irregular.” Today’s enemies, and tomorrow’s, will employ combinations of warfare types. Non-state actors may mostly employ irregular forms of warfare … nation-states may well engage in irregular conflict in addition to conventional types…”

    Conflict in the 21st Century: the rise of Hybrid Wars“, Frank Hoffman, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, December 2007 (PDF, 72 pages)

    Are We Ready for Hybrid Wars?“, Small Wars Council, 2 February 2008 — Introduction to the above essay.

    Hybrid Wars“, Greg Grant, Government Executive, 1 May 2008 — “What if the battles of the future are neither conventional nor irregular, but a combination of both?”

    Are We Ready for Hybrid Wars? – Revisited“, Small Wars Council, 24 August 2008 — Provides links to other articles discussing Hybrid Wars.

  10. Ed Beakley touches upon another important point, discussed in an important article from which I give a brief expcerpt:

    KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ‘EM, KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM: THINKING ABOUT NAVY PLANS FOR THE FUTURE SURFACE BATTLE LINE“, By Robert Work, a “backgrounder” published by the Center for Strategic adn Budgetary Assessments, 7 May 2007 — Opening:

    “When hearing the term “ships-of-the-line”—warships that take their place in a navy’s line of battle—most think of old two- or three-deck sailing ships carrying large cannon batteries, or perhaps steam-powered, armored battleships. Since entering the age of jet aircraft, guided missiles, and nuclearpowered submarines, however, the US Navy’s surface battle line consists of battle force capable (BFC) surface combatants—large, multi-mission and focused-mission warships designed first to operate as part of a fast Carrier Strike Group.

    “These include guided-missile cruisers (CGs), guided-missile destroyers (DDGs), and general-purpose destroyers (DDs).

    “Battle force capable combatants are separate and distinct from protection of shipping combatants (now known as frigates and guided missile frigates) and littoral combat ships, both of which are smaller, and less capable, focused-mission warships.”

  11. @Don: agree.


    all Western SSKs (very often the tiny German class 206) have embarrassed CVBGs very often and since decades. That’s a very old vulnerability, one that is very serious if the waters are saturated with SSKs.

    This is old news, and as such probably outdated. I have heard rumors about the new sonar generation that turns SSKs from predators into prey.

    Many smaller CVs are incredibly inefficient (the large ones are already very inefficient in comparison to land-based aviation) – and STOVL or VTOL planes have typically a very low range. Compare the F-35 version ranges – the flat top carrier variant has good range, the STOVL variant has poor range. A lift engine replaced a huge fuel tank.


    To invade the islands is such a poor idea that it cannot be accepted as a rationale for anything. Btw, there was apparently no need to invade those islands in the 80’s and counter-artillery fire capability should be a self-evident non-published feature of all 127mm-armed USN warships.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I just pass on what these people say. My mastery of sea combat is limited to the plastic ships in my bathtub.

  12. Carriers are vulnerable to mines, torpedoes and cruise missiles, all of which are of course much less expensive than carriers and their escorts. The newest Ford Class will cost from $8-$11 billion each, plus hundreds of millions for annual upkeep not to mention many billions more for planes and escort ships, the rest of the fleet suffers accordingly.

    The C-802 “Silkworm” missile was used in 2006 by the partisan group Hezbollah in the Israeli-Lebanon war to cripple the high-tech Israeli Sa’ar missile corvette Hanit in the Mediterranean Sea. The high-tech, anti-ship missile is tough to shoot down, partly because it flies only 20 feet above the water, making it hard to spot by radar. The hit probability of the Yingji-802 is estimated to be as high as 98 percent. The C-802 can be launched from airplanes, ships, submarines and land-based vehicles, and is considered along with the US “Harpoon” as among the best anti-ship missiles of the present-day world. Iran has deployed Silkworm anti-ship cruise missiles along the Iranian coast of the Persian Gulf, on Abu Musa island, on Qeshm Island and on Sirri Island. Bandar Abbas is the site of a Chinese-built cruise missile production facility for the manufacture and upgrade of Silkworm cruise missiles.

  13. The debate about cost and effectiveness of carriers was old 20 years ago. Every aspect of this debate is IMO stale; we’ve heard it dozens of times. That does not make it wrong, or irrelevant. Just suitable for another time.

    This post is about Amphibious Ships, and their centrality in modern maritime strategy. Let’s focus on that.

  14. What possible reason could the US have for taking such a risk as an amphibious attack on Iran for example. The US will lead with it’s strength: airpower.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is answered at some length in comment #3 above.

  15. Iwo Jima was the about only battle where killing 10 Japanese cost more than 1 marine. Taking those islands would cost hundreds of US dead. Anyway, Iran is not going to give the neocons the excuse they long for by doing anything so stupid as trying to close the Straits. Like Van Creveld says they will zig zag politically to get to their objective; once they have a bomb they will feel secure. They real problem is that Israel does not accept Iran’s right to support the Palestinians.The Neocon advisors, and even some Israelis thought to be politically dovish like Benny Morris, talk about a threat to Isreal’s existance; does MAD not apply?

  16. Seriously, if a US President orders an attack on Iran, I don’t expect them to last much longer than the ‘battle hardened’ Iraqi Revolutionary Guards.

    I doubt that any of the Iranian soldiers will want to be the last one to “die for the mistake of protecting the corrupt mullahs”. And I’m sure they all know they will lose, if they fight.

    The overwhelming force part of the Powell doctrine is something most military leaders like.

    Will there be an attack? I think it interesting to suppose that watching the big amphib ships, rather than the carriers, gives a better answer.

    But just as Sarah Palin was a pretty big surprise, despite being talked about in the past, I won’t be surprised to be surprised, while interestedly watching.

  17. Home advantage is a big factor in any kind of activity. In WW2 Germans fought far harder inside their own country though knowing the war was lost.

    Clearing prepared positions with tunnels costs like nothing else case in point Israel against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    Resistance on the part of the Admirals to attacking Iran wold be total to the idea of using troops IMO. It will be Tomahawks,standoff air launched missiles and finally bombing.

  18. Conversely, Mr. Beakley, actual admirals need to communicate clearly to those who have not studied deeply if they expect us to continue to fund their process. Why is my life better because the US has X carriers and Y landing ships instead of Z of each or Q of something else? The professionals have done a MISERABLE job of that communication and left amatuers like FM and his commentors to do it for themselves. If the professionals don’t like the level of discussion, get involved, teach us something, and raise it. Times are getting hard out where folks work for a living, writing the experts a blank check and letting them figure it all out is not going to last much longer.

  19. “My mastery of sea combat is limited to the plastic ships in my bathtub.”

    And I, for one, would like to salute your enduring dominance over Rubber Ducky. He’s been far too snooty for far too long. Bravo Zulu.
    Fabius Maximus replies: You are assuming that I have been winning…

  20. On a more serious note, the scenario Galrahn had outlined, as reposted in comment #3 was more of an intellectual exercise. Many of the commenters here seem to be focusing on what comes after. I believe Galrahn was merely pointing out that in that scenario (the closing of the Straits of Hormuz), it would be of paramount importance to reopen the straits. And the only way to do that would be (presumably) opposed landings on those 3 islands.

    My question is a different one. Galrahn has also posted recently about the redeployment of RSS Endurance (a Singaporean amphib) to support operations in the Gulf. Would we be better off with a high/low mixture among our amphibs? Do we need a 25k ton LPD-17 performing “mothership” missions such as anti-piracy or humanitarian missions? Or would we be better off with a mixture of vessels?

    Do we need Kearsarge (40.5k tons) performing its current mission, or could we do that as effectively with something along the lines of Endurance (8.5k tons), considerably more cheaply? Would we then be able to keep a baby LPD off of Somalia, coordinating maritime safety/anti-piracy?

    I don’t presume to know the answers – I’m just asking.

  21. I think my key point is that things have changed, therefore we have to change. Nope Sven, the latest advances in sonar has not nullified SSK’s (that claim has been around since WW1). I have total confidence in the Australian Navy to come up with counter measures. Sonar is like radar, you can pick it up from far further away then the return signal will give you away. All they do then is advertise their presence and location. Worst case, pop to near the surface and fire a missle at it. End of the radar/sonar emitting source.

    Evolution, think of it as preditor-pray relationships, or even a Red Queen’s race. Any advance in one side is short term at best until the other side evolves a counter (which can be technical ot tactical). I expect Australia to keep sinking US carriers in exercises for decades to come

    A US (continuing and porbabaly money driven) mistake is forgetting that in real life numbers count. At the DNI site there have been many criticisims of the approach of ever more expensive technology. What is better, 10 F-22s or 100 F-16s? Forget the 20:1 shoot ratios often quoted, the 100 will win, if only because the 10 will run out of fuel and ammunition and have to land, then the 50 F-16s left will destroy them on the ground.

    Think of the, as I call it, the ‘Hezbollah Lesson’. Israel, which has its own very advanced anti-missle systems, were simply swamped by the 200+ a day cheap missles that were thrown at it. Hear any boasts about their Arrow system actually shooting anything down? Nope, because they didn’t (very bad for their marketing).

    Yes, cheap electronics and missiles have totally changed the strategic landscape, the defence is now back in the ascendency anywhere except a flat desert. A $200 million tank vs a $100,000 anti-tank missle .. well ask the Israelis that question .. how many of their ‘best tank in the World’ did they lose?

    Overall that’s good. If everyone has a good defence then idiots will eventually (after many losses unfortunately) be deterred from attacking and we just might get some peace in this old world.

    Then again never underestimate human stupidity. Georgia: you can just see their faces when the Russian tanks rolled towards them, actually you couldn’t as they were all running away too fast throwing away their weapons. Note a smug, another, I told you so moment. Apparently the Russians went through every Georgian military base and stripped them bare, including picking up a lot of juicy US and Israeli equipment. Now did they get any US or Israeli ‘advisors’?

  22. Galrahn, Information Dissemination : “Fabius Maximus picks up on one of the phrases we promote on the blog, or more accurately, a premise I first read forwarded by Robert Farley of which I very much agree with. “Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era” done in the Fabius Maximus discussion format. Very cool.”

    I agree with Galrahn, “Very coo1” post. You raised the discussion bar and ignited comment from voices outside the traditional naval centric blogs.

  23. I think there are problems of definition on what might constitute a “dreadnought” in current maritime strategy, and whether such a concept stimulates useful discussion on the future direction of maritime strategy.

    Perhaps the following clarifications would be helpful:

    1. In terms of force projection, “useful application of force” should be distinguished from “maximum force available.”

    The original dreadnoughts carried the maximum naval force available, but could only apply it in limited circumstances, hence the singularity of High Fleet actions in WWI and the relative ineffectiveness of dreadnoughts in theaters outside the North Sea.

    Similarly, there’s no doubt an ESG lacks the sheer firepower of a carrier strike force; however, it has a much greater “useful application of force” through the flexibility of amphibious assets and troop delivery, which can far better match scenarios ranging from humanitarian to peacekeeping or counterinsurgency to direct invasion or a full “shooting war,” or even an incident that progresses through all of the above. I think these are Galrahn’s point number 1 and 2.

    2. In terms of projecting political force/national prestige, and the recent proliferation of ESGs around the world’s navies, I think half the reason is the complete lack of incentive for other nations to build either redundant allied CSVs or compete against the US in a blue water carrier race: an ESG will get more jobs done at lower cost without attracting so much attention. To amplify this point, the flexible modulation of force available to an ESG has a certain “stealth value”, both militarily and politically. It can appear supportive or threatening, and change rapidly between the two. A carrier force, like the original dreadnoughts, can only mean business.

    3. In terms of vulnerabilities — ah, now we get into real arguments! The original dreadnoughts were almost immediately sharply limited by submarine and mine power in WWI, and eclipsed by air power in WWII. Whether carrier fleets, amphibious or blue-water, are similarly being eclipsed by submarines, ballistic missiles, or massed cruise missiles is far outside my limited competency, but for what it’s worth:

    i. A large part of the reason the dreadnought fleets spent most of WWI “in being” rather than “in action” is not simply the lack of political will on either side to risk such high cost assets in direct conflict, but the fact that the fleets could actually be kept relatively safe behind torpedo nets and harbor defenses in home waters while still maintaining their full deterrence value. This does not apply to 4GW, a carrier sitting in Norfolk or San Diego is a target,not an asset.

    ii. An obvious corollary is that risk and attrition are unavoidable factors (this is, I believe, part of what Mr. Beakley was getting at in his comment about “haze gray and underway in harm’s way.”). Posts suggesting this weapon or that could allow enemies to execute multiple successful “Pearl Harbor” type attacks against carrier groups, and therefore carriers are obsolescent, are hyperbolic; the issue at hand is, if amphibious ships are likely to be the front line of battle in future conflicts, how do you minimize risk in a littoral environment? This is a whole separate discussion, with many dimensions.

    iii. Getting back once more to the point at hand about ESGs, the analogy holds in a perhaps unintended way — amphibious ships, like the original dreadnoughts, are near useless without their supporting ships: destroyers, minesweepers, tankers, etc. Now we have UAVs, USVs and submersibles added to the equation. Is this part of Galrahn’s “mothership” notion, and how does the ESG work with this concept?

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