The Return of Power Projection
Two years ago, I wrote that the problem of “anti-access” lay less in the projected losses, but in the assumption that the problem was necessarily tactical. If a state was unwilling to commit to an operation because it might entail tough resistance, is this necessarily a techno-tactical problem? Moreover, the problems with amphibious assault and power projection seemed to be more logistical and budgetary than tactical.
Frank Hoffman has a new piece in Infinity Journal that takes the anti-access issue head on. Hoffman argues that amphibious operations should not be prematurely crossed out. Amphibious operations capabilities have great advantages, such as the creation of a credible deterrent, the negation of an opponent’s anti-access strategy, assuring of access to a theater, imposition of costs on an adversary, and the sustenance of relationships dependent on American capabilities for access.
This does not mean, Hoffman argues, that the Marine can afford to rest on their laurels. But it is worth noting that for decades the service has assumed that it would have to revamp its approach to amphibious operations. Today’s anti-access threats, after all, were not as great as those of the Soviet Union. This meant creating concepts such as Ship-to-Objective Maneuver and Operational Maneuver from the Sea that would avoid rushing into the teeth of the opponent’s defenses (inevitable in small islands in the Pacific) and platforms (like the Osprey) to realize them. Hoffman also points out that innovative thinking for countering enemy battle networks and revitalizing amphibious maneuver should be encouraged (such as the use of robotics). But the idea that amphibious operations should be jettisoned in favor of standoff operations, Hoffman points out, is unlikely to manifest in strategic effect.
Hoffman’s piece is sound. That being said, the Marine Corps, like the rest of the military, faces some future problems going ahead that have more of an economic origin. Witness, for example, Dakota Wood’s exegesis of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle debacle:
If executed as planned, the $14 billion EFV program will hold the Corps hostage for a decade or longer. Its 573 vehicles will consume 90 percent of the Corps’s warfighting procurement budget, leaving its remaining 32,000 vehicles and all other weapons systems to subsist on what’s left.
The EFV, as we now know, has been cancelled, but is not unique. Sam LaGrone has also reported earlier this year about the uncertain budget situation's effect on Marine amphibious planning. And, of course, there's the F-35 B. The bitterly ironic thing about this state of affairs is that the problem—a high-end platform-centric Corps and an uncertain amphibious future, was first diagnosed in (wait for it)….1976. But Frank Hoffman’s piece—along with recent work by Peter J. Munson and Brett Friedman, gives one hope that the Marines can hit the beach in the 21st century.