The Scrapboard is very pleased to publish LTC Larry Altersitz’s essay on how to provide more fire support for Marine units
The Navy’s current lack of active sea-based gun/rocket firepower puzzles me. If the Navy wants to be considered a major force projection element in a non-nuclear conflict, its over-reliance on air power and high-tech weaponry leads me to several possible conclusions, none of which are comforting to the Army and Marine Corps, the ground holding elements of the Nation’s defense establishment.
Conclusion #1: The Navy has given up any ideas of being a “brown water” force, due to dangers close to shore (mines, cruise missiles, gun artillery, small boat attacks, torpedoes, rocket artillery, air attack) with no robust depth of available ship-board counter-measures against these potential threats. This implies the Navy requires the Marine Corps to be an “over the horizon” force, to prevent exposure of the Navy’s limited support and combatant assets to dangers that cannot be neutralized.
Conclusion #2: Marines, once ashore, will be dependent on Naval/Marine Aviation, both fixed and rotary wing, for most of their fire support needs. The limited number of howitzers available for a landing force will be hard pressed to keep up with the demands of an advance. And those howitzers will be the targets of any available counterfire assets an enemy may have, since they will be the only all-weather, anytime firepower available to a landing force. Aircraft/helicopters require maintenance and re-arm/re-fuel points that are not subject to enemy attack, which means ships will be over the horizon, away from most dangers.
Conclusion #3: The Marines may be relegated to play a marginal role with a few minimal floating rescue teams that may be useful, if the ships are close enough to the location and/or can get there fast enough, to provide support. Otherwise, the Army’s Airborne assets (Special Forces, Rangers, 173D Airborne Bde and the big stick, the 82D) will get the call. They may use the units afloat in peacekeeping roles, but, again, the lack of ship-based gun/rocket firepower will limit the ability of any Marine unit ashore. Until larger Army units arrive, with their depth of support and ground-based firepower, it could be difficult for the Marines, and by inference the Navy, to claim a pre-eminent role in handling foreign crises. Carriers and AEGIS cruisers do not GLOWER offshore, in the manner that a battleship or gun cruiser does. Cannons worry people, since they can be supplied indefinitely and have a visible impact on terrain. Cannons imply troops are nearby and can come ashore.
It is quite obvious the Navy has no intentions of bringing back the Iowa or Wisconsin as a surface action group leader, or keep one at sea in the Mediterranean Sea or the Indian Ocean to keep an eye on potential trouble spots. The Navy’s limited attempts to provide fire support by existing 127mm guns using an extended range munition or the proposed lightweight 8" gun for a future DD class ship (maybe in 2010) are pathetic and come very close to fraud, waste and abuse. Those efforts might be laughable if the consequences weren’t so serious for the Nation, and the troops going ashore. I hope the Corps doesn’t have to make a forced entry against a prepared enemy in the near future; all those nice plans of over the horizon assaults might just become so many fish habitats with shark food inside them on the ocean floor. I am always amazed every time I see or read something about D-Day that no battleships or heavy cruisers were placed close to shore, anchored and used to blast fortifications on the beaches, and blow holes in the high ground above the beaches. I can easily postulate the need for equivalent firepower in a future conflict, especially where an enemy has had the time to prepare. The limitations of aircraft in support of a mission are well known, and shipboard aircraft carry much less ordnance than land-based attack aircraft.
Lack of ship based fire support also limits the freedom of action in choosing potential landing sites. If the landing force has little or no mobility ashore, the choices of where it can land to accomplish the mission narrow rapidly. The examples in Italy, where Field Marshall Kesselring deduced from the range of the Allied aircraft where they would most likely try to land near Naples and prepared his defenses accordingly. Anzio, where the limits of air power were glaringly apparent, and naval elements didn’t provide the level of fire support they could have, comes to mind as a great chance wasted. With control of the Med by the Allies, flanking landings could have kept the Germans off balance, much like MacArthur did on New Guinea, making them worry that the southern units might be cut off.
For the record, as required by truth in advertising laws, I am a retired Army Reserve Field Artillery officer, who graduated Field Artillery OBC, Airborne and Ranger Schools some years ago; don’t ask when and I won’t tell. My background in fire support, along with those other qualifications, leads to my concerns about supporting the Infantry and Armor as they close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver. Whoever goes ashore against an enemy who is somewhat prepared will need all the support that can be delivered.
I offer two means of accomplishing the objective of ship-based fire support. One is off the shelf, using existing items and vessels to have a quick and relatively inexpensive way to provide fire support from the sea. The other involves a longer lead-time, higher costs, designing a class of ships, funding them, getting them built and manned. Let’s go with the cheaper, quicker one first.
I take an existing LPH, like the Guadalcanal (LPH-7), docked at Philadelphia, and beef it up by placing twelve M109A6 Paladin 155mm self-propelled (SP) howitzers on the ship at marked points on the forward part of the flight/firing deck as a floating battery in support of a forced landing. By using known firing positions, a computerized shipboard Fire Direction Center (FDC) in the Combat Information Center treats each piece as a separate firing point, and then plots massed fires to support a landing. I use SP howitzers since they have a 6400-mil (360 degrees) capability, overhead/side protection from incoming fires/weather, the ability to move below the flight/firing deck if the need arises and partial automation for weapons loading. I stagger the howitzers on the forward part of the flight/firing deck to allow freedom of use. Additional overhead/side protection can be added to the howitzers with little effort, since the guns are not required to move quickly. With two up-armored Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicles (FAASVs) per howitzer for ammunition re-supply, continuous fire support for a landing force can be maintained. The FAASVs use a one-way down ramp to the magazine on the hangar deck, load up, then use the one-way up ramp to get back to the howitzers. Two 4-launcher Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) platoons that also have 12 2.75" rocket launchers using the same ideas, similar to the Slammer Six, SBAT-70, Avibras AV-LM-12/36 or ASTROS Hawk would make a good counter-battery/area attack system for landing support, placed aft of the ship’s island. MLRS/2.75" launchers could fire, drive below deck to reload and return, ready to go. MLRS can use the ATACMS long-range missile, and any new versions of the basic rocket and/or warhead that become type classified. MLRS rocket “six-packs” are sealed units, requiring little more than dry storage areas. Computation is the hard part of Artillery; a computerized FDC could get the data solution quickly. The howitzers could be lined up on the port side of the firing deck, with the rocket launchers on the starboard side, able to fire over the guns. This layout would allow the stern area to be used for attack helicopter launching.
I sent a letter suggesting this to the Field Artillery Journal in 1999, but was informed by the Journal that a Marine Artilleryman at Ft.Sill, who reviewed the letter for them as a “subject matter expert” prior to publication, said it was impractical due to ship manning constraints, howitzer firing computations and manpower. On a recent visit to Annapolis, I bought the May 1999, fifth edition, revised “Fleet Identification At A Glance” laminated 8x11 card, at the USNA Bookstore. I was not overwhelmed by the sheer number of vessels on active service listed on the card, or the gun firepower represented by the ships.
I add Slammer Six type 70mm rocket launchers to attack close range area targets rapidly and at considerably less expense than MLRS. Slammer Six was an Army experimental light rocket launcher based on the old 115mm chemical rocket launcher frame and chassis, with the 115mm tubes removed and replaced by six 17-tube 70mm rocket pods, like those used on AH-64 Apaches and AH-1W SeaCobras for area suppression missions. It was designed to provide short-range (10km or less), rapid, massive area firepower at low cost for light units. A purpose-built Slammer Six could use large rectangular 40-tube rocket pods to increase the number of rockets per launcher. Pods like that were originally fitted on the UH-1 Huey “Hog” gunship in Vietnam, before the AH-1 Cobra was introduced. The Slammer Six launcher could be mounted on the basic MLRS XM1108 chassis, and reload on the hangar deck like an MLRS. Upgraded 70mm rocket motors can be used for more range or larger warheads, again at low unit and launcher cost. If a larger rocket were chosen, the same basic principles still work.
I’d more than double the number of and magazine capacity of the Phalanx 20mm Close-In Weapons Systems (CIWS) on the Guadalcanal to cope with most threats. We can add levels of protection to the Guadalcanal quickly with additional armor placed inside the hull as second, third and fourth layers spaced away from the hull. The armor can be layered and angled to defeat many munitions. I have other ideas and suggestions on protecting vessels from the named threats in the Conclusion #1 paragraph, but let’s not fill the brains too full at once. The Navy needs anti-torpedo weapon systems for its vessels NOW. I have several possible ideas for this ship and any other vessel the Navy might want or need to protect. Counter-mine measures will be required, again for the Navy right now, and I have thoughts on that subject, also. The extra space on the Guadalcanal can be used as additional storage space for the ships in the group, since the crew size for both the firepower division and the ship’s operators will be reduced. Want to add a Cold Fire Vertical Launch System 36-cell box? Under the control of an AEGIS ship? Why not?
The Guadalcanal now becomes .what? CLGRLPHAOE? A Guided Missile Rocket Cannon Auxiliary Light Cruiser Amphibious Assault Auxiliary Fast Combat Support Ship? I leave the designation of a re-commissioned Guadalcanal to those who deal in those arcane realms. For my purposes, I’d call it a CGLR (Guided Missile Light Rocket Cruiser) if we add the missile box or a CLR if that is not done.
Giving readers a chance to question how long I’ve been off my medicine, I offer a purpose-built vessel to meet the firepower needs of a landing force. Let’s call it the USS Carronade and designate it CLR-1. The Navy had a “bobtail cruiser” of the same name back in the late 50s - early 60s with a similar mission, using 5" rockets. I remember seeing the plastic ship model kit (by Revell?) in stores.
Start with a hull between 175m and 215m (574’ to 705’) in length, and a beam of 20m to 23m (66’ to 76’). It would have an armored double hull, with anti-torpedo bulges to reduce vulnerability even more. Make it relatively tall, perhaps a level lower than an LPH, and place the superstructure more towards the stern. Use 12 single “six-pack” MLRS launchers (think a single launcher arm from a standard MLRS) on turntables that allow the launchers to tilt down to face the deck. The deck has a loading hatch that opens to insert a fresh “six-pack” of rockets. Another hatch offset 90 degrees from the first hatch allows the launcher arm to dispose of the empty “six-pack”before reloading. Mixed in with the MLRS launchers are twelve 2.75" launchers, whose launcher pods are reloaded by a mechanical loader on an elevator from the ammunition deck, then mates with the rear of the launcher and rockets are pushed into the flared rear openings of the empty tubes. The Czechs had a version of this design using pallets to reload truck-mounted 122mm Multiple Rocket Launchers far more quickly than hand reloading. A similar system is used to load the ammunition into the rear of the M-1 Abrams tank turret, where the main gun ammunition is stored.
Each launcher has an exhaust deflector of a suitable size and shape attached to the turntable to minimize rocket wash effects. I borrowed the idea from the Navy’s hexagonal jet exhaust deflectors on the carriers, which allow personnel to operate safely behind jets about to launch. 2.75" rocket deflectors will have to pivot out of the way to allow rear reloading; MLRS deflectors can be fixed, since the MLRS is a front loaded weapon. All launchers have a curved 50mm armored cover that helps protect the launcher from incoming ordnance. The cover has Blazer reactive armor to reduce the danger of high explosive projectiles getting to the launchers. The launcher deck hatches are double layered and also have Blazer armor. The loading systems are below deck, so they can be optimized for ease of handling; MLRS hatches don’t have to be dressed and covered (sorry, obsessionists of precision and symmetry).
The short superstructure would have a raised 2-gun 155mm howitzer turret forward and one aft. These howitzers add a precision punch to any landing, with the wide array of projectiles available for that caliber. And the Marines are familiar with them, since they use them. A helicopter pad is at the stern, with the hangar aft of the stern 155mm turret. The turrets would be automated to a high degree, using Crusader and/or naval technology to fire a minimum of 12 rounds a minute per tube for the first 2 minutes. I’d have two single 127mm/54 cal gun and two single 76mm gun mounts on each side of the superstructure for additional firepower and ship protection. If a missile box was added to the armament, place it aft of the last MLRS/ Slammer Six launchers and forward of the 155mm mount.
I’d have 4 CIWS systems with 7,000 round magazines on the superstructure, along with some other ideas of mine for air/missile/rocket defense. I’d have a CIWS in the stern and one near the bow, along with two more on each side, set in recesses below the main deck. I wouldn’t have a full AEGIS suite on the CGLR (because then it becomes too valuable to place close to shore, right?), but there must be a good target acquisition suite (air defense radar, ground surveillance radar, thermal imaging systems, night vision systems, sound ranging systems, UAVs, helicopters, etc.) to support the landing force and protect the ship. I wouldn’t worry about EMCOM when close to shore; the noise will make the CLR hard to hide from anyone, and the active sensors give an extra margin of safety.
A CLR would accompany an MEU on a cruise. It would be the dedicated fire support ship for any landings made by Marine units of that task force. It is massive, visible, precise, discriminating, floating firepower that lends itself to “showing the flag” and keeping a lid on situations. Its presence means the USMC is close by, and things can be shaken up rather quickly by troops and firepower if the need arises. This ship can come close to shore with relative immunity from most types of attacks.
I worry the Navy is way behind the power and learning curves for fire support and low-tech ship protection. I don’t think the Navy can afford to wait until people in high places decide we really do need this types of ships and then commission studies on ways to “get there firstest with the mostest” from ship-based fires. Without the battleships, the Navy needs a means of influencing the ground fighting other than aircraft. And losing pilots will bring back too many unpleasant memories of the past.
This lack of prior planning will be costly in terms of blood and treasure for the Marines, and the Defense Department political ramifications of the Navy’s inability to respond in a crisis will give the Navy its just desserts for lack of foresight. It will have serious repercussions in the one place all the Services hold absolutely sacred: funding. The USAF will get more cargo/troop lift aircraft and the Army will get the call for more rapid response missions. And the Navy will shrink since it can’t project conventional firepower at the shoreline and is, therefore, not a relevant player in the calculations of global political power projection.
LTC Larry A. Altersitz has been a Field Artilleryman, intellectual military gadfly and prophet without honor since 1969, when he graduated Northeastern University, Boston, MA. His ravings have been printed in INFANTRY, ARMOR, FIELD ARTILLERY JOURNAL, ARMED FORCES JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL, ARMY, MILITARY REVIEW, COMMENTARY and MILITARY INTELLIGENCE among other places, much to the regret of those former editors. His insanity has corrupted the ’Net at G2Mil.com, where he’s located fellow madmen. He’s done FAOBC, FAOAC (Non-Resident), C&GSC (Non-Resident with Honors!!!), some non-Artillery correspondence courses to give an added air of bogus authority at parties, along with Airborne and Ranger Schools, and saw service in Vietnam. He was finally retired, kicking and screaming all the way, several years ago from the IRR. He’s usually pretty good about taking his medicine on time, with the proper dosage, but people still keep him away from sharp objects. And he’s never let a lack of experience on a subject prevent his truly off the wall commentaries.
PW: Many writers have cautioned against the retirement of battleships such as the USS New Jersey and USS Missouri. I feel that claiming that we still need battleships rather confuses the issue. What zmphibious forces really need are floating fire-bases and this need is very ably met by Larry’s Carronade idea.
As I’ve discussed on this page, current USMC MEUs do not have the combat strength to conduct large-scale amphibious landings and are most likely to be used for small surprise landings. If anything such small forces will have an even greater requirement for Naval Gunfire (NGF) support from systems such as the Carronade. The long-range of weapons such as the 155mm and MLRS allow the Carronade to position itself a considerable distance to the landing zone, so the appearance of a Carronade won’t tip the enemy off to the likely location of a Marine landing.
Another interesting support system for amphibious landings was the World War Two use of mortar boats armed with 4.2" mortars.
This idea still has merit, especially since modern 120mm mortars are lighter than 4.2" mortars but have greater range and destructive power. Such mortars can provide support to forces several miles inland. The Russians have had considerable experience with 120mm mortars and consider 120mm mortar rounds to be equal in destructive power to 152mm and 155m Artillery.
Vessel of choice for the mortar boat role was the LCI(M), a 158ft ship with three 4.2" weapons. In a modern context a mortar boat needs to have sufficient speed to arrive at the landing zone around the same time as the LCACs. A possible choice would be either a HM218-type Sidewall Air Cushion vessel of around 60ft length, or a Jetfoil-type Hydrofoil of around 90ft. Both these types of hull are widely used as passenger ferries and as oil-rig supply ships. These have sufficient speed yet can handle rough seas and carry several mortars and a large quantity of ammunition.
Off-shore mortar support is also an option for smaller units such as SEALs and other Special Forces. In such a situation the mortar boat may have to be a smaller boat or something that resembles a civilian vessel such as a local fishing boat. Firing mortars from a small submarine such as a Swimmer Delivery Vessel (SDV) may also be possible.
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