The deputy commander of Fleet Forces Command used his keynote speech at the decommissioning of the amphibious assault ship Nassau in Norfolk March 31 to stump for continued support for the “Gator Navy” and the capability to launch U.S. Marines onto contested shore, arguing that such a capability reduces the need for U.S. bases on foreign shores.
Vice Adm. Peter Daly pointed to the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit providing humanitarian assistance and disaster response following the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northern Japan; the Boxer ARG and 13th MEU being accelerated into the Persian Gulf to provide what he called “essential capacity” for potential non-combatant evacuation operations and to provide the fleet with a theater reserve force; the Bataan ARG and 22nd MEU’s short-notice (120 days early) deployment to the Mediterranean to relieve the Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU; and the Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU’s central role in the NATO air strike campaign against Libyan forces — in particular, their rapid movement out of the 5th Fleet area of operations, where they were relieved by Boxer and the 13th MEU, to the Med, where they have provided combat sorties and air space control.
“We are witnessing a living clinic for why we need amphibious power for our Navy,” Daly said.
More than a few military analysts have questioned whether the U.S. should maintain an amphibious capability — made famous during World War II’s Pacific theater island-hopping campaign — noting that the last significant amphibious combat landings took place at Inchon during the Korean war and that weapons such as long-range missiles make large-scale amphibious assaults obsolete. Proponents argue that the ability to launch smaller-level assaults on unimproved beachfronts continues to be an important capability. The threat alone can also be an advantage, they say, pointing to the famous Persian Gulf War feint in which a large amphibious force poised off the coast of Kuwait diverted thousands of Iraqi forces from the main battlefields.
During a Dec. 2 “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable, Brig. Gen. Christopher Owens, deputy commanding general, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, also pointed out that assault operations are but one of a wide range of possibilities on the amphibious palette and argued for keeping such a capability, while further refining concepts to “keep it relevant.”
Daly would agree.
“People often ask, `Well, maybe we don’t have to do this anymore’,” Daly said. “Maybe we don’t have to provide the bandwidth, the training and the time, and the effort and the money to do [them]. But when they were needed, they were there.”
Daly acknowledged that the capability to conduct amphibious assaults has been somewhat diluted. “The demands of land conflicts over the last decade have forced something of a separation between our Navy amphibious forces and the Marines they are designed to carry into combat,” Daly said. “Only by training together, sailing together, fighting together, can we ensure that amphibious warfare remains a premier national capability — so the country is not dependent on overseas bases, and able to conduct forcible entry without a buildup, and without a permission slip.”