US Navy and Marine Corps Preparing for Combat in the Littoral

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans/Released New war-fighting concepts enable a “denial” strategy against China.

New reporting from the independent United States Naval Institute (USNI) outlines the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ progress towards warfighting concepts to operate in contested littorals . While the concepts are generic, they are particularly salient in the archipelagic geography along the first island chain encircling China, and in the South China Sea where China has built up dual-use facilities and military bases in the disputed Spratly and Paracel island chains. In concert with other efforts in the U.S. Department of Defense and among U.S. allies like Japan, they point towards a growing, aspirational capability to contain Chinese power projection within the first island chain.

For much of the post-Cold War era the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps practiced amphibious landings with an assumption that the Navy would have control of the seas they were operating in. The threat of Hezbollah-trained anti-ship missiles during the evacuation of non-combatants from Lebanon in 2006 and expanding anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities in competitors like China suggested that the assumption of conducting amphibious operations from uncontested seas no longer held.

But it soon became clear that the challenge was not just that the Navy’s job of getting the Marines ashore was harder. Instead, John Berry of the Marine Corps’ Futures Directorate explained to USNI that in future conflict scenarios the support would need to go the other way – with the Marines helping the Navy to seize and maintain control of the seas.

Berry explained the difference with examples from the United States’ experience in World War II. In the Atlantic, the Navy established sea control so that the Army could project power ashore, whereas in the Pacific, the Marines’ island-hopping amphibious campaigns supported projecting power seaward to establish and extend the Navy’s sea control. The Navy and Marine Corps are now relearning those lessons from the Pacific theater to design new warfighting concepts called Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO). Together these concepts integrate the Marines into the Navy’s effort to gain and maintain control of the seas both by fighting at-sea, and supporting the maritime fight from the shore.

At the Surface Navy Association’s conference in January, the Navy Staff’s director of Expeditionary Warfare – which is in charge of the Navy’s part in amphibious operations – explained what this new “Green in support of Blue” paradigm, or Marines supporting the Navy, would include. By establishing remote refueling and rearming sites for Naval aviation and forward logistics sites, neutralizing land-based adversary threats to ships or aircraft, and conducting their own fires against adversary shipping and aircraft, the Marines can help establish localized areas of sea and air control in contested areas under threat from long-range A2/AD systems.

This is broadly consistent with the vision for future Amphibious Operations that the Center for Budgetary and Strategic Assessments (CSBA) articulated a recent Fleet Architecture Study ordered by the U.S. Senate to […]