US Navy, Marine Corps Unveil New Strategy to Turn Tables on A2/AD

New Marine role in sea control appears aimed at potential China conflicts.

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have released a new strategy to integrate their capabilities to address the challenges posed by archipelagic and coastal geography, and the proliferation of advanced sensors and mobile, long-range missile systems that can threaten naval forces from ashore. Called Littoral Operations in Contested Environments (LOCE), the concept puts forward a framework to fight for, and gain sea control in littoral geographies by employing both sea-based and land-based Marines Corps capabilities to support the sea control fight.

LOCE has been under development and testing since 2015 and the full concept remains classified. The release of this unclassified version, signed by both the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, signals the development of new doctrine, exercising the concept in wargames, and the acquisition or modification of weapons systems to enable it.

Marines Join the Sea Control Fight

After the Cold War, the U.S. Navy assumed it would never again face a serious challenge to its use of the seas. As a result, weapons systems and competencies critical to engaging in sea combat to establish and defend control of the seas were left fallow. The most striking of these decisions was to equip only the first 27 of the 73 Arleigh Burke -class destroyers in service or under construction with anti-ship cruise missiles designed to attack another warship (the rest won’t receive new long-range anti-ship missiles now under development until the 2020s).

Under those old assumptions, the “hard part” of U.S. amphibious operations was for the Marines fighting ashore, but long-range anti-ship missiles fired from an adversary’s mainland or deployed to remote archipelagic bases threaten the U.S. Navy’s freedom of action. Recognizing that these missile systems now give naval combat a “landward dimension,” the LOCE concept reverses amphibious operations’ old assumptions and roles. Instead of the Navy establishing sea control to put Marines ashore to achieve their objectives, the Marines will be going ashore under hostile sea conditions to then help the Navy establish sea control.

The Marine’s role under this concept will be to neutralize the adversary’s land-based sensors and anti-ship weapons that threaten U.S. warships, and then use their own air assets and mobile artillery and missile systems to deny free use of the seas to the adversary fleet. Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller described it recently as having to “fight to get to the fight.”

For the Marines, this doesn’t just mean storming beaches to then turnaround and help defend the Navy from shore, but also supplementing the defense of the amphibious ships they are embarked on and even giving them their own offensive anti-ship and anti-air capability.

It’s not an entirely new role for Marines embarked on warships. On the U.S. World War II-era Iowa -class battleships Marine security detachments would man the ships’ 5-inch anti-aircraft batteries, and on British battleships, Royal Marines were usually responsible for manning one of the ships’ main gun turrets.

The modern twist on this legacy will […]