Amphibious forces are ideal for addressing many of the challenges we face in the Indo-Pacific region. The maritime character of the region, the geographic “tyranny of distance” it presents, the range of environmental crises that often impact the region, the threat of piracy that has affected maritime traffic in the Horn of Africa and Strait of Malacca, the tensions that often inflict the Korean Peninsula, and the modernization of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) combined with its maritime territorial disputes, all stand to raise the profile of amphibious forces in the years ahead. A brief review of some of the capabilities an amphibious force can provide makes this abundantly clear. They can:
– Deter aggression, because their amphibious nature can provide credible forward-presence to respond rapidly in a crisis;
– Sustain operational access almost anywhere in the world, regardless of political or geographic hurdles;
– Provide ground forces in a combat zone where roads, ports, or airfields are not available;
– Complicate an opponent’s decision-making and impose new costs by multiplying the number of theaters they must seek to defend, stretching their resources and manpower. This was used to great effect during the Gulf War in 1991 when the Marines massed a large force off Iraq’s coast, luring Saddam Hussein’s forces away from the U.S.-led coalition’s main operations;
– Conduct counter-piracy operations;
– Conduct humanitarian and disaster response missions; and
– Assure allies of the United States’ credibility and capability to intervene decisively.
But we have work to do. In a blog post from last year, Adm. John Harvey, head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, wrote that the military has neglected the Navy-Marine Corps team’s core amphibious competency of: “prompt and sustained amphibious expeditionary operations from the sea” over the last decade during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To sharpen its skills, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will undertake their largest amphibious exercise in a decade, Bold Alligator 2012 (BA-12). This joint and multinational amphibious assault exercise, which I will attend as an observer, will take place this week and include participants from Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom. Over a two week period, BA-12 will include three large-scale events, including an amphibious assault at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; an aerial assault from the sea into Fort Pickett, Va.; and an amphibious raid on Fort Story, Va.It actually seems self evident. We cannot always depend on having forward bases where we can preposition troops and/or equipment, or 6 months in which to slowly build up forces. There will be times when we need to get troops in fast to capture territory and project force against an opposing military force--something that special operations troops are not intended for or capable of doing.