What’s next for Marine Armor?

With the cancellation of the Marines Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the Marines are faced with the challenge of what to do to replace or upgrade their existing fleet of amphibious assault vehicles.

The Marines face a two part challenge. First, they need a vehicle that can swim in the ocean and in surf conditions without swamping or otherwise sinking, and do so from a respectable distance out at sea. That vehicle has to be able to transition from a seagoing vessel to a  fighting vehicle on the move as it crawls out of the water. The Marines simply must maintain the ability to roll from the sea to the beach and beyond to the initial objectives. At a minimum, they need to be able to move far enough inland to secure a lodgment big enough to keep the main beaches out from under artillery fire.

The other problem the Marines face is that they are a light force, with very limited assault shipping available, and yet they need sufficient armored vehicles to mount most of their force under armor once ashore. We’ve seen that in todays environment of IEDs and mines that mounting troops in trucks or other light skinned vehicles is not really an option. The operational and political costs of losing troops that way is just too high. But given the high cost of armored amphibious assault vehicles, and the weight and space limitations they face, mounting the entire infantry forces of a Marine brigade in amphibious vehicles isn’t really an option either. So it looks like the Marines might try to go with a two tiered approach to vehicles.

First, they are going to start a follow-on program from the ashes of the EFV. The linked article sure makes it sound like the Marines are hoping the new program will simply be EFV by another name. If so, they are going to get their feelings severely hurt. The country’s finances aren’t going to be in any shape to afford such a costly fleet of vehicles any time soon. But if the Marines can work with industry to provide a somewhat more modest vehicle, they may well be able to come up with the funds for a goodly sized amphibious assault vehicle fleet.

The other part of the equation is a program that has quietly been cooking along on the back burner, The Marine Personnel Carrier.

The Marine Corps has established a requirement for a new Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC), an advanced generation eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier that would provide general support lift to marine infantry in the ground combat element based maneuver task force. The MPC requirement is shaped to provide a balance of performance, protection and payload in order to set the conditions for fielding a combat vehicle that will be effective across the range of military operations.

If an 8-wheeled armored vehicle with advanced digital electronics and a remotely operated .50 cal weapon station sounds an awful lot like a Stryker to you, well, that’s the same though that popped into my head. Go read the link, and you’ll notice that the MPC, while able to cross inland waters and streams, doesn’t say anything about beaching from the sea. That’s because it won’t be expected to. Its job will be the follow on fighting after the initial lodgment ashore is secured.

We’ve focused on Marine landing vehicles here a bit lately, but it is important to remember, our friends the Sea Soldiers don’t have any intentions of making landings purely by vehicle. Each amphibious group that transports Marines also has a big old helicopter carrier assigned to it. The Marines have a robust helicopter capability, and they intend to make the most of it.

So while parts of the landing team are churning their way ashore in amtracs, another portion of the force will be landing by helicopter behind the beaches. The Marines will try to land on the least defended beaches available, and the troops landed by helicopter will have the mission of blocking enemy forces from reinforcing those beaches, preventing artillery from reaching the beaches, and even attacking toward the beaches to take existing defenders from the rear. Once the initial lodgment is secured, the Marines can use heavier lift landing craft to bring ashore vehicles such as the MPC and their M-1 Abrams, as well as the always critical logistics elements to sustain operations. The Marines can either begin a limited campaign of their own, or secure a port for the entry of follow-on Army forces for a larger campaign.

The basic tactical concept is nothing new. The Marines have been planning this sort of operation since the days of the Korean War. But with the proliferation of cheap antitank missile and especially the large numbers of shore launched anti-ship missiles around that can hold at risk the Navy’s amphibious shipping, the question has become, can we afford to assault a defended objective from the sea? I think it is vital that we maintain that capability, and that it be the Marines prime mission. How to go about maintaining and building that capability without spending every last defense dollar on it is the question.

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