Long-range precision strikes, fifth-generation aircraft, precise land-mounted guns and missiles, and dispersed sensor arrays are among the technologies that will change the nature of amphibious warfare. Amphibious attacks will not resemble a linear invasion of Iwo Jima or D-Day. Instead, they will be more dispersed and networked, piloted by aerial, surface and submarine drones operating at varying levels of autonomy. For example, autonomous surveillance drones could patrol an enemy coastline, find vulnerabilities in an enemy perimeter for attacks or landing operations.
Amphibious warfare will also be heavily supported by close air support from sea-launched stealth F-35 fighters, giving attacks a surgical quality and making them less vulnerable to enemy fire. Air supremacy in an amphibious attack would naturally be monumental, as it would allow attacking forces to destroy defensive positions ashore.
However, despite this change in tactics, amphibious warfare is going nowhere. It is only growing in importance as vast maritime spaces, such as the Pacific, demand an integrated land-sea combat strategy. Ship-to-shore maneuvers therefore arguably become even more critical in light of current threats, a dynamic highlighted in the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 report. The document calls for a focus on integrated island-hopping attacks, which will be enabled by a growing fleet of drones, mobile firepower and new platforms such as the emergence of the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) . The LOI is specifically designed for multi-domain amphibious operations in which Marines and equipment will be delivered from ship to shore, while ship-launched weapons, such as the Naval Strike Missile, will fire from land to defend islands, support surface ships, or destroy enemy targets in strategically vital coastal areas.
Large decked amphibious assault ships will be just as critical as they have been for years, but they can be used differently, even becoming command and control “motherships” for a large fleet of systems. unmanned. As part of this strategic approach, there is an increasing emphasis on fortifying sea base operations with large numbers of drones for surveillance, anti-submarine warfare or even forward attack. Longer-range airpower and many high-value system upgrades such as the Osprey tiltrotor will increasingly support disaggregated operations. A more dispersed force is naturally less vulnerable to enemy fire, a possibility made possible by rapidly emerging networking technologies.
The growth of unmanned systems will figure prominently in future amphibious combat. They can keep Sailors and Marines at a safer standoff while surveying and attacking enemy positions with humans in decision-making roles. The Corps’ Force Design 2030 document placed a strong emphasis on unmanned systems with this in mind, highlighting the growing importance of the seabase and the need for manned-unmanned teaming and networking.
Much of this suggests that while the shape, character, and tactical focus of amphibious warfare can change dramatically, amphibious warfare itself is going nowhere.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a highly trained expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air military anchor and specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military pundit on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Image: Flickr/US Navy