We are making good progress in our planning and preparations for Bold Alligator 2012 (BA12) and are on track for execution in Jan-Feb 2012. As I described in my last update, BA12 is an exercise focused on our Navy-Marine amphibious mission, but is not limited to only our amphibious forces – an ESG-MEB landing is a Fleet operation that requires the full range of Fleet capabilities. Sea control and air superiority are absolutely critical to successfully carry out an amphibious landing in a hostile environment.
History has shown us time and again that these conditions must not only be attained in the littorals, but they must be maintained throughout the entire engagement. And while we would like to execute an amphibious landing as a sequential evolution – setting and maintaining conditions, followed by the ship-to-shore maneuver – we cannot count on our ability or the pace of operations to allow us to execute such an optimal plan – being able to rapidly and effectively respond to the operational situation is critical. Our adversaries today (including non-state actors) are capable of employing a range of hybrid (low and high tech) tactics to disrupt our missions and threaten our forces afloat. For this reason, we must be ready and stay ready to fight at sea as we are conducting the ship-to-objective movement.
In this vein, the participation of a full Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in this exercise, as well as other Navy strike, air superiority, and sea control capabilities, is vital to fully train the force to perform this large-scale, complex and demanding mission. It is imperative that our Naval forces understand the requirements of both sides of the equation. Navy-Marine Amphibious forces must understand how the CSG and other elements of the Fleet operate and accomplish their mission. Conversely, our non-Gator communities must understand how the amphibious task force and landing force plan and execute their operations, what support they require, and when they require it.
For those of you who have been working through the BA12 reading list I transmitted to the Fleet earlier this year, you’ve read about some of the common challenges we have faced when executing an amphibious operation. In fact, some of the most controversial tactical wartime decisions have historically surrounded the relationships between the Sea Control forces (primarily Aircraft Carrier Task Forces) and the Amphibious Force.
- Fletcher, Turner, and Vandegrift at Guadalcanal Aug 1942
- Spruance and Mitscher at the Marianas (Philippine Sea) Jun 1944
- Halsey, MacArthur and Kinkaid at Leyte Gulf Oct 1944
More recently, the coordination problems between the three UK Task Force commanders in the 1982 Falklands conflict, the Carrier TF, the Amphibious TF and the Landing Force, reflect many of the same issues.
The Falklands conflict is well covered in the three “Core List” readings from my reading list; however, I also want to bring your attention to two other items from the list, both written by Col. Theodore Gatchel USMC (ret) a former instructor at the Naval War College. The first is his book, At the Water’s Edge; Defending against the Modern Amphibious Assault (USNI Press, 1996). In describing the difficulties of defending against amphibious assault in the 20th century, Gatchel makes it clear that successful defenses began at sea. He also highlights that amphibious operations have and can be conducted while a threat still exists at sea. We just need to be prepared for it.
Gatchel’s other entry I want to highlight is Eagles and Alligators; An Examination of the Command Relationships That Have Existed Between Aircraft Carrier and Amphibious Forces During Amphibious Operations (Naval War College, 1997). In a brief, yet comprehensive monograph, Gatchel provides all the “models” of how naval forces were organized to conduct amphibious operations, along with the examples and pros and cons of each approach. He poses five basic questions that we should consider as we organize the fleet for these operations:
- What is the lowest level of command at which a single individual has control of all the forces required to accomplish the mission?
- Is the accomplishment of the immediate amphibious mission the primary concern of the individual who controls all the assets need to accomplish the mission?
- Is the commander responsible for the overall mission located where he can monitor the progress of the operation, first hand, and personally influence the outcome of the battle if necessary?
- Does the Commander responsible for the overall mission have a staff capable of dealing with the complexities of both carrier operations and amphibious warfare?
- Does the air control system in use allow carrier aircraft to support the landing adequately?
All the best, JCHjr