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The Navy’s plan for future amphibious warfare has become more expansive, varied and ambitious compared to just 8 years ago, something which likely pertains to the rapid advent of unmanned systems, networking and a need to prepare for amphibious, multi-domain warfare in the Pacific theater.
Light Amphibious Warship (LAW)
Years ago, the Navy and Marine Corps talked about a need to operate roughly 33 amphibious assault ships and possibly flex up to 38. At this time, many felt there was still a sizable unmet combatant commander demand for amphibs, a sentiment which has grown substantially in many years.
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Now, the advent of drones, unmanned platforms and lighter-weight, faster coastal amphibs such as the Marine Corps Light Amphibious Warship (LAW). The Chief of Naval Operations Navigation Plan 2022 calls for a new mix of amphibious assault ships moving into the future, citing the service’s capacity goal as 31 amphibious assault ships and as many as 18 Light Amphibious Warships.
This mix represents an interesting and apparently deliberate ship to incorporate a greater mix of lighter, more expeditionary warships such as the LAW for “island-hopping” kinds of multi-domain maritime warfare scenarios in the Pacific.
The flashpoints for potential conflict are numerous, ranging from Chinese-Japanese disputes over the Senkaku Islands to Chinese pressure on Taiwan to a possible clash in the South China Sea. Should a Marines unit operate with an ability to set up fortified mini fire-bases of sorts from small island areas, they might be positioned to prevail against enemy surface ships and even larger scale amphibious attacks. Island based artillery, long-range rockets or anti-ship missiles could potentially derail a Chinese amphibious assault upon Taiwan, by virtue of denying an ability to advance through heavy precision fire.
Given these factors, the LAW would shift the amphibious warfare paradigm away from more linear or traditional kinds of ship to shore attacks. Instead, the LAW would support the Navy’s modern Distributed Maritime Operations strategy based upon the tactical premise that newer kinds of sensors, submarines, long-range weapons and multi-domain connectivity will continue to drive a need for more disaggregated, yet networked combat operations.
This kind of approach, one that is envisioned for the mission scope of the Corp’s emerging LAW, would call upon and favor the multi-domain combat focus of the Corps, which in the case of the Pacific would likely want to operate with the agility to conduct land and sea operations in coordination with one another. Pockets of land weapons could be supplied with ammunition, Marines and even air, surface and sea-launched drones intended to support maritime warfare operations.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.