A Notional Company Landing Team


URR’s post below (and the article it links to) are worthy of their own examination and discussion. By what caught my eye was the thought of company sized (150-200 man) elements deploying independently of the regular Battalion Landing Team that forms the heart of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The concept of the Company Landing Team (CLT) has been knocked around for a couple years, and that got me to thinking, what type of ship should such a Team be deployed upon? Currently,  MEUs typically deploy spread across three amphibious ships, each with very different missions and capabilities. The LHA is the largest of these, and serves as the primary home to the Air Combat Element of the MEU, as well as the bulk of the manpower of the MEU. The LSD carries the majority of the MEUs vehicles as well as cargo for follow on resupply. The LPD serves to carry most of the tracked amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) as well as offering significant aviation capabilities, with a limited ability to conduct independent operations.

Of the three, the LPD would be best suited to fulfill the mission of carrying and deploying an independent CLT. The problem is, LPDs currently cost well over a billion dollars, and the Navy can’t afford to buy enough to fill its current requirement to support MEUs, let alone enough for extra, independent company teams.

As for the suggestion that the LCS might serve as a future home, that’s been an idea kicked around since supporters of the program had to start scrambling for ways to justify the flawed shipbuilding boondoggle.

You probably could fit a platoon sized element aboard, even if you had to use containerized berthing units. Maybe even a reinforced platoon. But fitting a reinforced rifle company onboard just won’t happen. You’d need to field at least three LCS to lift a single CLT.

The aviation facilities can carry two H-60 class helos, so lift would be available, if a little light. But aside from small RHIB craft, no landing craft could be used to move the company. In sh0rt, the entire company cannot be moved from ship to shore in a single lift, which is generally considered a key element of success for a landing.  Basically, the LCS might prove useful for some very small special forces detachments, but it is a non-starter as an amphib.

There are some good precedents for landing craft sized to carry a company. The first to come to mind is the LCI, or Landing Craft, Infantry.

http://www.the-blueprints.com/blueprints-depot/ships/ships-us/uss-lci-landing-craft-infantry-us-version.gif

http://www.allwoodships.com/MilitaryShips/Amphibious/Image/2,LCI,page.jpg

Sized to carry 200 troops in addition to its crew, it would beach itself, and discharge its passengers via ramps at the bow. But for our notional CLT, it has some pretty severe drawbacks. First, it was designed almost wholly with the idea of the cross Channel invasion of Normandy in mind. It was one thing to carry its load for 24-48 hours. That could be stretched to 72-96 hours in a pinch.  But it was completely incapable of supporting that passenger load much beyond that. Perhaps a more important disadvantage to the LCI is that it had no capacity to carry vehicles.

The other purpose build World War II era ship that immediately springs to mind is a far better fit- The Landing Ship, Tank, or LST.  At around 327’ long, displacing about 3800 tons full load, the wartime LST had a crew of about 110, and normally had berthing for about 140 embarked troops. More importantly, it was purpose built to carry large numbers of tanks and other combat vehicles.

http://landingship.com/images/schematic.jpg

In practice, LSTs routinely carried a larger number of troops. As for vehicles, the design was capable of carrying 1500 tons on ocean crossings, but was only designed to beach with a maximum of 500 tons of cargo. Of course, the Army quickly figured out that most beaches would actually allow beaching with loads of 1000 tons, and routinely overloaded the LSTs allocated to them.

The wartime LST was also a surprisingly inexpensive ship. Not cheap, or crude, but not gold-plated, either. And stunning numbers of them were built, over 1100 in just a couple years.

In fact, the only real shortcoming of the World War II LST was its deplorably low speed, with a maximum of around 11 knots, and a convoy speed of 7-8 knots. The low power of the installed diesel engines were part of the reason speed was so slow, but the flat-bottom design and the bluff bow section were the real reason the LST was a Large SLOW Target. Later variants with much greater shaft horsepower were somewhat faster, but still nothing to write home about, especially given the expense and complexity of their steam plants.

The Navy eventually took upon a radically redesigned LST, the Newport class, the did away with the traditional bow doors, and instead used an enormous ramp over the stem of the ship.

http://www.deagel.com/library1/small/2006/m02006112300009.jpg

This allowed a respectable speed of 20 knots, but the additional complexity and resultant cost, coupled with the ability of modern LCAC landing hovercraft to move vehicle cargo quickly meant the Navy eventually allowed the LST type to pass from service. The trend has been for decades, fewer, larger, more capable, more complex and more costly ships.

So let us design a hypothetical modern version of the WWII LST. Our requirement will be for a troop lift of 150-200 troops, and roughly 20 armored vehicles, generally of between Stryker sized and AAV-7 sized. We should plan on another ten to fifteen 5-ton FMTV type vehicles as well, to carry the support for the CLT. We should figure 7-14 days of offloadable consumables for the CLT once landed, including POL, ammo, rations and spares.  Only the most limited command and control facilities, and austere self defense suite are needed.

The guiding principle for the design of the ship is to cut construction costs. You’ll hear various people tell you this feature or that will reduce lifetime operating costs. Maybe, but operating costs on a platform you didn’t buy because it was too expensive is zero. Cutting up front costs (and keeping the ship extremely austere) is the way to reduce costs.

What other requirements must our notional ship have. Not, really would be nice, but must.

And let’s take a look at the Company Landing Team itself.

I’ve found myself looking at a Stryker Infantry Company as the core in my mind (though I’m certainly open to suggestions to the contrary). Any independent CLT would almost have to be a mounted force simply because it would need organic transport to get off the beach. Organic helicopter support isn’t an option, since that would vastly increase the complexity, manning and costs of any solution. Our notional CLT would also need the organic firepower a mounted force has lest it be defeated by even the most marginally equipped opposing force. Equipping with heavy mech infantry such as the Bradley would similarly increase the size and cost of the CLT, and would actually reduce the numbers of dismount infantry so valuable in so many low intensity conflict situations.

What supporting arms should our Company Team have? For organic fire support, is the 81mm mortar enough, or should we poach a battery of the Marines 120mm EFSS? Or simply used the Army 120mm mortar system? Would the Stryker Armored Gun System be sufficient direct fire? What about engineer support, logistical support, maintenance, air defense, intelligence, signals? How do we balance between having sufficient combat power, and keeping the size and cost of a force within a manageable scope?

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “A Notional Company Landing Team

  1. JSP

    Go look at MLP and LMSR coupled with LCS, LCACs, and LCUs and you can start getting a picture of what a RRC sized operation in a semi-permissive environment might look like.

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  2. Bill

    What are you going to use a CLT for? In the old days, maybe you could cow an opponent with the landing of a marine company, but nowadays it seems like you would be dispersing your assets in penny packets. What am I missing?

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    • The first thing that springs to mind is NEO missions. Plus a lot of partnership building. Also, just having troops occasionally visit a theater gives planners a much better idea of what logistics will be needed should an area become an active theater.

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    • B.Smitty

      Could they be used as a SPECOPS QRF? I’m thinking a future Blackhawk Down or Benghazi scenario. The ability to lift a platoon via helo might be valuable here.

      How about attaching a tank platoon? I think it’d be necessary to effect a rescue in downtown Mogadishu. Strykers, LAVs or other light armor might be hard-pressed to push through determined resistance. M1s would obviously require significant lighterage to get ashore, or a pier.

      A Marine CLT could also be used for HA/DR, either as security for NGO or relief efforts, or additional manpower for relief efforts.

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  3. I would look at enlarging the WW2 LST to allow for a steam plant or gas turbine drive to allow for greater speed and livability. There might be enough room for a hanger and a Sea Cobra or two. But more space and better engineering plant are a must. Given you are going to beach the thing, I don’t see anything other than a flat bottom – that’s gonna lead to some compromises you can’t avoid. Increasing size, will allow it to carry a larger load to the beach, however.

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    • 120mm Mortars would be good fire support and teh Stryker gun system would probably be sufficient direct fire. If they can fit a Sea Cobra or two on the ship as well, they’d a formidable small force that not many would want to mess with.

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    • Steam plant is right out. The Navy is out of the oil fired steam business, for all practical purposes. Gas Turbines are great, but suck fuel. There are so many good diesels on the market, that would be the plant of choice. Though the US has a remarkable tendency to buy diesels that have issues.

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  4. How about a modern version of an APD?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_transport

    I think an APD (even – shudder! – one based on a LCS hull) and a company landing team might be a match made in Marine heaven.

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    • scottthebadger

      A FREEDOM class LCS is 2/3 the physical size of a CLEVELAND class CL, so there is certainly the room on board to clear out room for a company sized landing force, with the necessary internal modifications. Replace the 57mm Bofors with a 5″/54 for NGFS, ditch the high speed turbines, put in the plumbing and berthing for the Marines, and something might be made of the LCS. With the phase out of the Phrog, however, I am not sure how we would get the Marines ashore.

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    • El Sid

      @scottthebadger
      You’re looking at a new ship design by the time you’ve finished that lot. For instance, the bow can take a 76mm gun but probably not anything bigger (certainly not on the trimaran). You’re much better off starting in a different place, like the small Singaporean LPDs.

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  5. Esli

    Going to have to bring a whole lot of bulk fuel to get you from the beach to wherever the key terrain is.
    Call me parochial but I am for airfield seizure and building combat power at the airfield. Stykers or even 113s is sufficient force for the permissive environment of most stability operations. Being at the APOD eliminates the LOC from shore to…wherever, and you are already in possession of the facilities you need for continuing resupply or withdrawal of noncombatants if in fact you were doing NEO.
    In the 90s EUCOM had the Medium Ready Force in 113s that were C130 transportable, as well as the Heavy force with tanks and Brads. Obviously more limited in mobility and sustainability. We brought the NET into Kosovo to support elections once. Not sure how often it was exercised. An 11 man rifle squad is a good thing! At Stewart, we just maintained the Immediate Ready Company (-), on an 18 hour alert.

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  6. Jeff Gauch

    Don’t forget, the Stryker has a mortar carrier variant with a mounted 120mm and a dismounted 81mm or 60mm.

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  7. timactual

    So what exactly is the unfilled mission requirement that cannot be filled by existing resources and therefore needs the acquisition of new hardware and reorganization of existing forces to create an independent, free-standing company landing team? Is there some reason an existing BLT cannot detach a company and attach any necessary support elements?

    Sorry, but we can no longer (if we ever could) afford a ‘Hallmark’ (cards for all occasions) military.

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    • El Sid

      The problem is that the requirement is for smaller numbers of men in more places – the LPD-17 is the Hallmark solution. Three ships of 200 men can play MSO whack-a-mole in more places than a single ship of 600 men, but can come together as a fleet for full-sized operations.

      The obvious solution would be to licence-build some Galicias and base them in Rota where there’s existing logistics support – ditto Endurances in Singapore or Bays in Australia. Even BAE was knocking out Bays in Scotland for $200m ten years ago, say that translated to $400m today if the USN resisted the temptation to mess around with the design.

      There also seems to be a thought that the second half of the LCS buy may be something bigger and slower, which starts looking like a small LPD.

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    • B.Smitty

      The problem with all of this is where does the money come from? Unless we can bribe enough members of Congress to appropriate more military spending, the budget is a zero-sum game. If we want to add somewhere, we have to take away somewhere else.

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    • El Sid

      @B.Smitty
      There’s an existing budget for the second half of the LCS class, and no design assigned yet, there’s scope there for some flex. And although the LPD-17 has ended up as a decent design, I’m not convinced it’s the right ship for the requirement. It’s a shame that new LPD’s have just finished procurement, but we are where we are. It will be interesting to see what happens with the LSD replacement, but again I don’t regard it as an article of faith that each ARG should have a single large LSD.

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  8. Twenty-Twenty

    Of course, an LCU-F (USNI PROCEEDINGS, July’13, pp.60-64) would haul that Team from whatever OTH-(x) in light of her 20kts 1500nm performance, possibly even in ‘sleeper-configuration’ for longer self-deployment. Plus an AH/UH-1 on her stern and perhaps an AH-6 on her bridge helo-spot.

    With a projected max cargo of 200tons, spreading that Team across two LCU-F would haul enough combat vehicles to make for an effective appearance.

    LSD-41 would haul 6x LCU-F opening up a lot of options here.

    See also: http://hallman.nfshost.com/bolger/LCU-F.pdf

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