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White paper: The Corps' current strategy will likely result in its irrelevance

Jun. 18, 2014 - 04:04PM   |  
USS Bataan
Two retired Marine infantry officers, and experts on armored vehicles, say the Marine Corps should use the Light Armored Vehicle as a platform to define and develop capabilities for a next-generation armored amphibious vehicle that can be lifted by rotary assets. (MC3 Mark Hays / Navy)
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The Marine Corps’ current procurement strategy risks the service’s ability to “kick in the door” during an amphibious assault, according to two armored vehicle experts who served as career infantry officers.

In their white paper titled “Are the Marines Procuring Their Way to Irrelevance?” retired Col. James G. Magee and retired Maj. Richard G. DuVall, both say that Commandant Gen. Jim Amos’ focus on the development of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle 1.1 to replace the decades-old Amphibious Assault Vehicle and the further procurement of additional F-35 joint strike fighters is misguided and does not suit the service’s future needs.

The proliferation of advanced missile technology today means ships must maintain a minimum stand-off distance of 100 miles from shore to preserve an adequate strike warning system.. That stand-off distance presents a significant modernization hurdle for a Corps seeking to deliver amphibious forces ashore.

Given current technology, modifying and procuring existing helicopter lift is the best option to get men and armor ashore, Magee and DuVall believe.

But, the ACV 1.1, which is not even amphibious, is too heavy and even the CH-53K King Stallion doesn’t have enough lift to put current armored vehicles ashore.Marines are left relying on an aging fleet of Navy ship-to-shore connectors — like the LCAC hovercraft — and searching for a next-generation connector which, Magee and DuVall note, is likely decades from hitting the field.

“My co-author and I assert that Marines cannot be solely, even excessively reliant on Navy connectors for getting Marine armored firepower ashore in an amphibious operation,” Magee said. “How can the Corps still expect to prevail in the ever-present Beltway argument that says: “Since anybody’s equipment — read as U.S. Army — can be put ashore by these Navy connectors, the Marines aren’t uniquely equipped anymore for amphibious operations, so why do we need them?”

To solve the problem, the authors say the Corps must:

■ Plan to deliver assaulting Marines by MV-22 Osprey, which can traverse the 100-mile stand-off in 30 minutes.

■ Cancel ACV 1.1 development and procurement, because the vehicle is too heavy to swim any significant distance or be transported by helicopter.

■ Develop a new armored personnel carrier using the Light Armored Vehicle-Logistics variant as a platform to define and develop capabilities for a next-generation armored amphibious vehicle that can be lifted by rotary assets. This vehicle could also be outfitted with an array of crew-served weapons —like M2 .50-caliber machine guns — for temporary use as a stop-gap assault vehicle.

■ Develop a “very heavy lift” CH-53K crane variant that would not have an enclosed cabin, giving it the ability to lift thousands more pounds when moving armored vehicles ashore during an assault. Cancel the purchase of additional F-35C carrier variants to pay for it. The 53 variant would be able to deliver armor fitting the aforementioned specs across the 100-mile stand-off in just over an hour, the paper posits.

“Bottom line: Without Marine ground forces having the capability for long-range helicopter lift into an enemy’s [area of operations] from a very distant sea base; providing firepower, armored mobility and mass, these Marines will find themselves irrelevant to decision makers and out of the fight,” the authors conclude.

Their unabridged paper can be read here.

Magee has consulted with the Marine Corps on combat systems and armor optimization, and has been an on-screen consultant to NBC News and PBS’s The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on armor systems and military procurement issues.

A highly decorated infantry Marine, Magee stood up and commanded the Corps’ first Light Armored Vehicle Battalion. He is the 2002 recipient of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the nation’s ability to wage special operations.

He is a nationally recognized expert on ballistic protection systems, special operations and national security issues, and has been the president of three leading body armor manufacturers: Point Blank Body Armor, ArmorShield USA and Select Armor.

DuVall served as the Marine liaison officer on the U.S. Army Armored Family of Vehicles Task Force, where he handled all light systems, and retired from the Marine Corps Research and Development Command. DuVall was Magee’s executive officer when they stood up the first LAV battalion. His civilian employment has included Teledyne Continental Motors and General Dynamics Land Systems.

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