Small Wars Journal

UPDATED: Marine Corps says, 'Damn the G-RAMM, full speed ahead!'

UPDATE: Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work sent me a response to this essay. You will find his response in the comments below.


Yesterday I attended a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies delivered by Robert Work, the Undersecretary of the Navy. Work, a retired Marine Corps colonel and a former analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, discussed the prospects for the U.S. Marine Corps after Afghanistan (see also this SWJ entry).

Work made it clear that he and the Navy Department are planning to return the Marine Corps to its naval roots. Most important, Work defended the amphibious assault mission and asserted that the Navy Department will ensure that the Marine Corps will be prepared to execute a two-brigade amphibious assault even as adversaries acquire more sophisticated precision weapons.

Work explained that the United States needs to maintain substantial power projection capabilities -- including the ability to execute large-scale amphibious assaults -- if it wishes to maintain the credibility of its security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region. Work dismissed the argument that large opposed amphibious assaults are obsolete because the United States hasn't performed one since Inchon. Work explained that the circumstances of the Cold War resulted in large forward deployments of U.S. ground and air forces, thus temporarily removing the requirement for large combined arms power projection capability. In the future by contrast, the closing of overseas bases will renew the requirement for combined arms power projection capability, including large amphibious assaults. Work believes that large amphibious assaults will be extremely rare events. But, according to Work, allies will not consider U.S. security guarantees to be credible if the U.S. does not retain and exercise this capability.

In his speech earlier this year to the Navy League, Defense Secretary Robert Gates wondered how opposed amphibious assaults will be viable when adversaries possess precision munitions, known as "G-RAMM" -- guided rockets, artillery, mortars, and missiles. Work said that he and his colleagues are preparing a formal response to Gates.

Work gave a brief outline of that response. First, an adversary G-RAMM capability requires sensors (radar) and an electronic command and control network. Work expressed confidence that U.S. joint forces will be able to achieve electronic network dominance over an adversary in an amphibious objective area. Second, Work noted the difficulty of defending against a modern amphibious assault. Concentrated adversary forces, either at a landing site or in a mobile reserve, will be vulnerable to U.S. precision attack. U.S. landing forces, by contrast, aided by platforms such as V-22, LCAC, and EFV, have a very wide variety of insertion options. In addition, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have allowed the Marine Corps to perfect distributed operations, which will also be an effective technique during amphibious assaults. Finally, Work is counting on the participation of Air Force long-range strike and Army parachute BCTs as force multipliers in a joint campaign.

A panel discussion that followed shed a little rain on Work's presentation. Dakota Wood, also a retired Marine Corps officer and Work's former colleague at CSBA, discussed the growing gap between the Marine Corps's operational dreams and the Pentagon's budget realities. Wood noted the Navy's mounting problems with amphibious ship-building; the severe cost overruns with F-35, EFV, and V-22; the Marine Corps's new weight problem; and the Pentagon's general problem with personnel costs which particularly hurt the manpower-intensive Marine Corps. Wood predicted that budget pressures would cause the Marine Corps to shrink from 202,000 heads to 175,000 with proportional cuts in infantry battalions and acquisition programs.

The QDR Independent Panel called on the Pentagon to increase its attention on Asia-Pacific and to bolster the Navy. If the U.S. is to maintain its credibility in that region, it needs to show that it can project power there. The Marine Corps is a major part of that display of credibility. What remains to be seen is whether Robert Gates and the Congress agree with Robert Work's assessment.


I found this discussion thread as a consequence of looking up the G-RAMM acronym. I am currently working in the MEB cell for Joint Forcible Entry Warfare Experiment (JFEWE) and I am preparing comments for after action review. I am a contractor

My thirty-four year membership and association with the Marines have been mostly in the form of field duty and deployments. In the 1980's I worked as a pilot-in-command of F-4, TA-4, EA-6B & T-2C aircraft. I became a TACP officr ub 1985 and have experience in six CAX events, Amphibious Orientation Training in 1996, BLT surface assault element in Team Spirit 1986, Blue-Cell Air in Hunter-Warrior, Target Information Officer in I MEF G-3 during Operation Desert Storm and most recently a civil affairs officer in Iraq from 2005-2006. I participated as a "White-Cell/Blue-Cell" scenario writer for Millenium Challenge 2002. I retired in 2008 and became a Defense Readiness Specialist for a Marine Corps client organization. I now work mostly as a management consultant.

The trend for amphibious assaults during WW2 was the reduction in frontal area assigned to battalion size units. A staff-ride with MajGen Day at the Sugar Loaf battlefield on Okinawa in 1986 was illustrative of how the repeated use of amphibious forcible entry against a conventional, peer-equipped military land force became less of a surprise than a foregone conclusion to Japanese planners. The battalion front at Sugar Loaf was a less than 200 yards. Marines equipped with rifles were the form of concentrated combat capability that prevailed by taking ground and holding it with supporting arms. Japanese defenders, not known for strong combined arms integration beyond indirect fire systems, were over-matched by USN & USMC indirect fires and aviation fires.

The Inchon landing was a stroke of genius because the North Korean army did not think in terms of strategic or operational naval forces, only land forces. Hitler suffered from the same shortcoming in strategic and operational thinking in regards to naval forces, hence the success of U.S. Army operations in the ETO. The U.S. retained an amphibious assault capability and used it in 1950.

In 1990-1991 the capability to perform amphibious forcible entry was honored by the Iraqi Army inside Kuwait as evidenced after the 100-hour war when a sand table was discovered that addressed the possibility of an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf. Sometimes a picture can tell a thousand words. The Navy-Marine Corps threat was credible.

Forcible entry by either naval forces or air mobile forces will always be a high risk undertaking. Seaborne or airborne mobility assets are high-investment resources that are vulnerable when performing forcible entry operations. Mitigating the threat of G-RAMM systems is the challenge. That part of the discussion requires more planning and the development of counter-measures. What must not happen is the development of a "static defense and complacent security force" mentality.

The Yom Kippur War in 1973 was a result of complacency by the Israeli defenders along the Suez Canal, and on the Golan Heights. While the Arabs feigned military & political weakness, they were analyzing and coming up with innovative ideas on how to overcome Israeli military strengths. The attack in October 1973 was launched in a "Pearl Harbor" moment of vulnerability on the Jewish High-Holiday of Yom Kippur. Israeli military strengths in aviation, armor and artillery capabilities were addressed with innovative solutions that nearly ended the Jewish State in three weeks of fighting.

Amphibious forcible entry is an offensive capability that keeps any potential adversary guessing on the time and place of the attack. Principles of War remain valid: Mass, Objective, Offensive, Security, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Surprise, and Simplicity.

What locations could a U.S. amphibious or air-lifted forcible entry capability is a necessity? The Straits of Hormuz if freedom of navigation were shut down by the Iranians? Would it be used as in a punitive expedition against Somali pirate havens on the Indian Ocean or Red Sea littorals? Maintaining "Freedom of Navigation" in the Malacca Straits? Would it be useful as an asymmetric warfare tool against Hugo Chavez's Venezuela if that dictator decided to wage a "War of Liberation" against Columbia or Honduras? An amphibious forcible entry capability would be a good answer to all of these problem areas. The possibilities remain valid and limitless.

Kasper (not verified)

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 12:23pm

Perhaps I am stating the obvious, but does anyone get the feeling that this is just an attempt to justify the EFV program?

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 3:07pm

Xenophon - Inchon didn't lend itself to pristine conditions and was for its time, an operational manuever from the sea.

Granted however, things have changed. I imagine the Corps evasions sea-based logistics (no historic beachhead buildup requirement) nor logistic base & tail to hinder opportunity for straight-on exploitation with speed along with sea base precision fires (hopefully).

Who controls the seas has maximum freedom of operational and tactical movement The technical difficulty the Corps faces, is the mix of proper platforms to accomplish this with, and the technology to overcome the described threat by the Navy at sea and the Corps closer in.

"The art of war is, in the last result, the art of keeping one's freedom of action."


Thu, 08/19/2010 - 10:50am

Comparisons to WW2 ETO operations gives me pause as well. The majority of campaigns were conducted against small, isolated islands with little to no civilian infrastructure. The conditions were almost perfect in a sense: The enemy could not reinforce or resupply themselves (Guadalcanal for a time was a notable exception), could not withdraw to regroup, and US forces needn't worry about civilian issues. Forcible entry is rare enough in and of itself. Forcible entry in such pristine conditions will be even more rare, if they ever occur again. Can 2 BCTs deal with a mobile enemy that can reinforce and resupply itself while having their own mobility hindered by civilian infrastructure, their manpower and logistics sapped by refugees, and their reinforcement and resupply limited?

We can't fall in love with Iwo Jima, things will rarely be that so...uncomplicated.

Mr. Work's mention of the WW2 ETO as an example of "theater entry" was thought-provoking. All the successful theater entries in the WW2 ETO by the Allies involved multiple divisions. Would 2 BCTs be enough?

duck (not verified)

Thu, 08/12/2010 - 12:33pm

If the United States Marine has not earned his keep as a fighting man after almost 234 years, then he must go.

anonymous2 (not verified)

Thu, 08/12/2010 - 1:17am

If the USMC plans to provide 2 RLTs for MEB level amphibious operations, what will the other 10 Regt equivalents (AC+RC) do? What is the purpose of a "navalized" Marine Corps with over 90% of the force non-naval? The Marine Corps will continue to lose its argument with the Navy and other services because it cannot identify a viable strategic purpose for such a large force that is not duplicative of the US Army. Love the Marine Corps, but we have to do better than this...

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 08/10/2010 - 12:17pm

The point may become moot Hershel Smith?

Traditionally, the Marine Corps has been seen as the most frugal of all the services, giving the nation its biggest bang for the buck.

Though the Corps as stepped to the plate to do what has been asked of it these past nine years of land-locked conflict; the Corps has also been feeding at the trough as zealously as the other services.

My sense is that the Corps may no longer find itself with their historic support in Congress in these projected tight budgetary times, and justification for continuation of the EFV program may be scrapped?

I do believe there is the necessity for some modern waterborne surface vehicle however, but the EFV aint it.

For Mr. Work, a few comments.

Forcible entry under heavy fires from combined arms is either in the plans or it is not. If it is in the plans, then the EFV is designed to be used against a near peer or sizable nation-state with a uniformed army and capable of such a defense. This is unfathomable. Use of a couple of BLTs and supporting equipment is not nearly enough to effect success under these circumstances. The mission would be suicidal. Its unfathomable precisely because were smarter than that.

If on the other hand the location upon which we intend to do forcible entry is not a developed nation-state capable of employing such combined arms, then the EFV is not necessary, and may even be an impediment to efficient operations give its amphibious-based design. Large scale amphibious assaults against near peer states or secondary powers are not likely, and history may have recorded the last such assaults more than 50 years ago. The EFV, designed for an assault that isnt likely to happen, is a vehicle in search of a mission.

Further thoughts:…

Best regards.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sat, 08/07/2010 - 4:06pm

Yes slapout9, the G-RAMM environment can be overcome, however the immediate threat the Corps faces is the probable upcoming budget environment in which the Navy will probably never build the quantity of amphibs necessary to embark and support two MEBs, nor fulfill surface fire support advancement technology.

That is why the Marines still train with bayonets....sometimes you have to poke the enemy in the butt to get them to go in the right direction and sometimes that includes the Navy.


Sat, 08/07/2010 - 1:42pm

Yes slapout9, the G-RAMM environment can be overcome, however the immediate threat the Corps faces is the probable upcoming budget environment in which the Navy will probably never build the quantity of amphibs necessary to embark and support two MEBs, nor fulfill surface fire support advancement technology.

Additionally, I note the amphibious ship building program is going ahead with the LHA-6 that will emphasize expanded aviation flight operations at the expense of having no well deck for such surface platforms as the troubled EFV. Let's hope the Navy/Marine Corps team has an idea to overcome the weather environment as well?

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 08/06/2010 - 3:00pm

The G-RAMM environment is a threat to ANY force not just the Marines, so using that as the argument for cutting the USMC is presenting a false choice. The problem can be solved.

Tyrtaios (not verified)

Thu, 08/05/2010 - 5:04pm

Robert Haddick: Thank you for putting this information out timely.

I don't wish to be the voice of doom and gloom, but I sense this is going to boil down to budget. My concern is that the Navy is not going to want to spend what may be needed and the Corps might not be able to count on its traditional and historic friendship on Capital Hill this time around.

For the blue side to support its green side brethren for what may be necessary, would mean diminishing the number of aircraft carrier strike groups. . .something the Admirals will fight tooth and nail not to give up.

Robert Haddick (not verified)

Thu, 08/05/2010 - 11:29am

Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work sent me this response, which I post in its entirety:


All: just a few additions to Robert's report and the posts so far. The Marine Corps will continue to focus, as it has since the end of World War II, on sea-based forward engagement and crisis response, and supporting joint campaigns of both short and long duration. The primary adversaries in the future will be "hybrid" in nature, with access to the full range of guided weapons--referred to as G-RAMM, Guided Rockets, Artillery, Mortars, and Missiles.

There is widespread agreement that there may be times in the future where access may be hard to come by, and we may have to fight to get it. This comes out strongly in Secretary Gates call to improve our ability to defeat anti-access/area denial threats.

In light of these circumstances, Secretary Gates has asked whether or not we should retain an amphibious assault capability--the ability to inject intact, ready-to-fight combat forces ashore from the sea--and if so, for what mission and how much capacity. We have been studying this question for the past year. We will be arguing our case this Fall.

We believe, and will argue, that the joint force should retain a modest amphibious assault capability, focused on the theater entry mission. As Phil Ridderhof explains, the USMC's WWII experience was conducting seizures of defended islands for the purpose of seizing an advanced naval base. We believe that a future amphibious assault, if conducted, would look more like US Army theater entry missions conducted in the ETO, which are designed to facilitate a follow-on joint land campaign. Since these types of missions will be relatively low probability, we think the ability to land 2 MEBs is the minimum capacity necessary, provided there is a rapid reinforcement capability. The inclusion of Army Airborne, MPF squadrons with new Mobile Landing Platforms, and JLOTS capabilities in our thinking will therefore be critical. And any theater entry will be a joint endeavor, relying on Air Force space and air support.

In an anti-access environment where the enemy has a capable battle network capable of firing salvos of guided weapons, the initial phase of any theater entry operation will require achieving air, sea, undersea, and overall battle network superiority. This will mean this type of operation will be deliberate and take some time to develop. This does not mean "damn the G-RAMM, full speed ahead." It means, "take your time, roll the G-RAMM threat back, and then land at a time and place of your own choosing." No 10-day landings in this environment.

Once ashore, the primary threat to the lodgment will come from G-RAMM "counter-attacks" and hybrid warriors who most likely will hide amongst the people. This will require the Marines to concentrate on establishing an inner G-RAMM perimeter designed to keep guided rockets, mortars, and artillery suppressed/out of range. The joint force, especially the defending Navy battle network, will concentrate on defeating the longer range-G-RAMM threat.

Let's posit that if we needed to, and we dedicated the assets to do so, we might be able to inject 2 ready-to-fight airborne BCTs into a joint lodgment over a 2-3 day period. We are recommending we retain a capability to inject just 2 MEBs. In other words, we are recommending we retain the ability to inject just four ready-to-fight BCTS out of a planned force of 86 BCTs equivalents (73 Army BCTs, 12 Marine RCTs, 1 Ranger Regt). The remaining 82 would have to be assembled in theater, once their equipment (generally delivered by sea) and people (generally delivered by air) arrive. Improving the rapid reinforcement/rapid assembly capability will obviously be critical.

We don't think this is a big force, and are not recommending a major increase in amphibious landing forces. However, we think retaining the capability to conduct a modest theater entry mission supported by sea-based forces is critical. We hope OSD and the Joint Staff will agree.

Best, Bob Work


The Marines focused their pre-war amphibious doctrine on successfully assaulting a heavily defended beach because of the very specific nature of the campaign they envisioned supporting. Just like occurred in the Pacific in World War II, the naval campaign allowed for bypassing a lot of Japanese bases. However, on those islands that did require occupation to further the campaign, there weren't a lot of maneuver/"land where they aren't" options at the tactical level. Hence the Marines built a very tailored force structure of large assault divisions (in my mind, less flexible than the lean Army division that was adapted to multiple theaters).

As Mr. Work describes, in most instances, we will have a lot of options on where and when to land. However, if we don't have some capability against defended areas, we also obviate the adversary's requirement to build defenses or concentrate his forces. In a sense, presenting the offensive threat makes the adversary have to commit in certain areas--thus creating the gaps necessary to out-maneuver those defenses. The superior mobility of coming from the sea means that amphibious forces can re-position more rapidly than land-based forces.

I think one of the hardest nuts to crack is that we have traditionally depended on suppressive fires to enable our maneuver. Will we have the ability to conduct suppression on suspected adversary positions, or will ROE demand clearly identifiable targets? Against a foe using a Hizbollah style defense, suppression would be the best way to get dispersed maneuver forces close enough to uncover the small enemy elements, especially those that will use the population as cover. Absent active suppression, we have to "lead with our chin" and allow them the first shot (basically an ambush) before going in. If the adversary has the advantage of choosing to initiate combat, it will be tough going, especially during initial assault/insertion phases. This is especially true if he is armed with a fair number of simple G-RAMMs, or coastal anti-ship missiles.

Going to Slim Rickens point, if we are attacking an adversary with the population on their side, then isnt the population part of the adversary also? Just because the civilians arent combatants, doesnt mean they arent belligerents. I think weve lost the concept that we may have to fight adversaries where the population is part of the enemy and is not initially a piece of "human terrain" to be secured, protected and won over. We may have to defeat their regular and irregular armed forces to convince the population that active resistance is futile. Then we begin protecting them.


Wed, 08/04/2010 - 10:19pm

why use a conventional military when you can bog down our entire diplomatic/development/military might with a few thousand guys in cities with the population on their side.

slapout9 (not verified)

Wed, 08/04/2010 - 8:22pm

The Maneuver Warfare Handbook touches on this point briefly. Instead of Landing on big beaches the Marine Corps may be able to avoid alot of these threats by choosing landing "points" which maybe only a few yards wide.

For further reference and discussion; Dakota Wood has written an article for <i>The American Interest</i> on this subject that will be published online 9 August.