Small Wars Journal

Marines Begin Wargaming, Refining ‘Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment’ Concept

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 8:52am

Marines Begin Wargaming, Refining ‘Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment’ Concept by Megan Eckstein, USNI News

When the Navy and Marine Corps began to plan and execute an evacuation of American citizens in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, it may have seemed like a generic non-combatant evacuation operation they train for before any Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit deploy.

But when Hezbollah launched a Noor anti-ship missile at an Israeli corvette operating nearby, that NEO took on new risks and got a lot of military planners thinking.

John Berry, the concepts director at the Marine Corps’ Futures Directorate, told USNI News that that operation, in which 15,000 American citizens were evacuated in two weeks amid a missile threat from a non-state actor, was a “watershed moment” for amphibious operations planners.

“You’ve got a non-state actor using an [anti-access/area-denial] weapon, so now you have to think about how do we do what we would consider a benign operation – we’re there for humanitarian reasons – when you have non-state actors who are capable of causing serious serious damage, if not outright sinking ships,” he said in an interview last month from his office at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

“So we waited until we got a couple destroyers in there to provide air defense and we pulled off the operation, it was all a success, but that was kind of a harbinger of things to come.”

In the post-Cold War years, the Navy and Marine Corps conducted four or five amphibious operations a year – about twice the pace as during the Cold War – but grew accustomed to operating in a permissive environment, Berry said. Doctrinally, amphibious operations can be conducted in a permissive, an uncertain or a hostile environment, and the Lebanon NEO highlighted the need for new plans for an increasingly dangerous world, where the “uncertain” environment may be the most likely operating scenario.

“The uncertain environment in some ways is more problematic than the openly hostile environment because the time-honored maxim of naval combat is he who fires first effectively wins,” Berry said.

“So if you’re in there, even for a benign reason, and you’re under threat of either state or non-state actor with significant capability, in an uncertain environment very often you’re ceding the initiative to the potential adversary – you’re not even sure if he is an adversary – so you have to do some things to prepare yourself for that.”

Hence the need for the Marine Corps’ new Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment concept…

Read on.