Amphibious operations

The Asia Pacific regional security interests require the navies of this region to have the ability to respond comprehensively to political or military contingencies, which can arise with little or no warning. An amphibious capability provides the militaries with a range of political response options to apply military force, and project national power.

Many countries in the region have recognized the need to augment their amphibious capability in the developing geopolitical environment in the Indian Ocean Region and South China Sea maritime challenges. Many ASEAN countries are now possess varying-sized, specialized amphibious ground forces equivalent to the US Marine Corps (USMC) or Russian Naval Infantry.

This is no coincidence given that, because these formations are distinct from the army ground forces, maintaining them can be expensive. Moreover, the ships designed to give these forces mobility-large amphibious landing vessels-are also costly even though they feature comparatively less complex combat systems than those installed on warfighting assets.

The long coasts of Asia’s mainland, together with the numerous archipelagos throughout the Pacific Rim are ideal for amphibious warfare, the projection of land forces from the sea onto the shore, as history has shown.

Early practice

The magnitude of landing operations during World War II tends to give the impression that amphibious warfare is a relatively new type of military enterprise. Nevertheless, the earliest account of amphibious warfare dates back nearly 3,000 years.

The ancient Greeks were the first to use amphibious techniques when attacking the city of Troy in Asia Minor, near Turkey. Greek soldiers crossed the Aegean Sea and stormed ashore on the beaches near Troy during the ten-year struggle to destroy the city. About 700 years after the Persians launched a waterborne attack against the Greeks, the first amphibious assault was probably made during the Persian Wars. At the Battle of Marathon in 490BC, the Persians established beachheads in their attempt to invade Greece. The Persians used ships with runways for unloading their war horses-the precursor of modern landing ships.

Amphibious operations have been a critical tool for any military with ties to the sea. During the period between the two World Wars the US Navy and Marine Corps developed specialized amphibious warfare equipment and doctrine. New troop organizations, landing craft, amphibious tractors that could travel on water as well as land, and landing tactics were tested. Exercises emphasized the use of ship guns and even aircraft to provide close fire support of the assault troops. Combat loading techniques were developed so that ships could quickly unload the equipment required first in an amphibious landing, accepting some reductions in cargo stowage efficiency in return for improved assault capabilities.

From 1937 (Sino-Japanese War) to 1950 (the Korean War) amphibious operations changed the Pacific Rim’s political geography and history destroying the Japanese Empire and paving the way for the emergence of several new states in the region, following the end of European colonialism. Meanwhile, the nature of amphibious operations has changed significantly since the end of the Second World War and this has had a marked effect on the role of amphibious forces in the Asia-Pacific.

Western naval powers, the chief proponents of amphibious warfare during the Second World War, began to amend their amphibious doctrine with the development of nuclear weapons which made the traditional accompanying large assemblies of ships witnessed during this conflict extremely vulnerable. Because of the threat from nuclear attack amphibious doctrines around the world began to emphasise greater dispersal and the delivery of the assault force from, or over, the horizon.

This doctrinal requirement became even more important with the development of Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs) in the years following the end of the Second World War. The proliferation of these weapons launched from aircraft, ships, submarines and even coast defence batteries made and continue to make the approach to the shore for the assault force hazardous. The problem becomes yet greater with the traditional threat of increasingly technologically sophisticated mines.

As a consequence of the development of AShMs and the nuclear threat, amphibious warfare now has to be conducted by smaller, more sophisticated and versatile task groups.

Landing craft continues to be an important means of deploying assault forces but at comparatively longer distances than those seen during the Second World War. Today, the United States Marine Corps opts for deploying from some 25 nautical miles (46 kilometres) beyond the shore. Rotary wing aircraft have proved another, and extremely effective, means of delivering men and supplies.

Amphibious operations continue to retain their centrality in military plans and amphibious forces remain a potent and effective means of power projection. The size and lift capacity of amphibious warfare ships built in the post Cold War era , as well as their overall capability has markedly increased. Amphibious forces can be positioned, in advance, in international waters, within easy reach of the envisaged area of operation, and be in a position to execute assigned tasks at short notice.

Combined effort

Amphibious Operations is an attack launched from the sea by naval and ground forces embarked in ships and which involve landing on a hostile shore. Amphibious Operation is a complex operation that incorporates land, sea and air forces into one cohesive assault force and integrates them into a highly balanced, concentrated and tremendous combat power to defeat an enemy force entrenched ashore. A Heliborne operation may also be conducted to support an amphibious operation.

An amphibious operation requires extensive air participation and is characterized by closely integrated efforts of forces trained, organized, and equipped for different combat functions. The complexity of amphibious operations and the vulnerability of forces engaged in these operations require an exceptional degree of unity of effort and operational coherence.

The essential usefulness of an amphibious operation stems from its mobility and flexibility. The amphibious operation exploits the element of surprise and capitalizes on enemy weaknesses by projecting and applying combat power at the most advantageous location and time.

The threat of an amphibious landing can induce enemies to divert forces, fix defensive positions, divert major resources to coastal defense, or disperse forces. Such a threat may result in the enemy making expensive and wasteful efforts in attempting to defend their coastlines. The salient requirement of an amphibious assault, which is the principal type of amphibious operation, is the necessity for swift, uninterrupted buildup of sufficient combat power ashore from an initial zero capability to full coordinated striking power as the attack progresses toward amphibious task force (ATF) final objectives.

An amphibious operation is both similar and different in many ways to both land, naval and air operations. At its basic such operations include phases of strategic planning and preparation, operational transit to the intended theatre of operations, pre-landing rehearsal and disembarkation, troop landings, beachhead consolidation and conducting inland ground and air operations. Historically, within the scope of these phases a vital part of success was often based on the military logistics, naval gunfire and close air support. Another factor is the variety and quantity of specialized vehicles and equipment used by the landing forces that are designed for the specific needs of this type of operation.

An amphibious operation is not the mere landing of an Army unit tasked with an in stride autonomous land operation. On the contrary it is a complex joint operation, launched from offshore, committing naval, land and possibly air forces, carried out on a hostile coast that might be hold by enemy forces.

Amphibious tasks are essentially categorized as assault, demonstration, raid and withdrawal operations. These tasks could be undertaken in various scenarios including conventional war, defence of island territories, assistance to friendly littoral states in the region, peacekeeping and any other special operations necessitating employment of an amphibious force.

Amphibious operations are generally conducted to established landing forces on a hostile shore to prosecute further combat operations, secure site for forward naval or air bases, decisively deny the enemy of the use of vital areas of facilities, conduct swift and unexpected incursion into hostile territory or inflict casualties and damage to enemy personnel and material and to gather vital information about the enemy activities and intentions.

The complexity of amphibious operations and the vulnerability of amphibious forces demand unity of command in planning and execution. Reliable, secure and responsive communications are absolutely vital to effective command and control (C2) of an amphibious operation. The advantage of planning and working together would go a long way in achieving synergy which is the hall mark of joint operations.

The conduct of landings from beyond enemy visual and radar range is a technique that employs maneuver warfare concepts such as surprise, operational speed, operational flexibility, and tactical mobility to achieve a tactical advantage over the enemy that can be decisively exploited while minimizing risk to assault shipping.

A beachhead is a designated area on a hostile or potentially hostile shore which, when seized and held, ensures the continuous landing of troops and materiel and provides maneuver space requisite for subsequent projected operations ashore. It is the physical objective of an amphibious operation.

The landing area is that part of the objective area within which the landing operations of an amphibious force are conducted. It includes the beach, the approaches to the beach, the transport areas, the fire support areas, the air occupied by close supporting aircraft, and the land included in the advance inland to the initial objective.

A landing beach is that portion of a shoreline usually required for the landing of a battalion landing team. However, it may also be that portion of a shoreline constituting a tactical locality (such as the shore of a bay) over which a force larger or smaller than a battalion landing team may be landed.

A Helicopter Landing Zone [HLZ] is a specified ground area for landing assault helicopters to embark or disembark troops and/or cargo. A landing zone may contain one or more landing sites.

Security objectives

India is a nation blessed with a geographically strategic position, a vast coastline and numerous island territories. However, along with protecting India’s territories, Diasporas, and interests; India’s defence forces may need to render assistance to countries that are crucial to India’s strategic and economic well being and also to further India’s diplomatic foot print as directed by the government.

Considering the distances at which the force may require to operate, it would be ideal for the force’s composition to include all arms of the defence forces and be totally self sustaining. This would mean a composite force which would include constituent elements of the Army, Navy and Air force-troops, ships, and aircraft. The troops would require operating off ships for operations on land and thus need to be amphibious in nature.

Historically, nations have used and maintained amphibious forces for policing, anti-piracy, enforcing a nation’s policies, and humanitarian assistance. The earliest known instance of Indian involveme.nt in amphibious operations was as a part of the British assault at Tanga, German East Africa in 1914. India later successfully demonstrated its amphibious capabilities during Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka.

India’s current amphibious forces are a combination of the Indian Army and the Indian Navy. The Navy provides the platforms and towards this maintains a fleet of landing ships while the Indian Army provides the troops for amphibious operations. In 2008 India unveiled the joint doctrine for its amphibious operations. The doctrine is meant to serve as a guideline on how the armed forces intend to plan and conduct amphibious operations and achieve full synergistic effect of joint combat power.

There are four recognised types of amphibious operations:

Amphibious demonstration.

An amphibious operation conducted for the purpose of deceiving the enemy by a show of force with the expectation of deluding the adversary into an unfavourable course of action.

Amphibious raid.

An amphibious operation involving the swift incursion into or temporary occupation of, an objective area followed by a planned withdrawal.

Amphibious assault.

The principal type of amphibious operation, which involves establishing a force on a hostile or potentially hostile shore.

Amphibious withdrawal.

An amphibious operation involving the extraction of forces by sea in naval ships or craft from a hostile or potentially hostile shore.

In February 2009 the Indian Army re-raised 91 Infantry Brigade in amphibious role comprising of 3 infantry Battalions and a strength of 3,000 personnel. The soldiers have been drawn from the Sikh, Gorkhas and Madras regiments. The new amphibious brigade, is modelled on the lines of the Indian Navy’s marine commandos and specialising in land and marine warfare. Experts see it as a necessary adjunct to meet India’s security challenges.

A well-planned and executed amphibious operation - basically a tri-service operation launched from the sea by carrying soldiers and their weaponry on a ship and affecting a landing on enemy shore - could change the course of a war.

In February 2009 the Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force jointly conducted the largest ever amphibious exercise codenamed “EXERCISE TROPEX-2009” at Madhavpur beach in Gujarat. This was the first time the joint doctrine on amphibious warfare of the Indian Armed Forces which was formulated last year was put into practice with its full scope. Tanks, armored personnel carriers and Infantry troops of 91 Infantry Brigade of the Sudarshan Chakra Corps participated in both stand-off and hard beaching modes.

In today’s world when countries are trying to develop cohesive and well trained forces for tackling issues which are of importance to those countries, an independent and well trained amphibious force may be the best method to further India’s amphibious capabilities.

The successful conduct of an amphibious operation is dependent to a major extent on the reconnaissance of the target beach. Therefore, to conduct any amphibious operation, it takes specialized training. This entails concepts of land warfare interwoven into the training curriculum, but more specifically the amphibious platforms as the departure point. Also, the force should be aware of the critical limitations of an amphibious operation like tidal patterns and withdrawal from the area of operations.

India needs amphibious ships that are capable of dual role, both in war and peace. This would ensure that the entire spectrum of India’s likely requirements-from strategic lift and prepositioning to humanitarian missions are capably handled. Considering the type of missions with which India’s amphibious forces may be tasked, the platforms which could be of use to India include the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship (LHA), Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), Dock Landing Ship (LSD), and the LPD.

Emerging forces

India’s security concerns are defined by a dynamic global security environment and the perception that South Asia region is of particular global security interest.

While Asian navies benefited greatly from the US Navy’s Second World War amphibious warfare construction program given the large numbers of surplus US vessels which were available to them after the conflict, these vessels are being now replaced by newer platforms which reflect current doctrines. The changes are also reinforced by the realization that amphibious warfare vessels are extremely valuable in supporting humanitarian relief operations. The trend in the Pacific Rim is away from the attack transport, LSD and LST vessels into a multirole platform with excellent command and control facilities which is capable of acting as a mini-base.

The first stage is to give the LSD a helicopter deck for several aircraft enabling it to become a de facto dock landing platform (LPD). Examples of such designs include India’s INS Jalashwa amphibious support ship and the Indonesian Navy’s ‘Makassar’ class of LPD.

Amphibious capabilities in Asia Pacific maritime environment means more than mere operational modality: It needs to be grasped as a strategic imperative and a critical enabler for defense cooperation.

Amphibious forces will feature prominently whether the objective is power projection, territorial defense, stabilization operations, humanitarian assistance or even internal security. The revival of regional interest in amphibious warfare has been somewhat lost in the noise over China’s blue water ambitions and anti-access, area-denial strategy. Yet China has also been nurturing its amphibious forces.

Japan and Australia are moving rapidly toward establishing an Army-based amphibious force that will give them independent mobile capability broadly analogous to a USMC Marine Expeditionary Unit. The geographic advantages are obvious, given the anchoring coverage they can provide within the first and second island chains. Both are treaty allies, train regularly alongside forward-deployed US Marine units and interact increasingly with each other.

Japan is establishing dedicated amphibious forces to suit the needs of a dynamic defense posture, ostensibly aimed at security concerns in the remote southern isles including the disputed Senkaku Islands.

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been also bolstering its amphibious forces in recent years. The PLA Marine Corps is modernizing with new infantry equipment and amphibious fighting vehicles, supported by a burgeoning fleet of larger, more capable sealift assets. Indonesia’s amphibious forces ambition can be seen as part of contingency measures against potential crises in the South China Sea, where it is trying to strengthen the defence around Natuna Islands.

Recently, Myanmar reportedly began negotiations with Indonesia for the purchase of an unknown number of LPDs based on the Makassar class.

Over the past couple of years there are signs of a renewed regional commitment to modernizing amphibious forces. As the region grapples with the foreseeable rise in incidences of natural calamities, acquiring amphibious platforms benefits collective security. In this sense, amphibious landing ships have become indispensable to the navies of developing countries in the region.

The importance of air power to support over-the-horizon amphibious operations has led Western navies to expand the LPD concept by providing a flight deck extending along the whole length of the ship giving it the appearance of an aircraft carrier although such ships are often officially designated as Landing Helicopter Assault/LHA or Landing Helicopter Dock/LHD vessels.

The future of amphibious warfare will be driven by the Western naval powers. The US Navy has invested substantially in improving its amphibious warfare capability with new ships.

The US Navy also intends to replace the LCAC with the Ship-to-Shore-Connector (SSC) of which the first  is scheduled to enter service in 2018.