Israel has a lot invested in doing littoral combat right. And, right now, the IDF is sending their Merkava Main Battle Tank to sea in LCTs.

Rather than call the LCTs mere landing craft, why not call them Littoral Combat Boats (LCBs)? That’s what they are.

Look. There’s plenty for IDF littoral combat forces to do. There’s plenty for smaller forces to do nearby–and given the constantly-increasing demands upon Israel’s “higher end” naval assets, the Israeli Navy seems to have decided to travel down a high-lo development path for littoral combat.

Thus the LCB.

Israel has hunted for a multi-mission littoral solution since about the nineties. After evaluating the really high (LPD-17) and high (LCS-1) end options, Israel threw in the towel on the littoral stuff, settling for a relatively conventional “small navy” supplement of MEKO-100 corvettes and some Dolphin Class subs.

But interestingly, to bulk up amphibious support and offshore fires, Israel is pursuing a decidedly low-end option–the LCB.

According to a September 22, 2009 Jerusalem Post article (no direct link available, sorry), Israel purchased several landing craft (the IDF has not mounted an amphibious assault since the early ’80s). Why? Well, the Post article gives a hint–it all goes back to Gaza:

“In both conflicts, the navy faced almost zero resistance at sea, and during Cast Lead it was able to provide close artillery support for the Paratroopers Brigade – which maneuvered along the coast.”

In Gaza, fire support was provided by Sa’ar boats, and those little ships used their tiny guns to great effect, hitting some 200 targets during Cast Lead. The most recent Jane’s Navy International (again, no link available) provided more details–it seems the Israeli Navy has purchased several 25 Meter/20 knot LCTs, sticking Merkava Main Battle Tanks upon them (or some troops, or, well, whatever fits…) and sailing away.

“It is the navy’s mission to support the infantry and the best way to do it is with LCTs,” IN Captain (res) Mike Eldar, who commanded the IN’s amphibious flotilla in 1982, told Jane’s. “This is an important capability and will give the IDF more flexibility and maneuverability.”

For duty off Gaza or off Lebanon, these ultra-cheap littoral combat boats (along with their hefty ‘ole mission module) will be a game changer.

The U.S. has done similar things. Off Grenada, America supplemented its modest fire support assets by mounting tanks on LCUs. In Vietnam, we mounted tanks on LCMs, and during World War II we did the same thing. According to Oscar Gilbert’s Marine Tank Battles of the Pacific, landing-craft-mounted tanks even sank a few ships:

Rowland Hall related: “We re-embarked them [three light tanks]. As we went around the tip of the peninsula inshore we spotted some Jap landing craft. We opened up on them with the 37 and machine guns. We bagged about three of those and set them on fire. A sort of naval battle using tanks.

If I were some mischief-minded RPG-equipped yahoo in a Boston Whaler, I’d hate to run into a Merkava at sea. What could be next? Finland’s Patria NEMO landing craft? Each boasting a 120mm mortar? Or…a more water-happy EFV?

But be careful. As the LCB emerges, it won’t take long before some of those asymmetric minded kids out there start thinking up waterborne IED solutions…


Posted by Defense Springboard in Marine Corps, Navy
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  • YNSN

    I haven’t been in the military that long, so please, correct me if I am wrong. COTS, Commercial Off the Shelf.

    The initial reason why it seemed so lucrative to utilize COTS gear was in the same spirit as what the IDF has done here by placing already mature tanks, with an already mature hull. Yes?

    The US had a huge success with something similar during the Tanker War. We took an oil exploration barge and had the Marines guard it, Air Force run Comms, and Army helicopters fly from it, with some SF team or another aboard as well.

    I keep coming across innovation that seems cut of the same jib. Your article here, what we did during PRAYING MANTIS, and even the barges we had of off the Mekong Delta to support the Swift Boats.

  • CBD

    The idea of the LCB and tanks as improvised shore fire is interesting, but the littoral concept at work here may be more of that present at the Inchon landing.

    Israel had problems operating from the border into Lebanon in the last push because of the preparations made by Hizbollah. Helicopter raids allowed a number of successful operations against Hizbollah targets deep within Lebanon, but there was no means of enveloping or avoiding their strongholds with mechanized forces.

    As the JPost article pointed out (according to a snippet available elsewhere) “The last time landing craft were used by the navy was during Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982, when amphibious units landed an assault force of tanks, armored personnel carriers, engineering equipment and paratroopers behind PLO positions near Sidon in Lebanon.” The landing was significant in that it allowed the IDF’s mechanized and paratrooper brigades to outmaneuver the PLO and attack a stronghold from an unexpected direction.

    The 2006 campaign seems to have been modeled on the battle plan of Operation Litani (1978), which met with little success due to the supply of massive numbers of ATGMs and rockets (and a handful of AShMs) to the Hizbollah forces.

    The new plan for Israeli involvement in Southern Lebanon is likely more similar to Operation Peace for Galilee, including an enveloping maneuver by amphibious forces. A small force landed at Tyre and a large infantry and mechanized force landed by Sidon gave the IDF the ability to assault an intractable opposing force. The IDF commanders who have reviewed the poor operational planning for 2006 may be looking to such former successes when developing replacement plans.

    All the same, it is littoral warfare of a type rarely mentioned but closely resembling the account from WWII in your previous post at your own blog: outflanking forces on land by movement of infantry and armored equipment along the shore. At very least, it’s an important tactical asset that somebody has decided to re-integrate into the naval forces.

    Another quote from the article:
    “‘This is an important capability,’ a top navy officer said. ‘This will enable us to bring forces into places like Gaza from two directions, giving the IDF more flexibility and maneuverability.'”

    Same idea, but I think “places like Gaza” (where paratroopers and naval special warfare soldiers are readily landed by raiding craft) is less of the target than other locales, where armor is more necessary.

    A NWC paper on Peace for Galilee
    Another US military view on the Operation

  • Eagle1
  • leesea

    OTH the Patria version of NEMO and AMOS mortar boats would make outstanding gun support platforms for USN naval raids and riverine warfare. Ahh but I am sure NIH would trump such good ideas!

    Think about the 120mm mortar advantages off a Somali pirate port or up a Nigerian waterway.

    A historical note that some over-looked. The USN had 105mm howitzer turrets mounted on converted LCM-8 which were called “Monitors” as part of the Mobile Riverine Force. They later operated independently as RAID Riverine Assault and Intediction Divisons. I had a Monitor and Zippo heavy boat unit in my last base in Vietnam that was a deadly twosome!

  • D. E. Reddick

    This idea of a Merkava MBT carried aboard a Landing Craft is similar to a proposal offered by Eagle1 of EagleSpeak. He has posited placing Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) aboard service boats typically used to transport personnel and supplies to offshore oil drilling rigs. These large boats with a tank or APC occupying their generously open aft aspects would be employed as pirate killers near pirate havens. Two very similar concepts meant to deal with not exactly the same problem might still prove to be very useful.

  • Steve Petty

    For gun fire support how about 1 or 2 M-109 Paladins on an LCAC. The gun armament of a DDG-1000 and the speed of an LCS with already existing equipment.

  • This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 2/20/2010, at The Unreligious Right