Over at OpFor, old comrade LTCOL P asks some thought-provoking questions as he links to an article by AOLDefense’s Sydney Freedberg. The article covers the happenings at UNIFIED QUEST, the United States Army’s Title 10 Wargame being held at The Army War College at Carlisle Barracks.

Go there. Ponder his questions, and read the article. Well worth your time.

UNIFIED QUEST is usually a pretty illuminating event, a “futures game” which posits the incorporation of as-yet unfielded technology or force structure, and the effects of that technology or structure on tactics and doctrine. Occasional bits of self-delusion occur (tactical “offensive cyber” being launched at a Bn Commander’s say-so with a server dropped into a remote airfield comes to mind), but overall, the game is well conducted and has had (in my years of participation at least) a very sharp and aggressive “Red Team”. This year appears to be no different.

What stands out in the AOLDefense article, fairly leaps from the page, is this exchange:

“You needed ports, [the enemy] knew you needed ports,” he said. “They were ready for you.” While the US-led task force maneuvered elaborately by sea and air to deceive the enemy commanders where they would land, ultimately the coalition had no way to bring in the supplies its own forces needed, let alone humanitarian aid, without controlling a handful of major seaports. So the enemy commanders ignored the feints — their militiamen lacked the kind of mobile reserve force that would have been needed to try to counter them anyway — and simply dug in where they knew the US would eventually have to come to them.

“We had to go here; we’re very predictable,” sighed one US Army officer later in the briefing. The military has invested in the capability to bring forces ashore where there is no port — formally called JLOTS, Joint Logistics Over The Shore — but the Army and Navy together only have enough such assets to move supplies for one reinforced Army brigade, while the Marines can land another brigade-plus. That’s only a fraction of the force required in this scenario. While the the resulting dependence on established infrastructure — seaports, airfields, bases in friendly countries — is often thought of as a purely logistical problem, in this kind of conflict it can have bloody tactical consequences.

We have spent a decade and a half (or more) talking about seizure of ports as the cheap and easy alternative to landing over a beach. Time and again, the refrain that port seizure was the far preferable alternative to coming ashore at the surf line was drummed into our ears. “Ports are smart, beaches are dumb” was how one senior Navy Officer explained it, somewhat condescendingly. Problem is, seizing a port which is surrounded by built-up area, under the noses of an enemy that knows you need it and knows it is, in fact, your critical vulnerability, never was going to be as easy as those port seizure advocates assumed it would be. (I did happen to notice none of them ever seemed to be infantrymen.)

Urban combat is never easy in the best of circumstances, but becomes especially challenging when you have a limited ability to transition forces from afloat to ashore without securing the very objective you are fighting for. Even an unsophisticated and largely immobile adversary can defend effectively if he knows where you are going and why. Cherbourg was destroyed by second-rate German garrison troops in June of 1944, even as US forces drove into the Cotentin Peninsula. The loss of that port affected the Allied drive across Europe into 1945.

One other point worth mentioning: The aforementioned JLOTS is not a system that can be used in an assault echelon. The loading of the ships and craft are not according to the Commander of the Landing Force’s (CLF) Landing Plan. JLOTS is a national asset which requires a secure beach over which to transit. The brigade coming ashore isn’t doing so in fighting trim. Very effective for bringing in follow-on assets, but not for forcing an entry.

So once again the value of landing combat-ready forces over a beach is highlighted. As is the paucity of current capacity to do so, which includes the near non-existent Naval Gunfire capability of the United States Navy.

Kudos to the Red Team at UNIFIED QUEST. Their job is to poke holes through the invalid assumptions in Blue Forces’ planning and execution, and they have done so here in a major way. Our assumptions regarding port seizures are at the top of this year’s list.

With a “Strategic Pivot” toward the Pacific, let’s hope those who read the Lessons Learned from UQ 12 are paying attention.



Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Air Force, Army, Aviation, Books, Coast Guard, Foreign Policy, Hard Power, History, Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Merchant Marine, Naval Institute, Navy, Proceedings

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  • Pags

    JLOTS appears to be an evolution of the Normandy rhino ferries. Perhaps an evolution of the mulberry harbor is worth a look. The mulberries weren’t ideal, but they we better than bringing all the supplies over the beaches via landing craft.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Good observation. Some of the sea basing developments are going down that road, but my sneaking suspicion is that putting a substantial combat force ashore and resupplying them will require orders of magnitude more of that capability than we are figuring for (or willing to admit).

  • UltimaRatioRegis,

    I’m such an incompetent correspondent that while I flail around trying to mail this to you, I thought I’d quote it here.

    From “Bush Brigades” by MAJ. Earl H. “Pete” Ellis
    The Marine Corps Gazette, Vol.6, No.1, March 1921:

    “But the landing of a force at a customs wharf, or similar front-door entrance, may be very difficult for the reason that the disposition of troops is such as to encourage an enemy to strike, and and if he strikes the troops are poorly disposed to return the compliment….

    “A proper procedure would be land suddenly at one or more points in the vicinity of the port, encircle the city (seizing any commanding ground for the mopping-up force) and jump off. The encircling (and control) of the city is very important for several reasons; port facilities are secured, the hostiles that are caught in the cities will not have to be chased in the bush afterward, the mopping-up force will have a choice of jumping-off positions and directions of advance. The ideal conditions would be those permitting the mopping-up force to jump off from an elevated position and advance in the direction of the sea. Such conditions would ensure the widest use of the land and sea forces available, lessen the danger of interfiring with one’s own troops, and and bring the most complete results. Moreover, if the occupation of a city is carried out as a real military operation the danger of bloodshed will be lessened for the reason that the rapid unfolding of the various stages of action will tend to render resistance manifestly hopeless.”

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Ellsburg, Edward, RADM, “The Far Shore”. Read it. Out of print, get it from Amazon. The straight skinny from the Horse’s Mouth.

    Seize ports by frontal assault, hrmph. Because it worked so good in North Africa and at the end of Normandy, and in the low countries. Please review the Dieppe Raid.

    Mulberries and Gooseberries, DUKW’s, PLUTO and beaching LST’s, there’s the ticket.

    The only thing new under the sun is the history you have’t read.

  • Warrant Diver

    The salvage operation that cleared ports like Cherbourg in WWII could not happen today using Navy assets. Navy salvage is a shadow of what it was two decades ago and a mere sliver of what it was three or four decades ago. Who does the Army think is going to go into a harbor and conduct combat salvage, raising wrecks that block channels and clearing berths for troop ships and RO/ROs? Will civilian companies do it? Factor into the wargame the lack of ability to conduct combat salvage and see how that works out.

  • Chuck Hill

    This is why I don’t think the Chinese have much of a shot at taking Taiwan, as long as the ROC organization is not riddled with Mainland sympathizers.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Note the expansion of PLAN amphib capabilities. Which might be handy in Taiwan waters, or Indonesia, or….

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Good to see you pop up!

  • Thanks URR!

    Look for a padded envelope with the long-promised aforementioned Gazette, and a Surprise Inside — “Maugham’s Choice of Kipling’s Best” & John Huston’s “The Man Who Would Be King”.

  • WarrantDiver:

    You ask good, hard questions. The March 2012 issue of Faceplate has a remarkable opinion piece by SUPDIVE CDR. Mike Runkle, urging new thinking on the Navy diving community: