Written by 1st Rank Captain S. Burov; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2021 #1, translated by Mona Lita exclusively for SouthFront
The Alliance is building up its military capabilities to contain the Russian Federation. One of the priority areas of the bloc’s activities is to strengthen the potential of the Joint Navy, primarily through the introduction of new approaches to the formation and use of allied amphibious assault forces (AAF), as well as increasing their combat effectiveness.
In the views of the NATO leadership, Russia’s creation of restricted (denied) access zones in the most important operational areas will complicate the deployment of NATO Joint Armed Forces (JAF) groupings on the bloc’s “eastern flank” during the period of threat. Ground military communications are the most vulnerable to long-range Russian high-precision weapons. In addition, the complexity and length of the approval procedures for the crossing of military echelons (columns) of borders within Europe cast doubt on the possibility of a quick response. In this regard, the role of the expeditionary formations of the Joint Navy block increases many times over.
Currently, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, the United States and France provide their amphibious assault formations for the Alliance’s Joint Armed Forces. They can select NATO’s first-priority engagement forces (FPEF) from a tactical group, created on the basis of two battalions, to a reinforced brigade. The capabilities of the European Allies to provide amphibious assault ships vary between two and five units. The corresponding resources of the United States far exceed these figures.
Despite the fact that NATO’s FPEF is the most combat-ready core of the alliance’s joint forces, its naval component includes only one amphibious assault group (AAG, up to three landing ships and a Marine battalion – MB). It is entrusted with the solution of individual combat missions in coastal areas in isolation from the main supply bases for at least 30 days.
Brussels believes that in modern conditions the role of amphibious landing forces in the NATO FPEF must be strengthened. In particular, it is advisable to increase the number of these formations at the national level that meet common alliance standards, shorten the time frame for their readiness for deployment, and increase the effectiveness of their use at the initial stage of an armed conflict. At the same time, it is envisaged to involve part of the forces in striking at enemy targets in the interests of overcoming the Restricted Access Zones (RAZ).
According to the views of military experts of the alliance, an increase in the number of national amphibious-landing formations in the long term will make it possible to create an operational unit of the Joint Navy Forces, which, using American forward-based ships (floating bases) and strike assets of the coalition group, will be able to independently conduct an amphibious assault operation (AAO). The connection potential will make it possible to carry out an invasion from the sea, to seize a bridgehead on the coast defended by the enemy, to ensure the build-up of a group of troops (forces) with the aim of a subsequent offensive. A prerequisite for the start of the AAO is the breakthrough of the RAZ and the freedom of action of the offensive group of troops (forces).
At the same time, the NATO leadership, in the interests of reducing losses and preventing delays in conducting such operations, in the future will seek to improve the methods of using AAF and increase their combat effectiveness.
The main means for delivering strikes against coastal targets will remain the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles, as well as the aviation of the fleet and the MP. Its strike and fire capabilities are planned to be increased through further implementation of the program of adopting American tactical fighters of the fifth generation F-35B / C “Lightning-2” into service with the Armed Forces of European countries.
Thus, during the cruise of the British Navy aircraft carrier strike group (CSG) (as part of the Queen Elizabeth multipurpose aircraft carrier, two Project 45 destroyers, two Project 23 frigates, a multipurpose nuclear submarine and auxiliary vessels) to the North Sea and the northeastern part Atlantic Ocean in September-October last year, the CSG ships participated in the exercise “Joint Warrior-2020/2”, within the framework of which the questions of the conduct of hostilities for the conquest of supremacy at sea, the protection of coastal sea communications, the establishment of naval control over shipping, as well as the landing of amphibious assault forces from ships on the coast in a combined way were worked out. In addition to the participation of the class aircraft carrier “Queen Elizabeth” in the course of joint exercises with the NATO Joint Navy Forces, a number of trainings were conducted with the aircraft of the American marines. Squadrons of F-35B fighters from the 3rd Air Wing of the US MP (AvB Miramar, California) and 617 Ibae (AvB Markham) of the British Air Force worked out the issues of winning air supremacy, organizing air defense of the ship formation, as well as providing fire support to warships and Marine Corps.
The plan is to build up offensive and defensive capabilities of the US Navy and its allies through implementation of the Distributed Firepower concept. It was developed by the United States in response to the increasing ability of other countries to restrict (deny) access to theaters of operations. A decision was made to increase the strike capabilities of the Freedom and Independence URO frigates by equipping them with anti-ship missiles with a firing range of more than 180 km. The combat characteristics of such ships will be actively used during amphibious operations, primarily to destroy surface targets of small displacement, conduct mine action and battle submarines. In addition, it is planned to use unmanned underwater and autonomous surface vehicles, as well as UAVs, which are scheduled to enter service by 2025.
So, since 2016, the implementation of the STUAS (Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System) program has continued, within the framework of which the RQ-21A Black Jack tactical UAV of long duration is being adopted by the US MP. The device is designed to conduct aerial reconnaissance, issue target designation and relay communication signals when providing combat operations by subunits and units of the Marines at a distance of up to 100 km.
The main reconnaissance equipment of the RQ-21A UAV is the Multi-8000 optoelectronic system, installed in the nose of the fuselage on a gyro-stabilized platform. The system includes two infrared cameras of different wavelength ranges, a digital daytime television camera and a laser rangefinder-designator. An additional payload, located in the fuselage compartments or on the wing pylons, can be a NanoSAR synthetic aperture radar and communication signal relay equipment.
Compact radar “NanoSAR” operates in the frequency range 8-12 GHz and consumes power from 10 to 25 watts. It implements the modes of route survey and selection of moving targets. The range of the station is 3,300 km, the linear resolution on the ground is 35 cm.
The complex with the US Navy RQ-21A “Black Jack” UAV includes: three vehicles (five for the Marine Corps units), a control station (two for the MP), takeoff and landing equipment, a set of spare parts and accessories. The device can be launched from sites of limited dimensions, from the decks of ships at a permissible wind speed of up to 15 m / s. The launch of a UAV equipped with a piston engine (power 6 kW) is carried out from a pneumatic catapult. A Sky Hook device is used to land it.
Current plans envisage the purchase of 56 complexes (of which 32 are for MP units), which will replace the Scan Eagle devices in service.
Another American concept “Marine Basing” that is currently being implemented provides for the rapid deployment of US forces in the ocean and sea theaters, as well as the creation of floating naval bases capable of solving various tasks, including amphibious landing operations. The main advantage of the latter, when compared with ground-based, is the ability to deploy in any area of the World Ocean without the support of coastal infrastructure. Floating naval bases include landing ships, escort ships and submarines, early storage and logistics support ships, and landing craft.
Advance storage vessels play an important role in amphibious operations.
They are divided into two squadrons (Diego Garcia Island, architect Chagos, and Guam Island, Mariana Islands). On the ships of each of them there are military equipment and stocks of materiel, which will ensure the conduct combat activities for the expeditionary brigade of the MP of up to 16 thousand people.
Front-based floating bases of the “Montford Point” type are intended for reloading weapons and military equipment from transport ships to internal combustion engines, which significantly speeds up the unloading of heavy equipment and troops on an unequipped coast.
The new national concept for the development of the US Armed Forces (2019) under the code name “Fos Design-2030” involves the use of highly mobile amphibious assault forces in the future without heavy weapons. In this regard, the main battle tanks M1A1 “Abrams” will be withdrawn from the US Navy’s Marine Corps depots in Norway (in the area of Trondheim, 395 km north of Oslo). In the new guise, fire support for the units will be provided by multiple launch rocket systems and unmanned aerial vehicles. The proposed changes in the stocks of weapons and military equipment of the US Navy Marine Corps on the territory of Norway are caused by the revision of the views of the American side on the possible forms of combat use of units in the event of their involvement in the difficult climatic and physical-geographical conditions of the Arctic.
According to the commanding officer of the US Marine Corps B. H. Berger, in the future, the Marines should become one of the most high-tech forces that will be able to solve special-purpose tasks. The number of its formations should be reduced. At the tactical level, a small number of UAV-armed marines will support the main force. At the operational and strategic level, the formation of Marines should act as expeditionary and amphibious forces for responding to crisis situations. The overall vision for their transformation is to fully develop the unique capabilities of the Marine Corps.
In the corresponding plan, considerable attention is paid to high-tech weapons and automated systems. It is most likely that the Marines will be equipped not only with UAVs, but also with ground-based and sea-based robotic platforms. It is also planned to strengthen its capabilities in the field of electronic warfare, reconnaissance and target designation.
The expansion of the potential of the AAF of the Alliance is hampered by the lack of uniform requirements for the amphibious assault forces and their focus on solving primarily the tasks of protecting the national interests of the member countries of the alliance. In this regard, NATO is actively recruiting and training individual components of the coalition AAF at the regional level.
This process can be traced to the example of the multinational military formation “Joint Expeditionary Force” (Joint Expeditionary Force – JEF). The UK leadership committed itself to their formation and further management during the NATO summit in 2014 (Newport, Wales, UK).
The initial membership of this formation included Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and the Baltic countries. In June 2017, Sweden and Finland joined them. Organizationally, JEF includes land, air and sea components. The Multinational Expeditionary Force is designed to conduct “high-intensity” operations with minimal logistical support from the host State. The total number is 10 thousand people. The estimated readiness for deployment is 10 days.
In the event of a crisis situation in the European continental region and adjacent sea zones, the formation will strengthen the block’s FPEF. In addition, JEF can act jointly with multinational formations under the auspices of other international organizations, including the European Union and the UN.
The creation and preparation of the joint expeditionary forces took place in three stages:
The first stage (2014-2016) included the formation of command and control bodies and the development of a concept for the use of expeditionary forces. The certification of the JEF headquarters took place during the command-staff exercise “Joint Venture-2016” from June 26 to July 9.
The second stage (2016-2018), the British command carried out a number of measures to create an amphibious force. On June 28, 2018, the defense ministers of the nine participating countries signed a memorandum on the completion of the JEF formation process. The headquarters is located in Northwood (Great Britain).
Major General of the British Armed Forces Rupert Jones has been appointed Commander of the JEF.
In 2018, the readiness of the ground component of the formation was checked during the exercise of the JEF “Brave Lion-2018” (November 20-26), which was held on the basis of the joint center for combat training and fire support of the Danish ground forces (Oxbel). In practice, the issues of using the ground units of the JEF were worked out in the course of resolving a crisis situation.
Stage three. In 2019, from May 20 to July 9, in the waters of the North and Baltic Seas, on the territory of Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the airspace above them, a course of combat training of the naval component of the multinational expeditionary force under the leadership of Great Britain was conducted under the code name “Baltic Protector”.
The most widely practiced variants of using AAF were in “collective defense” operations. So, during the exercise of the navies of the Alliance countries and partner states “Danex-2019” (May 23 – June 2, Denmark, adjacent waters of the North and Baltic Seas), the combat coordination of the multinational AAF took place during the landing of troops on the unequipped coast.
The amphibious landing forces in the exercise “Baltops-2019” were engaged according to the plans of the NATO Joint Navy command.
The coalition AAF were represented by two amphibious assault groups, which included 17 warships and auxiliary vessels, as well as two battalions of marines. The landing was carried out on June 16 in the area of Nimerset (Lithuania) with LST “Gniezno” of the Polish Navy and The LHD “Juan Carlos I” of the Spanish Navy. The maneuvers were attended by servicemen of the Armed Forces of Belgium, Great Britain, Spain, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, as well as the US Navy. The landing from the LHD “Juan Carlos I” of the Spanish Navy and the LSD “Fort McHenry” (NB Mayport, Florida) of the US Navy was carried out on June 18 in the area of Ravlunda (Sweden). The British Marines used the Norwegian Stiyl (P-963) and Glimt (P-964) missile boats to land.
During the exercise “Amfibeks-2019” (June 24 – July 9, the eastern part of the Baltic Sea), at the time of AAO, the tactics of joint actions of the units of national armed forces of the Baltic countries and formations of reinforcement troops deployed in the region within the framework of the Enhansd Forward Present initiative were worked out.
The marines landed on the coast of the settlements of Nimerset (Lithuania), Varva (Latvia) and Saaremaa (Estonia).
An analysis of operational and combat training measures shows that with an aggravation of the crisis situation in the Baltic operational direction, JEFs are capable of occupying three important areas (lines) on the coast of the Baltic countries in up to 10 days and providing the possibility of deploying the main formations and units of one of the NATO army corps.
At the same time, despite the declared operational capabilities of the expeditionary forces, the actual training of the formation’s personnel leaves much to be desired.
So, during the combat training course Baltic Protector-2019, the contingent of the British Armed Forces from the JEF, working out the issues of the landing on the island of Saaremaa, with the support of tanks and army aviation, failed to cope with the task of occupying key targets. The Estonian self-defense forces (“Defense League”), which had no military equipment, imitating the “enemy”, using their knowledge of the terrain and numerical superiority, held their positions, preventing the JEF forces from gaining a foothold on the coast.
In general, the implementation of NATO plans to introduce new approaches to the formation and use of coalition AAFs will allow the Alliance to effectively use the available forces and capabilities of the Marine Corps, as well as gain an advantage at the initial stage of a crisis situation.
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