Sea Logistics

NATO Maritime Commander: Allies Are Coming Up With Modern Littoral Warfare

A U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 20.1, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, adjusts his pack after before a hike near Sorreisa, Norway, March 12, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

The head of NATO’s maritime force says amphibious operations will play a big role in any future combat or crisis response scenario – but he wants to move beyond old notions of what an amphibious operation really is.

Royal Navy Vice Adm. Keith Blount, commander of NATO’s Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), said this week that amphibious operations often bring to mind images of the battle of Iwo Jima or the World War II movie “Saving Private Ryan.” But he highlighted three countries’ new amphibious concepts that are attractive options to him and make best use of emerging technologies like unmanned systems, cyber, electronic warfare, networks and more – and, coincidentally or not, don’t feature the word “amphibious” in their names.

Blount first highlighted the U.S. Marine Corps’ new naval expeditionary warfighting concept, Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations.

“I think is particularly attractive and interesting – and actually quite distinct in the way that it sets various forms of capability apart but nevertheless threads them together. It’s not a linear form of warfighting, it’s a very dispersed, nonlinear approach to warfighting to deliver to the adversary a number of different effects that range from simply influence right away to kinetic fires. And it uses within it a lot of terms that we would be familiar with, but the word ‘amphibious’ doesn’t really appear.”

Blount also highlighted “the United Kingdom’s own Littoral Strike idea and its Future Commando Force orientated around Littoral Strike Groups or Littoral Response groups that will be deployed dispersed in a persistent way, whether in support of NATO operations further east or south. It blends some traditional thinking around amphibiosity with fifth-gen firepower, which immediately draws the attention of the capability to the most modern form of warfighting that we have, capable of interdicting and ultimately dispatching anti-access and area-denial systems.”

And third, he mentioned the Netherlands’ new approach, which “talks about the three-landscape model: the human, the physical and the information landscapes.”

“It identifies key points that need to be penetrated or interdicted,” Blount said. Additionally, he said, it includes mobile cyber teams that can be an advance force and go deep into enemy territory to set up cyber networks, which Blount said is a niche capability today but could become the way of doing things in the future.

Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, conduct a safety of use memorandum (SOUM) on an assault amphibious vehicle in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II, Reindeer I, and Joint Viking in Setermoen, Norway, Nov. 19, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

“I’m genuinely of the view that these new initiatives, branded in the way that they are … is the way in which we need to create an optic for the future use of amphibious power … to those who are in a position to write ultimately the checks,” Blount said, referring to individual countries’ chiefs of navy, who man, train and equip the navies that he can use as the NATO MARCOM commander.

Blount said during his remarks that a focus on command and control (C2) and networks in the littoral environment – where navies can project power from the sea to the shore seamlessly – is what he finds most useful about these models for considering future littoral warfare in places like the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea or even the High North.

During the same event, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Tracy King, who recently took over as the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, echoed similar themes. He discussed the Navy and Marines’ upcoming Light Amphibious Warship…

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