As part of its new and still evolving Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept, which includes distributed and expeditionary warfare operations, the Marine Corps is now adding submarine hunting to its mix. This new Marine capability would be geared for two things – fighting China throughout the Western Pacific, and Russia in the North Atlantic.
David Berger, the transformative Commandant of the Marine Corps, explained how the Marines could integrate hunting enemy submarines into its EABO concept in the most recent edition of the U.S. Naval Institute’s magazine Proceedings.
As The Drive explains:
At its most basic, EABO envisions Marine units rapidly establishing forward operating bases across a broad area from which they can conduct various missions and then disestablishing them just as quickly, relocating, and repeating the process elsewhere. In principle, this creates a dynamic battlespace across a huge geographical expanse that makes it difficult for opponents to prioritize threats and adequately respond to them.
“By offering forward logistics and support, as well as sensor and strike capabilities, Marine expeditionary advanced bases (EABs) could make a significant contribution to undersea warfare campaigns, including holding Chinese and Russian submarines at risk,” writes Berger.
Clearly, much of this focus is on China. “Without being limited to the Philippines and Japan, EABs could create opportunities from multiple locations beyond the South and East China Seas,” Berger noted. “Close, confined seas may offer more opportunities for Marine EABs to sense and strike Chinese ships and submarines, while supporting fleet and joint ASW efforts.”
But expanding the concept beyond the Pacific, Berger explained that “EABs in Norway could extend ASW coverage into the North, Norwegian, and Barents seas. They could operate unmanned air vehicles equipped with ASW sensors and sonobuoys and deploy and operate passive and active acoustic arrays in adjacent littoral waters.”
The Marines would thus help bottle in Russian submarines before they could cross the famous Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) Gap into the North Atlantic.
How would the Marines conduct anti-submarine warfare specifically? The Commandant noted that Marine unmanned aircraft could deploy sonobuoys and other anti-submarine sensors in the waters around an EAB.
The Corps’ existing RQ-21 Blackjack drones may not be up to that task, but as The Drive notes, “the service is actively working toward acquiring more capable, longer-range unmanned capabilities,” such as the two MQ-9 Reapers currently on-order.
In addition, explains The Drive, “though Berger doesn’t specifically mention it, manned aircraft, such as the service’s KC-130 Hercules tanker-transporters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors, and helicopters could also contribute and might be better suited to rapidly deploying components of a more robust anti-submarine sensor array.”
Berger also described the possibility of employing “ground-launched ASW missiles.” Though he did not provide details, The Drive notes that:
…the Indian military recently tested a weapon that would seem to fit this general description called the Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART). SMART is a supersonic missile that carries a lightweight torpedo instead of a more traditional warhead and releases this payload after arriving at a designated target area.
This could be a useful weapon for the Marine sub-hunting fight.
Whether the Marines can truly fulfill this ambitious proposal is up for debate. However, the Navy can use the help. And expect more innovation and transformation from the Marine Corps and its bold new Commandant.