Message to People’s Liberation Army of China – the United States Marines are coming.
They will also have a new weapon that can transport them to any beach and at any time in the Pacific island chain. Faster, in fact, than you can say, Harry S. Truman.
It’s called, the Ship-to-Shore Connector or SSC in military jargon.
So, what is it and what does it do? Picture a large amphibious landing vehicle that rides over the surface of the sea on a cushion of air.
It can be carried and deployed aboard an aircraft carrier’s well deck and deliver about 145 Marines to an active war zone to relieve comrades already on a far-flung island beachhead in the South China Sea.
In other words, they are the all-important second wave – fresh troops, ready to carry the fight to a hostile force.
With dominant air cover from nearby carriers and moving quickly to avoid tracking by incoming DF-26 missiles, they will be hard to stop, especially at night.
According to a report at the weekend by military expert Caleb Larson in The National Interest, tensions in the South China Sea are at an all-time high. To ensure they are prepared, the US Navy has updated its equipment for the Marine Corps to get the job done.
And we all know what that job is, don’t we? It will position America’s premier amphibious force in China’s backyard, using these improved SSCs beasts.
When fully loaded, they can carry 74 tons of men and supplies at a rapid thirty-five knots an hour. Part of the new SSCs strength is their redesigned skirts, which reduces weight and drag over the surface of the water, The National Interest reported.
“[They will] offer increased reliability and will meet [the] requirements of increased payloads and availability,” Textron Systems, which has been awarded the contract, said as quoted by The National Interest, adding that the SSCs are expected to remain in service for the next 30 years.
The US Navy was just as positive about the acquisition.
“The LCAC [or landing craft, air cushion] replaces the existing fleet of legacy LCAC vehicles, and will primarily transport weapon systems, equipment, cargo, and personnel of the assault elements through varied environmental conditions from amphibious ships to and over the beach,” it said as quoted by The National Interest.
In addition to adopting the Heckler & Koch HK416 rifle, in service as the M27, the Marines are also in the middle of major restructuring. The service recently announced the retirement of all tank battalions, marking a huge and controversial shift, The National Interest said.
Artificial island bases
The Marines will also be organized into smaller units capable of operating across vast distances, seizing China’s network of artificial island bases with long-range missiles, unmanned boats and anti-ship missiles.
According to a report in Popular Mechanics, reductions in artillery, tanks, and other weapons will allow the Marines to invest in new military hardware, particularly 14 Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction Systems.
These batteries, armed with Norwegian-developed Naval Strike Missiles, will allow the Marines to fend off Chinese warships, and protect US positions with a 115-mile no-go zone.
As the “Leather Necks” advance through a chain of islands, their anti-air and anti-ship missiles will make it increasingly difficult for Chinese ships and aircraft to operate around them.
Isolate, bombard and overrun.
This would restrict the Chinese Navy and the People’s Liberation Army’s Air Force room to maneuver, pushing them out into the open water, where the US Navy would take them on. That is the plan, anyway. But the PLA may have other ideas.
Still, there are key changes in remodeling the Marines. To compete in an age of cyber warfare and space-based weaponry, plans have been unveiled to shake up the Corps “manpower” model, which historically prized youth, physical fitness and discipline over education, training and technical skills.
That will mean the service will have to be “more intelligent, physically fit, cognitively mature, and experienced.”
“The capabilities that we think we’re going to need are a force that’s able to operate much more distributed, much more spread out than perhaps we’re accustomed to in the past, using a different set of technologies than we had five or 10 or 15 years ago,” General David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said in an interview with America’s National Public Radio.
“I think the people that we bring in will be able to handle the technologies and also the decision-making. It’s really more about the decision-making than it is about technology,” General Berger told NPR.
In this anticipated fight, the decentralized command will play a crucial role – as will logistics. That is why the Textron SSCs will be crucial, experts say.
Yet it remains to be seen what a high-tech war in the Pacific would look like, as combat sims never quite reflect the real thing. What is certain is that SSCs would be involved in any dust-up in the South China Sea.
One more major headache for the PLA Navy to deal with, should it decide to “unify” Taiwan.