Amphibious operations are returning to the international military fore. Around the world, naval and other services are investing in marine forces, amphibious platforms, flexible ships, ship-to-shore connectors, and supporting airframes as they seek to deploy personnel ashore from the sea, at speed, and at distance.
Operational emphases always tend to move through phases. The requirement to deliver high-speed manoeuvre at sea to generate effect ashore has always been essential for modern navies. However, there have been times when other concepts for example, in the 1990s, long-range conventional land attack have taken strategic priority.
Today, the requirement to build amphibious capacity is driven by a number of factors. Notably, while amphibious operations in their truest sense are one of the highest of high-end warfighting capabilities, with the raison d'etre being to provide capacity for forcible entry ashore in a contested environment, the ability to project power over the beach from the sea also has relevance at lower ends of the operational spectrum.
In the Asia-Pacific region, amphibious platforms are used to provide presence in areas of interest but have also played a significant part in providing a sea base from which humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (H ADR) support can be delivered ashore, for example in the wake of a natural disaster. In recent years, sea-based HADR operations using amphibious platforms have been conducted in response to cyclones that struck Fiji and Vanuatu and an earthquake that struck New Zealand.
However, it is at the higher end of the operational spectrum where the impact of improving amphibious capability is most noticeable. In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia, China, Japan, and South Korea in particular (along with Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand) are building robust amphibious capabilities. In this region, there is the risk of conflict erupting over a number of territorial disputes; in such instances, there is the question of whether amphibious forces might be put ashore on islands over which there are contested sovereignty claims.
The United States has a significant amphibious presence around the world, including in both the Asia-Pacific and European theatres. High-end amphibious activity has also returned to Europe. Here, the focus is on two particular arenas--the High North and the eastern Baltic. The areas are of significant strategic importance to both NATO and Russia.
THE AMPHIBIOUS CONCEPT
According to some analysts, critics of the utility of amphibious warfare might see the opening scenes of the film Saving Private Ryan as evidence of a flawed concept, with sea based ground forces thrown ashore against a concrete and steel wall. However, such assessments arguably miss the point.
At a strategic level, the use of an amphibious invasion gave the allies the opportunity to launch their sea-borne forces across the beach at the place and time of their choosing.
At an operational level, amphibiosity is designed to see forces inserted ashore precisely where the adversary's presence is weakest or absent altogether. This effectively obviates the need for a forced entry by using rapid ship-to-shore manoeuvre. Moreover, contemporary technologies enable amphibious forces to reach well beyond the beach.
Amphibious operations have continued to have significant strategic effect. During the Gulf wars, in 1991 an amphibious feint was conducted by US Marines towards Iraqi positions in Kuwait while the main thrust of the assault wheeled left from Saudi Arabia and straight into Iraq; in 2003, amphibious...