In his nonfiction book “Marine,” author Tom Clancy says, “Amphibious warfare is one of the most expensive and risky forms of combat ever devised. You have to move difficult and unruly cargo (combat troops) … and bring them through hostile waters to an enemy shore. You have to then deliver them, with all of their equipment and supplies, onto a beach.”
After just a couple of days aboard the amphibious landing helicopter dock ship LHD-3 USS Kearsarge during a major coastal exercise, it’s easy to understand what Clancy means.
Every day an array of aircraft including helicopters,and Harriers engage in a dangerous acrobatic display of musical flight deck landings.
Meanwhile, fleets of Landing Craft, Air Cushion vessels and Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicles power their way out of the Kearsarge’s well deck to carry U.S. Marines and their equipment to shore on the North Carolina coast as part of the Bold Alligator exercise.
The Navy landed about a battalion’s worth of gear from the ship in early beachfront assaults during Bold Alligator, the East Coast’s largest joint and multinational amphibious assault exercise in the past 10 years. The exercise put naval logistics and resupply to the test.
“This ship gives us tremendous flexibility,” says Capt. Dorian Jones, the Kearsarge’s commanding officer. “We’re always ready to flex and respond. Any operations. Anywhere.”
That kind of flexibility, coupled with the U.S. Marines’ and Navy’s rekindled expeditionary mindset, and Pentagon emphasis on an Asian-Middle Eastern focus and humanitarian efforts, is making ships like the Kearsarge and their accompanying packages a protected asset in the current rocky budgetary seas.
Citing a “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions,” the Pentagon says in budget prebriefing documents that it is maintaining its big-deck amphibious fleet to meet those needs.
The vessels provide the military with ample forward presence in those areas without the need to relay on allied basing. As Navy Secretary Ray Mabus noted last year, the large-deck amphibs carry many operations comparable to aircraft carriers.
At the same time, the Pentagon lists humanitarian, disaster relief and other related operations as primary missions for U.S. forces, highlighting the importance of the military’s ability to “possess rapidly deployable capabilities, including airlift and sealift, surveillance, medical evacuation and care.”
That is the sweet spot for ships like the Kearsarge. As Capt. Jones contends, few vessels can offer so much all in one package. And, from the budget guidance offered thus far, it appears that the Pentagon sees it the same way.