24 September 2010

Robotic Marine Mules: Do we need them?

The US Marine Corps is preparing to return to its amphibious roots, following nearly a decade of desert-bound counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As such, Marine leaders, such as General James Amos have argued for big-budget weapons, such as a floating tank known as the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, already grossly over-budget, years behind schedule, and the subject of furious debate.

As Spencer Ackerman also notes, The Corps might also adopt a robotic baggage carrier known as a "mule", with a number of prototype devices already in testing.  American infantrymen and Marines now carry more equipment for day-long patrols as their counterparts did for entire campaigns twenty years ago.  After years of FOB-bound fighting, American forces now rely on massive contractor support for fuel, food, ammunition, and water. According to Herschel Smith of The Captain's Journal, amphibious Marine squads might even be issued tactical Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPUs) to purify drinking water during an expeditionary campaign.      

Yet, Smith asks if these sorts of improvements are really necessary:
Good grief. We’re complaining about the Marines becoming too heavy, while we plan to send them ashore in the extremely heavy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles. The Navy wants to be relevant, and in lieu of close support for the Marines, they plan on never-to-be-used powerless and irrelevant littoral combat ships. We want to do massive amphibious assaults against unknown enemies, yet we plan to start from so far off shore that we’re vulnerable to missile fire for some twenty five miles or more.
We want to be self sufficient, and yet logistics controls us to the point that we are planning for reverse osmosis purification units. We want to be quick to get to shore, but we cast our lots with the EFV when a new fleet of helicopters would allow us fast transit to the shore (and further inland) and fast-roping would allow quick ingress to the battle space with light, fast and well trained troops.
But are our Marines well trained? From backpacking, hiking and camping, I and each of my four children know how to purify water from our surroundings. I and each of my four children know how to climb and rappel. I and each of my four children know how to make decisions on the fly, not waiting on specific commands but relying on broad mission goals to guide our actions. And only one among my four children is a Marine.

So, what do you think? Do we need to re-examine amphibious warfare in the 21st Century?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe... someone needs to live the life of a ground-pounder for a while. Certainly, this isn't an everyday item. But try hauling a 350 pound generator up a mountain side in Afghanistan or pull satellite comms through a South American jungle. A robotic mule might just come as a welcome addition to the TO&E.