Marines Clamor for Long-Range Artillery at Sea: DD-21 Demise Triggers New Round of Complaints about Lack of Fire Support

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Marines Clamor for Long-Range Artillery at Sea: DD-21 Demise Triggers New Round of Complaints about Lack of Fire Support


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


Plenty of blame is going around these days about why the Marine Corps will have to wait many years before the Navy can supply long-range artillery fire from surface ships. Tomahawk cruise missiles are fine, Marines assert, but they do not provide the steady, hammering firepower that Marines want behind them as they penetrate enemy territory.

The carping got louder in recent weeks, prompted by the Navy's decision in October to abandon the DD-21 next-generation surface combatant program. Many Marines saw this move as further evidence that the Navy is falling short in its commitment to modernize sea-based artillery. Some Marine officers, however, conceded that they also had themselves to blame, because they should have articulated their needs more clearly and more emphatically.

The Navy has had no surface fire-support platforms since it retired the Iowa class battleships in the early 1990s. The Marines, however, do not want 16-inch battleship guns, but rather an ensemble of advanced guns and missiles that can meet ambitious requirements for range and accuracy.

The Corps' war-fighting doctrine is based on the notion that while Marines land ashore and prepare to engage the enemy with their own land-based weapons, they will need fire support from naval guns on ship decks as far away as 200 nautical miles from the coast.

Today, the best the Navy can do is 13 nautical miles. It will be at least four to seven years before any of a number of long-range capabilities planned for the future is ready for use in the fleet.

"In the world we are going to live in, that fire support will be absolutely necessary, said Marine Maj. Gen. William A. Whitlow, director of expeditionary warfare. "Until you get your forces ashore, your fire support has to come from the sea," Whitlow said in a speech to the National Defense Industrial Association's expeditionary warfare conference, in Panama City, Fla.

Currently, he lamented, "We don't have the fire support." That is a shame, he said, given the type of war the United States now is fighting in South Asia. "You can't shoot $1 million missiles against the guy in the tent and then run back to the United States and reload," said Whitlow. "You don't have enough of them, and you can't afford it."

With the dollars available in the budget, he said, "We need to continue to develop and field adequate surface fire systems to support forces ashore, naval or otherwise."

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, estimated that the Navy would need about $2 billion to pay for the development of the fire-support systems that the Marines want--not including the cost of the ships.

Fire support only is useful if it comes in high volume, Whitlow said. "It rakes things like volume fire to rip the enemy's hearts our.

"Most people don't care if it comes from a gun tube or a [missile launcher], as long as we have it in sufficient quantity."

According to the Marine way of war, he said, "one precision round doesn't do it." Artillery fire is necessary, said Whitlow, "even though it stirs up a lot of dust and turns up a lot of rock."

But Whitlow stopped short of blaming the Navy for this problem. He said that the Marines share some of the responsibility. "One of the things we haven't done well in the Marine Corps is to more clearly define what volume fire is," he said. "It isn't an expensive missile or round. ... Is it more than 10 rounds? Less than 200?

"We have to get a better definition. We have to get away from a strike mentality [as opposed to volume fire]."

In the Marine Corps, Whitlow said, "We haven't done a good enough job defining the specific requirement."

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Henry C. Mustin, said that the Marines should be more explicit about how many guns, how many missiles, how many destroyers and cruisers they need to meet their requirements. …

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