Welcome back to the Scuttlebutt:
We have something different this week, a guest post.
I was going to run something on the recent purchase of Twitter, the advance of free speech that it promises, and all of the rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth by anyone to even marginal left of center, including most of the investment firms that send me stuff, all betting that Musk will fail, because advertisers are more afraid of the rabid left than of the angry right.
But frankly, everyone that’s paying attention has seen stuff on this, and if you’re not paying attention, you probably don’t read this little page. So, instead, I’m going to run a piece one of my friends and associates sent me to run as a guest piece.
I believe this is the first guest piece I have ever run, which considering I’ve been doing this for at least 5 years, is sort of saying something.
Jonathan LaForce is a former Marine, Cook/Pitmaster extraordinaire, author, and friend, who was professionally responsible for little things like oh invading islands, while I was professionally responsible for little things like making all the enemies’ ships into reefs. As a result, he knows a little bit about the subject:
Amphibious Ops challenges: By Jonathan LaForce.
A lot of people have expressed concern about the potential for an invasion of the Republic of China (ROC) by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). I do not blame folks for this line of thought. The scenario does invoke valid concerns. However, we would be remiss if we did not take the time to examine the scenario and properly quantify it.
Does the PRC possess the world’s largest combination of military forces? At present, assuming what reports we possess are correct, yes.
Does the PRC possess a vast quantity of firepower? Again, all things being equal, yes.
Can the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), PLAN, and PLAAF project power onto foreign shores? Yes and no. That, folks, is where we have to look beyond statistics.
I will admit upfront, I don’t have certain pieces of knowledge. I am not an expert on amphibious doctrine in all its multifaceted glory. I am not a graduate of any service school which directly addresses such matters, though I do own and have read copies of the course material. What I am is a serious student of history, a veteran of the USMC who put my time in uniform to good use learning, and a man who has paid attention to those more educated than me on these topics over the last 20 years as I have sought to be educated on martial matters. War was my profession, war is my preferred topic of study at all times and in all places, and the lessons from this rich field are highly instructive.
There are three options of invasion available:
Option 1) airborne.
Option 2) amphibious.
Option 3) a combo of the above.
All have serious risks involved.
There exist four international airports on the island of Formosa capable of receiving and launching aircraft. Which is what you’ll need to rapidly deploy enough troops to hold those positions. Each airport is a large, complex structure, with a perimeter measured in the thousands of meters. A battalion is not going to cut it, especially since they’ll quickly be facing stiff resistance. You’ll need an infantry regiment for each, so assume 3,000 men per site.
Either all your infantrymen are jumping out the door of a cargo plane as it flies through the air, or try to come busting out of an Airbus hold as it taxis to a stop near the terminal. We’ll assume you packed the hull to max capacity, that you safely delivered 100 men and their gear on target. Thirty aircraft will be necessary, just to deploy one regiment. Overall, you’re looking at 120 cargo planes, packed tighter than a Japanese subway car, flying in formation to their drop zones. Certainly, nobody will notice that moving eastward through the sky. Not at all.
Congrats, you’ve now got your grunts on the ground. You were limited on the weight you could bring over, which means they’ve got personal weapons and ammo, but limited crew-served weapons on hand. All of which will be necessary to maintain an established position when anything with more steel than Elvis Presley’s Cadillac rolls up and starts shooting at you. Please let me know how well you think grunts on bare tarmac are going to fare when the ROC Army starts serving air bursts in 155mm portions overhead?
Capturing the airports alone is not enough. I know you didn’t want to hear that. You’ve got to reinforce those positions and maintain an air bridge. Your cargo planes, if you’re smart, will have enough fuel for the return trip, and yes, they must leave. If they are sitting on the tarmac, they are targets. Unless you want those grunts to stop defending the perimeter and play firefighter, get the planes gone immediately.
*sound of intercom clearing*
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. If you look out either window, you’ll have a front-row seat to the largest air engagement since the Battle of Britain. And I severely doubt the ROC Air Force is going to let us peacefully fly west, back to Western Taiwan. Please assume the upright seated position, put your head between your legs and prepare to kiss your ass goodbye.”
Realistically, assume you’re going to lose half the aircraft assigned to each airport. Expect those losses, plan as if 1 in 2 of those planes is not coming back. Otherwise, you’re lying to yourself.
Now that we’ve covered the Taipei Turkey Shoot, let’s have a look at the Formosa Strait Shark Festival.
Congratulations, you’ve elected to sail to battle! This is a wise choice, as warships and their support elements do not fall out of the sky. Normally.
Before we get to enjoy an ice-cold beer or forty on the smooth sandy beaches of Formosa, we have to consider the prior, pressing, obligations.
Your timetable is not dictated solely by political considerations. You’ve got to pick landing sites based on the right combination of tide, time of day, season, and weather. Had Operation Neptune not set sail in the narrow window available on the 6th of June, the next time available was not for 2 more weeks. And that window has to accommodate everything you’ll need for the initial beachhead plus sufficient supplies to establish piers, docks, and breakwaters. Look at the Mulberry model. Do you have the means to make that possible? You better, if you want to rapidly bring supplies from the waterline to an inland fighting position. Hope your supply clerks and log platoons are good at moving while under fire and know how to use their crew-served weapons properly, otherwise they’re so much dead meat in an ambush. Because, you know, Urban environments are not famous at all for being the death of mechanized formations.
Where was I? That’s right. You’ve pre-staged everything, your artificial docks are cured and ready to move. Great job. Good work. I’m proud of you.
By the way, how are your troops doing?
What’s that? You forgot about them?
Oh son, lemme explain a fact of life to you: men are not boxes. Men are not steel and iron. They are men. Operation Neptune had 24,000 men staged and waiting to go ashore at Normandy. Men far from home, far from comfortable beds, far from good-smelling and curvaceous female companionship, and very far from good food or drink. How long can your NCOs maintain good order and discipline amongst idle men, eating rations and smelling each other’s BO for hours without reprieve, before they start making comments at the officers? How long before tempers flare under the emotional pressure and men with automatic weapons lash out in the heat of the moment? Private Tang decides he’s had it up to here with Private Chang taking his hard-earned renminbi at the impromptu pai gow tournament, so he decides to settle the matter with his service rifle’s giggle switch set to “donkey show.” Private Tang empties the magazine. Private Chang plus a dozen poor onlookers get treated to the PLA’s infamous Unhealthcare plan. Got that mental image firmly affixed in your mind, right?
I want you to remember this hypothetical. Because it too is a reality. Once you lose good order and discipline, all you’ve got is an angry mob. Mob rules make for a great song, and utter piss for a martial force.
So, you’ve made the weather call, you’ve got everything loaded, staged, and the troops are primed. You’re crossing over 100 kilometers of open ocean. 130 at the minimum, 180 at the widest. That’s a lot of space for Very Bad Things to happen.
Each wave of transports has a specific role. The first is going ashore to create a beachhead, the second is reinforcing that initial position. In fact, it might take several waves to fully secure that initial hold. Look to Tarawa and Saipan for the utter mess that can be made of plans.
Once you’ve got the initial perimeter and a “safe” place at each location for engineers to build a temporary pier/dock, they’ll be coming in. By now your enemy is going to be fully aware of your presence. They will make probes at your perimeter. You’ve got to continue bringing in reinforcements or you’re going to run out of grunts. Who, by the way, are hungry, thirsty, sore, bleeding, angry, and tired. Forget Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed running across the sand. The average man going ashore weighs 160 pounds and is wearing that much weight again in equipment and clothing.
Look, if you don’t believe me, we have complete lists of what the men who went ashore at Utah, Omaha, Juno, and Gold were carrying on their backs. Read ‘Currahee’ or ‘Band of Brothers’ for what the paras were wearing when they jumped in the night before. Those poor bastards on the beach are playing a lethal game measured in inches, and they know the only way they’ll see sunset is if they get off the mother luvin beach. The enemy knows it too. And they get a vote in this scenario.
Let’s talk about delivery. Once your big, wide, slow troopships have been filled to capacity with troops and supplies, an act which we know absolutely nobody to the east would’ve noticed at all, an evolution where absolutely nothing goes ever wrong, they will leave their harbors to cross the strait of Formosa, preferably under cover of darkness to limit optical observation. Do we see the list of variables stacking up?
I hope so.
Because I’m about to add another one- how many ships will make it across the strait. You need to expect that the invasion force will get spotted somewhere during its preparatory loading. If you think the ROC Navy won’t try to intercept your surface fleets, you are very badly mistaken. Never mind the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, stationed in Japan. They are still the Big Man on the Block in that part of the world.
Go ahead, ChiCommieBoos, rant all you want in the comment section or your scripted bot replies on Quora, tell yourself you’ve got a bigger navy than the United States of America. Last time I checked we have more tonnage in storage than you have currently sailing. Seethe over it. Cope over it. Go sit in the corner and cry at your pictures of that bad haircut that rivals his limpid fashion sense. I’m sorry, I meant to say that fat vainglorious child-raping sack of filth which is Mao Sucks Donkey Dong.
Pardon me, I had that in the margins of my notes.
If the US Navy, specifically Seventh Fleet, wanted to cover themselves with glory, let us look no further than an attempted invasion of Taiwan, courtesy of the PRC, by sea. The Formosa Strait would play host to the largest open water engagement since Surigao or Savo Island. USN Surface warfare officers dream of such scenarios. Submariners too.
(Interjection by the host, YES, WE DO. It’s been a long time since anyone received a Combat Patrol Pin, and they look so cool on the uniform, especially when it’s easy targets. Figure to lose at least 30 ships just to torpedoes, MINIMUM.)
The collective lot of them would be entirely too happy to oblige you. Their erections will last well after they get delivered to the old sailors’ home in old age.
Taking a step back, let us assume you’ve made it across the Strait. You are now staring at an empty beach. But you’re 3,000 meters offshore. Those angry, hot, sweaty, vomiting men in the hold are not going to walk from the ship to the shore. This means you need to transfer them to a platform with a shallow draft that can run into shore. Because this is the PLAN, you lack the means to load troops any way except the same method used for hundreds of years.
Park the Higgins boat (LCVP) beside the troopship, drop a cargo net down, and the troops will go down the rope ladder to the waiting LCVP. Simple! Except we’re talking about scaling a multi-story height, transferring from one ship moving simultaneously through several dimensions at once, to a smaller vessel doing the exact same thing, independent of the larger ship and much more violently while the Coxswain is trying to maintain steerage.
The men doing this are sick, tired, overburdened, puking, scared and unless they have practiced this particular series of dance steps oodles of times, it is going to be a disaster. We here in America would call this “YouTube-worthy.”
Did I mention taking fire?
Oh shucks, I forgot. You’re likely going to be taking fire at the same time. The captains of those big, slow troopships will be anxious to leave with all haste. Hope you’ve spent time training the captains not to jump the gun on that. Meanwhile, men are breaking hands, arms, and noses, as they sway on the ropes. Some men are losing their balance and falling onto the open deck of their LCVPs. Look out, that’s 160 pounds of human being plus 160 pounds of equipment. It doesn’t stop gently when falling from a height onto that most forgiving of substances- a pitching metal deck. Perhaps if Private Tang is lucky, some of his squadmates will break his fall for him. With their bodies.
We, the US, learned a plethora of lessons from WW2, as well as WW1’s British fiasco which was Gallipoli. Our current amphibious assault carriers reflect this knowledge and learning- we can do the loading of troops inside the carrier’s hull, in a well deck constructed for this purpose. Forgot scrambling up and down rope nets, our guys can get in their Amtracs and ride to the beach, where they will unass. relatively dry.
Let us suppose your craft have gone ashore and dropped off the first round of grunts. We’ll assume that both are encountering moderate resistance. Your craft will be getting shot at as they drive across the water, back to the mothership. Your grunts will be fighting for their lives across sand.
If you don’t maintain fire support for the grunts, they’ll get stuck on the beaches as they take contact. If the training has not been good enough, if discipline breaks, they will stall out. Meanwhile, you’ll have the Republic of China performing a call up of reservists and any existing national militia, in a manner fit to wake ancestors dead since before the Ming dynasty got busy busting heads. If you had light resistance before, you’ll have moderate resistance forming to contest and counter-assault your lead elements now. Meanwhile, the fat-ass tankers will be rolling out of their garrisons, at which point they can engage both the amtracs, the grunts, and any naval vessels which stray too close to shore. The same goes for unfriendly artillery coming from the ROC Army. It will be chaos all around, but the majority of outgoing fire is going to be headed towards the PLA and PLA-N.
Where is your air support, you ask? What has happened to the vaunted PLAAF? Well, while the ROC Navy may not possess Aegis Combat Systems (yet), the USN’s Seventh Fleet does. The US Navy also operates the world’s second-largest Air Force, after the US Air Force. And the USN has not shown an interest in letting the PRC come across the Formosa strait, underwater or above it in a long damn time. The PLAAF will be justifying the last 50 years of budget fights and weapons development because if the second-rate knockoffs of 80s-era Russian equipment can be defeated with 80s-era technology, imagine what an introduction to the 21st century will involve. Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer will make a movie about it. Ray-Ban will run out of aviator frame sunglasses to sell.
Well, let’s just go for broke why don’t we? Launch an amphibious invasion and an airborne assault all at once. Surely this will overwhelm the ROC before a proper defense can be mounted. Nope. Remember, if it’s chaotic for the enemy, it’s chaotic for you.
Tell me how you can maintain 4 hot drop zones, fighter cap for your cargo planes, air support for your amphibious assault, anti-shipping interdiction, submarine hunters, and run the largest naval surface engagement since Task Force 77.2 told Nishimura’s Southern Force “Hippity hoppity, get off my property” then backed it up with 16-inch naval artillery.
Tell me how you’re going to train for that event, be honest enough with yourselves and your superiors about the state of your readiness, and break through the cultural memes which have restricted Chinese culture for millennia.
Tell me how you’re going to stage for that event, keeping the Tibetan-mountain-sized flow of men and materials a secret so secure that the Republic of China or the US don’t find out what you’re doing.
Tell me how you’ll keep them from responding long enough to seize control of, conquer, then solidify your grip on Taiwan, without being bled dry.
Tell me how you’re going to keep the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force from getting involved- they’ve already stated publicly their intention to assist in the defense of Taiwan from hostile action on the part of the PRC. Because if there were ever an event that would spike Japanese nationalism straight back to the Meiji era, which would resurrect Isoroku Yamamoto’s IJN any harder or faster, I don’t know that it exists.
Go ahead. Tell me. I’ll wait.
It is entirely possible that Xi Jinping and his lackeys could choose to assume the port of Mars. But he didn’t get to be premier by being stupid. Evil does not equal stupid. However, as we’ve seen with Vladimir “32 days to flatten Ukraine” Putin, evil men can and do make bad choices, based on the bad data provided by subordinates worried more about loss of face or status than ensuring their soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are properly prepared for armed conflict; that the enemy’s present status is not a repeat of your own propaganda campaigns; that there is domestic support for engaging in such efforts.
I’m not going to hold my breath while I wait, I’ve got better things to do. But I see no reason to run around a la Chicken Little, screaming that the sky is falling. That is senseless and foolish. Your time, my time, is all spent more profitably in other pursuits. I suggest we do so.
Well, I think Jonathan is maybe a little more optimistic about the logical, and analytical capabilities of the PRC leadership, in the face of a desperate desire by Winnie the Shit to be seen to have “reunited China” and to “assume the mantle of Mao” than I am. I don’t recommend going all “Chicken Little” but I do recommend taking a page from the old Romans. Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum. No need to panic, but keep your troops prepared. I’ve said before that what we really need to do, is to put a small (battalion or so) detachment of US Marines in Taiwan, to conduct “training.”
Yes, it would piss off China.
I’m tired of hearing “Oh my Gods, we don’t want to piss off China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran!”
They don’t seem to have ANY consideration for “Oh no, we don’t want to piss off the United States and SEATO.” Maybe it’s time they worry about making us angry, instead of the other way around.