The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has released a paper setting out the emerging role of littoral areas in the future operating environment and how this shapes the UK’s plans for littoral strike forces and future commandos.
The paper, by RUSI sea power research fellow Dr Sidharth Kaushal and land warfare fellow Dr Jack Watling, outlines how as the Royal Navy and Royal Marines explore littoral strike concepts. They are caught at a crossroads between increasingly important littoral operations and the proliferation of anti-ship missiles which “is rendering amphibious assault increasingly hazardous”.
The report explains: “The clustering of vital economic infrastructure and countries’ demographic centres of gravity in littoral areas will make the ability to achieve sufficient control of key points in the contested littoral particularly salient in this form of limited aims warfare.”
This paper details how the need to operate in the nearshore area is being challenged by the spread of anti-access area denial created by a mix of precision-strike weapons and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) that make traditional amphibious assaults more difficult. It adds that in a combat a situation further operations in a region would require a littoral force to successfully overcome these challenges.
RUSI’s research adds that littoral operations are becoming more important “due both to growing population centres in littoral zones and because the return of great power competition has made securing rapid theatre entry a critical capability for power projection.”
The report details a number of recommendations to ensure the success of future littoral missions facing these challenges.
It says: “The emphasis of littoral operations must shift from manoeuvre inland to positional warfare which aims to secure and control key nodes within the littoral zone.
“Operations within the littoral must balance traditional concerns with seizing ground with efforts to constrain an opponent’s freedom of action in littoral regions and thus exercise effective control.”
The writers conclude that the current structure of littoral groups should be modifiable to better approach situations, with RUSI recommending a move to scalable forces that are better suited to overcoming different threats.
RUSI adds: “Operating in littoral regions will require the current exclusive emphasis on big deck assault ships to be modified in favour of a scalable force capable of operating within an opponent’s anti-access bubble in order to degrade it and thus enable the insertion of heavier follow-on forces.
“The concepts which guide littoral strike must be conceptually focused on enabling access for the Joint Force to exploit, and thereby achieve strategic effect.”
The Royal Navy and Royal Marines are exploring the future of littoral operations, with plans for Littoral Strike Ships announced by former defence secretary Gavin Williamson still in early phases, and plans to refocus the Royal Marines as a future commando force with a mission set more similar to the US Marine Corps.
RUSI’s research was commissioned by the Royal Navy to support its own research into littoral operations.