23 Desember 2010

More Countries Invest In Marine Forces

23 Desember 2010
Indonesian Marines (photo : Kaskus Militer)

Most nations have marines—amphibious assault forces that act as first responders when governments project power. Theater commanders will say the benefits of a mobile force of marines, operating with naval support and dedicated air and ground assets, cannot be overstated, especially in an era of asymmetric warfare and littoral operations. So effective is this model of rapid light infantry that even landlocked Paraguay has a battalion of marines.

The number, capabilities and support of marine forces varies. Most nations, ironically, lack the ships and logistics necessary to optimize such forces. This may be changing. Although industrial militaries in the West periodically examine the structure and value of marine forces (see related story on p. 30), many developing countries are expanding their units. The reasons involve regional influence, coastal security, protection of trade and suppression of criminal activity, notably piracy. Moreover, with more countries participating in security and peacekeeping coalitions, fielding and maintaining an effective amphibious force is vital to a successful deployment.

Amphibious forces are among the most complex and expensive in a navy. They need dedicated naval assault forces to project and sustain power, well-trained and motivated personnel, specific and costly equipment, and must hone their skills with constant training. As a result, only a few nations can afford true amphibious forces. Nevertheless, countries in many regions are looking to increase the size and capabilities of their marine forces.

Some NATO members such as the U.K., Italy, Spain and the Netherlands have marine units. Others assign marine activities throughout their forces. France, while having an amphibious naval capability, does not have a true marine force, even though the army fields three regiments called marines and there is a special forces component of the navy. Germany also has no marine force, primarily because an amphibious force projects power, which Germany is reluctant to do.

NATO, which has a doctrine for amphibious operations, has studied and wargamed amphibious raids and larger operations to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere, but a lack of political will keeps such plans off the table. The only recent amphibious operations among NATO members were landings by Italy and France for the initial deployment of their Unifil (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) troops, disaster relief operations and non-combatant evacuations.

Royal Thai Marines (photo : wiki)

Still, NATO can rely on joint Spanish-Italian and U.K.-Dutch amphibious forces. The U.K. has a Royal Marines force at brigade level and a strong amphibious naval force. The Dutch maintain a brigade of 3,000 marines and two modern LPD (landing platform dock) amphibious craft. One Dutch battalion is integrated with the U.K.’s 3 Commando Brigade to form the U.K./Netherlands Amphibious Land Force.

Spain fields a brigade of 6,200 marines and relevant amphibious naval forces, while Italy has created a peculiar joint amphibious brigade, combining naval infantry units and a regiment of army riverine and delta troops converted to amphibious assault duties.

Elsewhere in the region, Portugal relies on two marine battalions with 2,000 troops, but has limited naval transport. Greece has a marine infantry brigade that is part of the army, which the navy supports with limited amphibious forces. Turkey is increasing its amphibious naval component; Romania has a marine battalion but lacks transport vessels; and Russia is rebuilding its naval amphibious force. Moscow believes that the quickest approach entails acquiring LPDs from the West to support elite naval infantry forces, which include 8,000 in one division, two brigades and some regiments. The Russian navy has been negotiating with France to buy Mistral amphibious craft, but recently announced an open tender for the ships.

Large amphibious forces are common in the Pacific Rim. China has 7,000 marines and special forces in five regiments. This is likely to expand as the navy builds more amphibious assault vehicles and strengthens its blue water fleet. Taiwan has a bigger marine force, with two active divisions and one in reserve totaling 35,000 troops. They are primarily for defensive operations—e.g., repelling an invasion by China.

If China attempts to invade Taiwan, and its missile, naval and air attacks and blockades do not force surrender, amphibious assault operations would take place. China, however, is also looking at naval power projection to defend territorial claims and economic exclusion zones in the Western Pacific.

India has a marine force of only 1,000, which is surprising since experts believe the country will eventually vie with China for influence in the region. The country also has a large coastline to patrol, is committed to keeping shipping lanes open and faces ongoing insurgencies in parts of the country. India’s naval amphibious component is adequate, and being reinforced.
Philippine Marines (photo : allvoices)

South Korea fields a large and capable naval infantry that mirrors the U.S. Marine Corps, with 25,000 men in two divisions and a brigade supported by a growing and modern navy amphibious component including two LHDs (landing helicopter docks). Marines in South Korea would play a defensive role or launch a naval attack in a conflict with Pyongyang.

Geography—including a large coastline—and decades of war drove Vietnam to build a powerful marine force of 25,000, even though the navy lacks the means to project their power and support them. Vietnamese marines are mostly for coastal defense and riverine and delta operations.

Geography also led Indonesia to build up naval infantry, given its need to protect the hundreds of islands in the country. The marine force of 15,000 in two brigades will increase to 22,000 with the planned addition of two brigades. The navy has a patchwork of amphibious vessels, with four LPDs in service or under construction, 18 LSTs (landing ship, tank) and 14 LCUs (landing craft utility).

The Philippines, with many islands to protect, has more than 8,000 marines, but minimal naval transport and assault capabilities. The troops are for counter-insurgency missions.

Japan’s navy is building an amphibious force, which will include LPDs and LHDs and a helicopter air wing. Given the sensitivity of Asian countries to a real or perceived Japanese offensive capability, establishing a dedicated naval amphibious assault infantry is not an immediate move for Tokyo. Naval forces will instead transport and support army units.

Australia has an integrated military force and, while lacking a large marine infantry, is increasing its naval transportation and power projection capability, including amphibious assault assets.

Vietnamese marines (photo : halongvip)

Most of Africa has no significant amphibious forces. Some countries on the Mediterranean have such capabilities, notably Morocco, which has a naval infantry force of 2,000 but only one LST. Algeria plans to develop an amphibious capability, but has no marines. The navy is to acquire at least one LPD, and is increasing rotary wing assets.

Saudi Arabia has the most powerful marine force in the Middle East—3,000 naval infantry who rely on LCUs for coastal operations. The growing Iraqi forces include a marine battalion for coastal and riverine operations, mainly defense on the Shatt al-Arab waterway, whose southern end borders Iran. (Iran has no amphibious assault capabilities to speak of.)

Almost all South American countries with a coast have marine forces, even if they are not matched by naval amphibious capabilities. Brazil’s marine force is 15,000 strong. The navy has several amphibious assault vessels and wants more. Chile has four regiments with more than 2,700 marines, but no naval amphibious force. Venezuela has 10,000 naval infantry, which also operate in riverine roles. The force comprises five brigades, with two more being equipped. Its four LSTs, however, are not sufficient.

Peru has a naval infantry force of 3,500 and is expanding its naval amphibious arm by acquiring decommissioned U.S. vessels. Argentina’s 2,000 marines are among the country’s best troops, though the navy has few airborne and assault capabilities. Colombia has a powerful naval infantry, with four brigades and 22,000 troops, but its main role is guerrilla warfare. Ecuador has three marine battalions, with 1,500 men, and small amphibious vessels. Bolivia has a naval infantry force of 1,000, but no amphibious capabilities.

Mexico plans to increase its naval infantry force to 16,000 from 10,000, but has a small amphibious force. Honduras has a battalion of marines but only one LCU. Guatemala has a marine battalion, two LCUs and one mechanized landing craft. Cuba’s naval infantry, despite a large coastline, is only 500.

(Aviation Week)

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