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Amphibious Operations in the Russo-Ukrainian War SITREP
As navalists are wont to do, first thing I do when looking at the latest developments in Ukraine, I look to the Black Sea coast.
In the run-up to the war, a lot of attention was given to the naval buildup on the area by the Russian Navy, especially with the bulk of their remaining amphibious warships. Besides a minor operation in the Sea of Azov early on, there has been little seen of them, much less a vaunted amphibious assault around Odessa.
There are many tactical level details we just don’t know about at this date, so as we look to the sea, today we’ll keep this to the big pixels, specifically the fundamentals we already knew but may have forgotten to one degree or another.
Here are the five take-aways as of 21MAR2022 that have been reinforced:
1. The threat of an amphibious landing is greater than a landing itself: for a land component commander, the sea is a dark and mysterious place. Unlike land where you can take out a map and clearly see where terrain limits an enemy and define where you can employ forces to attack or defend – the sea has few natural obstacles that are easy for a land-focused force to understand. Some shores are more suitable than others, especially if the opponent’s amphibious capability is limited in number and capability, but as both the Germans and North Koreans learned the hard way, a risk-tolerant and aggressive opponent will not let that be a deal breaker if the gain is sufficient.
2. Once your force is there, sooner is better than later: the Russians do not have a lot of naval infantry/marines and ships to host them. As such their risk tolerance is small (warning USN). The longer a war goes on, the more hardened vulnerable shorelines can be made. Approaches can be mined, coastal defenses – both active and passive – can be put in place. Options narrow.
3. Mobile reserve: not limited by GLOC or tied to a specific ground campaign, when opportunities present themselves ashore that is accessable from the sea, or the land component needs rapid reinforcement not available elsewhere to exploit and advance, bringing your forces ashore can provide combat ready, already provisioned, fresh forces in to theater and directly in to the fight. At sea, combat effectiveness degrades over time, but when employed ashore correctly, they appear almost magically and can be a shock for an opponent not ready for them.
4. Ashore, just another army: In line with #3, once ashore, especially with limited forces like the Russians have, you lose your amphibious card. Your naval infantry/marines just become a butched up army running around confusing everyone with naval jargon.
5. Golden BB: Without full control of the seas, you don’t have an amphibious capability: again, small numbers exponentially increase operational risk. Especially with today’s amphibious forces where peacetime efficiency drivers put a lot of capabilities and souls on fewer and fewer ships, you are one mine, one ASCM, or a lucky 152mm round away from being operationally ineffective by loosing a critical percentage of your equipment and up to 1,000 dead, wounded, or missing – in an instant.
So, there we are. There is still a chance for an amphibious operation at scale in support an Odessa investiture (I know how I would use them), but as we see in the video embedded above, as more Russian naval infantry/marines are brought ashore to fill shortages in capability in the Russian land force, there simply won’t be much left at sea to do more than a raid here and there … if that.