Amphibious warfare

Two USMC AAVS emerge from the surf at Freshwater Bay, Australia.

Amphibious warfare is a type of offensive military operation that today uses naval ships to project ground and air power onto a hostile or potentially hostile shore at a designated landing beach.[1] Through history the operations were conducted using ship's boats as the primary method of delivering troops to shore. Since the Gallipoli Campaign, specialised watercraft were increasingly designed for landing troops, materiel and vehicles, including by landing craft and for insertion of commandos, by fast patrol boats, zodiacs (rigid inflatable boats) and from mini-submersibles.

The term amphibious first emerged in the UK and the USA during the 1930s with introduction of vehicles such as Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tank or the Landing Vehicle Tracked.[note 1]

Amphibious warfare includes operations defined by their type, purpose, scale and means of execution. In the British Empire at the time these were called combined operations which were defined as "...operations where naval, military or air forces in any combination are co-operating with each other, working independently under their respective commanders, but with a common strategic object."[2] All armed forces that employ troops with special training and equipment for conducting landings from naval vessels to shore agree to this definition.

Since the 20th century an amphibious landing of troops on a beachhead is acknowledged as the most complex of all military maneuvers. The undertaking requires an intricate coordination of numerous military specialties, including air power, naval gunfire, naval transport, logistical planning, specialized equipment, land warfare, tactics, and extensive training in the nuances of this maneuver for all personnel involved.

Amphibious operation

South Korean Type 88 K1 MBT comes ashore from an American LCAC in March 2007.

An amphibious operation is similar to but in many ways different from land, naval and air operations. At its basic, such operations include phases of strategic planning and preparation, operational transit to the intended theatre of operations, pre-landing rehearsal and disembarkation, troop landings, beachhead consolidation and conducting inland ground and air operations. Historically, within the scope of these phases a vital part of success was often based on the military logistics, naval gunfire and close air support. Another factor is the variety and quantity of specialised vehicles and equipment used by the landing force that are designed for the specific needs of this type of operation.

Amphibious operations can be classified as tactical or operational raids such as the Dieppe Raid, operational landings in support of a larger land strategy such as the Kerch–Eltigen Operation, and a strategic opening of a new Theatre of Operations, for example the Operation Avalanche.

The purpose of amphibious operations is always offensive, but limited by the plan and terrain. Landings on islands less than 5,000 km2 (1,900 sq mi) in size are tactical, usually with the limited objectives of neutralising enemy defenders and obtaining a new base of operation. Such an operation may be prepared and planned in days or weeks, and would employ a naval task force to land less than a division of troops.

Mexican sailors, landing in 2010

The intent of operational landings is usually to exploit the shore as a vulnerability in the enemy's overall position, forcing redeployment of forces, premature use of reserves, and aiding a larger allied offensive effort elsewhere. Such an operation requiring weeks to months of preparation and planning, would use multiple task forces, or even a naval fleet to land corps-size forces, including on large islands, for example Operation Chromite. A strategic landing operation requires a major commitment of forces to invade a national territory in the archipelagic, such as the Battle of Leyte, or continental, such as Operation Neptune. Such an operation may require multiple naval and air fleets to support the landings, and extensive intelligence gathering and planning of over a year.

Although most amphibious operations are thought of primarily as beach landings, they can take exploit available shore infrastructure to land troops directly into an urban environment if unopposed. In this case non-specialised ships can offload troops, vehicles and cargo using organic or facility wharf-side equipment. Tactical landings in the past have utilised small boats, small craft, small ships and civilian vessels converted for the mission to deliver troops to the water's edge.

Preparation and planning

Preparation and planning the naval landing operation requires the assembly of vessels with sufficient capacity to lift necessary troops employing combat loading. The military intelligence services produce a briefing on the expected opponent which guides the organisation and equipping of the embarked force. First specially designed landing craft were used for the Gallipoli landings, and armoured tracked vehicles were also available for the Guadalcanal Campaign. Helicopters were first used to support beach landings during Operation Musketeer.

Hovercraft have been in use for naval landings by military forces since the 1960s.