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What is Littoral Manoeuvre? – Part 1

Australian Army Private Hendrik Malherbe during an amphibious beach demonstration in Indonesia during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2022.

Littoral Manoeuvre is a major focus for this year’s research by the Australian Army Research Centre, a topic of the 2023 Chief of Army’s History Conference, and a core theme for  the next volume of the Australian Army Journal. Given its importance, this Land Power Forum post provides some background research regarding the term.

It argues that the term ‘littoral’ reflects the projection of land power from the sea to the land, which in turn allows land capabilities to influence the sea. The use of the term ‘manoeuvre’ accurately describes achieving a position of advantage in respect to the adversary. Once in an advantageous position, Army vessels associated with littoral manoeuvre can project Army’s long-range strike platforms to deny key routes within a maritime archipelagic environment or sustain Australia’s forward partnerships to defend our immediate region.

This post is split into two parts. The first part, published here, examines the littoral manoeuvre capability with reference to the Defence Strategic Review (DSR). Its purpose is to examine the Review’s importance to the integrated force. It also considers the terms associated with littoral manoeuvre and provides an alternative definition similar to the concept of ‘archipelagic manoeuvre’, which better reflects the capability envisaged by the DSR. Finally, part one examines the Army Littoral Manoeuvre Vessel capability using publicly available information to identify the components of the platforms that make up the program. In a subsequent post, part two will consider two historical case studies. History is a useful lens through which to consider how similar capabilities were used in the past. Such examination allows for informed speculation about how the new Army capability will perform its role in the contemporary threat environments.

The Defence Strategic Review

The recent Defence Strategic Review (DSR) provides government recommendations on the land domain capabilities of relevance to the Integrated Force. Both the Review’s writers and the Australian Government stressed that Army must be optimised for littoral operations in Australia’s northern land and maritime spaces. The littoral capability was mentioned four times along with long-range fires (land-based maritime strike). The impression from the DSR is that these related capabilities help Army to deny the land–sea–air gap in the archipelago to Australia’s north.

Defence is directed to acquire these capabilities as soon as possible, to ‘rapidly accelerate and expand Army’s littoral manoeuvre vessels (medium and heavy landing craft) and long-range fires (land-based maritime strike) programs’. The DSR added a third capability to bolster its littoral manoeuvre and long-range strike capacity – infantry fighting vehicles (IFV). The Hanwha Redback will provide this capability. The report advised that Defence must deliver these capabilities ‘to achieve the strategic and operational effect required of the ADF for National Defence and a strategy of denial’.

The analysis conducted by the DSR’s authors reached similar conclusions to those I came to in 2021 in a previous Land Power Forum post. That post concluded that a mobile defence was appropriate to defend our immediate region as our forces’ tactical mobility was equal to, or greater than, a peer-level enemy (even if the latter has numerical superiority). Embracing the concept of littoral manoeuvre, therefore, is evidently important to the future of Army and Defence. Before this post further examines the utility of this capability, it is important to define the terms associated with the concept of littoral manoeuvre.

Lexicon and Definitions

Several terms, such as ‘littoral’ and ‘amphibious’, require additional exploration and analysis. Fortunately, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has excellent doctrine and it is now mostly available online. The logical place to start was the Australian Defence Doctrine Publication (ADDP) 3.2 Amphibious Operations. This doctrine has a number of useful definitions. The first two of relevance concern the term ‘amphibious’. An amphibious operation is launched from the sea by a naval and landing force embarked in ships or craft, with the principle purpose of projecting the landing force ashore tactically into an environment ranging from uncertain to hostile. The naval and landing force is defined as the Australian Amphibious Force (AAF). This is a force generation (or training) construct that includes elements from all Defence services and groups with specialised amphibious warfare capabilities and competencies.

The doctrine also provides a definition of ‘littoral’, ‘manoeuvre’ and ‘littoral manoeuvre’. Littoral is described as the areas to seaward of the coast, which are susceptible to influence or support from the land, and the areas inland from the coast which are susceptible to influence or support from the sea. Manoeuvre is the employment of forces on the battlefield through movement in combination with fire, or fire potential, to achieve a position of advantage in respect to the adversary in order to accomplish the mission. The definition of littoral manoeuvre is subtly different than when the two terms are used separately. This compound noun describes the littoral as an operational manoeuvre space from which a sea-based joint amphibious force can threaten, or apply and sustain, force ashore. The DSR’s emphasis on the combination of the littoral capability with long-range fires (land-based maritime strike) suggests that littoral manoeuvre refers to the use of the littoral to achieve positional advantage to influence the maritime domain from the land, as well as projecting force ashore.

The Australian Army’s Research Centre  also published a Discussion Paper on an Army Joint Archipelagic Manoeuvre Concept in 2014. The definition of ‘archipelagic manoeuvre’ provided in this document is particularly relevant to the concepts discussed in the DSR. The concept sees focused maritime control operations that deny an adversary’s access to, or ability to control, the key routes within a maritime archipelagic environment, and mounting and leading expeditionary stability operations in our immediate region. Using this context, an alternative definition of Littoral Manoeuvre, is the use of the littoral to achieve control of the maritime domain from the land, as well as projecting and sustaining force ashore. As such, the vessels associated with littoral manoeuvre cannot provide control by themselves. These vessels as part of the AAF (in conflict) or by itself (in competition), can project Army’s long range strike capabilities to deny key routes within a maritime archipelagic environment and IFV for expeditionary stability operations to defend our immediate region.

Having analysed the terms associated with littoral manoeuvre and provided a revised definition for the term, the next step is to understand more about the capability by looking at its major platforms. In this regard, the most important procurement program for Army littoral manoeuvre is LAND 8710.

Army Littoral Manoeuvre Vessels

LAND 8710 Phases 1-2 – Army Littoral Manoeuvre Vessels is a modernisation effort to acquire a medium landing craft and an amphibious vehicle. The acquisition of Phase 1A will enable Army to retire the Landing Craft Mechanised Mark 8 (LCM-8), and introduce the Littoral Manoeuvre Vessel – Medium (LMV-M). The capability of this vessel includes the transport (or ‘manoeuvre’) of Army’s future vehicles and other offensive capabilities (e.g. long-range fires) in littoral and riverine environments. Phase 1B will see the acquisition of a new amphibious vehicle, the Littoral Manoeuvre Vessel – Amphibious (LMV-A), which will replace the Lighter Amphibious Cargo Resupply Vehicle (LARC-V), providing a comparable over-the-shore capability.

The defence publication Armada International highlights that the LMV-M will be significantly larger and more capable than the LCM-8 that they are to replace, with increased range and greater lift. The LMV-M will have a 70-ton capacity, 20 per cent greater than the LCM-8, and between 1000 and 1200 nautical miles range. To contextualise that carrying capacity, an upgraded Abrams M1A2 main battle tank has a combat-ready weight of 67 tonnes. The range described earlier makes transit from Darwin into the wider region possible. Acting Head Land Capability at the time, Brigadier Jeremy King, explained in an article for the Australian that the LMV-Ms “are primarily designed to work in that shore-to-shore environment, but also able to project into the region either independently or part of an amphibious task group”.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute notes that a request for tender indicates an intent by Army to develop both a LMV-H (heavy) and a LMV-P (patrol) vessel in the future; capabilities that will position Defence well to achieve the levels of dominance in the littoral domain that is envisaged by the DSR. While the ASPI article identifies that these capabilities are a focus for Australia, the United states is now seeking a similar land platform. As such, the two countries could combine their efforts, fielding a truly interoperable landing vessel. Achieving such interoperability would be consistent with the ADF’s capstone concept Integrated Campaigning, a document that advocates the ADF’s ability to combine all of its operational efforts with allies and partners.

The LMV-M is capable of operating in the shore-to-shore environment (littoral and riverine), as well as being capable of achieving open ocean transit from Australia into our immediate region. As a landing craft, it is capable of discharging its cargo across a beach, which may include any of Army’s current and future capabilities, such as Land 4100 Phase 2, a land-based maritime strike capability, which could include the Naval Strike Missile purchased by the Royal Australian Navy. The vessel can operate independently or as part of an amphibious task group.

Summary of Part One

In part one, this Land Power Forum post has identified that the concept of littoral manoeuvre is important to the future of Defence and Army, and that the term ‘archipelagic manoeuvre’ better describes the concept of dominance in the littoral domain envisaged by the DSR. A potential revised definition of littoral manoeuvre is ‘the use of the littoral to achieve control of the maritime domain from the land, as well as projecting and sustaining force ashore.

Part two of this Land Power Forum post will review how similar vessels have operated in the past, with two historical case studies.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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