When the United States Marine Corps’ (USMC) Commandant, General David H. Berger, announced his radical vision in 2019 of “reinventing” the Marine Corps to perform duties on a basis more in line with the guidance from then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, his program proved to be highly controversial, not least, in light of recent events in Ukraine and Russia. This vision radically restructures the Marine Corps, removing main battle tanks entirely, and significantly reducing both “bayonet strength” in infantry battalions, as well as heavily cutting back on conventional artillery and tactical air transport, all in an attempt to fight the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
It is bewildering – to say the least – as to how these ideas could work verses a major-war opponent may be an open question. Primarily, the controversy revolves around the significantly reduced capacity in fire support.
Fire support for landing operations has long consisted of frigate– to destroyer-class vessels deploying various types of stand-off land attack missiles, as well as cannons in the 5-inch/125mm range. Not since the Landing Ship, Medium (Rocket) (LSM(R)) of World War 2 has there been a truly dedicated close-inshore bombardment-capable vessel. Since the end of the Vietnam War (1964-1975), “inshore fire support” has consisted primarily of craft armed with .50/12.7mm heavy machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, mortars or flamethrowers.
However, times change, and technology changes apace.
Case in point: As technology and high-tech industry has expanded throughout the world, more and more nations are developing energetic and dynamic design firms. Recently unveiled by Indonesian shipbuilder PT Ludin, the Atasena-class X-18 ATC (Armored Troop Carrier) – originally called, for obvious reasons, the “Tank Boat” – may look like something out of a “GI Joe” movie, but it is definitely an innovative development of preexisting concepts.
Comprised of over 18,000 separate islands, and being on the front lines of both insurgency, piracy and general world unrest, Indonesia has a definite need for an inshore fire support vessel with a heavy punch. In this, the X-18 “Tank Boat” certainly delivers.
Designed by PT Ludin, the X-18 ATC is to be built by the veteran small craft yards of North Sea Boats. The current production unit that has undergoing testing by the Indonesian Army is armed with the Cockerill C1030 MK44S 30mm cannon unmanned turret. A mock-up vessel, shown at international arms shows when the details of the X-18 were released mounted a mock-up of a planned Cockerill 105mm cannon with an automatic loading system in a small, 2-person turret, with a 360° traverse and a pair of .50cal/12.7x99mm heavy machine guns as secondary weapons, with other secondary weapons possible. In either configuration, the X-18 can also carry up to 60 troops, up to 5 tons of cargo, or a variety of small, rigid-hulled inflatables. This would allow the deployment of conventional boarding or landing parties, as well as special operations teams — who could potentially have 105mm artillery support within a 10km arc from the craft. Another planned version would mount some form of dedicated anti-ship, and possibly anti-submarine, missiles.
With a reported draft of only 0.8 meters and a reported 600nm range (the distance from Washington, D.C. to Miami, FL) at 9 knots (but able to cruise at 40 knots, with a 50 knot maximum speed), the twin-hulled catamaran design would certainly have long legs. The design is impressive enough – in theory – to have reportedly garnered an early order from the United Arab Emirates, with India, Greece and the Philippines expressing serious interest.
While its armor (NATO Stanag 4569) may be rather unimpressive, proof only against small arms and shell fragments at a distance, in the inshore environment, the ability to swiftly bring large numbers of troops, backed up by significant firepower, to bear on an enemy’s rear areas is a major advancement in firepower.
This is something that the USMC, struggling with shrinking procurement budgets and a general drop-off in enlistments, should seriously consider adding to its arsenal, not least because of a projected purchase price of under US$20million each.
Not every bright idea comes out of the US defense establishment.